If you haven’t already, I urge you to listen to Marianne Faithfull’s 2002 album Kissin’ Time. If you have already heard it, please direct your attention to the very end. There you’ll find one of my very favorite songs out of Marianne’s long storied career. It’s a cover of a hit by Herman’s Hermits. The Hermits were a British Invasion band known for goofy, upbeat songs suitable for young teenagers. Most of their hits have been relegated to the nostalgia circuit or dismissed as novelties of their time. Hardly a match for the whiskey-soaked aesthetic of Marianne Faithfull, one would think. Therein is the surprise, and testament to Faithfull’s powers as an interpretive singer and her sharp ear for material. She takes a larky pop song about a date that went well, and makes it… exactly her aesthetic. It’s a life affirming coda on a record concerned with the ups and downs of life. In the hands of a woman who’s lived, suffered and learned it means something else than the fluffy, youthful optimism of the original. When you’re a woman of 57, you don’t take it for granted that you’ll meet a new guy who likes you, there’s no expectation that there’s going to be another new date with another new love. When you find love after a lifetime of losing it, it’s an unexpected gift, a thing to celebrate and treasure, with the knowledge that it may be your last hurrah. Love is different when you’re older, and love songs are different, even if the words are the same.
When we’re looking back with the warm glow of nostalgia at the decade that was, we’ll remember Alt-J as one of the highlights of 2012. We’re almost into 2020, and the decade reviews are about to ramp up soon. It’s too early to feel truly hazy about it; we’ll really dive into nostalgia pains around 2030, if we’re still alive that long. For now, I have to say that I’ve heard some really great music being made in the last few years. I wish there’d been more weirdness, of course, but some real gems floated to the top. Alt-J was definitely among the odder acts to become popular. They gave some psychedelic flavor to a period heavy on twinkly pop. I’m sure that An Awesome Wave is going to be one of those records that survives for years to come, and not just as an artifact of fond memories.
Make what you will of the comedy show that is Sparks. I grew up listening to their records, and their eccentric sensibilities never struck me as particularly weird. At least not more so than most of what else was floating around in the 1970’s. But watching their videos and live performances, it does strike me just how far out they were. The dynamic contrast between very opposite brothers Ron and Russel is totally lost on record, for one thing. It’s something you only get a slight hint of looking at their album covers. But you can see in in action as the nexus of the band. There is no band, per se. It’s just those two, composing an endless series of musical in-jokes.
John O’Regan (aka Diamond Rings) is a Canadian indie musician who has played in different styles under different names. I saw him in his Diamond Rings guise as an opener for Robyn. I was impressed by his colorful style, or course, but also the energy of his performance. He performed solo, armed only with a keyboard and guitar; it was an impressive combination of pre-set electronic beats and live instrumental improvisation. O’Regan used now-common electronic music techniques that allow a single person to play percussion, keyboards and other effects with just a single keyboard. He also displayed old-school ‘real’ musicianship with his energetic and punky guitar playing. It turned out that his debut album Special Affections doesn’t quite fully capture the spirit of his live performance. However, it’s still a collection of catchy songs with attitude and emotion, and well worth listening to.
Pulp is sadboi music for kids who are too cool to admit they’re sad. They hide their sadness behind postures of indifference, artfully arranged hair and expensive shoes. But they’re so, so sad because they’re always grappling with the harsh reality that all their style and coolness doesn’t make them any more successful at love than any other schmuck. Sadboi music for sadboi hipsters, as it were. An aesthetic I can relate to, in other words.
Marianne Faithfull didn’t record much in 1969, for reasons that are readily apparent if you watch her promotional appearance on The Rollins Stones’ Rock’n’Roll Circus. Her dazed look and difficulty moving were the red flags of a person high as a kite on heroin. It’s also evident in the cracking of her formerly high voice around this time. Fans, if she still had any, didn’t know the the depth of her problems, but anyone could have guessed that Marianne was a hot mess. The irony was rich that she was still singing wistful tunes about striving for something beyond ‘living in a cage’. She was nothing but in a cage, and being wistful was no longer very cute. It is, in hindsight, a poignant performance, but it could very easily have been a fare-thee-well one.
Do you ever just have the thirst to listen to nothing but mindless feedback? Some people’s entire musical palate consists of nothing else, but if you’re like me, the answer is usually “no, not really.” Some people only want noise and jackhammering aggression, but most of us, when we want those things, want them tempered with some degree of melodicism, and maybe some intellectual depth too. Pixies, in their small amount of material, did an excellent job of pulling together noisy punk elements and unwelcoming atonal sounds with fun hooks and esoteric cultural references. They made music that could be obnoxious if you cranked it up loud enough, but could also be sung along to, and discussed afterwards. Except this song. This song is just noise, except it’s, like, artfully executed.