Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are 63 and 58 years old, respectively, which… well, Christ, I thought they were like in their forties. They’re hardly boys and more like elders, but that they’re still making synthpop like they invented it, which, of course, they did. In their heyday, their synthpop was about being young, smart and alienated (and gay) which gave it a level of emotional depth not usually associated with synth-anything. All along it’s been about lovelorn and alienated, and now it’s about being over-the-hill but somehow still lovelorn and alienated. At their age, of course, they can only get so much sympathy for still being lovelorn, because at their age they’re old enough to know better. And so, it seems like their music is actually less mournful than it was 30 years ago. Now they’re looking back at themselves and their youthful angst with something like a fond eye. But, apparently, even people hovering near 60 sometimes find themselves paralyzed by silence and insecurity, and songs about those feelings never get old or irrelevant.
I am in no way nostalgic for the cultural landscape of 1994, but I understand that some of you may be. This should take you there. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that Weezer is one of those groups that never outlived their legacy as a 90’s band. I know they still make records and such, but nobody thinks they’ve been consistently relevant for all these years. Or, I don’t know, maybe the aging hipsters of my childhood still do think that. I mean, I only listen to this band for the hits. I can say, though, that there’s definitely a generational divide between me, who was 11 years old in 1994, and older kids who actually grew up wearing flannel and have serious debates about which album reduntantly titled Weezer is the most important one.
Have you ever broken up with someone you didn’t particularly like and then felt marginally bad for not feeling worse about it than you did? Well, Soft Cell has the song for you. Marc Almond cocks a sardonic eyebrow at all the heteronormative images in his own video, and presumably music video cliches in general, and he sounds equally sardonic towards sappy end-of-the-affair ballads in general as well. SPOILER ALERT, his relationship with this girl was wrong from the start because he’s gay, but what’s your excuse? Anyhow, the real source of angst here isn’t that the affair failed, it’s the awkwardness of still being in geographical proximity with embarrassing old flames who want to act like they still know you. You’re a new you with better standards, their lives are a ten car pileup. You can’t help but smirk a little and tell yourself you’ve really dodged a bullet.
“Love so deep, kills you in your sleep”
David Byrne isn’t talking about his relationship with the other members of Talking Heads, that’s for sure. This isn’t even really a proper “Talking Heads” song, though it’s on the books as their final release. It’s an old demo from the Naked sessions that David Byrne slapped some lyrics on for a movie soundtrack. So, basically, a David Byrne song, as all Talking Heads songs are basically just David Byrne songs anyway, because in a band spearheaded by such a strong personality the pretense of creative equality kind of falls apart (and then the band itself falls apart). That explains why Byrne is the only one who appears in the video. Byrne’s own explanation for the song is pretty interesting: “I wrote the words later for the opening scene of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World. The movie is supposed to take place in the year 2000, so I spent a lot of time trying to image music of the near future: post-rock sludge with lyrics sponsored by Coke and Pepsi? Music created by machines with human shouts of agony and betrayal thrown in? Faux Appalachian ballads, the anti-tech wave? The same sounds and licks from the 60s and 70s regurgitated yet again by a new generation of samplers? The Milli Vanilli revival? Rappin’ politicos… sell your soul to the beat, y’all? Well, it was daunting… so I figured, hell with it, I’d imagine Talking Heads doing a reunion LP in the year 2000, and them sounding just like they used to.” Everything he imagined except the Milli Vanilli comeback has come true with a vengeance and it’s the phrase “Talking Heads reunion” that sounds like outlandish gibberish.
I’ve always misheard it as ‘savory truffle’ and that makes more sense to me. These chocolate flavors that are being described are alien to me. Must be an English thing. This is far from being one of George Harrison’s most towering achievements, but it does show his cheeky humor. Apparently Harrison wrote it to poke fun at Eric Clapton’s sweet tooth, and subsequent cavities. Which shows once again that one of the Beatles’ great strengths, collectively, was their ability to mine inspiration out of literally anything. A child’s doodle? Hit song. A poster on the wall? Hit song. Box of chocolates? Not exactly a huge hit, but definitely a song. It takes a childlike level of joie de vivre to see so much inspiration in the world. The world is a box of wonders and everything in it is there for your artistic fueling.
“Please don’t believe in me, please disagree with me”
David Bowie imagines a dark future, as usual. The technology we rely on and worship will someday turn on us and destroy the society it was meant to improve. He wrote this in 1970, when artificial intelligence was a sci-fi pipe dream and the internet was barely a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Little did anyone know that those things would very soon become driving forces in the fabric of everyday life, or that the possibility of a technology-driven societal downfall would be a very real worry. Basically, this song would not be out of place in a musical production about the upcoming Singularity, which is yet another thing that’s gone from being purely hypothetical to highly probable in a scarily short amount of time. Whatever shit happens, just know that David Bowie probably predicted it with his Martian space vision.
So it seems that St. Vincent got saved from what she wanted, but she’s not going to be anyone’s savior. Or something. I doubt that it’s a conscious throughline. Maybe you can hear the artist growing as a person, though I personally don’t parse St. Vincent’s lyrics all that closely given that she’s adamantly not a gut-spiller. You can certainly hear the person growing as an artist, though. There’s a difference between the sound of a relative beginner who’s still building her sound, and a confident artists who’s very clear about who she is and what she wants to sound like. Her latest record was so universally praised and acclaimed it feels obvious to say that it was one of the year’s best and a new height for her blah blah blah, but it really was. Here is an artist in full control of her aesthetic, and that’s a marvelous thing to behold.