I think this is an excellent segue from yesterday, and it’s very on point. Lucinda Williams is always on point writing about love, from her position as a woman who has lived through some serious ups and downs, who has loved many troubled souls and watched them not make it, who didn’t find her personal and professional rewards until she was well over the expiration date that women are usually given for finding those things. From that vantage point she asks, what do we need and expect men to really do for us? And what can lovers ever really do for each other, in the end? What gaping existential void are we asking our mere mortal partners to fill for us? I remember a comment from someone – a poet – that the needs we expect our romantic partners to fill are the same ones that we used to fill with religion. We expect guidance and fulfillment and unconditional love and sacrifice and an ear and a shoulder and a heart to cry to, and the other person inevitably comes up short, because they’re also asking for those things. No wonder so many people would rather burn the world than accept living in a secular society. But regardless if you’re clinging to religious ceremony for comfort or putting all of your emotional eggs in the monogamous long-term relationship basket, those things are still a substitute for the hard work of finding fulfillment within yourself, and there’s no easy shortcut to that. Love and religion can help, or they can hinder you, but you still have got to learn to live with yourself.
There needs to be more baroque pop. There need to be more performers with a self-contained aesthetic and sense of drama. There needs to be more Florence Welch. She has no shortage of dramatic aesthetic wonders up her flowing gossamer sleeves. Listening to a Florence + the Machine record is like submerging yourself in a heady vision, a world filled with medieval and Pre-Raphaelite imagery and possible witchery. Those are things that spring to mind, and would do even if Flo didn’t contribute vividly visualized videos to flesh it all out. It doesn’t hurt that she has the kind of face that’s meant to be rendered eternally and larger-than life. In centuries past, she would have sat for painters. In decades past, she would have been a Hollywood icon. In today’s world, she commands the live-streaming video screens that loom over concert stages. It’s the kind of superhuman charisma that stands out, even in a field already dominated by the charismatic – and inspires florid prose from besotted armchair critics.
Is there anything more Scandinavian than a song about reindeer? I’m not sure how many reindeer pulks you’d find around modern-day Stockholm, but they’re still a fixture in Lapland and adjoining regions. Americans accept Santa’s reindeer as a piece of pop surrealism; in Scandinavia making a caribou carry your shit is just as realistic as having a horse do it. More so, really. Horses don’t do that great in the arctic. Anyway. What I’m saying is, this is a moment of cultural difference right here. The Knife are a Swedish group who are mostly concerned with universal things than know no borders, like love, dancing and lasagna. As it should be, since music is supposed to be cross-cultural and unifying like nothing else. But then you get a song that’s highly specific like this one, and it reminds you that these people live very different lives somewhere quite far across the world, and they get to see and do things that you don’t have access to, like hanging out with reindeer.
They did make her go to rehab, but by then it was too late. Making her fame out of not going to rehab was the worst thing that could have happened to Amy Winehouse. She just wanted to be a jazz singer. Instead she became an outlaw rock star, and outlaw rock stars do one of two things; they inexplicably live forever or they drop dead. It’s nice to imagine an alternate universe in which Amy swaggers into her seventh decade a grande dame of the sort Marianne Faithfull and Patti Smith have become. Alas, the 27 Club always has room for one more, and all we get for it is more artists’ renderings of dead stars playing poker up in heaven. And alas as well that the best way to keep your music alive and relevant is to die in the most tragically ironic way possible. Amy Winehouse could’ve been a good solid artist with a career full of relative ups and downs. It’s probably what she would have chosen, if her back hadn’t been against the wall. Instead she became the rock’n’roll martyr of our time. Until the next tragic hero comes along, that is.
And here we have some of that guitar rock that 2006 was sorely lacking. It was sorely lacking so much that the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album shot them straight to instant fame and breathless accolades of the sort that almost inevitably lead to sore disappointment. There’s hardly a cursed accolade worse than ‘instant classic’ to sink a promising ship, especially if it’s plastered on a debut. As an audience, if you’re not one of those fans who were in on the ground floor and get to say “I told you so!”, your first impulse is to find something to hate. “This so-called instant classic is sooo overrated” you parry “You lot can’t impress me, for what even is guitar rock than just the same Stooges album regurgitated ad nauseum?” That’s actually a pretty fun position to take for the aspiring armchair critic. It’s even worse if you’re the band, and you’ve got nothing to do for the rest of your life except try to live up to a load of hype that got thrown at you when you were barely old enough to sign your own checks. I’m going to hold my initial position here and say that the first Arctic Monkeys album was not actually as monumentally great an achievement as the hype would have it, though apparently a garage rock concept album about the spoils of partying is just what the world was hungering for. However, it was a good start, with or without hyperbole, and more importantly, these guys really beat the odds. They didn’t flame out under pressure, they kept working and got tighter and developed a more interesting image and made increasingly better albums and actually grew into being one of the best guitar bands.
Everybody’s favorite album of the aughts is Give Up. It really seems that literally everybody you know loves this record. They either straight-up unconditionally love it, or they’ll admit that they used to love it but they were just going through an emo phase and they’re totally over it now, which just means they’re fronting. Just, everybody who hears this record loves it. I love it, you love it, your dog loves it. That, of course, makes The Postal Service one of the most important and influential groups of our time. They invented dream-pop! They invented shoegaze! They invented chill-wave! I’m actually not entirely sure that any of those things are even a legit thing, but it’s true that most of the electronic synthpop that we’re glutted up on now can be traced straight back to this one record.
Does it always look so gray, before the fall?
It’s been a record year for a lot of things, none of them good. Some of us are making peace with saying goodbye to the world as we know it. We may be witnessing the fall of an empire, not from a safe distance – because there is no such thing – but in the front and center of the world’s arena. And yet, as people are wont to do, we go about our lives amidst catastrophes and insist that our lives are meaningful and our feelings are the most important thing at stake at any given time. It is a wonder, maybe a miracle of some sort, that people in a dying world still believe that their love is not like any other love, or even that they still take the time to love at all. (Don’t get me started on people who still think that passing on their genetic material is somehow a good idea.) The world may still end with a bang, which might just be the best we can hope for, but for most of us, it’s going to end with a mournful song. We may be neck deep in record rainfall but we still want to be told that our feelings amount to a hill of beans in this world. And that’s why we have art, ladies and gentlemen.