I didn’t grow up listening to Pet Shop Boys; I wasn’t raised in a household that placed high value of electronic dance music, and it was pre-internet times. Now, however, I’ve become such a fan that I listen to their B-sides. B-sides is where artists send the material that is too weird or not quite good enough to make the album. It can be garbage or treasure, but the B-side compilation is only for people looking to make a deep-dive. So here I am listening to Alternative, and it’s a pretty mixed bag. But Pet Shop Boys are here to convince people who don’t place high value on electronic music that they’re wrong. They’re the counterpoint to any argument that their kind of music is silly and shallow and less intellectual than traditional guitar rock (yes, it’s a dumb distinction to even try to make, but there are purists on both sides), and as such, even their b-tier material is interesting.
I keep coming back to Geoffrey Oryema’s Exile album because it can evoke so many moods. I don’t, of course, know what most of his songs are about, but understanding words is overrated. This songs, for example, is called ‘Solitude’ though that’s just the English word someone put on it. I don’t have any way of knowing what it would be called on other language editions. But let’s assume it is what it is. Is it evoking solitude as an experience of loneliness and sorrow, or as a state of comfort and contemplation? Could it be a little mixture of both, as would be reflective of the shifting nature of most people’s experiences? It invites deep thought, but it could just as easily invite a thoughtless meditative state. You could also, and with equal easy, cry on the floor to this music, or get high, or fuck, or just sit there and drink tea. It’s music for everything, really, and there’s just not that many examples of a record that complements so many varied states.
You gotta wonder what it is the Pet Shop Boys have to be so mournful about all the time. No matter how uptempo their beats are, in their hearts they’re always sad. I’m sure that in real life Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant are very fun guys who aren’t mopey at all. But on record, they’ve set their tone as ‘music to cry to after coming home from the gay bar all alone’. Which honestly is a niche that needed to be filled. You can give them credit for showing that synth-pop and dance music can be thoughtful and emotionally deep. To this day there’s a lack of deep thought and feeling in the genre, as though people who go out dancing don’t have those things either. There’s the argument that people go to clubs and listen to dance music to escape from the thoughts and feelings that haunt them the rest of the time, but that’s a little bit simplistic. I mean, there’s nothing more emotionally triggering than dragging your alienation down to the club only to discover that it won’t go away no matter how much you drink, dance and grind up on strangers. Also, we’re still having trouble letting go of the idea that music with synthesizers and beats in it is something you only hear at the club while wearing booty shorts. Sometimes it’s basically emo with Casio keyboards instead of acoustic guitars. Or when songwriters like PSB get ahold of it and suddenly it’s filled with the full emotional complexity of the human condition and stuff.
Eek-a-Mouse has recorded about twenty albums, give or take, and I only listen to one of them. U-Neek is just one of those records that I’ve listened to so many times over I know every song, and it’s a record I put on when I want to leave my troubles at the door. I’m sure that some of Mouse’s other records are fine as wine too, but this one is just special. I can’t recommend a better party record, for one thing, if you’re into weird parties. It’s good for getting drunk and dancing alone in your bedroom like a goddamn teenager in an 80’s movie. Children like it. And it’s funny. Five stars, an absolute favorite.
When the occasional urge to listen to hard-driving punk rock kicks in, I put on some Social Distortion. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes a little angry music can be very satisfying. It’s one a very few things I’ve held over from my ex. Their eponymous 1990 third album is a favorite for those times when it’s necessary to get pumped up and overcome the gloomies. You can’t be sad if you’re angry, right?
For your collection of classic albums nobody has ever heard of, add R.L. Burnside’s A Ass Pocket of Whiskey (1996), which is classic for that title alone. Also for what Burnside did bringing blues music up to the gates of the 21st century. I must admit that I actually like aggressive electric blues like Burnside’s a lot more than traditional shotgun shack blues of olden times. Having been raised on blues-derived rock music, this kind of high-leaded energy feels like what blues ‘should’ sound like, while the crackly acoustic recordings of the old masters sound a little alien to me. Palates change, of course, and I know that some things are acquired tastes. But this right here is what I, the modern listener, want from a blues record. Which is why even the most deep-rooted musical styles have to evolve or face extinction.
No retrospective about “Women of the 90’s” or “Women in Rock” in general would be complete without PJ Harvey. Which, in and of itself, would probably rub the artist the wrong way. Harvey never associated herself with politically energized musical movements like Riot Grrrl, being wary of earning a label that would overshadow her work. That was wise. Riot Grrrl and their angry zines may have been the face of 90’s feminism, but who still listens to their music? I mean, the main hurtful trope against feminists when I was a growing up was that they listened to bad music. PJ Harvey wouldn’t want to be defined by identity-based labels, and she’s not about to be defined by musical labels. Her work is too diverse for that. She draws from blues and punk, for all that abrasive rage. She also knows her cabaret and is well versed in all that confessional songwriting stuff, making her work both theatrical and intimate. In other words, a well-rounded artist. Who would never claim to be anyone’s mouthpiece or role model. But her rage is yours if you want it.