Race for the Prize

I can see myself listening to Flaming Lips all day. I think we all collectively suffered through a phase of post-Yoshimi Lips exhaustion at some point, but we’ve moved past that now. If anyone has the oeuvre to survive the curse of ubiquity, it’s the Flaming Lips. I’ve listening to them for years, sometimes heavily, and there are still corners – nay! entire neighborhoods – in their discography that I haven’t delved into yet. That’s because some of their work is so forbidding; I don’t have four independent sound systems to properly play Zaireeka, nor 24 hours of undivided attention to fully enjoy 7 Skies H3, and neither do most of us. But maybe one day I’ll have those things. Flaming Lips occupy an interesting territory, don’t they? They’re a popular band; everyone has heard at least a few of their hits and everyone has seen the crowdsurfing bubble pictures. Yet so much of their work is not only deeply weird, but straight-up literally inaccessible. They push music into the realm of conceptual art, where things exist just because they just do and the fact than nearly no-one is able to experience or enjoy them is part of the point. But then they also have songs that you’ve probably heard on a grocery store muzak station. So they have covered all of the bases on the continuum of artistic existence from for-everybody to for-nobody.

New Faces

Say what you will about all the downsides of rock stars getting old, but there are some themes that only make sense coming from an older perspective. Feeling threatened by younger, better looking rivals is one of them. A young Mick Jagger would never be threatened by any other man. A Mick Jagger in his 50’s could be forgiven for worrying about getting traded in for an upgrade. For an egomaniac rock star who’s used to being on top of the world, aging provides an opening for showing a more vulnerable side, a chance to write about something other than being the cock of the walk. I think it’s no coincidence that The Rolling Stones have produced some really outstanding ballads in their later years.

New Angels of Promise

So apparently David Bowie wrote this for the soundtrack of a video game, which makes David Bowie considerably more hip to the times than I am. Which is as it should be, because he’s David Bowie, of course, trailblazing his way into the new millennium. I remember being ecstatic in 1999 when ‘Hours…‘ came out, which for me meant stealing merchandise at the record shop. (Yeah, I stole a few posters and buttons, that’s not why they went out of business!) To my impressionable mind it was as good as anything ever, and as an adult somewhat capable of objectivity, I still think it is. Not that Bowie has never lost momentum, but he’s maintained consistency since the droopy period in the 80’s, and everything he does is part of the grand scheme of things.

Never Know

“You never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”

A grain of wisdom oft rephrased and repeated. So Angelique Kidjo suggests, appreciate what you’ve got and the moment you’re living in. But remember also the flip side, the old adage about the clarity of hindsight; some of the things you’ve lost or left behind may not have been that great at all.

Needle in the Hay

A depressing song from a depressing songwriter. Elliott Smith frequently wrote about addiction and despair, being an alcoholic and drug addict himself. But he did so in a disarmingly charming style. Such is the balance of hummable charm and blackest ennui that this song can best be summed up as ‘exactly the perfect sort of tune to score a suicide scene in a Wes Anderson movie’. Which, to Smith’s chagrin, is exactly what happened when Anderson used the song in The Royal Tenenbaums to score a suicide scene. Perhaps Smith found it was in poor taste… and in hindsight, it’s a bit disturbing, given that the singer may have committed suicide himself. Yet, I think it’s a good match, a contrast of dark and bright that fits.