Shackled and Drawn

We don’t wait breathlessly to see what Bruce Springsteen will be up to next. He set up his themes and topics very concisely a long time ago, and nobody wants or expects him to go off and make an EDM record or write a rock opera set in space. Springsteen is not going to get weird in his old age and he’s not about to embarrass himself trying to stay edgy. That’s because he’s got a huge legacy of work that still feels relevant and he knows it. He still performs relentlessly, from globetrotting stadium tours to intimate one-man shows, making him one of the hottest ticket sellers in the world. People want to see Springsteen, a whole lot of people, and part of it may be the element of nostalgia for the hits, but it’s also because even the most obscure old material still speaks to real issues. So, it’s not like we really need new Springsteen material, but, I have to say, he’s still putting out some really good work. 2012’s Wrecking Ball was an outstanding album; musically diverse, hard-rocking and very angry. Springsteen has been playing with elements of folk music for a long time, but this may be the first time he’s drawn heavily on gospel music. Gospel makes everything better, obviously, but it also helps place Springsteen’s work within a larger historical tradition, a position in American music history that goes back further than the narrow parameters of rock star hitmaking.

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Sex Yeah

“If women were religiously
Recognized sexually
We wouldn’t have to feel the need to show our ass,
It’s to feel free”

More pop stars should have lyrics this blunt. But few pop stars ever confront the conundrum of sex roles and entertainment. Marina Diamandis isn’t really a pop star per se, though. She just plays one as a means of writing commentary about what it means to be a pop star. And feminine roles in general, and the havoc they wreak on the feminine psyche. The fact is that women perform femininity, and in many cases the performance is as studied and effortful as a drag queen’s, except without the option of wiping off the mascara and being a man again the next day. We live our lives as an endless burlesque, putting on the drag in the morning, sashaying all day long, stripping artfully at bedtime, and if we’re fortunate enough to actually have alone-space, catching a few hours of unguarded snooze. Some find that the part comes naturally, that it’s easy and fun; for others, being a socially presentable female is a grinding charade. That’s just real life, though. When women become entertainers, they play wildly exaggerated versions of their own personalities, and the archetypes those personalities are boxed into. (Some end up playing archetypes that have nothing to do with their real personalities at all, which must be its own circle of hell.) There’s the option of satirizing the archetype, or of breaking the box and creating a new archetype, but in the big money pop arena, self awareness doesn’t pay. Nor does ‘the talent’ have much power over what they sing, say, wear or post on Instagram – it’s all managed by handlers. That’s why we really, really need a satirical pop star like Marina, who explores both the absurdity and the fun of sex roles, their potential for empowerment or damage – and wraps it all up in glittering, perfect pop songs.

Seen it All

It’s adorable to hear a kid barely out of school lamenting about how much hard living he’s seen. Most of us at 17 haven’t seen very much beyond our own living room. There are, of course and unfortunately, plenty of children who’ve seen lifetimes of horror in the years in takes most of us to figure out there’s no Easter bunny, but I have it on good authority that Jake Bugg wasn’t one of them. But here is where the artistry comes in. If you can’t imagine a life outside your own circle, you’re not much of an artist, and songwriting is all about empathy and imagination. If Jake can imagine himself as a real tough who’s been to a lot of knife fights, we can imagine it too.

Run Rumspringa

Still waiting for a new LP from Alex Winston. Apparently she’s been in label purgatory for the past five years, with a full album that she hasn’t been able to release because contractual obligations yada yada yada. That’s a trap a lot of rising young artists with plenty of talent but not a whole lot of business sense fall into, and it can really nip a promising career right in the bud. There’s still no word when and how Winston will release all the music she recorded while signed, but she is working on a collaborative project with Max Hershenow aka the male half of MS MR, which excites me a lot. In the meantime we’ll always have King Con, with its rogues’ gallery of Amish youths-gone-wild, Mormon sister-wives and velvet paintings.

Roll On, John

Bob Dylan pays tribute to his dearly departed friend John. Lennon, that is. It’s a moving ode, and an honor, one legend to another. Why Dylan felt compelled to light this particular candle in 2012, as opposed to, like, 1981 is unclear. Maybe the pain was too great. Maybe thirty-odd years is just how long he needed to be able to articulate something. Maybe to have written a song any closer to the fact would have felt wrong, trashy, opportunistic. Maybe it’s not helpful or kind to react to a friend’s tragedy by going all ‘great American songwriter’ about it right away. John Lennon, of all people, never needed to have “Eulogized by Bob Dylan” added to the end of his obituary. It certainly wouldn’t have burnished his star any brighter. So maybe it’s just out of respect that Dylan held back his eulogy a few decades. Either way, it’s a touching gesture. Why he chose to sing it in extra-emphysemic mode is another question, especially since he’s been on a standards-album kick lately and he can still croon like it’s Lay Lady Lay all over again. Oh, well, Bob Dylan moves in gnomic ways.

Right Now

Rihanna, EDM queen. Frankly, it’s a pretty generic EDM song; with any other vocalist on duty, you couldn’t pick it out of a playlist. But it’s Rihanna, and when she says we’d better live up while we still have time, she sounds like she means it. That’s a generic-as-fuck platitude, designed to get you bellied-up to the bar for shots, all primed and ready to get out there and make some bad decisions. But, again, it’s Rihanna, and she makes bad-decision-making behavior look like good-decision-making. And face it, you’re never gonna be this young again, so get the fuck out there and do something stupid.

Radioactive

Sometimes I wonder if my love life would be a bigger success if I made a bigger effort to be a toxic bitch. People like that, right? Men would flock to me? It’s a trope that mentally unstable people are more desirable, and romance isn’t really worth it unless it’s full of explosive drama and mutual bad behaviour. Most of us learn otherwise pretty quickly in life, but the trope shows no sign of losing its appeal. It’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s rehab-failing older sister. The Toxic Bitch may smash your windshield and ruin your life, but nobody ever made you feel more alive. The male equivalent is the guy who breaks your nose on Valentine’s Day then takes you to brunch the next morning, and he is only marginally less easy to glamorize. Toxic people are shit and you should run away from them when you see them coming, but don’t you secretly want to be that out of control?