What happens when Lee “Scratch” Perry meets Tom Tom Club? A party, obviously. I have no way of knowing if Perry ever actually met Tom Tom Club in the real world, but musically he did, when they used his samples on their record. It was a good fit. Too bad you can’t find this album on the usual streaming sites. The world is just not with all this funkiness like it should be.
I have not listened to Fevers & Mirrors in ten years. I’ve continued to play some of the other Bright Eyes records over the years, but this one somehow has just felt wrong. I was never an emo kid in the having-side-bangs sense, but like a lot of sensitive kids, my formative years were blighted by alienation, and in my early 20’s I spent a lot of sad evenings getting ugly drunk to the shoegaze poetry of Conor Oberst. Many of those songs I am now able to untangle from those particular memories and I appreciate them for the writing. I love the lyrics, and though many people are turned off by Oberst’s quavery voice, I love that too. Sometimes, I like remembering what it felt like to be that young and emotional. But this record, it just zooms me too quickly and too hard into memories of being 22, 23, 24 and those – the years that are supposed to be everyone’s best years – were not good years. They were not the worst years, but in hindsight they were the saddest, because I thought that I was happy and living a good life. But perhaps everyone thinks they’re having a good time while they sustain damages they don’t know they’re going to have to learn to live with for the rest of their lives.
You’ll either find this epic or exhausting, depending on how much you enjoy the mixological stylings of Fatboy Slim. I think it’s eleven and a half minutes of pure epic. The kind of throw-everything-at-it epic with ambitions of deep import that psychedelic rock bands used to produce because the acid told them they needed to turn the people on, man! It may not sound much like what you’d recognize from your late 60’s “experimental phase” but it’s in the same spiritual wheelhouse. Fatboy Slim wants to uplift you, send you off with a feeling of wellbeing, tune your vibes up, etc. etc. It’s the perfect song for that slow afterglow as you leave that basement acid rave, and the drugs are wearing off and you come out and see the sun rising.
Sade says very profound, simple things about love. Though she writes about heartbreak a lot, she never comes off as a sad person. She makes it sound like a storm to be weathered, from which she emerges with her strength intact. That makes her some kind of throwback as a songwriter. Her stoicism and ability to find poetic beauty in pain is timeless. It’s also antithetical to modern songwriting, which wants to view heartbreak as trauma and breakups as a series of petty grievances. Right now is the age of confessional songwriting, in which everything is messy and ugly and raw, and that is in many ways cathartic. But though songwriters like Kristine Flaherty (K.Flay) who paint themselves as messed-up and dysfunctional are easy to relate to (and I admire them for that), the old-fashioned grace of Sade is something to aspire to.
Only Sade can write a song about slavehood – the spiritual kind – and imbue it with the kind of glamour that sells perfume. That doesn’t take anything away from Sade’s songwriting; her words and delivery are powerful, her message is strong. But Sade is Sade – she oozes glamour and sensuality. Her music, even at its most thought-provoking, is made for silk sheets and candlelight. Is it wrong to think that contemplation can be glamorous? Spirituality should not be glamorized or commodified – as it has been – for the ashram is no place for sensuality, unless you take deprivation itself as a sensual pleasure. Spirituality calls for asceticism, a point made by every major creed. But we want to gain some glint of enlightenment within ourselves AND still roll around on silk sheets. How about empowerment and self-awareness, then?
Apparently my grasp of the alphabet has been pretty loose this week. Not my fault, iTunes. Anyway, out of order but not forgotten, the White Stripes. I think I’m not the only person of a certain age who recalls the arrival of the White Stripes as a game changing event of Beatlesque proportions. Before, the musical landscape was one way, and afterwards it was completely different. I however, was not on the vanguard who discovered the wonder of Jack and Meg in 1999 or 2000, unfortunately. I had to wait until they became mainstream, because I didn’t have the internet in those days. But even if I wasn’t aware of it, the change was brewing. Listening to songs from De Stijl, you can’t say that it sounds like the year 2000. It sounds like the future and the past, but it doesn’t sound one bit like what passed for music in the year 2000.
I can’t relate to Gwen Stefani’s generic feminine ambitions – something she was not being the least bit ironic about, if her lifestyle choices are any indication – but I can relate to her personal style. Though, obviously, it’s always a bit disappointing to find that the coolest girl on the block only ever really wanted to settle down and have a bunch of babies, your teenage idols are still your teenage idols deep down inside. You can credit Gwen Stefani for inspiring a legion of impressionable middle-schoolers to dye their hair shades that previously only existed on cartoon characters. You can credit Stefani for all the now-thirtysomethings who still religiously stock up on the Manic Panic and Urban Decay and Hard Candy. Yeah, Gwen Stefani was visually everything 8th grade me aspired to become one day. I didn’t particularly care that she also made music. She was just the height of style. I might even debate you on whether the style actually holds up better than the music. I mean, did the world really need California Ska, or did the world need an enduring fashion icon with the power to make adult braces trendy?