Here’s a Blondie song you may not have heard on the radio. Because deep cuts from 2003 don’t come up through the cracks very often, not when you can keep playing the old hits. Anyhow, I thought The Curse of Blondie was a pretty great album (especially for a band that had been in and out of hiatus for nearly 20 years.) But it was definitely a weird one, thematically at least. The band was meditating on things not usually found on a pop album; aging, death, the squicky metaphysical implications of May-December romance, and the idea of reincarnation, which some people apparently find romantic.
The world needs a band that can mimic the sound of corny 70’s era Europop, and isn’t afraid of fingersnaps or gallopy-horse sound effects. The world also needs a sensitive yet witty songwriter who loves English folk music and listens to The Smiths too much. That group is Belle & Sebastian, that songwriter is Stuart Murdoch, and they’ve made their career as the millennial incarnation of twee-pop. That made-up genre title smacks of our culture’s tendency to mock anything that isn’t sweating aggression, but it’s also descriptive of a certain aesthetic type. You know, the self-consciously anti-aggressive too-smart-for-the-mainstream types who wear cardigans and Wellies even when they’re not in the north of England. You’d call them hipsters except that that’s how they really are and they can’t ever be any other way. You (we) know who you (we) are.
The Knife are – were – a group known for performing in masks and/or facepaint. Though they didn’t go so far as to keep their real names anonymous, their personas were kept shrouded in mystique. However, in their own frosty Scandinavian way, their music is very intimate. Very often Karin Dreijer Andersson sounds like she’s singing straight into your head, from inside a wolf suit. With lyrics about mundane things like going out for Chai tea, The Knife’s musical weirdness becomes kind of homey. An esoteric sort of home, of course, but still cozy and full of personal touches, as a home should be.
This is a song I’ve spend hours of my life listening to, even though I can’t say that I really enjoy it. It pushes my buttons emotionally. I can relate to its anger and love. But it’s also not something I need to hear all the time, which is why I’ve listened to Lucinda Williams much less in recent years. I don’t need emotional crutch music the way that I used to. When you’re inexperienced, young and stupid, you need something that teaches you how you should feel, a guide on how to navigate all of the feelings. Now that I’m not any longer at least two out of those three things, I don’t really care about feelings anymore. Feelings are not longer interesting. But it’s sometimes nice to revisit things that used to be massively important, and in the case of music, maybe learn to appreciate it in a new context.
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.
David Bowie looks at the abstract concept of reality. “Things that [they] regarded as truths seem to have just melted away, and it’s almost as if we’re thinking post-philosophically now. There’s nothing to rely on any more.” he said in 2003. Well, there’s nothing more post-philosophic than talking about how reality has become sless real, and this is coming from a man who founded his own internet service. Reality, in the broad scheme of things, is just as nebulous and slippery as it ever was, and the idea that technological and societal changes have altered it in any substantial way is a philosophical discussion as old as time. Fortunately for fans who don’t necessarily want to have that discussion, Bowie’s Reality album wasn’t actually about philosophy. It was more about the artist’s own reality, and the reality of real people feeling lost and small in the world. In this case, the artist looks back at himself as a young man, and sees a cosmic joke. What happened and why? He’s not sure, but all he can do is look back and laugh.
Lucinda Williams writes about broken hearts and bruised emotions a lot. Her other great subject is people. Hard luck people. Williams spent a lot of years as a hard luck person herself before she became successful. She’s seen a lot of rough living in her time, and she’s witnessed a lot of failure. She can document the rough side of the rock’n’roll life. There’s a lot of working musicians who live on the road and run themselves ragged and bleed for their art, all without ever earning the bucketloads of money and adulation that’s supposed to make it worthwhile. This is for them.