It is A.R. Rahman’s time to shine. He’s a well known name in India, but that generally doesn’t translate to any sort of status whatsoever in the English-speaking world. Yet he was – briefly! – in a band with Mick Jagger, and he gets Jagger to sing in Sanskrit. If hearing Mick Jagger go Bollywood is something you’ve fantasized about, this is your only chance to scratch that itch. Jagger fronts a glorified blues band most of the time, and fans don’t seem to like it when he goes off and gets weird, but doesn’t it seem like he hasn’t sounded this energized in years? He’s belting out that Sanskrit chorus like it’s the most fun he’s had in a decade, which may actually be true.
At the end of the day, nobody does Tom Waits better than Tom Waits. (That shouldn’t even have to be said.) Tom Waits shows the kids how to do the crazy-old-man-in-a-hat boogie, and he shows up his peers as well. Who else can clap back at the Rolling Stones and then gets Keith Richards himself to play assenting backup on it? Oh, there will be satisfaction, Tom Waits demands it. He will have scratched every itch and won every duel by the end of the day. At the end of the day, he will be ready to roll of the mortal coil with no unfinished business. He will exit with swagger. Whatever satisfaction Tom Waits is checking off his list, it’s deeper and more diabolical than anything an angsty twentysomething trying to get laid has in mind.
The kind of rock stars who take the time to look like rock stars are kind of a dying breed, but there’s a few left who still understand that the leather pants and the panda-bear eye makeup are almost as much of an art form as the music. The Kills are one of those holdouts. They know that grimy garage noise rock is great on its own, but it’s even better when it’s part of a full-on aesthetic that promises that if you fluff up your hair just right then a life of glamour and creativity can be yours too. Rock and roll is a way of life and you can’t live it in cargo shorts and flip flops. Fucking pompadour your hair up real tall and put on some boots and skinny pants. If nothing else it will get you laid. Look at how ugly Jamie Hince is, and he married Kate Moss.
The Decemberists have not only mastered the trick of writing songs that sound like they might belong in a different decade; they write songs that sound like they could be hundreds of years old. On a superficial level, we think we know what the trick is: the trick is that a well-deployed mandolin or fiddle goes a long way towards making something sound ‘traditional’. But there’s plenty of fiddle-laden songs that still sound like the hot millennial garbage that they are. To sound traditional, you have to learn about tradition. It’s having an ear for history, if you will. It’s being the kind of music nerd who knows their way around madrigals and pibrochs. And it’s knowing how to deploy the lowly fiddle without sounding like it’s hoedown night at the Old West Saloon.
Now it’s time to revisit one of my favorite one-off supergroups. I haven’t listened to Superheavy in a while, but it’s a record I’m always happy to pull out. Yeah, I actually went and ordered the LP, I liked it so much. I know you’re thinking “she’ll just pay for anything Mick Jagger does, even when it’s crap” and that’s definitely true. I also think that Superheavy is probably the best think Jagger has done in years, and almost certainly the best thing he’s done outside of his day job. But also, this record fills a need besides the need to be a Rolling Stones completist. There really aren’t that many albums that incorporate so much musical diversity all in one place. This is really one supergroup where each member brought their best stuff to the forefront and you can hear and feel each of their contributions. It’s not just “The Mick Jagger and a bunch of other people Show.” It’s five very different musicians working together as equals.
This Decemberists songs isn’t referencing Greek mythology or English literature or 1970’s folk music. It isn’t referencing any cultural artifacts at all. Its inspiration is much closer to home than all that. Colin Meloy wrote the song for his son Henry, who was about five years old at the time and diagnosed with autism. Meloy is hardly the first person to write about the fears and struggles of raising a child, but the difficulty of raising one whose brain works so differently lends it added pathos. Parenting can be a source of existential angst, I’ve been told, unique from the usual day to day angst of just living. Which could also be a source of creative inspiration, if children weren’t so damn labor-intensive and distracting. That’s probably not why the pool of pop songs inspired by children is relatively small (writers of pop songs can afford childcare, usually.) It’s just that nobody wants to hear a pop song about being responsible and sleep-deprived from constant worry; those things are most people’s daily reality. We want our pop stars to be sleep-deprived from cocaine binges and consequence-free sex.
First of all, Paul Simon has really grown into an adorable old man. He looks like he probably plays dominoes outside of the deli every afternoon. He looks like one of his own characters, because if he hasn’t yet written a song about an old man who plays dominoes outside the deli, he’s going to soon. Secondly, there is, as always, Paul Simon’s writing, which has only ripened with age. His songs, at this point, are as full and satisfying as a good short story. His writing has always been both literate and literary, but now it’s without the distraction of youthful angst, which screams me! me! me! instead of observing the world fully. I love really good observational writing, and Paul Simon writes about people and moments and feelings that feel real, outside of the usual concerns of pop. Pop songwriting is essentially hormonal, geared to appeal to young people who are screaming to be seen. Mature writing is about seeing what’s not screaming for attention, and not every songwriter, even very gifted ones, ever learns that.