There needs to be more baroque pop. There need to be more performers with a self-contained aesthetic and sense of drama. There needs to be more Florence Welch. She has no shortage of dramatic aesthetic wonders up her flowing gossamer sleeves. Listening to a Florence + the Machine record is like submerging yourself in a heady vision, a world filled with medieval and Pre-Raphaelite imagery and possible witchery. Those are things that spring to mind, and would do even if Flo didn’t contribute vividly visualized videos to flesh it all out. It doesn’t hurt that she has the kind of face that’s meant to be rendered eternally and larger-than life. In centuries past, she would have sat for painters. In decades past, she would have been a Hollywood icon. In today’s world, she commands the live-streaming video screens that loom over concert stages. It’s the kind of superhuman charisma that stands out, even in a field already dominated by the charismatic – and inspires florid prose from besotted armchair critics.
First off, Suck It and See is a dumb album title, to American ears at least, though the Arctic Monkeys assure us that in the UK it’s not a rude phrase at all. Two nations divided by one language, as they say. Title aside, though, it’s apparently become one of the essential rock albums of the 2010’s, an era that’s been short on good solid rock and roll. Somebody has to tide rock music through one of its periodic dead spells, and these guys nominate themselves. Hence the greaser hair. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on the fence about Arctic Monkeys for a while, with the suspicion that if the competition were stiffer, they’d be less acclaimed. But they’ve been riding an upwards arc, with increasingly stronger music, and I’ve come around and had to admit they’re a good rock band who don’t really need a caveat. Yes, the world needs a good rock band right now but… Hey, hey, my, my, as the poet said.
Brian Eno and Rick Holland bring two of my favorite things together; ambient soundscapes and cryptic whispering voices. Eno provides the soundscapes, Holland provides the poetry, non-famous civilians provide the whisperings. I highly recommend Drums Between the Bells as one of the great Eno collaboration albums. Since he’s apparently long ago given up making interesting things on his own, but still brings the weird when an inspiring collaborator comes along.
It’s ok to check your brain at the door sometimes and just lose yourself to Shakira and her raging lady-boner. I’m not suggesting that Shakira is dumb. She is an incredibly accomplished person. But with all of her myriad talents, all she really wants to do is make people dance. We music critics tend to give unpretentious, happy music the side-eye, presuming that there has to be something lacking. Lack of soul, lack of talent, lack of passion, lack of anything to say. All of which, fair enough, do tend to be lacking in an entertainment landscape that leans increasingly on the work of robots. But I shouldn’t have to defend the joy that only a well made pop song can bring. Just pure animal euphoria, a three minute escape pod from reality. That’s what Shakira does, and she’s one of the best at doing it. She knows that music is one of the most powerful forces of unification; it’s the only surefire way to make people drop their differences and fraternize, even if only for an evening. She’s a superstar all across the fucking planet because her tunes need no translation, and everybody wants to dance, and it’s that simple. (But she still records English versions of all her hits, because she’s nice like that [and American audiences are racist]).
One thing about Paul Simon hasn’t changed; he still loves New York City. It may just be his lifelong muse. As much as he likes to safari, he always comes back to those familiar images of city streets. Now he’s a white haired old man with nothing left to prove and nothing to do but observe the eternal flow around him. There may be a shout-out to Jay-Z just to mark us in the present, but the cityscape hasn’t changed much either. Billboards and buildings may come and go, but the city’s role as the quintessential American pilgrimage place hasn’t wavered. It’s still all things to all people, and for Paul Simon, it’s home.
Lady Gaga set out to reinvent 80’s style arena rock, and it was just what we didn’t know we needed. Born This Way was full of ridiculously cheesy fist-pump anthems and power ballads. And it was good. So, so good. This is like a long lost Whitney Houston song, but better. So, so much better. Because it has the all of the brio and enthusiasm of a genuine camp aficionado. Obviously, Gaga just loves the hell out of the FM rock tropes of her childhood, but she wants to use them for art. That’s why she called one of her albums ArtPop, because she’s stupidly clever like that. Lady Gaga is a master of high-low, stupid-clever, trash-to-treasure.
The Kills are probably the last band that need the soft focus acoustic treatment. As feral as they are on stage and on record, they’re not meant to play sitting down. Still, you can enjoy their acoustic sitting and find that the songs hold up even stripped of most of their thunder. Also, a great partnership with a great rapport is always a joy to watch. The Kills have gone from unknown to indie sensation to the toast of Fashion Week, and will probably fall back into obscurity with their partnership intact. Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart are just a great team, and hopefully will carry on being, past every magazine cover, fancy dress party and divorce.