Dark Despair and Gallows Humor

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In order to not completely burn myself out on the new Morrissey disc, World Peace is None of your Business, which I could easily listen to a thousand times until I need to move on, I have been mixing it up with some Frank Sinatra.  I especially like Sinatra’s music where he is drowning in gloom.  This would be on albums like Only the Lonely and No One Cares.  These are albums filled with maudlin songs full of despair over lost love.  Unlike teenage pop songs, where no matter how sad the music is you know that they will eventually be OK, because they are young and will bounce back, this is music for adults, where all hope has gone out of the window.  In teenage pop, which I love as well, it feels like a tragedy, but we know it is not.  On these Sinatra albums they are the sound of a middle age man running out of time to correct his mistakes.  In fact, the narrator of each song, may be out of time, forever destined to walk the earth bearing the grief of his lost love, like Marley’s Ghost with his chains.

When things go this jet black, maybe it’s just me, but I also feel like they go through the looking glass and cross over to a certain kind of gallows humor.  This in no way dims the true sadness of these records, nor do I mean it in any kind of ironic sense as if I’m smirking at the albums.  But tragedy and comedy have always been very close to me.  It is through this sort of transition between tragedy and dark, dark comedy, that emotional release comes and the records actually become therapeutic.  Instead of wallowing in the despair of the narrator, as voyeurs into the world of the narrator, we can exercise our own emotions and transcend them.

Line of Best Fit Review of World Peace is None of Your Business

http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/morrissey-world-peace-is-none-of-your-business-harvest?

The above review by Michael James Hall is the best review I have read yet of Morrissey’s new album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  I don’t agree with a few of his small criticisms,  and in the beginning he makes the same mistake of many journalists by saying that basically this is a return to form.  Although it has been five years since Morrissey put out a new album, and I do believe his new album to be the best of his newer releases, all of his last three studio albums have been essential listening for me.  Anyway, these are small complaints because Hall does largely get why this is simply a fantastic release both musically and lyrically.  This record is not only one of the crowning achievments in Mozzer’s career, but is absolutely one of the best albums put out by anyone in recent years.  I have only heard the album three times, as travel has prevented me from streaming it more, but each time my jaw has been on the floor.  If you are looking for intelligent music that is also subversive,  very melodic, and musically inventive,  look no further.  Once I get home, and get my hands on a physical copy, I intend to explain in full detail why I think so highly of this record.  I am clearly a fan, as anyone else reading this blog can tell, but this record belongs in any intelligent music lovers collection.  It is that good.  On first listen some the melodies seem complex and challenging, but by listen three every one  of them is ingrained in your head, never to leave.  Also, even if Morrissey had been taken off the record, his band is reaching new heights, creating music that is stunning in its own right.  I know that I have been writing a lot Morrissey lately, maybe too much to some reader’s consternation,  but I am simply over the moon about this album.  It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to…

You can stream the record here in full in the states:
http://www.npr.org/2014/07/06/326925957/first-listen-morrissey-world-peace-is-none-of-your-business

nme.com is streaming it in England. 

Fantastic Failure

This is the video for Fantastic Failure from Kristeen Young ‘ s V the Volcanic.  Her new album The Knife Shift is out now.  It is an extraordinary album that is not for the faint of heart.  The  Knife Shift  was produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T-Rex,  Thin Lizzy, and Morrissey among many others) and features Dave Grohl on drums. She is a true original and I am very excited to announce that I will be posting an interview with Kristeen next month.  Stay tuned…

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence Revisited

I have set several rules for myself for this blog.  One of the things that I have promised to do on this blog is to let my writings stand as they are, whether good or bad.  Sometimes I reread things I have written and cringe and sometimes I am quite proud.  I can always change my mind in writing something new, but I will not reedit anything I have written other than to correct spelling and grammar errors.  This way I can be as true as possible in the moment. 

One of the recent blogs that makes me cringe is my recent review of the Lana Del Rey album.  In order to point out the small faults that I found in it I feel that I was too harsh and did not explain in full what I actually like about it.  It is actually writing music reviews that I often feel the least adequate, despite music being a subject that I know a great deal about.  This is because often first impressions of a record are incorrect.  The best albums are often growers and ones that are great initially often wear out quickly. 

I feel and have always felt that the most essential part of any kind of music with a vocal is the vocal.  I could listen to a brilliant singer singing over a Casio keyboard.  Conversely I can’t stand even the most brilliant musical offerings if the singer is singing in a voice that doesn’t register emotionally with me and whose words are full of clichés.  The human voice in song is the best window into someone’s soul.  And whatever criticism one throws at Lana Del Rey, I believe that in her singing she has found her own unique voice.  It is instantly recognizable and it is filled with beauty and pain.  Singing is not something that can be faked.  Although I feel slightly that she could have been done a better service by her collaborators on her new record, this by no means gets in the way of me enjoying the record overall or feeling that it has value as a piece of art.  In fact it is quite possible that as I continue to listen to it I will grow to like the very things that at first threw me off.  I know that this is a record that I will continue to spin for years to come.  It has a damaged late night feeling that sounds fantastic once the sun has gone down. 

How do you articulate that something is lacking, while at the same time making it clear that even with its faults it far surpasses many of the other things on the airwaves?  This is tricky business.  Are the arrangements as well done as a Dusty Springfield record?  The answer would be no.  Are they better than many other things happening in mainstream pop at the moment?  The answer to that would be yes.  Both questions are both fair and unfair.  You want to judge something in and of itself, but it is hard to not compare it to what has come before it and what is going on around it.  When you talk about a piece of art you must try to find that balance between taking it for what it is and also trying to look at it in it’s place in the greater spectrum of things. 

From making records myself I know how many things are out of one’s hands.  A bad mix can take the air out of a good arrangement.   Even for someone like Lana Del Rey who probably has a large budget, there are still budgetary concerns and time restraints.  You are also in the hands of other musicians, producers, and engineers.  You start with an idea in your imagination and slowly reality chips away at it.  Sometimes this can be to the benefit of something and sometimes not.  That is just part of life and part of the process of creating something that involves other people.  One has to fight for things that one believes in and also learn to let certain things go. 

So when I criticize something that I like all of this is weighing upon me.  I write quickly, another one of my rules, to try to get as close to the emotion that I am feeling as best possible.  Sometimes emotions can lead you astray. 

In trying to point out this particular record’s faults I feel that I did not do its strengths justice.  Whatever the perceived media image of her it is clear that she is not playing by any rules other than her own.  The record is dark and murky and displays uncomfortable emotions at times.  This is not the kind of music that is going to get played on morning radio as people try to forget the day ahead of them, unless somewhere there is someone in power that is a fan that slips it in.  It sounds timeless, but could not have been made at any time other than now.  This is the sound of a real human voice that feels the struggle of being alive.  She sounds older than her years and beaten down by the world, but somehow beautiful and fearless despite this.  Even though I feel there are some things in the production that could be better, she was brave enough to make a record that didn’t kowtow to modern recording trends.  Yes, there are some faults with this record, but maybe it is all the more human because of it.  I am sure that I will keep listening to it and as I change so will my opinion of it.  Whatever it is though, it is not disposable. 

Video

The Ecstatic Joy of Bizarre Love Triangle

I try to keep this blog balanced, and not in the way that Fox News means. If I post too many music blogs, I try to find something politically to talk about. If my posts seem to be filled with too much despair at the state of things I try to find something fun for a change. I know that in this day and age one is supposed to niche market, but I get bored talking about the same subject over and over. If you are passionate about something and you do it well, have at it. The world does need people that are focused and knowledgeable about certain issues. It doesn’t necessarily need scatterbrained people like myself that dip their toes in a hundred different pools. But I can’t help but feel that this world is endlessly fascinating, even if it is occasionally like George Carlin said, “when you are born in this country you get two tickets to the freak show.” The last two posts were about the Koch brothers and the sad state of music reviews. I was going jet black for a moment and it is time to temporarily take another course.

I tried to think of something that made me happy. I must admit that a song that has always picked my spirits up is New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. Although the lyrics slightly betray the music, the music and melody sound to me like pure ecstatic joy. I’ve always felt this is one of the great pop songs. Temptation might edge this out as my favorite New Order song, but this is up there.

It’s the Learning Fucking Nothing that Has Kept Me Young

The following is the entirety of Rolling Stone’s album review for Willie Nelson’s new album Band of Brothers:

A minute into Willie Nelson‘s new set of songs – largely self-penned for a change – it’s clear the man who wrote Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” 50-some years ago has lost neither verve nor cojones. Co-writing with producer Buddy Cannon, Nelson sticks to his wheelhouse: love, heartache, rambling and music-making itself. The vocals remain indelibly creaky against stony acoustic guitar, bright steel whines and dusty harmonica whinnies. “We’re a band of brothers and sisters and whatever/On a mission to break all the rules,” he sings on the title track – a pledge of solidarity from an 81-year-old outlaw that, even at this late date, rings 100 percent true.

Wtf?!!!  There are blurbs on the back of book jackets longer than that!  I picked this review at random, but there are plenty of reviews at Rolling Stone and other places that are this short.  This review tells us absolutely nothing about the record other than Willie co-wrote most of the songs.  A critic’s job is to inform the reader about a work of art.  A good critic can not only help us make informed choices about what art we want to support, but can also enlighten us so that we understand a work of art better.  Criticism is and still is a way in which I have found many of the books, films, and albums that I treasure.  Until he died I used to like to go to Roger Ebert’s website to see what he thought of the latest films.  I didn’t always agree with him, but I came away more informed than when I started reading.  Go to http://www.rollingstone.com and read some of the old reviews.  Sometimes it is laughable how wrong they got an album, but there is at least some kind of opinion.  They are at least grasping for the truth even if they fall far short of it.  This review is just plain lazy.  A little part of my brain died by reading it.  Unfortunately the Deadwood quote, “It’s the learning fucking nothing that has kept me young,” does not apply here.  We can only hope that the writer got paid by the word…

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence Review

I felt that the following review did not do the album justice so I posted a follow up here:

http://www.windupwire.com/2014/06/20/lana-del-rey-ultraviolence-revisited/

I really like the new Lana Del Rey album, Ultraviolence, in spite of Dan Auerbach’s lazy production.  I know there is a lot of internet noise claiming Lana Del Ray is a fraud, but I actually think she is one of the few originals in pop music right now.  She has a dreamily haunted voice, is great at crafting darkly beautiful melodies, and is great at taking different kinds of American iconography in her lyrics and forging something new with them.  I must admit that I am a sucker for David Lynch and Del Ray’s blending of American pop culture and dark dreams sound like they would be the perfect soundtrack to a Lynch movie. I am predisposed to like the kind of music she makes.

Del Rey had a pretty consistent vision across her albums and singles.  You are not going to mistake her for a different artist.  If you liked what she did before you are going to like what she is doing now, while the opposite is also true.  One of the reasons I believe her first album was a success was that she took several retro elements, infused them with some modern production and lyrical references, and ended up with her own small patch of uncharted territory.

I first want to state that I like her new album.  Any criticism thrown at it is minor and not actually aimed at her.  She still sings fantastically, although I do miss her lower register a bit, which is my favorite part of her range.  If you don’t think she can sing listen to the final track on her new album The Other Woman.  The melodies are still great.  She also still uses the language of pop culture, mixes it with a dark sexuality, and creates something her own.  Some people will claim that she is inauthentic, because she records under a false name, but the pop world is littered with people who built self created myths.  Bob Dylan is not his real name and he never road to New York City in a box car.  Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious are, surprise, not their real names either.  That is not to say that she is as talented as Bob Dylan or as ground breaking as the Sex Pistols, not by a long shot, but in the world of pop music she has created something uniquely hers.  That alone should be applauded.

However, I do have some minor quibbles with her new album.  These I mostly attribute to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys fame.  For someone that has a strong retro vibe in her work, I can’t imagine that there was very much thought put into the idea of recording her mostly live to old analog tape, dousing her in a shitload of reverb, and having her track with a live band.  I love the sound of analog tape and I also love when people track live to it.  Hell, my band did that on our new album.  But with someone that takes so many influences from the past this seems to make her work even more backward looking than it really is.  It just seems like such an obvious choice that to me it shows the mind of a producer with little imagination.

First he puts so much reverb on her voice that it pushes her voice to the background at times when it is her biggest asset.  Sometimes this ridiculous amount of reverb actually makes it hard to understand what she is singing about.  Also, I think with someone that draws so much influence form the past you have to be careful with how “retro” you make her record sound.  It becomes more of a genre exercise that it ought to be.  I also find the backing band to be lacking in any real personality.  They do serve the songs, but to the point that if she wasn’t singing on them there wouldn’t be much going on musically that was interesting.  Look, I love effects, I like hearing real musicians play, I like these songs and this singer, but I can’t help but feel the arrangements could be more memorable in and of themselves.

Listening to her two albums, and the song that she did with Bobby Womack, I believe Lana Del Rey is a great talent that will probably have a long career of making interesting records.  Hopefully next time she won’t choose a hack like Dan Auerbach to produce it.

Both Sides Now Lyrics

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev’ry fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ‘em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now 
From win and lose and still somehow 
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides now 
From up and down, and still somehow 
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Both Sides Now written by Joni Mitchell.  This is one of my favorite songs of all time.  It is just a brilliant piece of writing.  I’ve posted a link to the video before, but never the lyrics.  Although I love Joni, she is one of my heroes, I actually prefer the Judy Collins version.  I also love the slowed down version that Joni recorded later in life.  Her voice, having been lowered by years of smoking, gives the song a different context.

Here is the link to the Judy Collins version if you didn’t see my original post:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7Xm30heHms

Here is a link to Joni Mitchell’s version that she recorded in 2000:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCnf46boC3I

It’s a Wonderful Lie

Get up from a dream and I look for rain
Take an amphetamine and a crushed rat brain
How am I feelin’, better I suppose

How am I lookin’, I don’t want the truth
What am I doin’, I ain’t in my youth
I’m past my prime or was that just a pose
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those

I’ve been accused of never opening up
You get too close, then I keep my mouth shut
Gonna run to the wind where the big bad city blows
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those
It’s a wonderful lie, by on those

Now you can dress to the eights, you can dress to maim
They make you feel great, this fortune and fame
Wearing too much makeup, not near enough clothes
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by

So don’t pin your hopes or pin your dreams
To misanthropes or guys like me
And the truth is overrated, I suppose
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by on those
It’s a wonderful lie, I still get by

It’s a Wonderful Lie by Paul Westerberg.  I always loved this song for it’s perfect and simple melody, the wordplay invovled, and the way it takes the piss out of fame.  Often great song titles, and I do believe song titles are important, can be made by changing an existing title.  Morrissey famously changing Heaven Knows I’m Missing Him Now to Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now is a great example.

Westerberg, because of the Replacements, will always be seen as the poet of the beautiful losers, but I always felt his solo stuff was criminally overlooked.  Suicaine Gratifaction, the album that this song is from, is full of really great writing.  But unlike the Replacements who could be enjoyed by pretty much anyone with a six pack, despite having a great deal of intelligence in some of their material as well, Westerberg’s solo work was for adults.  I don’t mean in a safe adult contemporary way.  I mean that he was often dealing with the harrowing themes that one faces as they grow older, as the illusions of youth slip away one by one.  Yet their was and still remains a duality to his work perfectly highlighted by his Stereo and Mono albums.  Both albums were released at the same time.  Stereo was an album of mostly bleak folk ballads.  Mono is a perfect summer album of extremely fun guitar rock with great pop melodies and guttural playing.  He can make you laugh and cry in equal measures, something most of those following in his footsteps never got.

Here is a link to the original recording:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEm7pUwlGXQ

The Indifference of Heaven

Time marches on
Time stands still
Time on my hands, time to kill

Blood on my hands
And my hands in the till
Down at the 7-11

Gentle rain falls on me
And all life folds back into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of Heaven

The past seems realer
Than the present to me now
I’ve got memories to last me

When the sky is gray
The way it is today
I remember the times when I was happy

Same old sun, same old moon
It’s the same old story
Same old tune

They all say
Someday soon
My sins will all be forgiven

Gentle rain falls on me
All life folds back into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of Heaven

They say, “Every thing’s all right”
They say, “Better days are near”
They tell us, “These are the good times”
But they don’t live around here

Billy and Christie don’t
Bruce and Patti don’t
They don’t live around here

I had a girl, now she’s gone
She left town
And town burned down

Nothing left
But the sound
Of the front door closing forever

Gentle rain falls on me
And all life folds back into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of Heaven
The vast indifference of Heaven

The indifference of Heaven by Warren Zevon.  This is a powerful song from his “wilderness years” on the often overlooked Mutineer.  People weren’t paying attention to him like they once were, or would, but he wrote some incredibly powerful songs during this period.  It should be noted that although the song features a dig at Bruce Springsteen, the two were actually friends and remained so until Zevon’s death.  Zevon had an eye for detail like a writer and could craft incredibly catchy rock n roll hooks.  When your back’s against the wall you can always count on Warren Zevon.  Thank god he was out there.