How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

I have been listening to the new Sinead O’Connor album today, but it is too complex of a record to absorb since its released last night at midnight.  The album, by the way, is called I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss.  I never really listened to Sinead O’Connor during the time when she was at the top of the charts.  I was off listening to whatever music a young male listens to back then.  She didn’t seem “cool” at the time, and that is my loss.  Luckily I have realized by now what a tremendous talent that she is.  

I discovered her best album first.  Her last album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, is one of my absolute favorite records of the last few years.  It is one of those albums that manages to blend the personal and political, where the artist is able to look out at the world with both empathy and disgust.  The album is also first rate when it comes to music and melody.  Every song is well arranged and every melody is full of hooks that will stick with you long after you have listened to the record.  However, where an album that takes on so many topics and styles might appear disjointed if you hadn’t heard it, the production is simply top notch and ties everything together.   The writing, most of which is O’Connor’s, also has a lot to do with the unity of the record.  An album with so many themes works because you get a sense that you are getting a full picture of the artist as a human being.  The record sounds warm and inviting, it sounds current, without the digital brittleness of many modern records, and without any production tricks that will sound dated in a few years.  When I listen to it, I can’t help but think of albums like Born to Run, Achtung Baby, and Vauxhall and I.  These are perfect records that haven’t aged a day since they were released.  Of course O’Connor’s album won’t change the world like those records did, because her media light wasn’t shining at its brightest when it was released, but it is in their caliber.  

First of all O’Connor can flat out sing.  She is also an excellent writer.  The very things that got her in trouble, even though she was right on SNL if not always, is the very thing that makes her such a unique talent.  You get the sense that whatever she is singing is something that she deeply believes in that moment.  She may change her mind in the next minute, and infuriate people, but in the moment she is completely true to her convictions.  

This album is political, but not in a current events kind of way, unless you count the songs that still seem to hold a grudge for the religion that did her, and so many others damage in Ireland.  Her songs are too character driven, too personal, to be merely be songs that are ripped from the newspapers.  She writes a song from the point of view of a junkie, where despite the junkie’s obvious failings, and the song’s dark mood, you can’t help but feel empathy for the character.  This at a time when the War on Drugs is appearing more absurd then ever.  However, there are no statements made, just on characters story.  One of the most powerful songs on the album is the closing tour de force V.I.P.  In this song she tears down celebrity and religion in equal measures.  I know some of you may find the fact that a celebrity is taking on celebrity as too much to bear.  However, the passion and the intelligence in this song should silence any criticism.  

O’Connor writes about joy in love with all of the same passion and intelligence that she uses in her more scathing works.  Writing a love song that actually is infused with joy and love is a lot harder to do than one would think.  It’s hard to describe an emotion that is so often talked about in cliches with any kind of originality.  On several songs she manages this feat with ease.  Above I have posted a live version of the single for this record, The Wolf is Getting Married.  I dare you to watch that video at say that she cannot sing.  

If you are a fan of intelligent pop music and the power of song than this is a record that I can’t recommend enough.  She may not be as fashionable as she once was, but there she is, off on her own, with the same passion and conviction that she had when everyone was watching.  

 

 

 

Johnny Marr Strikes Again

When Johnny Marr first joined The Cribs I watched a few live videos and didn’t get it.  (He has joined, played with, and now left the band by this point.)  I thought the Jarman brothers, the three brothers that make up the band, looked goofy and that they couldn’t sing.  Keep in mind I like a lot of people that “can’t sing”.  I was dead wrong as the album that the four of them made together, Ignore the Ignorance, is simply fantastic.

First of all, the guitar playing is top notch.  With Johnny Marr onboard you would expect no less, but this is a great TWO guitar band as Ryan Jarman plays a perfect foil to Johnny Marr.  Sure, Johnny Marr is doing a great deal of the most interesting stuff, but Jarman compliments him excellently.  I love records where each guitarist is panned to one side of the recording so you can hear what each of them are doing and also how they compliment each other.  It’s exciting to hear Johnny Marr, who is known for a great deal of overdubs, play as if he is playing live.  There are actually very few overdubs on this record period that couldn’t be replicated by a live band.  There is some occasional acoustic guitar, keyboards, etc., but they are sparse and usually relegated to background duty.  I think this is some of Johnny Marr’s best guitar playing outside of The Smiths, and his tone on this record is as good as it’s eve been.  It sounds as if you could take a bite out of it and chew on it for awhile.

The album is also one of those albums where the whole thing is strong and listenable.  The lyrics are far superior than most pop music, if not reaching the level of true poetry.  And there are plenty of great pop melodies.  The entire band plays well together and, except for those few small overdubs, it almost sounds like a band playing live.  It was produced by Nick Launay who also produced the completely strange and captivating Public Image Ltd. album The Flowers of Romance.  There is a great deal of guitar oriented British pop music, but this is among the best in recent years.

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.