Thursday, June 12, 2003

The reason for Tatu's appeal (primarily to indieboys and recovering indieboys) -

It took until I saw Tatu's astonishing appearance at the MTV Movie Awards for me to really Get It. Approaching the stage via two separate aisles and singing the opening lines of "All The Things She Said" to eachother across a channel of seated audience, Lena & Julia are clearly making no attempt to mask their distinction of "Them" and "Us". On this evidence, it's of course the 'ordinary folk' that get in the way of their being together.

Then suddenly -


and we are catapulted into the intro of "Not Gonna Get Us" - which could possibly be the best single I have heard released in my lifetime - and Tatu in a flash are onstage, cueing a barrage of school-uniformed teenage girls to flood every aisle in the auditorium, all converging before the stage in what could only be described (and think about that combination of 'only' and 'described') as Anthony Easton did on <"New York London Paris Munich">

as a "grand sapphic revolution...a bacchanal".

But on reflection it appears less of a bold statement of sexual liberation, or of another brash (groan) "fuck-you" to the straight-edgers, or other any kind of sexual expressive device. In fact I see it as an almost complete reversal. It finally struck home to me why "Not Gonna Get Us" was able to pierce straight through me every time I heard it - Tatu are not about sexual liberation but inversion. Why put 137 girls on stage instead of just two? Clearly the event organisers had not thought much of their performance as a duo and felt it needed reinforcing. But why, if we are to be convinced by the strength of the girl's love for one another, should there not be sufficient intensity to constitute a 'performance'? If the White Stripes could convince with less of a powerful connection, why not Tatu? Maybe the distance between them during the opening bars is not symbolic of "Them" and "Us", but instead signifying the distance they feel between eachother within the relationship itself?

In this sense the bacchanalia is all about strength in numbers - that the girls' own reciprocal doubts over themselves and eachother are being placated and shrugged off their consciences by a wall of schoolgirls following their example. They've passed the point of no return, the decision made - to back out now is unthinkable. "Look, LOOK what we've achieved! Look at what effect we're making!" The stunt is symbolic of the aversion, rather than expulsion, of doubts concerning their relationship and sexuality - a necessity for the sake of the girls' consciences, since they are now too scared to go BACK into the mediocrity of the heterosexual world that turned them away. Their sense of rejection so great that they will not allow themselves to be supplicated no matter what level their doubt gets to, because to be misunderstood in a socially-discarded relationship is more comforting than to attempt to permeate a whole world that you feel has already deserted you.

The next day I finally felt coerced into buying the album, something I had put off for months for various preposterous reasons, and it is by the lyrical indication on it that I refer to "doubt" and "decisions". For although it is titled "200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane", it sounds more like they've blown their engine and are coasting over to the hard shoulder, silently debating with each of their individual consciences whether to get out and try to hitch a ride once they reach the road's edge. Embodying this sense of detached despair is "Not Gonna Get Us", the album's breathtaking opener. A sampled aeroplane engine precedes Julia's repeated cries of the title lyric in the chorus, rasping it out as if the plan(e)'s fuel tank has blown and they're about to crash without any hope of survival (if only that this is surely the only way Julia can be certain of her claim?) and she's echoing the phrase in desperate hope of comfort and distraction from the inevitable rather than as an assertive boast of her/their elusion of the discrimation its supposed to connote.

The first instance of a longing for simplicity and acceptance occurs in "All The Things She Said", embodied by Lena's nails-on-chalkboard wail of a confession - "THIS IS NOT ENOUGH!". Given that the context of the song's narrative concerns the perceptions of the outside world make of the couple in question, this shrieked revelation of Lena's implies that no matter how euphoric it may feel to be with Julia, she feels that she needs the security of being accepted and loved by everyone else as well.

"Show Me Love" starts with a telephone conversation between the two girls in which their Russian utterances are preceded by a vacuous gap - the speaker's timidity or reluctance to reply. An obvious and quite superficial instance of 'distance' I know, but relevent nonetheless and certainly lacking no poignancy. The underlining of the distance and doubt between the two is their reciprocal inquiry - "Do you still have doubts/that us having faith makes any sense?". They are still wrestling with the decision to openly refute convention for the sake of their still undefined sexuality, as reinforced similarly in the following track "30 Minutes" - "30 Minutes of bliss, thirty lies/30 Minutes to finally decide". Surely a sexual attraction entails no decision?

"Malchik Gay" is one song that betrays the subversive, brooding tone of the album with its perky hooks and linear, seemingly one-dimensional lyrical format. But, like "Show Me Love", this Euro-Pop sheen is irrelevent, and gives way to the underlying doubt of the protagonist. The appearance of a male Other ("I long to hold you/like your...boyfriend does") in the context of this album - these girls - is indicative of further uncertainty, where the possibility of a U-turn in sexuality for either girl is clearly still a prominent concern - and it scares them both.

But is it a possibility that either girl could be straying back to hetero-territory? Consider the minimal contribution of Lena's vocals on the magnificent cover of "How Soon Is Now?" at Track Five - there is not one line that she sings the lead on. It is, effectively, a monologuous account of Julia's subjective frustration. What makes this doubly significant is that it is the single cover version the pair attempt, and therefore the message of the song is thoroughly received and understood by Tatu's controlling svengalis before it is even recorded. The fact that there has been a conscious choice to have Julia sing all the lead vocal on the track inevitably prompts this listener to think that they have moulded her persona on the record, the role she plays as such, around this widely regarded anthem for the suppressed homosexual.

Consider now the photographs on the sleeve of the record, and particularly how Julia dominates all of them. This can (as my brother suggested) be simply because she is more photogenic, just as it can be taken that she has sung "How Soon Is Now?" because her vocals suited the track more. But I am convinced that her public image has been intended from the outset to be the embodiment of the stereotype of the "indie-unattainable" female. What clinches this is the watermark pictures set on the inside of the sleeve behind the lyrics. Julia is posed blowing a sardonic, disdainful and knowingly ironic kiss at the camera, whilst Lena regards her from across the page, laughing. Whilst Julia entices, teases the unwitting indieboy, Lena is more than willing to take the back seat and allow her lover to represent their combined public persona of 'Tatu'.

This is all summised by the track "Stars", which is the last on the album before the perfunctory space-fillers (remixes and Russian versions, making "Stars" the concluding track in earnest). In effect this is Lena's concluding monologue, as Julia is only present in the mumbled Russian-language inserts, of which of course I cannot understand. Lena yearns to the listener - "Do we belong/Someplace where no one calls it wrong?" - note the prominence of the question mark in that sentence, and parallel it to her final unflinching impugnation of "Are We In Love?". ARE THEY IN LOVE?!?!? Striking home the reality of Lena's personal despair, she even feels she can doubt whether they love each other at all, and the proposal in "Not Gonna Get Us" and "All The Things She Said" of fleeing from all their problems becomes conclusively desolate - they will never belong in either the utopian world they dreamt of nor the 'real' world of rejection and disillusionment.

And we are left hanging on the sublimely empathetic catharsis - "Like the night we camouflage/Denial" - and I can only conclude this is Lena's personal denial. A denial of the outside world, a denial of her conscience, a denial of her identity, a denial towards her lover's affection. Finally, a denial of her own ability to love - whether same sex or otherwise.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

weird unquantifiable things: when the record you're listening to as you walk around in the rain makes rain noises itself, and the traffic between the two...

I was trying to think what to listen to as it was raining and gravitated to this one record and didn't realise the link was as obvious as it was until after I got back in. oh my.

tom waits, rain dogs: songs for losers, i guess. Half of what happens happens to other people and the other half is stuff you're making up or allowing yourself to believe about other people in the hopes that it makes life more interesting. ("I heard he has a mistress. I heard she's Puerto Rican. I heard she has a wooden leg.") I think I've listened to this as much as anything else I've heard in the past two years or so and I'd been wondering why the lyrics never stuck to me, and I think that's why, this one-step-away-from-everything vibe.

Of course there are songs which imply things actually happening, though. I don't know. Maybe the key thought is: the narrator of 'Downtown Train' doesn't seem to have any reason at all to assume the girl he wants to see will be there, but that hardly seems to make any difference. But this might just be the effect of having a Big Chorus.

Friday, May 09, 2003

They were playing videos on The Box earlier today without the station logo in the top right, or any of the other usual rigmarole of phone lines scrolling or whatever else, and for a minute or so I felt disoriented like one of the walls or the ceiling had vanished, but the room was somehow still there, still standing

A Probably Incomplete List Of CDs The Author Owns He Has Yet To Listen To All The Way Through, Largely For Personal Reference, With Parenthetical Comments Which Attempt Humour And/Or Lightness Of Touch And Mostly Fail

barry adamson, the king of nothing hill (don't even start) (actually after hearing superfly i think i get the joke; however it does not appear to be funny)
at the drive-in, vaya (well. yeah.)
biff bang pow!, songs for the sad eyed girl (bought out of morbid curiosity. cheap. surprisingly actually rather good. well. heart-in-right-place.)
black sabbath, the very best of (it would be like eating several steaks at one sitting, or the same steak, over and over again, for two hours)
handsome boy modelling school, so... how's your girl? (can't believe i haven't, i like this a LOT, in fact i'm going to listen to it right now---)
dire straits, money for nothing (ihavenoideahowthisgotuphereitmustbemydads)
manic street preachers, this is my truth tell me yours (ihavenoideahowthisgotuphereitmustbemydads)
gorky's zygotic mynci, bwyd time (bought, mislaid, just found) (would appear to be in welsh)
pavement, slanted and enchanted (like eating several IRONIC steaks at one sitting) (i don't know. it's late.)

'f course, the really worrying ones are the ones i think i've never listened to and then realise i have. hullo, the eels

This is because in the past couple days I have listened to The Kick Inside and Marquee Moon, both of which had been laying around rather a long time, and realised I rather love both.

The Kick Inside: songs written at ages thirteen to sixteen, I think, displaying all the weird honesty and innocent self-obsession and sincerity of that age, and these songs end up utterly in conflict with the TASTEFUL and MUSICIANLY studio arrangements, imprisoned, and nevertheless it adds up to something quite lovely.

"A good life means fighting to be human under growing difficulties. A lot of young folk know this and fight very hard, but after a few years life gets easier for them and they think they've become completely human when they've only stopped trying."
-alasdair gray, lanark

Marquee Moon: one of those records made to EVADE punk, to find a mindset actually capable of allowing you to reach another human being -- cf. dexy's, and john lydon through 'holidays in the sun' to p.i.l.'s 'rise': "anger is an energy" really means realising THERE ARE OTHERS --but marquee moon, it seems like an attempt to find something, a moment of beauty i guess, in the way of whatever might be in the way ("punk" maybe), and the music is all grooves and attempts to burst out of them, like right at the end of 'marquee moon' more or less. i think "honesty" is a part of it, much as i might hate to admit it. the photo on the cover they look like they've dressed from thrift stores, and not like how people usually look when that's said, the kind of magpie cool that's usually implied, but rather they look like the kind of people you actually SEE in thrift stores: they're dressed like that.

well actually they're not. not quite. but:

AND RICHARD SAID hey man let's dress up like punks think of what we could do

(well actually i misheard this. but wouldn't it be great? why shouldn't it be right?)

(and at this point, please, go and listen to the above two records, and everything else released in the period 1977-1978, and also read lester bangs' january 1978 essay on richard hell, please and thank you and GOODBYE)

Monday, April 21, 2003

ainslie, again: "I'm a sort of anti-popstar"
I thought - way back - that no one would buy the first Hear'Say record - that the people would recognise PopStars as the manufactured sham it was and STICK IT TO THE MAN &c. &c.; I wasn't exactly right, you may recall. So Hear'Say did their thing and vanished.

I was watching the Fame Academy documentary earlier- Ainslie: "I find the whole notion of celebrity pathetic and ridiculous." And there was a shot of him posing with a flower and he looked like Richey Manic or something, and then he ate the flower, which was funnier than anything Richey evah did..

But okay, I thought at age fourteen or whatever that the thing about the reality pop thing was that it would spoil whatever reality the charts had left (would reveal fake pop as fake and get people back to THE RIGHTEOUS FORCES OF INDIE ROCK ahem hem) but that didn't work. I like a lot more music now than I did then, I like music a lot more now than I did then.

Ainslie again: "A number one single, what is that? that's, you know, Mister Blobby.."

hear'Say imploded, didn't they, and one of them spoke out against the notion in interview? Liberty X are still going, and are playing with the idea- what reality pop does is open up the charts to, uh, manufactured pop stars who then must MAKE AN ISSUE OF their manufactured-ness..

Another part of this authenticity thing would I suppose have to be the current spate of rock bands - I saw the White Stripes last week and I thought Jack White was the most punchable person I've seen in aaaaaaaages, you know - and he is very obviously playing a part; so is Karen O, I suppose; the Strokes? I dunno. who are they, again? this is pop, two years is a long time. But take this as a backlash - on the part of consumers, not the bands, I doubt anyone from new york cares about this - and it's interesting that it's the biggest purveyors of image (jack white THANKED THE AUDIENCE FOR MAKING HIM NUMBER ONE) who get the prize..

What I think I'm arguing for is that there's some sort of new pop paradigm emerging. Daniel Bedingfield, Mike Skinner, and Ainslie Henderson are all in their own way on the front lines. I'm not sure what I mean here.

Bedingfield is fascinating, isn't he? thirty and unattractive and capable of making himself into a pop star. Could this have happened five years ago? he'd have fronted some crap late-britpop act, I suppose.. Not a singer-songwriter. ie. that to get himself on top of the pops was maybe a more valid self-expression. Well. What do you make of that?

Saturday, April 05, 2003

junior senior

d-d-don't stop the beat of a beating heart our luv is number one in the chart oh if you can't shake my brother if you can't shake my sister let me be your tambourine man c'mon shake me c'mon we'll be white trash YEAH

some records it feels like dancing is the only rational kind of criticism

Thursday, April 03, 2003

teen spirit/it's the 90s scene

I was going to write something about Nevermind but after spending the day listening to St. Etienne and Junior Senior I'm finding that particular record a fair bit harder to care about.

(oh well)

[sung:] I've come a long way. / [spoken:] I've come a long, long way since the day you walked into my life. [sung:] You walked into my life. / [spoken:] You smoothed out all the rough edges with your sweet love and devotion. [sung:] I was tired, / in love like a fool. / [spoken:] I was tired of living the life of a fool, I was wondering where I'd gone wrong. [sung:] But I know / it's gonna work out fine. / [spoken:] But I know it's gonna work out fine, when I see that look in your eyes. [sung:] Yeah!
(written longhand whilst actually listening to the record, hence possibly less coherent than usual)

I'm not sure I entirely get the deal with Foxbase Alpha. The only other St. Etienne I've heard is Smash The System, which some days Hug My Soul or Hobart Paving or He's On The Phone works and connects and just HITS YOU but most days doesn't. More so since I went looking for interviews and found the band themselves don't like half those songs - correction - that Stanley and Wiggs don't like half those songs. That's something important, maybe. The back cover of Foxbase Alpha has Ms. Cracknell looking not the opposite of the indie-unattainable thing but something maybe at right-angles to it, and Stanley and Wiggs behind her - she's looking at the camera, and they look like they're trying to avoid eye contact, or like they're trying to make it not-obvious they're looking at her - look left out of the loop. This might be key.

So the record. It feels sort of foreign to me; so English its foreign, I guess. "Get ready for today's countdown conundrum!": I recognised that one, and the French radio thing I get because I read an explanation of it somewhere, but there are all these bits of sound from films or radio or television or something and possibly maybe if I'd grown up twenty years earlier and been living in London in 1991 I would but I don't know what these bits of sound are supposed to MEAN

(and I'm listening to this as it finishes and oh god Like The Swallow is gorgeous and for the life of me I cannot explain why)

Cracknell's vocals. Stanley and Wiggs - I remember it being Stanley and Wiggs saying this, in some interview - Stanley and Wiggs think that Join Our Club is corny nonsense but the way its sung it seems harder to believe Cracknell does: we all want to - kiss the sky - join our club - WE'RE GOING TO TRY - and, you know, YES - you do know - right?

Cracknell's vocals on Foxbase Alpha - there's a lot of the switching between singing and talking thing, Nothing Can Stop Us Now being the best example - which I think was maybe intended as oh-look-how-corny-this-is but (THANK FUCKING GOD) doesn't come across that way at all. I've come a long way since the day you walked into my life ... I've never felt so good - I've never felt so right - nothing can stop us now - and those horns or woodwinds or synths (who cares?) are spitting in the face of everyone who wouldn't want to feel like that. or wouldn't want a record to feel like that. who'd WANT it to be ironic, whatever that means. I think.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

nas - i can

what sets off the jollity of that piano, that children's choir - yes, a CHILDREN'S CHOIR - is that this advice, good or not, meant or not, hypocritical or not, is so horridly ill-phrased: when she leans in for hugs people hold they' breath / becuz she smells of corrosion and death: well, would you leave your kids with him? you don't have to be gangstas or hos he claims, and well, what do you make of it? you can hear in his voice an awareness of every difficulty and limitation of the other route, surely? well you CAN, can't you? aren't you LISTENING?

and that last shot of the video - I AM THE AMERICAN DREAM, his shirt says - is the most powerfully ambiguous image i've seen in music video since earth song..

god's son is about - amongst other things - trying to make sense of where a life of being a gangsta will get you - there's a curious sense of banality (like, Beckett or something) to all of nas's more regular boasts, and if what's haunting i can is the knowledge of every time the violent route was taken, the most gangsta moments are haunted by the awareness of every missed opportunity: career resumé last real nigga alive ("last thoughts on shawn carter" maybe, except, obviously, not) finishes a verse with there's more shit than this wanting to be king of new york shit and it doesn't sound like he's just talking about the past.

more thoughts on this when i've heard the whole thing, maybe.