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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008

I still can’t believe Roisin Murphy’s 2007 LP, Overpowered didn’t have the impact of other dance acts like Lilly Allen or M.I.A., but I suspect that’s due largely in part to the slow rehabilitation of disco as an genre of influence. For some, the image of thousands of people destroying disco LPs at radio personality, Steve Dahl’s, disco demolition still holds enough cultural power to keep disco in its place as some sort of decadent symbol of “establishment” pop. I hold out hope that artists like Murphy will erode the critical blindness involved in that kind of blanket gesture. Besides, old categories of the countercultural simply don’t map that easily onto what’s being done in the world of music today.


Murphy’s image has a certain retro-futurism, like a classic Hollywood starlet stumbling out of Bjork’s closet. Part of my fascination with this video stems from its naked self-deprecation. While many videos involve the realization of explosively egotistical fantasies of the artist as a supernatural being, Murphy sings the song to herself in a dingy diner. Sure, it’s a diner that happens to convert into a low rent mock-up of a Saturday Night Fever club, but does so only in her head. The patrons ignore her coquettish posturing on the furniture and continue on about their business. The video is a tongue-in-cheek contrast between reality and fantasy: eating alone versus starring in your own crisply choreographed “fuck off” song. Murphy excels in strangely compatible moods, like the four-to-floor dance single that’s full of melancholic loss and solitude. “Know Me Better” is essentially a daydream of how we all wish we handled painful break-ups: with unflappable independence, style, stride and humor. Walter Mitty meet Giorgio Moroder.


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Monday, Apr 7, 2008

Madonna’s “Four Minutes to Save the World”


Madonna: Come on boy, I’ve been waiting for somebody to pick up my stroll.
Timberlake: Well don’t waste time, give me a sign, tell me how you wanna roll.
Madonna: I want somebody to speed it up for me then take it down slow. There’s enough room for both.
Timberlake: Girl, I can handle that, you just gotta show me where it’s at. Are you ready to go, Are you ready to go?


Wow. I mean, really, wow. It’s one thing to watch the insipid video, which has unnerving, tranny vampire visual of Madonna spread eagle on the hood of some luxury brand automobile while the world crumples into a void behind her. There, at least, the viewer is rewarded with a morsel of symbolic truth. When you actually see the lyrics of “Four Minutes” flatly stated, it’s lobotomizing how empty this song is. Even superficially, it’s difficult to press this song for content. Is it simply her Mrs. Robinson pop claptrap, initiating young Timberlake into the Q&A game that is getting her to orgasm? It certainly sounds like she’s the Goldilocks of cradle robbing:  not too fast, Justin, not too slow. That she would connect her sexual gratification to “saving the world” says much about the tired, engulfing narcissism of cobwebbed Mega-Stars. If pop music ever had the kind of urgency suggested by the chorus, Madonna has certainly done her fair share to lesson its cultural impact beyond the fading, cyclical variations of style. But, wait, there’s more:


Madonna: Sometimes I think, what I need is an intervention, yeah.
Timberlake: And you know I can tell that you like it. And that it’s good, by the way that you move, ooh, hey hey/
Madonna: The road to heaven, paved with good intentions, yeah.
Justin: But if I got a night, at least I can say I did what I wanted to do. Tell me, how bout you?


Is this a transcript of their text messages to each other?  Even as traded flirtation, this song sags. It’s actually representative of Madonna in interviews where clichés, or variations of clichés, are supposed to be read with metaphysical weight. “The road to heaven, paved with good intentions” makes absolutely no sense in or out of context in this song, but gives the listener the illusion of wit by inverting a common phrase with a new, but imprecise meaning. Does she mean that Justin’s sexual desire for her will help him achieve everlasting afterlife, even while this song has exactly zero shelf life?  Or does she mean that having good intentions is just as good as doing good works, which would be the first criticism that I would level at her entire contribution to the pop canon. Either way, if the song wanted to be dirty, it would do well to have us not debating heaven’s asphalt. Where is the dirt of this liaison that dallies in abstractions or sideshow references to interventions and theology for dummies?  This entire track seems like an implosion of Madonna’s insecurities about her persona. She wants to be pervasively sexual, but enlightened in a desexualized mother-figure way. She wants to continue to rake in the cash of her image, but wishes to recast herself in this sacralized savior role. In the end, we get a song that’s ostensibly about screwing some young upstart for a handful of seconds in order to save the planet from impending destruction. If only.


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Monday, Apr 7, 2008

In an interview with Holly Golightly back when I was working on a zine (i.e. the analog blogs), she said that she didn’t like so much of what was currently called “garage” rock because it had none of the spontaneity and d.i.y. disposability of the original idea of a few friends with a few chords pooling their lunch money for a limited run 7” single.  I think “Shalalalalove”  by the egregiously named Sonic Chicken 4 captures all the sloppy, playful propulsion of garage rockers like the Mummies with the added confection of having a Mo Tucker soundalike slipping in to drop sweet refrains on top of power chords that have demolition derbied into one another.  Especially golden are those pop primal nonsense sounds in the chorus,  “shalalala”, so close to those first attempts we all have at grappling with language (a.k.a.,  getting what we want):  “baba”, “dada”, “mama”.  Yes, the secret to a great song is simply artful infantalization.  I’m kidding, but I do think this songs secrets have everything to do with having no guile, pouring sugary guy-girl interplay on scuffed guitar and having a chorus that inspires infectious Muppet-dance energy.


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Friday, Apr 4, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Jenny Owen Youngs loves the Beach Boys and Bach and can play flip cup like a pro.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Hmm… I definitely remember crying during the Simpsons movie. I am most likely to cry during any episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition... and that’s not a joke.


2. The fictional character most like you?
I don’t know how to answer, unless of course we are all not real, but rather characters in a novel that’s being written RIGHT NOW… in which case the answer would be me.


3. The greatest album, ever?
The Beatles: Revolver. Or, The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds. Or, Kate Bush: The Dreaming.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Firefly, thank you.


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Thursday, Apr 3, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel may be reserved, and his music may be filled with heartfelt sentiment leaning towards melancholy, but it's his smile that he wants you to remember -- if you can find it.

Reclusive, dour, spare, and possessed of a dry sense of humor he may be, but Mark Eitzel’s work with American Music Club is marked with beauty.  With complexly melodic ballads that range from the strikingly direct to airy dreaminess, Eitzel’s work is notable for its unreserved honesty and elevating sentimentality over the saccharine, all exemplified on American Music Club’s recent release, The Golden Age.  So it’s unsurprising that Eitzel would choose to say a lot in a few choice words. 


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Crusty the Clown.


3. The greatest album, ever?
Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek—of course!


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