Last year’s introductory EP – the scrumptious Candy Bar Creep Show—heralded a future so blindingly bright for New York twosome MS MR that they’d have to wear shades indefinitely. Yes, even in the shower. A killer quartet of ferine, richly romantic, widescreen poptasmic beauties all wrapped in deluxe artpop décor. Fame, business-class travel, swankpads, a butler called “Lurch”, Caviar n’ crisps, Grade A Narcotics and their own line in action figures were surely just a teeny bell ring away. But in the cut throat outlaw World of Pop “You snooze, you lose Compadre” as MS MR’s droolingly anticipated full-lengther Secondhand Rapture sadly finds Ms Lizzy Plapinger and Mr Max Hershenow foolishly favouring the “Feet Up N’ Repeat to Fade” approach. Zoiks.
It’s a cryin’ shame as the first act of Rapture fiendishly reminds us of MS MR’s glory, erm, day in the sun. How? Well, by including the whole of Candy Bar Creep Show for an entrée and a “Ooh look at what you could have won!” tease. The barmy army, brooding phoenix called “Hurricane” still wrestles, rolls and rises with fiery, tempestuous wonder like wild stallions in a storm. A muscle-flexin’ cavalcade of ominous synths, sweeping strings and Centurion’s call. “Welcome to the inner workings of my mind / So dark and foul I can’t disguise” summons Plapinger clawing her way outta the grave, tearing diamonds from the dark. The broody “Bones”—fresh from an afternoon in hair n’ make-up on Game of Thrones—cements this regally rustic, ashes to ashes, blood n’ soil landscape. Plapinger blackeyed ‘n’ pining atop the Warlock’s mountain, resplendent in best billowy, willowy nightgown and circled by midnight mist, thunderous Timpani and bad intent. “Dig up her bones but leave the soul alone!” bellows Liz like some zombified, foggy vox’d Stevie Nicks. Churches n’ curses, savages n’ staccato. Ghostdancers report to the stage please! This is pop with dirty fingernails, burns, bruises n’ feral fever. “Ash Tree Lane” and “Dark Doo Wop” lighten the skies a little. The latter’s footstompin’ verse blooming into an ecstatic raindance of illuminated “Oooh OOOH!” euphoria. It also contains a genuine “Isn’t music ACE?!!” moment when the band suddenly stops and Plapinger exhales with the slightest gasp of surprise only for the musical heavens to fall again with renewed abandon. Heartstopping f’sure. The refreshingly goofy-titled “Dark Doo Wop” ushers in some steamy ‘60s girl group, erm “Doo Wop” vocals with—you guessed it—a lil clawin’ “Dark” bite in the lyric. “This world is gonna burn, Burn, BURN!” simmers La Lizster over a crawlin’ Farfisa organ, “It’s all gone to shit.”
Alas with (ahem) great power comes great “Responsibility”...and “Responsibility” should never be translated as “Establish a bargain-bin factory line of Adele / Florence & the Machine knock-offs and bugger off early for a celebratory booze-up at the Pub over the road.” The second half of Secondhand Rapture becomes so formulaic and free from both “Shock” and “Awe” it basically bequeaths a “Spot the Difference” competition for when watching paint dry becomes “Too Exciting”. “Factory Inspection Checklist” as thus: Do the verses start with Adele-style teary-grumpy, “Solitaire in Suburbia” soliloquies over melodramatic strings and “Serious face” stabbing piano? CHECK! Does the chorus then, via a concoction of “WOOOAH!“‘s, rise up à la FloMac with an accelerated ascension of crashin’ drums, general caterwauling and hollerin’ about bloody hearts, full moons and “Kissing dust”? CHECK! “Head Is Not My Home”, “Salty Sweet”, “Twenty Seven”, “BTSK”, “No Trace”, “This Isn’t Control”. A veritable clone war convoy of dour, joyless, sub-Adele n’ Florence split-screen dopplegangers. Only their Mother could tell them apart and then she’d sneakily request a second opinion. The dramatic “Gonna-miss-my-last-bus!” violins and over-inflated choruses became so predictable and rehearsed it becomes an endlessly recycled pantomime of “Glee-Goes-Glum” faux jeopardy. “Just another pop confession” says Plapinger on “Salty Sweet” to much weary agreement and when she later reflects “Staring at a wall for most of the day” it’s hard not to sigh with empathy.
There are, crucially, a pair of new gun slingin’, renegade rebels who cause “Mucho Ruckus” and bring some much needed anarchy by generally refusing to toe the factory line. The ravishing rush and twirling batons of recent single “Fantasy” kick incandescent sunshine-divine. Sure it still sports a beehived balladeer’s barnet and yup the skyscraper chorus does sound suspiciously like “Dog Days Are Over” but, against the odds, it’s a ruddy triumph. Amongst the dead-eyed mannequins it sparks ‘n’ soars with genuine joy and feels free, alive. Fly my pretty, fly! “Think of You” is almost as dandy. Troubled Nina Simone (yet Adele-ish, obviously) verses fall for a twinkly-sparksome synth chorus as steadfastly majestic as Robyn’s “Heartbeat”. It has a raver’s pulse and—given the surroundings—a heroine’s heart. “I still think of you and all the shit you put me through” spits Liz. Now that’s how you start a fire.
Ultimately Rapture isn’t the only thing that’s Secondhand on MS MR’s often underwhelming and frustratingly predictable début. “What was a spell / Now feels like a curse,” laments Plapinger tellingly as the curtain falls. The hypnotic, bewitching spell spun during Rapture‘s opening act is sadly broken by a revolving hex of crippling repetition, dearth of invention and inevitable ennui. It’s never real magic when you can see the strings and for all the sweet allure of the Candy Bar Creep Show there proves little else behind the curtain.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
// Notes from the Road
"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.READ the article