On the surface, Le Tigre is a fun, danceable bundle of new wave rhythms, punk-rock guitars, DJ tricks and other electronic fun. You’d therefore expect, and be willing to forgive it for being a little empty-headed, right?
Well, not in this case.
Le Tigre is the latest project from Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, who has spent her career setting high expectations for her work’s intellectual content, and usually exceeding them. Dismissing Le Tigre as lightweight, message-free fun is the listening equivalent of walking down an inner city street making origami birds out of paper money. You’re going to get ambushed.
Collaborators Johanna Fateman and Sadie Benning have helped Hanna to create a record in which bristling punk-pop tunes target listeners with confrontational, thought-provoking messages. On “What’s Yr Take on Casavetes?” Hanna poses the titular question while her bandmates return conflicting options. Is John Cassavetes a misogynist or a genius? The messiah or an alcoholic? Of course, the answer is a little bit of both and also none of the above, pitting an artist’s potentially questionable (but, in context, irrelevant) personal politics against his artistic vision. Can you enjoy the auteur and ignore the human? Should you?
It’s just a pity they couldn’t spell Cassavetes’ name correctly. Or the word “your”.
The irony here is that Le Tigre have tied their confrontational approach to music so catchy and immediate that it doesn’t really need good lyrics. It’s possible to listen quite attentively to Le Tigre without ever really hearing the band’s words—not an unusual problem, but one that’s almost funny here. Hanna’s fans will swarm to the album, and they’ll devour and debate the lyrics at length. It’s the other listeners, who’ll buy the album on a whim after hearing it in a music store, who probably won’t ever truly get the message, who’ll ironically never ask “What’s Yr Take on Le Tigre?” The cynic in me suspects that Le Tigre knows this. However vital their message, they’ll ultimately be hung by their own strangely Dadaistic petard.
But really, who cares? It’s a great album! Listen to it and enjoy whatever sort of pleasure it gives you.
// Notes from the Road
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