Tender Forever: The Soft and the Hardcore

[21 December 2005]

By Mark Desrosiers

Toeprints in the Soapscum

Sure, I’ve showered with lovers before. I’ve never written about the experience because I think most people would wince to hear details of cute post-coital shampooing and slipping around in the glaring bathroom light. Who could possibly convey the bizarre mix of exhausted emotions that circle round us as the mirror fogs, and giggles and wisecracks and happy silences invade the usual bathroom solitude? Tender Forever (a.k.a. Melanie Valera) has this song about post-coital showering, entitled “Take It Off”, which probably captures the slippery awkwardness of those events better than, say, Jane’s Addiction (“Standing in the Shower Thinking”) or the Ventures (“Love Shower”) ever could. The rest of her new album, The Soft and the Hardcore, is like reading a spare Livejournal set to that Casio beat.

Leave it to K Records to sign this unhinged Frenchwoman and put her on tour with the mighty Old Time Relijun. Her adopted nom-de-rock (“Tender Forever”) and her weird album title both evoke a vast sequence of limp penises. Yet this is an album about love, not lust, so let the limp penises dangle and let your jaw drop in wonder at the Anglophone beauty with the big teeth and bushy eyebrows trying to emulate the magic of old Har Mar Superstar. It doesn’t quite work as an album, yet I can’t escape the fact that my heartlight’s been turned on. This happens a lot at K Records, doesn’t it?

I’ve never been to Bourdeaux, though I’m aware it’s the birthplace of my idol Montaigne, and it’s a land of wine, nuclear scientists, architecture, grad students, and nanotechnology. It is also the beautiful origin of one Americophile songwriter named Melanie Valera, whose voice whispers like Olivia Newton-John and prods like Mo Tucker. Similar to those two antecedents, she’s not exactly bursting with wisdom, but rather asks lots and lots of questions about the nature of love. “I am strong and I am soft inside”, she says on the track called “Tender Forever”, and therein lies the key to this squishy record. Sure, her pillows and sheets coulda recorded a more fascinating sequence of songs, based on their experiences, but hey when you got a chaud Frenchwoman dropping diary on the vanilla mike, why not listen in and dig her live show?

Valera is clearly at her best when trying to recreate those moments that require no external lubricants. “Hot” and “Take It Off”, for example, are descendents of Marilyn Chambers sighing and biting her bottom lip while sliding between those disco beats. And oh god, what the hell is “The Feelings of Love” but an evocation of groin proximity? “That feeling of love / When we were oh so close” sung with desperation and heavy breathing in the background… that ain’t hearts getting’ close, that’s genitalia!

So let’s acknowledge that lust is her first inspiration, the focus of her best songs, while “love” is what haunts her and gets her clammy and bothered. When the late-night dinky beat dribbles out the speaker and she whispers about making out in a car, in a bar, in her “heart”, you can believe the heart is her most important location. One of the most touching songs is “Then If I’m Weird I Want to Share”, which has her friends telling her that some dude is “too sexy” for her, but then letting their malfunctioning gaydar peg her as a dyke: “Should I die or should I laugh? / Is it fun or is it harsh?” This is all done with an absurdly cute French accent, I forgot to mention that part.

I like this record. It’s weightless and slightly annoying, sure, and it apparently does no justice to her captivating live performances, yet there’s something alluring in these double-tracked come-ons. This is a woman who gazes upon the wet spot in her sheets, feels her cheeks burn, and pens a simple tune to remember the complex mix of endurance gymnastics and safety cuddling. Here’s hoping she changes her name to Tumescent Forever and starts using her beats for their intended purpose…

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/tenderforever-soft/