Ani DiFranco/Bhi Bhiman
Two Albums That Begin With Excellent Songs About Homelessness, and There Will Be More
Ani DiFranco: ¿Which Side Are You On? (Righteous Babe)
After a decade of futzing around, of music so overthought that even her best-of couldn't make a case for it, this one's like re-encountering a friend who drifted away after she took a bad job or married a jerk. Both of which might have happened‑-nobody she signed to Righteous Babe did much for her bottom line, and the nuptials that ruffled her feminist faithful in 1998 ended badly in 2003. Now, finally, her first album since she married her five-year-old's father is as fresh as Lisa Lee at the top of the key. With Uncle Pete signing on via banjogram, the title song announces a political renewal so focused on the three-syllable F-word that it includes an E.R.A. anthem. But for DiFranco the political has always been personal, which doesn't mean private and can mean intellectualized, as in "Promiscuity." The singing on the homelessness tale that opens is as emotionally accomplished as its assumed first-person is formally atypical. The one that reads "If yr not getting happier as you get older/then yr fucking up" is her true credo. A MINUS
Bhi Bhiman: Bhiman (Redeye)
In an unruffled show of assimilative will, this Sri Lankan American 29-year-old channels John Hurt and the Staple Singers into sweet, firm folksongs about injustice's cruelty and love's confusions‑-and is funnier about both than, as a random instance, Van Morrison. The stolid beats define the limits of his Americanization. But from the first strums of "The Guttersnipe," the melodies are universal language at its most outgoing. A MINUS
The lyrics and her tone are so exaggerated that I think she is definitely distancing herself from what she's singing. Intended as irony? Not sure. But I agree with Nick that the lyrics are not necessarily meant to be taken at face value, though I'm sure they are by the majority of listeners. (Lots of people are into this sort of romance novel stuff.)
To me it comes off as a non-narrative but chronological account of loving someone more than they love you and sacrificing yourself in an attempt to earn their love (by the end, "now you do" seems to indicate that our protagonist is successful). Chronology is suggested by the content but also the forward rolling feeling of the music. There are so many traditional masculine-feminine heterosexual images that it suggests that she's winning the manly dude by bowing to the hyper-femininity that also characterizes Lana's image. ("Pull up in your fast car/whistling my name," "He holds me in his big arms/drunk and I am seeing stars," "I'm in his favorite sundress," "Put his favorite perfume on.")
It's very much an upper middle-class college age account of romance, I think. (The fact that she's an archetypal east coast sorority girl in appearance supports this.) "Video games" seems to be a euphemistic sex reference that draws masculinity into the sex act. (Akin to "hey wanna watch a movie in my dorm room...?") It seems like she's being pursued by the guy who is seeking sex rather than romance. He allegedly likes "bad girls," which in that context one might take to mean girls who fcuk outside a discrete romantic relationship, giving them a sort of masculinity.
Her lilting, babyish "honey, is that true?" I think is a challenge to him. She's giving him sex to draw him in (bad girl), but she's also exploiting aspects of a specific ideal femininity, attempting to hook him as "the perfect girl" with her deference to his manly appetites (dressing for him, asking what he wants, "it's you, it's you, it's all for you/everything I do," etc). She's one-a them Madonna/whores you hear so much about: she's bad but good, girlish but grown-up sexy, etc.
"This is my idea of fun" reads more like "this is your idea of fun," when the fun is getting drunk with the guys at a dive bar and playing pool, and the line is delivered so somberly. "I tell you all the time" is followed by a lot of lines focusing on a romanticized vision of monogamy it seems, "the world was built for two," and such--seems like she's trying to convince him to love her and be with her only.
By the end of the song it seems like she's won him over with her feminine wiles. Her doleful, flat delivery and the overall melancholy of the song suggest that it feels hollow to her. It's impossible to accept sincerity in the lines where she glorifies the wonderful love she has: "it's better than I ever even knew," "heaven is a place on earth..." She sounds most sincere with "it's you, it's all for you," and maybe that's what the heroine's so sad about--she feels loved for the role she played to captivate the guy and she's done nothing for herself.
(I CAN'T BELIEVE I TOOK MORE THAN 4000 CHARACTERS FOR THAT. AND AT LEAST AN HOUR.)
Buy a vibrator and leave me alone
Rihanna and Lana Del Rey are puppets - not musicians.
I'd like a few examples of male musicians you think are puppets. Or are women the only ones that get taken advantage of by the big, bad music industry? Shouldn't you be out protecting them instead of insulting them?? Anyway, I don't see why you can deny that these artists have agency in their music careers without giving any evidence, and then use that as a basis to criticize them.
Snide is all I can be towards them and their hollow, insipid music.
Pretty sure you can criticize something without being snide. (I'm one to talk, heh.) And why be snide towards the "puppets" when your real problem is with the puppet master??
Del Rey stays in her room and writes in her diary
Miss Del ReySee, if you didn't keep doing it, I wouldn't be so bugged. But you are slapping dainty feminine trappings on "Miss" Del Ray as a way of dismissing her. That's sh!tty of you. DON'T YOU SEE?
I have no investment in whether you like her music or not, or Rhianna's. What bothers me is your piss-poor, loaded, lazy manner of criticism. You make a fulcrum out of your judgment that certain expressions of femininity are invalid and signify a lack of " soul, meaning, and purpose." If your real problem with these musicians is that you think the music industry is pandering to some poppy vision of what women are supposed to be, then say that. Don't use gibes against women's appearance or mannerisms to support your argument. It doesn't work, and it pisses me off as a woman and as a human.
Never mind I also enjoyed Pistol Annies, Miranda Lambert and Lykke Li.
Look, you're not woman-hater. I get it. That said, you really need to take a look at what you're saying and whether it uses sexist-sounding snipes as leverage for your vague, otherwise baseless arguments.
GMort, you said
I guess I don't get jumping to the conclusion that [fem-stache] was a put-down.
I interpreted it the way I did because the facial hair was offered as a reason to avoid Merrill's music.
Reasons I like LDR so far:
1. The first 5 songs are nuts catchy, and some of the later songs are really catchy too ("Summertime Sadness," "Million Dollar Man," still undecided on "National Anthem").
2. I've changed my mind about my previous analysis of "Video Games." I still think that dismal reading stands, but I also feel like there's an aspect of sincerity in it that's really interesting.
3. In fact, through the whole album Lana seems simultaneously ironic/play-acting/distanced and sincere/vulnerable/troubled. I really like the idea of pure shallow materialistic pop with a really visible complicated human underpinning. The ridiculous indulgent poppiness allows me to forgive the oft-whack lyrics.
4. Charges of despondency across the entire oeuvre are warranted, but I feel like her youth and vulnerability lighten it considerably. At her most most lugubrious and morose, her fresh face and lack of experience save it from being over the top because she can't completely back up the songs with the world-wise blues woman thing she's going for. Watching her perform "Video Games" live is pretty illustrative: even the performances that aren't SNL-level flops, she is a scared baby faun girl playing dress-up, as Ioannis suggested. Sometimes she's more direct with the vulnerability ("The Lucky Ones" is an example.)
5. This hyper-indulgent but mournfully unfulfilled pop is so representative of the zeitgeist for a swathe of youth culture in this political and economic climate. I get that a lot of people probably don't have patience for first world rich white girl problems, BUT I for one can identify with it. The temptation is to pour yourself into pleasure, decadence, irresponsible relationships because your prospects as even an upper middle class young person are kind of sh!tty right now. That's a dead-end, temporary route, though, so the live-fast ideals take on a sense of foreboding, giving the shallow images more gravity. "The dark side of the American Dream," ("Without You"). "Sometimes love is not enough/and the road gets tough I don't know why/Keep making me laugh/let's go get high//The road is long we carry on/try to have fun in the meantime" ("Born to Die"). I don't think the obsession with money, fame, etc., should be read completely straight.
6. The same romantic relationship seems to be a thread through the whole album, at least you can think of the love-object as the same person easily. That reading suggests a maybe-frivolous affair that she's poured herself into and become desperately dependent on. (Jesus, I am probably projecting all over the place, oh well.) Kind of supported by other refrains: "queen of Coney Island," "take your body downtown.")
7. I hear so many different pop stars in her, which doesn't come off so much as copy-catting, but as an interesting mix for a young break-through artist. I hear unapologetic party-girl Ke$ha for sure, upfront sex-object eternal child Britney, dark romantic-sexual Fiona Apple at times, thoughtful self-referential Lily Allen a little bit, sometimes Fergie but I can't say exactly why--maybe just the voice sometimes. Man on "Radio" she even sounds like ultimate good girl Taylor Swift. Except she says "f^ckin.'"
OK, sober listen indicated that I still do like it. Definitely drops off at the end compared to the super-singley barrage of the first five tracks, but there are still good songs among the other ten. This is something that will not work without repeated listening and probably a good sampling of live performances.
Feeling like a huge dweeb that I did this.
One, why are we arguing about a video? Isn't this is a music place? I mean, I know this is very old-fashioned of me. But just as a point of information, I first watched the LDR video yesterday and had trouble paying attention. Look forward to hearing her. On CD. Which comes out when, exactly? I want to mark it on my calendar.
Two, I don't agree with Jon about most of these Larger Issues, but I think it says a great deal for him that he's hung in there. I'm flattered. You should be impressed. He is not in the majority here. That's hard. And BTW, there are folks around here I'd be much quicker to brand some kind of -ist than I am him. But I won't. That's taking on a rhetorical weight best reserved for extreme circumstances, a rhetorical weight few non-ideologues are fit to bear.
Saw Bam spin a few months ago. Expected not much. It was titanic--mostly but not all old stuff, and titanic.
(Unfortunately this won't be a true mudhole-stomp; since RR's materialization, his/her contributions haven't been thoughtful or plentiful enough to warrant much of a real response.)
Just wanted to say that I've learned from experience that you can get away with being clustercunty in moderation around here if and only if the following criteria are fulfilled:
A. You have an independent, topical thought to venture in addition to your spiteful aspersions. Pure, obsessive vendetta is so dull.
B. Your insults are funny and less straight-faced. You're wearing your heart on your sleeve, chump--it's embarrassing!
In case anyone things I'm defending tender young Ryan and Alex out of the goodness of my heart, no. Ryan, at least, has the capacity to annoy my pants off (he wishes). This is primarily an issue of principle and my own enjoyment of these comments. Intelligent, barbed banter is fun. Anonymous internet dickishness is pitiful and irritating.
Elvis Costello, Imperial Bedroom
Steely Dan, Aja
Various, Saturday Night Fever soundtrack
Iggy Pop, New Values
The issue of tropes that desperately need retiring has come up a few times recently (I think I mentioned it once. I'd say the above definitely qualifies - the idea that those two words are somehow joined at the hip, and that it's some kind of creeping, growing evil. Being of the gender-fluid persuasion I have a personal stake, of course, but even if I didn't I'd like to think I could still cheer on the idea that A) many people naturally fit the description of what's considered to be the male and female norm, and they're happy that way, however B) there are many others out there who find themselves naturally somewhere in between those two poles, and find this obsession with nailing down a definition of what makes a "real" man or woman doomed to failure, and pretty alienating. Like, I'm not even sure why, in this day and age, even writing about it is necessary...
Update: Tamra's surgery will be rescheduled soon, there are just a couple of health challenges that need to be dealt with so she can be strong enough to face the procedure.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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