Monthly Archives: August 2007

Quickies

New Pornographers, Challengers

Either they’re losing their enthusiasm for the concept or I am. Most of these masterpieces of filigree beguile after the fourth listen, but in the end I’m left wondering why I bothered. Neko’s Case deepening husk is even more beguiling (her work on the title track is the only keeper); too bad Carl Newman’s more interested in gnarled song titles to notice.

Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3

On timbre and diction alone he’s major. “Black Republicans” proves that he can adduce timbre and diction to support an uproarious analogy. Bless him for besting Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s attention span – he won’t settle for court jester when he’s clearly aiming for the throne, using tried-and-true methods: insinuation and flattery. Speaking of which, Ciara’s inexhaustible “Promise” once again reveals itself to be a two-way street.

The politics of feeling good

Kevin Baker’s article on the horrors of a Rudy Giuilani presidency is the best I’ve read in months: pungent, well-researched, and original. He rightly sees the continuity between the Big Business flirtations during the Clinton years and the marginalization of progressive forces in this country. Walter Karp might have agreed with this:

The old power brokers would be swept away, along with traditional liberal
and conservative politics. What the Clintons learned from this, and would learn and learn again over the course of their many years in politics, was that progressivism could be advanced only in the most incremental installments, and only with the imprimatur of powerful corporate and financial elites. They would adopt a sort of “post-ideological” politics — a politics that abandoned the old ideologies and claimed none of its own.

Adorno would be a lot more eloquent than I about the reificiation of progressivism, etc. However, his conclusions are too wistful; serious about wanting a coalition of voters united behind something beyond mere pragmatism, Baker admires the evangelical wing of the GOP for its commitment to principles and hopes that liberals learn something from them. While I admire how this liberal avoids smugness towards a subculture that appears weird to him, I can’t see why we can’t rely on a document as lucid as our Constitution to illumine the better angels of our nature.

neon bright vs neon white

There’s a Bluffer’s Guide to post-Thriller Michael Jackson waiting to be written; hell, I may write it myself. Much is made of the symbolism of Nirvana’s Nevermind knocking Dangerous off the top of the Billboard album chart in January 1992; but like all symbolic acts it crumbles under closer scrutiny. Dangerous is as paranoid and angry as “Polly,” “Lithium,” “Drain You,” and any Nevermind pearl you care to mention. The production is the pivot on which reception turns: Dangerous is so expensively clattery — and Jackson’s public persona now swollen beyond control — that you couldn’t hear the paranoia and anger; Nevermind is so bright (Eric Weisbard once said Butch Vig’s mix “assumed a social dominance alternative hadn’t yet achieved”) that Kurt Cobain’s angst assumes mytho-poetic dimensions. I haven’t thought too deeply about this yet, but this is really an untold story.

(inspired by relistening to Bad‘s “Man in the Mirror,” Dangerous’ “In the Closet” and “Who Is it?” and Blood on the Dance Floor’s fucking psychotic “Morphine”)

I take great pleasure in baiting my friends into thinking I’m a flaming conservative. Credit my natural contrarianism; also an innate distrust of feel-goodism, which even the most humane liberalism can’t keep from curdling into something sinister. I won’t dismiss my Cuban-American upbringing either, or the inherent paradox in the exile community’s traditional embrace of the GOP: for all their contempt for government interference and admirable pragmatism, their success is due to the largess of U.S. Cold War politics, which in the business of saving them from dictatorial thuggery and Fidelism granted them social services unparalleled in the twentieth century — services and status enjoyed by no other immigrant community. The relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is Borgian in complexity. I’ve admired Burke and Macaulay for years; it’s only recently that I realized that the times have outpaced them. Their sobriety, once a palliative, seems as anachronistic as Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry.” In short, I can’t imagine how Hugh Hewitt, Mark Steyn, or any member of the Podhoretz dynasty can reconcile their paranoia and smutty writing with classic conservatism.

It’s news like this that confirms what the polls suggest: the GOP has lost the youth vote for a generation. When my het students suffer no embarrassment from admitting publicly that they have gay best friends, how are they supposed to react when even exemplars of the obsolete branch known as the Goldwater western conservatives have to get their jollies from playing footsie in an airport men’s room stall?

Alberto Gonzalez, the protagonist in a self-written narrative in which a man of Mexican descent overcomes “adversity” to join the ranks of A. Mitchell Palmer, John Mitchell, and Ed Meese as bullet-headed hacks in thrall to a President who’s less an Executive than a scion, is finally given the blessing by his master to work as a consultant in the Heritage Foundation. George W. Bush, as John Dickerson remarks, makes a “fetish of loyalty.”

Under the spotlight…

STE is right about Rilo Kiley Mach II: Jenny Lewis’ control is as inexorable as Natalie Merchant’s over the 10,000 Maniacs circa Our Time in Eden. I say for the better: on their previous albums (the ones I could listen to all the way without getting up to make a Denver omelet), Blake Sennett made the usual mistake of perfecting songcraft at the expense of rhythm and weirdness; and while Lewis’ songs still deny the former, they’re long on the latter. Never mind the encyclopedic pop ambitions of Under The Blacklight — this is a woman whose appetites are so strong that she’ll sate them anywhere and anytime, and whose own songcraft almost matches her emotional demands. Unfortunately, the Lewis regime is hell on her bandmates, all of whom to a man are indistinguishable from any Grade B studio hack. Sennett’s one tune evokes, as Joshua Klein pointed out, Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac, alas: like Lindsay Buckingham on the reified followup to Tusk, Sennett sounds embarrassed if not declawed, as if he’d been on the wrong end of a lecture. The mix is laxative-smooth; it could be the indie-pop Gaucho (with his work here and on Maroon 5’s latest, Mike Elizondo could be repping for Gary Katz’s cred). Hook her up with, say, Lloyd Cole, Fred Maher, and Matthew Sweet, and you may get first-rate adult entertainment.

A couple of other reviews (including Erlewine’s) suggest that Lewis is striving to be her generation’s Anais Nin or something. “There is nothing but bad sex here,” Erlewine writes. As if! (can’t you enjoy bad sex?). Perhaps if Lewis ditched these guys and started to limn the rich showbiz kid life for material instead of teasing us we’d really get the Gaucho we deserve; as the sassy Dusty in Memphis-inspired “45” intimates, she’s smart enough to let her lyrics delineate the irony that her big voice is incapable of embracing.

Under the spotlight…

STE is right about Rilo Kiley Mach II: Jenny Lewis’ control is as inexorable as Natalie Merchant’s over the 10,000 Maniacs circa Our Time in Eden. I say for the better: on their previous albums (the ones I could listen to all the way without getting up to make a Denver omelet), Blake Sennett made the usual mistake of perfecting songcraft at the expense of rhythm and weirdness; and while Lewis’ songs still deny the former, they’re long on the latter. Never mind the encyclopedic pop ambitions of Under The Blacklight — this is a woman whose appetites are so strong that she’ll sate them anywhere and anytime, and whose own songcraft almost matches her emotional demands. Unfortunately, the Lewis regime is hell on her bandmates, all of whom to a man are indistinguishable from any Grade B studio hack. Sennett’s one tune evokes, as Joshua Klein pointed out, Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac, alas: like Lindsay Buckingham on the reified followup to Tusk, Sennett sounds embarrassed if not declawed, as if he’d been on the wrong end of a lecture. The mix is laxative-smooth; it could be the indie-pop Gaucho (with his work here and on Maroon 5’s latest, Mike Elizondo could be repping for Gary Katz’s cred). Hook her up with, say, Lloyd Cole, Fred Maher, and Matthew Sweet, and you may get first-rate adult entertainment.

A couple of other reviews (including Erlewine’s) suggest that Lewis is striving to be her generation’s Anais Nin or something. “There is nothing but bad sex here,” Erlewine writes. As if! (can’t you enjoy bad sex?). Perhaps if Lewis ditched these guys and started to limn the rich showbiz kid life for material instead of teasing us we’d really get the Gaucho we deserve; as the sassy Dusty in Memphis-inspired “45” intimates, she’s smart enough to let her lyrics delineate the irony that her big voice is incapable of embracing.