I misunderstood tonight: Cut Copy’s Zonoscope

Even disco-rock needs solid beats. Contra Tom Breihan,  Cut Copy should think about songs as much as they think about albums. In Ghost Colours‘ “So Haunted” burrowed its way into my head in spring 2008. An unexpectedly violent intro guitar, stacked 10cc harmonies, elegiac instrumental fadeout, and a chorus that sure sounded like “Get so horny that I misunderstood tonight” — these guys understood the prime tenet of New Order’s legacy, which is to infuse banality with sublimity. That’s the way love works, right? The rest of the album was aural gauze: “Lights and Music”  was a bass line in search of a warm body to press against.

Trancier and dance-ier, Zonoscope boasts one superb album track called “Alisa” which almost rivals “So Haunted.” The band has gotten exceptionally skilled behind the mixing board: note how the sparkly keyboard fills in the chorus mesh with the harmonies. “Need You Now” isn’t, alas, a cover of Lady Antebellum’s magisterial hit of the same name, and although its dynamics — a steady Moroder-esque throb that builds to a nice crescendo — are suitable for the dance floor, too many tracks on Zonoscope hint at subtext at the expense of commensurate musical details. It helps if you and the singer and simpatico.  At its worst Zonoscope sounds like the awkwardly coiffed Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twin singing in  Simple Minds.

For some listeners this is a good thing. I’m tempted into overrating this album; it’s the sort of thing that sounds heavenly after a few glasses of wine. But I have friends who overrate Movement and Power, Corruption, and Lies too.

Ronald Reagan – still dead

How I define my politics rests on my conflicted understanding of Ronald Reagan, specifically his Ronald Reagan-ness. Even conservatives who think the New Deal was a boondoggle grant FDR the courtesy of a high historical ranking, so it doesn’t surprise me that liberals concede Reagan’s Importance In the Grand Scheme of Things. Men like Reagan fascinate me: from nowhere, defined by an ambition that will cut any obstacle in its path, yet are hollow inside, coming off as stand-ins for themselves. Their children don’t like them much. The wives stoically accept that for-better-or-worse means sitting with a rictus grin through years of the rubber chicken circuit. Think of Jay Gatsby and Charles Foster Kane. Watch Reagan at this press conference held after the stock market crash of 1987. Although he speaks well (“Silver water on peach fuzz” is Edmund Morris’  excellent description of his voice) and mostly without notes, there’s a sense in which a tape recorder switched on in his brain and played his responses to reporters while Reagan dozed elsewhere. He does come close to losing his shit near the end when, switching from communicator to pedagogue, he lectures a dazed Sam Donaldson, “Let me REMIND you that [John] Maynard Keynes didn’t even HAVE a degree in economics.”

With the exception of the ’86 tax reform, the Reagan administration’s deregulation (encouraged by the Carter White House) and tax cuts were disastrous and in the long term deadly. The Wall Street meltdown of 2008 had its roots during Morning in America. Try explaining this to a conservative. Remind them that with one hand Reagan cut the top income tax rate and with the other signed the largest tax increase in US history to date and they’ll walk away. It’s also not a good idea for a president to show such disinterest in the banalities of daily governmental operations that two successive national security advisers ran a junta out of the White House. Liberals are a surly bunch; they’ve long accepted FDR’s weaknesses. The lip-trembling hysteria of the Reagan centennial indicates that conservatives still don’t get it, and the media loves heroes more than the fate of conservatism.

I still recommend Morris’ vilified Dutch for the quality of its prose (I laughed out loud several times) and the judiciousness of his anecdotes. If you want a well-paced revisionist take on what Reagan did right regarding the Cold War, James Mann’s The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan will do. Finally, Christopher Hitchens’ mordant eulogy (“A cruel and stupid lizard”) is much livelier than the enervated thing Slate posted today.