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Katy Perry+Robyn

Pint-sized Swedish singer Robyn has had a remarkable career revival after a short-lived run as a late-’90s teen pop vixen, and it is built equally of oddball quirk and genuinely brilliant hooks. Regardless of what ridiculous things she may shoot out from her breasts (frosting, fireworks, teenage dreams), Katy Perry certainly can’t operate without hooks, as well–let’s hope there’s some generational cross-pollination backstage during this tour that encourages Robyn to take the Linda Perry route with her late career renaissance.

Sun., June 19, 7:30 p.m., 2011

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Welcome Back, Courtney Love

Room, meet the rhinoplastied elephant in a tutu. To address the new Hole record, Nobody’s Daughter, without considering Courtney Love’s chaos-prone reputation—the “Courtney Love Monster,” as she recently described it on Twitter—is to analyze the recent health care bill without acknowledging Barack Obama. It’s impossible not to be distracted by the circular chorus of “Samantha,” a slow-burning rager co-written by Billy Corgan that substitutes curse words for handclaps: “People like you FUCK!/People like me FUCK!/People like you FUCK!/People like me!” These four lines repeat, at various intervals, four times, bringing the track’s final F-word count to 23, and raising the question: Who are these people like “you” or “me,” exactly? Even Love admits that, unlike “friend” Stevie Nicks, she finds it impossible to disentangle herself from her lyrical narrators. “It’s me,” the 45-year-old recently told Amazon. “If it’s ‘Samantha,’ it’s probably me.”

So let us consider who people like Courtney Love might be. Someone whose husband’s suicide is the 9/11 of modern rock? Someone who once thus enjoyed global goodwill and national sympathy, but then squandered it in spectacularly public fashion? Someone whose legendarily combative personality is as polarizing as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or someone who overdoses on Oxycontin in front of her daughter and has generally cultivated a reputation as the Tasmanian Devil’s Ambien-woozy girlfriend? Should we even get into who the “you” fucking her might be?

Let’s not. At one point, there was a feminist-studies doctoral thesis on the notion that Courtney Love was the rock-‘n’-roll Hillary Clinton: a strong, shrewd, icily ambitious woman who used her tumultuous, high-profile marriage as a professional catapult, wielded a powerful relentlessness and stereotypically masculine calculation, and therefore got labeled a bitch with balls. Hell, they both also found themselves conspiracy-theorist targets in allegedly suspicious suicides and begot only-child daughters whom the tabloids openly pitied. But that was the ’90s. It’s two presidents and countless major-label failures later. Hillary Clinton is now Secretary of State. And Love? She’s currently a court-deemed unfit parent who still urinates with the door open in the company of an AP reporter and fronts a band named Hole.

Yet we are still paying attention. (OK, I am.) And Nobody’s Daughter‘s snarling, grunge-revival lead single, “Skinny Little Bitch,” makes it easy to remember why, evoking everything Hole once stood for: self-tortured vanity and the punk-rock girl pummeling the prom queen. The track’s iTunes art is a bloody glass slipper; the song itself advances the belief that all Cinderella ever really wanted was to kick the shit out of her deserving stepsisters. Credit nostalgia, if you like, but it’s a truly fantastic Hole song.

But this Hole is not the Hole you, or anyone, remembers. No Lurch-by-way-of-Thurston guitar-slayer Eric Erlandson. (He’s pissed.) No ginger-pixie four-stringer Melissa Auf Der Maur. (She’s solo.) No erstwhile bassist Kristen Pfaff. (She’s dead.) You might be tempted to brace the band’s name with quotes—go ahead. Her Holeness doesn’t care. “We are Hole whether you like it or not, you little suck shits,” she spat at this band’s first U.S. show at SXSW in March, draped in a yellow sash reading “BEWARE.”

This Hole actually has no other women—just three men joined by an occasional touring fourth. The guy who matters most is Micko Larkin, a British guitarist/occasional roommate who has emerged as Love’s even-keeled foil and possible saving grace. Nobody’s Daughter, the first Hole release since 1998’s Celebrity Skin, began five years ago with Love scribbling songs in rehab, where she went after flashing David Letterman on the air while her fairly terrible 2004 solo record, America’s Sweetheart, tanked. Collaborations with ex-lover Corgan and producer/pop doctor Linda Perry started and stopped in reportedly dramatic fits; Skin producer Michael Beinhorn eventually stepped in. But when Love, who swears she only takes prescribed drugs now, decamped to New York (“Fuck that goddamn desert,” she says of Los Angeles), Larkin took over. The 23-year-old is now a credited co-songwriter on five songs—nearly all the best ones, too. Without him, it’s likely Nobody’s Daughter would be Nobody’s Record.

But if the result belongs to anybody, it’s the Courtney Love Monster. “Skinny Little Bitch” isn’t about any of the singer’s many adversaries (Lily Allen, Madonna, Mary Lou Lord)—it’s about when the Monster shape-shifted into an anorexic cokehead. The beast’s genesis is also sketched in the Martha Wainwright–assisted title track, an arresting raised-lighter lament that Love has said reflects both her story and Frances Bean’s peculiar situation: “Nobody’s daughter, she never was, she never will/Be beholden to anyone she cannot kill.” (Love’s mother, therapist Linda Carroll, published a 2006 tell-all called Her Mother’s Daughter—this is a hostile denial.) We also get to escort the Monster on a walk of shame home from “Someone Else’s Bed.”

“Play this recording very very loud please,” beg the record’s liner notes—this is very good advice. Otherwise, you will probably hate the rest of it. Love has made a career by lashing out—few women in rock have told the world to fuck off with such cathartic abandon—and yet aside from the punk pogo “Loser Dust,” the rest of Daughter lacks that profound aggression, which is the whole reason we—OK, again, I—loved this crazy lady in the first place. Instead, we get a litany of annoying rock ballads and anguished modern-rock pap, plus one extremely ill-advised affectation: Just as fellow recovering addict Eminem inexplicably adopted a Jamaican patois on 2009’s Relapse, here Love cops Bob Dylan’s folk-codger cadence on at least four songs.

It’s absolutely bizarre, bordering on self-parody, like Julianne Moore’s Boston accent on 30 Rock, except serious. Through headphones, it’s nearly unbearable, though during a mid-April listening party at Fall Out Boy–affiliated bar Angels & Kings, that feigned nasal rasp didn’t sound so bad. But the joint’s speakers couldn’t save the despairing soliloquy “Letter to God”—woof. Linda Perry supposedly wrote this as a sequel to Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” but it sounds like a cruel prank, with Love the too-proud Emperor, Perry the swindling weaver, and this heaven-sent telegram sewn from a brilliance everyone else is allegedly too stupid to see. It reminds me of Kermit the Frog’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

See Hole live. You will be entertained. Don’t worry: They’ll play much of what you want to hear, including the exhilaratingly perfect scream-along “Violet”; the fist-pumping, trash-culture-skewering “Celebrity Skin”; and, if you’re lucky, the enraged, Kim Gordon–produced triumph “Pretty on the Inside.” Nor will Love not disappoint with her reliably loony onstage banter: At that SXSW performance, the widow Cobain concluded Daughter‘s “Pacific Coast Highway” thus: “I like that song. It reminds me of sex. You know, fucked-up hate sex. Like when you punch. You guys know what I’m talking about, when you fuck someone and then you PUNCH them right in the middle of it: ‘I fucking hate YOOUUUUUU! Yeah, this is so good, OK, baby, FUCK YOU!’ ”

Courtney Love “is the girl who won’t shut up,” Deborah Frost wrote in these pages back in 1992. “She is all the things that should not be, and she shoves it, raw, right in your face.” Chaos begets chaos theory, and in 18 years, nothing about her has really changed—and that is exactly the point.

Hole play Terminal 5 April 27 and 28. Both shows are sold out.

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HOLE LOTTA LOVE

It’s been about six years since Internet spectacle, walking blind item, and generally annoying famous person Courtney Love reminded us that she sometimes makes music. As always, she’s a cyclone of TMZ fodder (as of press time, she’s pals with Jessica Simpson! And denying she wants R Patz to play lil Kurt in the Nirvana biopic! OMG!). But, thankfully, by once again donning the Hole moniker, she’s attempting to go back to that happy place that made us love her in the first place, even if it was between Toadies and Candlebox songs on late-night drives. The new version of Hole is rebuilt from the ground up—i.e., no Melissa, no Eric, no whoever was playing drums—and it was formed mainly to help push what was originally intended as Love’s latest solo record, the achingly mid-’90s, kinda-confessional, Linda Perry–soaked Nobody’s Daughter. But the new band totally rips by all accounts. Love has never been a slouch with a guitar, she’s still a crowd-surfing dervish as of last month’s SXSW, and she’s still the reigning queen of deliciously filthy stage banter. Plus, hey, “Miss World.” With Little Fish and the Love Loves.

Tue., April 27, 9 p.m.; Wed., April 28, 9 p.m., 2010

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Jagged Little Hill

Linda Perry first came to notice in the 4 Non Blondes in 1993 singing, “25 years and my life is still/Trying to get up that great big hill of hope/For a destination,” which on the airwaves didn’t sound quite as ridiculous as it reads, since the melody gives her dark-brown voice some jagged hills to climb. Nonetheless, it inspired me to refer to the band as the 4 Non Brains. Then, as far as radio was concerned, she dropped from sight, until suddenly in the ’00s she reappeared as a canny producer-songwriter, helping Pink and Christina reconfigure teen pop into teen confessional rock. Back during the airplay hiatus, however, she’d put out a couple of solo albums, the first of which,
In Flight, has just been reissued.

What’s most noteworthy is her singing. In general it has a finishing-school propriety, the voice well-trained, making sweeps and holding tones; but when she wants to nail us to the wall, she goes deep and harsh, digs into her low register and sandblasts us with sound. It sure gets your attention. It’s almost—or often—too ugly. Nonetheless, you don’t mistake her for anybody else. The lyrics are all about being suspended between here and there, Linda caught in midflight, not sure where she is but sure it won’t last. She’s often vague or maudlin (“Learning what I am/Feeling like a bluebird/Flying away”), but then she’ll pull off some expert imagery: A song starts “This ain’t a walk in the park/But I call it my home” and it turns out to be about an actual walk in a park, a dangerous one, populated by her type of desperate losers, the bad company she hangs with. “Trade your crack for some crack.” “The drag queens/The speed freaks/All the homo boys they touch me, baby.” As for the overall sound, it’s more mainstream than you’d expect—you’d think someone who uses harshness as her ace in the hole would go punk or thrash to provide a context for the harshness; instead, she lets her tough peculiar voice stand out in formal settings, as it were.

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Blast From the (Recent) Past: A More Mature Fischerspooner

This year, it seems like everything old is new again. Artists from the recent past have new records out: The Chemical Brothers unleashed the surprisingly good Push the Button in January, and this spring will see more records from a couple of big names, including Moby—who is releasing Hotel, a two-disc set—and Parisian duo Daft Punk, who have finally made the follow-up to 2001’s Discovery, called Human After All. Electroclash escapees Fischerspooner, the kings of the most hyped, shortest lived, and falsely constructed genre, have broken themselves out of their self-manufactured box with their sophomore effort, Odyssey. The music’s still high-concept (think Pink Floyd turned more techno), but this time it feels less like an art school prank and a lot more sincere. Warren Fischer’s musical compositions are less reliant on those knob-twiddly two-note Groovebox sounds that made their key single “Emerge” so iconic, and he creates more mature sonic landscapes. It’s still Fischerspooner, even if there are collaborations with French house producer Mirwais, songwriting weapon Linda Perry, and the late Susan Sontag (who wrote the lyrics for “We Need a War”). You’ll recognize the deadpan lyrical delivery from Casey Spooner, and the first single, “Just Let Go,” is as annoyingly catchy as any Top 40 hit or club favorite. FS are also the most accessible local band in recent memory. Every Thursday they host a salon at their loft in Williamsburg, sometimes showing short political or art films, sometimes staging performances, and always hosting DJs like Tommie Sunshine and Andy Butler.

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The ’80s Girl Inside Reveals More Doubts Than Boundaries

Like that of her spiritual mommies Madonna and Debbie Harry, Gwen Stefani’s appeal knows few boundaries. Credit a comfort level with “exotic” subcultures (and the savvy to tweak them for the masses), bottle-blond hair, and a mixture of cool and accessible. The latter is abundant in Gwen’s confessional lyrics. Her band might be No Doubt, but naked admissions like “Simple Kind of Life” ‘s “Sometimes I wish for a mistake” suggest that Gwen is riddled with anxiety. Those neurotic touches are endearing, and indicate that—despite money, looks, and style—Gwen probably checks out her ass in her Galliano jeans and asks, “Gavin? Do these make me look fat?”

“What You Waiting For?,” the first single from Love.Angel.Music.Baby, proves Gwen is still not riding her own (metaphoric) dick. Set to a double-shot-espresso beat and accented by giddy, yodeling vocals à la Lene “New Toy” Lovich, “What You Waiting For?” may be the first song in which the chick calls herself a stupid ‘ho. A new wave adrenaline rush disguised as a therapy session, the song was produced by Nellee Hooper and co-written by girlpop master Linda Perry, just two of many big players on board. Other collaborators include Dallas Austin, the Neptunes (the hard-banging, stripped-down foot stomper “Hollaback Girl”), and Dr. Dre, whose unlikely blend of hip-hop, dancehall, and Fiddler on the Roof makes “Rich Girl” straight-up Yiddishe yo mama.

Yet despite a few forays into remix territory, Gwen’s real inspiration here is the luxurious synths and club grooves of the Reagan era. And while LAMB is adventurous and playful—with nary a ska-punk riddim to be found—it’s when Gwen reaches back and goes totally ’80s that the CD reverberates with unwavering charm. Peppered throughout the disc are sonic valentines to Lisa Lisa, Human League, Stacey Q, John Waite, Missing Persons, and Exposé. The Hooper-produced “The Real Thing” not only screams out New Order in the best possible way, but features half of the group, while a duet with Andre 3000 on the revved-up and whacked-out “Bubble Pop Electric” is pure Travolta-Newton-John in Grease, albeit on mushrooms. The dear-diary nostalgia combo gives LAMB a guileless intimacy almost unheard of in big-name solo projects—as though Gwen wants to shine, but not if it means big-upping herself too much. Even with her name on the disc she keeps it humble, reinforcing her position as pop’s nicest icon next door.

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How Too Late It Is

Rockstar popstar at some point it’s too late, you become a social concept with yr spin doctors, yr contrived provocations, and the seductive risk you’ll get real wayward any second like Oprah’s weight or Paris Hilton, capital of the 21st century. The depressing part is that it’s mostly women who’re so watched (hence “celebrity porn”); the compelling part is the thirst for the faintest suggestion culture isn’t a totalitarian spectacle choreographed by fuckwad technocrats with degrees in symbol management. I dreamed that impulse and appetite had survived.

America’s Sweetheart echoes that tabloid star track like digital delay. “Mono” (one of many co-credits for Linda Perry, spin nurse of all ill-behaved divas) opens the disc with callused hand on wheel of the myth: “Is this the part in the book that you wrote where I gotta come and save the day—did you miss me?” That’s not interesting: just what Courtney thinks we think she thinks. Patience—she’s a snarltooth seether headed beyond the valley of the handlers. “But Julian, I’m a Little Bit Older Than You” sets up some kid as the avatar of punk rock sex and sets his room on fire, shrieking “shut up! shut up!” less rhetorical than foaming at the mouth, holding every Casablancan poseur in the world accountable for heritage crimes, twice as angry because she wants to fuck him two times baby. Tender love song follows, produced by intellectual titan behind Matchbox 20, wherein broken-throated Love must proclaim, “I am the center of the universe.” The next dissolves into a two-minute pharmaceutical litany—it gives Pink’s song about pills what for!

This is the middle eight where I point out how all this is just another role in the rube’s game of Fake Real. She’s not really the sexed-up resurrector coming back to save rock; neither is she the all-consuming harridan of infinite narcissism spinning out of control.

No shit. It’s too late for all of that, and this record is about how too late it is. If one must have an opinion on Courtney Love there’re many to choose from, but meanwhile the first four songs are the most total feeling of after the gold rush, after the lights have come on, since forever—decisive, outsized, and transporting as any frontside since Daft Punk’s Discovery. The voice is ruined and semi-sweetened just like it has to be, as the POV collapses through “Courtney” to some generic star in the constellation of L.A. highlife, then past a few just-a-girls and obsessed fans to the interior paramour in full bloom of angry desire.

After the top four, the songs can’t hold the pace: One with Bernie Taupin lyrics compares poorly to “Dream Weaver,” another recycles “Teen Spirit” but nasty, plus there’s an adorable tour d’ambivalence “The Zeplin Song.” But the front songs leave no place for standing around on the outside going yeah that one’s pretty good. In that way the record’s like the star, snarling at you to commit or fuck off. First I liked “Julian” best for how she quotes Prince, “erotic city VIP the pornoriffic girl is me!” and how it’s a thousand asides to a crossed-out monologue about you invested yr entire erotic being in rock and rock turned out to be a bad boyfriend. But “Sunset Strip” is where the whole drama unspools, even before the pill coda; it has this trick telescope where if you dangle your ankles off the HOLLYWOOD sign you can see everything that happens under the sign of Hollywood, the girls hopping off interstate buses morphing into “shredded valentines.” And it’s like hanging out at the end of history, the golden age is rusted, London’s not calling back, Malibu’s trashed, Laurel Canyon’s in ashes, and it’s somewhere between 10 years and a couple hours too late to rescue anything, too late for impulse and appetite, too late to be anything but a social concept. “Rockstar popstar everybody dies,” she concludes against some angelic Kim Breeder Brodie Distiller harmonies, hanging there not a resurrection but an epitaph, “all tomorrow’s parties they have happened tonight.”



Related Articles:


Amy Phillips reviews the Commercially Available Version of America’s Sweetheart


Joshua Clover on What Was Lost Between Versions

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Siren Wailing

You’d think there’d be some mathematical formula that could take into account the manner tossed, and how far, and what exactly “it” was, and tell you the all-time champion of Throwing It All Away. Until this analytic tool is devised, I can only say with certainty that Christina Aguilera has a seat at the table; in the sub-category Failure to Capitalize on a Debut, she may take the cake. The basic criteria are (a) how massive that first record was, and then (b) how long before the follow-up, which is (c) how lame? Ms. Aguilera is approaching four years since she made a better and far more beloved debut than, say, the Stone Roses. In teenpop years, this is a dog’s life.

It makes Trent Reznor, the former big kahuna of lacuna, look like he’s been huffing workohol. So there’s Christina’s career going into a coma, with nothing but Latin and Christmas and extreme-youth stopgaps to keep it breathing, and finally here comes the follow-up, siren wailing. Long story short, Stripped is an ambulance arriving too late to save its driver; when, oh when, will people understand that endeavoring to not mature is at the core of pop music? It’s nü-Mariah on mood stabilizers, extended with pseudo-pastiches of semi-popular songs. Carey on, my wayward daughter. But let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about the Greatest Comeback of All Time.

You must fall from a great height. And you must descend into extreme obscurity, in ways Elvis and Dylan couldn’t even comprehend, such that a comeback isn’t even an issue because no one’s even wondering where you went anymore. But it’s not as easy as just disappearing like Shuggie Otis; more abject is actively losing your talent and appeal, forgotten but not gone. And then, out of nowhere and against all odds, you must be great again—greater, in fact, than you ever were before.

OK, I’ve convinced myself: It’s Marianne Faithfull. I suppose you could argue that she was never musically brilliant back when she was getting a little above-the-waist chart action in the Swinging ’60s. But she was famous and successful and desired, all the things that make a young woman a star, and then she pissed it away, and there was exactly no chance the world could have been ready for Broken English, which if you haven’t listened to it recently could use maybe a dash less Wicca and synthesizers, but will still rivet you to your chaise longue like the hand of god. So I suppose it’s a race for second place, which brings us to this particular moment and another rasp-throated burnout burning, against all likelihood, back in.

Linda Perry had one huge hit with 4 Non Blondes, and it was huger than you can imagine, unless you’ve traveled a little and understand that “What’s Up” remains the favorite song of every seventh passing car on at least three continents. A few years later she was self-releasing a solo album of crypto-blues-metal inspirational songs heard by perhaps 30 humans, and only because her sister mailed it to them. We knew absolutely that she would be remembered only for that one annoying tune, and a band name that provided endless non-amusing witticisms for music reviewers (“Three non-non-blondes from Oklahoma, the kids in Hanson”—see Failure to Capitalize on a Debut rankings, #6 ). Linda Perry’s doomsday clock had already thrown up its hands. Then came the Pink album Missundazstood (see Greatest Sophomore Breakthroughs, behind Hole and ahead of the Rolling Stones).

As you may have heard, that album’s title track, lead single, and a handful of ballads were all written by Linda Perry. They weren’t uniformly great: There’s something weird about “My Vietnam,” and something Led-Zep-should-sue about “Gone to California.” But pop was never about uniformly great. “Get the Party Started” is brilliant, and “Missundazstood” isn’t much less. Implausibly, Linda Perry was a genius. Suddenly she was the hottest pop auteur around. And her specialty was taking schoolgirls from crayons to perfume.

For 10 songs, Christina Aguilera’s record is aggressively boring, unless you’re fascinated by her half-repressed yen to remake “I Put a Spell on You” as it might be done by the Velveteen Rabbit. And then comes “Beautiful,” the kind of ballad Mariah made back when she was a natural. The following “Make Over” is deeply in debt to British garage-poppers Sugababes, not a bad source in the scheme of things. It’s the only song on the record that paints newfound maturity and freedom as more than a pickup line. All anxious rhythms and distorted vocals, it’s independence as a panic attack, which can only be soothed by a power ballad: “Cruz,” even more Bic-flicking than “Beautiful,” if not quite as beautiful. These three songs are Linda Perry’s contribution to Stripped, and they make almost everything else on the record sound as tawdry as it is. In fact, the next song, “Soar,” might be the strongest argument for Perry’s new-generation power: Written and produced by Aguilera and two strangers named Rob Hoffman and Heather Holley, it’s the first significant knockoff of what will be remembered as Linda Perry Pop, or We Were Only Sophomores Pop, or Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon If You Can Afford My Services Pop. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of becoming a brand name. I can hear Charlotte Church fumbling for her cell phone even now . . .