LAST CALL FOR HAPPINESS
: Music reviews, in both alphabetical and reverse-preferential order.Cat Power, The Greatest
. OK... people are probably getting sick of my saying that Myra Lee
and Dear Sir
are the best things Cat Power's ever done, and nothing else holds up. So, given that I am even cooler toward this CD than I was toward its predecessor, what can I say that will catch your interest?
There are some things Cat Power does in her awesome high-lonesome manner. Cat Power makes the following things real:
alienation, and how existential alienation can distance us from other women
the beauty of the United States below the Mason-Dixon line
the Southern sinner's longing for redemption; the Southern sinner's complete incomprehension of how that redemption might be accomplished
how, even though we don't want to admit it, lilacs and honeysuckle look better when you're a little bit drunk
that tipsy feeling where you're not sure whether the world is shaping itself to your imaginings or you are seeing something beautiful and new and easy
Cat Power is, pretty much, a mint julep in music. Or three mint juleps. (...Or six.) She can turn a geeky memory into a moan of longing ("Bathysphere"). She can make the most pretentiously-titled songs as real as the girls on 15th Street at four a.m. ("Fate of the Human Carbine").
She's as real as your bare feet against the warm wooden slats of a creek bridge in summer, and so all of her albums are worth your time.
But I still think her newest album moved further into the abstractosphere, away from the small desperations and sharp characterizations of her first two albums. I don't really know how to describe it, except to say that when I first heard her--singing "Rockets," from Dear Sir
--I immediately asked, "Wow, who is this?" She was an ice-axe for the frozen sea within, for serious, exactly what Kafka meant. She broke through everything. Myra Lee
and Dear Sir
are like Walker Percy's Lancelot
This new album doesn't do any of that. I accept that I'll probably warm to it. I now kinda like the first half of her last album. It wouldn't make me start listening, but now that I'm here, it's... okay. But even there, I had a couple songs (like "Good Woman") to which I could cling. This album doesn't really give me anything to love.
But she can be so much more.Delta 5, Singles and Sessions 1979-1981
. The Delta 5 are kind of... I dunno... hippie new wave? They are artificial, but their melodies feel more natural than the new-wavery I love. I heard about them from a flyer from Riot Grrrl. They're awesome and spooky and different, relying on chimes and coordinated vocals to get their feminist effects, rather than the usual drums and raggedness. Everything they do is beautiful.
So, these songs? ...Well, they're good. "Mind Your Own Business" is anthemic, in a good way and in a bad way (it's the sort of song you put on mix CDs for other people whose confidence you want to spur, but you don't necessarily listen to it that much yourself). "Shadow" is frightening and rushed and sharp; but this live version is no better than the studio version on See the Whirl'
. That's true in general.
So my recommendation would be: Absolutely, check out See the Whirl'
. There are lovely songs there.The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site.
You need this!!!!
(breathes slowly, tries to pretend to be usefully critical
) Um, the sound is sort of rock-y, not in an especially exciting way. It's got guitars and drums and stuff.
(no! tell them why it is so great!
) It's... crazy geeks, with their Michel Foucault and their Ernest Shackleton (one of the best songs on the album) and their longing and their ability to recognize sublimity even when they can't quite enter into it (the heartbreaking "Hospital Vespers"). It's wandering through the snow trying to find the house you think you remember, it was right around here
.... It's an album about need and inadequacy and what St Augustine would call the memory of Adam's happiness (and how we get that memory wrong, misinterpret it, corrupt it in a thousand ways). It's also hooky, full of tunes that will bother you for weeks. It isn't just about one or two great songs; it's about a whole album. Oh, you really need this.