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This week, new songs by familiar voices…kind of a boy’s club, sorry about that!

  1. “What’s That Perfume You Wear?” Jens Lekman. As usual the girl is “gone forever” by the time we enter the picture but her perfume lingers on like “the promise of something sweet that could never be.” The whole CD is sorta icky sentimental like that but in this case the slick dance-y production helps the song rise above it. Love the second verse about remembering his girlfriend coming out a hotel shower smelling of expensive shampoo. (The slick dance-y production works less well on the songs about male friendship, which is a brave and unusual topic to take on but they are also sorta icky sentimental in execution.)
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  2. “If We Were Vampires,” Jason Isbell. Gorgeous meditation on love and mortality that finds time for a joke about taking up smoking if you knew you were never going to die. “Your questions like directions to the truth,” what a heck of a nice thing to say to someone, and I keep singing the “Maybe time running out is a gift/I’ll work hard until the end of my shift” couplet in my head. It’s the standout track on the new album, which is better (in my mind) than “Something More than Free” but nowhere near “Southeastern.” There’s a familiarity about the themes (country boy out of place in the city, guy stuck in his dead-end town, teenage love not holding up to the passage of time) that the striking phrases and passionate singing don’t totally erase. On the other hand the songs where Jason tries most to stretch are the worst (“White Man’s World,” “Anxiety”). So that is not a good sign.
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  3. “Leaving LA,” Father John Misty. Third in a row here of disappointing new albums. A hipster railing at himself for falling in love was so much more compelling than a hipster railing at the world for craving entertainment to distract them from their empty lives. This song, though, has that combination of self-loathing and other-loathing with a fragile trust in love to redeem both tendencies that made “Honeybear’ such an interesting listen. I wouldn’t call this an interesting listen, necessarily–I find I need to take a deep breath before I put it on, here’s my brilliant friend again who’s going to talk my ear off–but the suffocation is part of the point I suppose. Is Father John really so famous that he can rail against being famous? The beginning of the beginning of the end of his career he sees toward the end sounds kind of accurate; I’m not sure how much of the rest of the ride I’ll stick around for. As we Philip Roth fans know, that you can anticipate every possible criticism of your work doesn’t make those criticisms any less valid.
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  4. “Some Things Just Don’t Change,” Little Steven. Here is a familiar but horrible voice. All right, it’s not that bad but there’s no question Southside Johnny sang this better back in 1977 (and probably yesterday at some beach casino show). Still, Steven wrote it and it’s a great lost song, worth hearing again. In Rolling Stone Steven summed up this sound “soul horns meet rock guitar” and wondered why he didn’t write more songs like it. Probably because it was so frustrating to watch his buddy Bruce churn out five of them as a warm-up exercise to writing the day’s “real” songs, and three of those five were as good as Steve’s best. Kind of thing has to take a psychic toll.
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  5. “Postcard from Paris,” Glen Campbell. Talk about icky sentimental! And those background vocals! But I first heard it after a couple of drinks and it just killed me. Holds up sober but may make you want to pour yourself a glass of something, it has that kind of stoic melancholy that’s a lightning rod for all manner of regrets not directly related to the lyrics. Written by John Denver and I will take it at face value and not indulge in my own icky sentimentality and bring in the Alzheimer’s backstory. I’m sure you can find that on another blog out there.
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