17 November 2007

Nostalgic Listening in Moscow

Under Review
Siouxsie, Mantaray. Decca Records, 2007.
Cat Power, "Song to Bobby." Matador Records, 2007.
Inside Out, "No Spiritual Surrender." Revelation Records, 1990.

I was first lured into the gloomy, magical world of Siouxsie Sioux nearly two decades ago for obvious reasons: the cute, older goth girls in junior high all listened to her. And lest I end up seated next to such a lass in art class with nothing to say, I biked down to Morninglory Records in Isla Vista so that I would have material for my imagined, impressive analysis of exactly how deep and meaningful the lyrics were. At the store I walked right by the nascent CD section—who had a CD player already?—and picked up Siouxsie & the Banshees’ Peepshow cassette, probably along with some INXS, Sugarcubes, and the Primitives, all part of my alterna-adolescence starter pack.*

Only recently have I started to revisit some of this music, especially S&B’s Scream, a moody, yet danceable album from 1978. So, imagine my surprise when I logged onto iTunes to download my weekly supply of NPR podcasts and saw Siouxsie had a new solo album, Mantaray. Just a click (and four-hour wait for the download) later, I was listening to that familiar howl-hither voice backed by a weird mix of synthesizers, rolling tom drums and an occasional marching band Sousaphone-sound. (For evidence, give a listen to “Here Comes That Day” and please note I am restraining myself from a long line of Sousa-Sioux jokes.) If nothing else, this album reinforces my belief that Karen Yeah Yeah Yeah ought to be paying Siouxsie royalties for the bald-faced theft of her style. I can’t say the whole album merits listening, but I’ll single out for your attention the following: “Loveless” for its layered, atmospheric toe-tap-ability, “Into a Swan” with its early Ministry-esque industrial style, and, yes, “Here Comes That Day.” I actually really like the steady, “go-team” beat and brass support, OK?

While I was waiting for the download, iTunes also recommended Cat Power’s new single “Song to Bobby.” Already out ten dollars, what’s another ninety-nine cents and 17 minutes of download time, right? In this case, it’s a complete waste of time and money. With its predictable, patented singer-songwriter whining, this trash is best suited for the suicide-chic hipsters who will never do us the favor of following through on the implied threat of their cultivated depression.

In order to recover, I had to put on Inside Out’s “No Spiritual Surrender,” a hilariously earnest critique of organized religion: “Try to make me bow down to you, try to take my identity, try to make me just another pebble on the beach!” Put yourself in the shoes of an Orange County teenager in the late 1980s and maybe it makes sense. But in late 2007’s Moscow, that perfect, crisp distorted guitar, the delicate clink of the ride cymbal’s bell and Zack’s heart-felt roars all smack of futility and rarefied angry dreaming. In other words, it hit a little too close to home to listen to more than once.**

*This fine collection was lost when every piece of luggage I had was stolen the day that I arrived on the East Coast for college. I hope that the thieves at least got a laugh out of their haul. Luckily in the intervening years, I had gone punk and didn’t mind wearing the same clothes for the rest of the week. It was like going on tour.

**By "close to home," I am referring to: (a) my endless research on utopic anti-colonialist activism in the Comintern; (b) the cooptation of hardcore and the sad fate of Rage Against the Machine—yes, I’m sticking to my 1993 “sell-outs!” line. However, if you are going to try to listen to this song, I recommend the live version on their discography with the following artless, Mario-Savio-light introduction panted out before the song: “This next song is about how I feel. This is for me, a lot of people in this band, and people that I know that are being forced into performing to their peers’, and their parents’ and to the system’s expectations of them. So that their spirit, and their life as they know it, and what they try to achieve for their own fulfillment is lost by, by a system that doesn’t care about them, that tries to push them into the fucking ranks like the rest of them. This song is called ‘No Spiritual Surrender!’” Brings it all back.


Sean Guillory said...

The Souixsie album is great. Reminds me of the Banshees of Scream, Kaleidescope, and Juju. I totally agree with the Karen of the Yeahs ripping her off. I hadn't thought of that, but now it makes total sense.

Didn't know Cat Power had a new record. I will have to check that out.

You may have Morning Glory Records in SB, but I have Ameoba in LA. Jealous? You should be. :-)

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Word is (and I can confirm in December) that IV's Morninglory is gone--check the link. Inevitable, I suppose, though still a little sad to me. So you can ratchet up my envy, though I always thought Amoeba, both in LA and Berkeley, was a little too big and impersonal. I prefer holes in the wall, both for music and books.

As for the Cat Power, I hope the rest of the songs on the album (it's all covers except for the early-release single I reviewed) are better. But I'm not counting on it. Chan seems like she's in a rut, to me.

Sean Guillory said...

Oh I agree about Chan's rut. The Greatest just didn't reproduce the emotion and beauty of You Are Free. I've been out of the scene for a while, but it seems like the Matador 1990s sound is a dying breed. I don't know if you were ever into Mecca Normal, but Cat Power reminds me a bit like them only softer.

I see about the holes in the wall. But at least in LA they have all been eaten by capital. I must say I love Ameoba (though I haven't been there in a long time. I had a bit of a record buying problem and just had to stop going there.), but I admit that the first time I went there I experienced a bit of consumerist dementia. Walking there can be like getting hit with a commodity sledgehammer.

All of this makes me want to crawl my way back into music . . .you're making me have the itch again. And there is a new Einsturzende Neubauten record out . . .

smer_jonez said...

Wut!? Like, I didn't even know cats had powers. but I know they can flush when they need to.