May 9, 2009
HATE TO ADMIT IT, BUT…
“Justify My Love”
The Immaculate Collection
1990 | Sire Records
Can a song be lost in the hype surrounding it? When a single is more well-known for the controversy it caused than for the single itself, what happens when the buzz around it dies? Madonna is no stranger to controversy, a household name mainly for the publicity stunts she’s pulled over the last 30 years. She hit one of many career zeniths in 1990, with “Justify My Love,” the lead single off her first greatest hits comp, The Immaculate Collection.
The song, written by Lenny Kravitz, is a low, throbbing number, replete with canned drums that sound like they wouldn’t be out of place on an Enigma record. The lyrics are numbingly repetitive, dull. Most lines end with a semi-moaned, semi-chanted “Justify My Love,” in a two-part harmony that is mostly two-parts off. Seriously, Madonna has done some pretty minimal stuff (“Frozen” and “Bedtime Story,” specifically, come to mind), but this is plain boring.
More on Madonna | “Justify My Love”
November 28, 2008
She Hangs Brightly
1990 | Rough Trade
You and I probably have a few things in common. We press snooze on our alarm clocks when it rudely awakens us each weekday morning. We thrive and delight in the moment we get home and cozy up in our element, sanctifying ourselves from the vexation of the outside world. We take geeky pleasure in organizing our various cherished collections of media; our books, our magazines, our records, and our iTunes. If it turns out you and I do share these common characteristics, than you, like I, probably have your own temporal iTunes, where you have over time categorized all of your favorite albums into the moods and moments for which they are experienced best, like before bed, getting ready in the morning, when you’re angry at your significant other, etc. For me, the quintessential rainy-day album is Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly, especially in those moments of basking in the warmth and dryness of your fortunate shelter. It’s something about the echoes of her syrupy voice, the long, drawling sound reverberations, and the Jesus and Mary Chain-come folk and blues elements that make this album feel like a massage and fuzzy slippers for the cerebral audiophile.
More on Mazzy Star: She Hangs Brightly
October 28, 2008
1990 | Twin/Tone
I don’t really know if Robyn Hitchcock is an undiscovered treasure, of if I’ve been living under a rock for decades. Surely, chances are the average listener is at least peripherally familiar with a fraction of his catalog – countless bands have taken a pass at “I Wanna Destroy You,” the one truly sterling moment Hitchcock’s first band, The Soft Boys, produced. Their lone album, Underwater Moonlight, hinted at Hitchcock’s promise as a songwriter, but never quite coagulated. No, it’s the later, less celebrated stuff that really knocks it out of the park.
More on Record Review: Eye
Heavens to Murgatroyd, Even! It’s Thee Headcoats! (Already)
1990 | Sub Pop
I once asked someone – who I thought would know – which Headcoats album I should start with. I’d heard an awful lot about them, but never heard them. They kind of intimidated me, like Black Flag or This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, before I’d heard either of them. Just intimidating looking and sounding bands.
So I asked a guy in Other Music or Kim’s or somewhere, “Where’s a good place to start with Thee Headcoats?” His response was something like, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. You can start with whatever cover strikes your eye. They all basically sound exactly the same.” So, I waited until I stumbled upon Heavens to Murgatroyd… in a cutout bin, and snapped it up.
More on Record Review: Heavens to Murgatroyd, Even! It’s Thee Headcoats! (Already)
July 27, 2008
This is Our Music
1990 | Rough Trade
Starting with an eerie guitar rift, a siren song that builds in volume and a sort of bittersweet electric needling, Galaxie 500’s final release, This is Our Music, is a musician’s album, a writer’s album and a listener’s album. It’s the type of work that can easily turn itself into background whispers and melodic creaking, like walking on porch planks that magically light the night with sound. Or it becomes the musical equivalent of drunken belligerence in the hull of some landlocked barge, all moans and lax backing vocals. It’s some kind of feat that for such a complex work, it also comes off as a completely lazy, half-awake, half-speaking-with-a-mile-high-cigarette-ash attempt; a true relic from the original alt/indie rock past and charming record of the budding attitude of an era.
And the lyrics make no grandiose claims either: “I wrote a poem on a dog biscuit/but your dog refused to read it/so I got drunk and looked at the empire state building/it was no bigger than a nickel.” How blasé, how utterly 90’s. The casual-talking vocals, a simple rumination or a conversation about the banality of modern life, sum up the entire mood of the record. Alternately heralded as their swan song and their let-down denouement, This is Our Music (appropriated from Ornette Coleman’s 1960’s free jazz album of the same name and later tweaked by the Brian Jonestown Massacre to And This is Our Music) presents a more cohesive, slightly less dream-pop drenched sound than previous Galaxie recordings and the outcome is at once intransitive and memorable.
The cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen the Snow is Falling”, which beautifully highlights Naomi Yang’s voice, the voice that moved onto such prominence with her future act: Damon and Naomi, is actually the sound of winter, the sound of snow-covered sidewalks being pocked with boot-steps, no, it’s the sound of being in love, of snow angels, of finding the happiness in missing someone.
This is a great album and by album I mean a solid listening experience all the way through (a unique concept today). Now that we’ve got 20/20 hindsight on the myriad splits and genre fusions that began with alt rock and moved into the intellectual (all the members attended Hah-vahd) shoegaze/dream-pop movement, it’s easy to see how influential (see: The Shins or Band of Horses, etc.) and lovely this last go at guitar-centric haze tunes was.
by Erin Smith