Sunday, 16 September 2012

One Type of Aridity

Ladyhawke - Anxiety (2012)

'Ladyhawke still sounds like Ladyhawke, just tougher and more muscular, like Ladyhawke after a boot camp.' (Nick Levine, BBC)

'Sadly 'Black, White and Blue''s organ stabs, so reminiscent of Saturn 5, fail to take you anywhere beyond grim, snakebite'n'black-encrusted dancefloors.' (Tim Jonze, The Guardian)

'While there may be no 'Paris is Burning'-sized hit this time out, the high level of intensity in the music, words, and Brown's singing -- plus the cumulative thrill that builds up as song after song punches you right in the face -- more than makes up for it.' (Tim Sandra, All Music Guide)

It's not Empson's 'Seven Types of Ambiguity', it's rock and roll and it's tepid tedium. It's a 'punch in the face' to the listener akin to being in the ring with Frank Bruno in 2012. It's where wearing a Nirvana t-shirt somehow endows you with life, rage and spirit. I've spent much of the day listening to various songs from the Dream Babes and One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found compilations. Then I put this album on; after the human urgency of wondrous 'manufactured' 1960s stormers like The Tammys' 'Egyptian Shumba' and Paula Parfitt's 'Love is Wonderful', Anxiety brings me down to earth with a stultifying thud. 

'Leave behind the mess that you've made
And never ever do it again
Balance out all the love that you've saved
You'll need it 'til the bitter end
Make your run, make a fool of yourself
You're an accident that's waiting to happen
Life's so short, so forget all the past
It'll be there 'til the bitter end
And now that you realise
You seen the pain in my blue eyes, my blue eyes
There's nothing more I can do but sing you:'

To describe these lyrics as banal is like saying that George Osborne lacks empathy with working people. It's full of platitudes ('life's so short'), cliches ('You're an accident that's waiting to happen') and dull formulations ('the bitter end'). This could have been written as a calculated cut-up collage of the complete Coldplay and Florence Welch songbooks.

Just as bad is the chorus, which is an inglorious bastard offspring of Bob Geldof's 'The Great Song of Indifference', no less. Sonically, there is something apocalyptically anonymous and predictable about this streamlined music. Compression is in overdrive, adventure is at an absolute minimum. The little 'weird' electronic bits just sound like more of the same. I didn't remember her 2008 debut being at all bad; containing some tuneful enough electro-pop. 

This album contains little or no variation on 'Blue Eyes'' template. Yet, the NME's Ailbhe Malone talks of 'stadium-sized torch songs'. Approvingly. 'Triumphant stuff'. This track 'Cellophane' is, according to the BBC's Nick Levine, an emulation of Bowie's 'Heroes'. Totems like Sleater-Kinney, Blondie and Fleetwood Mac are bandied about absurdly. This music isn't alternative. It's streamlined bunkum, leaving artists of the Emily Haines and Eleanor Friedberger calibre entirely unchallenged. That this entirely generic and forgettable fare receives largely good reviews speaks of a craven, yay-saying critical 'consensus'. 

Associate editor of The Quietus, Luke Turner takes precise aim at the US 'alternative culture' that chimes with how our UK 'music-press' appraises mediocre albums:

'We are living in a cloud cuckoo land, and we are listening to its songs, streaming eternally and interminably from the new transistors that are our tinny laptop speakers. We exist in a time where the cultural palette has become limited and discourse tamed just as the internet was supposed to usher forth a new age of enlightenment and democracy. Just as the mainstream – be it in the form of exploitative television talent pop shows, the great, tone-deaf leveller of Autotune or a vulgar celebrity culture – has become ever harsher there has been a corresponding backslide by what used to be an alternative culture into a banal comfort zone.'

With Ladyhawke there are 'devils' and 'deep blue seas'. There is a 'wall' of 'my own choosing'. 'Cautious' is rhymed with 'nauseous'. Who gives a fuck? Music writers who use 'baseball mitt' and 'boot camp' metaphors to describe music, clearly.