14 November 2007

real is the old fake

this just in:

full speed ahead
rock and roll is dead
the girls and boys from the mickey mouse club
clocked it in the head

those are the opening lines of "fake is the new real," one of the more immediately arresting songs on the recent debut release by soul/r&b/pop songstress alice smith. the album, for lovers, dreamers & me, is pretty good - it might be great after a few more spins. it might be offering a genuinely new perspective (and perhaps one way forward?) for the whole soggy morass of neo-soul/adult-contempo-r&b/singer-songwriter pop, though it might also just be those same things again, particularly well-executed.

but i mostly bring it up to tussle with those lyrics for a minute. in case you didn't guess, the tone of the song is flatly disapproving of the state of affairs ("we're living in phony times," etc.) the predictable rockist party-line of course, though conceivably it could have been a celebration of the teen-pop revolution...(did anybody ever write a celebratory song about rock and roll being dead? that would be awesome. and how glad they were not to have to rock out anymore?) more interesting is that it seems several years out of date - not that such a sentiment is unpopular in 2007 (in time, we can only hope...) - but, hey, the mickey mouse gang aren't boys and girls anymore.

it's an excellent, succinct summary of some major trends in pop music c. 1997-2003, but the story doesn't end there: as of 2004-06, rock is back in pop again in a major way. granted, it may not be the kind of rock and roll to which the song presumably means to refer; and it's hardly made an incursion against hip-hop/r&b - but the lyrics don't complain about those things. come to think of it, isn't it a little funny that an artist in smith's genre-cluster is bemoaning the death of rock, and complaining about teen-pop? what's it to her? (well, it's a society/lifestyle issue too, but whatever. )

in fact, it turns out that the song, which was written by imani coppola, dates back at least to 2002, when it was on coppola's independently released little red fighting mood (about which the internet contains almost no information.) her other contribution to for lovers, the funky, show-tuney "woodstock," is also recycled, from another '02 indie album, whose title - post traumatic pop disorder syndrome - may tell us something about her mind-state at the time. [eta: album title correction, from the horses mouth - also, "fake" is on both albums. let's reflect on how the correct title affects the implications i had insinuated.]

imani hails from the class of '97, probably somewhere near that cardigans/beck(/cibo matto/cornershop/etc.) funky alterna-pop realm i was just discussing, possibly with more of a neneh/lauryn hip-hop vibe, possibly more fiona/paula cole songwriter territory. i get the sense that the word "quirky" shall be applied liberally.

[project: somebody needs to come up with a name for this music/phenomenon, the late '90s artsy, eclecticist pastiche party pop/rock vanguard, which was in some ways a great failed hope for the fusion of art and commerce - people don't make records like this any more, or if they do they certainly don't sell. hint: i've definitely used the collage/college pun before to invoke this stuff.]

i haven't actually heard chupacabra, or any of coppola's music, which i probably should if i'm going to talk about her. but basically, she had a major-label debut that for whatever reason didn't lead to a major-label career; dropped out of sight (but not out of music, apparently); just released her second reasonably-available album, which sounds "difficult" (hard to say if that's in the interesting way or the boring way.) i'd had the impression that she had done more songwriting for other folks, like pop folks, in the interim, apart from this smith album, which has plenty enough indie integrity (and soul integrity to boot) to be a perfectly sensible match. but i may have been confusing her with chantal kreviazuk, about whom i also know nothing.

ok, well it would have been more interesting if i could link imani more directly to the kind of industry-approved teen-pop that she attacks so pithily (not sarcasm: i really like that stanza!) but come to think of it she was a kind of teen-pop herself - she was only 19 when her debut came out, and she got an mtv hit out of it if nothing else. no big shocker though that she's joined the ranks of the failed-star music-biz disaffected (aimee mann, brie larson, plenty other major-label dropouts that i'm having trouble thinking of) and seems to be doing the fringy artsy indie cult-following thing á la ani difranco and [sorta?] me'shell ndegeocello (or jane sibery to name somebody less multi-racial - or, sorry, issa, wtf.)

i guess this was a mostly failed attempt to continue the game of drawing links between '00s (teen)pop and '90s alterna/rock/songwriter/etc. (wow, look at that comment, dave; we were so gushy then!) (oh right, we still are.)

speaking of mia doi todd - oh whoops, we weren't, but she certainly fits in here - bertine's 1999 debut album, morbid latenight show [from before she started using her surname - tho with a name like zetlitz why would she wait?] turns out to be surprisingly close to what i had expected the golden state to sound like. bit of a trip-hop thing to it (think morcheeba); definitely "pancultural" as heather puts it, and generally jazzier, loungier than you'd expect from her later work - though it is still dance-pop, more or less. but it doesn't seem like "diva" territory to me, much more auteurist - she writes all her own tunes (!) - and not too far off from that the self-consciously hip, eclectipastichepop posse. neat. [eta: actually, she didn't write all of the tunes - amg lied, and eventually i went downstairs and looked at the liners. but, she wrote all the lyrics, and wrote or co-wrote almost all of the music.]


imani said...

The correct name of the album is "Post Traumatic Pop Syndrome" and you can find both "Woodstock" and "Fake Is the New Real" on that album...

"difficult" yes maybe...but absolutely nothing boring about my new album.



Dave said...

Well Frank Kogan just argued for Britney as ROCK STAR in his latest column, even though she doesn't sound rock (so in fact she would be exactly the sort of thing that's being talked about in the lyric and not the rock-sound coming into pop). And he was building, I think, on some observations Nia made, quasi-presciently (and she doesn't even really like the new Britney album) over on the teenpop thread earlier this year.

Tom said...

Celebration of r'n'r' death, or at least an attempt to hustle it into its grave - "I'd Rather Jack" by the Reynolds girls, from 1988.

"No more Pink Floyd Dire Straits
It's not our music it's out of date
Demographic stereo
They never play the songs we know

Heavy metal rock and roll music from the past
I'd rather jack than Fleetwood Mac"

Ross said...

imani - album title duly amended. any thoughts about the rest of this nonsense i'm (unqualifiedly) spouting about your career/music/genre? and thanks for stopping by!

dave - i think the issue is precisely that the "rock" stars of today are making pop music, not rock - though my question is why is rock so priveleged (i mean, rap for instance is just as authentic and rebellious, if not more so - and there are certainly rap stars.) as far as britney goes, it seems like frank meant something fairly specific by calling her a rock star - a noncomformist, basically - that actually has very little to do with her "star" persona (which in turn has very little to do with her music.