“Sunshine” is an intriguingly complex song from Barenaked Ladies new Fake Nudes album about how the things we love can actually be harmful to us. While it has an obvious application to drugs and alchohol, I wonder if it couldn’t be said to be true about a lot of aspects of modern consumer culture. and even about individual human personalities (not everybody, perhaps, but possibly more than you might at first think). The slideshow probably makes the song a bit more about global issues than it actually is, although the larger application just seemed so glaringly obvious I couldn’t stop myself. I’m visiting Antartica (as well as Argentina and Chile), and all the evidence I’ve seen so far (both here and in many other parts of the world) suggests that global warming is real, not that any of my non-scientific observations are likely convince anyone, especially when the observations made by real scientists continue to fall on deaf ears. I made the slideshow before I left, and the polar bear pictures are from the North Pole, not Antarctica, obviously. Anyway, I hope you like the song and its accompanying slideshow, both of which seem almost painfully true, at least to me, if not to you.
While this is an odd way to begin a year, it feels appropriate for what could be described as a beginning. More a look back at the failures of the past than the successes of the future, “Empty Handed Heart” is a song from Warren Zwvon’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School album. A marvelously self-aware love song about those bad choices a lot of people make (sometimes even us). It seems to at least hold out the possibility of a second chance, even a happy ending, while acknowledging that those are pretty rare. As a few people will notice, I sort of made it with Warren’s and Crystal’s story in the back of my mind, which sort of allowed me to emphasize the happy ending aspect, albeit a somewhat qualified one. I still find it a remarkably moving song, partly because I suspect it’s right. I believe that is Linda Rondstadt singing second descant in the last part, sounding near the peak of her powers. Hope you like it.
This is a real change of pace, but it’s kind of an unusual song for Rufus, one that I suspect he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Written with Guy Chambers, “WW III” was intended to be a pop song, although the subject of global apocalypse is an unusual choice for someone interested in pop success. It actually appears on the second disc of the deluxe edition of Rufus’ “Best of” album. Since I pretty much had all of Rufus’ major lp releases, I never really bothered to listen to “Best of” collection and–in fact–only heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago. I was immediately struck by its beautiful piano line and the remarkable criss-crossing, building harmonies of the conclusion. The subject was also arresting, in that Rufus doesn’t usually write songs with such an overt political meaning (“Going to a Town” would be the exception). Granted, there is a romantic layer, but the song comes across as about 70% geopolitical. In the YouTube comments to the original video, I can see some people found the lyrics rather awkward (e.g. “Don’t bore us / Get to the chorus”), but I actually see them as an astute expression of the limits audience’s can impose on pop stars; people who want catchy hooks, not bleak ruminations about coming disaster. It is, of course, very Rufus-like to express all of these complexities and contradictions in a pop song, and a breathtakingly beautiful one at that. Hope you like it.
As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of this band, although they aren’t especially well known in the U.S. I believe I first became aware of them when they appeared on an episode of Live from Abbey Road. I was impressed enough to buy their new album at the time, The Seldom Seen Kid, and was even more impressed by their i-tusnes concert. After Build a Rocket Boys, I was a fan, and after seeing them in oncert at The Wiltern on The Takeoff and Landing of Everything tour, I became a devoted follower of this Manchester band. Guy Garvey’s voice–rather like Rufus Wainwright’s although their voices aren’t that similar–just connects with me on some deep level. Their arrangements are intriguing, varied, and not really like anbody else, while their lyrics are deeply evocative of memories and emotions I had thought were private. I’ll be seeing them twice this week–once tonight in Santa Ana at The Observatory, and then on Thursday at The Wiltern. Their fans seem like genuinely nice and friendly people, an attitude the band seems to consciously foster by, for example, encouraging fans to post band-related material to their Facebook group.. This slideshow consciously recalls some of my other Elbow slideshows, including “Lost Worker Bee,” “Kindling (Fickle Flame),” “Scattered Black and Whites” (which frankly I consider my best slideshow to date), and “The Night Will Always Win.” The audio for Newborn is an extended version of the song from a Kendall Calling performance in 2015 (the song originally appeared on Asleep in the Back ).
“Poorman’s Sunshine” is a track from Donovan’s Beat Cafe album (2004). A very intriguing album that revisits Donovan’s early experiences with beat culture, this is a standout track, with some terrific upright bass playing and some simple yet fascinating lyrics, delivered with conviction by the Glaswegian bard. The slideshow was great fun to do, with the last section kind of deliberately recalling the Atlantis/1983 slideshow/video from a couple of months ago. Certainly part of the meaning of the song is that music can be a “poorman’s sunshine,” although I sort of expanded the meaning to suggest that sunshine–or happiness-exists wherever you find it, which is probably true for everyone, but it is probably more true for those living on the margins. Anyway, I hope you like it (I’m really quite proud of myself for this one), but even if you don’t, just close your eyes and groove on this fantastic, little-heard song.
I always loved the piano on Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites.” As Guy Garvey says somewhere (I think it is in the i-tunes interview), the song has a fairly simple melody and a rather monotonic vocal line that the keyboards sort of dip and weave around to remarkable effect. I had originally conceived of this slideshow as being almost entirely about abstract art, but as I listened to and looked up the lyrics, I realized that it was basically a memory song, with the speaker going into a reverie caused by smelling his sister’s perfume. The “scattered black and whites” are actually old photographs, and the song is to some extent about the claims the past (as embodied in old photographs, but also childhood memories) makes on us, calling out to us that they once existed, and that we need to visit and revisit them once in awhile. It’s like a seven minute version of Proust, and kind of breathtaking in how successful it is. I chose this version from Manchester Cathedral simply because the song seems rooted in Manchester, where several of the band members grew up. It was a really interesting exercise for me (kind of like Kathleen), in that I tried to keep to a very limited palette, except for the modern performance pictures of the band. I’m actually quite proud of it, possibly even more than for “Kindling (Fickle Flame).”. Hope you like it.
Here are the lyrics, by the way, which aren’t always that easy to make out:
My hands are black, the sun is going down
She scruffs my hair in the kitchen steam
She’s listening to the dream I weaved today
Crosswords through the bathroom door
While someone sings the theme-tune to the news
And my sister buzzes through the room leaving perfume in the air
And that’s what triggered this
I shelter here some days
A thousand yards and whistles
Kneeling by and speaking up
He reaches out and I take a
That flit between short trousers
And a full dress uniform
And he talks of people ten years gone
like I’ve known them all my life
Like scattered black ‘n’ whites. (Elbow)
Cross-posted at my Unoffical: Loudon Wainwright III fan page. This is fairly dark song and slideshow, although leavened by a good deal of humor and a blast of rock and roll energy Although Loudon has written rock songs before (“At Both Ends,” “Watch Me Rock, I’m Over Thirty”), they don’t tend to be his signature songs. This rockabilly number is from Loudon’s 2014 album, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It works remarkably well, and fuses nicely with Loudon’s tongue-in-cheek celebration of the “joys” of aging. Hope you enjoy the slideshow, although–like the song–it does raise some serious points.