40. ‘Real Late Starter’ by Nerina Pallot (2009)

Through the course of his excellent Then That’s What They Called Music project, The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin has repeatedly coined the phrase “secretary rock” to handily sum up the commercially palatable confessionals of your Sheryl Crows, KT Tunstalls and Vanessa Carltons.  We all know how this stuff goes.   The workaday emotional dilemmas of the everywoman embedded in unfailingly catchy melodies.  There’s nothing challenging or even interesting about these songs but, without them, society as we know it would alter dramatically, and for the worse.  What would soundtrack Underappreciated-Working-Gal Kate Hudson as she bustles down a busy New York street and adorably spills latte on herself and gets her pants splashed by a passing cab? If secretary rock just STOPPED, then so too would Kate Hudson’s motor skills.  And how is Self-Centred-Careerist-Gal Kate Hudson ever going to learn to love (repeatedly) or raise her dead sister’s mongoloid children if she can’t even MOVE? And what about Anne Hathaway?  If it wasn’t for secretary rock, she’d still be stuck in a thankless job getting sighed at by Meryl Streep and having her scenes stolen by bitchy British girls.

And it’s not just Hollywood starlets that would suffer.   What are people in sofa ads going to kick off their shoes to as they fall beatifically upon their plush new, life-changing purchase? What would daytime radio stations organise their inane chatter around?

I’m only half-joking, here. It’s interesting how, going back to the Rabin articles, “secretary rock” is initially a pejorative, but as the project goes on, it’s deployed less dismissively and invoked more as an acknowledged subgenre.  The subgenre may essentially amount to constant rehashes of songs off Tapestry but, like any other, it has it’s good and bad practitioners. And, as far as I’m concerned, everyone needs at least one deeply unhip female singer-songwriter in their corner, be it Michelle Branch or Norah Jones or, as it’s increasingly been for me over the last couple of years, Nerina Pallot.

I was vaguely aware of Nerina Pallot when she first surfaced with that catchy (of course!) but borderline-offensive-in-its-naivete song about the war, and quickly dismissed her (of course!) as yet another guitar-jangling, kooky Vega-lyte. And then, one dreary day in the office (of course!), the neverending blandness of Steve Wright in the Afternoon was briefly brightened by the jaunty momentum and oh-so-resonant lyrics of this track, which essentially functions as a 9-to-5 for bemused and directionless late-twentysomethings (the album it led is aptly titled The Graduate).  Inspired to dig a bit deeper into the Pallot output, there was some honest-to-God first-rate songwriting to be found, and she’s been playing heavily on my iPod (albeit mostly when walking to and from work) ever since.

Given the airplay-friendliness of her material and that she’s Kylie’s current go-to girl for quality album tracks, it’s strange that a bonafide hit has so far eluded Pallot (although the video below evidences that she understands the paradox of having such a strong pop sensibility but not quite being able to convince as a popstar). But without that one hit, I guess that’s the deal with secretary rock; hierarchically, you’re always going to be the hoop-jumping Hathaway to Radio 2’s imperious, glowering Streep.

Bonus points: It helps that Real Late Starter is a total self-affirmation-but-not-really anthem.


One Response to “40. ‘Real Late Starter’ by Nerina Pallot (2009)”

  1. I fucking LOVE Michelle Branch.

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