Archive for self-affirmation

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

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2011 by G.K. Reid

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.

53. ‘Pop Ya Collar’ by Usher (2000)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 17, 2010 by G.K. Reid

From Usher with love…

Generally speaking, Usher’s persistent claims to self-assured macho coolness never quite ring true.  Probably because he still lives with his mum.  And cos he’s kind of flamin’ (the fact that ‘every week you see [him] hanging out with a different girl’ doesn’t so much reflect his lothario credentials as it does a particularly rigourous beard-screening process).*

Aside from the difficulty I have in believing that people could feel all that envious towards such a patently insecure, mum-loving peacock as Mr. Raymond, there’s also the issue that the message of the song – however well-intended – is essentially the same self-justifying defence employed by the Patrick Bateman-idolising, capitalist cockbags of this world.  (THEY ONLY HATE ME COS I’M A GO-GETTER! IT’S GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH BEING AN AWFUL, AWFUL CUNT!) 

Despite those small caveats, Pop Ya Collar is less an arrogant one-finger salute to da haterzzz, and more about taking pride in being yourself (that spoken-word intro – ‘welcome today to the wonderful world of you!’ – is adorable), with Usher’s soulful, emphatic vocals steering away from the threat of braggadocio.  Most importantly, though, it’s a tightly-executed triumph, replete with handclaps and horn-blasts, and built around that irresistable call-and-response chorus (though when is a call-and-response chorus not irresistible?)

Bonus points: I cannot begin to understand what ‘You have two options: you can eat it or throw it away’ means, but Usher certainly seems confident that he’s hit upon a pretty profound philosophy here. 

*NOT THAT I’M IMPLYING THAT USHER IS A GAY. But if he were – HYPOTHETICALLY – to come out of the closet, he should switch some of the lyrics and re-release this; it’s practically begging to be reinterpreted as a gay pride anthem.

57. ‘Dirrty’ by Christina Aguilera (2002)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2010 by G.K. Reid

How fortuitous that I’ve just been banging on about the wonderful nonsense that is pop music, only to find that next on my list is this, arguably the most brazenly ludicrous pop event of the decade.  As the above picture succinctly demonstrates, ‘Dirrty’ is a towering specimen of camp self-affirmation, and a no-holds-barred assault on public taste and decency that John Waters would be proud of (oh, if only Xtina weighed 300lbs!)

Aguilera’s claims to independence and self-possession here can easily be dismissed as cliched, but they’re far from disingenuous – ‘Dirrty’ has a real violence of intent and tangible fury embedded within it, strongly evoked by the almost cacophanous force of the production.  That Aguilera figured a noisy embrace of (and insistence upon) sexuality as the key to liberating her from the deathgrip of the Disney Club was arguably as dubious and depressing as it was wholly successful; ‘Dirrty’ provides one hell of a text for feminist debate to pour over.  In response to any criticism, however, I suppose Aguilera can always say: ‘well, that wasn’t me with the shaved head and the umbrella and the parasitical husband and the baby driving the car. I’m just sayin”.

Bonus points: Redman is a strong contender for the ‘Best Guest Rap of the Decade’ award. So many choice lines, but my favourite will probably forever remain: ‘I keep my car lookin’ like a crash dummy drove’‘waiting for Sister to Act, like Lauryn Hill’. ‘We blessed, and hung low, like Bernie Mac (b’nnie mck!)

73. ‘Up’ by The Saturdays (2008)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 14, 2010 by G.K. Reid

Colour-coded. Do JLS know about this?

It has to be said: there are too many Saturdays. There is no way on Earth that this band needs five people in it. It’s not like the Spice Girls where they all had their distinct “personalities” and they all (minus Posh) got solo bits. All The Saturdays have is colourful tights. So, we’re ditching two of them. Specifically, we’re ditching the vampire-eyed one (also known as “Blue Tights”) because she’s clearly at least 7 years older than the rest of them, and the one in the middle (“Red Tights”) because she’s clearly at least 5 inches taller than the rest of them. Also, Yellow Tights has an excellent Girl Band Face, and Orange Tights brings the now-requisite Fierce Hair. And I think we can all agree that Pink Tights, on the far right there, has a mightily impressive set of lungs on her. 

I now recommend that, liberated from the dead weight, Yellow, Orange and Pink Tights (Pink up front, Yellow and Orange ooh-ing behind her) forge ahead to become some sort of futuristic turbo-Ronettes, and try to record songs as emphatic and as vigorously executed as this one. (Sadly, ‘Up’ is starting to look increasingly like a fluke).

Bonus points: The endearingly shoddy video seems to play with the knowledge that they need to shed some members, teasing you with the prospect that two of them may fall to their deaths.

100. ‘Cuts Across the Land’ by The Duke Spirit (2004)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 21, 2009 by G.K. Reid

Beset, as I often am, by a complex melange of ennui and inertia (and just plain old bone-bloody-idleness), I’m a fan of what I’m going to refer to as ‘self-affirmation anthems’; songs which, for the 3-5 minutes they play out, inspire some latent sense of ambition and convince me that I’m probably just on the verge of doing something world-shakingly, earthshatteringly kickass. Ryan Adams’  Gonna Make You Love Me and Kate Bush’s Rubberband Girl are two such songs, as is Cuts Across the Land by The Duke Spirit.  That pounding drum and the insistence of the chord progression power the fragmentary lyrics into several potent flourishes, before dumping it all into a sinewy, shuffling, Sonic Youth-esque breakdown. 

Bonus points: I have no idea what it’s about as a whole, or even what she’s saying half the time, but the muffled, slightly detached quality to Leila Moss’ vocals tinge the song with an undertone of futility and defeat, which I always like in a self-affirmation anthem.  I guess I don’t like my self to feel too affirmed.