Monthly Archives: June 2009

Far

Listening to the new Regina Spektor album is a bit like experiencing the day in the life of a Daily Mail journalist: you are constantly looking for the appropriate person to blame. Or else: it’s like watching a good friend leave the house dressed in a gold tracksuit with a pink feather boa and a frog umbrella; wearing her quirkiness on her fluted sleeves, but knowing that the people she meets, if they have any sense, will suddenly pretend they don’t speak English, or realise that they have to go and buy a thing from somewhere rather far away.

A lot of the blame for this has to go to the producers of the album, who have managed to make some tracks sound like the live recording of a serviceably idosynchratic piano ballad as drummed/bassed along to by a greasy-fingered teen on a My First Hohner in a living room with egg boxes gaffataped to the walls. Some of the most offending tracks in this respect (The Calculation) make her sound like the runner-up in a ‘sing-a-long-a-Sheryl Crow’ competition; others (Eet, Blue Lips) result in Keane-style hammering piano mixed with lyrics of all the emotional clout of a bag of lentils. It’s fair to say that ‘Far’ is Regina’s most radio-friendly album in terms of lyrical content, which of course means it contains a level of lyricism which shocks only for its entire lack than for its substance; gone are the evocative Chemo Limos and Dens of Thieves, to be replaced by cringingly earnest musings (‘blue, oooh ooh ooh , the colour of our planet from far far away, blue, ooh ooh ooh, the most human colour) to the tritely throwaway (‘the future, it’s here, it’s bright, it’s now’). Even the utterly po-faced ‘Laughing With’, respectable only for its unswerving dedication to the central tenet of its own humorless sing-a-long-a-theology, ends in a nonsensical summary that ‘no-one’s laughing at God [when bad things happen], we’re all laughing with God’. Er, except we’re not. We’re not even laughing with Regina when she bursts out into dolphin song on ‘Folding Chair’, though the geekier amongst us are possibly noting the borrowing from Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’. A nadir is reached on Two Birds, whose brass section indicts itself with each guilty parp quintuplet.

Despite the best efforts of the various producers to pour that liquid Regina alchemy into so many sub-Keane lolly moulds, some of the old loveability seaps through; Human Of The Year is a welcome reminder of all that is beautiful about Spektor’s songwriting, including some dazzling classical arpeggio-straddling of both piano and voice, as well as true lyrical inventiveness and a sense of melody and phrasing which would leave Frank Sinatra looking experimental. The song is only slightly impaired by whoever decided it would be a good idea to press the ‘fake chorus’ button on the keyboard (which sounds as though it was bought from Argos for £19.99 in the 80s), and the rolling ‘allelujah’s which bookend the central melody. Dance Anthem of the 80s, too, has the elements of all that is fine from Maryann Meets the Gravediggers, except that the word ‘sleeeeeeeeeeeeelelelelelelelleeeeeep’ is repeated way too many times past human endurance. Not one to crank up on the iPod.

Overall, the record has a more minor key and less inventiveness than one was beginning to hope for. The bonus tracks, for those who are considering shelling out the extra pound on iTunes, do nothing to detract from the overall mopeiness  and sense of lyrical lackadaisicality. The two ska-influenced tracks do bring a sort of jaunty rollick, and for these I find myself warming to this album more than I did to Begin To Hope; but while Regina’s musical knobbly foot is shoehorned into a Brit-Indie winklepicker, the result for all concerned is going to be sore.

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Filed under Tapes on Tuesday

This isn’t rap

It’s a good Summer to be a quirky-female-singer-songwriter fan with the advent of the first album from Florence and the Machine (which can legitimately be called an offering after the new video for Rabbit Heart), new material from Regina, the arrival of school-disco-neon-nymph La Roux (whose music, like her makeup, can be described as a good idea in the dark), and (if that’s your thing) the electro-stomping Little Boots, who sounds like a pragmatic Goldfrapp with a sense of humility and cashflow problem. My latest discovery to add to the list of women defining the sound of Summer 2009 is London rapper Speech Debelle, whose single ‘Speech Therapy’ has been out since early June. In keeping with all but Florence mentioned above, expect large doses of earnestness and a complete turning out of the emotional pockets; lyrics about Facebook, Xboxes, and emotional conundrums of the ‘I love you, I hate you, I love you and I hate you’ variety, all set to a jauntily laid-back horn section, acoustic guitar, and (to the delectation of a certain blogger) cello. Or at least double bass. (whatever, it’s not like I work for the dictionary or anything.). Debelle is a flexible rapper, and the overall flow is smoother than Craig David’s face on a baby’s arse, but leaving much less nappy rash (yes, far less irritating). ‘Speech Therapy’ is even genuinely moving, hinting at a postmodern reflexiveness through the self-deprecatory chorus which seems to be de rigeur  for female singers at the moment, and featuring a combination of honey-hearted rap confessio and lachrymose strings that would quite frankly make the Streets’ ‘Dry Your Eyes’ look like a cynical jibe sung by a bastard after your lunch money. Top stuff.

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Choose the best of the worst… in the name of Pankhurst

A strangely unmusical posting for a Tuesday this may be, but with the June 4th elections mere days away, those on the fence vis-a-vis where to place their feminist cross in the ballot box may appreciate the following rigorously cut-and-paste job in answer to the question on everyone’s lips: which party is the best for women’s rights?

Labour

Their website says: [They] introduced the National Minimum Wage – two thirds of the beneficiaries are women and it has played a part in narrowing the pay gap. Some unsubstantiated guff about ‘delivering a cultural change to ensure equality for all’, and the aim of ’empowering black and ethnic minority women to build cohesion within their communities and as a bridge between communities’.

EYS says: there’s no arguing that the Labour party are at least superficially committed to the equality of women, with a relatively high proportion of prominent female MPs and members of cabinet. Their track record on LGBT rights is also commendable (civil unions, anyone?). Unfortunately, hailing the fact that so many women are now on minimum wage doesn’t really cut it as a feminist triumph; their vague gestures towards ‘cultural change’ appear completely unsubstantiated; and their re-election after the expenses scandal/illegal war/creation of spin culture is about as likely as hen’s teeth.

Conservatives

Their wesbite says: a great deal more than Labour’s, unfortunately. The Conservatives lay out a 5-point plan on women’s rights, namely women in the workplace, vulnerable women, women in their communities, women and ethnicity, and women in international development, with at least an outline of relevant policy. There is also a link to the Conservatives’ equal pay campaign.

EYS says: David Cameron has certainly paid someone to tick the right boxes. The Conservatives have a rather odd relationship to women’s rights, their social policies being traditionally an unlikely refuge of the feminist, but being at the same time the only party to produce a female prime minister. It’s also noteworthy that the Tories have repeatedly voted against equal rights for lesbian mothers, which suggests there’s still a wolf lurking amongst the shiny new paddock.

Liberal Democrats

Their website says: nothing about women that I could find on the toolbar. A search on the site for ‘women’ resulted in a page brings back a message saying ‘we’re sorry, but something went wrong’.

EYS hopes: that isn’t their actual policy.

Green Party

Their website says: the most about their vision for the equality of women. In fact, they have a website dedicated to women’s issues in the Green party. Plans for action include increasing the number of women in Westminster and Brussels, as well as ensuring a 40% female presence on the boards of major companies. The Greens would carry out pay audits to monitor and regulate the pay gap, and introduce a ‘citizen’s income’ for women who choose to stay at home and bring up children.

EYS says: an impressive amount of detail, but much depends on your opinion of positive discrimination. Personally, I’d prefer a society in which companies weren’t forced to hire women to managerial posts; however, it may be worth it purely for the hope that the Daily Mail combusts itself to cinders with rage. Another policy of the Greens which smacks of well-meaning but ultimately misguided liberalism is their controversial plan to decriminalise prostitution; those feminists worth their radical salt will be concerned with the message which this sends out re: the normalisation of rape culture and the commodification of the female body in mainstream society.

I won’t even give the BNP the oxygen of publicity, since they have thieved enough actual oxygen already; suffice to say their London leader has been quoted as saying that rape is “simply sex”, and since “women like sex”, rape is only as bad as “force-feeding someone chocolate cake”. Oh the irony that this bunch of asswipes bang on about deporting ‘foreigners’ back to their ‘home countries’ when clearly they themselves should be returned with all haste back to the Planet of the fucking Apes.

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Filed under Ms. Guided, Thank Fuck It's Feminism Friday