A song called “Old”. I’ve coined a new musical genre, as you do, for this song – Plantagenet. It seemed both timely with the rescuing of Richard III from his carpark grave in Leicester and appropriate for this muse on mortality. The sounds of the clock chiming and the dog are from my childhood home.
The line “Old, I don’t wanna be, lying awake scared of burglary” sometimes gets misheard as “scared of buggery”.
I don’t mind this addition of sexual paranoia, though it wasn’t intended. The listener’s mind completes the work.
Just Like London Buses, you wait a couple of decades and then two come along at once. My Bloody Valentine are by no means the most hasty of bands, with a twenty year lay off in their release schedule, but as if by magic they have produced and released a new album, tantalisingly entitled m b v.
They must be miffed though – Bowie nipped in there and stole the WOW moment for ancient acts making a comeback in January. I predict by the year’s end there will be a baker’s dozen of such miraculous events, possibly even a new Elvis Presley album.
Here it is in a slightly hobbled try-before-you-buy format.
I still can’t believe what David Bowie did on the 8th January 2013. Take a decade off for good behaviour, then show up unexpectedly and place the question “Where are we now?” into everyone’s consciousness. After so long a silence it is quite a remarkable achievement. Shut up for ten years, record a secret album, release new song on 66th birthday suprising everyone and entering top ten charts everywhere. Classy.
It wasn’t just the audacity and the coolness of the carefully maintained anti-hype which made it such a great event. It’s a very intelligent choice, to come in quietly. A nostalgic, observational song it’s a surprising choice of comeback but a good one, which catches the seriousness of these entropic times perfectly.
That Bowie scored a hit is no surprise. An intelligent man who has known and worked with highly creative people in many fields all his life, his early success could have been a one-hit wonder – he worked hard to get the audience he has. Tony Oursler’s video is a huge part of this. But by producing a complex meditative piece, a personal retrospective with a plaintive, questioning chorus, a lyric full of Berlin place-names sung in a sometimes frail voice, he makes an artistic statement which is typical Bowie, pleases fans everywhere and adds a few million more, no doubt.
If Bowie has genius it’s as much in his reading of the times we inhabit. The new song’s observant, nostalgic mood is a perfect foil for all the noisy self-assertion out there. Bang on for this historical moment, unrest everywhere, civil wars, bullets and bombs, it’s sympathetic to the mood of now. Berlin was a city under siege when Bowie lived there, with a free and bomenian culture. In the din of the endless regurgitated pop music machine, it stands out as an original as it catches a general mood. There’s a brand new dance, but I don’t know it’s name.
Having heard the question I can’t wait for the album, which is supposed to be full of variety and quite rocky. Perhaps that’s another subterfuge. Anyway, he got everyone’s attention most beautifully.
To quote another English poet from south London, the artist William Blake,
“The imagination is not a State: it is the Human existence itself.”
The old adage, “there’s nothing new in rock ‘n’ roll” must be one of the most over-used clichés in the world, being used to excuse, to denigrate, to explain and to dismiss in equal measure. So what do I think of Janelle Monae’s new song and video?
Well, though the vocal is very good, the song is formulaic – but then, so much music is formulaic, many fans and listeners are scared when things don’t follow the rules or change unexpectedly, and in any case, it’s not entirely predictable and has good onward-rushing energy. The video is an update of Sinead O’Connor’s Prince cover, ‘Nothing Compares to You’ – and several thousand fixed-camera, solo face videos made since – and yet, it has its own thing, mostly because young Janelle has an exceptional face. She’s obviously a good actress, to boot.
For contrast, compare Janelle’s video with Christopher Ecclestone’s wonderful performance in the video for ‘Proof’ by I Am Kloot.
Art rises up with reference to all other art, not in isolation. Leaving aside style considerations, they are cut from the same cloth, both good in their different ways, one dealing with sorrow, the other joy.
In a comment thread, I read that Janelle can’t really have been sincere, since she was wearing waterproof makeup in preparation for shedding crocodile tears. Do people have no concept of performance? This obsession with sincerety misses the point of art, which pretends in order to enlighten.
In response, I wrote the following couplet:
People are complaining that she’s insincere
Don’t they know authentic is so last year?
One day I’ll put those lines inside a song of my own, and make a solo face fixed shot video to add to the glorious pile.