Gotye, White Lies & Emmylou Harris

Well here’s an odd collection indeed. Picking music up from the library can certainly lead to this kind of situation. Two of these albums were selected from prior exposure and one simply because the cover and song titles looked interesting.

Gotye – Making Mirrors

Gotye - Making Mirrors
Gotye – Making Mirrors

I saw some of the recent ARIA Awards  and Gotye was winning awards all over the place. I had no idea who he was. I rather liked his simple and humble speeches; made me think that in a shallow market he at least saw himself as an artist trying to get his muse out on the stage. That was enough to make me grab this “Album Of The Year” for a spin in the car.

As regular readers know well, I have issues with modern Pop and in many ways I do too with this record but I don’t think I was wrong about the man. This is an interesting record by an artist learning to say his piece. There are strong parallels in some ways with Peter Gabriel and Lindsay Buckingham in the way Gotye tries to twist pure pop into new, interesting and even fun shapes. He doesn’t want to settle on making simply another pop record.

I think this is where he comes unglued. Glued in that so much of his composition is from gluing things together. Both the songs and the record as a whole have a collage feel that could be great but instead feels fractured and jumbled. 2-3 songs are grimy Beck-ola, 2-3 are 60’s Soul, 1-2 are 80’s Electro-inspired but the whole is lacking a character or style from a story-arc.

I think this is more a product of the environment than a specific failing in the man. Modern musicians seem to feel that traditions are merely for discarding and breaking or at best holding up as trophies to their cleverness in aping and owning. Doing a “Swing” song does not a Sinatra or Billie Holliday make the dabbler.

Narrative is something  not only lost lost but shunned (maybe this is because Tweets only have 140 characters – and I’ve already lost your attention haven’t I) and that is where this record and it’s individual songs fall apart. I’m currently recording a George Benson record from 1983 and while it may break absolutely no ground it is still beautifully made and pleasant to listen to again and again from making established tradition and cues work. I think I should listen to Making Mirrors again but I don’t feel I want to bother. Maybe the failing is mine as it is a clever record.

White Lies – To Lose My Life…

White Lies - To Lose My Life
White Lies – To Lose My Life

A striking cover and interesting song titles can still do a great job. That started a narrative for me here. I slipped this in the CD slot having absolutely no idea what to expect here. Instant Joy Division with Julian Cope from Teardrop Explodes on vocals (that and shades of Morrisey).

Every song seems to have the same thing; start with Joy Division grooves (minus some of the spikiness) add a  Teardrop Explodes topping morphing into Morrisey, Echo & The Bunnymen and even once shades of Ultravox. Killers get tossed in too. None of this is bad as it gives a place to come in and sit down.

The songs themselves are interesting and fun but still in the aforementioned ways. The lyrics rely on the exact same twists and angles as particularly Julian Cope. Again not bad as they are engaging, spicy and universal. Downside though is that the music overall seems to be missing some of the mystery or even all-out hook of the styles it has somehow absorbed.

I should go back to this record but I’m not sure it has anything to say to me past being a bit of a passing joy. As a matter of interest I bought the first big Killers record with the boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend but after trying to like it, gave it away. This makes me want  listen to Julian Cope more than to White Lies. Oops.

Emmylou Harris – Hard Bargain

Emmylou Harris - Hard Bargain
Emmylou Harris – Hard Bargain

Emmylou has always been there; often to most people as a person in the background. Listen to her vocals in Lyle Lovett’s “Walk Through The Bottomland” or the Mark Knopfler & Emmylou “All The Roadruning” album and you’ll know why artists value her so much. You’d be mad not to.

“Hard Bargain” really sees Emmylou step up as a solo artist and songwriter in her own right. This album is all about the stories and emotional textures that Country can be so good at. Don’t think this is a hillbilly twang fest ‘coz it ain’t. This is simply someone getting their feelings out and sharing them. Initially, if not familiar with this style then you may find it a bit um, dull but listen to the stories and feel the textures of real life and you’ll need to hear this again.

Interestingly the musical elements in this record are from two players and one of them is an electronic musician. Giles Reeves is not a big name but he is not a typical Nashville picker by a long shot. He released a record on New Age label Hearts Of Space! What he and the producer give Emmylou here is a simple (and even sparse) background to do her thing.  This helps set the record apart without most listeners ever realizing why; let alone that they are listening to electronic music. The only time I felt this intrude was in the lead track where I felt the flat drum-machine feel overshadowed a bit. But that is probably nit-picking.

If you haven’t already, then track down this modern gem of a record from an industry great who has really hit her straps. This is a keeper.

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I keep feeling that this is the lesson younger artists are missing. They go straight to being “superstars” (f@%#ing Idol judges) without ever really doing an apprenticeship or two with professionals where they learn the craft behind being an artist. Saying something is easy, saying it in a way that is compelling is not something that many are born with, it is learned. If nothing else it is a failing in me as a musician.

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