The Prophet Hens – Popular People

I saw the Prophet Hens about twenty years ago when John White was still in the band – this is previous to even their debut record, I think (though I’m too lazy to go and verify that) and they were OK in a jangly sort of way, and now John White (mestar, The Inkadies, etc) makes video games and the Prophet Hens do a sort of half-ok John White impression – breathy vocals sung by tiny pixies from mysterious 2D clouds. Ha ha – here I am, dismissing a band which has probably practiced a whole lot and has two albums to their name – reducing them to band-that-sounds-a-bit-like-John-White-but-less-fun. What a fucking asshole! What do critics know, anyway! Probably sitting in the Really Real Review offices scoffing on a packet of chips hoping their ass gets as big as Kim Kardashian’s. But it’s true, a little bit – ‘Popular People’ has all the elements we’ve come to expect, as pop consumers, of Dunedin-‘sound’ bullshit. The Chills do it really well. The Clean have their moments. Organs, upbeat, slightly flat singing, backing vocals, etc — that jangle. Yet ‘Popular People’ feels as if it’s trying to ape these elements too self-consciously, sounding like an overly-studious pupil’s too-accurate, strangely mechanical rendition. The organ riffs are very clever – at some points feeling like B movie horror outtakes, Vincent Price’s dreams – and the lyrics are damn clever: ’cause popular people/do popular people’. It’s the sort of lyric that you feel rather than process; it makes some kind of sound-logic. What does popular people doing people people even mean? Who cares! It makes the same kind of logic as, uh, The Fall’s “Eat yr’self fitter (what’s a computer!)”

Fun fact: Years ago, when I couldn’t write very well, Jane Pratt (as in Sassy magazine, and now cringe-worthy website for yogurt-slurping housewives ((wait that’s me)) read some of my writing and said “I like how you change your opinion halfway through!” and I haven’t changed that much. It’s not hip to do this. The website ‘Medium’ is like twitter but longer, and basically for Americans to repeat a concept over and over and feel smug about it. Here I am changing horses midstream and wondering if I like ‘Popular People’. It’s the album’s best track. I listened to the whole thing. It’s like that new Hera Lindsay Bird book – does all the right things, and at times you want to like it despite your growing cynicism and addiction to Real Housewives of Auckland – to digress, ‘Keats is dead so fuck me from behind’ is really great and funny and gives us time to pause and think about Keats’ dick, which is surely an overlooked aspect of Keats’ poetry. But! Some of the other poems are not as great and feel like re-treads of Laurie Moore and Frank O’Hara and Peter O’Toole and so on — overly studious interpretations. And that’s the issue with ‘Popular People’, too – at times it sounds good – on the first listen it does and on the 7th listen it does. And yet, at some point, it feels overly practiced – it feels like the only reason I like it is because I like other things that remind me of it. So there. B-

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