We’ve now had a few days to digest Melodrama. I am suspicious of overly positive reviews so close to the release of an album. “Real” critics have previews, of course. Yet everyone is looking behind their shoulders — thinking, “what if the other critics have differing opinions to me? What if I look stupid?” Everyone’s waiting to see what everyone else thinks. Which is why Stereogum’s hack piece on Katy Perry — I won’t bother linking — is reactionary journalism based on taking the sentiment of the world~. And of course, all the other critics have similar thoughts! Take this sneering headline from Vice: “Sorry Katy Perry, We’ve Seen Your “Performance Art” Before”. Oh Vice! You are killing me with you alternative hot takes! So underground! So very now!
In other words, whilst the other critics are probably very nice people by and large their writing is baseless trash. Now, Russell Brown (via facebook) might claim that metacritic cannot lie. All the critics like it! Here is your evidence metacritic lies. IT’S ALL LIES:
GAG ME WITH NICK CAVE’S FUCKING SPOON. TWO HOURS OF SELF SERVING NAVAL GAZING?!?!!
Melodrama is super serious. Even when it is appropriating dance record influences (‘boom boom boom’) it feels a little po-faced, a little self-serious. Obviously the intention is quite different from a dance record — one of the most misguided claims in reviews is that it is a breakup record disguised as a dance record. That sounds pretty clever, no? It’s a great line for parties. Unknown Pleasures is more of a dance record. A dance record has some kind of inward motion which propels it forward, compels it forward. Though I am allegedly reviewing a single here, the whole of Melodrama lacks this kind of momentum. When you are dancing you feel this momentum, willed by the record, and it makes you dance. Melodrama is not a dance record.
In my drafts for RRR, there are twenty eight posts. I won’t publish many of them. Three of the drafts are various attempts at writing about Melodrama. Every time the conclusion is Melodrama is like, maybe a B-. The struggle is explaining myself. Writer in the Dark is perhaps the best track, Kate Bush-esque in its exploration of vocal possibilities; that chorus like a circle of English crows. And yet..
And yet it feels fair to compare the two. Bush is a noted influence on Lorde, both albums centre around piano ballads. I don’t mean piano ballads in terms of Randy Newman, who uses the piano as punctuation. I mean piano ballads in terms of lush indulgence of the piano itself, a celebration of the piano as instrument. Bush is a lot older. Aerial is a document of domesticity, of being set in place. Melodrama is not about domesticity. It almost seems to be about being not fixed in place, about moving, about being in motion. Bush enjoys herself. “Swishy swashy swishy swashy/get those dirty shirties clean”. As a writer Bush isn’t afraid to seem ridiculous, to play with the accruements of everyday life. Her vocal experimentation follows suit. Writer in the Dark is a lot more leaden. ‘To be a good man for someone else/sorry I was never good like you” has the same self-serious significance any young adult carries around.
I don’t care about Lorde breaking up with her boyfriend and going out to party all night.
Ok – you say – you’re not the demographic. That’s a point. It’s a record aimed squarely at thin cis white females. If you’re not a cis white female? If you’re trans? Queer? Of colour? then the record can be hard to relate to. This is the pervading feeling that follows around Lorde/Taylor/et al when trying to engage with their work – the feeling when you enter into these spaces of white womanhood: Baby Showers, Hen’s Nights, cafes occupied entirely by thin women in Lululemon tights. It’s not such a struggle to engage with the privilege of wealth. Kanye unabashedly embraces it, rejects it, mocks it with startling clarity.
The best part is the really Kate Bushian part, where Lorde crows ‘I am my mother’s child/I love you til my breathing stops/I love you til you call the cops on me’ because for once Antonoff’s chorus-wall is effective, yet also because it’s Lorde at her most intimate, unafraid to sound like the madwoman in the attic. The accruements of white womanhood are exaggerated (’til my breathing stops’, like some Bridget Jones-esque caricature) til they fall apart, stretch, move about. It takes your breath away. B