“Pop Musik” (M)

Robin Scott was a folkie who adopted the “M” moniker in order to undertake, in his words, “a cynical reflection of contemporary politics.” So what is M’s angle? The topic is the revaluation of “pop” and the ways it can be said to be more interesting than “rock” because of its cosmopolitan ability to travel and its unique primary audience, made up of denizens of global cities. Certainly, the song says something in particular about 1979, the year of the trax’s release: at that time, the British independent charts often saw action from “New York, London, Paris, Munich.” (Tokyo is obviously missing from this list, as is a Benelux representative, such as Brussels.) Neither the British nor the U.S. charts are strongly cosmopolitan in the 21st century, but perhaps we can still hear the call of this argument. One of its requirements would be lyrics that are relatively simple to the point of nursery rhyme nonsense. Sung in the voice of a carnival barker, with heavily ironic “shooby dooby do wops” in the background, the “cynical” perspective is clear. So when M sings “fe fi fo fum” (literally, Gaelic for, “Behold food, good to eat, sufficient for my hunger”), one realizes a secret agenda behind the transnational singsong: we’re tasty, and global pop wants to consume us.

Read more "“Pop Musik” (M)"

“Me and Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin)

Of course: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” And this seeming misprision (when compared to the Kristofferson lyrics): “Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ honey if it ain’t free.”  That is: nothing only gets interesting if and when it doesn’t cost or hurt. Until then, it’s not yet the promise of nothing, but a something of negative value. Misguidedly, however, the singer seeks a home for Bobby, and eventual reunion, through barter/trade, turning away from finitude’s infinite loss/gift. Thoreauvian, in all the wrong ways (though: are there any right ones, ontologically?).

Read more "“Me and Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin)"

“I Don’t Like” (Chief Keef)

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama declared that a “defining project of our generation is to restore [the] promise” of “the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead” despite the “accident of [your] birth.” With the introduction of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, however, we’re encouraged to think structurally, from increased pre-school (“public savings” and a return on investment!) to “fair discipline practices” in schools and criminal court systems. Lest we think he’s appealing to crusty Baby Boomers in the former and white liberals/wonks in the latter, keep in mind that young men of color are a “drag on State and Federal budgets” that should be salvaged in order to “unlock their full potential.” (But as Michelle Obama points out, if her parents “did everything right,” their children would just “have a chance.” Slim odds, slimmer hopes.) Enter Chief Keef, avatar of Chicago lawlessness. There’s a whiff of racial discipline all around. Reviewers called his album everything from “irresponsible, unforgiving, and often infectious” to a representation of African American culture. How can young black and brown men account for themselves given these odds? Here, the trax flounders: snitches, whiners, pregnant women, wanna-be drug kingpins are all objects of derision. Then again, it’s also about cuckolding you. A monetization of the outlaw—both ways. Isn’t this what the whole conversation is about?

Read more "“I Don’t Like” (Chief Keef)"

“Constant in Opal” (The Church)

Similar to their other trax riffing on exploration (“Columbus,” “Destination,” and even a cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer”), here The Church turns inward toward the form(al)-bound. Perhaps centering on Australia (a prolific “producer” of opal) or Afghanistan (ultramarine/lapus lazuli), location is only part of the problem. “Swarming like carrion birds,” “puzzled travelers” and their “words” find nothing for all their digging despite the promise of finding “yourself” in the related search for luxurious goods (after the requisite narrative cuts and polishing). Following the initial rhymes in each verse, there’s a funny word association: wealth—melt; words—birds; flowers—showers; and the third verse shifts the initial rhyming term from the second to first line while seemingly moving the analogical toward a reversed causal. Geological identity as another historiographical exercise, while our lives are lived in a “shaft”—groping for ourselves and stratabound.

Read more "“Constant in Opal” (The Church)"