Here we are, and without even touching twitter! Bet I’m missing out on a good time over there, though. I almost didn’t think I’d make it to songs this week, but after last week’s janky graphic design mishap (Song of the Week? Is this multiple choice?), my vanity needed a win. Don’t even bother telling me if there’s any typos in this one, it’s definitely a creative decision.
BABY BOOMERANG | The Shins (covering T. Rex) Marc Bolan seriously needs a win these days, so it might not be the kindest thing to be spreading T. Rex covers when everyone’s already stealing from him. Still, I think this is just proof that T. Rex is the blueprint, and it’s a fascinating departure for the Shins, to boot. This version was actually the first I recall hearing, but I had a suspicion it was a cover from the second the vocals began. The Shins’ portrayal of “Baby Boomerang” is pretty much exactly what a good cover should be—it pays homage to the original style while still putting the band’s own signature spin on it. While this cover presents a clean, major-key acoustic veneer, its bluesy style and simplistic yet catchy riff sounds distinctly un-Shins, though James Mercer’s distinct voice makes the transition seamless. In fact, it’s James Mercer’s lyricism, or lack thereof that gives this song’s history away, though I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to describe exactly why. It’s sort of crazy how well attuned to a musician’s lyrical style one can become just through passive exposure—my parents are both big Shins fans, and they were a background soundtrack to many morning trips to school, but I rarely listened closely to their lyrics. Still, as soon as this song’s snappy, nonsensical, and sometimes racy lyrics began, something about it sounded wrong out of Mercer’s mouth. Both Marc Bolan and James Mercer are poets, but I think most Shins songs tend towards more extended metaphors and vivid imagery, where Marc Bolan’s lyrics often rely on soundplay and free-association, though now that I’ve compared the two, they both have a knack for pairing words listeners will never forget. In the end, I still prefer T. Rex’s original—it’s got an undeniable heart to it that doesn’t come through as clearly here—but I’m a big fan of the way the Shins expanded their style here. Plus, the Fighting in a Sack EP has an awesome cover, in case anyone didn’t spot that, like, ten-pixel-wide version I plopped on the graphic this week.
PLUTO DRIVE | The Creatures Hey, speaking of Boomerangs, let’s talk about The Creatures. Though they’re a Siouxsie and the Banshees side project, their album Boomerang has moments of sounding wildly different from its progenitors. If it weren’t for Siouxsie Sioux’s signature vocals, I could probably be convinced that The Creatures were an unrelated band in Marimba-based songs like “Standing There.” It appears, however, that this album is about exploration and range, because “Pluto Drive” stands starkly in contrast, not just digging back into the Banshees’ goth routes but doubling down on the spookiness. While the lyrics don’t tell a story that’s really worth writing home about (unless you’re a fan of fun facts about Pluto, which I can’t hate on), the music brings exactly the eerie desolation that one might expect from a journey to our solar system’s last outpost. Strangely, the “Drive” part of the title influences the music here just as much as “Pluto” does, as there’s a strong, pulsing momentum to this song that seems more reminiscent of an under-funded, working-class, mining expedition to a dead world rather than the idealistic, adventurous space exploration I usually tend to think about. Like Black Sabbaths’ “Into the Void,” (and maybe Nine Inch Nails’ “Into the Void,” too, but I’m pretty sure he’s concerned with a different kind of void) this song puts a very different spin on outer space, and it creates an incredible goth atmosphere on a dwarf planet where there was none before.
HOW SOON IS NOW? | The Smiths To be fair, though, nobody’s gonna do a pulsing beat better than this. Like, wow. I dunno, man, is there anything I can add to the discussion with this song? It’s a classic. Great lyrics, great instrumentation, great, great, great. Man, can you believe this Morrissey guy? Boy, I sure hope he’s having a nice day, he earned it. Surely, he’s saying nice things about the many diverse outcasts in his audience that resonate with his music. Yea, no doubt. Diversity must really be his thing. Well, anyways, moving on…
SHOCK THE MONKEY | Peter Gabriel Oh, you thought it was over? The era is just beginning. One of these days, I’m gonna start listening to a Peter Gabriel album every month too (they’ll pair well with Kate Bush), because the more off of his first four albums I hear, the more I like them. A track from Peter Gabriel (you know, that one. No, it’s the fourth one. Security?), “Shock the Monkey” rides the line between experimental and pop with its catchy synth and strange, clipped beat. Like all of Peter Gabriel’s lyrics, this one is intensely psychological in a way that’s very resonant with me, but it’s far from dense or inaccessible. Some of my favorite wordplay in here includes the stanza “fox the fox / rat the rat / you can ape the ape / I know about that” as well as the riff on the title and chorus, “darling, you don’t monkey with the monkey,” which is really funny to me. Might actually start saying that whenever a barista asks me if whole milk is okay. In any case, this is a fascinating song about instinct and programming that still manages to be just as danceable as “shock” might imply.
CHARLOTTE ANNE | Julian Cope Here I go justifying chimes all over again. This week’s Julian Cope pick—which has become something of a Songs of the Week staple (Max! Todd! Dot! Com! Songs! Of! The! Week!)—is once again very different from the prior songs I’ve shared. Dude’s got range. Though I’ve come to love it, it hasn’t always been my favorite song of his, as it takes on this very, I don’t know… cheesy psychedelic 80s ethereal-ness, though none of that really fits together? It makes me think of satin and fog machines and spinning while looking up at the camera, which is why I have never and will never watch the music video for this song. See what I mean about the chimes? But it makes all of that work so, so well, and only partially because it’s a tongue-in-cheek song, which becomes clear once the lyrics are more closely examined. If it wasn’t clear from the pun in the title (meant to be pronounced “Charlatan,” get it?), this song is a self-deprecating ode to a feeling that’s very familiar to me, and to many writers: that great art can only come from great pain. A lot of people have called the lyrics “My splendid art, oh my sad profession / Now stick with me and I’ll betray you / For should I lose my bad depression / My splendid art I will betray you” as a heartbreaking confessional, but to me, they’re just funny, although no matter what anyone thinks, they’ll be fantastically written. Songs like this and Wilco’s more recent “Story to Tell” both address this weird stigma in art in such an approachable and eloquent way that the original doubt ends up feeling silly—almost cringey—and that feeling, in my book, is just as necessary as heartbreak. In fact, I think this sentiment that pain = art is just as damaging as the initial pain itself—I know Will Wood and Nine Inch Nails have both probably talked to their therapists about that, along with countless others. This one holds a special place for me because it neuters those festering doubts with a laugh; the perfect response to cynicism.
With that said, here’s a piece of art that’s a reminder to all of us with privilege. Julie Buffalohead’s humorous yet grimly poignant piece on the subjectivity of feminist values. The fox, a white feminist, is in the process of questioning the ways men have controlled her body and dress. In her blanket rejection of lipstick, makeup, and conventional fashion, however, she in turn makes assumptions about these Ponca skunks, tattooed by their tribe. Men give this mark to women in their family for an act of their own bravery, and though it is considered a great honor, it is not something women are given a choice in wearing. Who is the colonizing white woman to decide what place these Ponca marks have in a feminist revolution? Obviously, I don’t really have the equipment to answer that here on Max Todd Dot Com, but it’s an important qualifier in feminism worldwide, and just another reason why what defines womanhood should be considered subjective. A lot of the old guard, even artists I admire like Terry Gilliam and Morrissey, have this tendency to view postmodern ideas of subjectivity as this apocalyptic disintegration of order and morals and all things warm and fuzzy, but ringing these alarm bells feels frankly childlike. Imagine that—these bastions of creativity and countercultural ideas can’t conceive of the fact that the human experience is varied! In truth, the world is mind-numbingly complex and intersectional, and such broad strokes as “the female experience” or “the indigenous experience” can never hope to paint a full picture of all the ails within. If true, Christian kindness is to be striven for, whether it be in interacting with a large group or a single individual, it’s important to understand where that person is coming from. This painting isn’t some glasses-adjusting, finger-raising “actually;” it’s simply a reminder that problems aren’t solved in sweeping hand-waves.
Okay, so I did go off a little after all, didn’t I? Sorry, I just get really fired up about this stuff. Bottom line: listen to others, understand others, because true compassion is educated compassion, and compassion’s what we all need a little more of. Okay, I’m stepping away from the soapbox. Feet on the ground. See you guys next week.
peter gabriel winter is upon us
thanks for reminding me of that shins cover!
It’s a good one!
Diversity must really be his thing….you’re a funny one. I agree about Charlotte Anne. It’s tongue in cheek until that poetic line “Haul me out of the water. Haul me onto the land. Beneath the sky there is an open fire” Love it.
Yea, you’re right, it’s not all ironic, there’s a lot of sincerity there too.
I also like the “In my casket” line.