I don’t know why we use the term “pop” anymore. It doesn’t make sense. Genre terms are all pretty restrictive and irritating – when you start quibbling about whether a record is post rock, or instrumental rock, or post-post instrumental rock, you know you’re in some degree of trouble – but of them all, “pop” is the one of least practical use to music lovers.
After all, it’s not a creative term, it’s a commercial one. There is nothing that links Led Zeppelin and Miley Cyrus – nothing at all – and yet a term like “pop” forces us to consider them in the same breath. What’s pop and what isn’t is controlled by forces as fickle as cultural tastes, which the briefest of saunters through one’s parents’ wardrobe will make clear are unstable at best.
Oh, and what happens when you get records that sound like other “pop” records, but that don’t end up selling well at all; records for whom the true commercial connotation of that term fails to apply? Where does Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion fit into that picture, given it’s a “pop” record that sold about as well as a pack of condoms at a convention for Catholic priests?
No, the word “pop” is as reductive as they come, so there’s no use talking about Beck’s new record Colours, out now, as though it is the sound of the sonic chameleon selling out to the mainstream, or giving in to pop conventions – although you can bet that’s what some critics will jump to call it.
Although sure, Colours is certainly the first record Beck’s made in some time that could go toe to toe on the bangers front with an album like his masterful commercial breakthrough, Odelay. Beck has repurposed the strings that hovered above his last record, Morning Phase, and deployed them for nothing less than all-out assault – they shriek through ‘Up All Night’ like hot knives sliding through cannabis-infused butter.
So giddy, and so downright contradictory, that you could call it almost whatever you like and probably still end up being right
And that’s not even to get into lead single ‘Wow’, which mixes the millennial whoop and the Wilhelm scream into some scarcely believable, “how-is-this-as-good-as-it-is?” blend of electro pop prettiness and half-rapped nonsense (“Standing on the lawn doin’ jiu jitsu/Girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih tzu”).
In fact, Colours is so hectic, and so giddy, and so downright contradictory, that you could call it almost whatever you like and probably still end up being right – but just don’t call it “pop”. It’s excellent stuff – maybe the man’s most accomplished record since Guero – and yet it transcends the boundaries of that weak, useless little word.
One new record that certainly doesn’t test the very limits of the language we use to talk about music is Pinewood Smile, the new glorified sonic cum rag from The Darkness. In fact, what with its almost depraved dependence on the inane, Pinewood Smile makes a mockery of those of us who think we can talk about music in anything but a series of rasped grunts.
What the fuck with this band? I don’t get it. ‘Buccaneers Of Hispaniola’ is like a Ween track stripped of all the humour, the wit and the skill, and there’s a wanky, sub-glam guitar solo shoved into the middle of the mess that would have Marc Bolan pirouetting in his grave. Pinewood Smile is so icky you’d half expect copies to be sold papered in soiled Playboy pages and a thin sheen of hair gel.
Oh, and while we’re fucking here, let’s talk about Morrissey, shall we? The UKIP shill and third best member of The Smiths (after Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, of course) has a new single out, ‘Spent The Day In Bed’, and it’s absolute garbage. The production is ghastly, Morrissey’s voice has become a wasted, warbly parody of itself, and the lyrics are the kind of weepy trash that you’d expect to be pumped out by a sub-par Morrissey lyric generator.
I’d rather spend a few hours carefully inserting pages of Morrissey’s Autobiography into my inner ear than listen to this toxic waste dump of a song ever again. Hate has pickled your heart, Mozza, you festering old fascist. Fuck off back to writing gut-wrenchingly bad sex scenes.
Thankfully, however, the kids have it in the bag – as usual. The new record from Lime Cordiale, Permanent Vacation, out now, goes beyond what one might have otherwise expected from the young Aussie sibling duo, and draws on the legacies left by a whole swathe of ’80s acts to create something fresh, and genuinely button-pushing.
In that way, it’s not just a bold, layered follow-up to the excellent string of EPs the band have dropped over the last few years, it’s a self-contained artistic statement in its own right; a step in a brand new direction.
So yeah, it might be full of the ultra-polished licks that the band have become known for – the kind of chest-beating choruses that have been custom made to get a festival audience full of young punters heaving as one – but it also shows off a fresh sense of nuance from the young Leimbachs. ‘Temper Temper’ is Talking Heads on acid, while the rickety, ska-inflected surface layer of ‘Giving Yourself Over’ hides real, whirling emotional complexity.
Lime Cordiale might have recently told the BRAG that Permanent Vacation is all about resisting the lure of ageing, but with their new record, it really feels like the brothers have suddenly and strikingly grown up.