Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pop, Excess, Compulsion

The beauty of T-Rex’s “Buick Mackane” is how unbothered it is about being rich and self-indulgent. The whole thing lurches forward, pulled by the momentum of its own excess. The music is a baroque ensemble of decorative art, a busy and noisy layering of textures and timbres. As befitting a T-Rex song, the lyrics sound like what Futurist poetry would sound like if it were written by horny adolescent boys, a sophomoric sexualizing of technology: “Slider, Slider/You’re just a sexual glider/You’re just a sexual glider/Be my plane in the rain.” “Buick Mackane” is a heavy yet trivial mess and if you don’t love it then you can’t possibly love rock and roll. It’s a perfect song by a band I love without reservations. Its perfections are those of rock and roll: it is unapologetically extravagant within the terms it sets for itself.

A similar account obtains for The Bee Gees. Their catalog is a murderer’s row of incredibly melodic and unashamedly sentimental hits. But it’s the way in which they throw themselves into the basest of affect with those falsettos! I love them so much that it’s difficult to decide which song to single out for discussion. “Too Much Heaven” perhaps exemplifies what I’m getting at here. Listen to the how the triteness of the lyrics is made completely irrelevant by the sincerity of the harmonies at the song’s beginning. Then Barry Gibb takes over. His voice rises above the already high peaks and it punctuates the song throughout. In their own way, The Bee Gees are every bit as extravagant as T-Rex, but their extravagance is in a sort of masculine embrace of cultural terms usually coded as feminine, if that makes sense.

We find the same aesthetics of excess, which are so crucial to much of great pop music, in Lana del Rey’s “Video Games.” Her voice, evocative without being strong, haunting without carrying a lot of weight, saturates the song. In important ways, the musicality of the song is completely secondary to her voice. Sure, there are instruments present but they seem to be there only to keep the singer’s voice from getting too lonely. The song is Spartan, dressed down, empty almost. Only the voice, foregrounded with the blind vanity of the absolutely self-assured, creates the canvas of the song. The musical form of the song differs starkly, however, from its lyrics, which are about the negation of the self for the other that sometimes accompanies intense relationships. “It’s you; it’s you/It’s all for you/Everything I do,” she sings and you can’t help but believe her. Fascinating contrast this, “Video Games” obsesses about the self in its musical structure and obsesses about the other in its lyrical structure. This doubling of compulsive emotion is what gives the song its resonance. It spares no feeling. It allows you to be completely self-absorbed while at the same time it allows you to lose yourself in infatuation. Its excessive, extravagant emotional charge first turns inward and then it turns to everything else.

1 comment:

  1. Wouldn't it be more elegant if I could click a button that said "Like" rather than having to write out that I like this?
    Anyway, I think your analysis of what makes "Video Games" tick is dead on.