Monday, June 26, 2006

stating the obvious, more or less well, june 19

1. Denby on Jack Black, "He's short and heavy, but he must have powerful legs and arms because he jumps and skips like a demon." (91)

2. Menand on Greenfield on Leary, "The best that can be said about Greenfield's biography of Leary is that it will never be necessary to write another one." (82)

Sasha Frere-Jones and I are, once again, in some agreement.

3. "While deforming the words, [Radiohead's Yorke] revealed the melody's elegance, which I couldn't hear before I saw him sing it. Yorke, as his early sponsor Michael Stipe once did, plays his voice the way his bandmates play their instruments, and he has impressively consistent pitch. Radiohead sounds like an instrumental band that happens to have a singer." (86)

I just this year heard Radiohead's Amnesiac and I found I liked it for just this reason.

But I thought the whole point of pop music was to use the voice like an instrument and if this doesn't happen (if the lyrics as language are foregrounded, or the voice itself or its equivalent isn't present enough) I generally think it's not pop music at all. But the way SFJ puts it, you'd think this voice-instrument thing was exceptional in pop music (as he is the pop music critic) and I think it's not.

Which is why I think it's totally OK to import, export and enjoy pop music that one doesn't understand the languages of. Locally, I thought a bit about this when I read the following, a while back, at Amardeep Singh's blog:

"[On Brazilian pop] The third thing to mention is that the vast majority of listeners, myself included, don't know any Portuguese, which means that reaction to the vocals is primarily driven to the sound of the voice, rather than meaning. Granted, the interest in the sound of the voice has been a big part of the popularity of Punjabi Bhangra as well as the Algerian popular music called Rai (which will have to be the subject of another post), but it is, on the whole, a little fishy. The lack of knowledge also makes fads somewhat hard to sustain. If you don't know the lyrics and don't have ways of learning, you don't develop deeper associations with what you're hearing. Fads developed on such a basis are not likely to last long."

This is well put but I think I respectfully disagree . . . And not at all to say that music is a universal, or immediate, experience. But that one can learn to enjoy pop music without necessarily understanding its literal linguistic content. Knowing its literal linguistic content may change your enjoyment or pleasure somewhat, but if it's a little fishy, I'd put the emphasis on the "little."

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Blogger mzn said...

I'm with you on this. Consider that:

-People who speak the language don't always know what their favorite songs are about (I tend to ignore rock lyrics and often I simply can't make them out).

-People who don't understand English adore Anglo-American pop and I woudn't say they don't really get it. It's not that hard to get, which is a big part of its appeal.

11:34 AM  
Blogger zp said...

Speaking of which, did you hear the NPR story on Sonic Youth and there "new" "pop" album?

8:00 AM  
Blogger zp said...


8:00 AM  
Blogger juniper pearl said...

i adore some musicians i can't understand (pizzicato five, carla bruni, the male vocalist in "girl from ipanema") because their melodies are so yummy i can't stop myself, but i also love some less catchy songs because of their lyrics. the amazing thing is when you find a band (like radiohead) that successfully and consistently combines both aspects. but it's all so subjective.

sonic youth? pop? is pop the new alternative or something? whatever, ignore npr and buy that album. call it whatever you want; it mostly sounds like sonic youth, and that sounds pretty rad.

8:52 PM  

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