May 2010

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In comments k-sky linked to a post of his in which he gave his best of the decade top 10 list. I would normally hesitate from doing something like this, because I’m far too aware of the fact that I don’t listen to a wide range of contemporary music. But reading his post convinced me that it’s an interesting exercise, even accounting for that fact, because it reveals something about my tastes and a decade is a long enough time frame that a top 10 list will still be consistently good albums even if drawn from a narrow cross section of music released in the decade.

The other thing that I realized, after working on the list, is that I haven’t blogged anything about most of these albums, mostly because they’re all better as albums than any one song excerpted from the album would be. So this should also serve as a placeholder to encourage me to figure out how best to write about the albums in more depth at some point.

1) Teddy Thompson — Separate Ways. One criteria for picking a top album of the decade is the number of copies that I have given away as gifts and, by this standard, Separate Ways is the clear leader. I completely fell in love with this album when I heard it. The opening half in particular is astoundingly good. Five of the first six songs are as good as anything. In particular the sequence of three songs, “I Wish It Was Over”, “Separate Ways”, and “Sorry To See Me Go” is a masterful sequence demonstrating the ways in which sadness and anger about the break-up of a relationship can cause one to act like an idiot, and to know that you’re acting stupid while you do it. The way it moves from anger of, “I Wish It Were Over” to the self-pity in “Sorry To See Me Go” makes clear both that character in the songs (presumably semi-autobiographical) has both been emotionally hit by a train and has behaved badly as a result. They make no excuse for the bad behavior but ask, perhaps, for understanding. That set of songs breaks my heart every time I listen to it.

2) Caetano Veloso — A Foreign Sound. I’m surprised to see that this album came out in 2004. It altered my tastes in music in a significant way, and that feels like it happened longer ago. A Foreign Sound was my first exposure to Caetano Veloso, immediately convinced me that he is great, and got to me to listen to a bunch of Brazilian music. I liked it better than most of the other Brazilian music that I listened to afterwords, but starting with A Foreign Sound and Caetano Veloso made absolutely clear the level of emotional intensity that exists behind the smooth surface of a lot of Brazilian pop music. It could easily be my top album of the decade.

3) Jurassic Five — Power In Numbers. This is another album that changed my listening habits. I got it as a gift from ben, who comments here, and it was an entry point into hip-hop for me. It isn’t a style of music that I particularly like, or am comfortable with, but Power In Numbers convinced me that I was missing out, and that I needed to get over my prejudices. Just a great album, front to back. One track from it lead off my politics mix, and I included two J5 tracks in my (somewhat bashful) hip hop mix.

4) Corb Lund — Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer. The first album that I got by Corb Lund who I think is absolutely great. He is, literally, the only musician for whom I will buy his next CD, site unseen, whenever it comes out. His two albums following Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer haven’t been quite as good, but both are quite solid and I still feel like I will buy whatever he wants to put out, and that’s saying something for me.

5) Corb Lund — Five Dollar Bill. Possibly a better album than Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer, it ranks lower partially because I got it and partially because the ability to put out a second great album says more about an artist than putting out one great album does.

6) Ken Stringfellow — Soft Commands. Another album that sent me on music buying and listening binge. This got me to listen to his previous solo album, the Posies last album, and the Big Star reunion album. Soft Commands suffers, perhaps, from being too restrained musically. The whole album is pretty, and very soft edged sonically, which can bury the emotions of the songs a little bit. But in the right mood it’s a completely successful album and gorgeous.

7) Willie Nelson — Live and Kickin’. This album is a really unlikely one to show up on this list. It’s a recording of a celebrity concert put on for Nelson’s 70th birthday. He performs with a different co-star on each track. I got it after getting interested in Willie Nelson after listening to this album and, despite using it as the basis for a long post, I was disappointed by it at first. I wanted more of Willie Nelson’s distinctive musical personality, and that’s somewhat in the background on most tracks. He’s sharing the stage and performing well but not taking over the mood of the songs. But the album has gradually won me over. It’s very good spirited, many of the performances are good, and and it’s just a fun album to listen to. I’ve listened to it a lot at work, and on days when I’m a little slow it’s a nice energy without feeling to pushy or aggressive.

8) Talib Kweli — Reflection Eternal. I cannot say enough good things about the song I discuss in this post. The rest of the album is good, but that song is amazing. It probably is my favorite single song from any album on this list.

9) Sinéad O’Connor — She Who Dwells . . .. Another album that I’ve given as a gift, the live concert is fantastic. At the time it was released it was going to be her final album and in the concert she sounds like she’s way more relaxed and comfortable with he music than she had be earlier and really enjoying the song and enjoying performing. I like the earlier, more tightly wound Sinead O’Connor performances, but I’m really glad to know that she got to the point at which she could do a concert like that one. Also, if it needs to be said, she has one of the most impressive voices in pop music. Nobody else can sing like her.

Update: 10) Joe Jackson — Summer In The City: Live in New York. I just noticed one album that I don’t want to forget. One of my favorite albums by one of my favorite musicians. The group is amazing, it’s astonishing how rich a sound they are able to get as just a trio. The two Joe Jackson CDs that I listen to most often are this and a greatest hits collection. No more edits after this, if I think of something else that I’ve forgotten I’ll put it in comments, but I thought Summer In The City deserved a place on the list.

11) Randy Newman — The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1. Re-recordings of older songs with just him on piano, this is the only album of his, other than Faust that inspires genuine love on my part. Sail Away it fantastic, but it has so many sharp edges, who would want to love that. I like it, I appreciate it, but it doesn’t make me want to let my guard down. But The Randy Newman Songbook is much more emotionally open and engaging. Consider, for example, the version of “Louisiana 1927″ on my politics mix.

I’m probably forgetting something, but that list ends up being a pretty good snapshot of what caught my attention over the decade.

Speaking of making mixes: when I was working on the second mix I ever did, an 80s mix that, with minor changes, I am still quite happy with, I was faced with a choice. I wanted to use something off the Billy Bragg reissue Back To Basics. I’d gotten it a while back, I didn’t know much about Billy Bragg and he wasn’t somebody that any of my friends were listening to. I hadn’t particularly liked the album, but I was starting to realize that there were some real gems.

I was ultimately trying to decide between, “A New England” and From a Vauxhall Velux.” I picked “A New England” and it was a success — that was one of the songs that people to whom I gave the mix tended to single out as one of their favorites. I later found out that it’s one of Billy Bragg’s more anthologized song, showing up on a variety of “80s independent music” or “80 alternative” collections, and with good reason. It’s smart, sharp, and directly emotional in an affecting way.

I wanted to speak up for “From a Vauxhall Velux,” however, which has always struck me as an extremely funny song. I can’t quite tell you why I think it’s so clever, but it has a couple of lines that strike me as just sarcastic perfection.

Start with the title of the song, it’s about a large family car from the 60s and the song is about awkwardly having sex in said car. From the opening lines, you know that this is not going to be a great romance, “She said, ‘Do these seats fold down?’ / I said, ‘If you pull that handle.'” That isn’t necessarily funny, but it’s already apparent that the song will be about logistics rather than emotion. And there are more logistical problems to overcome, “Her mother read her mail / And her Dad was a Policeman / Which I must say worried me / But some things have just got to be.” Which sets up my favorite line from the song, “So we passed very fast like ships in the night / Or cars in a contraflow system.”

What makes this so good? First off the internal rhyme of “passed/fast” gives a burst of speed and syncopation to the line which propels you past the familiar metaphor of ships into the night and into the modern equivalent. The entire thing seems to suggest that it would be overly romantic to suggest that they “passed like two ships in the night.” Ships may not communicate at all but, at least, they tend to not pass each other “very fast” and they aren’t part of an anonymous crowd like cars on a freeway. It becomes just about the least romantic metaphor possible. It calls to mind the cliched shot from movies of endless stream of headlights signaling urban alienation. But it manages to be supremely sarcastic without being cruel. It doesn’t say anything about the woman that he’s involved with, just that neither of them were interested in anything more than a little excitement.

Looking on youtube I see a video of a performance around the time that the song was released. You can see that Billy Bragg clearly had a lot of experience playing pubs and knowing how to keep the attention of an audience. He also presents a familiar image of the young artist who is creative, producing and performing good work and still not quite sure where it will lead. I get the feeling from the video that he’s in the position of getting positive reaction to his music but not knowing what of it will actually make an impact. He looks great, handsome, smart, and really personally present in the performance. Seeing that gives me a different sense than the album of why his fans would be so committed to him. I will also note that the performance of Which Side Are You On from the same concert is vastly better than the album version which never felt very strong to me.

I would be interested if anybody else wants to comment in the previous thread about the ways in which methods of acquiring music change one’s relationship to that music. In addition I wanted to respond to one thing that k-sky said in his comment:

Now I have too much music, and I enjoy music in general less. For me as well, listening is a more intimate experience when it’s solid and when I own it–or more precisely, when it’s scarce.

This got me thinking about the ways in which my music listening habits have changed over time. Much has changed just because of general life changes. I’m older, I’m busier, I have more going on in my life than I did when I was younger. One of the periods of my life in which I did the most music listening was also one that was lonely and unhappy for various reasons. Those sorts of life/age/music interactions are inevitably complex and difficult to isolate but there is one conscious decision that I made that has changed the way that I listen to music in important ways, and that is deciding to do mix CDs.

I may have said before, there wasn’t any culture of mixtapes/CDs among my friends in HS or college* so I was largely figuring out what I wanted to do with them on my own. Even though I don’t do very many, I spend a lot of time on the ones that I make, and they’ve become a key element of my music listening. On one hand it pulls me away from listening, in some ways, and makes my listening less pure of motive. I am, perhaps, me less willing to take an album on its own terms. When I get a new CD I’m a little bit more likely to skim it thinking about which songs stand out and might work well on an eventual mixtape. It also makes me more likely to get multiple CDs in the same genre at the same time, because I have the thought in the back of my head that I want to be able to abstract out the characteristics of the genre if I do a mix in that genre. On the other hand, these days, the times when I am thinking about making a mix are the times when I listen most carefully and think about music most intently. Its how I’ve learned to listen and isolate various elements of the recording at the same time and every time I make a mix I end up learning a lot about the music that I include.

As somebody who’s never played music, or studied music theory working on mixes has both provided an way to put creative energy into music and to think about the component elements of the music that I like.

I’ve been thinking about sharing more of my mixes on this blog, and this makes me think that I should. I’ve resisted in part because one of my concepts for the blog was to have each post include a link to some primary material (the song) that was short enough that the reader could easily listen to it while they read the post. But I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to resist posting and talking about mixes.

* note, I do occasionally find myself feeling jealous when I read about people for whom mixtapes were a method of social expression. But I suspect that had my friends in HS been interested in sharing mixes that, at the time, that would have just left me feeling excluded and like even more of an odd duck. Ah well . . .

The discussion about neglected and or minor musical figures, and the ways in which they feature in music criticism, got me thinking again about the idea of a world in which a standard avenue of exposure to music happens through free, user-directed online channels.

This is an interesting subject for me, because I’m well aware that I am on the wrong side of history on this topic. I’m not completely comfortable with the idea of that world despite the fact that, as that showed, it’s tremendously useful to be able to include something like a youtube link in a blog conversation and that I’m very glad that Matt McGrattan posted links to several songs that were very good and not things that I’d heard before. So I wanted to try to think through my discomfort a little bit.

First, and foremost, I suspect that I’m just reacting to habit experienced as a social norm. I’m used to the idea of paying for music and so, even when musicians are perfectly happy to have their work shared electronically I feel like it’s a violation of appropriate behavior. Even when I decide to participate, for example by starting this blog, I still have a strong impulse towards minimizing — try to share less and take maximal use/value from each instance. I feel like that’s a reasonable attitude to have but I recognize that it’s somewhat arbitrary.

But that concern properly belongs with the question of, “how will musicians get paid” rather than “how will the change the experience of the listener” which interests me at the moment. There is also a way in which I am uncomfortable with being a music listener in a world in which vast amounts of free music is easily available. As useful as it is, there’s also something intimidating about that. Let me see if I can figure out why.

The most direct explanation is the paradox of choice; that having more music available more easily makes it more difficult to chose what to listen to. This is somewhat silly, I’m sure that people who get their music online develop filtering mechanisms and I suspect that music downloads, like almost anything else available online, follow a power law distribution, meaning that most people are drawn to what’s popular rather than feeling like they have to evaluate all of the possibilities and select from them. Additionally, I would note that as happy as I am with CDs as a format for acquiring music, I occasionally wish they were easier to organize. I’d be happy to be able to search my music electronically, and if I feel that way about my own music, there’s no reason to assume that search tools wouldn’t also make it easier to find music that I wanted online.

On the other hand, writing this blog does make me feel occasionally, that there’s something intimidating about writing about music online. For me, at least, I have the worry in the back of my mind, “what counts as an informed opinion.” In many ways it’s easier to make clear the limits of a statement in conversation not least because most of the time you are talking to someone with some preexisting knowledge about your musical tastes and collection. The conversation about soul vocalists makes me think that the advantages of being able to easily introduce new points of reference is important and valuable, but there is something to the disadvantage of, given a functionally unlimited space where does one begin or end.

The second thought I’ve had, which has been covered by smarter people than I, is the ways in which electronic sharing of music changed what metadata is available for the music. Albums and packaging tell you something about the music that is being transmitted and give you some introductory context before you start listening. Obviously metadata can be connected to music in various ways; the fact that youtube connects music and images, for example, can provide a great deal of information that wouldn’t have been possible on an album).

My final thought, however, is that I’m very much used to the idea of a personal music collection and widespread free music challenges that somewhat. I’m used to have a boundary between “my music” and “not my music” and that boundary becomes more porous the more abstract music storage becomes. On some level, if it’s all free, what is the difference between having a song on my computer and a song on somebody else’s server? There’s reason, of course, to want to download things so as to have them available offline but that’s hardly necessary. There are various youtube videos that are part of my mental catalog of music that I would never even think of downloading. I expect that they will be generally available and, in most cases, I’m fine as long as most of them remain online. If one or two were removed I might not even notice. This is true for me even though I have only recently started thinking about youtube as a source of music. I can only imagine that the long one has spent accessing music would become more comfortable with the idea of their sense of music including both music that they store locally and music that is just generally available online.

The worry for me is that boundary slippage accentuates my second concern — where does one begin and end. Even though I own some music that I’m not completely familiar with I still use my collection of CDs as an organizing tool. The act of deciding to buy something is a commitment to intending to listen to it, and where I put that CD (at work or at home, on the shelf or by the stereo) is a way of thinking, with physical objects, about what I want to prioritize for listening. This isn’t, of course, inherently related to the idea of free music. I could use CDs as an organizing tool regardless of the source of the music but, psychologically, I am used to the idea that these items have value and that, I think, is a big part of why I’m not sure what to make of the idea of a world with very different patterns of music distribution. None of this is, specifically, an argument that such a world would be worse, just the awareness that the idea creates some mental slippage for me.

I want to re-visit some questions from my conversation with Matt in more depth but, first, I wanted to mention that one of Matt’s links got me to notice that I have a version of “St. James Infirmary” in my collection that I had never payed that much attention to. It’s in a very different style, dixieland swing (revival) rather than blues, but a very, very good performance.

Interestingly it wraps a frame around the story, rather than telling it in the first person.

There’s a very interesting discussion happening in the comments on the last post.

Otis Redding is, for me, the singer that defines Soul music. There are other Soul singers that I love or like but I always find myself thinking about the ways in which the differ from the standard that Otis Redding set. I’ve posted a couple of his songs before, but both of those were uptempo numbers. I’ve been thinking about posting “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” partially because I have a great Etta James cover of it, and I think the comparison is interesting.

But the other day something reminded me that “Amen” was one of the favorite Otis Redding songs of a friend of mine who is a singer, and now I can’t get it out of my head. It’s a funny song, it isn’t particularly clever (the “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” horn part is odd), and it isn’t his most intense, or most most powerful song, but his voice is just amazing. In this song there’s so little structure or forward momentum to shape the performance, it feels like it’s just him singing and nobody else has ever sounded quite like he does.

What a voice, what a singer.

A while back I saw a recommendation for Terry Allen. I’d never heard of him, but when I saw AMG describe Lubbock (On Everything as “one of the finest country albums of all time” piqued my curiosity. It took me a while to pick up a copy, but I can now say, on early listening, that it is really good.

I didn’t quite know what to make of the album until I got to “Truckload Of Art” and immediately got into line with his sense of humor. It had taken me a little while partially because his voice isn’t anything special; it isn’t particularly smooth or resonant and his singing seems forced at times (and the conversion to .mp3 doesn’t do it any favors). But “truckload of art” convinced me that his voice and style were, in fact perfect for the material, in which people are both sympathetic, and also far more at the mercy of chance and circumstance than they believe themselves to be. It isn’t hostile to people just to any sense of grandiosity they may possess.

Just start with the chorus, “Precious objects are scattered / All over the ground. / And it’s a terrible sight / If a person were to see it / But there weren’t nobody around.” The loneliness of the accident isn’t a tragedy because it’s the ultimate joke on people who only wanted to be seen.

With my sense of humor properly adjusted, I have to say that the whole album is better than any of the individual songs. It’s so so slyly funny throughout. His style just grows on you. But, to give a sense of his range, such as it is, the opening song of the album “Amarillo Highway” is more uptempo with more of a classic country sound, but with the same edge suggesting that he’s simultaneously celebrating and mocking Texas culture. “I don’t wear no Stetson / But I’m willin to bet son / That I’m a big a Texan as you are. / ‘Cause
There’s a girl in her barefeet / ‘Sleep on the back seat / An that trunk is full of Pearl…and Lone Star.” Unlike some country music it doesn’t try to argue that there’s anything grand or honorable to Texas country culture, just that it’s likable enough if that’s where you happen to be in the world. I’d say that’s too harsh, except that’s the feel of the whole album, anything that wants to claim to be the whole enchilada* is probably setting itself up.

* I’m thinking here of the line by Dan Rather, “Texas…another of the so-called big enchiladas, or if not an enchilada, at least a huge taco.”

Just today I got a CD that I was very excited about. The album was one for which I had a cassette copy (thanks RS) when I was in college, and that I’ve been meaning to replace since I stopped listening to cassettes. Unfortunately it had been out of print and quite expensive, so I somewhat forgot about it. A couple of years ago I saw that it was coming back into print, and made a mental note to check on the price, but then forgot. Then I was reminded of it last week, saw that it was in print, reasonably priced, and happily ordered a copy.

It’s astonishingly good. To my surprise, I found myself choking up a bit halfway through the first song. Not only because the music is intense and emotional, but also because I was struck that I so easily could have not gotten a copy and never fully known what I was missing. One never knows whether fondly remembered albums will live up to the memory, particularly if you haven’t heard them in years and know that you musical tastes have changed in the meantime. So often it’s disappointing to go back to albums that were formative of ones tastes. In this case, listening to it again, I felt sad at the fact that I had been without it for so long and didn’t even know how much I was missing it (though, the odds were good that I would have listened to it again at some point. I’m pretty sure that RS still has his original copy).

The album in question is Live In Edinburgh by Dick Gaughan.

I’ve listened to a lot of political music before, and this concert seems unusual in the degree to which it is simultaneously political and sincerely personal. Something I didn’t know (or remember) from the cassette that I see know in the liner notes is that, it was Dick Gaughan’s first concert after an extended illness which had caused him to lose his voice for several months. He says that he was apprehensive going into the concert, which is probably true, but the performance feels like that of somebody who deeply values the ability to communicate. He sings with a passion not only for the songs but what must be an emotional experience of being able to, once again, reach out to an audience and express himself. It’s emotional, and those emotions feel inwardly attached as well as directed outwards to the political causes. It is also interesting to see, from the page on his website, that of the 12 songs in the concert two of them are songs that he only performed for a narrow window of time and, in fact, for one of them, “Companeros” this was the only concert at which he ever performed it. He doesn’t say why that was the case, but that adds to my sense that this concert must have been a special occasion for more one than reason.

Before I link to any of the songs let me make one note — TURN UP THE VOLUME. I say that occasionally because there are some songs that deserve to be felt as well as heard, but in this case you need to turn up the volume just to have it be as loud as anything else that you would listen to. The recording just quieter than most (I assume this is because it isn’t compressed), and Dick Gaughan doesn’t deserve that. I had to turn the volume up quite a bit (maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of the entire volume track) to feel like it was an equivalent volume to an average CD track.

If you don’t do that then everything that I’m saying about the emotional qualities of the performances won’t make any sense. He will just sound like a very small man with a toy guitar somewhere in the distance.

There are many good songs on the album; there are about 7 of the 12 that I would really like to share, but I will limit myself to one political song, and one ballad. First, the opening track, a political song and one of the more assertive songs on the album, “Revolution“. He says in the liner notes, “While on a visit to the USA, I found a poem written in the 1890’s by a worker/poet called Joseph Bovshover; it was one of the most direct and ferocious pieces of writing I have ever seen so I gave it a tune and updated some of the words.”

Secondly “Glenlogie” which includes an introduction in which he talks about his skepticism about the collection process of the Child Ballads. His notes for this song are, “One of the great Scottish ballads — I don’t remember where I learnt this, it seems I’ve always known it.” In all of the times I’d listened to this album, I’ve never really followed the words to Glenlogie, I just knew that it had a beautiful tune, but it’s a touching story as well.

Sitting in my (metaphorical) pile of music to blog about are a couple of “from the archives” releases of early live performances by musicians that went on to become quite famous, that I’ve picked up within the last 18 months. Notably the Joe Jackson BBC recordings, and the recording of David Bowie in Santa Monica are both very good. Just last week, however, I picked up the recent release of a 1991 Tori Amos concert which is remarkable as a performance and makes me re-assess her early work. Listening to them, it is completely unsurprising that she went on to become a star.

The recording covers many of the songs from her debut album and took place seven months before the release of that album. So the material was all new to the audience, and it was her first experience performing it in front of a large crowd. The performances have, as the cliche goes, the energy of somebody who has now expectations and nothing to lose. As she writes in the liner notes, “At the ’91 show, I though, well, I’m nowhere anyway. So let’s go out and give it my best show and if it doesn’t work, well I’m still nowhere when I leave.” Hearing them makes me more impressed with her songwriting, and her investment, both creatively and emotionally in the songs.

The first thing that stands out is that she doesn’t pull an punches. Her piano playing is loud and aggressive, her singing is uninhibited. That, by itself, is no small thing. It’s one thing to write songs based on intense personal drama, it’s another to perform them without hesitation or embarrassment, and still something else to be ready to perform those songs and take over a room of 2,000 people. The second thing that’s clear is that she worked on those songs for a while and that it’s strong material. As I said I think the Glen Campbell thread you can tell the difference between a strong performance which reveals limitations in the material and one in which the song proves itself to be solid enough to support that energy or emotion without strain.

Start with “Precious Things.” The piano playing is physical and forceful, and when she gets to the line, “He said, ‘You’re really an ugly girl / but I like the way that you play”” or “I want to smash the faces of those beautiful boys” there is genuine touch of (emotional) violence.

I also find the chorus to be effective in this version of the song.

These precious things / Let them bleed /Let them wash away
These precious things let them break their hold over me

I don’t have a sense of a literal meaning but, I think of the passage from Yeats that Ferron uses as an epigraph for Shadows On A Dime in which he describes the In A Vision, Yeats describes a state between the death and rebirth of each soul, when the spirit engages in a process of “In the Dreaming Back the Spirit is compelled to live over and over again the events that had most moved it; there can be nothing new, but the old events stand forth in a light which is dim or bright according to the intensity of the passion that accompanied them. They occur in the order of the intensity of the passion that accompanied them . . . the most intense first, and the painful are commonly the most intense, and repeat themselves again and again. . . .”

It evokes someone working though intense emotions to drain from them their overwhelming power and control over the memory.

Or consider, “Leather.” I don’t think it’s as strong a song, and I think that it does have some weaknesses revealed in that performance, but it’s still an admirably nervy performance. Start with the introduction in which she says that she was told, “if you perform that song you’ll have no career” and remember that this is months before her album would be released. She can’t know at that point that things will, in fact, work out remarkably well, she just has to commit what she’s doing. Her performance doesn’t hide or sugarcoat the emotionally ugliness of the situation described in the song.

Also, it does put a different emphasis on the opening lines, “Look I’m standing naked before you / Don’t you want more then my sex” when it’s being performed live and she is standing there on stage singing that. That’s not a neutral opening. That said, the performance makes me think that lines like, “I could just pretend that you love me / The night would lose all sense of fear / But why do I need you to love me . . .” feel like cliches. No matter how much someone may mean that when they write or perform those lines, it isn’t the sort of verse that any singer can own. It’s too generic a sentiment (contrast with the verses on “Precious Things”).

Finally, it’s interesting to compare both of those songs to the album versions (“Precious Things“, “Leather“). I like the live performance better, but I think the album version have power in a different way. The live versions are more forceful, but the album versions are, in a way, more intimate. They aren’t more revealing but, by dampening the emotional intensity, they’re easier to live with. You can listen to them repeatedly without them necessarily making an emotional demand on you as a listener. Beyond that, putting them into a different, more moderated, emotional register creates an effect that is very loosely, gossipy. There’s a feeling of, “can you believe that I’m telling you this” which is (very imprecisely) flirtatious. I feel like the album versions create a relationship in which the performance says to the listener, “you are somebody that I trust to share this with” whereas the live performance says, “here’s what I have to say; deal with it.”

I admire how much of a powerhouse she is in the live performance but the contrast between that and the live versions also makes me think that her success was well earned. In both cases I feel like the performance is crafted to take full advantage of the occasion, and those two occasions are different. That’s also why I say the live performance makes me reassess the album — it’s different to hear it as making very conscious choices about presentation and know that she is capable of bringing far more energy to those songs.

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