Tag Archives: Lorde

Rocks In The Attic #612: Aldous Harding – ‘Party’ (2017)

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Earlier this year, New Zealand’s Aldous Harding sparked what seemed like a national debate when she appeared on Later…With Jools Holland to perform the song, Horizon, from this, her second studio album.

The resulting YouTube clip needs to be seen to be believed – it’s a great song, but Harding peppers her performance with (frankly quite disturbing) pained facial expressions. The resulting fall-out seemed to pit a New Zealand music critic, Simon Sweetman, against every misguided miltant-feminist troll in the land.

In May, Sweetman reviewed Party by comparing the record to the sound of goats screaming like humans. A very dismissive review, for sure, but when Harding’s Jools Holland performance posted online five days later, a fire-storm ensued when Sweetman repeated a similar comment on his personal Facebook page.

We seem to be living in exciting times. In recent weeks, Wonder Woman effortlessly became the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins (with the film obviously centred on the strength and possibilities of womankind), and we were introduced to a female Doctor Who in Jodie Whittaker. As a father of three young daughters, I couldn’t be happier with what seems like a snowballing of strong female role models for them. My wife’s heartbreak over the death of Carrie Fisher late last year really brought home the fact that thirty years ago, strong female role models were very few and far between.

So, we arrive at the release of Aldous Harding’s Party. However flippant Sweetman’s comments were – and they were flippant – nothing of what he said was based on Harding’s gender. ‘But it’s implicit in what he said,’ the misguided militant-feminist trolls would argue. That kind of parochial attitude would suggest that all female artists are beyond criticism – but surely women should be open to the same level of criticism as men? Sweetman’s role as a critic is to prompt discussion, and in this one instance he has been very successful.

But would he say something just as rude about a male artist? Yes, I firmly believe he would – and has! One of my only dislikes about Sweetman’s approach is that he’ll completely write off an artist, and then no matter what that artist produces, their output will seemingly be forever harshly judged – case in point: Jack White can do no right, whereas a mediocre musician like world-famous-in-New-Zealand Dave Dobbyn can do no wrong. So I worry that Aldous will never be allowed back through the door.

A friend suggested that Sweetman probably thinks of himself as the Lester Bangs of New Zealand cultural critique. I’m not sure if that’s true – and maybe he has been critical of Dave Dobbyn or praised Jack White in the past, I just haven’t seen it if he has – but nevertheless I’m convinced he isn’t sexist or misogynist: everybody’s fair game. In fact, I find these claims of misogyny to be more damaging to feminism than they are helpful.

It’s similar situation to a BBC radio interview I once heard where Halle Berry was promoting her latest film. A comment from Hugh Jackman, one of Berry’s co-stars, led the oafish presenter Chris Moyles to impersonate what an African American body-double of Jackman might sound like. “Are we having a racist moment here?” Berry asked instantly.

I find that sort of accusation deplorable, and ultimately more damaging to the cause which is being fought. I regard myself as a feminist, and I’m similarly disappointed with some of the accusations raised at Sweetman – an early champion of Harding’s career, and a strong advocate of female artists, both local and international. “Iggy Pop can get away with those sorts of affectations on stage,” the misguided militant-feminists would say, “So why can’t Aldous Harding?” My only concern would be whether those facial expressions were evidence of anything more worrying bubbling underneath.

Still, like I said, Sweetman’s role is to prompt discourse. If he hadn’t highlighted the absurdity of Harding’s Jools Holland performance, then perhaps she wouldn’t have landed so squarely on my radar. It led me to watch Harding’s music video for Blend – a clip in which most people might not be able to see past the attraction of a young woman dancing provocatively in hot-pants. I enjoyed the subversive elements of the video greatly, and the allusion to the dancing Playmates in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now wasn’t lost on me, but it was the strength of the song that hooked into me. From Blend, I moved to the video for Imagining My Man, and I was sold.

I bought the record a few weeks ago. I’m close to loving it, and will seek out her first record as soon as I can. There are still some things about Party I don’t appreciate – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear Horizon without imaging the Jools Holland performance, and her vocal style on Imagining My Man sounds very strange, like she’s sucking on a boiled sweet – but the album’s growing on me with every listen.

The future looks bright for my daughters, in a world that is seemingly more accepting of female role-models. The last record I bought by a New Zealand artist (before Harding’s Party) was by a woman (who has gone on to massive global success – no surprises who that might have been) and the next two I buy will undoubtedly be both by women (Harding’s 2014 debut and Lorde’s sophomore Melodrama). As a feminist, I just wish that my more militant comrades on social media would pick their battles with a little more intelligence.

Hit: Blend

Hidden Gem: Living The Classics

Rocks In The Attic #533: Kate Bush – ‘The Kick Inside’ (1978)

rita533Almost 1,000 records on my shelves (I’m currently sitting at 996 at the time of writing), and I’ve only just got around to buying my first Kate Bush album. I saw this, her 1978 debut, and Lionheart, her follow-up from the same year, at the Auckland record fair last weekend. Five dollars each? Yes, please.

It always feels a bit nicer to not only listen to records in chronological order, but also to buy them in chronological order too. I also saw Hounds Of Love, my favourite album of hers, in the same rack, but not only was it a bit on the dirty side – which admittedly, I could have cleaned up – it would have ruined the OCD part of my brain to buy album numbers one, two and…five.

I must admit I’m not the biggest Kate Bush fan. She’s just somebody I haven’t managed to get around to listening to in great detail. I know the hits from growing up in England, but a lot of the album tracks would be new to me.

She makes for a weird listen; kind of like how I see Lorde these days. A strange voice, odd lyrics that read more like poetry than anything else in the pop charts, and everything sung in such an odd meter that you’d be forgiven for mishearing a lot of the lyrics. Kate Bush doesn’t so much start a word on one bar and finish it on the next; instead she seems to effortlessly make it up on the spot, stretching or squeezing in syllables wherever she cares to.

It’s very much appreciated that the record comes with the lyrics printed on the rear cover. I’d struggled to understand most of Wuthering Heights in all my years on earth, and even with a cursory glance at the words I’d struggle to sing along even now.

Hit: Wuthering Heights

Hidden Gem: Moving

Rocks In The Attic #440: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Rumours’ (1977)

RITA#440I saw Fleetwood Mac last night – a very wet, rainy night in Auckland to tick another band off my list. Outdoor concerts are always a risk, especially at this time of the year but a couple of bright pink ponchos (they only had pink left!) from the $2 shop were a lifesaver. When I put them on the counter to pay, the Asian lady on the till said “Ahh, you go concert!” so they must have done a run on them yesterday, hence why they only had pink ones left.

Any band that throw away something so fantastic as The Chain as their opening number must be something special. They absolutely caned Rumours for their first four songs – following The Chain with You Make Loving Fun, Dreams and Second Hand News – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they had only ever recorded one album. In fact, by the end of their set, they only left two songs unplayed off this monster of a record – I Don’t Want To Know and Oh Daddy.

I’ve loved Rumours ever since I saw the album being picked apart on the first run of Classic Albums. That first bunch of albums covered by the show – Electric Ladyland, Graceland, Who’s Next, The Band – were an education, and the Fleetwood Mac episode was just as eye-opening. At that point in time (the early ‘90s), the band hadn’t yet reformed for The Dance so it looked unlikely that I’d ever get to see the band play live. They seem to have been touring non-stop ever since The Dance though, so it was only a matter of time.

Since 1998, Christine McVie hasn’t been playing with them, so I’ve been holding off – who wants to go and see a band who can’t play a third of their songs? Thankfully, she renounced her retirement from touring last year, and I finally got to see all five of them together.

Last night was a great concert – despite being sat up in the cheap seats with the riff-raff, in the pouring rain. Even Lorde was there (the closest thing to New Zealand rock royalty), braving the elements with her parents. At one point, a Facebook photo of Richie McCaw posing with his wife looking out from one of the corporate boxes buzzed through the crowd.

My favourite moment, other than the always awesome Tusk was the choruses of Little Lies – a blast of ‘80s pop brilliance where all three vocalists sing together. I was singing along with Lindsey Buckingham’s part at the end of each line – probably my favourite snippet of backing vocals from that entire decade.

Hit: Go Your Own Way

Hidden Gem: Second Hand News

Rocks In The Attic #349 Bob Dylan – ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ (1964)

RITA#349I like this stage of Dylan’s back catalogue: completely solo, pre-electric, and just before his fame got in the way. But Another Side is probably my least favourite of his first four albums. To me, it’s his Beatles For Sale – he sounds stuck in a rut with nothing particularly innovative on offer. A change of direction is on the horizon, but not just yet. Well, at least he didn’t resort to rewriting children’s nursery rhymes like Lennon and McCartney did in their desperation to get an album together in time for Christmas 1964.

I’ve just watched the latest Coen brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis – about a struggling folk singer in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early ‘60s. As well as a perfect of the time novelty song – Please Mr. Kennedy – which I laughed at more than anything else I’ve seen in a long time, I really enjoyed the ending of the film where (SPOILER ALERT!) Dylan is glanced at, just as the film’s titular protagonist is about to give it all up and missing out while folk explodes into mainstream America.

There’s an element of openness to the ending that I liked. You don’t get to fully find out whether Davis calls it a day. In the final scene, he gets a beating for heckling a performer the night before, and that might be enough for some people to think twice about their options. But Davis’ character was loosely based on Dave Van Ronk, a contemporary of Dylan’s, who did go on to have a career in the folk boom of the mid- to late-‘60s, although nowhere nearly as successful.

I like to think that Davis didn’t quit – but maybe that’s the muso optimist in me. In the past I’ve had to quit a few things as a guitarist – some bands, some partnerships. Sometimes you just have to. The regretful thing is that I feel by moving to New Zealand, I’ve quit being a musician completely. I looked into joining / starting a band when I first moved here, but I could never find any other like-minded people. Everybody just wanted to play New Zealand music. Musicians here are blinded by a parochial mindset that I’ve never encountered anywhere else.

There is good Kiwi music out there, but it’s few and far between. That’s why nobody outside of New Zealand has ever heard of Dave Dobbyn or Anika Moa. Even Shihad are at best a whisper of a memory in the minds of overseas rock fans. World famous in New Zealand is just that – it’s mean to be an amusing way of embracing the country’s size and limitations, but it ends up being Kiwi music’s epitaph. And why would that ever change? The most successful musical export of this country was Crowded House – a band so to blame for putting New Zealand into the artistic middle-of-the-road, that it’s not surprising that foreign drivers have so much difficulty remembering to drive on the left when they get here. Even tall poppies like Lorde are derided by Kiwi music critics, because her music is so typically un-Kiwi, and how dare she achieve worldwide fame without playing barbeque reggae or singing about Dominion Road.

Still…Slice Of Heaven, what a tune!

Hit: It Ain’t Me Babe

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

Rocks In The Attic #307: Lorde – ‘Pure Heroine’ (2013)

RITA#307Last Wednesday night I stood on Auckland’s waterfront and watched a homecoming gig by a 17-year old New Zealander who had just won two Grammys in Los Angeles a couple of days before. As far as expecting to see things like this happen again, I think seeing Halley’s Comet before we’re next due to would be more likely.

Without consciously meaning for it to be, Lorde’s Pure Heroine has been the soundtrack of my summer – just like Tame Impala’s Lonerism was the soundtrack of my winter last year. I’d like to think I’d rate her without all the hype, but then again I can’t imagine I would have heard any of her music without it.

I remember seeing the first photo of her – a publicity photo in The Listener sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. She was just a cute girl (steady…) with nice hair, sat next to a dog and a couple of words about her being someone to watch out for. But the press is always full of next big things – if you always listened to journalists about these things, you’d be constantly let down.

Then all of a sudden, Royals is #1 in the US charts for nine weeks, and then at the top of the UK charts. The scary thing though was the sheer amount of whacky covers of the song that popped up on YouTube; and then of course New Zealand’s tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head and she starts to be shot down online and in the press. You’d think music critics (and musos in general) who usually champion New Zealand music would welcome her success, but no, they’re happier supporting the likes of Anika Moa and Dave Dobbyn. In New Zealand, it’s considered successful if you’re famous in New Zealand and New Zealand only.

On Wednesday night’s concert, she rolled out album-opener Tennis Court mid-set. It’s my favourite song on the album and every time I hear it, I always think the world’s got it wrong with Royals. Part of the success of that song must surely be the fact that it’s essentially a nursery rhyme – I mean, we can’t expect the American record-buying public to have sophisticated tastes, can we? Remember, this is the country that gave us Foreigner and Toto.

But for me, Tennis Court is where it’s at. In fact, I wouldn’t have bought the album had I not seen the awesome minimalist music video for that song. Royals may have alerted the world to Lorde, but Tennis Court shows that she can produce music that’s world-class. The rest of the album is pretty strong too. I wouldn’t say that Joel Little’s production sounds particularly cutting-edge; if anything, it sounds like early-2000s downbeat electronica out of the UK – think Zero 7; but the centrepiece is Lorde’s voice, and while she may not be as retro-sounding as Amy Winehouse, Duffy or Adele, there’s still something special about her.

One little thing I like about the production on the album is its cyclical beginning and end – with ‘Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk’ the first line on the album, and ‘Let ‘em talk’ the final line. I love that sort of thing, very Roger Waters at the end of The Wall – ‘Isn’t this where we came in?’

I guess we now have to sit back and see what Ella Yelich-O’Connor does next. I do agree that she’s currently the antidote to the Miley Cyruses and Katy Perrys of the world, so hopefully she’ll continue down that path and avoid the pitfalls of glamour and celebrity.

Hit: Royals

Hidden Gem: A World Alone