Tag Archives: Pure Heroine

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

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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