Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Marina and the Diamonds – I Am Not a Robot

It’s British-Women-As-Genre Wednesday!!!…


Keane Tzong: Now is not the time for back-door bragging!

Alex Macpherson: “Better to be hated than luff! luff! luffed! for what you’re not” — indeed. What Marina is not is someone with either insightful things to say or interesting ways of saying them, nor a pop star whose presence or vocal mannerisms are anything other than grating.

Pete Baran: Can we describe that as blacking up in the video? It’s a nice little build, and a pleasant enough track, but it does feel a bit of an album track punted out due to lack of strong singles. And in a world of quirky female vocal stylists this isn’t doing enough to stand out.

Alex Ostroff: Almost a year ago, this was the song that sold me on Marina, convincing me that underneath all the tics and affectations, drama school mannerisms and songs about crackers, there was a thinking, feeling, introspective person who had something to say. Marina’s debut is good but flawed, and most of her songs have at least one moment where I wish she had pulled back a bit, but “I Am Not a Robot” remains the Crown Jewel in her discography. Building from plinky pianos and Regina Spektor-esque vocals, it slowly unfolds into something genuinely affecting and anthemic. In it, she ambivalently calls the object of her affections out on his calculated distance from emotion, risk and life in general. By the end, her confidence has grown, and the phrase “I’m vulnerable” has been transformed from an admission, into a declaration, and finally into a celebration.

Matt Cibula: I like the Abba-ELO-ness of this, but as always I think she is a clunky songwriter on the conceptual scale — is the song about him or about her?

Michaelangelo Matos: I’m charmed despite myself. I don’t do well with British pop’s archness, but this got me in its clutches rather pleasantly, which counts for something when it comes to archness. I guess you could snipe that the title chorus is a bit protest-against-pop-too-much, but whatever.

Alfred Soto: “Guess what — I am not a robot,” she assures at the 2:40 mark, at which the song finally starts to chug interestingly. The rest sounds like Sarah McLachlan yearning to be Annie Lennox.

Anthony Easton: I, for one, think that robots can dance, and feel, and love — this song is profoundly robotist, and that is wrong (nice returning of a metaphor to its original power).

Doug Robertson: It’s a shame that she’s not a robot, as that way we could all have one in our flats, coming up with subtly brilliant slices of electro pop on a regular basis. And also so that we could it take the voicebox to the robot repair shop to try and sort out the slightly annoying and gimmicky vocal inflexions that she seems unable to avoid breaking into on every other word.

Martin Skidmore: Marina doesn’t have the extraordinary control and astonishing swoops of Kate Bush, but it’s what she’s trying for.

Jonathan Bogart: I like her twitchy, cooing foghorn of a voice. I like the touch of electronic manipulation on the background vocals on the title phrase (though there should be more). I like or anyway admire the way the song crescendos without ever peaking or valleying. I don’t like the fact that when she says “let the drum beat drop” the beat doesn’t change at all, just gets slightly louder (at least least gets this right). I don’t like, or more precisely don’t care about, the lyrics. When she writes something with half the wit with which she sings the word “vulnerable,” I’ll be interested.

John Seroff: This is the fourth single Marina and the Diamonds has put on the Jukebox and the third I’ve grappled with. Each time, it’s been the same problem: lovely voice, way too mannered. Her lyrics are ham-fisted, her ever-present affectations are uninspired and unhelpful to the songs and the production is consistently overblown. Once Marina finds a bit of restraint I might well come around, but her current blend of derivative diva-ishness and indulgent tics like ‘Robot’s minute-long coda of heartbeat leave her entirely too grating for me to embrace.

Katherine St Asaph: Marina keeps releasing singles that are just OK. I’m not averse to quirkiness, singer-songwriters or the two combined. I’ve no problem with her vocal style or lyrics — well, except for “let the drumbeat drop,” a lapse in judgment so glaring it merits an entire docked point. But I want her to make something brilliant, and this still isn’t it.

23 Responses to “Marina and the Diamonds – I Am Not a Robot”

  1. Stats people: Is Ostroff the writer here with the highest score average? Seems like a lot of 9s and 10s are being thrown about.

  2. Welcome to the new contributors!

  3. It’s possible? I dunno. I’ve been sloppier with numbers in the new year than I should be probably. Also, to some extent, I’m more inclined to review things that I already know and love, (and which I feel probably aren’t likely going to be repped for) than for things which I know and feel kind of meh about. Which I’ll try and stop doing, but you know. Things that you passionately hate or passionately love are things that you’re driven to write about.

  4. Yeah, just counted. I’ve given six 9s and five 10s in 2010, which is probably overmuch? But with the exception of the Gil-Scott Heron, they’re all tracks that I’ve probably listened to upwards of 70 or 80 times all things told. I’ll try to tone it down. Sorry?

  5. Quite like the remixes for this, though…
    Clock Opera totally rebuilds it:

    Penguin Prison does a decent DFA style take on it:

  6. It wasn’t meant as a complaint!

  7. Why sorry? I thought the whole point was that this is an average of personal tastes and if your personal tastes are ebullient more power to you! Stay ravin’!

  8. Yeah, personally I don’t remember giving out many mid-range scores, because to me 5/10 basically = I have no reaction to this. There are several scores I’d change in retrospect though! Gil S-H is more of an 8 than a 9, Badu’s “Window Seat” is at least a 9, not 8. &c &c.

  9. See, I’m just the opposite — I give out way too many 6’s, because there are very few songs that I can’t find something to like and something to dislike about. Giving out all 0’s and 10’s makes no sense to me; I get the idea here that me being American not British has something to do with it, though I’m not sure what. (Matos has said that’s the way the U.K. music press works — everything is either the best record in the world or the worst record in the world. Which honestly strikes me as completely ridiculous. Still, I’m not complaining about the Brits, even though I don’t relate — I like that not everybody here grades in the same way.) That I give out more 6’s than 4’s (or 5’s even), and more 7’s than 3’s, and more 8’s than 2’s, probably just means that I’m a generous guy. But I’ve only given out one 10 in a year of doing this, and no 0’s, and only a couple 1’s and a handful of 9’s, I think. (Not gonna go back and check.)

  10. But yeah, on the other hand, I am kind of with Lex on the “a 5 frequently means I have nothing of worth to say about this” issue. (Actually, real reason I might give more above-5’s than below-5’s is that I feel I have more to say about records I like than about ones I dislike, at least not without making the same complaints about the latter that I’ve made a million times before. Plus, ones I like are easier to listen all the way through.)

  11. so when i first started doing this, I sat down and formulated the following scale so I could easily assign a number grade based on my feelings after a buncha listens.

    10 – Spectacular, into heavy and permanent rotation, am actively making other people listen to this in my personal life
    9 – Among the best of the year, heavy rotation
    8 – Great, am actively repeat listening
    7 – Really good, would listen again
    6 – Good, but possibly somewhat flawed
    5 – Take it or leave it. Meh.
    4 – Flawed, not very interesting
    3 – Boring, would avoid
    2 – Offensive, actively avoiding
    1- Noxious, would turn it off
    0 – Unredeemable, representative of a serious musical problem.

    I’d be curious to hear what everyone else’s numeric approximations are

  12. 10 – A serious contender for my favorite record of the year, top 20 of the decade, top few hundred of all time (if that sounds historically lopsided, it’s because I don’t think music is as good as it used to be — so sue me.)
    9 – A serious contender for my top 10 of the year
    8 – Would keep this record if somebody gave me a 45 of it
    7 – Would quite possibly not change the station if this came on the radio, or skip it if I otherwise like the album it’s on, but probably wouldn’t want it as a standalone object on my shelf
    6 – Basically approve of this, in theory, but have no particular desire to hear it again
    5 – Neither here nor there
    4 – 3: Descending grades of inoffensive dislike
    2 – Offensive dislike, but with some minor redeeming facet, probably lasting just a few seconds
    1 – Actively pisses me off
    0 – Downright evil; makes me wish tragedy on the artist

  13. I give out way too many 6’s, because there are very few songs that I can’t find something to like and something to dislike about

    That’s how I look at it. A friend complained that I awarded too many sixes and sevens. “Most things are just average,” I explained.

  14. Actually, though, come to think of it, I should probably ammend “1” to “actively pisses me off and I can’t find anything at all to like about it.” (I’ve definitely even been actively pissed off by a few 8‘s in my life, when I felt the artist should be giving me 9’s and 10’s.)

  15. The only standard that I seem to keep constant is that a “7” means that I keep it in my iTunes “Singles Jukebox” playlist. Some of those 7’s have lasting power (“Meme Pas Fatigue” stands out for some reason), most drift away naturally over the course of a couple months. I don’t know if I’ve ever given a “1,” since mild offense taken is usually a “2” and major offense is usually a “0.”

  16. I just give whatever number I feel like giving that particular day. My legacy of shame speaks for itself.

  17. My scale would mean something like:
    10: Great, one of my favourite few of the year.
    9: Excellent, like it a lot, maybe top 10 of the year.
    8: Very good, definitely a keeper.
    7: Good, maybe a keeper.
    6: Above average, but a discard.
    5: Okay or a mix.
    4: Not much cop.
    3: Poor.
    2: Bad.
    1: I dislike this a lot.
    0: I totally hate this.

    Obviously sometimes a 6 might mean great music, mediocre singing or whatever, so the above may well not apply very consistently.

  18. Personally do it this way (not here but generally):

    0: Not just no redeeming features at all but actively unpleasant/hateful for several possible reasons but usually to do with the sound of the music itself rather than context, theme, reason for it’s creation (e.g. charity records) etc.

    1-4: Based on number of redeeming features that occur to me in what is generally a poor song. I give a lot of 4s to stuff that seem like reasonable competent examples of whatever genre they’re in but I tend to dislike that genre and can’t relate/just feel indifference.

    5: I kinda start songs on this and then add/subtract based on what comes next. Usually given to stuff from genres I tend to like but lacking qualities I look and hope for in them ie flawed uninteresting execution.

    6: Just enough quality/redeeming features to bear repeat listens but won’t go out of my way to hear it. Often give to stuff that may not seem particularly interesting but I find evocative or comforting. Probably on my PC but lucky to be there frankly.

    7: Good with only a couple of obvious flaws holding it back. On the ipod.

    8: Solid quality, fine genre example, good execution, only one minor quibble.

    9: As 8 but with that ‘extra’ factor, some specific edge to it over the rest that borders on ‘genius’. Practically perfect for all intents and purposes.

    10: Outstanding extraordinary all time classic etc. – difficult to recognise these quickly so very rarely awarded and quite right too.

  19. I realized I should probably have a rough thumbnail sketch of what the scores mean to me, so:

    10 Will never stop loving this song
    9 Will probably not ever stop loving this song
    8 Really really love this
    7 Really really like this
    6 Basically like this
    5 Don’t mind this at all
    4 This is starting to get on my nerves
    3 Why am I listening to this again
    2 This is a joke right
    1 You know what fuck these guys
    0 So worthless as to be pretty much theoretical

    If this suggests I’m biased towards liking things more than not liking them, well, that’s true!

  20. I don’t have an actual scale like these (although I am now stealing John’s to use as a rough guide), and I definitely couldn’t tie keeping or not keeping a song to score. I’ve trashed some (but not many) 8s, and kept some (but not many) 5s. It all depends.

  21. Also lex said and scored pretty much what I would have if I’d found the time.

  22. Also also, welcome new people.

  23. I’m really anal in my scoring.

    10 – If I really needed to go the toilet I’d let this song play through first anyway, assuming that I haven’t already heard it 50 times (and assuming it isn’t “Sister Ray” or something else really long, though come to think of it the one 10 I’ve given in this competition is 7 minutes long, so maybe I need to rethink this criterion).
    7 – If I kinda need to go to the toilet, I might well wait this song out before coming to a decision.
    4 – Maybe I should look for excuses to go to the toilet.
    0 – All and all, I might prefer an enema.

    I don’t think I’ve given a 0 to anything, though I don’t remember.