Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Brandi Carlile – The Joke

…and in which we mark one of our higher-scoring days.


Hannah Jocelyn: It’s all my Kryptonite — a gradual crescendo, a looping I-iv-V-I chord progression, and that vocal performance. Dave Cobb’s production builds a lot like his work on Jason Isbell’s “Children of Children” (which shares a similar chord progression), but where that song is a intimate, nearly bare-bones ballad where Isbell acknowledges the burden of young motherhood, Carlile goes as big and broad as possible. From the second verse on, it skyrockets — but to say “and it never looks back” would be incorrect. This song is always looking back. It resembles a #resist song in many respects, but there’s a strange undercurrent of guilt, whether through dancing with the devil to get ahead or kicking the ladder out from under you. It’s not even difficult to view it as a commentary on capitalism, though someone else will write that thinkpiece. That said, it’s still earnest to a fault, and a defiant song where the joke is on “them” may feel meaningless when the proverbial joke increasingly feels more on us. But there’s plenty else to celebrate. Cobb’s production is some of his best work to date. The late Paul Buckmaster’s orchestrations scale up the coda of “Children of Children” exponentially. And after a period of time where I had trouble feeling much of anything, I teared up when I heard this for the first time. Fuck everything else — it’s just good to feel something again. 

Alfred Soto: On an album full of well-observed portraits of relatives and doomed friends, “The Joke” is positioned as the centerpiece. Brandi Carlile is the kind of artist about whom I can say the less she tries the more impressive the triumphs. She should know better than to outsing orchestras, especially when the late Paul Buckmaster conducts them. And she gargles the title for reasons I can’t explain.

Will Adams: I’m not usually one for empowerment anthems that rest on laughing at your bully; Brandi Carlile mostly gets around this by keeping the focus on those who were put down and selling the hell out of an otherwise typical slow-build formula.

Katherine St Asaph: But doctor, I am Pagliacci. And I still don’t like piano ballads, even when swollen and sung the hell out of.

Edward Okulicz: Confession: I really love Linda Perry power ballads, no matter who’s writing them or singing them. This would probably be Christina Aguilera’s third-best song if she’d sung it. It also could have shown a brace of It Gets Better writers how to do comfort-cum-empowerment properly; I like how the lyrics read as the modest comfort that the subgenre needed all along. Carlile earns her strings, and she builds to an emotional peak rather than screaming and signposting it. Not subtle, but artful.

Alex Clifton: I’ve had a hard time feeling much of anything over the past 18 months other than fear and dread. Living in Trump’s America has kicked in some sort of “survival” instinct where I have trouble imagining a future–any future–thanks to the constant stream of terrifying and disheartening news. I can only focus on each day as it comes. I recently rediscovered hope, though, thanks in part to “The Joke.” Carlile’s song is one of the few empowerment anthems I’ve ever heard to reach similar heights of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” But there’s something about this song that makes me feel stronger and more powerful than any other song I’ve heard before it. “I’ve seen the movies, I know how it ends / and the joke’s on them” is something I’ve begun clinging to in my darker moments. And for the first time in ages, I want to see the end of the movie.

Crystal Leww: Carlile goes for empowering in a way that feels a little too earnest, until that break in the end where she soars, and you feel like you will, too.

Reader average: [8.44] (9 votes)

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One Response to “Brandi Carlile – The Joke”

  1. I was going to say “Okay but this is a Radiohead song”, but it’s actually scored lower that the average Radiohead song on here :)