Friday, October 8th, 2010

Jens Lekman – The End of the World Is Bigger than Love

Next week = big week here. Oodles of new writers who I will definitely get round to emailing either tonight or tomorrow (plus all yr old favourites), MCR, R Kelly, Tinie Tempah (twice), Kanye West, The Fall, Pissed Jeans and, er, KT Tunstall – stay tuned, kids…


Anthony Easton: On Mad Men this season, the cultural split is between those who love Perry Como and those who love the Beatles. What we are reminded of is that there was something lost when the Beatles won — that the earnestness of emotion dissipates into the irony of self-created identity. Anne Powers notes this loss when she suggests that Frank Sinatra should make it to the rock and roll hall of fame, right beside Elvis, and I am reminded of Don Draper’s desire to hire those fantastic old crooners when I listen to this, which has the skill and the ability, but not the retrofuturism, of a Buble or an Isaak.

Chuck Eddy: His kitschen-sunk Tin Pan Alley affectations remain retch-worthy, but at least this time I didn’t totally hate the verse about the election. So, compared to “Happiness Will Be My Revenge” last year, probably a (very) slight improvement. [2]

Martin Skidmore: What if Marit Bergman were a weedy-voiced bloke? We might get this. It has her Spectorish touches and something of the same songwriting style, but the singing is like a poor man’s Morrissey. I really like the music, there’s a decent tune, and he’s a clever enough lyricist to grab plenty of indie attention, and if he could sing as well as, say, an average first-cut X Factor entrant this might be really good.

Alfred Soto: This guy wrote so many worthwhile tunes in 2007 that it killed me I couldn’t get past his dolorous voice; I simply don’t care for Viva Hate like I did in 1990. So I’m prepared to note that opening line “There’s gotta be someone here tonight who can explain to me” is the lyrical correlative to a vocal timbre that hasn’t learned much in three years. Thanks to overdubbing his own call and response harmonies and a string section whose colors evoke Dionne Warwick and The Queen is Dead, he almost gets away with it here.

Jonathan Bogart: He does his swoony-romanticism-tempered-by-existential-doubt thing, and it’s just as good as it ever is, only maybe a bit less necessary this late in the run. If you’ve never heard Jens Lekman, this is as good an introduction as any; but if you have, you’ve heard it already.

Edward Okulicz: Jens has, once again, mustered a sound too big for his song, and a song too big for his voice. Lyrically, he’s getting a little too clever-clever and zeitgeist-chasing for his own good too.

Mallory O’Donnell: Oblivious towards current pop trends to a virtue, this is quite perfectly timeless and almost painfully lovely. The bittersweet, oddly triumphant theme dances blithely through a series of casually beautiful arrangements many artists would be content to let a whole song dwell in. Typically, Jens bursts through the gauze of sumptuously wounded strings and half-hearted woo-ooos with a revelation that few songwriters today would bother trying to express, much less drape so elegantly: that one’s own existential heartbreak is really rather meaningless in the face of the world’s great sweep. Yet it is just as the music becomes fully widescreen that the lyric gleams with its most intimate, telling details – “the Flatbush Avenue Target / and their pharmacy department,” indeed. Stunning.

Andrew Casillas: Most of the time, I’m a big sucker for Jens Lekman’s more saccharine moments. His Morrissey-like cadence typically cuts through his themes like butter, and I find the exaggerated grandness of his recent singles to be charming. But this track doesn’t get a rise out of me — and that’s because the song doesn’t much “rise” at all. The strings and drum beat don’t make much of a stir, and Lekman’s vocals just blend into everything else. Not to mention the lack of humor that typically redeems even his most polarizing songs. Ultimately, the best thing about this song is its title. Take that, Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World”!

Alex Macpherson: A saccharine life lesson from a moping milquetoast that mistakes stating the obvious for gravitas, has all the profundity of an Alain de Botton tweet and is as comforting — and, indeed, as welcome — as an unsolicited “cheer up, love, it might never happen”. Extra demerits for shoehorning in a clumsy Obama reference.

Iain Mew: The first few times I listened to this I was expecting a twist which never arrived. More than anything on the last album, it’s a plunge into comfort music, strings and flutes draped delicately around Jens in full-on heartbroken romantic mode. Its cuddliness eventually won me over completely, though I suspect that an established love for Jens Lekman the musician and persona may be a crucial factor here. The highlight, which took a long time to notice, is probably the moment where he sings “distance to the star consolations” before being corrected by his backing vocals, which may or may not be deliberate but comes across as an awesome Freudian slip.

Katherine St Asaph: August was a dismal month. Shunted out of a job, family in the ER, out of touch with acquaintances and not quite in the new apartment, I spent most nights alone on the highway shuttling stuff. Around the same time, I’d bought a Swedish indie compilation on impulse, and it stayed in the car changer because radio was terrible, all my CDs were packed and I couldn’t bring myself to comb the coffee cups and old paperwork built up under the seats for stragglers. So as I drove and wondered whether the woods around I-40 would accommodate a car, the most terminally, dreamily happy music I’d ever heard hung around me like rose-colored haze, not quite canceling out the world but trying. Jens Lekman was on this CD, and his newest single arose from similar conditions. It’s not perfect — the Obama verse is a non-sequitur both in the song and in 2010 — but I hear it and I’m suspended between moods again. This won’t actually lift your shadows, but it’ll try.

6 Responses to “Jens Lekman – The End of the World Is Bigger than Love”

  1. “On Mad Men this season, the cultural split is between those who love Perry Como and those who love the Beatles. What we are reminded of is that there was something lost when the Beatles won — that the earnestness of emotion dissipates into the irony of self-created identity.”

    The 60s also brought us the Beach Boys (is emo a distant child of Brian Wilson?), the Supremes, and the rest of Motown though (which in turn brings us Michael Jackson) – not very much irony there and plenty of earnest emotion. And then think of people like Elton John, Billy Joel, Tom Jones – didn’t they carry on, in a more rock-inflected way, the Como legacy? It’s safe to say that in a very specific sense the Beatles won, but in a larger sense I don’t see that “the earnestness of emotion” ever left.

  2. Maybe Tom Jones, by dint of playing Vegas early and often. Billy Joel, not really–he’s more Broadway, and while Como certainly sang his share of what had originated as show tunes, Joel was more of a belter (as singer and composer). Elton’s roots (as Robert Christgau has pointed out) are more along the lines of the Philadelphia pop-rock of the post-Elvis, pre-Beatles period.

  3. OK, “roots” is probably the wrong word–more like methodology (that songwriting-factory thing John and Bernie Taupin had).

  4. All that is true, but wouldn’t they all fall on the earnest side of the earnest/irony divide?

  5. I don’t think either “irony” or “earnestness” are the words you want here. But then, I’ve never seen Mad Men, don’t recall Como, and haven’t read Ann’s article, and only listened to the Lekman once, and I’m not really understanding what Anthony’s trying to say. But given that I find the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Animals, Who, Velvets, Stooges, Dolls, etc. vastly vastly vastly more emotional* than Patti Page, Fred Astaire, Louis Prima, Al Martino, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, et al., not to mention more emotional than Tom Jones, Elton John, Billy Joel, I doubt that I’d agree with it anyway. By the way, Astaire especially is in my pantheon, so I’m not deriding him and Crosby and those people, just saying I don’t go to them to get my guts wrenched.

    But if “self-created identity” is the issue, then the words we want are probably “self-reflective” and “contingent,” meaning that if an identity is created it can be changed, it’s never quite at ease, you can re-invent it, it can be pulled out from under you.

    So if you want to say that the Beatles, Stones, and crew made it so that who they were and what they meant was forever unsettled, I can at least understand that as an argument – though I don’t think I’d agree that this was more true for them than for performers who created music prior to February 1964.

    Irony, like metaphor, for instance, can be a way of communicating attitudes – all sorts of attitudes. But irony itself is not an attitude, any more than metaphor is an attitude. It’s just a rhetorical device. When Jagger goes, “She’ll never break, never break, never break, never break this heart of stone,” you can ask whether he means it straight up or means its opposite (and his genius was that he was able to make it mean both at once). But if you ask “Did the Stones lose the earnestness of emotion?” I just don’t understand the question. If the terror, disorientation, rage, defeat, and bullying strength of the song isn’t palpable to you, well, that means you’re just not locked into the song, or it’s an old song in an old language and maybe dead for you, but nonetheless the Stones couldn’t find a way to not mean, or to take back or to erase the terror, disorientation, rage, defeat, and strength of that song if they wanted to.

    What I think you get from the Stones, Beatles, etc. is a young man’s seriousness and optimism in the belief that they could take on Big Issues of Identity and Truth (in a way that Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor and ilk never attempted). When Pete Townshend writes “Hope I die before I get old” and a year later writes “I look pretty young but I’m just backdated,” I get the sense of someone who thinks he can blast through and beyond fakery and launch himself into a new universe. Maybe he thought his power chords could do that too. The Brit Invasion boys were witty and wild, for sure, but very much in earnest, too, about what they were doing.

    And when Lennon goes, “If they’d seen you talkin’ that way, they’d laugh in my face,” I wonder where else in music or literature you’ll find another line so naked.

    *But equaled in emotion by the Shirelles, Shangri-Las, Irma Thomas, Rosie & The Originals, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, and loads of others.

  6. Yeah, I really don’t find the Beatles too emotional. I find them intellectual, detached, and British. With ‘You Can’t Do That,’ the song you quote, as a rare exception. Just to be clear, I hate Tom, Elton, and Billy but they do strike me as heirs in a very loose sense to the Perry Como tradition, i.e. what his fans might have listened to had they been born 20 years later.