Many years ago a friend gushed to me about pop star Lorde – telling me that she was the absolute best he’d heard in a bit. Now, most of the aging hipsters in my age range (mid 30’s to mid 40’s) DO seem like pop music – ironically or genuine, i have no idea. I filed his advice into the back of my head and forgot about it, hipster that I am. Now, I i don’t live under a rock – I’ve seen her name pop up over the years and really enjoyed the cover of Royals by Puddles Pity Party (the sad clown you’ve probably seen on YouTube or season 12 of America’s Got Talent). Anyway – my point is, though I new of her and knew she was talented, I’d never sat down and indulged myself in her particular brand of pop prowess. Until now.
Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.
In the mid to late 90’s U2 were restless and relentless in their musical experimentation – beginning with 1991’s Achtung Baby and ending with 1997’s Pop (including 1995’s Passengers project w/ Brian Eno). For me personally, that is the 2nd Golden Age of U2 (the 1st period is their post punk masterpieces encompassing their 1st 3 albums). Pop was not universally embraced and was even later bashed by the band as feeling forced. I can see that on some songs, but Staring At The Sun doesn’t fit within that narrative. The 2nd single lifted from the album, it hit #3 in the UK and #26 in the US. Slightly less electronica based than other songs from the record, it has that classic U2 sound w/ sonic embellishments. Lyrically, it is one of my favorite U2 songs. Weren’t we all told not to stare at the sun when we were kids? Do we always listen to what we are told? Images of summer passing, pushing yourself to try something new, dealing with fears. The one lyric that really makes an impression on me is during the musical interlude. Adam Clayton’s bass sounds positively menacing (looped, sampled, and played live) while Bono sings “God is good but will HE listen”. As an artist who has continually put himself on the line by proclaiming his faith, those words pack a punch. A sometimes overlooked anthem in the U2 canon, Staring At the Sun is a song I continually return to. Perfection.
In the mid 90’s I’d often buy a CD based on a gut feeling or based on the cover art. It wasn’t an exact science, but in early 1995 I picked up the debut album by Jewel called Pieces Of You. Hipster alert – that was a full 18 months before the album started to become a huge hit. Anyway, at the time Jewel seemed to be marketed to the Lilith Fair alternative crowd which was (and still is) something I quite like. In all honesty, I don’t think the record company had any idea what to do with her. An album full of acoustic songs that hinted at pop but bathed in ultra personal lyrics. I didn’t (and still don’t) think it was a masterpiece, but there are 7 or 8 songs from that record that I’ve played over and over throughout the last 20 years. The tracks played live or cut as b-sides during that era were also very strong, leaving open the possibility of an entire alternate album made up of non album tracks. Sad to say, but I have had a hard time relating to anything else Jewel has released in the same way as that debut album. When I happened to see something promoting her latest record as a sequel of sorts to her debut, I couldn’t help but get a tad excited to give it a spin (or shuffle, as it were). Picking Up The Pieces more than meets the high points of her debut – it just may be the finest record Jewel has released to date.
I recently finished Kim Gordon’s memoir detailing her time in Sonic Youth along with the intimate details of her breakup with husband (and fellow Sonic Youth member), Thurston Moore. I mostly enjoyed the book, but I had to laugh – she spent a few sentences bashing Lana Del Rey. It was puzzling to me, as Sonic Youth have championed the music of The Carpenters for over 30 years now. Take away the tragedy of Karen Carpenter, and you are left with brilliant pop music. The time spent bashing Lana Del Rey reeked of indie elitism which both amused and got under my skin a bit. Hell, Sonic Youth covered Madonna! In this day and age, who cares? Anyone can listen to anything at anytime. Music should be an all-inclusive family – no cool kid games. At least, that’s my outlook. As far as Lana Del Rey? I think she is brilliant, and her latest record is her strongest yet.