February 22, 2006
arts. michigandaily. com
ctbE 1Aliigau 3 ttdl
The balance of Power
Chan Marshall kind of pissed
me off recently. The Southern
chanteuse has just released an
album that's probably going to be the
apex of her career: an utterly magnetic
piece of work that's expanded her aural
ideas with sly, timeless horn riffs thanks
to the support of a few Memphis studio
legends. Marshall's once-ghostly, off-
kilter artistic presence has,
on The Greatest, grown so
solid and so real that we
might have expected the
notoriously diffident girl
with the fortissimo whisper
to be ready to step outside.
As is apparent in a
recent interview with the 't
so-so music rag Filter (I
only bought it for the Fran-
goise Hardy interview), ALEXA
Marshall's persona when JO
dealing with any kind of
publicity is still as skittish as ever. But one
statement she made really got to me. The
interviewer asked her a question along
the lines of, "Hey, how did all these R&B
musicians end up on your album?"
Her response: "It's in a key. It has a key.
It's not improvisational; it's actually in a
key. There's a key that everyone's playing
with at once. I don't know how to describe
it." She continued, flustered, mumbling
what surely reads like nonsense.
OK, so it's part of her artistic ethos to
be enigmatic - I understand that. And
the awkwardness between fan/critic and
artist when she's asked for the mean-
ing or motivation behind her work is an
insurmountable obstacle that we listeners
sort of need to get over. But Marshall's
professed inability (more like calculated
refusal) to competently express even the
most basic ideas about her work and its
creation process calls into question not the
validity of Cat Power the persona, but of
Marshall the artist. It damages her art and
reputation rather than pumps up the myth
of Cat Power as a sometimes hysterical
damsel. I call bullshit.
The difference between Marshall's
calculated caginess and the evasive tactics
of Bob Dylan, one of her self-professed
idols, is that anyone who's ever heard the
line "Keep a good head and always carry
a light bulb" knows Dylan is full of shit.
He's simultaneously performing (and
making us love that sadistic, world-weary
brattiness he does so well) and rejecting
our consumption of his performance.
But Marshall's (intentional?) fumbling
here doesn't strengthen her against the
pithy phrases and capsule-sized descrip-
tions that Dylan - and any other pur-
veyor of the intangible musical element
that listeners crave like heroin - attempt
to thwart. Nor does it create solidarity
between her as an artist and listeners.
Rather, she sounds weak. Not gentle or
delicate, but weak. Artistically weak.
Inside, I'm sure she's a
hardass, and like every lonely
soul eternally dogged by mel-
ancholy (it takes one to know
one), she's secretly manipula-
tive - and feels guilty about
it. But here, it looked like she
was playing the Tortured Art-
ist at the expense of her art -
NDRA the carefully crafted persona
ES that's part of her appeal. Does
she expect us to believe she
communicated with a group of seasoned
studio musicians via demure flutters of
her eyelashes? She's parodying herself
with behavior like this. Obfuscation can
lend bad-boy rockers artistic cred, but
Marshall should know better than to let
her damsel-in-mental-distress image out-
last its purpose as an artist.
I'm not criticizing her music - that
stands on its own, though it's a little on
the mild side of the emotional piquancy
she's proven herself capable of. At the
same time, it's difficult to buy into its
dynamism and emotional scope when
she's effectively devaluing what she's
doing. Sure, I look up to her as a musi-
cian, but also as someone who's able to
inhabit her own world while kicking ass
and taking names in ours.
There's nothing wrong with building
a legend around Cat Power, but Christ,
Chan: Let us see you give yourself a little
credit. Ditching an audience mid-set and
feeding interviewers your dreamy inte-
rior musings has served your mythology
pretty well. Obviously, we buy it and your
records; The Greatest (minus "Where Is
My Love" ) still enjoys time in my knock-
off Discman, and I wish I could get my
bangs to look like yours. But there's no
appeal in making yourself look dumb in
either sense of the word. It's time for you
to grow a (public) spine. We know there's
more to you than just a pretty voice.
- Jones can only dream of having a
hairstyle as indie as Chan Marshall's.
Send her your hair-straightening
tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courtesy of Domino
THE ICE STORM
MEGA-HIT BRIT ROCKERS MAKE U.S. DEBUT
By Daren Martin
For the Daily
M US IC RUIVE
The Arctic Monkeys have crossed the Atlantic.
After their demo tracks spread across the Inter-
net and left fans chanting lyr-
ics before even seeing the band
live, the boys from Sheffield'
England, knew it was time for "'V""cy
their first album. Whatever Whatever People
People Say I Am, That's What Say I Am, That's
I'm Not, a re-recording of their What I'm Not
wildly popular demos, is already Domino
famous in the United Kingdom
along with their chart-topping single "I Bet You Look
Good On The Dancefloor." -
Fueled by their international success, the Arctic
Monkeys have decided to come to the United States.
In a style similar to Manchester natives Stone Roses
and Kasabian, the band has gained ever-heightening
fame through delivery of fast, gritty guitar chords
and drum beats. Their songs typically depict teen-
age club experiences, ranging from the difficulties
of approaching girls to trouble with club bouncers.
The tracks, light with easily relatable lyrics, are also
catchy and danceable.
Yet the Arctic Monkeys also have a deeper side.
Intertwined with fun club experiences are stories that
develop a greater social consciousness. The depress-
ing "When The Sun Goes Down" follows Roxanne,
a young streetwalker whose living depends on a par-
ticularly "scummy" customer. The group's music also
takes aim at police targeting of underage drinking -
which the band suggests diverts attention from serious
crime - and raises provocative questions about the
commerciality of today's world.
Regardless of tone or subject, frontman Alex Turner
is the star of every track. With his Sheffield slang and
colloquial style, he mixes song with spoken word to
bring the lyrics, the band's best asset, to life. It's simply
a treat to hear him speak, but when mixed with word-
play and poetic nuances, the band's vocals shine at lev-
els far surpassing the rest of the instrumentation.
"Mardy Bum," a track that follows a couple's fights,
is an example of both Turner's vocal and lyrical tal-
ent. He sings, "I see your frown / And it's like looking
down the barrel of a gun / And it goes off / And out.
come all these words / Oh there's a very pleasant side
to you / A side I much prefer." Turner's voice manages
to capture the hostility and tension in the relationship,
but simultaneously shows its deep affection.
After garnering the pervasive adoration of fans
across Britain, the Arctic Monkeys are now left
to live up to the hype in North America. But their
chatty sound and unique voice combined with clever
storytelling have deservedly kept the quartet in the
spotlight, and Whatever, for all its widespread overex-
posure, does not disappoint.
The only question remaining is whether the Arc-
tic Monkeys are simply the "it" flavor of the week or
if they will become more than a headline-spawning,
ephemeral force in the music world. Only time will
tell, but if their landmark debut is any indication, they
will be around quite some time.
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