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Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Cocorosie have now been mentioned positively in three of my favorite blogs, and while I did post a brief response over on Fluxblog, here's a maybe fuller and fairer explanation of why I just don't want to listen to them anymore.

Partially I just don't like the style enough to see it sustained over an entire album. What it basically consists of is sort of modern home-four-tracker musical backing--cheap synth sounds, keyboard melodies, thin and oft-beatless esoteric percussion, guitar--with two sisters singing over it in Josephine Baker kind of 20's jazz-singer voices, like they're being recorded on gramophone. The "kind of" is important, after all: they have good voices, but there's not much justification for the very specific affectation; it's not like their normal voices become these wonderful tonal boxes when used in that way, and so it mainly seems to serve as a kind of distancing device, whether sincere or not: we're not two normal girls doing this, we're two weirdoes! In France! Singing weirdly! With weird percussion! The whole thing seems very self-conscious, and while that's fine sometimes, here it doesn't really work. (I hear Feist doing this vocal style in a much more restrained, melody-serving way, FWIW.)[1]

But what sends the album from neutral to horrible in my book are the lyrics. Maybe this is simply a matter of digital-age context: I assume the MP3 bloggers downloaded their albums, but I bought mine, and in the actual packaging they've made the extremely unfortunate decision to include the lyrics. It's unfortunate because they sort of work when they're being sung, but when you read what they're actually saying and then go back and listen, it's not good.

So the album starts out with "Terrible Angels," which really is a good song: the lyrics are slightly obscurist, but also specific, throwing out references to Freud, Rilke, Jim Morrison, etc. No complaints there. Indeed, I kind of like it, even if it goes on for too long.

Track 2 is "By Your Side," which is, um, a wee bit obvious in its message. To quote: "All I wanted was to be your housewife...and for a diamond ring I'll do these kinds of things / I'll scrub your floor, never be a bore / I'll tuck you in, I do not snore / I'd wear your black eyes, bake you apple pies." Now, this ain't no PJ Harvey conflicted torch song kinda "I know it's wrong but I'll give up some of my independence for you because I love you so much but that love is kind of destructive but I don't care because I'm in love" thing. Nope, there's really no ambiguity here. It's the dreaded CRUSHINGLY OBVIOUS FEMINIST IRONY. And then, later in the album, it gets even worse. The whole set of lyrics for "Not For Sale" (argh!) are: "You can leave me / where you found me / on the corner / I'm not for sale anymore."[2] Maybe this is just due to, um, personal circumstances regarding a lyricist with similar tendencies, but I'm seriously cringing here.

But then there's "Jesus Loves Me," which, again quite unfortunately, comes at track 3.[3] Here's the chorus:

Jesus loves me
But not my wife
Not my nigger friends
Or their nigger lives
But Jesus loves me
That's for sure
'Cause the Bible
Tells me so

Now look: we all know I have no problem with people using offensive language in service of some purpose or point. But gack, it's just so clumsy here, and so very, very self-conscious. It's not like "Oh my, they're really throwing that language in my face and challenging me with it!" it's more like "Oh, you're saying the n-word, sweetie, good for you." And, even worse, the point just seems to be "Christianity is stupid!" which has been done better before. It's the lyrical equivalent of a laugh track: there not to say something, but to tell us something is being said. (I.e. "this is risque!" or "this is funny!")

Maybe the PJ Harvey comparison is the most useful thing here. Half of the songs on La Maison de Mon Reve really are great. I'm totally with Matthew on "Butterscotch," and "Good Friday" and "West Side" are both very nice. I think, ultimately, this is a demo more than a proper album, and it just contains things they need to get out of their system before making a more emotionally mature work. But they're just so very grating, and the musical backing is so spotty and unrewarding in points, that it's hard to embrace. Polly Jean addresses pretty much all the same things these women do, but she was nailing 'em with a lot of complexity right out of the gate. So maybe it's just that my expectations are so high. I'm certainly engaged with them enough to be eager to check out their next album. But I think this one's going to be mix-tape fodder and not much more.

[1] And, of course, Portishead.
[2] Also, weirdly, the riff it's based around sounds a hell of a lot like the main riff for U2's "Perfect Day," but maybe that's the...point?
[3] Unfortunate because it's so damn hard to get into the rest of the album after that one; if it were buried on Side B, I'll happily admit I wouldn't have such a problem with it.