Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oh Annie!

As promised I'm going to write a blog about the best ambassador pop music could ever ask for; Annie Lennox, specifically Annie Lennox's music (it needs specifying because she's an interesting lady in lots of ways).

Pop gets a bad name. Classical and jazz snigger about it behind it's back. Pop is stupid. Pop has no subtlety. All pop sounds like the Girlz Aloud or U2. Pop in the X Factor. Pop is generic*.

Of course I'm sure pop is sitting at the back of class telling all the cool kids that jazz is a nerd. All jazz sounds like a lounge lizard version of So What or Michel Bublé. Jazz doesn't know how to have fun**.

Ok enough of anthropomorphising musical genres. My point is I don't really think genres matter much. Like any label they can be useful but generally are quite limited (revolutionary I know). Think of sandwiches. Think of the best sandwich you've ever had sitting next to the worst. They're both sandwiches but the word is just so inadequate in describing either.

Which brings me to Annie Lennox.

I listen to a lot of what I call slash music. If you've never heard of it it's coz I just made the name up. What I mean by slash music is music that doesn't really fall into any one genre neatly, like Julie Feeney is pop/classical/choral (as in pop slash classical slash coral) or Rachel Ferrell's (Can I be Me) Soul/RnB/Jazz/pop. People love to categorise things but there's nothing wrong with a bit of genre bending. Mingus apparently tried for ages to get in contact with Joni Mitchell to do some collaborations but was finding it really difficult because her record label was scared if they did collaborate it'd be the death knell of her career. His label of course thought the exact same thing. Imagine! The absolute arrogance of the record labels. Maybe I'm naive but I think that's just astounding. They're an unlikely and great pair, like nutella and salami (ok here's a little tangent that has nothing to do with music or lyrics but it's my blog and I get to write about whatever I want and right now I want to write about how good nutella and salami is. On toast, cheapy white bread toast, now is not the time for health concerns, loads of nutella and spice salty salami. Yum! Of course the Mitchel Mingus analogy doesn't really stand up coz who'd be the nutella and who'd be the salami? Mingus would have to be the salami but Joni Mitchel is nothing like nutella.)

Back to Annie Lennox. Annie Lennox is NOT slash music

Annie Lennox is pure pop. Go back to that image you had of the worst sandwich sitting next to the best. Annie Lennox is the best...I don't know enough about pop to know who the worst is, maybe boyzone. Oh no wait I do know who the worst is. The worst is Westlife***.

Fist things first, pop has to be catchy. Pop is instant gratification. There's nothing wrong with a bit of instant gratification every now and then. Of course there has to be something there to sustain you...but we'll get to that later. Cue the opening bars of Walking on Broken Glass. Oh the joy! Syncopated counter melodies on piano then the strings come in and about 15 seconds in the big percussive crash and the drums kick in. Your hooked. If you're not hooked you don't have blood in your veins (or you've been studying music too long and ear training has completely leavened the hierarchy of pitches to the point where you can't tell dissonance from consonant, don't worry you can be cured I prescribe a week of dancing to Annie Lennox and singing power ballads).

The contagiousness of pop music of course is why it's so popular but it's also why it's seen as shallow, which is ridiculous. Jazz can be instant gratification in a jar, so long as you know where to look. How catchy is Blue Monk? Very. How catchy is (insert name of a million classical songs that I can hum but don't the name of here)? Very. Catchy isn't bad. What is bad is when something catches your attention, but on closer inspection you realise it's not actually a tub of ice cream in the freezer it's left over soup you made last week and put in an old ice cream tub to freeze for later (I promise that's the last ridiculous food analogy).

Usually the ideas behind pop songs are pretty simple. Something like 'I love you' or 'I hate you'. Simple isn't always bad. One of my favourite lines in a pop song is 'I hate you so much right now'. Pretty simple, sung well it's pretty effective. Of course having little twists is always nice. Like Imogen Heap's 'I love you' song Goodnight and Go which is written from the point of view of a stalker, a nice little twist that you only realise in the second verse when she sings about staring in a guys window while he gets undressed and flicks through the TV channels 'and you think you're alone'.

Back to Annie Lennox. In general Annie Lennox's lyrics aren't very 'clever'. I don't mean that as a bad thing. They're more emotional than intellectual. She's an openly emotional lady, that's what I love about her. Unfortunately she probably finds it a burden. Poor Annie, no ones gonna pay attention to your chronic depression if you write anthemic pop songs, even if you do call them Walking on Broken Glass or Dark Road or The Hurting Time. Love is Blind is a great funky ass wiggler, you're on the dance-floor wiggling away having loadsa fun but pay attention and you'll realise you're wiggling to ; 'Sometimes I feel like I don't exist, cut my veins slit my wrists, goodbye goodbye that's all she wrote as she tied that knot around her throat...tired of being so screwed up, tired of all this desperation...'.

I feel like every blog post should have a conclusion or a summary. In conclusion: go listen to Annie Lennox.

**Jazz. Knows. How. To. Have. Fun.

***Westlife's song 'What about now' is the worst song in the history of the planet. You know that song 'The Venga Bus'? It's worse than that. You know the music on the Harry Norman adds? This is worse than that. Now I realize that the boys from Westlife probably had very little to do with the writing of the song but they put they're name to it so now it's out in the world it's their responsability. The chorus is nothing but questions? I swear? Wanna know how to write an epic pop ballad? Just put a question mark at the end of every sentence? The sentences don't even have to be particularly coherent or form any kind of a story or narrative? Hinting that the song might be about a relationship is good coz people love lyrics about relationships but the vaguer you are the better coz then everyone can relate? The lyrics go something like:

What about now?
What about today?
What if you’re making me all that I was meant to be?
What if our love had never went away?
What if it’s lost behind words we could never find?
Baby, before it’s too late,
What about now?
Is that a lamp in the corner?
How about chinese for dinner?......eugh I made those last two lines up but only coz I was getting so bored with the actual lyrics.

Just so you don't think I'm unfairly bashing pop here I promise to write about how bad the lyrics to jazz standards can be sometime.


  1. I love all the food analogies! You should do a blog on food!! Mistaking frozen soup for ice-cream....brilliant!
    I'm with ya on the Nutella-Salami combo by the way.

  2. Of course you're with me on the nutella and salami combo, I'm pretty sure you invented it.

  3. I have no idea why my name comes up as sally when I post a comment.