Like Rage Against the Machine, which takes from left-wing politics only a screw-the-man attitude, Alanis Morissette gleans from the singer-songwriter tradition just a literal-minded directness. This works when her sensibility is unconventional: “You Oughta Know,” with her howl of “Did she go down on you in a theater?,” was as shocking in 1995 as Marianne Faithfull’s spiteful “Why’d Ya Do it?” was in 1979. Too often, though, Morissette’s songs express only an obsession with boys – and the chance to chastise them – telegraphed with all the nuance of the CNN news crawl.
On Under Rug Swept, Morissette has the same preoccupations, and what she presents as feminism is simply old-fashioned boy-craziness with an angry edge. There are complaints of mistreatment by boys (“How long can a girl be tortured by you?” she asks on “Flinch”), a dopey list of requirements for a boyfriend (“21 Things,” with its unintentionally hilarious qualifier “These are not necessarily needs, but qualities that I prefer”), and even a sort of “Dear John” letter ("Narcissus”) written to the different kinds of boys she’s dated.
Morissette seems unwilling (or perhaps, given the sales expected of her, it’s her label that’s unwilling) to step into unfamiliar territory, which is a shame, because her 1999 Unplugged album proved that there could be something more to the singer than by-the-numbers resentment of the opposite sex, and the acoustic version of “Uninvited” remains her most convincing performance. Instead, Morissette takes the same tack as many pop personalities with a shrinking audience: circle the wagons around their obsessions. Such a move is sure to be embraced by the faithful, but for everyone else, it just sounds like the same old song.
On her new album, Fever, australian pop star Kylie Minogue is as focused on the bedroom as Morissette is on her diary. But this single-mindedness yields at least one fantastic radio hit, the appropriately titled “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” With Minogue crooning la la la’s so luscious they’re almost tactile, the track’s driving blips, and even the singer’s own imperfect high notes (“Won’t you stayyy?” she whines in the song’s chorus), “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is as pleasurable a pop song as anything written by ABBA.
Even the album’s sexed-up, hot-and-bothered feel – there’s little but vamping and panting on songs like “More More More” and “Give It to Me” – feels liberating in the era of Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, singers who play Connie Francis one moment and Vanity 6 the next. Minogue is a rarity in the pop world these days: up-front with her sexuality and far enough from her teens for that to be refreshing. Here’s hoping the gravity-defying heels she wears in the video for “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” walk right over the lesser pop tarts.
The independently released five-song ep Master by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has suddenly become the buzz around major-label A&R departments. Unlike many sources of such excitement, though, this New York band is worth getting worked up about. Lead singer Karen O has a howl as memorable as Polly Jean Harvey’s, and her lyrics (“I need the real thing tonight!”) have the dominatrix quality of Harvey’s “50 Foot Queenie” days. But there’s a dark humor here, too – think the Cramps or the B-52’s – especially on “Mystery Girl,” who “came from cellblock three,” and “Art Star,” in which Karen O deadpans this brilliant couplet: “I’ve been working on a piece that speaks of sex and desperation / I’ve been screwing on the tracks of abandoned train stations.”
Under Rug Swept
Yeah Yeah Yeahs