Monday, October 11, 2004

Tuned V. 1. No. 3: "It's a Hit," Rilo Kiley

found on Rilo Kiley's More Adventurous (2004)
Tuned In:
So I'm a sucker for a woman with a voice that can do many things. That's just one of the charms of Jenny Lewis' performance on "It's a Hit," which should live up to its name, but won't, because: 1) clearly the song is anti-Bush, and we can't have none of that non-patriotic crap now, can we? 2) it's also too smart for radio, or MTV, or whatever makes hits hits nowadays. There's a hidden third reason, as the song comes out against false faith, too--"You still wear a cross / Think that you're going to get in"--but Rilo Kiley doesn't even have the guts to put those lines on the lyric sheet, even if they do have the guts to follow the lines with a few bars where the song threatens to break into "I'm Waiting for My Man," which brings God, Godot and Lou Reed together in fascinatingly unholy ways.

But as you can see, tuning into this song makes me tune out some too. "It's a Hit" is a bit all-over, which only makes me like it more, for all its glockenspiel and pedal steel, horns and chimps wearing ironed uniforms. Still, despite the very catchy melody, the show is really all Lewis, who starts off conversational, in her pretty Amy Rigby-ish voice. But then the voice pushes and breaks on the plosive in "no one wants to pay," and it gets growly gruff on "I'm not buying it either / But I'll try selling it anyway." So, money changes everything.

Then there's my favorite verse in a long damn while, which begins:
Any idiot can play Greek for a day
and join a sorority or write a tragedy
and articulate all that pain
and maybe you'll get paid
but it's a sin when success complains

As the guitars make sweet chimes and Lewis pipes out on "pain" and "paid" like she's channeling Neko Case channeling k.d. lang channeling Patsy Cline, and there's nothing truer than "it's a sin when success complains," is there? Pause to consider your life, at least, and if that's too painful, point at the put-upon Republicans who control the House, Senate and White House and still get petulant and pouty.

So, of course, the all-too-gorgeous chorus could be nothing but "It's a holiday for a hanging," sung over sho-bops and strings and things, for as that original hitmaker Ben Franklin (#1 with a bullet on the first ever Dick Clark--yes he is that old--Countdown) said, "We shall all hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately." I'm just hoping to see John Ashcroft go first.

Tuned Out:
Track ones that kill. With CD store listening stations surely artists know this, but nothing makes a day seem worth its initial waking like a new CD with a track one that kills. Personally I've had a long history of deeming a tune "the best song of all time for this week," and I'm sure the majority of them are the opening cuts of albums (sorry, my age is showing) that made me think the whole album was even better than it is because I am that easy to please, if you do it fast and quick. Now with the ease of repeat on CDs I'll often listen to the cut immediately again, putting off the rest of the album, which can only disappoint after the dizzying opening acme. (Disclaimer: Rilo Kiley's track 3, "Portions for Foxes," is equally a killer, if less of a lyric.)

Just the right words, a nifty lick, and I'm all yours, honey. So when Lewis goes "chk-chk-chk-chk" after the line about the salt shaker, or throws in the "Sh-bop, sh-bop my baby" line in a totally inappropriate place in a song not up to love's work, I love it all the more. Seduce me, do weird things, then run away. I will follow.

And some day I may wake up from your siren song, and be a bit embarrassed, even more eager for the best next thing. Like that week in the summer of 1988 I spent (musically, that is) with Howard Devoto (yes, ex-Magazine leader) and Noko and their band they called Luxuria, playing the lead cut "Redneck" over and over, for its guitar hook, for Devoto's snotty voice and its polished bromides, never getting enough, till then I had. The name of that album, Unanswerable Lust.

Watch the video for "It's a Hit", which has not much to do with this post, and sadly is on the MTV site.


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