in the magic mountain, herr settembrini, humanist & man of letters, says,
music ... there is something only semi-articulate about it, something dubious, irresponsible, indifferent. ... music, it would appear, is movement for its own sake--although i suspect it of quietism. let me overstate my case : my distaste for music is political. ... i maintain that music is ambiguous by its very nature. i am not going too far when i declare it to be politically suspect.though, in his favor, he condenses joachim's unexpectedly garrulous response into the wonderfully concise "music awakens time, awakens us to our finest enjoyment of time."
there is, however, nothing either ambiguous or semi-articulate about the pet shop boys' "integral." the song is about the id card debate in the uk, which you can read about here and listen to here. neil sings, "everyone has their own number in the system that we operate under / we're moving to a situation where your lives exist as information"; he intones in an ominous voice, part big brother, part dalek, "one world, one life, one chance, one reason / all under one sky, unchanging, one season."
heady stuff, to be sure, but you can dance to it; "integral" is a reminder that, when they're not making dance music for people who don't dance, they're making dance music for people who do. "integral" is a bit like something from the ongoing disco series, only reined in for the charts by trevor horn's uncanny pop nous. ah! but this is where settembrini would interject : dance is an opiate; it distracts people from the message!
now, i don't know if i'm giving neil & chris too much credit, or if such a thing is even possible, but even in the music, i believe, they're making a statement. do you know the disco song "let's all chant" by the michael zager band? (you should, it's fabulous.) the strings on "integral" sound like a slowed-down version of the chorus melody ... a melody that begins, "your body, my body"--your body & my body, robbed of their individuality, all made a part of "one world, one life, one chance, one reason." perfect.
scritti politti - "locked" (from the white bread, black beer lp, import available for purchase here.)
scritti politti, you've probably heard, is italian for "political writing," and it was meant as an homage to gramsci. (not so fast, herr settembrini says : italian for political writing is "scritti politici." that's the marketplace for you!) maybe you also know that they had a single called "jacques derrida," in which "derrida" is mispronounced--once again, commercial instincts overriding accuracy, da-REE-da rhyming w/ more words than DERRY-da. also, green gartside actually met derrida, who told him that what he, gartside, was doing "was part of the same project of undoing and unsettling that he's engaged in," also adding that the boy gartside also really knew his wittgenstein. political credentials established, then. (although i've had more than one marxist tell me that derrida himself was politically suspect.)
"locked," though, from green's first album in seven years, is precisely what it seems to be on the surface : a love song. green, i've read, was recently wed and much of the new album is about how love has changed his life. he tackles issues on the domestic front, leaving the outside world & its concerns far behind, barred from entry by a locked door.
i once wrote to someone, "a writer in love is a bore to everyone except his beloved, for whom he saves his best; everyone else gets a dog's dinner." i find a similar sentiment expressed in "locked," green singing, "people want a part of me, but who they get is never who she sees." i think where so many musicians who get married go wrong in their subsequent albums is in trying to express to the listener just how perfectly happy they are. green avoids this in two ways, first, by detailing a world that really is such a bore, that hasn't been made better by his change in circumstances and, second, by appealing to his beloved directly rather than to the audience : "i'll close and lock the door, and you'll be there."
it doesn't hurt either that green has never sounded better, his voice a confection that one never gets tired of, somehow always managing to be sweet but never sugary, as if he were singing soothing words to a heartbroken child (and perhaps this accounts for the frequent use of the word "baby" in his lyrics). "sumptuous" is the word that comes to mind when listening the music itself, a warm bed of synthesizers, played off against brilliantly by a short acoustic guitar solo. it ends w/ a coda, straightforward & stirring, that builds & builds, green singing, "when i'm with you, baby, i know just who i am and no one understands the way that you do, darling." years ago, twenty-one to be exact, he would've written a song qua critique about the use of the words "baby" and "darling" in pop songs, but here he sounds v. comfortable w/ what he's singing & who he is. at this stage in history, i don't know of his political commitments, but i think it's accurate to say that the man is definitely devoted to a cause--and whole-heartedly, at that.