Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Chris Villalta ranks and reflects on three albums he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before.
3. Kate Bush: Hounds of Love
Personal Favorite: “Mother Stands For Comfort”
Summarizing Lyric: “I feel your arms surrounding me/I've always been a coward/And never know what's good for me” (“Hounds of Love”)
Their outstretched arms–”mother… father… loved one… brothers”–become mouths lined with daggers. I’m running. Crunching golden leaves, dodging spiteful branches, vaulting fallen trees, running running running from the hounds snapping at my bare feet until I–ice?–sink. Kate Bush’s imagery, painted both lyrically and digitally, revealed itself to me as a depiction of how difficult it can be to accept love after the first betrayal. Once the pain has been felt you never want to go back again (unless you’re a masochist and, considering most give love another go after their first heartbreak, the world’s a masochist), but you have to, or else no boat will come along to pull you out from under the ice. Yes, mother is overbearing. She sees you as a bird, as “the hunted and not the hunter,” and underestimates you to the point that you might question your self-worth, but seven tracks of drowning will have you missing her care (“Mother Stands For Comfort”). Yes, father’s always gone, never proving the power of hope with his presence, but at least he’s there when he’s there, at least he left a mark, perhaps helped give you the will that got you through seven tracks of ice water by making you cope with his absence (“Cloudbusting”). Love would be so much easier if we could swap places with our loved one, let them see the parts of them that cause us so much pain, but that’s not how it works. Contrary to what romcoms may say, love is not “running up that hill/with no problems.” Love, suggests Bush, is accepting the fact that whoever you love will disappoint you, but for the sake of self-preservation their shortcomings must be dealt with. Then and only then will the hounds be leashed. Instead of running from them, you’ll be walking your loved one through the forest, walking the perimeter of the ice water instead of plunging into it.
2. The Stooges: Fun House
Personal Favorite: “Drive”
Summarizing Lyric: “I'm just a dreaming this life” (“Dirt”)
I scanned his face, loving how broken he looked after I let myself spew, “It’s not just your looks. If anything, a girl getting to know you will add 30 pounds to your already barely edible looks.” Go ahead, call me dirt, “I don’t care.” In fact, I love it. Or do they? A quick glance at Fun House will suggest that The Stooges did love living up to the dirt they were compared to, but repeat listenings have given me the impression that, most of the time ,they are trying to convince themselves that they are assholes because at least “asshole” is an identity people react to. It was either a bunch of skinny, long-haired nobodies or bullies, and nobody listens to the former. To be the bully, they had to wear the mask, and perhaps the masks did eventually replace their skin (how else could somebody make something like “L.A. Blues” and say “Yeah, I’d like the public to hear this”), but that didn’t keep the abused nobody behind the mask from poking through on occasion. In fact, in the very song where they praise themselves for being called dirt, The Stooges admit to having been hurt, to using the fire sparked by being overlooked to fuel the creation of their collective persona. And that’s all it is. A persona. A fabrication. They were “just dreaming this life” of being out of their minds on Saturday nights, of being the architects of this cobwebbed Fun House. But the fabrication was necessary. With “1970 rollin’ in sight” kids needed a new image to turn to. Hippy didn’t cut it. After such a bloody ending to what seemed like a decade that would only bring more peace, all one could do is roll in glass and forget.
1. Kanye West: My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Family
Personal Favorite: “Monster”
Summarizing Lyric: “And I was satisfied being in love with the lie/Now who to blame, you to blame, me to blame” (“Blame Game”)
Outside the Hard Rock in Hollywood, waiting in line to see a free Grouplove show. I look up, expecting a sky full of stars only to see that the city of stars has outshined them all. And the movie premier spotlights I’d see moving through the sky from my apartment in The Valley? Those are gone too, been replaced with handheld spotlights everyone’s lighting their faces with. And in the concert, am I enjoying myself? Yes, of course, they’re playing “Tongue Tied,” but I can’t help but feel like this would be so much more fun if I was up on that stage. And the fellow concert goers surrounding me? I think they agree. In fact, the guy to my left has gotten fed up with not being the star. His handheld spotlight’s out, filming himself sing along to the song. This is Hollywood–more–America, a city–more–a country teeming with Yeezys. No one’s satisfied with being part of the crowd. We’ve been infected with you-can-be-whatever-you-want-to-be disease like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children, and have come to the conclusion that being a follower is wrong. Everyone wants to be heard, wants to be making the rousing speech, so it only makes sense that there’s no MLK to lead. All the leaders are being talked over by sheep cosplaying as lions. The only people we’re willing to shut up and listen to are ourselves, and everyone shuts up to listen to Kanye. A person who loves and hates their ego, who is self-aware enough to write sprawling confessions like “Runaway” but refuses to change the parts of themselves that made those avoidable mistakes. Instead, we toast the douchebag within us and tell others to run away from it instead of fixing it. A person who looks around and is disgusted by the “art” being churned out, partly because it is legitimately bad–”Champagne wishes, thirty white bitches/I mean this shit is fucking ridiculous”–and partly because it’s not them that’s being listened to all the time (“So Appalled”). A person who writes their own theme song (“POWER”)– My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy does more than just shut off the lights to show Kanye’s ongoing struggles with fame and his id; it shows this generation’s inability to be satisfied with” a good home and a wife/And children, and some food to feed them every night," a generation that needs a stage and all the perks that come with owning one (Who Will Survive America). Kanye even makes you own the fantasy. When you recommend this record, you have to say “Hey, have you listened to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?” Perhaps because it is.