Crazy in love
Image: Sue Beyer
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Miranda Lambert
Revenge tales constitute a bounteous chunk of our murder ballad birthright and, of course, we've got our contemporary chronicles like Johnny Cash's "Delia's Gone," and (God help us) Eminem's hateful "Kim." We recite these texts of bloodlusting payback and gunshot resolution (yes, gun-control doctrinaires too) alone in the dark -- mentally reenacting other, more emotionally satisfying, ends to our own heartbroken wrongs. But even spitting mad, we feel guilty about it in the day's bright light. Right? Er, right? Which may be why Miranda Lambert's capped-and-bleached Texas grin of an outlaw ballad/revenge fantasy is both exhilarating and uncomfortable. That bounding banjo and those percolating guitar n' drums sound awfully gleeful. And obsessive stalking (It took me five bars, some 30 license plates/I saw her Mustang and my eyes filled up with rage) and concealed weapons seem like just another night on the town with your best gal pal. Surprisingly, "Crazy's" denouement is pretty tame: The gun that makes its appearance in Act One doesn't actually fire in Act Three. But hoo boy does Lambert perform an ugly public exorcism of some bad and yes, violent, feelings. This expert balance of horseplay and insanity makes "Crazy" more than your typically tiresome values-affirming Nashville product. Besides, who's to say what happens off-screen? There's always closing time in the parking lot.
From Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Amazon, iTunes)
Miranda Lambert's Myspace
The One I Love - Liz Durrett
I don't love this cover; for one thing, it's too funereal. But what never occurred to me until I heard Athens, Ga. based Liz Durrett sing the R.E.M. original was that this song isn't simply a stealth weapon deployed in the final battle of a long-suffered domestic campaign, a careful-worded punch in a place where the bruise won't show. No, it's much more devastating. Durrett's sagging dolorous delivery and the drummer's stark bucket-thud beats throw into relief the song's awful logic, its repudiation of love as a living thing, as a viable concept. Consider these words (that you know well):
This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I've left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love.
The prop isn't someone the singer used to love, and kept around past her/his sell-by date. The prop is someone the singer loves, still loves, just like the new prop; love being ever and always there only "to occupy my time." Love being equal to prop. We're talking something not just cruel but deeply misanthropic. Another interesting thing about the way Durrett performs this. When Michael Stipe sings "Love," it's inscrutable. Though it's one of the few songs R.E.M. recorded in this era where every word pretty much rings clear, the emotions, the object of address, everything, is opaque. (Which, of course, is why "Love" is up there with The La's "There She Goes" as one of the most misunderstood love-songs-that-ain't.) Durrett, on the other hand, autopsies this body under white naked lights. But she doesn't judge. As she peels back the skin of teenage/rock star dedication rhetoric (public avowal as a sort of socially sealed covenant), she lets you peer into the corpse's cavity and decide for yourself. Anyway, it's a way more radical song than I ever thought and a trickier cover than it might at first seem.
From Finest Worksongs: Athens Bands Play the Music of R.E.M. (Amazon, Athensmusic).
Liz Durrett's Myspace
Elsewhere, but totally related:
Charlie of Nerd Litter was nice enough to interview me for his Behind the Blog series. I dished celebrity gossip, dropped several embarrassing personal ... ok, those are lies. But we did chat about some of my favorite 2007 albums, the worst film I ever saw and my mp3 blogosphere peeves (along with a lot of book talk), so it's an interesting read I think. Thanks, Charlie!