The Year in Music, Part 3

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50 Foot Wave/Golden Ocean
Julian Cope/Citizen Cain’d

Question: To what extent does one have the responsibility to report the bad news, and to what extent is it better just to keep it to yourself?

For instance, we have here two albums by artists that I’ve been quite fond of in the past, but whose latest work leaves me cold. Should I write about them, or in the interest of being positive, should I leave well enough alone? My initial instinct was the latter, but I decided to listen to them one more time through just to be sure, and doing so raised the question that I started with.

The tone of both of these albums is overwhelmingly negative. On Golden Ocean, the first full album by Kristin Hersh’s new trio 50 Foot Wave, she turns the volume up to 11 and screams herself hoarse on every song. This is seriously noisy stuff — and not the sculpted noise of, say, Throwing Muses’ University, but aggressive, abrasive noise. It doesn’t sound like Kristin’s enjoying herself; more like she’s going through therapy.

A similar sense of foreboding hangs over Julian Cope’s 2005 solo album Citizen Cain’d. In the 90s, Cope (or Copey, as those of us who are hip with the lingo like to call him) released a remarkable series of albums reflecting his obsession with the fate of Mother Earth. Those records — Peggy Suicide, Jehovahkill, 20 Mothers, and Interpreter — were suffused with a pop sensibility and leavened with a sense of hope; not so Citizen Cain’d, which is unrelentingly pessimistic. Song titles include “Hell Is Wicked,” “World War Pigs,” “The Living Dead,” and “The Edge of Death.” While it has its moments of brilliance, this cannot by any means be called an enjoyable listening experience.

With Copey, as with Kristin, I find myself wondering, is it something in his personal life that’s causing all this negativity? Or is he just reflecting the dire state of the modern world, or is it some combination of the two? The lyrics of Golden Ocean tend more toward the personal, and those of Citizen Cain’d more toward the political, but it’s entirely possible that they’re just two different expressions of the same underlying feeling. In general, I’m a lot more sympathetic toward an artist who’s addressing a global situation than one who’s working out their personal issues in public. When I hear somebody going through a Plastic Ono Band-style catharsis on record, I always think, “Well, that’s nice for you. What about us, the audience? Why on Earth should we have to sit through this crap?”

Which leads me back right to where I started. As an artist, if you’re currently of the opinion that everything sucks, should you reflect that in your work, or should you bend over backwards to find something positive even in the worst of circumstances?

It’s not an easy question. I’ve always tended to believe the latter, mostly because I don’t think there’s some absolute truth out there for us to report on. Our perceptions color everything, and those depend on who we are, where we are, what we know, and what we had for breakfast. I myself had Peet’s coffee and a chocolate chip muffin, and so am feeling fairly optimistic. Rather than rail on about these albums that I don’t especially like, I’d rather put on University or Peggy Suicide and hope things get better in the future.

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