Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Pop Trash Smackdown, part one.

In the spirit of this year's ludicrous Grammy Awards, I would like to serve up a selection of my own nominees for my very own award, the Golden Cymbaline.

I allowed the spirit of Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell to guide me here, which is to say I've targeted the best of the worst, those artists who provide the greatest affront to the aspects of music I truly care about (ie, not hip-hop or country). No easy targets like Britney, J. Lo, or the Simpson brats here, folks, just those dear songbirds a with fair amount of credibility and/or talent who abuse whatever gifts they have so flagrantly that they deserve to be, well, flogged. And to keep things on a even footing, I'm limiting the first set to female singer-songwriters!

The winner will receive a charming statuette, suitable for use as a doorstop or paperweight, designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dave Barry; it is a golden toaster with a flaming strawberry pop tart trapped inside. Forget Christo, this award is art, people!

Nominee: Sarah MacLachlan

Okay, so Lilith Fair was a good idea with a catchy name. And she's released a number of gorgeous, passionate pop songs that still move me the eighty-seventh time I hear them ("Possession" in particular, but "Building a Mystery" is still good, and some of her newest tracks have promise.)

She's also churned out track after track of slick, oversung, vaguely-spiritual "anthems" to I don't know what. A number of these terrible songs have appeared in equally terrible movies, which is only fitting. Examples: "Angel," from City of Angels (self-explanatory), "When She Loved Me" (the low point of the otherwise faultless Toy Story 2), and lesser tracks from I Am Sam, Anywhere But Here, and lousy tv shows. There's also a godawful choral version of her "I Will Remember You" in a funeral scene of some teen-death weeper I was forced to watch in college, and I was pretty sure that "Angel" turned up in another, similar teen-death weeper but I've yet to track that one down.

Suffice it to say that her music is the perfect accompaniment to a mawkish, insincere Hollywood funeral. This alone would grate on me, especially after having those awful movies foisted upon me by an uncaring roommate, but Sarah goes further into the Crappy Zone by writing lyrics that are alternately trite and opaque, and singing them all with the utmost passion.

What the heck is "Adia" about? How has Sarah failed Adia, and why is Sarah insisting that "we are all born innocent"? And what kind of name is "Adia," anyway?

What is really beneath the pseud0-religious imagery of "Building a Mystery"? Or the Precious Moments religious imagery of "Angel"? Or the sins-and-repentance imagery of "Fallen" and "World on Fire"? Why do these songs run together in a prettily orchestrated blur of meaninglessness?

Boy, she sure sounds deep, but for my money ol' Sarah has written about two and a half meaningful songs out of the dozen and a half that have been overexposed (the ones that haven't been don't bother me, 'cause I don't have to hear them). Those ones are "Possession," "Stupid" and the above-mentioned "Building a Mystery" (that's the half point).

And those are all clear-cut 'relationship' songs, with or without any crosses from a faith that died before Jesus came (!?!).

Sarah's songs can be converted to "praise music" for Intervarsity Fellowship with minimal rewriting, and that isn't a good thing. I indict her for this, and in doing so nominate her for the Golden Cymbaline.