Friday, September 25, 2009
#97. 'I even fell for that stupid love song'
Kelly Clarkson "Since U Been Gone"
I've tried to avoid raising the specter of Pitchfork's best songs of the decade list when I write these things. Any time I see an instance of cross over between their list and this one I get tempted to go into my rant mode, which is more fun to write in, no doubt there, but isn't exactly productive to the actual reviews. But honestly, given that most of my problems were with the reaction to the list rather than the list itself, and my problem with most of those reactions was the utter contempt they had for well crafted pop songs winding up in the upper section of the list, I figure there's no better place to get it off my chest than right here. "Since U Been Gone" placed at #21 out of 500 on that list if you weren't aware, and the minute that section was published it seemed like every second person was just waiting to throw their disgust at that particular turn of events onto whatever message board they frequented. Because how dare an 'indie' publication even consider this pop shit to be among the best songs released this decade? How dare it rank at #21, ahead of so may obviously better (read: not popular) songs? How fucking DARE they imply that it had anything to with indie in any way shape or form? HOW FUCKING DARE THEY?
If you were one of those people, fuck off. Right now, just fuck right off. It's your right to have that opinion but I'm gonna insist that you fuck off anyway. Because obviously you missed the part of the decade where every 'indie' webzine was giving the critical equivalent of fellatio to "Since U Been Gone" from the moment it was released. Stylus called it the best single of 2005 and Pitchfork themselves ranked it at #4. For a while it seemed like there was no one that didn't appreciate it on some level, if not the original then the Ted Leo cover of it. There were always people who disliked it, true, but pretending that this was some random, unprecedented occurrence and getting indignant about it just makes you an asshole. You're worse than the people who rallied to claim that the only reason "B.O.B." was #1 was so that they could claim to be home with the downies and are in fact only pretending to like hip hop. You're worse than the people who cared that what was pretty much a singles list featured no metal outside of Mastadon. You probably only read the damn thing so you could have something to bitch about and try to score some mythical cool points by loudly yelling 'I HATE POP MUSIC MOTHERFUCKERS! AM I ALONE IN THIS ASSESSMENT?!' So fuck. Off. Now.
I'm not saying you have to like the song, your taste is your taste and I'm not saying it's wrong, but the real issue that I saw behind a lot of the bashing that list underwent in some corners had nothing to do with the songs and everything to do with perception. To many, Pitchfork is an 'indie' site, whatever that means, so its readers probably look for it to give the major props to the little guy, the songs that it had a hand in making as popular as they are, the artists they launched to what amounts to fame in the 'indie' circle. The issue is that Pitchfork stopped being an indie site long, long ago. they'll still cling to the recognition they get as an 'indie' site but they haven't really embodied that ethos for a while. They've become an online version of Spin circa 1998, the same magazine they took pleasure in slamming when they published their initial best of list for the 90s, putting as much focus on the uber-underground as they do on the hugely popular. So what if they don't openly show contempt for the latter? If they did it would be pointless, and if they had any pretensions of being a legitimate music rag they couldn't just turn a blind eye to the more people-friendly side of things.
But back to "Since U Been Gone" since that's (ostensibly) what I'm here to discuss. Really, if there was any pop song this decade that would have overtaken the largely independent label worshiping scene that is online music journalism why wouldn't it be this one? Can you really say that this is a regular radio pop song in any sense other than the fact that it was popular? It may have been a calculated attempt to piggyback on the post-punk revival, what with its Interpolian guitars and dissonant, controlled bursts of guitar noise in key places and most importantly toned down vocalizing from Clarkson, but that shouldn't matter if the song is good. And is it ever fucking good. It's not the alpha and omega of pop singles this decade, but as far as an example of how the lines between the popular and the underground blurred as the decade went on it makes a good ground zero. It's not necessarily the indie-pastiche some claim it to be but it definitely takes enough cues from that side of the coin to qualify as at least being indie-inspired. It's a rarity to hear what is destined to be the music of the masses so readily and perfectly apply the sonic cues of what may as well be underground music to the pop aesthetic, but Clarkson's producers marry the two sides almost perfectly.
Clarkson herself does something that you wouldn't expect from an American Idol winner here too: she reins in her voice and only lets loose when it's appropriate in the context of the song. It still shows off her voice, probably better than any of her other singles do for that matter, but her voice is never the sole focus of any particular section. In that respect it has more in common with power-pop, albeit very slickly produced power pop, in that the focus isn't on either the vocal or the instrumental but on the whole package. The interaction between the two layers is not ever-present but it certainly adds to key moments of the track, and even without direct interplay the two facets work well with each other. It's not a showcase for either side, but closer to a full band environment than anything. If anything, the reason so many people were able to embrace the song might have been because unlike a lot of pop music it was easy to separate it from its maker. It's not so much a Kelly Clarkson song as a modern power-pop gem that happens to feature her on vocals, and the lack of focus on her and all the baggage her presence brings to the proceedings is as essential to it's embrace in all quarters as anything else.
Coming up tomorrow: Out of rant mode and into nostalgia mode.