Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Metaphysical Dialogue

Euthyphro: Hello, Sophocles, I see we are both on the docket again.

Socrates: Yes, quite so.

E: You should be happy to learn that I was successful in my case against my father.

S: I am certain that will bring you great acclaim at the family picnic.

E: Now I am being sued myself. The circumstances should be of interest to you, as I have been accused of impiety.

S: Yes? And what are the circumstances now?

E: You well know my status as a freelance hierophant, and of my expertise in all matters spiritual and religious. I have an insight into the gods which is not to be trifled.

S: Yes, and in the past you have been so far developed in your opinions as to be openly heckled by those in the assembly who cannot acknowledge your greatness.

E: Indeed, this is so.

S: Where have you gone awry?

E: I have failed to acknowledge the divinity of Clapton, even though he is a duly recognized god whose festival we all observe. I did not pay cult to him, and I was overheard disparaging his godhead by his followers. It was, perhaps, less than wise, in retrospect.

S: Always so courageous, my friend.

E: Yes, you know exactly my dilemma.

S: For what is worth, I would doubt the divinity of any demigod who could not - or steadfastly refused - to play simple rhythm lines. All the endless weedling, it grates upon my humours.

E: So, what have you been called to account for, my friend?

S: Impiety, again. After - as you recall - I was exonerated from my previous charges, I gave a symposium on modern independent rock & roll, during which I stated for all and sundry to hear that the New Pornographers, while a fine band, were in fact in sum no greater than the strengths of their finest member, specifically Neko Case.

E: Why, that is rank impiety, Socrates.

S: So you say.

E: It is accepted knowledge that AC Newman's pure power-pop songwriting, combined with the relief pitching work of Dan Bejar, produce the most formidable songwriting this side of Britt Daniel.

S: Again, this is said.

E: you are renowned for your wisdom, my friend, but I see here that you have fatally overstepped your bounds. Your inner voice has led you astray.

S: Permit me to explore this line of reasoning.

E: Certainly, my friend.

S: Is it not true that Newman and Bejar are universally hailed as masters of the modern power pop form?

E: Yes, this is given by all the authorities to be true. Even you cannot deny this.

S: Nor would I wish to. But what is power-pop? What is the accepted definition?

E: Well, it is a vaguely retro style of rock & roll influenced by the mid-period British Invasion, as well as specific stylistic contributions from Mod and American garage.

S: Yes. And would it not be true to say that at its best power-pop is an extremely straitened form?

E: Why, yes. The more accomplished a power-pop songwriter, the more concise and crisp their work.

S: So would not it be true to say that even the best power-pop songwriter would be hard-pressed to reach beyond an extremely limited idiom without essentially eroding his prime appeal? (I will note here that they are overwhelmingly men.)

E: I cannot disagree with your logic.

S: Furthermore, if you allow for this previous point, is it not also true that the audience and appeal of power-pop music is limited.

E: Why, yes, but you can't criticize a genre on the basis of it's audience -

S: Nor would I intend to commit such a fallacy. Merely will I add that within the confines of such a self-selecting, extremely biased audience, things might appear to be great which in reality are quite small.

E: But I see your game, Sophocles - you seek to make Neko Case seem larger by minimizing the achievements of the rest of the group.

S: I am not minimizing them, my friend, they minimize themselves through the limited - albeit highly satisfying - scope of their music. It appeals to an audience much like the musicians themselves: older, musically-educated, with nerdy habits which have grown highly defined from detecting minute differences in things very much alike.

E: Even given this reductive description, you still allow for their skill as songwriters. How is Neko Case measurably greater?

S: It seems evident to me, Euthyphro, that Neko Case has achieved much of more lasting significance partially by virtue of the fact that she has allowed herself much more freedom as an artist.

E: Does she not hew close to the country template, which I know you to hold in great disdain?

S: It is true that her first solo album, The Virginian, is straight honky-tonk country - however, I will point out that regardless of this her tongue is planted firmly-in-cheek.

E: This is a debatable point, Socrates, but I will follow you so far as you lead.

S: Thank you. But even with these caveats, there is no dispute that Neko's primary mode of discourse is through country & western, or some permutation thereof. Much of her later work falls more accurately into the realms of torchsong and balladry.

E: You are on the verge of drawing, I believe, parallels to the work of another famous chanteuse, Ms. KD Lang?

S: The comparison did not escape my notice, but it is not perhaps a straight allegory. In any event: Case's later solo albums have possessed a quality of penetrating intimacy and disarming moral candor, elevating Case's songwriting voice to one of the most mature and ineffable forces conceivable in a modern context.

E: You lay out a convincing argument, my friend.

S: Allow me further to say that her songwriting is stronger even without the added boon of her indescribable voice and distinctive charisma. Whereas the New Pornographers write good pop songs, their essentially hobbled form - what might perhaps be properly termed their distillation of the Platonic essence of pop songwriting - is limiting and ultimately acts as a kind of insulation against any kind of greater emotional involvement in the music above the level of sheer thrilling appreciation of craft. It is easy to love a New Pornographers track but hard, in reflection, to inhabit it, so brightly does the patina of perfection gleam across it's polished surface. But the byways Neko Case inhabits are much stranger, wilder, more gnarled and less certain. There is ambiguity and weakness in her lyrical mode that places her work at a distance from that of her peers, a fertile emotional plain into which the listener can insert himself.

E: I see. So, in essence, there is simply much more of lasting value to be had in Neko Case's material, past the exterior pleasures of the New Pornographers' power pop, for those who have the patience to inhabit all the allusive intricacies thereof?

S: Yes.

E: It is no wonder you find yourself on the docket in such an instance, Sophocles. Do you not know that your judges are themselves nerds, nerds who gain much in the way of personal satisfaction from identifying with the obscurantist tendencies of their songwriting heroes? I fear you shall taste hemlock before this matter rests.

S: That is my fear as well, but for darling Neko, I regret that I have but one life to give.

No comments :