99.9 F, Bonnie and Clyde, Did I Ever Love You, Fountains of Wayne, Freedom Fry, If I Were a Weapon, Leonard Cohen, Look Park, Minor is the Lonely Key, Popular Problems, Suzanne Vega, When the Heroes Go Down, You Want it Darker
Some people are feeling pretty low. Now seems like a good time to visit the parallel but contemporary universe of Suzanne Vega. I discovered her debut album in the discard pile of the first (and only) commercial radio station I ever worked at in Smithers, British Columbia. It helped me survive that town. There was something poetic and ominous, alienated and soothing about that record. I spent a lot of late nights living within its sonic confines. A poet’s job is to help us cope with a world gone wrong. I think the Vega song for this moment is “When Heroes Go Down” from 1992’s 99.9F. Right now, the hero is not really any person but that sense of hope that people like to have around. It’s a catchy number, despite its message.
There are other people in the Suzanne Vega universe – really anyone with a poetic sense. Leonard Cohen died the other day and some people on Facebook were like ‘what did he ever really do?’ or ‘tea and oranges are just escapism’. I felt sorry for them. Poetry is just politics that is out of phase, deliberately. It directs our attention to things we might not otherwise see, even though they are often right before us. Look Park’s front man Chris Collingwood understands that and excels at character sketches where the protagonist is unaware of just how much they are telling us, i.e. just how unhappy or unfulfilled they are. As one half of the Fountains of Wayne songwriting team, Collingwood honed his craft over a number of records and it shows on his new vehicle’s self titled debut album, particularly on the exquisitely melancholy “Minor is the Lonely Key.”
Another wonderfully unpredictable act are the Franco-American band Freedom Fry, a duo that clearly take themselves only so seriously. Their 2011 debut EP, Let the Games Begin, runs the gamut of influences from electronica to folk pop. Since then they have continued to take a host of musical detours. 2012’s Outlaws maxi-single has them channeling an outlaw vibe, but in two languages. “Bonnie and Clyde” has a lovely strolling quality, a poetically arranged, style-busting ballad that ends all too typically but gets there in an unconventional manner. How wonderful to just go where the muse takes you. Their new single, “Shaky Ground,” is also great, available in three different styles.
Coming back to Leonard Cohen, there is a lot of buzz about his deathbed release, You Want It Darker. Sure, it seems Leonard Cohen great, in that dark poetic sombre singer-songwriter on the edge of death sort of way. But 2014’s Popular Problems ranks as one Cohen’s best for me, both in terms of performance and material. The sardonic “Almost Like the Blues” should put the rest any ‘this guy ain’t political’ rhetoric while “You Got Me Singing” speaks to the power of connection between two people at any age. Musically, “Did I Ever Love You” is my favourite track, mournful and melodic at the same time – it sounds like the end but really it speaks to impact of time spent together.
Let’s end on where we are going. The only way from down is up. Suzanne Vega suggests we may all be the agents of change, though not through obvious means. In “If I Were a Weapon” she eschews the blunt hammer or gun for a needle ‘always pulling on the thread’ that is ‘always making the same point again’. The point is, the stars will align again, and not just in the Suzanne Vega universe. If I Were a Weapon
In this musical universe, digital lucre is one way to show these poets some love. Visit Suzanne Vega, Look Park, Freedom Fry, and Leonard Cohen online to check out their latest (or in Leonard’s case, last) releases and public appearances.