I loved Version 2.0 but never really absorbed just how poppy it was. So Beautiful Garbage took me by surprise. It seem like more of a natural progression if you listen in sequence but it’s impossible to imagine that the buzzing guitars of “Queer” would morph into something like “Can’t Cry These Tears” in just two albums. ”Tears” is practically girl groupy, it is so poppy and Spektorish. Yes, there are some buzzy guitars, but wow. What’s more surprising though is the amount of manipulation that is done to Manson’;s voice. Garbage was always about deconstruction and technology–they always mixed genres, but “Til the Day I Die” uses some pretty generic voice scratching as if trying for a pop hit. Or more specifically a dance hit.
The single from the album, “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)” doesn’t even sound like Garage–Manson’s voice is so treacly it has to be processed (and indeed it was sped up for the song). ”Shut Your Mouth” also seemed to head straight for the dancefloor and the rather anemic introductory sounds of “Androgyny” were a surprise. What’s weird is that even the aggressive guitar riff is really so wimpy compared to the earlier albums. Which is not to say that the song is bad–the riff, wimpy though it may be is still a good one and the chorus is catchy as anything. It’s just a different audience.
“Cup of Coffee” removes all of the dancey/techno and is a simple ballad. And it sounds like the Garbage of old. It’ a very pretty, sad song. ”Drive You Home” is also a beautiful natural-sounding ballad.
But “Breaking Up the Girl” is the closest to the Garbage sound of old(ish) it could easily have come from 2.0. ”Nobody Loves You” has a much more interesting guitar based sound as it opens–implying something grand. But after the opening, the song slows down into a more dark feel. ”Uncountable” returns to the dance floor (and even has some”uh uh”s).
So, overall this is a weird and unsatisfying album. It sounds like they gave up on the rock side of things because their poppy songs were such a hit. But at the same time it sounds like their hearts just aren’t in it. Even Manson’s lyrics are kind of lame. Which is not to say the album is a disaster, it’s just…different.
[READ: February 6, 2013] ”The Embassy of Cambodia”
In Zadie Smith’s previous piece in the New Yorker (which was an excerpt from her novel), she broke her story into a series of small sections. It was unexpected from her. And now she has done it again. The story has as a basic plot point a game of badminton. Accordingly, all of the chapters are listed as a badminton score (a one-sided rout actually): 0-1, 0-7, 0-21.
The sections are mostly brief and kind of bounce back and forth between the main character of the piece, Fatou, and the citizens of Willesden (represented by a a single person–who took it upon herself to represent them, even if they didn’t want her to). This unnamed narrator gives background information about Willesden and the eyes of the community who watch Fatou go about her business. The narrator also talks about the titular embassy and how it’s not that unusual to see a building like it on their street, even if they never really see anyone Cambodian going into it,
The only thing that people can really see from the outside of the embassy is the shuttlecock which can be glimpsed over the top of the wall that surrounds the embassy Clearly there is some kind of field there, although no one has ever seen it. They just see the birdie arc over (and then get slammed back).
And Fatou enjoys watching it and imagining the people inside. For Fatou is a housekeeper and sort of child watcher for a family that lives down the street (the Derawals). Fatou is African and her prospects are bleak. She is not paid to work for them–she gets free room and board in exchange for her services. In fact she does not even know where her passport is (Mr Derawal took it and she hasn’t seen it since). At one point, after reading an article about a slave girl, she even wonders if she might be a slave. (She decides she is not).
The only joy she gets is going to the health club past the embassy and going for a swim. The Derawals have guest passes for the gym which is what Fatou uses. They don’t use the gym and don’t realize she uses the passes. But she can only use them on Monday when the Derawals are out of the house–they don’t let her out for anything except shopping (and she has to show receipts for everything).
Fatou does have a friend, though. His name is Andrew. He likes her and they have lunch together (which he buys) from time to time. He is a Christian and recently encouraged her to get baptized. She imagines that he would be a good husband although she thinks of him more as a son (even though he is older than her). Andrew uses the library’s internet and gives her answers to perplexing questions (even if they are not always the correct answer).
Fatou doesn’t like the Derawal’s children and they are rather disdainful of her. But one day one of the children slaps the items from Fatou’s hand. Fatou is used to being mocked by she is taken aback by the contact. She looks away but when she looks up she sees that the girl is choking. And Fatou gets the marble out of her throat. Saving a child makes her suddenly uncomfortably valuable in the house. How will the family react to this?
I love the casual yet smart tone that Zadie takes in all of her writing. And I really enjoyed the situations she created here. I’m looking forward to reading NW and I hope she keeps writing interesting stories like this one.