Sunday, August 02, 2020

Kat's Korner: Exposure, Over and Under: Taylor Swift, Brandy, Alanis Morissette and Steve Grand

Kat: It's not that hard to wear out your welcome.  I was reminded of that when Maggie's reaction to the news of Taylor Swift's new album was, "Oh, God.  Not her again."

Yep, her again.  FOLKLORE is Taylor's follow up to LOVER which I reviewed a few weeks shy of a year ago.  She's back again.  And it's not really been a year.  Back in January, she premiered a special, MISS AMERICA, on NETFLIX.  FOLKLORE? Sixteen tracks (and a bonus one) of more of the same.  

Taylor's gotten very generic and very passive.  Toni's sick of it, in fact.  For those who missed it, Taylor's named the new album FOLKLORE.  That's not a term that's been copyrighted.  But THE FOLKLORE had a panty fit, got their panties bunched up in their ass and started screaming "White girl is ripping us off!"  To which, as Toni put it, grow the hell up.  

I saw her point, "folklore" is not a copyrighted term.  It's a word that's been around forever.  But even more to the point for Toni, who does various crafts including embroidery, was The Folklore Company.  The fashion 'store'?  No, no, no, no.  That's where Toni gets a lot of her embroidery kits.  It's a company that started in 2014 -- four years before the whiny fashionista.  Oh, they don't own the term "folklore" or "the folklore"?  No, they f**king don't.

Now Taylor's supposed to be a musician.  She's supposed to be.  So if she, a la George Harrison, composes "My Sweet Lord" and it rips off "He's So Fine," we've got an issue to discuss.  

But her merchandise has a similar logo?

Who the f**k gives two s**ts.  The merchandise will be gone as soon as the next album comes out and probably before that since Taylor can't tour to promote this album. 

Taylor's response, as Dak-Ho noted, was to grovel.  "I get the feeling," he told me, "that if she had a really big burrito on Tuesday and by Friday they were reporting more melting polar caps, she'd rush out with an apology explaining she hadn't been aware the burrito would give her gas.  Her skin is way too thin these days."

Indeed.  And that could result in some real art but one listen to FOLKLORE makes clear that's not happening.  I'm not anti-Taylor.  I praised her last album.  I praised REPUTATION before that.  And before that, I praised RED.

I didn't praise 1989.  I noted that album was too sterile for my tastes.  That's FOLKORE for me.  It's got nothing new to say and no way to say it in a different way.  

Taylor writes her own songs but I wonder if she lives her own life?  She doesn't in song or, unlike the rest of us, the whole country, she's still the same person she was in 2015.  

I don't know that I need political from Taylor -- I think trying to be 'political' (or partisan maybe) wrecked Jack Johnson's ALL THE LIGHT ABOVE IT TOO.  That is an unlistenable album.  It is flat out awful.  It's also his worst selling album ever.  41,000 copies?  Yikes.

And since we're talking album sales, does Taylor not understand the law of diminishing returns?

2012's RED is where I come in on her albums -- it sold 7 million copies in the US alone. 2014's 1989 sold 9 million copies.  2017's REPUTATION sold 3 million.  Last year's LOVER?  2 million in the US.

Is no one paying attention to that?

She's got nothing to say on FOLKLORE.  She's running on fumes.  The songs are empty.  She's still got her talent at songcraft so they're empty but they don't annoy.  That said, if she took the time to write about her own life or maybe live a life, she might have something to say and she could use that songcraft to write a really moving song.

A few years back, at a party at C.I.'s home, I got into a loud argument with a well known music critic.  He offered that Diana Ross destroyed her career by going to RCA.  To which I replied, "So she should have stayed with MOTOWN in your opinion?''



First off, please note that Marvin Gaye left MOTOWN and no one ever says, "He should have stayed!" 

Let a woman take control and it's time to argue she destroyed herself.

From a financial perspective, Diana did the right thing.  Berry Gordy never paid Diana what she was worth.  And forget royalties because any big MOTOWN artist not named Smokey can tell you they were ripped off.  (Smokey was part of the company's exec branch, he didn't get ripped off.)  Diana might have had a million she had access to after hit making throughout the 60s and 70s.  But it wasn't until she signed her 1981 deal with RCA that she really had money (the contract paid her $20 million).  RCA made the highest offer but they weren't the only label making big money offers to her.  Diana didn't owe it to MOTOWN to inform them of the other offers but she did.  And Berry's response was, if she thought she could get more money elsewhere, go for it.

She did.

Now in terms of chart making, what would be different if she had stayed?

Stevie Wonder stayed.  It didn't help his career.  In 1987, "Skeletons" became his last top forty hit (number 19).  Not even a duet with Michael Jackson ("Get It") in 1988 could make the top forty (it made it to number 80).  He never had another top forty hit after 1987.  His last top ten?  1985's "Go Home."  

Stevie's a musical genius.  And MOTOWN didn't promote him.  Berry stopped caring about the music as he focused on TV and movies (something I'm sure Diana Ross was aware of) and MOTOWN artists got hits in the late 70s up to 1981 but then the company really began to struggle.  You can see that with any of their artists.  Look at Lionel Richie who was a proven hit maker and racked up a ton of number ones -- including, with Diana Ross, 1981's "Endless Love."  His last number one was in 1985 with "Say You, Say Me."  The following year's "Ballerina Girl"?  Beautiful song, great video, don't know anyone who wasn't humming the song in real time but it didn't go number one.  MOTOWN didn't care about music anymore and it only made it to number seven.  Worse, his single releases the following year charted at number 71 and number 20.  

Diana would have fared very poorly had she stayed with MOTOWN.  Instead, at RCA (1981 to 1987), she placed four songs in the top ten, she placed four more in the top forty -- so eight songs that truly count as pop hits.  She got four more on The Hot 100.  Three of her singles went top ten on the Adult Contemporary chart with two more going top forty on the AC chart.  Six singles went top ten on the R&B charts (with "Missing You" making it to number one), five more singles went top forty R&B and four more going top 100 on the R&B chart.  She scored six top forty hits on the Dance Chart (with "Swept Away" going all the way to number one).  

That's rather impressive for an artist who scored her first top forty hit with 1963's "When The Lovelight Starts Shining In His Eyes."

Which brings us to another issue: Overexposure.

We like to talk -- I do anyway -- about how each generation likes their own music and they tend to rip apart or at least ignore the hit makers of their parents day.  

And that's true and it's not true.

Around the time Diana ends her pop charting days, so does Olivia Newton-John and Elton John to name two other hitmakers.  They didn't emerge as hitmakers in the 60s the way Diana did.  But for years, Olivia and Elton held the record -- as everyone who listened to Casey Kasem the way I did already knows -- for having a top forty hit every year consecutively.  

So when we turn on a chartmaker, it's not so much because our elders liked them as it is that they were just getting overexposed.  Look at Tina Turner for clarity.  She was beloved by 60s music fans and by 70s music fans.  But then she faded -- for reasons that had nothing to do with her music.  In 1984, we didn't just welcome her return, we celebrated it.  Or look at Cher's musical career.  She has to go away from time to time -- either on her own or sent there by people who purchase music -- to reemerge successful later on.

Diana was on RCA which needed 'product.'  Forever needed 'product.'  Her label mates Rick Springfield and Eurythmics would have been better off saying "I'm taking a break" instead of constantly meeting the contractual demands.  Between 1981 and 1985, for example, RCA forced five albums out of Rick and destroyed his music career.  Grasp that, from 1981 to 1983, Rick was also playing Dr. Noah Drake on ABC's GENERAL HOSPITAL and that, in the spring and summer of 1983, he's also filming HARD TO HOLD -- as the lead actor -- and doing the soundtrack to that film.  Five albums from 1981 to 1985, a little over two years on a soap opera during that and making a film.  (BEAUTIFUL FEELINGS was released in 1984 by MERCURY RECORDS and I'm not including that because he recorded the album in 1978 and MERCURY never released it until 1984 when they wanted to cash in on his fame.  While it doesn't apply to how much RCA was squeezing out of him, it does go to the overexposure them.)

From 1981 to 1989, RCA squeezed out seven albums from Eurythmics (they also did the soundtrack to 1984 for VIRGIN RECORDS during this time).  Kenny Rogers moved to the label in 1983 and, from 1983 to 1987, was forced to release six studio albums which is part of the reason he left the label and declared that they were trying to ruin his career.  

By the eighties, you were doing an album no more than every two or three years.  In the sixties, you might do two to three albums a year but times had changed.  That included that you were now expected to have multiple hits off an album.  So 1984's hit releases that included Tina's PRIVATE DANCER, Prince's PURPLE RAIN, Bruce Springsteen's BORN IN THE USA and Madonna's LIKE A VIRGIN?  These albums were still producing new chart singles in 1985. 

Overexposure can kill a career.  Sade's had a long, successful career and a strong ingredient in her recipe of success has been knowing when to disappear.  

But here's Taylor putting out another album a year later when she clearly has nothing to say and she's so overexposed at this point that she's Brenda Lee, Lesley Gore and Little Peggy March rolled into one and about as freash.  We need a break.

Brandy returned this week after a long break with B7, her first new album since 2012.  The new album offers 15 tracks -- three of those are interludes.  Janet Jackson, more than any other artist, really made interludes a part of the album making process and Brandy's been doing interludes since her self-titled debut in 1994.  The lead single, "Baby Mama" with Chance The Rapper, has already become an R&B hit.

It also includes "Love Again."  Her duet  "Love Again" with Daniel Caesar which was both an R&B hit last year and a Grammy nominee for Best R&B Performance?  Well that song but Brandy's performing it solo (shades of Diana Ross doing "Endless Love" solo on her WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE album). (And Brandy and Diana Ross' hit TV movie DOUBLE PLATINUM is now on NETFLIX, by the way.)  

I like those songs, in fact, I like all the songs on the album.  It's a portrait of a mature woman in the world today.  Maggie agrees with me that this is Brandy's best album since NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN and, if you listen, I think you'll agree too.  My favorite track is "I Am More."

I am really hoping that people are ready to embrace Brandy and this wonderful album B7.

But she's not the only one returning after a long absence.  Brandy hit in the 90s  with hits like "Sittin' Up In My Room," "Baby," "The Boy Is Mine" (with Monica), "Almost Doesn't Count," "Have You Ever" and "I Wanna Be Down."  Someone else scoring hits in the 90s?  Alanis.

Yes, Alanis Morissette has a new album, SUCH PRETTY FORKS IN THE ROAD, and, like Brandy, it's her first new studio album since 2012's HAVOC AND BRIGHT LIGHTS.  I really enjoyed that album but I love SMILING more.

It kicks off with a strong song, "Smiling" which was the lead single and made it to number four on BILLBOARD's Rock Digital Songs earlier this year.  But it's the second song, "Ablaze," that really hooks you in.

She performs it with a confidence and surety that's been missing since 1995's JAGGED LITTLE PILL.  I really enjoy SUPPOSED FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE and I love UNDER RUG SWEPT.  But, in retrospect, she seemed pressured on those albums, she seemed to be responding.  On SUCH PRETTY FORKS IN THE ROAD, she's setting the tone.  

I love "Reasons I Drink."

For Sumner, this was his favorite album of the week.  He feels Alanis hasn't done an album that mattered since JAGGED LITTLE PILL but that she's found her voice again.  I disagree about the albums since but I do agree that Alanis is back.  

That's obvious on "Diagnosis" -- whether you're listening to the album version or catching her live, below, on TV performing it.

Call it what you want
'Cause I don't even care anymore
Call me what you need to
To make yourself comfortable
I've not left the house in a while
I've not felt a glimpse of ease
And I have not made much headway
Since I have come back from the war
And I no longer give a damn
Bout things that used to matter
And I am covering my eyes
As I am frozen on the spot
And call it what you want
'Cause I don't even care anymore
Call me what you need to
To make yourself comfortable

It's a great song and Alanis performs it expertly.  There's not a bad song among the mix and the album is my favorite Alanis album since  JAGGED LITTLE PILL ACOUSTIC (2005).

Haim has a new album, WOMEN IN MUSIC PT. III, which is their follow up to 2017's SOMETHING TO TELL YOU.  While spacing is important, have they waited too long to follow up on the heat their second album gave them in the US?  

I'll be reviewing Haim in another piece.  But it's important not to be overexposed and it's also important not to be forgotten.

Last week, I discovered Steve Grand's NOT THE END OF ME.  The good news?  It's a great album.  The bad news? It came out in 2018.  It's his follow up to 2015's ALL AMERICAN BOY.  

He had heat in 2015.  Waiting three years was a mistake.  That's not open to discussion.  Three years was a mistake.  The album did nothing in 2018.  It's probably not going to do anything this year.

Which is a real shame because it's a great album.  Twelve songs (plus three bonus tracks) that take you further into Steve's world.  And work on songs like "Disciple" remind me of when Joni began exploring allusions and metaphors (FOR THE ROSES through HEJIRA).  It's a song that speaks but pulls from the listener at the same time.

Jesus be my daddy, father my light
Waltz through my dreams, draped in white
Like a child, like a child
I ain't scared of dyin' when I'm living this sick
I'll be your loyal disciple, 'till I get my fix
Desire, desire

Come Mother Mary, bring me a song
It's been a dark February; I'm just tryin' to move on
I ain't goin' to Heaven, so I'd like to live on in a song
Song, song

I used to have dreams, now they've grown up and died
First you carried my soul out from the light
You were right, always right
I feel a darkness growin' inside
A seed you planted in me
You knew that it would thrive, thrive

Come Mother Mary, bring me a song
It's been a dark February, I'm just tryin' to move on
If there ain't no Heaven, then I'd like to live on in a song
(Song, song)

I love this album.  "All I Want," for example, is a song I've streamed endlessly since Thursday.

Steve Grand is much more than a 2012 internet sensation.  NOT THE END OF ME speaks to his artistic growth and promise.  

So the verdict this review is check out Brandy's B7, Alanis' SUCH PRETTY FORKS IN THE ROAD and Steve's NOT THE END OF ME but skip Taylor's FOLKLORE -- which, if the sales slide of her past few albums continues -- most of you will already do without needing any recommendation from me.