During these strange times of isolation, what do we want from our musicians and creatives? It’s a question I’ve been mulling over a lot recently, especially as in terms of the latter, many people who probably wouldn’t normally consider themselves ‘creatives’ are becoming exactly that, arguably devaluing what professional / semi-professional creatives do. Certainly my Instagram feed (and my home) has become awash with artwork, complex cooking, baking and sowing; things that my friends and relatives who have spare time to fill are making. Thankfully I've yet to make that middle-aged dad ambient album that I've always wanted to make and put it on Bandcamp, but beware, there's still time.
One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that what I want from musicians is those with big talents to create a bit of joy and fun. It’s easy in serious times to consider that being deeply earnest and sincere is the most appropriate way to behave; to make art that reflects what people believe the mood to be.
Yet the stuff I find myself being drawn to is the likes of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s kitchen disco on Instagram on a Friday night where Sophie gets her glad-rags on, the glitterballs, bunting and disco lights come out and she has a boogie whilst she sings karaoke to her own songs – all whilst her small children generally get in the way and fall over a lot. It’s hilarious and weirdly brilliant and is impossible not to smile at. It feels like Sophie is doing it for herself, but also for us and (importantly) because she’s talented these stripped back live performances also show off just how well she can sing (whilst having a boogie). It’s an antidote to the numerous yawn-inducing slow-paced online acoustic home gigs I’ve watched where an artist sits in their hoodie ineffectually playing guitar, singing lamely, whilst watching the number of viewers slowly drop off.
Which brings me to the new Arlo Parks song. In theory this should be everything I don’t want right now. The subject matter is serious; mental health. The song isn’t a rave banger. “It’s supposed to make people who are struggling feel less isolated and start a conversation surrounding the prevalence of mental health issues in today’s world,” Arlo explains. It has lyrics that mention the gloom-pop lord himself Robert Smith. And yet despite the heaviness of the song Black Dog is undeniably enchanting. Its sweet-nature and Arlo’s silver-toned and soulful voice make everything seem that little bit better. So maybe Black Dog isn’t ‘fun’ but there’s still a joy of sorts to be found in its beautiful construction.
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