These three massive pop releases will define this time as strongly as the virus.
Fetch the bolt cutters
I don’t know about you but, Fiona Apple scares me.
Ever since her first album, Tidal, in 1996 there had been something exotic about Apple’s jazzy pop songs but there was always a rage burning in the background.
Apple was sexually assaulted outside her house while only 12-years-old. That trauma led to years of anorexia and other trauma-related disorders which persist to this day.
She has been almost reclusive for some years and recorded much of this in isolation – before that became fashionable.
And of course it has led to complicated and conflicted relationships with men personally and theoretically.
“You’re a human, and you’ve got to lie: You’re a man” she sings on Drumset.
In opening up about her story, Aapple kinda kicked off the #MeToo movement.
It’s too reductive to write all her work back to that one incident but it’s a starting point to appreciating her glistening attitude.
Her song Under the Table is the story of a woman being cajoled to go to her partner’s dull function: ‘Kick me under the table all you want/ I won’t shut up’ and ‘I would beg to disagree but begging disagrees with me.’ It’s a lyric worthy of Dorothy Parker.
There’s a few of them here; contemptuous, slightly bemused descriptions of hapless males.
The title track speaks for itself; a demand for freedom.
Her anger is still there, but Apple now has turned disgust to amusement.
As ever, Apple writes songs with the kettle drum in mind. Trained as a classical pianist there’s a richness to her records.
The piano though is a percussion instrument. Her keys rattle and tinkle in polyrhythmic riots of voices and sticks and skins closer to jazz than pop. This is, for me, her most accessible record since Tidal. More accessible. But scary.
It Is What It Is
On his fourth album, Thundercat brings the funk – and the kitchen sink.
Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, grew up in Compton, California with pal saxophonist Kamasai Washington.
He has been one of this century’s prized sidemen anchoring the works of Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Childish Gambino and pretty much anyone you’d care to name – including the thrash punk band Suicidal Tendencies.
One of his closest friends was the rapper Mac Miller who fatally overdosed in 2018. This tragedy sent Thundercat into a spin and a studio for an album that looks at pain.
It’s not his area though. You just need to see his wardrobe that he stole from George Clinton to know that he’s fundamentally an optimist.
The problem with the gifted is that there are so many ways to express themselves and Thundercat uses them all; jazz, pop, fusion; electronica, hip hop.
What this is, is somewhere between Tame Impala and Steely Dan (a lot of Dan). While the LP opens with an elegy for Miller in Lost In Space he flicks he switch to vaudeville on Dragonball Durag about a scarf. It’s the kind of record we need these days.
This is a bold play for the British pop diva to make the first division.
Watch out Katy Perry. Pure pop for now people, this album has no ballads.
The party never stops, and like every house party ever, someone pulls out the old vinyl.
Lipa is channelling Madonna, some Prince all over the place while sampling INXS and playing with Olivia Newton John.
Don’t Start Now is a textbook ’80s club track with its bubbling bass. The choruses are massive and the lyrics, by and large romantic.
More nostalgic that futuristic, Dua Lipa brings a positivity to the radio that is so needed right now.
Toby Creswell is a music journalist and pop-culture writer, as well as a former editor of Rolling Stone (Australia) and founding editor of Juice.