Favourite “New” Music – March 2023

My favourite movie, without question, of 2022 was “Everything Everywhere All At Once”. Not only was it a great science fiction/action/sort-of superhero movie, but it was funny and visually distinctive and a very heartwarming story that ultimately was really about family, and love, and finding your place in the world. So, when it dominated the Oscars last month, I took an unusual amount of joy out of an awards show (a thing I usually don’t give a crap about).

Heading into the awards, I knew one category it had no chance of winning: best original song for “This Is A Life”. I was rooting for it – my Mitski stanning has not yet reached its limit – but even I didn’t think it was anything special, and it was definitely odd by the usual standards of the Academy. It did occur to me, however, that I really didn’t know the other four nominated songs very well, so I set out to change that.

The eventual winner, “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR”, is a fun tune that’ll get your blood racing, but I question whether it is that much better than the literally thousands of other songs that are in Bollywood movies every year, none of which were ever even nominated. And I understood from the outset that “Applause” from “Tell It Like A Woman” wouldn’t win, because losing at the Oscars for writing a song from a film that almost no one has seen seems to just be Diane Warren’s fate. (They have now given her a special Oscar, so a competitive win could be close at hand. Stay the course, Diane.)

Had I been given a vote, it would have been between the two pop queens: Lady Gaga (“Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick”) or Rihanna (“Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) and their various co-writers. “Hold My Hand” is a power ballad that definitely taps into a kind of mid-‘80s vibe that makes it a worthy successor to the original film’s Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away”. The song is very stirring, but it’s also pretty one-note, all large gestures and epic booms. It needs a big voice to match the sonic weaponry that backs it, and Gaga qualifies. It’s a song that will have couples swaying side by side at the Daytona 500 a decade from now, one arm wrapped around their partner’s waist, the other raising up a beer in celebration.

“Lift Me Up” is more subtle: with humming, single strike piano keys and gentle strings, the song generates an emotional response from Rihanna’s compelling vocal performance. The movie was weighed down by its need to mourn Chadwick Boseman, but the song feels free and unburdened. It’s just as emotional as “Hold My Hand”, but it doesn’t seem to be working quite so hard to get there, and that just feels like a bigger accomplishment, and one that’s more worthy of recognition with, as Dustin Hoffman said of the Oscar, a little gold man with no genitalia who is holding a sword.

In the end, it was a pretty good year for movie songs (Drake, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Jazmine Sullivan and Selena Gomez all made the 15-song shortlist, and I would’ve loved to see one of the tunes from “Spirited” get nominated), and “Naatu Naatu” is really growing on me. It’s a fun song from another year that needed levity wherever it could be found.

Here’s some other music that I loved last month:

  • The Rolling Stones – Out of Our Heads (1965) (I never played the whole thing before, though I was halfway through side two before that became clear to me)
  • Bob Weir – Ace (1972) (I’ve never much cared for the Grateful Dead, but Weir, separated from the jam band artifice, is a different animal)
  • Shigeru Suzuki – Band Wagon (1975)
  • The Jam – In the City (1977)
  • Van Halen – Van Halen II (1979) (I always like the DLR-era albums, so I can’t figure out why I don’t play them more often)
  • Television Personalities – And Don’t the Kids Just Love It (1981)
  • Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians – Globe of Frogs (1988)
  • Pixies – Doolittle (1989) (this 30 years overdue play is proof that I’ve never been a very serious music listener)
  • Green Day – Kerplunk! (1991) (yes, they were great before “Dookie”)
  • Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001) (okay, so there are gaps in my hip hop knowledge, too – but I’m working on it)
  • The Format – Interventions and Lullabies (2003) (Nate Reuss’ former band before fun. was his former band)
  • Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild (2007)
  • Setting Sun – Be Here When You Get There (2013)
  • Ducks Ltd. – Modern Fiction (2021)
  • EarthGang – Ghetto Gods (2022)
  • The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field (2022) (one of my favourite indie pop bands right now)
  • Paramore – This Is Why (2023)
  • Pearla – Oh Glistening Onion, the Nighttime is Coming (2023)
  • Yves Tumor – Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) (2023) (a close winner over Pearla for most pretentious album name of the month)
  • Depeche Mode – Memento Mori (2023)

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