The Sound of Lowered Expectations: Lecture Two in a Three Part Series
Last week we laid the foundation for our discourse by analyzing the comedy of lowered expectations vis-a-vis‘s humorous films of the late 1970s and early ’80s. This time around, we direct our attention to the realm of the aural with a brief overview of the sound of lowered expectations.
“Like a message broadcast from an overpass, all my favorite singers couldn’t sing.” Poet-cum-songwriter David Berman infamously intoned these words on the‘ “We Are Real,” and beyond merely indicting his own dubious vox humana it also functions as a solid précis for the central theme of these lectures. What we find comforting or compelling, and certainly what we consider to be striding the vanguard is sometimes unpolished and even downright objectionable, and nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to vocal approaches. An contestant may find that their records have gone platinum, but the likelihood of them attaining the cultural reverence of an or seems distant at best.
Here, then, is a commemoration of a few of my favorite albums by vocally challenged yet enduringly lovable singers:
Winter Vacation – Detectives (2001, Dutch Courage)
[audio:http://godonnybrook.com/v3/wp-content/themes/mimbo2.2/images/22-When-the-World-Ends.mp3|titles=When the World Ends]
You haven’t ever heard this full-length side project debut from The Pathways’ David Yourdon, but I won’t hold it against you. Mr. Yourdon’s vocals are a tumbling caterwaul of nasal falsettos and earnestly twee musings which swirl around a narrative that would please Encyclopedia Brown. Despite the limits of such gimmicky singing, Detectives (and its follow-up., 1980) never falters or succumbs to novelty, instead remaining warm, determined, and unapologetically sincere.
Television Personalities – They Could Have Been Bigger Than the Beatles (1982, Whaam!)
When the TVPs released their first single in 1978, it was evident to anyone who would listen that vocalist/mastermind/lunatic Dan Treacy was beyond post-punk at a time when most hipsters were trading in their allowances for new Ramones records. If punk was about striking a posture that said “I don’t care,” Treacy was legitimately not noticing what people thought. His delivery seems like a genuine attempt to be the singer his music demands and, as with his troubled and volatile psychological life, there is an aloof detachment that serves as an intriguing foil to his emotional honesty. There’s no one I’d rather hear sing about David Hockney’s diary.
Razorcuts – Storyteller (1988, Creation Records)
Rising out of the ashes of the shortlived C-86 movement, The Razorcuts gained their small amount of notoriety (and an enduring
chunk of indie-history cred) due in equal parts to their jangly guitars and singer Gregory Webster’s whiny harmonies. The latter
proved to be a flawless match for the band’s sound and the ideal compliment to Mr. Webster’s visually-oriented lyrics. As with
Messieurs Yourdon and Treacy, Mr. Webster’s voice is unmistakably distinctive and instantly recognizable.
– Ágætis byrjun (1999, FatCat Records)
brilliant follow-up Ágætis byrjun Some might argue that vocalist Jónsi Birgisson is, in fact, a very talented singer who doesn’t
deserve to be lumped in with these other schlubs. I agree wholeheartedly, except that Mr. Birgisson’s style is provocative to the point of being alienating; he is not. Yet, as with our other vocalists, it is impossible to imagine his band maintaining the same efficacy and emotional heft without his singular style. Possessing a voice sui generis, Mr. Birgisson was capable of catapulting a foreign band with classical and ambient musical tendencies and vocals sung in an esoteric language to the forefront of indie consciousness.
This list could, of course, stretch on for days. What of the vocal stylings of Paps Fritas, Morrissey, St. Christopher, The Sea Urchins,, The Fire Engines, , The Names, Monsters, , Maximum Joy, , the , , Wire, The Cure, Gary Numan.
Any votes for omitted favorites?