Saturday, 13 September 2014

D CDs #478: This Is Cheating

Wait, we're allowed greatest hits albums on this list? I thought Alan Partridge had conclusively demonstrated that this is bullshit?

Still, if we're forced to go down this route, there are undeniable advantages, particularly when dealing with an artist like Lynn, whose career covered so great a period, with the earliest recording here hailing from 1964, and the latest from, I think, 1978. That nearly fifteen year stretch represents a healthy slice of musical development - 1964 saw the Beatles singing "Can't Buy Me Love"; by '78 the Clash were already on to their second album.

For all its defiant wallowing the past (more often than not a fictitious one, but that's beside the point right now), country music had to make changes of its own. It needed to pick up an electric guitar like everybody else.  This evolution can be sketched out as we travel through the (roughly) chronological track listing here.  It's interesting from a musical history perspective, but it works in the disc's favour, too, classic country often being a genre that can suffer from diminishing returns. Lynn provides a good example ; the first half here is packed with simple guitar work, smiling honky-tonk piano, and Lynn's clear, if slightly inexpressive voice. All fine in moderation, but there's only so many reworkings of that basic theme a man can take, especially given the limited range of subjects on display here.

I mean, I can't complain too much about the density of "my man's a cheater/other women keep trying to make my man cheat" on display here. It did result in Lynn's own composition "Fist City", after all, the third-best song she ever wrote and presumably only given that title because the '60s Midwest wasn't ready for a song called "Touch My Man And I Will Fucking Lamp You, Bitch".  There's issues to be had about songs blaming other women for "making" your husband cheat, but there's plenty of blame to go around in these first eleven tracks, I guess.

Whatever the progressive objections, though, it's a limited palette to work with. An expansion into more general domestic matters buys Lynn some time - and produces her second-best song in "Coal Miner's Daughter", a song about remembering where you came from and refusing to take any shit about it - but there's an inescapable sense of losing momentum.

It's a this point, though, that we shift into Lynn's second iteration, kicking off with the best song she ever wrote, "X-Rated" - about the absurd difficulties divorced women face in living any sort of normal life for the high crime of having decided to not spend her entire life with a man who no longer does what she needs him to do, whatever that is - and then focus for a little while on her series of duets with Conway Twitty. Presented here as more as a palette cleanser than anything else, the Twitty collaboration offers us an excellent rendition of "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (though Twitty brings more to this than Lynn, in all truth) and Twitty's own "As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone", probably the most depressing song Lynn offers up on this disc, and not through lack of competition.

This injection of new blood serves as launch pad for the tail end of the disc, in which the music responds to emerging trends by becoming a little more muscular (just a little, of course; this is still classic country) and the songs push a little further into storytelling territory, though the central theme very much remains the failures of men and the resulting damage done to women.

But then, potentially after some inverting of one or both genders, that describes, at a conservative estimate, something approaching 97% of all art ever created.  No sense in fighting too hard against that, especially considering it's blueprint country. Blueprint country, competently delivered, with three distinct phases to keep things fresh - and remind us of how things were changing in this period - and tempered with the occasional flash of brilliance.

That, in the end, will do.

Seven and a half tentacles.

No comments: