Sunday, February 27, 2011

Best Coast - Crazy for You

Best Coast – Crazy for You (3.5/5)

Rock music has always been dominated by men. From Buddy Holly’s pining for Peggy Sue to the libidinal poses of Jim Morrison, most rock and roll songs have been told from the perspective of those with a Y chromosome. In fact, the masculine point of view has been so ingrained in rock and roll that when a woman wants into the tree house she has to prove that, like the rest of the guys, she can take just as many drugs and partake in just as much indiscriminant sex. Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Joan Jett, to name a few, became rock and roll icons by asserting that whatever guys could do, they could do better. The approach of what’s-good-for-the-goose-is-even-better-for-the-gander has had its benefits, allowing women to break from roles traditionally created for them, but just as often it can serve to reinforce the whore/Madonna dichotomy that stretches back to long before Chuck Berry fashioned the first rock and roll song.

With this, incomplete, history of women in rock music I’ve come to Best Coast’s debut album, Crazy for You, with some trepidation. Lead singer Bethany Cosentino has a penchant for writing songs about lounging and longing that stand in stark contrast to the pioneers of women in rock. Instead of making lyrics like “Take another little piece of my heart” sound like a challenge, Cosentino sings as if she spent the entire album holding onto her paramour’s pants legs as he strolled out the door. On the opener, “Boyfriend,” she sings, “I hope that he’s at home / Waiting by his phone”; later, on “Goodbye,” she croons “Every time you leave this house / Everything falls apart”; and, finally, on “Bratty B,” she pleads “Pick up the phone / I wanna talk about how / I miss you so much.” It’s not that there aren’t plenty of examples of guys pining over girls in songs, but has there ever been an album with this much self-destructive longing? Cosentino has avoided the whore and Madonna stereotypes only to fall firmly into the just as damaging archetype of the crazy girlfriend.

The songs themselves are reasonably catchy throwbacks to early rock and 60s girl groups. Like most musicians who trade in retro styles, Best Coast play up the difference between the pristine Leave it to Beaver image of the past the internet ravaged present. For her part, Cosentino presents herself as stewing in a cloud of marijuana and codependence. Likewise, much like some of those early pop songs, here the sentiments are as simple as the rhymes. It would be tempting, then, to read Best Coast’s mix of longing and dependence as a critique of those classic songs, revealing to the reader the kind of damage that music inflicted on the image of women. The only problem with this take on Best Coast is that it’s a complete misreading of some of the best girl group songs. When Dionne Warwick sings “Walk on by” to her ex, she’s asserting the fact that pain is temporary just as much as she concedes that she has spilled more than a few tears since he has left. Cosentino concedes much more than she asserts, and I suppose your enjoyment of Crazy for You depends on how much time you’ve spent sitting by the phone waiting for the girl in Biology class to ring you up.

No comments: