Saturday, March 14, 2015

Miranda Lambert: "Automatic"

Wherein I try to salvage the low point from Miranda Lambert's Platinum.

"Automatic" is gross nostalgia, pining for the days when folks wrote letters and read maps and stayed married. But Lambert only co-wrote it. It seems the true culprit is frequent collaborator Natalie Hemby who in a Rolling Stone interview defended the staying married line ("Everybody wants a quick fix, and sometimes that's not the best thing for you") although she'd never jettison her GPS. For some, Lambert's willingness to cede the songwriting to someone else compromises her authority, especially to someone who doesn't fully believe her own sentiments. And indeed "Automatic" feels dislocated as if her voice cannot account for the song's construction, e.g., how the anthemic chorus is incommensurate with the rote nostalgia of the lyrics. Why this music with that sentiment?

But I prefer to hear it through John Leland's typically genius theory of a transgressive pop music that incorporates, even actively solicits, errors and imbalances. In Leland's example, the weak voices of Madonna, Lisa Lisa, Exposé, Cover Girls, Janet Jackson, Stacey Q, Company B, etc. were no match for the outsized emotions they attempted to convey. But because of the mismatch, they wound up accessing a different kind of authorial voice, a mystical one that might know something but isn't telling. Instead of assuming that these pitch-challenged disco princesses surrendered all authority to their producers and/or hired songwriters, Leland finds an epistemological uncertainty more radical than the assurance that an auteur like, oh, Bob Dylan knows exactly what he's doing. What possessed Taylor Dayne to pronounce on night explosions better left to the rafter-shaking abilities of Martha Wash or Jocelyn Brown? And later, why did TLC use (or acquiesce to?) melancholic synths to convey their desire for "No Scrubs"?* Down such rabbit holes goes music of a perpetual becoming. With the personae unsettled, the songs can go in any direction and avoid the one-way street of the auteur's meaning.

And so it is with "Automatic." How will this recording artist which is not one expend the energy she uses to power into the chorus? Who exactly is she talking to? Even if we could divine an interlocutor, what will they do with their nostalgia? Like the most captivating pop music, "Automatic" is poised before action in a thrilling inbetweenness.

*Carly Carioli wrote beautifully on this aspect for the 1999 Pazz & Jop list in the February 22, 2000 issue of The Village Voice, p. 80: "As with [Anal Cunt] or the Crystals, the emotional delivery and mundane subject matter are utterly at odds - schoolyard complaints turned into high gospel-operatic drama, fanzine grammar dressed up in limousine sass."

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home