Friday, 26 June 2009
TUNES OF THE DECADE #1: 'TIME TO PRETEND' BY MGMT
Extravagantly overrated band/record; superb, zeitgeist-encapsulating tune.
The key allusion here has got to be 'Dancing Queen'. Formally, quite a bit is half-inched from those ABBA kids - the simple, slaying two-chord pedal, the louche acme-D.I.S.C.O beat...
But I'm thinking more about the subject matter.
Bear with me. 'Dancing Queen' is a gay anthem, for obvious reasons. Gay culture in various ways subsists on ironic reversals of normative stereotypes eg. the co-option of queer, queen, poof etc as proudly ironic self-labels.
It's always seemed to me that a much broader version of this principle is at work with the tenor of gay culture as a whole; in its valorisation of surface and appearance it seems to be saying, you want to make superficial judgment-calls about us based on the way we dress or the timbre of our speech? OK, well we'll throw this back in your face as a form of empowerment. We'll transform the focus on surface-minutiae and outer trappings into a beautiful, soulful, rebellious raison d'etre.
Surely, part of the reason for 'Dancing Queen' attaining to its status as gay anthem over the last three-or-so decades is that it embodies and gives expression to this process of subversive redefinition, with a crystalline pathos and celebratory ebullience that is the preserve of the classic pop song. It pushes glitter and surface to such a peak of extremity that ends up sounding like the most profound, tragic, glorious thing in existence (helped along the way, it should go without saying, by a melody that is its own justification).
Fast-forward to the US/UK in 2008 and the ghost of '... Queen' becomes newly relevant in its 'Time to Pretend' reincarnation. Because now we're all of us - gay/straight, mainstream/indie - in danger of being thoroughly dehumanized by an orthodox worldview that tries to present hedonism and surface-worship as the be-all and end-all of life.
A lot of the time we can try to fight this, get angry about it, try to seek out stuff that is deep and worthwhile to counteract all the superficial froth that daily surrounds us. But sometimes you have to throw off piety and make a virtue out of what's in front of you, sometimes you have to look for ways of transforming shallowness into something joyous and meaningful, sometimes you have to seize control of the situation by re-imagining a life of models and cars and cocaine as something that might actually have some elements of beauty within it somewhere along the lines. Sometimes all you can do is be proud to say, with a poignant acknowledgment of the tragedy of it all, that just for a few minutes, it's time to pretend.
This was one of the quintessential impulses of the decade, summed up here with the aid of a classic synth hook that had nothing to do with ABBA, and everything to do with the genius ability of the band themselves to present a perfect combination of the vogueish and the timeless.
Pity they had to travesty it with an otherwise mediocre album, including the half-baked, borderline moronic 'TTP' rehash 'Kids', which for some bizarre reason ended up replacing the former as Oracular Spectacular's middlebrow, catwalk-charming signature tune.