Le Tigre
This Island
2004
D+



consider this an open letter. Dear Mr. John Hughes, or some such letter-header. I’ve never been much for handshakes, Mr. Hughes, but I’d like to offer up my thoughts without preamble. The eighties are back, but they’re on the verge of leaving again. They won’t reappear until at least 2020. It’s a fitting time for career renewal. Maybe a Sixteen Candles sequel that envisions that timeless gang ten years down the road, a la More American Graffiti. At the very least, CBS would take you up on your offer. Have you seen their made-for-TVs? They believe Jesus walks amongst us. I can’t properly claim otherwise, I suppose, but I’m getting closer to trying.

Casting will be so simple, Mr. Hughes. Christ, don’t you see, sir? For one thing, Le Tigre is begging to be your muse. Check their vapid, tech-energetic cover of the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited”! They’re looking right at you, with one eye to the silvered disco ball! One glance at their album cover for This Island, their third album and first for stiff-collared Universal, one simple leap through the album’s thirteen hyper-juiced tracks, and it’s clear that polyester digi-punk is en vogue and tailor-made for your reemergence. One perusal of their cover mug-shots and you know they’re eyeing you from a far, just aching to cell that casting call and flaunt their tattered wares, Mr. Hughes. Check out J.D.’s feather-duster mustache and pasty dead-eye. Tell me he ain’t the post-modern Anthony Michael Hall. And Johanna Fateman’s basement-bargain dye job, the way her crude bangs sweep her forehead like a perfectly shanked bathroom-cut! And, Kathleen Hanna, who looks like Ricki fucking Lake in that shot? That can’t be an accident. Ask John Waters. She’s fantastic if placed in the proper setting. All that flashy human pastiche in one single image. I’m sure you could mold that glamorous vacancy into something spectacular, something worthy of TBS re-runs.

But a warning, Mr. Hughes. Don’t overload Le Tigre on your soundtrack. Judging from their first release on a major, their socio-political protest has become a bit toothless. In the process, the band has degraded what is perhaps their most engaging sonic effort to date. This Island is expertly produced at times, with a crisp, micro-edged flaunt that belies their gauche political discourse. Theirs is an unwelcome indie lyricism that lives in a vacuum, devoid of guttural expression and left to vacant, bumper-worthy slogans. “Don’t Drink Poison” is a gutless Miss Kittin knockoff, with more catastrophic guitars and odd siren-backed beats, but it trades in faux terror and chicken little threat. If the world ends this way, my dear man, we have no need to close our eyes to its catastrophe. It will fill Walt Disney with new visions and make us smirk in the final second. Perhaps that’s a fear of mine. I don’t know if you concern yourself with these things. Consider it an aside, but I can say for sure that the song could never play to your baby-blue-streamered dance halls, Mr. Hughes.

Similarly, “New Kicks” begins with what sounds like guitar samples from the original MTV commercial (I know I’m playing the toady here, Mr. Hughes but please listen closely) and peacenik anthems shouted atop phony news samples. “This is what democracy sounds like”, that faux crowd insists. I doubt you’d agree, Mr. Hughes. Democracy is the sound of shoveled pancakes and Jon Cryer’s career hitting the skids, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m sorry. I admit it; that was a bit of ribbing. Please don’t tune me out quite yet, dear sir. I still have to lampoon “Viz”, Hanna’s crooked anthem to the wider acceptance of alternative lifestyles. I think your generation would have called them ‘homos’, Mr. Hughes. Am I right, or have I misread my historical lexicon again? It’s a common problem of mine. Either way, with a grotesque detachment that belies the sort of morning-after inspiration she’s trying to incite, Hanna sings “There’s a slap / On my back / I find another butch / Head-cocked / And we put our hands in the crowd”. Hanna’s computer-cold distance sets the listeners apart from the song, making it nearly impossible to feel the affected celebratory sway she’s attempting.

Still, if you’ve made it this far, Mr. Hughes, there’s hope awaiting you. The Ric Ocasek-produced “Tell You Now” is the album’s throaty high-water mark. I think it could serve as background for your title sequence. As its deep Bossa Nova beat tempers “TKO”’s obnoxious howl, Hanna allows her voice the space to flirt and writhe, and the song’s patience is a welcome relief from the album’s manic, over-loaded diary poignancy. The beats here aren’t quite as wet-behind-the-ears; the shampoo and bath salts no longer cloud its skin. With dusty samples and Hanna in top form like an Icelandic Blondie, bared of its MTV-guitars, Le Tigre makes use of a major-label wunderkind who flaunts their sound, instead of merely using their new-found major soap-box to uncurl cheap diatribes.

These are only suggestions, Mr. Hughes. I would never presume to dictate issues of style and form to you, dear sir. Still, should you find these hints worthwhile, I’ve long dreamed of a folded canvas chair with my name on the back. Think about it. In the interim, you and I will both take solace in the end of our political year. It’s over; we’ve all lost. Perhaps our gift is the end of overtly political oeuvre-music for a few seasons, Mr. Hughes. I trust you’ve heard of the Beastie Boys and Radio 4. If not, pay no mind. Until Cheney emerges from his Wyoming fallout cage and sharpens those cold eyes for renewal in 2008, sizing us all up against his inhuman shrewdness, we’re on break. It’s back to escapism and simple cork-popping fun. Le Tigre have failed us; I hope you’ll step into their void.

Sincerely,

Derek Miller, life-long devotee



Reviewed by: Derek Miller
Reviewed on: 2004-12-14
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