Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Scout Niblett -- 'Dinosaur Egg'

So is Scout Niblett the Happy Shopper Cat Power then? Cool. Weird how I can't bring myself to care when she sings songs as fun as this one. And there's magic here, too: it's in the way she lets David Shrigley's wonderfully silly lyrics hang in the air as though they're the most painful thing she's ever had to sing, and in the way she barely plays the song's few simple notes on her guitar. Shit. Maybe this song does have something in common with Cat Power's music after all (it's all in the ultra-hushed delivery, isn't it?).

Cat Power would never sing lyrics like 'Dinosaur egg... oh dinosaur egg/When are you going to hatch/Cause I've got a million people coming round on Friday/And they want to see a dinosaur not an egg' though, would she? Frankly, I can't hear it. When Cat Power sings a song like 'Werewolf' she uses the fantastical creature as an angsty metaphor, which isn't something you could accuse Scout or Shrigley of here. There's a bizarre story going on in 'Dinosaur Egg', but there's no sensible reason for Scout to sound so anguished when she's singing about how she hopes the 'Tortured spirit' will be awake to help her 'scare the shit' out of her party guests. Is there?

Of course, if you're not a fan of ultra-minimal indie or David Shrigley style lo-fi silliness then this will probably sound like 'Smelly Cat' for unkempt hipsters, but if that's your take on it then fair enough.

Ultimately, I guess it's a question of how you want to hear this song, or rather this performance (and ain't that always the case, one way or another? The listener always brings themselves to the song, no matter how hard they try not to). Let's check out a couple of the options, shall we?

Take the negative approach, which leads to you hearing someone wailing twee nonsense over a barely competent guitar line, and you'll almost certainly wish you hadn't bothered with the track. After all, this is the musical version of bad conceptual art, and who the fuck has time for that?

Rewind: listen to the song again. From the start. Try to hear the beauty involved in making words so silly sound so tragic. Why is Scout worried about whether or not her 'Robot slave' is going to be active for her party? Well, if she really does have a million guests coming then I guess she might need some sort of help to serve them drinks! Submitting yourself to the song's warped logic is fun, isn't it? It stretches a certain childlike part of your imagination.

(Uhm... is now the time to admit that I don't know much about David Shrigley? I like his scribbly little art books: they seem to be more considered than they look, in a very Scottish, piss-taking sort of way.)

Listen to the song a third time. What do you hear in it? You see, I'm interested in what makes us appreciate the sort of art we like. Why do some people love flawed, ramshackle work while others seek out only the smoothest of the smooth? Sure, a lot of this probably comes down to social/cultural environment, but it sure as hell isn't the whole story, not by a long way.

'Every line means something' -- or so Marnie Stern sang in the song of the same name. It's not always true in the world of music, but sometimes it's fun to act like it is. Even the silliest linguistic conceit can open up fresh possibilities, fresh perspectives, making old forms/feelings/styles seem fresh. Like I said, there's magic in this song. Let's hear it for the magicians.

Steam: it's what I'm running out of. Quickly. And since hot air is my stock in trade that probably means I should shut up. One last thing before I go: Scout rules!


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