19 March 2007

women's march : part 2

These are some of my favorite female artists from the 90s whose work I still find immensely relevant to this day. The 90s was a great era for women in music. There was so much diversity in rock alone: from Hole to Mazzy Star to PJ Harvey to Tracy Bonham. These are the ones I listened to the most.

sinéad o'connor : red football
sinéad o'connor : sacrifice
click here or on the image below to listen

Did you know that more women aged 15 to 44 suffer death or disability from domestic violence than from war, cancer, malaria, and road accidents combined? Sad but true. I grew up in a household full of strong, nurturing women, who selflessly raised, educated, and provided for me and my siblings. It's simply beyond my understanding why women should suffer from violence at home and from biases in the workplace, politics, and many other facets of society. Not a lot of female pop artists take up these issues in their work, but you can't blame them. Any form of entertainment is less likely to have mass appeal when its content is heavy. Never one for commercial success, Red Football is doubtlessly Sinéad O'Connor's most up-front statement about women's rights. What this song achieves is it delivers an unequivocal message without being moralistic. Indeed, calling an end to violence against women no longer needs to simply appeal to people's morals. It needs to confront. It needs to provoke. It needs to agitate, as the ending of this song does. Of course, Sinéad is not only to be appreciated for her bravery, but also for her vocal uniqueness. Which is why I also have to post Sacrifice, her cover of Elton John's song about infidelity, which Sinéad delivers with unfurling anger. You will notice the change in her tone when she sings "We lose direction, no stone unturned." Even for a Sinéad song, Sacrifice is heavy on the reverb, but it only highlights what she can do with her voice.

paula cole : happy home
click here or on the image below to listen

If you knew Paula Cole from her breakthrough album, This Fire, you would know that Happy Home, from her debut album Harbinger, is anything but happy. In fact, it's about the opportunities women miss and the compromises they make, willingly or otherwise, when they carry out the roles of wife and mother. But what's good about this song is it's a story of two people: the mother suffering a crisis of what defines her identity, and the well-meaning daughter trying to figure out what is going on. It reminds me of the relationship between the young son and his mother, played by Julianne Moore, in that excellent film, The Hours. Best line: But everybody could feel the suffocation underneath the façade of a happy home. Best part: The mix of acoustic and electric after the bridge where she sings "Home sweet freedom, flowing in my mind."

crossroads : tracy chapman
click here or on the image below to listen

Yes, I know Crossroads came out in 1989. But like many, I had dismissed Tracy Chapman as a one-hit-album wonder until she released Give Me One Reason in 1995. The album where it's from, New Beginning, renewed my interest in her music. So while I listened to the spawns of the grunge era in the 90s, I was also rediscovering her sound, which is why I will always associate this song with the 90s. There's a lot of sorrow in her music, but she never makes them sound hopeless or desperate. Her voice doesn't have the range or versatility that the rest of the artists here have, but it beats in itself, not with anger, but with willpower. Hers is the voice of quiet defiance, which you will hear in Crossroads, a song about a woman's refusal to make compromises. Best Line: Standing at the point, the road it cross you down, what is at your back, which way do you turn. Best Part: The intro hooked me to the rest of the song.

caught a light sneeze : tori amos
click here or on the image below to listen

I'm not a Toriphile, but I did enjoy her music immensely from Under the Pink to Boys for Pele. The albums that came after were just too labored for my taste, until she released Scarlet's Walk in 2002, where she became a watered-down version of her old self. That said, what I like most about old Tori is not so much her lyrics as her voice and sound, from the restraint of Merman to the more elaborate arrangement of Tear In Your Hand. Most of the time, her lyrics are too coded for me to comprehend; I don't think I've ever agreed with anyone about what Silent All These Years means. Caught A Light Sneeze is no less difficult, but there are enough hints to say it's about the meltdown of her relationship with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The reference to Pretty Hate Machine, the album that catapulted NIN to fame, is a giveaway. Best line: I need a big loan from a girl zone. (I have no idea what it means, but it sure sounds good the way she sings it.) Best part: How she stretches "building tumbling down" at the chorus.

ghost : indigo girls
click here or on the image below to listen

I first learned about the Indigo Girls when their album Swamp Ophelia was given to me as a birthday present by someone I dated. While the relationship didn't last long – it was in fact my shortest ever – the impact of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray's music on me did. I was so impressed by that album that I immediately looked for their prior work and discovered Rites of Passage, where Ghost is from. Where do I even begin to talk about this song? It's a gem. It captures you with its quiet start, then with the lyrics bit by bit, and then ultimately with its totality. Your appreciation of it grows the more you hear it. There's so much beauty in this song that every time you listen to it again, you're touched by one aspect that's different from the last – a poetic line, Emily's tearful wail, Amy's somber backing, or the way their fingers slide on their guitars. What first struck me was the first line in the chorus – There's not enough room in this world for my pain. It sounds so sincere that it reaches out to your own sense of pain and longing. The best line? It's hard to choose, but it would probably be from the final verse: This bitter pill I swallow is the silence that I keep, It poisons me I can't swim free, the river is too deep. The best part? I love the bridge, where Emily delivers an evocative wail, followed by a reversal of the duo's vocal roles.

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