Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rilo Kiley Are Better Than Actual Pop

I got yer blacklight right herre.

Not only do I understand the violent reaction to Rilo Kiley's true major-label debut, Under the Blacklight, I started predicting it right after the single premiered. "The Moneymaker" is a deliciously shallow piece of arena-funk that some actually compared to Maroon 5, and that's when I started anticipating the B-/5.1 type reviews the album would, and did get. This was a kind of asshole move on my part--I hadn't even heard the thing yet and was already calling out fellow critics for being close-minded to it. Sure I loved the safely familiar second leak "Silver Lining," but third and fourth leaks "Dreamworld" and "Give A Little Love" had me worried as the spaces between Amy Winehouse's toes. Never one to back away from bands' gleeful sellout moves, I started to sweat and concur, "Maybe there is such a thing as too pop."

And maybe if I heard "Breakin' Up" or "Dejalo" on their own, I would've cringed like everyone else. But taken in one rich, fatty gulp, Under the Blacklight, as an album of 11 fully realized songs working inside mostly dusted-off minigenres, is flawless. By the logic that, trying to flaw in every way possible would be a fun thing for a young, talented, spoiled Hollywood band to try, it turns out you can hear the fun in it after all. Speaking as an Execution of All Things fan who hardly thinks it was as far as they had to go (or planned to) and a Rabbit Fur Coat sleeper, I'm pleased to report that it may or may not be Rilo's best album, just the way Liz Phair's irresistible (to some) sugar rush challenged Exile. I initially resisted this comparison, but why not? Both Phair and Rilo made wildly entertaining and audacious debuts, overly arranged and slightly tedious follow-ups, and near-perfect songwriters' albums from then on. Neither ever pledged to stay part of anyone's underground even though they constantly get called on it. And both seem to have a true passion for the cheesiest brand of pop music, but also the brains and skills (and wit) to gracefully balance atop it.

Every time someone has gasped that Blacklight recalls the horrific ("Dreamworld" sounds like Fleetwood Mac! "Dejalo" sounds like Gloria Estefan! The terrorists have won!), all I can do is shrug and enjoy my newfound love for what's apparently Fleetwood Mac- and Gloria Estefan-inspired music. Has an album ever taken you to places you never wanted to go, then changed your mind about going there? This is the aural equivalent of a drinking buddy admitting his unprecedented tryst with a fat chick wasn't half bad. The hard part is convincing him to call her back for another; it hasn't been too difficult getting some people to say uncle on these songs, but I don't think it's enough to make their top 10s at Pazz time.

Like that fat chick, it's the supple bottom half that suprises the most here. "15" is my favorite, a horn-y and horny Dusty Springfield rip if Alfred Soto says so. "The Angels Hung Around" and "Smoke Detector" revel in the disposability of their hooks (and in the latter, the sex). And even "Give A Little Love," which originally cheesed me off, takes on such a matter-of-factness in its unabashed desire for crowd participation that it might as well be this year's "Southern Girls."

Christgau already pointed out the album's delicious preoccupation with "dangerous sex," so I won't beat it to death anymore that you can blame Phair and Rilo's critical exile on indiecrit sexlessness/sexism. But I'll take anyone to task who claims they don't hear hooks. It's one thing to hate pop albums, it's another to claim a band made one all wrong or did it for dubious reasons. Besides, if they made a pop album devoid of the issues the haters are having, somehow I still doubt they'd even notice (wink). Besides, this sounds nothing like pop that's either cool or retro-cool right now. It's better.


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