The curious case of Petula Clark
Listen to the song above, and don’t read beyond this paragraph until you’ve finished. At a glance there is something slightly odd about it, a little extraordinary. It nearly fits in to the recent trend of gently delivered post-The XX pop, with its spectral production and intimately gentle vocals, not to mention the technology-centric chorus and corresponding music video. And yet the unashamed loveliness of the arrangements and lyrics act as a slight red herring. One might imagine it comes from a young unsigned songstress with a slightly different approach to love songs, opting to stand with the recent vein of fidelity-centric, vulnerable male singers (Miguel, Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith, Frank Ocean), as opposed to the strident, independent tone favoured by female stars nowadays.
All these contextual notes and categorisations – the kind that amateur journalists like me are used to tagging on new artists – seem rather immaterial when one discovers the true nature of Cut Copy Me’s singer. Petula Clark is older than all The XX’s members combined, has sold more records than Adele and began her musical career on 1940s wartime radio, not myspace. It seems so odd listening to pop music made by an artist who has made music since before the top 40 existed, especially as it sounds anything but outdated. When Drake croons ‘we’ve all had our nights though, don’t be so ashamed’ he’s brushing off a few one night stands and dodgy boyfriends, whilst the significance the line ‘forget the others from my past’ is increased hundredfold when sung by an 80-year old woman; this is someone who really knows the true nature of relationships, giving her more right than anyone in the charts right now to sing lovesongs. (On the subject of justified recordings, there’s something brilliant about her explaining her cover of John Lennon’s Imagine, a generally clichéd move, because having met him in 1969 ‘I heard that I was his favourite singer’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPcX5HyIjzY)
A spectre that seems to haunt chart music now more than ever is that it is for young people, and that this corresponds to one’s ability to feel pure, exciting emotion, an ability that fades over time. There’s something rather depressing about feeling that one should try and stuff the 7 years between the ages of 18-25 with as much sex and passion as possible because sooner or later these feelings will be siphoned off by age and marriage, that the lifestyle you see in A$AP Rocky videos is both necessary and transient. It makes this period of life feel pressured and tense, as if you are wasting valuable life-energy by doing anything other than drinking/fucking /loving to excess. In the midst (or beginning, in my case, having recently started university) of this haze, hearing an 80 year old woman sing of love without a hint of cliché or gimmick is so calming that I swear purchases of this song should be covered by the NHS; you have all the time in the world to relax. And besides that, it’s a really good, ageless pop track that can hold its own against anything by Lana Del Rey or Lorde.
[Edit: That wasn’t a dig at Lana Del Rey, and definitely not at Lorde; the 16-year old’s tackling of the issue I addressed above in tracks like Tennis Court is brilliant and poignant in an entirely different way to that of Cut Copy Me. If someone could do a mashup of those two tracks that would be great, cheers]