Not everyone can stomach Joanna Newsom's "Lisa Simpson on Crack" voice, or twisty lyrics to get to the amazing meaty rhythms and poetry underneath. Even I have to be in the right mood, but when I am, I can let the kaleidoscopic beauty of her masterpieces just wash over me.
It took me months of listening to even begin to crack the nut that was Joanna's last album, titled after the fabled mystical-city-swallowed-by-an-ocean: Ys. Joanna packs enough puns, wordplays, turns of phrase, and subtle passion into one song to make listening something like trying to study a James Joyce story.
As impenetrable as Ys seemed sometimes, it's a light snack compared to the 3-CD wall of words she released as her latest album, Have One On Me.
On the first few listens I just hear little intriguing phrases, and it takes a while to start to piece together the whole picture.
Now, I'm finally starting to pull some favorites and sense out of these 18 songs which range from two minutes to eleven minutes totaling a full two hours, and I just wanted to share with anyone who wanted to come with me a little into her world.
For one thing, I think I can tell you without a doubt what most of these songs are about. Much like Ys, the main theme is of Joanna Newsom expressing in a million ways how she's throwing herself in utter love and loyalty at the feet of a man who really just doesn't feel the same way about her. Not an uncommon theme in pop music, but no one says it like Joanna.
She lays it out simply on the album opener "Easy". She's easy. Easy to keep. He pleases her even in his sleep. So (like Bloody Mary) he can just speak her name and she'll appear. That's how goddamn easy she is. So easy it's… actually kind of creepy!
She doesn't say it explicitly, but somewhere in there it's obvious that she knows he likes a challenge. He doesn't like things easy. She'll never capture his heart. But she can't help it. She's never going to be able to make herself seem credibly harder to get for him. So she's fucked. She knows it. She can't stop loving him anyway. No one says it better than her.
She starts to talk about this on what I would consider the album's most easy listen, the crowd-pleasing "Good Intentions Paving Company" (god knows I've been an employee for so long I'm vested).
Just consider a few choice quotes from the song:
I regret…I regret…
How I said to you, "Honey, just open your heart!"
When I've got trouble even opening a honey jar
And I saw straight away that the lay was steep
But I fell for you, honey, as easy as falling asleep
And I know you meant to show the extent
To which you gave a goddang
You ranged real hot and real cold,
But I'm sold.
I am home on the range
And I do hate to fold
Right here at the top of my game
When I've been trying with my whole heart and soul
To stay right here in the right lane
But it can make you feel over and old
Lord, you know it's a shame
When I only want for you to pull over
and hold me, 'Til I can't remember my own name
Second to last, as a break from ordinary romantic heartbreak, she tells the story of "Baby Birch", perhaps the story of an abortion?
This song builds slow, but the payoff is worth it. Someone posted the song with lyrics, which works well:
And finally, the album closer, "Does Not Suffice". I think that this about sums it up:
It does not suffice for you to say I am a sweet girl
Or to say you hate to see me sad because of you
It does not suffice to merely lie beside each other
As those who love each other do
Of course, I'm still digesting. I hope that some people are won over and take a chance on this amazing album.