The Classics 042

The Classics 042

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Wednesday, 14 June 2023
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Poe – “Trigger Happy Jack” – Hello LP

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Hello vinyl reissue by Poe. The fact is that, by intention and not by accident, Poe (born Anne Decatur Danielewski) has always chosen to present herself in a manner completely separate from any artist who might pretend to be her peer. Most recently, the proof of presenting herself that way can be found in the fact that – at the height of “reissue mania” – Poe chose to re-present her sophomore effort, Haunted, in 2019; before the reissue of her debut album, Hello, and on a completely different record label. From the outside, such a decision defies convention but, for those familiar with the artist’s work, such decisions come as little surprise, if any; Poe has always taken a certain amount of pride in playing against type, and has done so for the duration of her entire career. For example, when Hello first came out in 1995, it landed among a fairly incredible stable of artists who were still reeling from the changes of the moment which were beyond everyone’s control (grunge had been shaken to its foundations but Brit-Pop had moved in to fill the void it left – and with it came a whole lot of brighter vibes), and so were trying to re-establish their voices. Many seemed to want to get much brighter and poppier – and that’s why Hello stood out so brilliantly. Unlike the lion’s share of the pop and rock population, Poe introduced herself as a character who was far more difficult to pin down; her music didn’t conform to any one form which would make it easy to identify, and the artist chose to utilize any sound (be it pop, electronic music, hip hop or peanut butter-and-cucumber combinations of them all) that her muse required to satisfy her need to realize her vision.

When stylus catches groove on the A-side of Hello, listeners aren’t so much introduced as they are cast into Hello‘s narrative world. There, as the album’s title track opens the side, listeners are enticed by a deep and moving bass line and beat combination that it is really, really easy to fall under the spell of before the singer begins rattling through lines which tap into new and previously unbroken (for pop) ground; while lyrics citing modem connections which quickly mutate into seeking a connection with other people would quickly become very common, they represented fresh dialogue in 1995, and the energy with which “Hello” plays in 2023 still features infectious levels of excitement. That dialogue firms up into a finer form of menace as “Hello” transitions into “Trigger Happy Jack” and, while heads begin bobbing initially, listeners will do a double-take at the distorted guitars which break in during the choruses. That surprise endures through “Choking The Cherry” – which feels like an off-brand Liz Phair album cut (but also feels a little awkward), but the surprise turns fascinating again when the mood and driving structure changes again in “That Day.” There, around very tightly wound string arrangements, Poe offers a near-spoken (not sung) performance which sees the singer grapple with loneliness, frustration and isolation which turns from abstract to dark and unmistakably worrisome with the help of some growling guitar chords. While the song itself is very short (just two minutes and thirty-six seconds), where other similarly bent bands of the time (like Hole – or maybe The Breeders) would take the time and opportunity to articulate fury, Poe sticks true to her muse and examines her upset with delicacy in lines like, “I still cannot explain why I listened in the first place to you.” That approach rings about as far from what any fan of alt-rock being made in 1995 would expect and easily holds them tightly engaged to experience the densely layered, trip-hoppy torment of “Angry Johnny” before wrapping the side with just a little something different in the form of “Dolphin.”

While it might seem like an out-of-left-field or unexpected comparison, “Dolphin” adheres to the forms already expressed elsewhere on Hello, but also baits into something completely unexpected. There, Poe develops a kind of prescient and reserved form of songwriting that David Bowie would make on his swan song, Blackstar – insofar as there is darkness, but also excellent, hypnotic rhythm. The beats, the bass and lines like, “There’s a broken beam inside of a big, big bridge/ I guess that the whole thing is caving in/ Maybe it’s time I learn how to swim” are delivered in a way which feels almost off-handed and so defuses the lyric’s inherent misgivings and danger. That becomes a reoccurring theme as the singer further assaults her own faults and shortcomings (see, “There’s not a lot I believe anymore/ I mistrust everything I had been longing for/ There’s not a lot that I know anymore/ But I know if a good bridge is burning”), but always keeps from drowning under the weight of it all by inhabiting Poe’s spirit animal: a dolphin. That energy and endurance powers the song and keeps it surprisingly buoyant until the needle lifts from the side.

As darkly as “Dolphin” may have closed the A-side of Hello, the way that “Another World” opens the B-side is so aurally bright that it feels very surreal, comparatively. The beat builds gradually as does the general vibe of the song, but Poe’s voice seems disconnected, in some way, and the song as a whole refreshes the abstract energy which dominated the first side of the album for this one. Because of that, listeners will be swept along with it; the jazzy samples combined with more poppy real-time instruments as well as very tight, soulful vocals combine into a hypnotic flow from which listeners will be unable to escape and, when “Another World” gives way to “Fingertips” after just three minutes, listeners will line up to follow, eagerly. The infectious vibe of “Another World” is held up very well in spite of the song being more R&B and jazz than pop, but listeners will still breathe easier when Poe shifts gears again and digs into the mild acoustic tones of “Beautiful Girl” There, Poe actually finds herself both embracing as well as being embraced by the Girl Power spirit and styling that was the poppiest thing in pop in the Nineties – and comes closest on the album to sounding dated, as a result. That isn’t to say the song is bad (far from it – in fact, there is no moment on the album which stands out as being genuinely poor) – it’s just the one song on Hello which is difficult to navigate around, given that every other track on the album cuts such a striking image in favor of an artist who was very much a new face in 1995.

After “Fingertips” strikes the image that it does, it feels as though the album has begun to make its close. “Beautiful Girl” feels like it lifts John Lennon’s sense of affection for a love song (as well as Lennon’s ability to craft fine acoustic melodies) from “Beautiful Boy” and does a gender swap for “Beautiful Girl” [The song isn’t about Poe’s daughter, there’s just an obvious similarity in form to “Beautiful Boy” –ed], and reclaims the beat-focused dark pop of Hello‘s A-side for “Junkie” (which also captures the Nineties’ fascination with heroin imagery – but begins to close the book on it by making it feel passé) before finally closing out the album’s running with one more great piano ballad, “Fly Away.”

While the way in which “Fly Away” might have any chance at fitting into Poe’s setlist for a live show is very unclear (the sort of incandescent light in the song and the very songwriterly/balladesque tempo just don’t feel like they’d support the energy that any artist hopes to build at any point at the beginning of a show, or sustain it through the middle or end of a set), the manner in which it closes Hello reflects an interesting change in the album. In this case, the enormous piano sound which characterizes the cut as a whole gives the song a warm and reflective quality while lines like, “It makes sense that it should happen this way/ That the sky should break, and the Earth should shake/ As if to say: Sure it all matters but in such an/ Unimportant way” contrast against images of birds of prey to imply that something can be beautiful and still not be alright. That contrast sets the hook deep in listeners for the song and, while it is very different from the rest of the album, “Fly Away” still leaves those who have gone front-to-back with Hello hopeful for more – even as the song ends and the needle lifts.

Standing back from the album, it’s absolutely remarkable how well Hello has aged. Yes, the album is now twenty-eight years old, but each cut betrays no sense of age; any of these songs could have come out as new releases this year and find a receptive audience. That’s just incredible; Hello might not have received all the credit it deserved when it was first released, but this reissue can easily recoup the initial loss now. [Bill Adams]

Artist:
https://www.officialpoe.com/
https://www.facebook.com/OfficialPoe/
https://www.instagram.com/officialpoe/
https://twitter.com/poe

Album:
The vinyl reissue of Hello is out now on MNRK Music Group. Buy it here on Amazon.

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