Prize (Righteous Babe Records)

Nov 3, 1999 at 4:00 am
Throughout the press kit for Arto Lindsay's new album, Prize, Lindsay and various interviewers/biographers refer to his latest work's "pop" feel. Lindsay states, "It's not like I make records that are full of attempts at hit singles, but I enjoy trying to write them."

What the fuck is he talking about? Has he heard pop music? Is he aware of what makes a hit single? Pop music is banal, packaged and homogenized. It is the emotionless, asexual, soulless product of a market that is so out of touch with actual music that its latest attempt at new and innovative is that whole Girth (yes, sic) Brooks Hair Club for Men Rock & Roll Fantasy Band shtick copped from David Bowie's old press clippings. Popular it may be, but Music? Call it filthy lucre.

And Lindsay's Prize is nothing but Music -- lush, steamy, erotic clouds of music that swirl and coalesce around Lindsay's cryptically beautiful lyrics. Sensuous and ripe, exotic and incandescent, Prize pulsates along rhythms whose headwaters are found in the airy heights of Brazilian tropicalia jazz. But rather than regurgitate a style he loves (are you listening, Girth?) Lindsay crafts new songs worthy of the movement's originators, weaving elements of skronky noise and hip-hop throughout his lustrous confections. Thirty-plus years separate Joao Gilberto's "Girl from Ipanema" from Lindsay's "Ondina," but the seductive stroll of the Bossa Nova Goddess is timeless, and Lindsay knows it. Lindsay also knows that less is sometimes more, and so he never mentions his lust for her: "Do you have to get too close before you know?" he asks her, and he answers his own question in song after song.

Prize is thick with elliptical questions and sultry innuendoes concerning love, loss, sleep and sex -- all the essentials of a rich life. Verses like "A tempest of sweat a reflecting pool/Around the ankles over the streets/dizzy and dizzy and on in serenity" (from "Unsure") or "Bite marks and scratches/Elbows and knees/In our dollhouse the furniture's capsized/Rushing and stalling in our disbelief/Folded back into our own surprise" (from "The Prize") are impressionistic poetry that glitter within the luminous confines of Lindsay's version of pop music. Even the five songs Lindsay sings in Portuguese exude more soul and passion than any recent Top 10 single, and their lyrics are impenetrable to everyone outside Brazil and Portugal.

This brings us back to the original question: Is Prize really pop music? In a perfect world, yes. But in a perfect world, Björk and Arto Lindsay would rule the pop charts for six months at a time, alternating album releases so that humanity would have a steady stream of luxuriant songs to procreate to and savor. Instead, cash cows like Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony are pop demigods, and artists of Lindsay's caliber are marginalized. It's a sick, sad world, but at least there are occasional albums like Prize to make it bearable.