Curse of the Contemporary


Today is Father’s Day and there’s a most appropriate track on LUMP‘s eponymous first album; it’s a song called Hand Hold Hero. I was tempted to bring him along as my Track of the Week but he slipped from my grasp when the intelligent lyrics and fluid singing faded out to leave an unappealing exercise in 80’s synth pop and disco beats. So instead I’m going to play on the YouTube swings; Dad can sit on the bench and read all about the Curse of the Contemporary in that most old-fashioned form of erudite entertainment, the newspaper.

LUMP is a recent collaboration between Laura Marling (Soothing, Wild Fire) and Mike Lindsay (co-founder, composer and producer for the acid folk band, Tunng). It melds Laura’s folk song melodies and probing lyrics with Mike’s folk-inflected electronica to create music that some mainstream folk fans would reject as shallow pop. And, yes, Curse of the Contemporary does have the ring of a pop song. But it’s the kind of record that might have given Neil Young a top ten hit in the late 60s and early 70s, a time when good music was popular and a lot of popular music was good.

Here are two versions of the Curse. The first is the official video, which features a dancing yeti grooving to the studio recording. The second is a live performance from the BBC TV programme, Later … with Jools Holland. Crotchety Man recommends you play one or the other, not both. There’s a certain entertainment value in watching the shaggy lump cavorting around the stage in the official video; alternatively, there’s the immediacy of a live band.  There’s little to choose between the audio feeds, so pick whichever you prefer.

And now Crotchety Man is going to live up to his name with a long-standing gripe. The lyrics of Curse of the Contemporary make some sort of statement. Unfortunately, though, the message isn’t entirely clear. That’s partly because the words take advantage of the poetic licence afforded to songwriters (for which I have no complaint) and partly because a few of the words are not sung clearly enough for these old ears to hear properly. All of that would be forgiven if the lyrics were released along with the song, but that is not usually the case.

With the Curse these factors combine to create a fog around the crucial lines in the chorus that give the song its title. The Internet can’t help here; different lyric pages give different words. Here’s one version:

We salute the sun because
When the day is done
We can’t believe what we’ve become
Something else to prey upon
And evidently
It’s just another vanity
Another something to believe
The curse of the contemporary

That seems clear enough. The curse is that we (the general public) have become the prey for some unspecified predator – big business, perhaps, or the machinations of party politics – and we are helpless in its grip. But what if that word is ‘pray’? We (the artists) have become the gods that our fans worship. We must try to live up to their unrealistic expectations and, in the long run, they are bound to be disappointed.

Perhaps I will have another go on the YouTube swings. See if another few minutes brings enlightenment. But my hand hold hero is telling me it’s time to go home. And I mustn’t disappoint him. Not on Father’s Day.

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