INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Filter DECEMBER 2006 - by Ken Scrudato
VARIOUS ARTISTS: PLAGUE SONGS
In The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot despairingly entreats, "Do only the dying notice how vapid and pretentious are all of our accomplishments here, where nothing is allowed to be as it is meant to be?" When held up to the soul-crushing cultural and social fraudulence that engulfs us in this, our 21st Century, those words ring forth with a harrowing poignancy. Thus, in choosing to address Biblical plagues, one might have to consider if we aren't veritably living many modern manifestations - AIDS, obesity, American Idol, Wal-Mart - at this very moment. A timely concept, then, is Plague Songs, a rather curious though not altogether cohesive collection of self-anointed prophets having a go at musically interpreting the wrath of God (or the mythology of it, for us godless sorts).
A few fall decidedly short of the mark (the persistently annoying Stephen Merritt's phony synth-pop take on The Plague of Lice, is, well, characteristically annoying), but those artists who would seem well-chosen for the task do, indeed, rise... or rather, plunge to the occasion. Katonah (The Death of the Firstborn) is Rufus Wainwright at his mournful best; Laurie Anderson conjures a haunting sense of dread on The Fifth Plague (The Death of Livestock); and Scott Walker's stark, gruesome Darkness (The Plague of Darkness) will likely send you screaming for the nearest confessional booth. Imogen Heap, rapper Klashnekoff, and the duo of Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt also make stirring contributions. (Though it is hard not to wonder what the great gothic tragedists like Nick Cave or Diamanda Galas might have done).
It must be said, of course, that it has been and always will be humankind's shocking arrogance that serves to bring down upon us plagues of any and all manner, be they locusts, global warming, or "cheese" that comes in a spray can. And humanity - weak, pathetic, bound to moral failure - is always left to ponder: Shall we change or shall we die? Here then, finally, a proper soundtrack to our doomed existential deliberations.
Oh, and have a nice day.