The Music Club

Lil' Wayne Reminds Me a Lot of Axl Rose
New albums dissected over email.
Dec. 18 2007 10:45 AM

The Music Club

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Lil' Wayne. Click image to expand.
Lil' Wayne

Hey guys,

Having stayed up until 4 a.m. writing about Celine's last Vegas hurrah (which featured a shower of rose petals, an oddly restrained reading of "The Christmas Song," several cameos by her cutie-pie clone son Rene-Charles, and the loudest pennywhistle I've ever heard), I'm not equipped to be definitive on Little Wayne. His catalog's getting as deep as the Marianas Trench, and his quality level varies from junk to genius, depending on his mood and maybe the paycheck. (In this, he's very early-'90s punk: He's much better when he's giving it away). It would take more than a paragraph to dissect the dude, and besides, SFJ did a great job already.

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Suffice to say that Weezy has that thing—that combo of menace and miraculousness that makes for the most compelling figures in pop. He's uncensored, and since he's part of street hip-hop's woman-fearing warrior culture, he can sometimes be unpleasant. But he's also itchily ambitious, always looking beyond the world that made him, even as he demands to define and dominate it. He reminds me a lot of W. Axl Rose—except he's as riskily prolific as Rose became tragically stuck.

And he's funny, though as a fortysomething white girl, I'm not always prone to getting his jokes. I did get pretty much every one on my indie-rock record of the year, Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Bob, you already name-checked the album's best song—the epic nervous breakdown confessional "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal"—but the whole set's a high point for Kevin Barnes, a glam metrosexual Peter Pan with a penchant for French theory and cheesy beats. Barnes has been hanging around college radio for years, slowly getting better, and it's grand to see him hit his peak.

It was a year of peaks, in fact, for indie-ish artists with a little dirt under their fingernails. Feist made her Tapestry and got to be the latest seasoned boho chick nominated for a best new artist Grammy. Bluegrass heartbreak boys the Avett Brothers released Emotionalism, their sixth album in four years, and showed how a little discipline and a lot of touring can perfect a sound. For White Chalk, Polly Harvey took up the piano, put on the dress Holly Hunter discarded from the movie with that instrument's name, and stunningly reworked her main theme of femininity, bound and unbound. I don't get Spoon myself, but seeing Britt Daniel work his angular charm in a packed Hollywood theater, I could feel the band thrill to its own evolution.

I could go on and on. The point is that as much as novelty harasses us, our speedy era is just as notable for enabling the artists that Bob once famously dubbed "semi-popular" to survive and grow. Rufus Wainwright doing Judy Garland at the Hollywood Bowl—would that have happened before the onset of niche marketing? Or Yo La Tengo making it to the same stage, opening for Bright Eyes, 20-plus years into their cult status? They burned it down, by the way. Wish I could have seen those Hanukkah shows.

The Internet's entrepreneurial paradise is only one reason indie's middle-aged set is thriving, even as young bloods like Arcade Fire (a band I like way more live than on record) break through. It's also because the generation weaned on R.E.M. and the 'Mats has hit middle age and is using what power it's gained to promote and preserve its own. Just look at the soundtrack to Todd Haynes' I'm Not There for proof: The only baby boomer present, besides Dylan himself, is Richie Havens. Putting Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth and Stephen Malkmus of Pavement up front in his version of Dylanology was a polite way for Haynes to say, step aside, fogies, we're the canonizers now.

It's weird for us aging indie hipsters to be in that position, since our youth was spent warming up the margins. But we've adapted. This year, I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the first time. Coincidentally, Michael Stipe and the boys were getting ushered in. When the band got up onstage—with Bill Berry back on drums!—and played, my whole table, packed with editors of leading music mags and national newspaper critics, got up to dance. Of course we did. We'd all had copies of Reckoning glued to our dorm-room turntables in 1984. I turned to my pal, one of those taste-making editors, and said with a grin, "We're so old!"

And even as we help our own get museum gigs, soundtrack work, or good slots on late-night television talk shows, we're getting usurped by today's kids, who have a whole new set of values. Most heartening to me is the easy way younger indie kids cross boundaries of genre and, consequently, race; I've seen more booty-shaking on rock club dance floors this year than I did in my entire college career, not to mention more black and brown faces onstage. That's another aspect of the humanism you identify, Bob—rock's good old-fashioned ability to create utopian space. I might find grassroots rock more generally boring musically right now than R&B or the poptimist hit parade, but I still feel like indie's a pretty fun place to hang out.

Ann

Ann Powers is a critic at NPR Music. She is the former Los Angeles Times' chief pop critic and the author of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America.

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