Thursday, May 14, 2009
A musician's progress
I recently bought the latest KD Lang album, Watershed. As soon as I’d managed to unwrap the CD (a skill I have yet to master) I checked out the photographs.
I’m always curious about how Lang represents herself – Lang is the only ‘lesbian’ singer I follow so she’s my only touchstone where lesbian iconography is concerned. But I also want to keep tabs on her development as an artist.
And is she developing as much as I’d like to think? The photos accompanying the CD suggest that here she’s at least partly harking back to her Ingenue period. This album of torch songs, dripping with deliciously forlorn emotion and apparently fuelled by her love for a woman already spoken for, rightly catapulted her into the dizzy heights of superstardom.
A couple of the pics seem to suggest that the ingenue is still around. Both show Lang in profile with eyes dreamily closed, wearing a tailored white shirt with elegant long cuffs and a white waistcoat. In one of these pics her solid fingers are clasped and pressed against her forehead as if in prayer. In the other she leans back against a wall, her arms stretched up on each side as if some heavenly force pulls her upwards.
As before, Lang presents herself as caught up in an interior world. But here she looks more peaceful than she appeared on the Ingenue album, possibly preoccupied with spirituality rather than an unavailable woman. There’s still a sense of the lesbian as endless quester, still alone in the existential sense. And of course, as before, Lang is also inviting us to eroticise her, eyes closed and the ghost of a tiny smile on her face as if to say ‘feel free to look’.
A few pictures quietly counterpoint these images, showing us a mature, reflective but music-focused KD. In one she looks like a nerdy 1950s male pop star. She’s in profile again, dressed casually, listening to a playback perhaps. Her headphones are tight against her spiky hair, which sticks up appealingly at the front as if someone has just run their fingers through it. She’s wearing glasses and looks cute and boyish but at the same time completely focused and singleminded.
In another she’s seated at a keyboard, clutching a piece of music that she gazes at. She wears a casual shirt with sleeves rolled up and her glasses are perched on her forehead. The look is more posed: peaceful, reflective, at ease. Lang seems to be showing a plethora of selves: sexy ingenue, spiritual quester, dedicated musician and mid-life, comfortable dyke.
But her invitation to be eroticised is of course political. I remember the time when it was fashionable to be lesbian (with all the silly contradictions that sexuality being fashionable entails).
During this period a butch-looking Lang appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair sitting on an old-fashioned barber’s chair, her face lathered up and her eyes closed in bliss as she leant against the bosom of a very femme Cindy Crawford, dressed in high heels and a sexy one-piece, who was pretending to shave her. And who could forget Madonna’s remark: ‘Elvis is alive, and she’s beautiful’? Or the stories of Lang at large in LA, running with the likes of Martina Navratilova in what sounded like some sort of lesbian brat pack?
And who could not melt when hearing that velvet voice? I’ve listened to the album only a few times and it sounds overly lush bordering on easy listening. In Ingenue Lang perfected a wonderful lesbian camp – is she trying for this again? I’ve always assumed she would keep doing new things with her music but perhaps she won’t. It’s too soon for me to tell, I’ll have to listen a few times before I get a proper sense of it.
For the moment, though, it’s good to hear that gorgeous voice again.