I was in the car with my wife this morning, listening to Minnie Riperton’s opulent, Bacharachian Come to My Garden, when suddenly she remarked: “Wasn’t music so much better back then?” As I’ve always tried to steer clear of romanticizing the past, my automatic response was “No.” My wife had a point, however, in that the richness of arrangements and the harmonic complexity of pop songs in their “golden age” made them formally engaging in a way that the minimalist, rhythm-driven songwriting we tend to favor these days simply does not approach. For better or worse.
Our conversation made me think of “Do You Need My Love,” the recently-dropped second single from Natalie Mering’s a.k.a. Weyes Blood’s upcoming album Front Row Seat to Earth. Mering has the voice, the lyrical forte, and the instrumental chops to make her songs gorgeous pieces of music in their own right, and yes, “Do You Need My Love” does harken back to California singer-songwriter pop of the 1970s. What interests me most though is how it references that era: through its characteristic, perfectionist attention to compositional boldness. The self-described, six-minute odyssey goes through several interlocking themes of melody, in a meandering progression that, just like the best songs of the 70s, never lets you out of its grip. It is a testament to the power of the compositional glue that binds sound and meaning together like nothing else can.
Front Row Seat to Earth is out October 21 via Mexican Summer.