, April 7th, 2011 09:10
The recent death of Elizabeth Taylor prompted a flurry of feverish raptures on her relationship with Richard Burton, with people falling over each other’s adjectives as they strove to nail exactly what was so fascinating about the ‘love affair of the century’. What it came down to was this: he was so very male, she so very female. Camille Paglia described Taylor lasciviously as "a luscious, opulent ripe fruit", Caitlin Moran as "heavy, like wet roses". Burton himself, the archetypal gruff, boozy, chiselled womanizer termed his paramour "lavish. She was a dark, unyielding largesse. In short, she was too bloody much".
All terribly torrid. But more than nostalgia, comfy and romantic (oh my lord, she took his final letter to HER GRAVE), a battle of the sexes along traditional lines, after decades of gender-bending, androgyny and pansexual proddings into the unknown, has acquired an arse-backwards (or forwards?) sort of exoticism. Which seems stranger, more enigmatic to you? Gaga's prosthetic cheekbones, eyeball chin and fingers up her unclassifiable bits, or Taylor and Burton's moody Much Ado About Nothing dynamic of opposite tension?
The allure of this debut offering from Cat’s Eyes, Faris Badwan's pet project, has more in common with Ms Taylor than a way of doing your eyeliner. For its duration, Badwan and his new musical flame Rachel Zeffira, a sumptuous Canadian soprano, act out clearly defined gender roles, vamping and swooning and storming and pouting in a deeply silly, smokily sexy, whirlwind romance of a record that's as back-and-forth and on-again, off- again as Burton and Taylor.
The eponymous beat-pop opener, camp to almost Carry On Cleopatra degree, brings to mind the 'pop star' scene from Bedazzled, Faris as mean, growling untouchable bad boy, on the road with "no reason to stay" as Zeffira go-go dances in the background, cooing "on the highway" in the girliest of simpers. 'The Best Person I Know' is saucer-eyed and mooning, staring dreamily out the window and scrawling 'I heart Faris' and 'Rachel Badwan' on its jotters in a lovestruck miasma of strings and layered sighs, while 'I'm Not Stupid' is fragile, failing feminity at its flimsiest, Zeffira wilting "I know I'm not the prettiest girl/I'm realistic... I can see she's better than me" over charmingly, brokenly gauche dance-lesson piano. An utter idiot would compare this unfavourably to the sort of Lucy Liu-meets-Lykke Li empowered and leather-clad ass-kicking persona that dominatrixes much female pop. A real person, male or female, would just shiver in recognition of how it feels to be this besotted and vulnerable.
Is our hero impressed with these devotions? Is he toss, ripping his leather jacket from the bed and hissing "I've never had trouble getting girls… Don't try to tell me you’re the only one / You're not anyone at all" over 'Face In The Crowd'’s moody twangs of Tornados guitar.
Zeffira rightly concludes she's on to a loser with the graceful ghost-calypso of 'Not A Friend', and 'Bandit', a cautionary tale from the spirited bordello girl in an old Western. And then, with a red right hand, Faris blasts in through the saloon doors with 'Sooner Or Later', a goth dirge that's the most Horrors thing on the album, black winds of guitar blowing dust devils and tumbleweeds in your face before stopping dead in the face of Faris’ dark threats: "You'll be hanging in the mirror of the moon". His voice is clearer, more confident ever before; his main band’s constant crate-digging love of the beat era, girl group grooves and Meek-style sonic experimentation can here take a back seat to a narrative he can really act up to.
Scraps, reconciliations, tender private kiss-scenes… but finally our beautiful thing must end, and Faris sings it to sleep with the angel-sighing 'I Knew It Was Over', Zeffira's layered "oohs" a cloud-cushion to his sad Roy Orbison reflections. It couldn't last forever for Liz and Richard, for Faris and Rachel, for us, but damn, we burned the flame bright before those eyes batted shut forever, didn't we? Now, roll those end credits...