Rosie Tucker : Utopia Now!

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Rosie Tucker Utopia Now review

In a fire department in the city of Livermore, California, there is a lightbulb that has been burning—at the time of writing—for 123 years. It has been dubbed the “Centennial Light,” (a nickname which itself must be rapidly approaching its expiration date, seeing as the bulb’s current lifespan sits at the best part of a century and a quarter), and it has inspired curiosity for decades, prompting many theories to explain the secret behind its staggering longevity.

We may never know the real answer. But, on the opening track of their latest record, Utopia Now!, Rosie Tucker has lent a melodious endorsement to the argument that it was produced in an era before companies developed the strategy of planned obsolescence—that is, the intentional designing of a product to break sooner rather than later, thus forcing the consumer to go and spend money on a new one. “You know that lightbulbs only die / To maximize demand?” Tucker sings with a kind of goading faux-innocence, then slips quickly on from this truth-bomb to lyrics that discuss how “Return on investment / Is all but assured / Success is a steal / Where the price is obscured.”

And if kicking off your first release in 3 years with something that veers dangerously close to an economics lecture might seem like a risky gambit, that’s only because it is. And if you still feel compelled to listen to the rest of the album? Well, that’s because Tucker is an excellent songwriter.

Let’s not downplay how well Tucker has navigated this territory. All too often, you will see an artist attempting political material, but stumbling somewhere down the line, and churning out something you might call essaycore; a tune with lyrics that might well be technically correct, but also basically boring, and so lacking in any artistic (as opposed to political) merit that it will turn even a great beat or riff into a laborious chore. Part of what makes Utopia Now! shine so brightly is that Tucker’s lyrics are hypnotically eloquent, and yet their bleak poetry never once demands a compromise on the complexity and incision of their message.

“Gil Scott Albatross,” for example, is not just a song about how commercialist greed will happily destroy the natural world in search of profit; it’s about how “They’re gonna turn the moon into a sweatshop.” “Paper Clip Maximizer” is not just a song about how the maintenance of a capitalist economy has eclipsed all else as society’s one acceptable priority; it’s about how “The cosmos expands, so the market survives / All the better to bear all the office supplies.” And so on.

Politics is not the only focus of Utopia Now! The music industry itself, and unnamed actors within it, also take a beating, notably in songs like “Lightbulb” and “Big Fish/No Fun.” But it’s this seamless sway between the political and the personal that lifts it toward something utterly breathtaking. Utopia Now! is not quite a manifesto or a diary entry. Instead, it’s a sort of fusion of the two, the whole thing packed with such a worldly, intelligent commentary on this creaking machine we call capitalism, yet at the same time dripping with such a potent and personal sense of bitterness and longing that it can’t help but ultimately defy each category and end up as something bigger than the both of them.

Noteworthy too is the level of technical musicianship the album demonstrates. The broken-record guitar track that stutters through “Paper Clip Maximizer,” for example, or the otherworldly humming of the vocal harmonies that lace the melody on “Suffer! Like You Mean It” enhance an already-layered record with yet more depth and intensity. Narrating the collision between angst on a personal level and nihilism on a global one with such incredible precision and empathy is already an achievement—but with a few vaguely math-y Midwest emo riffs, and some glossy, honeyed vocals for them to swirl underneath, Tucker has achieved the near-impossible and made their anxieties sound beautiful. It might not be utopia, but that’s a damn good place to start.

Label: Sentimental

Year: 2024

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