Pop isn't poetry - but sometimes it is almost better. Music composed and performed by (usually) young people in their teens and 20s, exuberantly dedicated to the zest of the moment, expressed in contemporary style and diction - well, that can be great fun, can lift the spirits, like a spring day that's actually hot. Sure, it melts on its own ephemeral going, to be Frostian; its slim grasp of tradition can make its magpie veerings as infuriating as thrilling. But when a band gets it right, well, it feels blissful, it feels sweet to be alive. It feels "like young". Vampire Weekend, measured in such terms (and why shouldn't criticism also be about joyful reception?) is one of the greatest first records of all time. Okay, until next week. But this week, in London, listening to these 11 songs of pure pop perfection, I feel like Larkin Hearing The Beatles in '63 - this sounds fresh, smart, and totally alive to its own wonky intentions.
First, let's admit that Vampire Weekend, the band, draw on any number of inspirations here - namely, Graceland (and the African sounds that was based on), The Strokes, The Killers, Ska, and, of course, Herman's Hermits - as well as a clutch of other smart, sassy campus-based groups of yore. But whereas snot-nosed youth usually aims to be smart and often is smart-assed, Vampire Weekend has caught the Simon and Garfunkel vibe truly - these songs are as genuinely touching as they are clever. But not just clever - wittily constrained in intriguing verbal ways that should appeal to poets - and everyone else. Infamously, most of the songs refer to military battles, or history, obliquely.
The cryptic lyrics (making The Shins seem transparent) coin phrase after phrase that delights and lodges in the brain, as in "the pin-striped men of morning". The great "M79" already has bloggers asking what "sing in praise of Jackson Crowter" means. Who Is John Galt? indeed. Other songs express suspicion of the "Oxford comma"; and the opening track opens with a "Mansard Roof". Infectious pop has rarely been so effortlessly erudite - it's like sipping lemonade with Buckminster Fuller on a blue July day. For now, I love this East Coast band. It'll be hard to find a better CD in 2008. Poetry should seek, more often, to play such sweet, fun, smart, upbeat notes.