With his new album of off-kilter quirky pop gems garnering critical acclaim, Getintothis Paul Higham delights in Ezra Furman’s oddball outsider status ahead of a November Arts Club date.
Rock and roll was once the last refuge for the outsider, a feted land in which those who dared to not only be different but to be true to themselves could become bona fide superstars and household names.
From today’s vantage point such times are a mere dot in the rear view mirror of our collective memory. The arena-filling stars of nos jours come coated in a beige blandness, comforted by the security of Daddy’s trust fund and the ill-deserved sense of entitlement bequeathed by a public school education.
Outsiders do exist, of course, people who pursue their own artistic vision irrespective of the current musical vogue. There are countless artists out there who push boundaries, who challenge expectations and who make music that dares to be different. The experimenters, the so-called difficult and inaccessible artists. Yet these never receive popular adoration, critical acclaim seldom translates to commercial viability, let alone success. Let’s face it, many of the artists we deservedly plug on these pages mean little to your average Joe on the street.
Yet the popular perception, this time of year, is that there is no one with sufficient charisma and chutzpah to headline Glastonbury anymore, hence the recent hegemony of the bus-pass generation. My Generation? More like their generation.
Why is this? Perhaps it is on account of the money men who bank roll the music industry, risk averse in an age where fewer people value music sufficiently as an art form to hand over cash to purchase records. As such the dull finds favour over the niche in the expectation of wider appeal and greater monetary reward.
Maybe it’s the digital age. Yes, it’s easier to make music than ever before but with digitisation comes devaluation of culture as music streaming services mean people can listen to lots more music but at a fraction of the cost. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that it is the artists that are losing out. This must be a factor in discouraging young people without stable and comfortable foundations from pursuing a career in music. Why make the sacrifices when there is such little prospect of reward?
What then are we left with? The lazy, the formulaic and the banal. That’s where music seems to be languishing now, however erroneously, in the minds of too many.
Thank heavens then for Ezra Furman. Like him or loathe him, and there are plenty on both sides of the fence, Furman is that rarity who has dared to be different and has succeeded. The cynics will no doubt point to his cross-dressing and say that it is both a gimmick and that it detracts from his art. That his popularity stems from the way he looks not from the way he sounds and that the resultant superficiality justifies the cynicism.
Yet there seems an honesty to Furman that appears capable of confounding the cynics. He is natural, not forced; light where he could be overbearing and, lyrically, he addresses social issues, such as gender ambiguities, with a sureness of touch.
His new album, Perpetual Motion People, provides ample evidence of the sincerity of his oddball image. It is quirky, off-kilter and exuberant in its sense of fun. He is clearly not someone who takes himself too seriously and this comes across in his records, which rather than being lightweight, reveal more the infectious vitality of his outlook.
Musically we shan’t pretend that he is hugely original. He occupies territory with which fans of 60s girl groups will be familiar. There are echoes of The Velvet Underground and the glam sleaziness of David Bowie thrown in for good measure. Where inferior artists are weighed down by such influences, Furman seems capable of transcending them, producing a sound that, however familiar, in its irreverence and the unmistakable stamp of his own personality is one that could only be made by him.
This November at the Arts Club thus provides a rare opportunity to see a genuine original talent who may yet straddle the divides between artistic integrity, critical acclaim and popular success. Let’s hope for all our sakes that Ezra Furman is able to succeed.
Ezra Furman plays the Arts Club, Liverpool on Sunday November 15 2015. Tickets are available here.