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Elle King’s Love Stuff & Shake the Spirit

2,243 words American singer-songwriter Elle King.

Tanner Elle Schneider, better known by her stage name Elle King, is an up-and-coming musician in the genre of American roots music. Her specific style has several influences, the confluence of which arrives at a triple point between rock, country, and blues. The overall effect often is a bit hypnotic. Her singing voice is even more unique, compelling, and slightly reminiscent of Janis Joplin.

Relationships and their aftermath are a frequent topic of her songs, as well as substance abuse. Those subjects, of course, are well-trodden ground by musicians since long ago. It’s common for such material to be autobiographical, and practically a tradition in the music industry. Interviews and biographical material do generally accord with Elle King’s lyrical output. Therefore, it’s a fairly safe bet that at least a substantial part of it is informed by experience, though how much might be creative license is uncertain.

“Ex’s & Oh’s” became her breakout song. The opening riff is reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” and the subject matter isn’t so different. Musically, the sound is quite compelling, and it’s easy to see why the driving tempo and powerful guitar work made it a hit. Well-done songs like this stand out; especially in an era when practically anyone with Auto-Tune and the right industry connections can be a pop star. The energy is high, and if that doesn’t wake someone up, a pot of coffee isn’t going to help either.

As for the lyrical theme, that sounds a darker note. In fact, it’s rather chilling. Perhaps this is even part of what makes the song compelling to me; in my younger days, I got put through the wringer by a similar belle dame sans merci. The lyrics casually describe a string of short term relationships, each lover abandoned and left heartbroken. This account of an intercontinental trail of psychic wreckage is the second track of Love Stuff, Elle King’s first full-length album.

The opening track is stunning as well. “Where the Devil Don’t Go” suggests a painful conflict with religion, though that might be reading slightly too much into it. (Skipping ahead several tracks, “Ain’t Gonna Drown” is a satirical treatment of a hymn, recapping the theme of salvation being out of reach.) Although she doesn’t find herself in God’s camp, she’s not in the devil’s camp either, and in fact, makes her home where the devil avoids. Is that because her place is somewhere hotter than hell, or is it too rough a neighborhood for Satan? Several musicians have left-hand path inclinations, often for the sake of edgy imagery and shock value, but this is quite a unique twist.

The chorus indicates that she’s known a mean world, and doing what she’s been told hasn’t benefited her. In all fairness, though, it’s hard to call people evil for being pragmatic as they see it. In fact, all this is certainly relatable to the Counter-Currents audience. In countries where the ruling class demonstrates hostility toward the founding population time and again, serving the official ideology and believing its propaganda works against us. In fact, it’s absurd to call us evil (or even a “basket of deplorables” as Cupcake put it) because we oppose their nonsense. It’s irrational to obey The Narrative and its phony righteousness, but neither do we have to accept the caricatured “devil” label; instead, we can forge our own destiny.

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Despite my hasty interpretive leap into politics, there’s nothing indicating that she agrees much with us about anything. Although it would be wonderful to have an American counterpart to Mara Ros of Spain or Saga of Sweden, Elle King isn’t the one. On the bright side, a mainstream musician who doesn’t make political statements is a wonderful find lately, since hardly any celebrities have anything sensible to say. That much isn’t merely my Fascist opinion; the general public is becoming increasingly fed up with virtue-signaling stunts and cringe-worthy posturing from the entertainment industry. I have a news flash for today’s celebrities approved by The System. They’re entitled to their opinions, but if they think being able to sing or act confers any special expertise about statecraft, then they need to get over themselves.

The middle part of Love Stuff wades deeper into interesting times. The subtly tragic “Under the Influence” isn’t about substance abuse; the topic is a relationship that is clearly troubled, yet she can’t bring herself to leave. (This contrasts with “Ex’s & Oh’s”; this time around, she’s the one inescapably pulled in orbit.) “Last Damn Night” is a high-energy song about living it up since this night might be the last. “Kokaine Karolina” and “Song of Sorrow” return to a melancholy tone.

“America’s Sweetheart” picks up the pace again. However, the theme doesn’t quite sit well with me, as this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard similar sentiments by someone cut from the same cloth. The basics are that she’s a hot mess, she knows it, she refuses to listen to sensible advice, and the fans all love her anyway. Naturally, much the same could be said for a great many celebrities. “I Told You I Was Mean” is pretty much everything it says on the label. The lack of empathy is standing out again. All I have to add is that meanness isn’t an immutable characteristic, because behavior is a choice. (I’ve had that discussion before, but it failed to sink in.) All told, it makes sense to be kind to those who care about you.

“Jackson” is a departure from earlier themes. That one is evocative of the quiet desperation of a town in southern Ohio. Perhaps it’s not so different from the many “Rust Belt” communities devastated by free trade in recent times. (Thanks, globalists!) I’d like to see more of that, and specifically for her to call out the crooked politicians in both mainstream parties who enabled the evisceration of America’s manufacturing sector. Once again, though, she’s either apolitical or keeps it to herself, and maybe that’s a good thing. Still, it’s a fair question to ask: why has there been so little coverage of this catastrophe in the music industry, which in earlier times would’ve been all over that like a duck on a June bug? Was the last gasp of economic leftist themes when Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut angrily posed the question to Margaret Thatcher, “What happened to the postwar dream?”

Then at long last, “Make You Smile” adds a cheerful note which captures the bright side of romance, happy and reciprocated on both sides. (For the second to last track on Love Stuff, it’s about time for some sweetness and light!) Wrapping up the album, it finishes with “See You Again,” sadly looking toward an uncertain future. Thematically, Love Stuff was all over the map, from shocking coldness to poignant vulnerability. If one takes the songs in linear succession, it could be read as a journey that begins in a condition of disorder and ends with the hope for tranquility.

Real life had some other plans, though. The next few years weren’t kind to Elle King. She entered into a hasty marriage which became turbulent and ended after a little over a year. Given the overall tenor of her debut album, such an outcome is hardly unexpected. The desire for tranquility was there, but in some ways, achieving it is a learned skill that takes practice. The next effort, Shake the Spirit, generally describes the difficult times that followed.

Musically she breaks new ground, branching out a bit from her earlier style. It opens with “Talk of the Town,” with a theme about romantic rivalry. Musically, “Baby Outlaw” has a very strong country influence, as she declares that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Thematically it recaps the liminality of “Where the Devil Don’t Go.” As the chorus indicates, she’s neither evil nor a saint; just an outlaw. The lyrics of the third track, “Shame,” suggest a covert sexuality (“Mama doesn’t know”). The video casts her in a prominent role as a cult leader, symbolizing popularity resulting from this. Putting those things together, I’ll add that there are good ways and bad ways for girls to get attention, and she has another song covering that angle later.

She takes on her ex-husband in “Man’s Man,” and makes things very personal with a pile of dirty laundry. The melody is riveting, ending in dissonance. Among other things in the scandalous lyrics, she strongly implies that she found out he’s gay. If that’s so, a fundamental incompatibility like that makes it understandable why things didn’t work out between them. The breakup song which had become inevitable from all this was a few tracks later, “Good Thing Gone.” The anger had left her by then, fading to regret and sorrow. Rounding out the story, “Runaway” delves into the past, acknowledging her role in the failed relationship and despairing that she’ll ever get it right. As a Manosphere writer, my take is that she certainly has some challenges, but nonetheless everyone is the captain of their own destiny.

“Naturally Pretty Girls” sounds a little brighter than the above three tracks (though not by far). It’s tinged with envy and self-doubt. “I Told You So” has a fast-paced country sound with her familiar chord progressions. The theme is about romantic jealousy and lost love; the pain is palpable in the vocals.

The most disturbing song was “It Girl.” In short, the theme is about being young and promiscuous, having the reputation that inevitably follows, and getting chewed up by the overall experience. It’s not clear how autobiographical this one is — I’d hate to make assumptions about this song — but one would have to be pretty cold and heartless not to squirm. (I’m happy to say that my own conscience is clean in this regard. Not only does my game guide recommend high ethical standards, I even take my own advice.) I do note an odd conundrum here — the sort of behavior she calls out in “It Girl” is not so different from what she recounts in “Ex’s & Oh’s,” except that the shoe was on the other foot. One could say that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but at least this isn’t a Saul Alinsky degree of inconsistency.

Getting toward the end, “Ram Jam” is a punk-influenced track with palpable enthusiasm, breaking the mood of the grim middle section. The chorus states that she knows that nobody has known anything at all. (Is that an echo of Socrates?) This turn to philosophy is either completely unexpected or perfectly fitting, depending on how one looks at it. As one might well imagine, “Sober” deals with substance abuse, along with the pain of heartbreak. One of the final lines states that she could’ve been nicer, but he lied. This provides some evidence about the moment the marriage fell apart, if one reads between the lines. “Chained” starts bringing the album to a close with a note of regret.

The final number, “Little Bit of Lovin’,” is a positively brilliant conclusion. She reframes here; romance is an enhancement to one’s life, but it’s not an essential of life itself to be pursued at all costs. (It’s a good Inner Game point that I’ve discussed for men too; a fundamental realization necessary for outcome independence.) Putting things another way and allowing for some interpretation on my part, romance should be sought if it’s mutually beneficial, but not in cases when it would be self-destructive. The spoken section in the middle of the song was pure enlightenment. We’ve all had our hearts put through the meat grinder, but we have to carry on. We can’t expect love to fix our problems. However, we can work on fixing ourselves. (That is not too far from another famous Socrates riff.) With an epiphany like this, she has a shot at a happier future.

In the final analysis, what can we conclude about Elle King? She writes about romance extensively, which isn’t quite groundbreaking, but her melodies and vocal style are striking and unique. Some Counter-Currents readers might wonder about her cosmopolitan background. It’s legitimate to call out crooks and culture-distorters, but that’s certainly not her. Why shouldn’t we have some good words for those who aren’t doing that? Much in contrast to all too many celebrity types these days, she’s quite relatable. She’s been to LA and NYC and far abroad, but it seems pretty clear that her soul is in the heartland.

Moreover, she didn’t break the sexual marketplace; it broke her. Hints in Shake the Spirit suggest a troubled adolescence setting her personal life on a bad trajectory, ultimately leading to a struggle to find balance. Although she has some personal foibles, she’s quite honest about them, and the audience can draw cautionary conclusions from her painful history. Much different from hordes of other musicians, it’s clear that descriptions of the out-of-control moments are not something to be celebrated.

Also in her favor, she wears clothes during her performances. She doesn’t tongue-twerk like she has the worst case ever of tardive dyskinesia. She isn’t exactly Saint Agnes, but neither does she perform cringe-worthy acts with a foam hand on stage. In summary, despite all her rough edges, and despite the metaphysical liminality where she feels she won’t fit in either in heaven or hell, she’s shaping up to be a righteous lady. For now, I’ll be looking forward to the next album.

 

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