Our favorite things this week include reissues by The Pop Group and Sarah Silverman's new comedy album.

sarah silverman cover art

Promised You a Miracle: When Sarah Silverman’s HBO special We Are Miracles aired last fall, Variety’s Brian Lawry tsk’ed:

There’s something simultaneously fascinating and maddening about Sarah Silverman--graced with genuine talent and a well-defined comedic persona on one hand, and a commitment to pushing past the edge in a way that blunts her appeal on the other. Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts--from her looks to solid acting chops – she’s limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys, an attribute very much on display in her HBO special “We Are Miracles,” which premieres on Nov. 23.

He goes on:

Comics often impress each other with that kind of bawdy fare (see “The Aristocrats”), but Silverman frequently seems to be playing more toward those peers and a loyal cadre of fans than a broader audience that’s apt to be turned off by the questionable stuff, which feels more about shock value than cleverness. And if she really think saying “c—t” repeatedly is a form of artistic expression, more power to her, but in commercial terms, indulging those impulses comes at a price.

Essentially, he’s saying to Silverman, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be Zooey Deschanel?”

Last week, We Are Miracles was released as a comedy album, and Lawry’s right—it is often in aggressively dubious taste. But her comedic groove has been present herself as a sweet, lovely person and be as foul, self-absorbed as guileless as possible. That Lawry scolds her says she’s on the right track—he can’t see past who she could be—and it’s a tribute to the precision in her jokes that they don’t get to some very wrong places—they start there—but she’s funny enough that We Are Miracles is never simply an exercise in saying the unsayable.

The jokes, similarly, are never easy outrage. They’re unified by a very clear, three-dimensional persona, one that Lawry can identify and connect to, except for the foul-mouthed parts. Of course, that’s an essential part of who she is in her comedy, and missing that is an embarrassing miss. 

Lawry’s also right when he says We Are Miracles isn’t for everybody, but what is? What he misses is that the show is very funny and very rich, with different kinds of jokes and different kinds of laughs. I didn’t hear someone throwing away a potential network star career on potty-mouthed humor on We Are Miracles; I heard a comedian in complete control of her art right now doing exactly what she wants to do for all the best comedic reasons. If that means she won't star in a Chuck Lorre sitcom any time soon, I doubt she sees that as a problem. I certainly don't. (Alex Rawls)

Is This Pop? Post-punk bands were obsessed with the concept of pop music, even while making musical choices that tested their listeners' notions of pop. XTC's "This is Pop" yelped its title manifesto over chords that boing and spring across the song's musical landscape. The Pop Group weren’t ironically named, but they thought of pop in the most expansive terms—so much so that it didn’t sound pop at all. On We Are Time from 1980 and the new odds and ends compilation Cabinet of Curiosities--both slated for (re-)release on October 20--the group folded funk, jazz, glam and poetry into their sound, then played it with punk’s aggression. Song titles such as “She is Beyond Good and Evil” and “Words Disobey Me” hint at the band’s self-consciously artsy sensibility, and Mark Stewart’s brash vocals are in your face, as if the band’s musical, lyrical and social ambitions make everything right. Punk manifests in how hard they play, but its funk isn’t funky. Few drummers at the time were good enough to groove—or not in conventional ways—but The Pop Group prioritizes rhythm over melody, much like hip-hop. The band’s not uninterested in history, just the parts that throw up stop signs.

More than anything else, I hear the self-assurance of youth in these records as The Pop Group, like contemporaries The Gang of Four, The Slits, and The Raincoats, thought they were leading the way to a new, inclusive, cutting edge rock ’n’ roll, one that loved avant-garde saxophone squall as much as Motown’s greatest hits.  (Alex Rawls)