Monday, May 24, 2010

Ladytron - "Playgirl"

"Playgirl" seems to be one of those songs that everybody knows about, and yet, as far as I can tell, was never actually a hit anywhere. Personally I have to admit that I tried my best to turn it into one. As a college radio DJ in the summer of 2000, I was flipping through the "currents" section when I came across an EP by a band named Ladytron. Want to know how to get into Little Earl's good graces? Name your band after an early Roxy Music song (also, name your EP Commodore Rock; I have a fond place in my heart for my childhood Commodore 64 computer). Roxy Music are guitar-heavy band, however, and Ladytron are not in particular. Yet when I gave the song a listen, the homage seemed fitting, for like Roxy Music's best, "Playgirl" struck me as sleek, ironic, futuristic, deadpan, and almost suffocatingly, shamelessly catchy. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!" I proclaimed to myself, and proceeded to play the song on my show every chance I saw fit.

And yet, I still couldn't tell if Ladytron were morons or geniuses. Years (and many albums) later, I'm definitely inclined to think the latter, although the band's intentions still remain rather opaque. I don't honestly know that much about the members of Ladytron - and I think I like it that way! I've been led to believe that there are two guys and two girls; the girls sing and the guys write the lyrics (like ABBA?). On "Playgirl," the lead vocalist, Helen Marnie, sounds like she might not be able to go another five seconds without completely losing interest in the track. The lyrics border on joke territory without quite working their way up to that all-too-frequently-used "we don't really mean it" cop-out:
Playgirl, why are you sleeping in tomorrow's world, hey playgirl
Playgirl, why are you dancing when you could be alone, hey playgirl
Playgirl, why are you sleeping in tomorrow's world, hey playgirl
Playgirl, choking on cigarettes to get you along, hey playgirl

Hey playgirl, hey playgirl
Northern lights catch you coming down
Sleep your way out of your hometown
Ladytron's lyrics manage to be vaguely sexual without being explicit. The "playgirl" in question here seems more disappointed than fulfilled. I can relate. The song conjures up images in my head of European airport lounges and dingy metro cars and some sort of all-encompassing urban art school ennui. Some might find the whole presentation too campy, too tongue-in-cheek, too insincere. Personally, I don't know if a pop song could ever be "too campy" for my taste. I'm laying down a challenge, folks.

Now, I listened to "Playgirl" for years (and I mean years) without ever seeing the video. I didn't even think the band had enough budget for a video, let alone a video worth watching. Oh Ladytron, how I underestimated you. It turns out the video is everything I might have hoped for and more. Helen Marnie actually looks quite photogenic in this clip. She should try this haircut more often.

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