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 Everett True

Gotye hits Number One in U.S. charts

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Gotye_Laneway2011_Brisbane pic Justin_Edwards

Just received this press release in my inbox:

GOTYE has just become the first Australian artist this century to have a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the USA with the song he produced and recorded in his home studio … ‘Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra)‘.

In the past three decades the only other Aussie artists to top the charts in the world’s biggest music market were Men At Work, INXS and Savage Garden.

Gotye’s single has now accrued over 5 million sales worldwide with over 500,000 copies sold in the U.S. last week alone. In fact “Somebody That I Used To Know” is only the sixth song in American chart history to sell more than half a million downloads in just one week.

Significantly, his album Making Mirrors also broke into the top 10 of the US Billboard 200 this week, hitting the#7 spot.  It has sold well over a million copies around the world so far.

Gotye’s US success follows similar achievements elsewhere. The song has now been #1 on iTunes in 33 countries and the album has been certified Gold in major markets including the UK, Germany, France and Canada.  It is 3 x Platinum here in Australia.

Unusually for such a popular album, Gotye has also managed the rare feat of also receiving widespread critical acclaim for both his recorded music and live shows. For example:

Scott Creney (Collapse Board) (posted 6 September, 2011)

Like most Americans, I had never heard of Gotye until a week ago. I still have no idea how to pronounce the stage(d) name of Wally De Backer. “Gotcha”? (Maybe) “Got Ye”? (An Old English thing), “Go Tye”? (Wally won’t eat dinner unless everyone at the table is dressed in formalwear).

Artistically, it’s half a notch above a magazine advert for chewing gum, but it works OK enough as pop music. I suppose it might help a few middle-schoolers get through the god-awful cruelty of adolescence, help them develop emotions and that kind of stuff. At some point though, they’re going to need something a little more grown-up.

Honestly, it’s a relief to find out that the most popular album in Australia isn’t entirely a wretched, unendurable piece of shit. In fact, if I were 15 years old, I’d probably even like it. Sadly, I’m not 15 anymore. And neither is Gotye, so what’s his excuse?

‘Someone I Used To Know’ is the big hit, apparently. It’s a song about a guy who can’t believe that his ex-girlfriend isn’t interested in seeing him, or hanging out with him, and how this makes her a bad person because back when they were dating she told him she was really happy, so obviously she’s some kind of hypocrite or something.  Not that the guy actually cares of course (“I don’t even need your love,” he insists on pointing out). He just wants to punish her and try to make her feel like a bad person.

Makes me glad she broke up with the asshole in the first place. He probably spent the whole relationship guilt-tripping her into doing what he wanted to anyways. Can’t imagine why she wouldn’t want to stay friends with a guy like that.

Now some of the more sophisticated CB readers might point out, But what about Kimbra? She sings the last verse about what a jerk he was. See how she turns it around on him? Isn’t that  clever pop lyricism at its finest? 

Sigh … I want to agree with you, sophisticated Collapse Board reader, I really do. But even after her diatribe, the guy’s still the same petulant ass he was before her diatribe. And it’s all too easy for the menfolk listening to the song to latch onto the song’s feeling of pained self-righteousness and miss an irony in the song that is, despite its good intention, just too lightweight, too paper-thin, and just way too subtle to resonate. ‘Someone I Used To Know’ is a lot closer to a stalker anthem than it is to any kind of ‘subversion of masculinity’ or some such shit. I mean, the song is 90% why won’t you pay attention to me? and 10%now you’re saying stuff I don’t want to hear so I’m just going to ignore you. And it’s 0% I’m sorry. Way to go, Gotye.

There are a lot of different styles on Making Mirrors, but the musical variety doesn’t feel like an artist frantically trying out ideas, more like someone throwing a bunch of shit against the wall to see if anything sticks. Not eclectic, but desperate.

‘Smoke And Mirrors’ sounds like a sleepy Peter Gabriel. ‘I Feel Better’ is downright atrocious — the kid fromGlee singing Cee-Lo as imagined by Pete Waterman. Here, listen for yourself.

It’s like being woken up by a pack of smiling evangelist Christians at 8:00 on a Saturday morning. It belongs in a diet soda commercial with scores of beautiful people giving you a big thumbs-up. It makes me want to stab sharpened knitting needles through my eyes until it punctures my brain (and THAT, my friends, is the closest thing to anger on the entire album — Don’t get mad, says Gotye, get mopey).

You can sing George Michael’s ‘Faith’ over ‘In Your Light’ if you want to. It won’t make you a bad person.

In the context of the album, ’Save Me’ isn’t bad at all. I’m a sucker for off-kilter drum beats and long melodies. Still, it keeps reminding me of Icehouse. Which is weird, because I haven’t though of Icehouse since I was in middle school.

Actually, I’m surprised ‘Easy Way Out’ isn’t a single. It’s the only decent thing on the album.

It has a slinky guitar line. It’s genuinely danceable. And if the lyrics are a collection of vague, clichéd attempts at profundity (“Scratching the surface of life/Nothing really happens”) at least they aim somewhat above childishness. Most importantly, they don’t get in the way of the song.

See, like a lot of people in rock, Gotye’s at his most effective when he doesn’t try to be profound. One gets the feeling that Gotye hasn’t read a book since he was 10 unless it was assigned by a teacher. After listening to Making Mirrors again and again, it seems that all of his influences are musical — which usually means bad news if you’re hoping to hear something you haven’t heard before. Like a champion tennis player who has obsessively devoted themselves to the game at the expense of any outside life, one gets the feeling that Gotye has done little in this world besides ‘try to be a musician’. As if becoming a creative artist were just one more course at the University, as if experience, worldview, knowledge, and imagination were somehow secondary to the artistic process.

Gotye’s songs lack any kind of Swiftian (not even Taylor, let alone Jonathan) insight into relationships, or human nature. Instead of joyous exaltation, or a sense of abandon, we’re given a professional smile, like something you see on television. Instead of art, Gotye gives us mere entertainment. Nothing wrong with being entertained, I suppose, but music — and Gotye — are capable of offering so much more.

He keeps insisting his eyes are wide open, but it’s anyone’s guess what the fuck he’s looking at.

Related posts:
Letter to a Disgruntled Gotye Fan
Response from a Disgruntled Gotye fan

Photography: Justin Edwards

4 Responses to Gotye hits Number One in U.S. charts

  1. Pete April 20, 2012 at 12:16 am

    Who knew American Idol still had this power?

  2. Debbie Harry April 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    You’re really, really proud of this review, aren’t you?

  3. Charles April 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    As an Australian seeing another Australian (Belgian/Australian WHATEVER HE’S OURS NOW) under fire from a bloody YANK, I feel the need to defend him. But yeah I don’t see what is wrong with a guy wanting to be a musician. I think it’s admirable that perhaps he’s more of a ‘builder’ than a ‘painter’ or something.

  4. Penelope Arnold April 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    ET will love you if you can’t sing (Bastards Of Fate) and have no musical ability (The Thin Kids). That’s his form of anarchy. An over-the-hill, bitter man sticking his middle finger up to craftsmanship. Yeah! FUCK YEAH!!!!! I WILL BE IMMORTAAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!!!!!!! You know the term “back in my day?” Well, it ain’t your day anymore.

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