Albums, Features

Leather Jackets, Leather Seats: La Douleur Exquise of Loreen’s “Ride”

“Am I in love? Yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”

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I’m not sure whether Loreen (she of the “Euphoria” and Eurovision fame, for the uninitiated) has read Roland Barthes’ “A Lover’s Discourse” or is even aware of the book’s existence, but I’m inclined to believe in either prospect. While her 2012 debut Heal documents the aftermath of an amorous rupture (and the travails it entails) set to pulsating dance beats and powerhouse vocals, Ride trades these for trippy guitars and hawkish, pounding drums aplenty. Loreen’s voice – famous for its ethereal, emotive qualities – morphs into an intangible, visceral force throughout, an instrument in its own right. Channeling her inner Liz Fraser, the gist of Ride is less about the words she’s singing, more about the emotions she’s evoking.

Barthes deduced that “the anxiety of waiting is not continuously violent; it has its matte moments.” 2018 has by and large been a series of matte moments on my end. It began with reevaluating relationships – past and present, first love included – and weeding out inconsequential entanglements, even detaching myself from liaisons that at one point were flourishing and I presumed to be rendering me a semblance of coolness or importance. I was stricken with this unmoved mental posture, this gripping void like I had never known.

I remember breaking down in a friend’s room while trying to repose to Joni Mitchell’s Blue. By the time “River” rolled around – the line “I’m going to make a lot of money / Then I’m going to quit this crazy scene,” to be precise – I lost it. For the first time in a long time, I was ridden with the wanton desire for solitude. That urgent, pressing wish to start from scratch somewhere new. It’s fitting, then, that Ride opens with “71 Charger,” essentially an attempt at killing the indomitable ghost in her machine. “Bite your tongue, hun / Keep it to yourself” is Loreen’s furious plea, sung through gritted teeth. She yearns for the blank road, she craves the comfort of the empty seat. She simply wants to ride on her own. Or do I?

In my place, there was a change of colour instead when an incidental, seemingly haphazard connection turned out to be increasingly potent and steadfast. A connection that bridges the past with the present and offers a glimpse of a bright, mellifluous future, leaving me with no other choice but to go with and for it. Remember how, in those formative years, you wished there was someone else who got you and would jam to the same tunes for hours on end in your room? I finally found the someone else, of all years, in two thousand gayteen. “Where have you been all my life?” he inquired. I asked him the same. In the face of the unanswerable, we simply retreated to blasting Amerie. So here I was, once again resigned to being in love and waiting, with the matte slowly turning red.

There is something intrinsically forlorn, almost desolate about being enamored. It starts with the simple things, so it always goes back to the simple things. You start picking up the other party’s habits: the talking points that make them tick, the emojis and terms of endearment they like to use, the times they usually respond to your texts during the day. Next thing you know, you start waking up in the wee, small hours of the morning, exactly five seconds before their text comes in, no alarm necessary, because your brain is that alert. You start taking Melatonin to calm your tits down but since your dopamine levels are off the charts, you still get up at four anyway, ready for shots of oxytocin to your blood.

But this is no euphoria. The push and pull between the dreamy, rapturous haze of lovesick delirium and the incontrovertible fatigue and brittleness of vicarious (and precarious) living is not only a marker of the exquisite sadness of being in love, it is also the very foundation of Ride. From the fittingly titled “Dreams” (“Every night, I see your face / I hear your voice / I speak your name”), “Fire Blue” (“I’m gonna stay with you until I fall apart”) to “I Go Ego” (“Am I wrong? / It’s hard to believe in this all on my own”), piles of guitars and swaths of synths are sprinkled copiously across the sonic dreamland, a horde of sirens keeping the languid yet insistent drums – looming mindlessly in the distance, posing an imminent yet undecided threat – company. On the other hand, “Heart on Hold” is the car crash and subsequent fire: the guitars set the terrain ablaze, their fume mounting up to the top of the mix, the drums all the more menacing. You keep going – running, actually – with your eyes closed, still keeping your heart on hold. By the time you reach for the jugular, the guitars are a cloud of smoke, the drums a mound of debris. Even when the smoke clears and you’re reeling from the destruction, as Loreen does here in the soaring “Love Me America,” you still would die and take down the sky for the other person. Here, ‘America’ is not a place per se; it is a name, a figure, recalled fervently and pleadingly even in a state of coma.

This douleur exquise, however, is best exemplified in “Hate The Way I Love You” – essentially Loreen’s “Pagan Poetry” – a self-explanatory behemoth that kicks off with incoherent murmuring that gives way to a steady, swooping build-up in a cacophony of twinkling keys, rousing strings and jittery drums. As the song approaches its six minute mark, she practically ululates the chorus at the top of her lungs, from the tip of the iceberg in a lonely sea. A cry for love has never sounded more despondent. Meanwhile, the propulsive and atmospheric “Jupiter Drive” – sounding every bit as majestuous as the title suggests and differing greatly from its early bass-heavy, tribal-inflected incarnation – presents the album’s most sparse, expansive moment, evoking Tears for Fears at their finest. She might reiterate that you are hers “forever” and you are her main obsession “for all time,” but there is more trepidation than conviction to be detected. She doesn’t want to ride solo after all, but does the other person want to get on the ride? As the strings version of “71 Charger” appears at the end of the road, though, the lingering ghost is now nearly out of sight; its limbs truncated, its sound muted, its decay slowly dissipating. Old flame is to finally stop burning. All that is left is the waiting, this time for a new road.

It is the title track that truly drives it home. Worn out by the ways of the world, you just want to head north, where nobody knows you and you can feel no shame. You just want to get lost, counting miles and stars. In one of my early morning outbursts, I relayed a barefaced declaration to the object of my affection. “I envision us on a late night drive just being quiet, feeling the breeze caress us with that song playing subduedly from your car speakers,” I typed. “Before we get off at a nearby beach to roll up a joint or two and just stargaze until the morning, until the stars fade for us.” I took a deep breath. Is this too much? “I can picture this so vividly in my head.” I felt like crying a little. No taking back now. Let’s hope he doesn’t freak out.

A few seconds later came his reply.

“I’m down if you are.”

June 29, 2018

About Author

Fajar Fajar is a self-professed music nerd and pop culture whore based in Jakarta. He fancies himself as the queer, Indonesian version of Taylor Swift, minus the fame, fortune, white privilege and ability to play instruments. To compensate, he frequently provides musings on treacherous and troubled boys on Magdalene. His poetry has also been included in Queer Southeast Asia.


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