Planningtorock - All Love's Legal

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2014-02-17

W, the second album by Planningtorock, aka Jam (and formally Janine Rostron before a legal name-change), received plaudits for its avant-garde dance sound and Jam’s gender-blending vocals. Songs like ‘I’m Yr Man’ and ‘The Breaks’ used brilliant, strange alchemy to craft gorgeous, accessible pop songs out of angular, dense electronica.

All Love's Legal is a trickier proposition. Like The Knife on their recent album Shaking the Habitual, Jam is no longer pulling punches or sweetening the pill when it comes to either her subject matter or musical composition. Much of the music on this album is slow, glacial even, so heavy and thick with textures it initially feels impenetrable. Conversely, the subject matter is single-issue stuff, made abundantly clear on titles such as ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’ and ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’.

Listening to early songs such as the title track, with its crawling pace and terribly earnest, sloganeering lyrics, you might well find yourself wondering if it’s worth sticking with the album. Thankfully, Jam’s talent for pulling a tune from the unlikeliest of source material hasn’t deserted her. ‘All Love's Legal’ evolves into a beautiful, orchestral slow-jam, at times very reminiscent of that grand poobah of 80s coffee-table soul, Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’.

Similarly, ‘Let’s Talk About Gender’, a collaboration with The Knife, takes the stop-start Motown bass of ESG’s ‘Dance’ and welds it to some 90s house keyboard stabs to whip up a confection which makes deconstructing your gender identity sound like just about the sexiest thing you can do. ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, meanwhile, takes taut, downbeat, Prince-style funk, African pipes and discordant, borderline deranged vocals and fashions something sultry and mysterious. That’s no mean feat.

However, while many songs are lovely in isolation, overall the album drags thanks to its slow pace and general inscrutability. Given the open-arms embrace implied by the title, it’s curious Planningtorock has created a collection which feels downright forbidding at times. The likes of ‘Public Love’ feel chilly, emotionally distant and cold. Perhaps this is a positive choice made to reflect the way people with ‘non-traditional’ (as Putin might phrase it) sexual or gender identities feel but, coupled with the near-indecipherable vocals, it just makes the listener wonder whether to skip ahead to the next track.

What’s worse, when you do manage to pick out a stray lyric, it’s often distinctly underwhelming, as on the closing ‘Patriarchy Over and Out’: “I don’t want to wait/ Patriarchal life, get out of the way.” OK, you think, I totally understand and agree with the sentiment but a) this tells me nothing about an individual’s struggle or why I should invest emotionally, and b) even as simple political sloganeering, it’s frankly a bit feeble.

What saves this song, as with others on the album, it the excellent music; a woozy, skipping electro-waltz led by jerky strings and warm washes of synth, while over the top Jam wails like a pitch-shifted Robert Smith. The sound alone makes up the emotional shortfall left by lyrics which are either lazy or just misjudged.

As a collection of simple, direct lyrics put to dazzling, inventive pop music, All Love's Legal is largely successful. It is a brave album, and yet somehow also a safe one. “The personal is so political,” she sings on ‘Human Drama’. Yet, like The Knife, Jam’s preference for remaining in the shadows of her own music means that the risks taken here are sonic, not political, not personal.

Compare this with the recently released Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!, on which Laura Jane Grace, having recently publically come out as trans, puts her metaphorical balls on the line by detailing her day-to-day struggle for acceptance and inner peace in a way that’s both stunningly brave for someone fronting an established rock band, and powerfully emotional. Next to that, when it comes to gender politics, All Love's Legal feels like easy listening. 

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