Dear God, I Hate Myself isn’t the first Xiu Xiu record to feature Jamie Stewart’s face on the cover, but it is the first to present him as the subject of the band’s music. For someone so often accused of solipsism (and the equally wrong-headed charge of humorlessness), Stewart has never allowed his personality to overshadow the subjects of his songs. In its use of music as a vehicle for the presentation of a singer’s personality, Dear God is Xiu Xiu’s first truly ‘pop’ record.
On "Suha", from 2002’s Knife Play, Stewart sang, "My name is Suha, I’m 25 years old" before going on to list some familiar grievances ("I hate my husband, I hate my children," etc.). Dear God‘s title track employs a similarly straightforward address to preface a similar tale of despondency. The key difference is that, in the latter case, Stewart seems to be speaking for himself. Stewart’s perspective, of course, has always added interest to the stories he told through Xiu Xiu’s music. A listener who can easily find sympathy for characters like Suha or the tormented protagonist of "Dr. Troll", however, may find that it comes less readily for the charismatic, talented leader of an arguably popular rock band. For a musician who spent years discouraging the cult of personality that threatened to build up around him, it is a surprising move and one that pits him against formidable competition.
Click here for QRO’s review of Xiu Xiu, as part of the ‘Bad Art Auction’, at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on November 19th, 2008
Click here for photos of Xiu Xiu at Fordham University in The Bronx, NY on March 25h, 2008 in the QRO Concert Photo Gallery
In the opening words of Dear God‘s first song, "Gray Death", Stewart channels the trademark masochism of contemporary-turned-competitor Bradford Cox of Deerhunter (QRO live review) & Atlas Sound (QRO live review): "Beat, beat me to death, I said it / Beat, beat me to death." A few moments later, acknowledging the risk of self-aggrandizement that is a hazard of the personality-peddler’s trade, he adds that "If you expect me to be outrageous / I will be extra outrageous." Stewart’s comic timing has always been the band’s saving grace and it becomes especially crucial on Dear God, tempering some potentially onerous naval-gazing with a lightness and self-deprecation that only adds to the listener’s feeling of intimacy with Stewart’s authorial voice.
Perhaps because the lyrical landscape is somewhat more limited on Dear God than it was, say, on the politically-inclined Fabulous Muscles or the geographically- and genealogically-focused A Promise, Stewart turns more toward musical innovations and novelty – including awkward stabs at folk and modern R&B – to put the songs across. The album’s final two songs, though, settle into a comfortable mode for the band. "This Too Shall Pass Away (For Freddy)" is the band’s latest stab at the dance floor-filler-for-the-disaffected genre epitomized by Thatcher-era classics like "There is a Light that Never Goes Out". Xiu Xiu’s strength in this area would, if disaffected teenagers hadn’t decided ten or so years ago that they would simply dance to the same Top 40 as everyone else, have long since secured their reputation. With it’s overt nod to Joy Division, closing track "Impossible Feeling" shows the band bowing out of the contemporary indie-rock fray in favor of a deeply felt "roots" moment. Although Dear God never clears up the question of whether Stewart intends to become a star, it confirms that, ultimately, he deserves to be one.