One of the biggest (s)hits in recent memory is Adele's "Someone Like You." The U.K.'s most exported pork product ended up over-exposed on awards shows and a health hazard for anyone trying to navigate a store without hearing her loud, vengeful car-alarm bleating. The more you hear it, the less it becomes a tolerable Whitney Houston trumpet and more the bark of a novelty like "Who Let the Dogs Out." Even in Spanx and minus a coating of tart make-up, watching her perform is only slightly less revolting than seeing that "Gangnam Style" Korean galloping in place like a retarded pony.
"Someone Like You" isn't even such a good "paranoid bitch confronting an ex-boyfriend" song.
"You're married now," she says, "Guess she gave you things I didn't give to you. Old friend, why are you so shy? Ain't like you to hold back or hide from the light."
Hold back? If a grotesquely lumpy ex-girlfriend suddenly appeared, who wouldn't shrink away? Does a pedestrian jump in front of an oncoming bus?
"I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited, but...I couldn't fight it."
Two words: RAGING COW. Adele, alias "TORA TORA TORA" (that's fat cow, 3x too large) warns, "For me it isn't over."
At this point, I imagine the ex-boyfriend acting like Graham Chapman as King Arthur, and crying "Run away! RUN AWAY!" But galloping after him, is the fat horse of the apocalypse, her naggy siren voice shrieking with migraine-inducing anger: "Never mind, I'll find someone like you!" Then leave him the fuck alone Adele, and start dating at the Institute for the Blind.
"I wish nothing but the best for you..." she screams with all the sincerity of Kathy Bates opposite James Caan in "Misery."
Don't forget me…"
You think this guy could forget a nightmare of sex with Adele? The time she got on top and he had to call the paramedics to re-start his breathing? The time he went down on her and heard an echo? The way her sweat smelled like gravy?
By contrast, let's examine "In the Winter" by Janis Ian, a much more artistic and enduring "paranoid stalker" song from an earlier generation. Ian is also an enduring artist, who has remained viable for 40 years, putting out albums, coming up with a compelling autobiography, and continuing to tour. By contrast Adele, like Susan Boyle, will have the shelf life of a can of Spam.
The opposite of fat, gentile, British Adele, the former Janis Fink is short, Jewish and American. Instead of being a braying one-note, she uses a variety of vocal textures against an impressive variation of backing music; stark bony piano, groaning cellos, a dash of Psycho-violin, and when the suspense becomes unbearable, the full grandiose orchestra.
Big-voiced singers rely on loudness these days to score emotion. Janis, like most of her folkie influences, prefers to blend acting and attitude in with the singing. It works; all she has to do is mutter: "I met your friend. She's very nice. What can I say." Uh-oh.
Unlike Adele, who stormed in on her ex-lover, Janis has quietly emerged from the shadows:
"You have a lovely home." Double uh-oh.
Does she have a new lover? "No, I live alone."
Dementia drips from every plucked violin note, and no horror film actress ever delivered lines like that with more disquieting menace. No horror scriptwriter could invent a more disturbing or disjointed pair of sentences than these: "You're looking well. I'm not afraid."
BE afraid. Be very afraid. Will she kill the guy? Kill the new girlfriend? Kill herself? Her voice rises: "Lovely wife. You have a lovely wife!" Lovely. LOVELY! The killer's words in Hitchcock's "Frenzy" may have still lingered in Ian's mind.
The song's eerie navigation continues between major and minor, and between straitjacket calm (she seems soothed by imagining "extra blankets") and cold fury. It moves along contrasting Paul Simon-type alienation and vengeance (you fear she'll do some damage one fine day) until it climaxes with the uncorked bathos of "Macarthur Park" and its flurry of orchestral martyrs killing themselves to help Janis reach for those impossible notes.
Unlike Adele's number, you can listen to this complex little drama again and again, finding new musical accents and lyrical quirks. Did any of this happen or is it in her imagination? Since her ex-lover doesn't speak, is she speaking to a corpse? You can imagine many different scenarios. Maybe the guy's still alive but about to die. Maybe she'll kill them both and the last lines are her acceptance of a future in solitary confinement! You have till the Spring to figure this all out….
No download for the Adele song…just go into your local supermarket, stand under the speakers near the pork section, and you're bound to hear it within 10 minutes.
In the Winter Janis Ian