Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Vanessa Carlton – White Houses
I’ve read a couple of people dismiss this as little more than a knock-off of "A Thousand Miles". This is essentially spot-on, although I think such criticisms overlook the fact that "A Thousand Miles" was one of those one in a million pop songs that feels like it’s been beamed in from another dimension, totally distinctive for all its conservative pop classicism. For Vanessa to manage to make something even half as good in the same mould would be quite an achievement. As it is, I possibly enjoy "White Houses" even more than its predecessor (it’s early days though).

It occurred to me that in so many ways this is like the hitherto undiscovered middle ground between "Silent All These Years" and "Summer of ’69". Trebly piano and breathy descending verses meet a stirring rock backbeat and heart-thumpingly huge chorus. A life lived through myths versus the mythic life lived on our behalf. Vanessa synthesises this choice between the warmth of commonality and the allure of solipsism into sweeping every-girl neurosis. Like "Summer of ’69", "White Houses" has just the right amount of specificity to stand in for any sepia-toned tale of adolescence: housesharing with pretty-eyed boys, games of spin the bottle, sleeping on the floor, girls who are less smart but much prettier, losing your virginity on the leather seat of a car – the usual. None of these experiences are universal and yet they have the feel of universality, and "White Houses" pretty openly wants to make a statement about adolescence at large.

Nostalgic pop by definition plays on the attraction of the inaccessible: Bryan is temporally removed from his own former small-scale innocence, Tori emotionally removed from any capacity to accept and live in the here and now. I’m not sure if I can trust Vanessa’s attempt to combine these two types of distance: there’s a sense of both presence and absence to "White Houses", with Vanessa’s character constructed as both participant and observer, an angel perched on her own shoulder calmly recounting, analysing and judging her own actions, and maybe hating herself for doing so, and yet the song still revels in the unmediated experience that Bryan extols.

Of course this has something to do with the subject matter (at heart, "White Houses" is a morality tale, albeit one whose sentiment is familiar and agreeable), but I wonder if it’s now impossible to perform stories of adolescence, in any medium, without this insidious tension present. Films, books and songs no longer merely construct the myths of teenage years, but now are forced to tell the story of that construction, and every character is faced with the task of sifting through the cultural detritus to find a simulacrum they can trust – we might call this Dawson’s Dilemma. What we end up with is a process of selection: Vanessa demolishes one myth (those were the best days of my life) in order to strengthen another (adolescence is painful but also life-changing and character-building). But what is never in dispute is the mystical quality of adolescence, and this process of selection cannot override the inevitability of myth’s reinstatement, the ongoing need to suspend our scepticism and allow the coming of age story to seduce us. Vanessa doesn’t really speak for me, and probably doesn’t speak for you either, but I still want to cheer as she drives off into the sunset, propelled by a cavalcade of strings.


Post a Comment


everything here is by tim finney



mail me... here



Jamesy P

Patrick Cowley

It's About (Lopazz & Casio Casino's Maxi Mix)

Glass Candy
Sugar & Whitebread

Beats International
Dub Be Good To Me (Smith & Mighty Remix)

Depeche Mode
A Pain That I'm Used To (Jacques Lu Cont Remix)

Girls Aloud
Wild Horses


Bobby Valentino
Gimmie A Chance

Freeform Five
No More Conversation (Richard X Remix)


House Is A Feeling


A Wild Young Under Whimsy

And So This Is Christmas

Anthony Is Right




Bowling Ball

Breaking Ranks

Chantelle Fiddy's World of Grime

The Church Of Me

Cis Don't Like It Easy

Clap Clap Blog

Country Glamour

Cucina Povera

DJ Martian

Doubt Beat



Everything's Usable



Freaky Trigger

Freelance Mentalists

Freezing to Death in the Nuclear Bunker

Gel & Weave




The House at World's End


I'm So Sinsurr


Josh Blog


">Lex Scripta


Home of Matos

Must Try Harder

New York London Paris Munich

Orbis Quintus

The Original Soundtrack

Pearls that are his Eyes

Pearsall's Tunes

Philip Sherburne

Pop Life




Quicksilver Shapeshifter

Radio Free Narnia

Sasha Frere-Jones

Shards, Fragments & Totems

Silver Dollar Circle





Spliiiish (Atommick Brane)



Vain Selfish and Lazy

Why I Stopped Smoking


Words, Words (??????): A Catalogue of Errors

Worlds of Possibility



February 2004

January 2004

December 2003

November 2003

October 2003

September 2003

August 2003

July 2003

June 2003

May 2003

April 2003

March 2003

February 2003

January 2003

December 2002

November 2002

October 2002

September 2002

August 2002

July 2002

June 2002

May 2002

April 2002

March 2002

February 2002

January 2002

December 2001

November 2001

October 2001

September 2001

August 2001

July 2001

June 2001

May 2001

April 2001

March 2001

February 2001

January 2001

July 2000

June 2000

May 2000



Daft Punk


Ian Pooley


Artful Dodger

The Loft