Perhaps you've heard of the singer Poe; perhaps not. If you are one of the lucky few who knows her music, then you know that you don't just listen to the music; no, you become part of a cult of followers (myself included) who listens obsessively to every song, dissecting each lyric and note repeatedly, yearning for more. If you are a fan, you are probably chuckling as you read this, as this behavior no doubt sounds familiar; if you're not, well, let me introduce you to this fabulous force of nature.
My personal journey to Poe began in 2000 with the release of her CD Haunted. I bought the album back then after reading multiple glowing reviews and I still listen to it obsessively even today, eight years later. And it's not just me — check out the fan sites on Amazon, Myspace, and Facebook (just to name a few). Why does Poe have such holding power to those in her thrall?
Even though her 1996 debut CD Hello went gold, most people had never heard of her (and still haven't to this day). Perhaps because she had been primarily relegated to the more alternative radio stations and her videos received little to no play on mainstream TV stations like MTV and VH-1. Even her record company labeled this a "concept" album and gave her very little support. It's only in these past few years that the cult of Poe has grown exponentially. Why?
Well, perhaps because her music, when seen in its entireity, is a journey. You listen to it as an entity. My particular favorite, her critically acclaimed Haunted album, was written solely by Poe on her Mac over the course of two years and was inspired primarily by audiotapes of her father (documentary filmmaker Tad Danielewski) that she found after his death from cancer in 1993. There's definitely a sense of melancholy running through the songs, as you hear a father ask "What is it, Annie (her real name)?" and she replies "I miss you." Snippets of conversation run throughout the album, primarily with their own tracks or at the beginning or end of songs. Easy to skip if it bothers you (which to be honest is what I did at first); however, once you get into the album, you find it really adds to your understanding of the concept overall.
But there's so much more. This chick can rock! She writes great songs with searing hooks, that will snake into your consciousness and wind around your mind until you unwittingly find yourself playing them over and over — a helpless victim to both her RDTs (a.k.a. really deep thoughts, thank you Tori Amos) as well as the addictive music. And she delivers it all in a throaty, sexy almost-growl on the rockers; in a delicate, ethereal voice on the quiet songs. She knows her voice well and how to use it to fit each piece. Her lyrics tell a story that is clearly a personal one for her, yet is in many ways relatable to her listeners. She's kind of like the anti-Britney: she sounds great live and she actually knows what it means to be a feminist — someone who is in complete control of her own environment.
One of my favorite examples of Poe’s fabulously subversive lyrics I'll share here is from what is probably her most well-known song, "Hey Pretty (don't ya want to take a ride with me, through my world)" which was recently used by Ford in their Ford Flex ad campaign. My favorite line from that song is this: "… I got a siren on my tail and that ain't the fine I'm looking for." Funny, Ford left that line out of the commercial.
A true feminist anthem, "Control" explores her (or anyone's) journey from repression and abuse to independence. Powerful lyrics and music that I've shared with so many friends who needed to get pumped and find some strength in their own lives. Poe's voice is clear and strong — no mush-mouth for her, thank you very much. "All those things that you taught me to fear, I've got them in my garden now and you're not welcome here." You understand exactly what she is saying, despite the loud guitar riffs, which only help to reinforce the strength of the lyrics.
Speaking of Poe's orchestration, it is so beautiful in some places you'll want to cry. Her song "5 & 1/2 Minute Hallway" is so Beatle-esque with its harmonies and chorus, you will find yourself wondering if there ever there has been a more perfect song. (If the title of this song sounds a tad familiar, perhaps you've read her brother Mark Z. Danielewski's acclaimed book House of Leaves, released on the exact same day as this album. The book contains several chapters with song titles from "Haunted," including this song. She also references his book by name in the title song "Haunted" as well.) When this song swells, so will your heart.
My personal favorite track, "Amazed," talks of an intense, almost desperate love that perhaps we can all relate to "…the walls that I wouldn't mind crashing through…" . The music starts quietly and builds, deceptively, with a hook that is so unbelievable, I've finally just given in and made it my ringtone. The orchestration is so lush and gorgeous toward the end (do you like an organ? how about a sitar, anyone?); definitely a must-hear song.
Her nine-minute opus, "Wild," goes by so quickly, to be honest I was shocked when I read it was actually nine minutes. Multi-faceted and full of meaning, the song incorporates many themes she has built on throughout the album. It's definitely a very sexual song — this isn't a "listen to with the kids in the backseat" kind of track. Not so much because of the language — there are very few curse words on the whole album actually — this chick just exudes sex. Crank this one up. Loud.
Much has been made of the fact that Poe hasn't released another album since Haunted in 2000. Apparently she's been in contract hell, though she has recorded a few tracks with the band Conjure One, which are of course, fab. Less rock-tinged though still orchestral and lush, check them out if you are a fan and still looking for your Poe fix or if you like your music a little softer.
I urge you to check out Poe's Haunted as a whole and take the journey that so few of us have enjoyed for so long. Her talent is truly a wonder. Apparently she's resolved her legal issues and is hard at work on a new album. We can only hope that her new music will come out soon so the we fans, the cult of Poe, can get our fix. A Poe fan doesn't just "enjoy" her music — we feel it in our veins, just as an addict feels the hit when it reaches theirs, and can breathe again.
You've been warned.