Mascara Streakz (Cooking Vinyl)
“Happy/sad no difference to me/The pure joy of my release/People fear may need to show/How much life affects me so.” (Beautiful Thing)
IN AN ESSAY WRITTEN IN RESPONSE to the film Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, feminist author, provocateur, terror of the insipid TV executive, and sworn enemy of the over-confident merely adequate white man, Mona Eltahawy (whose Feminist Giant website is self-described as “global feminist resistance to patriarchal fuckery”, and it is) discusses the reclamation of space, time and attention of women beyond the age of 50.
Specifically, she addresses the taking back, or in some instances (such as the central character in the film, played by Emma Thompson) discovery of sensuality and pleasure. Whether it is “fucking the guilt out of my system” after a divorce, recognising other women who were “never allowed to want”, or noting the way “patriarchy polices women’s desires and also recruits them to police other women’s”, Eltahaway’s essay circles and returns to a key point.
’Bitch’ and ‘cunt’ are not the worst things you could call a woman. Selfish is,” Eltahaway says. “Knowing what you want and taking it is filed under “selfish” in patriarchy’s dictionary.” And resistance to this framing isn’t just appropriate; it’s essential.
On her first album in just about 40 years (yes, that is not a typo), Clare Grogan – the one remaining writer and member of the band which recorded 1981’s Happy Birthday and 1982’s Pinky Blue, and along with her multi-instrumentalist cowriter (and husband) Stephen Lironi, one of two members remaining from the band which recorded 1983’s Bite – stakes a claim for not pretending, not accepting, not denying.
For saying, in other words, “I won’t walk the line/You need to be aware … You don’t have the right/You won’t stop my night.”
No, Mascara Streakz is not some confessional about Grogan ending decades of frustration with the aid of a studly young thing in a hotel room, though pleasure is a principle not disguised any more than the trials of age and gravity that mean “I wake each morning wide/My face is on the slide”. In the dreamscape Your Life Is Mine she revels in the comfort and joy (and strength) of partnership where there might be “An ocean of tears/The fury of fear” but “The beauty of our life” holds and “I’ll catch you when you fall.”
Nor is it in any way a polemic in place of a pop record; this is as fun a record as you could want, with Grogan and friends fizzing with electro-pop, refashioned disco and sparkling jangle on songs like Glitter Ball, that a certain K. Minogue might happily purloin, The Flame, which puts one foot in the ‘70s and another in the 2020s in the same way that a certain H.Styles happily manages, and Double Reflection, that embraces being Moroder-ed up the wazoo.
(It might be timely now to note that many, maybe most, people missed the streaks of social, personal and political grey-turning-to-dark in old Altered Images songs such as I Could Be Happy, or indeed a lot of Bite. Just as you might be too busy spinning around the Jessie Ware-meets-Blondie dancefloor of the new Colour Of My Dreams’ to see at first glance the shading in lines such as “The temptation to fade away/It overwhelms me but believe me I’m here to stay”, and the pushback in the second half of that verse, “The colour of my dreams are not just black-and-white/If you don’t see me then you’re not worth my fight”.)
Mascara Streakz is, however, a recognition of the pleasures and conflicts in a life that’s meant to trickle away quietly, and observing the fear that is engendered in some by those like her who have decided they just won’t go quietly. The mascara streaks (which are mentioned in more than one song) are not the marks of shame but the morning-after signs of the laughter and euphoria the night before, the promise of the nights to come, the “bigger plan” that can be shared, and the reminder to “Don’t embrace your fear/Jump off that pier”.
Take Beautiful Thing, quoted at the top of this review, which shimmers with rich layers of glossy sophisto-pop of the ‘90s as it welcomes difference and disdains restraints, or Changing My Luck, that comes across like Talking Heads as they moved from the edges to the pop centre, which reshapes expectations with a disarming smile.
Grogan may not put it exactly like this – and nor would I because most of us don’t have the skill or the guts of the creator of Feminist Giant – but I think Mascara Streakz crosses paths with Eltahawy (and eventually Thompson’s character) at the climax of her essay.
“There is liberation in speaking our desire. It will leave you feeling faint and nauseous when done suddenly, akin to losing one’s breath at higher elevations before the body has acclimated. We are called selfish because patriarchy understands the dangers of such liberation. Once acclimated though, there’s no knowing what rebellion is instigated as you develop greater lung capacity, as you fuck the guilt out of your system.”
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Altered Images – Mascara Streakz