By Gilian Prado
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Lush is undeniably an album filled with feminine rage. In an interview with The New Yorker, Mitski said, “I spent all my teenage years being obsessed with beauty, and I’m very resentful about it and I’m very angry…I had so much intelligence and energy and drive, and instead of using that to study more, or instead of pursuing something or going out and learning about or changing the world, I directed all that fire inward, and burnt myself up.”
I think this quote is crucial to understanding what Mitski has gone through and her thought process for songwriting.
“Liquid Smooth” is the first track on Lush, and one of the strongest. The song is told through the internalized narrative of not only Mitski herself but women everywhere, the narrative that women’s value is defined by their beauty, and they are only beautiful when they are young. It starts off with a soft piano and then Mitski comes in along with some drumkit cymbals, all in a slow ballad-like tempo.
“I’m beautiful, I know cause it’s the season
But what am I to do with all this beauty?”
Here Mitski is saying she is aware of her beauty not because she feels it innately but because of her age, “the season” refers to a time in one’s life
I’m liquid-smooth, come touch me, too
And feel my skin is plump and full of life
I’m in my prime
I’m liquid-smooth, come touch me, too
I’m at my highest peak, I’m ripe
About to fall, capture me
Or at least take my picture ”
Now we get to the title of the track, we discover that Liquid Smooth is a reference to her “plump skin full of life” She also mentions that because she is young, she is considered in her prime, and refers to herself as “ripe”. Mitski metaphorically compared herself to ripened fruit which is traditionally symbolic of fertility, youth and vitality. When Mitski asks to be captured before she falls, that is a reference to her wanting someone to acknowledge, love and admire her beauty before it’s gone, and the potential for romantic partnership evaporates along with her beauty.
At this point in the song the intensity starts to build, her strokes on the piano become more potent, drones of stringed instruments appear, and the already present strings start increasing in volume and tempo, as well as intentional distortion blending into the background peaking ever so slightly. The drumkit seems to be gone and is replaced with a timpani that starts off soft and rapidly builds up to a cymbal crash, not unlike a classical piece of music would. Vocally as she sings the lyrics, her tone shifts from soft to pleading desperation.
“How I feel this river rushing through my veins
With nowhere else to go, it circles ’round”
It’s not coincidental that Mitski’s tone changes in the second half of the song, It seems that her knowledge of this internalized truth is driving her mad, the lyric draws similarities to the famous idiom of “blood boiling “ because of anger but instead, her blood moves in her like a river that is enclosed which makes the force of the water stronger and more overwhelming because there is no cool down, its constant.
Her frustration seems to come from the fact that she is living on a shortened timeline, and if she does not get what she wants before her beauty and youth are gone, she will be disregarded, worthless and ignored as a person. She, like many women, have been told by society that your worth is dependent on your beauty, and that the clock is always ticking.
“Eric” is the second track of the album and a chilling one. The song is significantly heavier on the strings, and varied percussion instruments sound off randomly, which makes it feel like you are in the orchestra pit of a horror movie score.
In following the theme of liquid-smooth, “Eric” tells the story of a relationship in which there is no love, but the narrator which is presumed to be Mitski is willing to do anything to acquire love in the barren relationship.
She admits to being exhausted from the one-sided loveless dynamic yet she does not leave. She “knows the rules” which in my opinion refers to her status in the relationship; powerless, and this dynamic is very common with women in relationships.
Despite her partner not loving her, she claims that their skin cries a soft weep like hers, this display of unspoken brokenness draws Mitski in. She even goes as far as auctioning off her heart, not for monetary gain but for a piece of her partner, which only highlights the desperate need for love in that relationship. Unlike “Liquid Smooth”, there is not a major dramatic shift but a small one, her vocals become elongated and layered and then fade out with the music and the song ends.
Brand New City
“Brand New City” is the third track on the album and is personally my favorite. It’s is the first time we hear strong guitar riffs in the album and strong upfront guitar distortions. This track also is one of the more emotionally charged, which is very clear when you hear those punk-like guitars. Lyrically it’s also the most personal, with a lot of use of the first person “I” and visceral descriptions of her body’s decay.
Mitski asks the question of what’s been taken from her, and in a way, she answers it herself. Her brain rotting, her dying heart, her body falling in pieces and her blood passing her by are all symptoms of aging. Her being pulled into the ground and her life losing momentum are also a part of aging and the dying process. If you recall in the opening track, one of the reasons for her anger was the shortened timeline she is on, and in “Brand New City”, we see her confront the inevitability of aging and dying. She isn’t asking the audience what we took, but nature itself.
“But if I gave up on being pretty
I wouldn’t know how to be alive
I should move to a brand-new city
And teach myself how to die
Honey, what’d you take? What’d you take?
Mitski then lets the viewer know of her primary focus, being beautiful because as she covered in “Liquid Smooth”, women are only valuable so long as they have their youth and beauty.
This is so ingrained in her that she wouldn’t even know how to operate if that was not her primary focus. She then goes on to ask again about what’s been taken and the song ends on a blunt note.
“Real Men” is the fourth track on the album and is stylistically almost an homage to Fiona Apple’s writing and song performing, incorporating jazzy piano riffs. “Real Men” is lyrically the most straightforward song of the album and is a clear commentary on toxic masculinity and women’s need to be validated for their beauty.
“Wife” tackles a vulnerable part for all women, having children. This is the most ballad singer/songwriter track on the album.
“Wife” tells the story of a married woman who desperately wants to give her spouse a son but can’t. We then see her define herself not through her beauty but through her relationship with her spouse “ for if I’m not yours what am I”. She even states that she doesn’t know her own name.
This is not because of memory but because of her role, so often women get reduced to being wives and mothers, their individuality stomped to the ground. The pressure for a woman to produce a child has been around for millennia. And in “Wife”, we see the sort of loss of identity that comes with being a wife and the pressure women face to have a child.
“Abbey” is the sixth track on the album, and is sung in acapella. I think this stylistic choice is made to highlight the lyrics. While this song doesn’t comment on feminine rage it does give us a peek into Mitski’s emotional state. I think “Abbey” is a song about having a calling, and how it’s something that you innately sense. And if you don’t follow it, it beings to haunt you.
Bag of Bones
“Bag of Bones” opens with a sad-sounding harmonica and then is replaced with dissonant piano chords that perforate throughout the song.
Again, we see this theme of fading beauty and in turn, fading worth. She refers to herself as used up and not as young because her nail color is wearing off which means there has been a passage of time.
She also asks the guy to look at her hands, hands are known to be a giveaway of someone’s age. She is most likely asking him to see how her youth has faded.
“Door” is the second to last song on the album. It continues with the chilling melancholy streak of the previous song, also incorporating dissonant chords on the piano. “Door” is a song about Mitski’s connection to love.
In the song, Mitski tells us about this door that she sees and sometimes gets close to, but never catches it. She then goes on to tell us about how she almost got close enough but then it disappeared.
Finally, with her “cheek to the dirt”, she sees it and finally reaches it. When she reaches it, she claims that it cries out a creak and opened, displaying “A hopeless, a violence, “ that she named “love”. I think that the door is a metaphor for romantic relationships and how they’ve always been volatile for her.
“Pearl Diver” is the final track on the album and the most removed, being the only song told in the third person point of view.
“Pearl Diver” sounds like the song that is played over the funeral scene in someone’s death in a movie. Poignant yet beautiful.
Mitski starts off by telling us the pearl diver is dead. The song tells the story of a person who risks their lives to dive for pearls, in an unforgiving ocean filled with monsters.
I think the pearl diver might be an extension of how Mitski sees herself and the way she must perform to be beautiful and a “good woman”. Much like Mitski during the entirety of the album, the pearl diver also focuses on an outward type of beauty. Mitski says that if the pearl diver wouldn’t have been so focused on beauty that the pearl diver could have found beauty in the spirit on the inside.
The album then ends on some of the most somber lyrics I’ve ever heard. At that point, a brass section had been introduced to the vocals and piano which just added to the overall sadness of the song and Mitski’s vocals are layered, one singing the lyrics and the other singing in a mourning way.
“Treasure hunter you are dead, the light of the world is fading”.
Featured Image Credit: Mitski
John on July 8, 2022
Loved this! This is how you do an album review.
Anahi Contreras on July 9, 2022
Couldn’t agree more! Mitski will forever be timeless <33