In Detroit, entire skyscrapers stand abandoned. One of those, the David Whitney Building, looms like a ghost a few blocks away from downtown’s Comerica Park, visible from almost anywhere within the stadium. But onstage, luminary Jay-Z sounds a rare note of optimism: “I know you’ve been through a lot, but Detroit has heart, and it will be back.”
It’s anyone’s guess how much of the vast, whiter-than-I-expected crowd Thursday night actually lives around here. Outside the park, a guy in line tries to convince anyone who will listen that Grand Rapids is the city of the future, that it’ll be bigger than Detroit in 10 years. Before the show starts, the highway traffic into the city is at a complete standstill, as guys selling bootleg T-shirts wander between the cars. Once you get out of the stadium/casino sector, downtown is a grisly, apocalyptic sight. But Detroit does have at least one thing going for it: The most popular rapper in the world calls the city home.
Detroit’s streets are grand, sweeping boulevards lined by liquor stores, outlets of the iconic local hot dog stand Coney Island, and decaying abandoned buildings. An automotive Venice, its concrete canals are mostly deserted — the vehicles lost in the vast thoroughfares. Even the city’s centerpiece, General Motors’ gleaming Renaissance Center, seems to hulk defensively over the river, bunkered down awaiting better times. This is the city Obie Trice claims to reign over, though even he acknowledges it is more by default than design: “The white boy stepped down / So I will accept the crown,” he explains on “Cry Now.
That’s what I said about Detroit when I reviewed
Obie Trice’s Second Round’s On Me
Launched at a dog track, Parklife is swimming with London-centrism—more so than any record since Saint Etienne. Unlike those sometimes first-person, celebratory looks at the capital, Blur’s London is cold and charmless—although between Damon’s affected look and penchant for grandiose interviews—they had trouble effectively delivering that message. From Phil Daniels’ title-track monologue to discouraging traffic reports to suicidal thoughts on the Cliffs of Dover, all was not well. Here most of England was a world of self-denial from which an escape—whether for girls and boys on holiday or “Tracy Jacks” to the sea or to “Magic America” (the country or the Italian porn station)—was the key to pleasure. Video games were more important than the Queen; enjoyment came six times a year; and London loves “the way you just don’t stand a chance.”
Albarn’s more personal songs—“End of a Century” and “To the End”—are no more cheery. As far as mood goes, the low point is the album’s artistic peak, “This Is a Low,” still perhaps the finest achievement of the band’s career. Potentially alienating for American listeners, it’s tempestuous and atmospheric, a blend of on-the-face-of-it celebration that hides dissatisfaction, like most of the best songs from that album. Albarn’s reading of the English shipping report over Coxon’s backward guitar is the best romanticization of the mundane since “London Belongs to Me.” There is a sort of spectral finisterre quality to the song’s tracing the outline of England by boat that marks the edge of Britain as the end of the world. And because those shipping reports—news from the end of the world—are what used to sign off the BBC broadcast each night, the song almost sounds as if it could be the nation’s lullaby. The sun once never set on England; this song seems to indicate that it now did so nightly—in a haze of depression and doubt.