Music Reviews
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

Caroline Polachek Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

(Sony) Rating - 6/10

Every so often, perhaps once a year, the skies part, God smiles down upon us, and the music critics all agree on the One Chosen Record. This is the record that gets immediate tens across the board, without any benefit of hindsight (and what hubris to anoint a record 10/10 — with all the implicit cultural significance that carries — without reflecting on its staying power!) It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s actually deserving (Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Boltcutters), though it’s typically at least a marvel of production (Beyonce’s Renaissance) or lyrically affecting (Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher). But without fail, it happens, and in 2023, it happened early.

Each detail of Desire, I Want to Turn Into You, Caroline Polachek’s newest LP, feels carefully crafted to land on every Best Of list this year. Even the release date was special — not just a Tuesday (new albums haven’t been released on Tuesdays in the U.S. since 2015) but Valentine’s Day for crying out loud! It all feels like such a coy wink. And that’s before even touching on the superstar collaborations and two full years of teased singles.

What Desire does best is capitalize on every palatable, popular avant-garde trend of the last year. Kate Bush went viral on Tik Tok and stirred multigenerational interest in art pop with arpeggiated vocals? Fabulous — the opening track is perfectly calibrated for this trend, er, style. The new season of White Lotus had suburbanites holding light switch raves in their living rooms every week? Well, the flamenco flourishes on Sunset will bring them right back to Sicily (…though, confusingly, with a Latin beat).

But all of this leaves one critical question unanswered: is it any good?

After everything else, how much does “good” really matter? Polachek is an incredibly talented artist, and much of this record is, consequently, excellent. Both Welcome to My Island and I Believe are true pop bangers, and Smoke has an arrestingly powerful bassline that melds beautifully with her shimmering voice. Still, there are enough missteps for my palate that keep this squarely in the “just fine” column and keep me scratching my head about its overall reception. Did the chiming guitar on the Grimes/Dido track not feel oddly placed to anyone else? Wasn’t the spoken word portion of Crude Drawing of an Angel a bit affected? Is there anything on this record that is really SO unique or special or different from every other competent art pop album out there?

What an absolute yawn to write this off as “art is subjective!” and move it along. Why do we write and read criticism, then? Why score anything at all if not for our insatiable need to strip the joy from everything we love by classifying it into orderly categories and rankings? If we can all agree on that, is it really such a shock that most have been utterly swept away by Desire, I Want to Turn Into You? Whether or not it had to do with the actual quality of the record? (And frankly, when the average album ranking across all publications is a 7/10, how much of a punch does a 10 really pack? But I digress.)

Never has assigning a score to an album felt like such a Sisyphean task, nor so meaningless—and that’s really saying something when we all know just how ridiculous it is to rate art in the first place. So take this six with the absolute massive boulder of salt I’ve been rolling up a hill of tens, and ignore it with my blessing.