Katy Kirby’s “Blue Raspberry” is Cubic Zirconia in the Rough

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Katy Kirby’s new album is a languorous, poetic ode to artificiality and imperfection. Chronicling the end of a relationship and the bright, sparkling discovery of a new one, Kirby warbles, trills, and serenades over somber piano, understated guitar, and the occasional soaring strings.

The album drawls in slow and almost hymnal with the syllabic, chantlike “Redemption Arc,” which seems to lament and laud a previous partner left behind in a failed relationship. 

I look the doors and I talk you down
I put our reconciliation in my calendar

You’re doing the work now
You’re trying so hard
Oh, this one goes out to
Your redemption arc

The second track, “Fences,” follows the same thread, but picks up with a literal lilting “swing” as Kirby glides into this cryptic and rhythmic flow, introducing an image that seems to compel much of Blue Raspberry‘s setting. “Wait Listen” and “Drop Dead” will go on to mention fences, celebrating the feminine as “unfenceable” and seeming to lament the fences that once kept her away from it. But “Hand to Hand” preps the break-up to follow by further grieving the failing relationship, delving into the bargain/covenant/handshake deal of monogamy. A swirling poetic song with the satisfying final line:

What I can’t remember won’t hurt me
Thank God in advance, I’m already forgetting

Then comes perhaps the climax of the album, “Wait Listen,” the kind of song I can see sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with some Mitski and Julia Jacklin, with plenty of quotable lines (“carpet bomb of estrogen”/”I look just like a Rembrandt / I hope you’re into that”/so I turned off my location / let her fuck me like you thought you did”). This album is pretty well publicized as being about a first-time queer relationship, which Kirby embellishes with the warning to her ex:

Wait, wait, wait
Wait, listen
You can’t say I didn’t warn you

This section of the album is mostly the “pre” before the love she finds: the fenced-in relationship, the reconciliation, the break-up. “Party of the Century” and “Alexandria” do their part in fulfilling the fuzzy lovesong feel of the album—sister songs, in my opinion. One is the crowd pleaser; the other, for listening to longingly, lovesick and alone. The rest fall into the main “closing” theme of the album, save one, “Table,” the album’s finale which is a pleasant, if tangential, closer.

But it’s the third track, “Cubic Zirconia,” where the centerpiece seems to come into view. The instrumentals expand out, and Kirby’s wiggling “why-Y-y-Y”s, “f-O-o-O-rs” gain an addictive, hypnotizing flow.

Cubic zirconia
Baby, no one can tell
when they’re up against your throat
You know they shine just as well

Fresh off the market, but you’re nobody’s prize
Magazine quiz called you apple shape
You look to me like dollar signs
You look like dollar signs

Kirby exercises her lyrical muscle here with lines like “barbed-wire electric fence of personality,” “face framed by hoodie like an oyster in a shell,” nearly distracting debris on the otherwise slow, beachy tune—but the smooth delivery helps it remain just understated enough to absorb, expressing a simple love-struck urge:

‘Cause I’m still craving that unstable sort of shine

Kirby confesses here she’s looking for that cubic zirconia shine, a common fake for diamonds, which rules much of the thematic space of the album. Kirby presses in on the worth of the artificial, but also seems to question the status quo itself: why is a diamond worth more? Why is her artificial, cubic zirconia, apple-shaped love any less valuable?

This theme leads track 6, “Drop Dead,” where Kirby discusses the diamond market (“Seems like everyone’s decided / That synthetics are preferable no matter the price“), and seems to second as an alias for the titular Alexandria of track 8 (“Alexandria / Cubic Zirconia / I hope it’s better than you thought it would be“). It also plays into what I would call its sequel song, “Salt Crystal,” questioning the common conception that artificiality indicates insincerity, or inferiority.

Cubic zirconia, baby, I don’t understand why
All the pieces of your hurricane glass
aren’t as good as diamonds?


You’re biting down on gold again
You’re grinding pearls against your teeth
Spare me your obsession
with that incorruptibility

By the time we reach “Blue Raspberry,” primed with love songs and renunciations of the status quo, we’re ready for the full celebration here: the unapologetic, abrasive, slushie flavor of the love she’s been uncovering: 

I am under her heel like rock candy
Crushed to glitter, laid out on the concrete
And the happiest kind of sorry for myself
The sweetest little hangover I bet I’ve ever felt
God, she looks so pretty when she’s mad
Straw stabbing the cherry at the bottom of her glass
Blinking back the sugar-water tears I see her nearly crying

“Salt Crystal” leading into “Blue Raspberry” was exactly the moment where I remembered the heartbreaking, stunning lesbian romance I read over the summer, The Price of Salt. Published in the 50s, it follows the suddenly lovestruck Therese and Carol as they spin into their own doom simply by loving each other. Here, a line from the novel, so reminiscent of the blossoming adoration of the lyrics above:

“It was a double bed. They sat up in their pajamas, drinking milk and sharing an orange that Carol was too sleepy to finish. Then Therese set the container of milk on the floor and looked at Carol who was sleeping already, on her stomach, with one arm flung up as she always went to sleep. Therese pulled out the light. Then Carol slipped her arm under her neck, and all the length of their bodies touched, fitting as if something had prearranged it. Happiness was like a green vine spreading through her, stretching fine tendrils, bearing flowers through her flesh. She had a vision of a pale white flower, shimmering as if seen in darkness, or through water. Why did people talk of heaven, she wondered.”

Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt

The fascinating synchronicity is that Patricia Highsmith, too, was obsessed with the idea of the value of it—the price. Kirby says it’s enough for her, just as Therese wondered why people talked of heaven, when she had this moment sharing an orange with Carol. She did not care that their entire lives were at threat as they knew it: their jobs, their homes. Like Kirby sings in “Alexandria,” “I run my thumb through your hair / Like a stack of hundred-dollar bills I think I’ll keep“: it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say about the market price, the status quo, the value. There are those who would say Carol and Therese, because they lost so much, shared a lesser or false love. But to Kirby’s point, blue raspberry might be a “false” flavor, but it is all its own—fully original.

A fluorescence that it seems she has absorbed
From the lights of the laboratory she was surely born in
Blue raspberry
Blue raspberry, mmm

Cure me in salt crystal like you’re saving me for later
I don’t care if whatever you are is found in nature
You hold the patent for that flavor

And so it is, too, in the novel, that same wonder—awe at what dares to be unique and strange in a world often beset by the “Fences” and “Hand to Hand” monotony:

“What a strange girl you are,” Carol said. “Flung out of space.”

Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt

Ultimately Kirby’s sincerity shines through, struck by a love she seems eager to prove, but more than content to keep. Like cubic zirconia itself, the album can seem to lack some of the refinement that many music and diamond graders alike look for, with diaristic lyrics and uncomplicated instrumental adornment—but that’s rather the point. Most of us are not Antony and Cleopatra, framboises fraîches, or the Kohinoor. We are the love our imperfect parents made into life, the blue raspberry slushies from the local Circle K on summer days, and knock-off jewels encasing millions of little, affordable I-love-yous. 

Blue Raspberry is a humbling, heartwarming reminder that those may in fact be closer to the “real thing,” than the “real” thing itself. As Kirby argues,

Why wouldn’t that be enough?
For what more could I want?

[photo courtesy of Katy Kirby’s instagram]

The post Katy Kirby’s “Blue Raspberry” is Cubic Zirconia in the Rough appeared first on Two Story Melody.

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