Karen O: "Strange Love"


By Maura McAndrew | 31 August 2012

“Strange Love,” the new Karen O song from the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s upcoming Frankenweenie (his first semi-original work in ages), definitely sounds as though it’s from a children’s film. But like Burton’s best work, it manages to be whimsical and somewhat innocent without being cutesy. Part of this is due to the sheer Presence of the woman singing. Karen O has proven herself over the years as someone who doesn’t disappear into different personas; she makes things go her way. As her soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are demonstrated, she can move into dangerously twee territory without losing her rock ’n’ roll center. “Strange Love,” then, comes across like simple syrup, with its swooning slide guitar, tinkling piano, and surf-rock shuffle. But Karen O guides it with the lightest of touches, her slightly damaged-sounding alto gliding up into a wispy falsetto and back again.

What makes “Strange Love” so appealing is the same sort of retro strangeness (is that a theremin?) that crops up in Burton’s classic films, which Frankenweenie seems to be at least trying to recapture. It sounds like a 1960s AM radio hit, but actually placed in that context it would seem weird and otherworldly, reminiscent of the way Edward Scissorhands tweaked sun-belt suburbia into a flat, neon cartoon. As enjoyable as “Strange Love” is as a three-minute pop confection, I can’t help but wish it would go to a darker place—it’s easy to imagine it descending, delightfully, into Cramps-eqsue ghoulish campiness. It stays strictly on the straight and narrow, however, presenting its cheerful message without a wink: “Love is strange, oh oh / When there’s beauty on the inside / The outside, there’s nothin’ to ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-change.” While I’m skeptical that Frankenweenie will offer a fresh new side of Burton, Karen O has again demonstrated that she can stretch beyond those categories we’ve placed her in, and it comes so easily it doesn’t feel like stretching at all.