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Music Review: Secretary Of State Pick Antony Blinken


We've been talking about the politics of President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet choices - now a very different review of the work of one particular member of the incoming Biden team. Here's NPR's Stephen Thompson with that.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: My job at NPR is simple. I write and talk about music and movies and TV shows - that sort of thing. Sometimes I produce Tiny Desk concerts. I don't get paid to expound on politics. So when someone asks me for thoughts on likely future Secretary of State Antony Blinken, it's because they want me to talk about his music, or at least the two songs he's posted on Spotify using the name Ablinken - Abe Lincoln - get it? One of these songs is called "Lip Service." And if you're familiar with the Smithereens, see if you can spot the influence of that band's singer, Pat DiNizio.


ABLINKEN: (Singing) I took a look around - nothing to see. But then I finally found somebody like me. I wanted to tell you, tell you, but I was so crazy, yeah.

THOMPSON: What jumps out about "Lip Service" is how much it sounds like a decent amateur demo, like the work of someone who's steeped in music and loves classic rock and pop and maybe a hint of David Bowie. But it's routine. Antony Blinken sounds like what he is - a hobbyist who loves playing music. He's got a sense of humor about it. He's a policy guy, so he describes his own musical genre as wonk rock. These songs are not supposed to be masterpieces.

Like, OK, here's Antony Blinken's other song, "Patience." It's more earnest, more acoustic and more boring.


ABLINKEN: (Singing) Patience is walking around with you when I know your heart isn't mine. Patience is not knowing what to do, and the thought that I could be trying harder.

THOMPSON: But it's worth holding on to some perspective here. First, compared to other secretaries of state, Antony Blinken is a powerhouse. A song like "Lip Service" crushes the musical works of Madeleine Albright or Alexander Haig or even Dean Rusk, Lawrence Eagleburger - not even on Spotify.

The other piece of perspective, which is actually important, is that we should celebrate when people who run our country love and even participate in the arts. If a secretary of state once felt a feeling worth putting into a song, that is more than just a minor human interest story because to make art is to empathize in some small way, and we need that.


MARTIN: That is NPR's Stephen Thompson with his thoughts on the music of Antony Blinken, President-elect Biden's pick for secretary of state.


ABLINKEN: (Singing) Patience is talking till I'm blue when all I want, I want to... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)