What’s Tonight to Eternity is a superstar that burns brightly, glows passionately, and whose impression lasts in your memory long after it fades out.
Besides their aesthetically similar album art, there is an undeniable link between Sonic Youth’s 1990 album, Goo, and What’s Tonight to Eternity by Cindy Lee — Karen Carpenter.
Too often, the focus on Carpenter’s life is how it ended (via complications associated with anorexia nervosa). Not enough time and energy goes into discussing the underlying cause of her illness: a combination of challenging family dynamics, societal expectations of women at the time, and pressures placed on them by the entertainment industry machine. It is no wonder Karen Carpenter turned to the only thing she had absolute control over — her body — in an attempt to control her own narrative and perceived body dysmorphia. Despite the success she and her brother had as a musical duo, Karen Carpenter saw herself as an outsider. That is likely why she’s endeared herself to fellow outsiders like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon (who wrote Goo standout “Tunic (Song for Karen)”) and Cindy Lee’s Patrick Flegel.
On What’s Tonight to Eternity, Flegel explores what they referred to as the “negative space” between public and private, perception and reality, popularity and denunciation. It’s a void that Flegel, willingly or not, finds themself occupying. After their previous band, Women, dissolved, Flegel began performing ‘confrontational pop’ in drag as Cindy Lee, a conceit that What’s Tonight to Eternity crystallizes. Deeply influenced by the likes of Carpenter and the classic sounds of Patsy Cline, the Supremes, and other 60s pop groups, Flegel’s latest is a diaphanous delight. It revels in the classic pop music tradition while simultaneously unravelling its mystique as a way of examining gender dysphoria and queer identity.
At one end of the spectrum that describes Cindy Lee’s sound are songs like “The Limit” and “I Want You to Suffer”. The former is a precarious waltz of a tune that wobbles like it’s playing off of warped vinyl; the latter, a 60s-girl-group-inspired marathon of a song that morphs through more stages than a caterpillar on its way to becoming a butterfly, yet still emerges more beautiful and majestic than where it started. Similarly, “One Second To Toe The Line” touches on melodic motifs lifted right from mid-century modern music while managing to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. At the other end of the spectrum, disrupting the nostalgic glow of yester-year pop, are angular synth-based songs like the album’s title track and “Lucifer Stand”, a song that’s evil incarnate right down to its Satan-sparring spoken word outro.
Juxtaposing sound, style, composition, and cacophony, What’s Tonight to Eternity elevates itself above being a loosely connected concept album to a full-on work of performance art of the highest order. I can’t possibly imagine what Flegel has in store when they’ll perform it live, but I imagine it won’t be like anything anyone has already seen. Confrontational and subversive, thoroughly modern and yet steeped in long-ago and oh-so-far-away music traditions, Cindy Lee’s What’s Tonight to Eternity is, in essence, a superstar that burns brightly, glows passionately, and whose impression lasts in your memory long after its last spark fades out.