Cindy Lee 
Diamond Jubilee 

Realistik Studios • 2024

Cindy Lee blurs the line between persona and cult of personality on Diamond Jubilee, an album that makes a statement of intent while also serving to memorialize her canon of work. 

In a recent episode of the Popcast podcast, host Jon Caramanica suggested he would love to see a side-by-side double review of Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department and Cindy Lee’s Diamond Jubilee (which this is not). Both double albums (Swift’s with 31 songs and Cindy Lee’s with 32) dropped around the same time last month. Both have generated divisive and heated debates and discussions, not only about their merits as works of art but also the more significant cultural and industrial mechanisms around modern-day music creation and what it means to flood the market with an embarrassment of riches (or excess of mediocrity, depending on your point of view) by way of the now ubiquitous data dump album release.

Though it’s clear that the result of releasing a double album’s worth of material all at once differs for Swift and Cindy Lee, the end products both serve a similar purpose for the artists. In Swift’s case, she’s written and recorded an emotional purging of relationships that no longer serve her any meaning and influence personally and artistically, putting it out into the world and declaring to her fans that “Now the story isn’t mine anymore… it’s all yours.” For Cindy Lee, Diamond Jubilee marks a similar break-up between musical alchemist Patrick Flegel and the Cindy Lee persona that has served as his primary musical vehicle since the demise of their previous band, Women, in 2012. Before the album drop (available only as a direct download through Cindy Lee’s Geocities page), a Spring 2024 tour with Freak Heat Waves (which was abruptly cancelled recently “due to personal reasons within the touring party”) was billed as “Cindy’s last American tour,” suggesting that Diamond Jubilee is meant to be the vault-clearing release Flegel has been hinting at in interviews for some time.  

That’s essentially where the similarities end. While The Tortured Poets Department sags under the weight of half-finished ideas and a rush release to capitalize on Swift’s prolific work ethic and current cultural pervasiveness, Diamond Jubilee is an impossibly perfect summation of Flegel’s bountiful output and an immaculate musical swan song for Cindy Lee. It is an epic collection intended to span three albums that have either been paired down or sequenced as two discs for what the Geocities page refers to as a “large run of LPs [that] will be pressed a while after the tour.” It will likely be unsurpassed as my favourite album of 2024 (I’m calling it now).

Whether you’re the world’s biggest performer or a fiercely independent artist eschewing every single music industry standard you can think of, there’s bound to be some inevitable backlash (both fair and unfair) about your record. The critical reception for Tortured Poets has been tepid, with a general consensus that it’s one of the weaker albums in Swift’s canon. In contrast, Diamond Jubilee’s near universal acclaim has started to feel like a competition of who can heap the most superlative praise on it. In Steregum, Ian Cohen’s exhaustive concert review/think-piece about Cindy Lee’s April 19th show in San Diego posits that the hype around Diamond Jubilee went into over-drive with Pitchfork’s 9.1 Best New Music rating (published on April 12) in a way not seen since that site heaped praise on a couple of other Canadian artists: Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene.

Any dissenting criticism I’ve encountered suggests that Diamond Jubilee is that it is too same-samey due to its length and overly derivative of Flegel’s musical influences. That’s hogwash, as far as I am concerned. At this point in popular music, the argument about being too far in debt to a musical influence is a moot point; truly new, never-before-heard musical ideas with no reference to the past are too few and far between, so the derivative arguments don’t hold water for me. To suggest that Cindy Lee’s style of blown speaker doo-wop and gauzy girl-group pop is second-form Velvet Underground work misses the point that Flegel and Lou Reed share a fascination and enthralled with early rock and roll, doo-wop, and girl group harmonies and the simplicity of the beat and melody. Both artists present their work through a transgressive, dirty, and queer lens, conjuring personas that lean towards darker themes than their source material ever dared to mine. (I don’t know what it means that Swift, Cindy Lee, Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground are my most listened-to artists in 2024 so far.)   

I listened to all two hours and two minutes of Diamond Jubilee in one go the first time out and admit that it’s been difficult to do so again. It is a daunting undertaking for anyone to try and handle it all at once, but broken into two discs, as the tracklisting suggests, allows you to enjoy each half as a unified whole. Each disc is a full-throttle dive into the delightful dissonance and juxtapositions that have marked Cindy Lee’s work. Flegel purposefully moves between their two registers across the album, singing harmony with themselves on “To Heal This Wounded Heart,” extending the idea of musical dichotomies coexisting in the same space. On “Glitz,” blistering glam rock guitar riffs rub against tightly coiled melodies in one of the album’s most joyous moments. “Glitz” sounds like Flegel is having the time of their life making music and revelling in the freedom of expression that comes from not having any industry constraints dictating formulas, timelines, genres or styles.

Cindy Lee has always existed in this liminal space and mindset, but never more so than on Diamond Jubilee. Better reviewers than I have tried to capture its fractured beauty, but they have only been able to scratch the surface of what makes it an exceptional listening experience. My hot take: Diamond Jubilee celebrates Flegel’s love for the creative process. It’s unclear when and where these tracks started taking form, but Flegel invests their acute attention to detail into every moment to flesh out each song. Nothing here feels like a skip; every time a song sounds like it has reached peak Cindy Lee, the next one starts, and I am in shock and awe all over again (see “Lockstepp” leading into “Government Cheque” on disc two as a stand-out example). Diamond Jubilee is a rare artistic artifact that pulls on its influences to make a statement of intent and simultaneously memorialize a canon of work, blurring the line between persona and cult of personality. If Diamond Jubilee truly marks the end of Flegel’s Cindy Lee era, then sweet Jesus, may she rest in immortality forever and ever, amen. 

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