Posts from April 2003

Apr 03

The Heptones – “Make Up Your Mind” b/w “Why Must I?”

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One of the big problems with fads is that they generally do burn out the general public – even the general hipster public – to a specific sound, which is a shame when the victims are records as beautiful as this one. Will admit to not having listened to it in a while – I’m making CD-Rs of my favorite songs right now…the full list is here on an ILX thread – but hearing it yesterday I’m reminded of why it was the track which really “put me over” when it came to reggae. (The province of stinky hippies with a clutch of Wailers records, at least if you had just recently left American academia.) A fairly unremarkable roots track on the surface, not devotional except in the sense that all roots is devotional. But no cornbread and collie opacity, no shouting down Babylon. It’s a love (lost) song, and as such it’s easy to see why it struck such a chord: throw it up against any moody, mopey indie or pop record you wish and it wouldn’t sound too out of place.

In it’s way it reminds me of a Jamaican Smiths or Go-Betweens. Except the Heptones don’t mope. They lope, they glide, they hymn the heavens down with their song, but they do not languish unwashed in their beds wondering Why She Hasn’t Come Back. Towards health and efficiency.

The dub (I always forget which is the dub and which is the vocal) is hardly Lee Perry’s most radical production, but that seems slightly beside the point. (At least he doesn’t throw some mooing cows in there for us mere mortals to wonder why.) He abstracts the sound of the original, gutting the vocal and throwing glints of trace memories back at us, in order to make the pain that much more keenly felt. It’s not particularly heavy, or particularly dread. But the “collapsing chambers” here are the hearts. (Easy to find – even in the pre-mp3 sense – on the Perry anthology Arkology, a tricky document which alternates stretches of brilliance and tedium…six versions of “Police & Thieves” in a row.)

JIMMY SPICER — ‘Super Rhymes’

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I have more than a bit of sympathy for Jess on this thread — I find the earliest hip-hop tough going sometimes too. Thing is, I usually find myself nodding my head more at the positive descriptions of and arguments for Funky Four &c. than the actual records. This stuff should press all my fun buttons, but apparently only in theory — listening to it isn’t a bad experience, it just rolls along happily, and every now and then there’s a spark of grinning revelation as my drifting consciousness intersects with the MC’s wandering rhymes and I’m touched by the magic. The rest of the time it’s either switch-off or plain hard work, though, and I’m sure that’s not how I’m ‘meant’ to be hearing it because while the rewards are definite they’re also not enough to sustain a world-conquering pop style like they, well, did.

It may be that C. Eddy, M. Matos etc are right and something great has been lost in hip-hop’s journey from then to now, but you have to work with what’s around you. Maybe my pleasure centers are so wired to the current stuff that I won’t ever ‘get’, say, ‘That’s The Joint’ except on semi-academic terms: fine, my loss, don’t care either because as long as my neurons are getting fired I don’t worry too much about the context. (Well, I try not to.)

Anyway, ‘Super Rhymes’, which I heard on that old compilation Mantronix did for Soul Jazz, is great, so forget what I just said. Mantronix or his handlers edit the thirteen-minute original down to five which I philistinistically think is a sound move: the section they preserve finds Jimmy Spicer chatting to Dracula, who is — naturally – also Spicer doing a funny voice. Funny voices are hardly unknown in hip-hop now but whether anyone would have the balls or stupidity to keep a really bad one up for a whole song I’m not sure. Spicer does, it works, the bassline keeps teasing you with ‘Good Times’ then dancing off somewhere else, I like it so much I almost don’t care why.

Apr 03

Good Charlotte – “Girls and Boys” / Big Brovaz – “Favourite Things”

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Good Charlotte – “Girls and Boys” / Big Brovaz – “Favourite Things”
You wait ages for top pop tunes slamming materialism and referencing that old song which goes ‘these are a few of my favourite things’ and then two come along at once. At least I think they’re slamming materialism: hard to tell with the Brovaz, but the sinister shady devil figures in the video appear to be implying something along Faustian lines. Good Charlotte are also attacking GURLS, and so reinject the war of the sexes into the supposedly gender-neutral nu-rawk-goth-metal-punk scene or whatever they’re calling it these days: ‘Girls don’t like boys they like cars and money’. Check out the video for a top Avril-diss – what appears to just be an MTV meta-joke, when a lame-looking tie-wearing skater gurl says ‘let’s crash the mall’, ends up showing up the whole ‘punk’ ethos for the cash-machine it really is. If Avril-esque rebellion is really just a reinvention of Cali-consumerism, the boys can’t escape because they’d rather play video games and skate, dude. As with ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’, Good Charlotte end up hoist by their own petard. More disturbing is the association they make between hip-hop and bling-bling-ism. As the Brovaz show, that’s a contingent rather than a necessary link. Both alarmingly tuneful and thoroughly convincing singles.

White Stripes-Seven Nation Army

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White Stripes-Seven Nation Army
This is proof that all of the shyness is bullshit, all of the desire to not be rock stars is nonesense. They play rock and roll, and this rock and roll gets them on the charts. See no one in the fly over cares about the Strokes, or has heard the Libertines but the White Stripes belive in the age old edict guitar=fame, and go from there. This is rock that people play in Garages, and the lyrics are that rollicking ambition fucked up folks from fucked up towns scream at two bit hall shows. The only difference is that they have a gimmick, they roll into New York at the right time and the music is distracting enough to be entertaining.

Apr 03

White Stripes –

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White Stripes – Elephant
“Realness”, in pop, is a deeply silly idea/ideal. Show me a wholly “real” artist and I’ll show you a profoundly boring personality. But you can’t, so there’s no worry. There’s nothing “real” about the White Stripes, or even faux-real, which makes most of the words written about them worthless at best. Jack White (and, no offence to Meg or to women everywhere, but it’s clear that Jack is the musical brains of the operation, y’know?) is as contrived as you or I when he throws himself into the public arena (there’s nothing more embarassing than a writer who claims/feigns “realness” when they are clearly coming at 90% of their subjects through nine layers of distance, not all of them their own.) He is a synthesist, although the materials he synthesizes are rather low on the futurist grocery list: AC/DC, Zeppelin, Queen, The Gories..any jabs at “The Blues” are filtered through suburban sequins, two decades of indie rock, and .75 thrift-store scores. So purposeful obfuscation in the service of one-upping them (3 = 313 = 313PHANT = the Detroit area code, y’see?) just looks silly, like a bunch of prep school kids needling the stoners. But there I go with that realness thing again…

Jack White, like many before him and many after him, is a classical indie songwriter: he is writing songs in his bedroom to be played by other people in their bedrooms. Except instead of Big Star and the third Velvets album, it’s hard rock. But the end result – bedroom music for bedroom people – is still the same. And if you think the world has lost it’s need for such things, then I envy your cosmopolitan lifestyle. Even still, you feel as if there’s something slightly inhibited about it: another collection of demos. Elephant is not a perfect album, although it makes tentative steps towards an “advancement”, such as it is, of the Stripes sound. (Dig the multi-tracking on the harmonies, fer instance.) Jack White is a good – sometimes great – songwriter, but without a shot of ambition and a decent rhythm section he’s never going to escape that bedroom is going to become a tomb. I can’t help think that his heroes – up there in cock rock heavent – are frowning upon his “communal good naturedness” getting in the way of his world-straddling, cod-piece and coke spoon success.

Apr 03

BLUR — ‘Out Of Time’

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In the Live Forever film, Damon Albarn keeps on doing a horrid thing. He’s clutching some kind of miniature banjo and whenever the interview asks him a difficult question he looks sensitive and pained and hunches over it, picking out indifferent phrases, the artist’s defiance to the intrusive, hostile, world. Music just pours out of him, see — in the latest issue of WORD he’s at it again, picking up an African instrument and strumming a tune, just like that! off the top of his wonderful head! ‘It’s magical’, he says. The interviewer says nothing.

The spin on Blur’s new album is that it’s a selection from this unending torrent of Albarn-music, and a particular selection at that. The really weird stuff has been left out, cos the record company couldn’t take it, but the really commercial stuff has been left out too. (Blur may have moved on from Britpop, but they’ve stuck to some of the tactics: ‘You should hear the songs we haven’t released’ was standard PR practise back then.).

This explains why ‘Out Of Time’ sounds so half-hearted, and points up Blur’s odd, bitter relationship with the charts. They were pop stars, decided they didn’t like it, and publically dumped pop — fair enough. But they keep on releasing singles, and the singles they pick nowadays tend to be sullen dirges, of which this is the latest in a series. It’s like someone who says they’re over an ex lover, then constantly tries to belittle them in public.

‘Out Of Time’ is a lot better than ‘No Distance Left To Run’, the awful nadir of this passive-aggressive pop. But it’s still a slow, introverted drip of a tune gussied up with heap of studio background noise. The production — interesting noises and all — doesn’t work with the song at all, it just sulkily pulls faces at it. As usual with later Blur, you get the strong impression of a band who’d rather be elsewhere. Me too.

“Barbara Song” – Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weil.

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“Barbara Song” – Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weil.

Its my friend Maria’s birthday, and I heard her sing this for the first time a few weeks ago. We were all drinking, but she wasn’t and she left before the evening ended by me letting my tongue fall into the mouth of a boy and a girl in rapid succession. Of all the versions I have heard, I love Marias the best, maybe because the evening was one that should have been scripted by Weil, maybe because she has this crystalline soprano, one that you would think of as pure, if you didn’t notice the flint at its heart, maybe because from Lotte Lenya to Ute Lemper to Marriane Faithful, the expectations of this song have been a Camels and Glenfiddich growl. (I told her she had to start drinking and smoking to sing this sort of thing well, but I don’t believe it and was mocking the lieder queens who expect this.) But mostly because she does this well,with wide wide eyed wonder and tenuous hope, layered over a bedrock of cynicism and fear. Its hard to pull off, because you don’t want to sound like a slut, or an ingenue or a hack who is doing it for sordid reasons.

I am going to buy her a copy of Lenya’s theatre songs before the party, because greedily I want to be in bars when she learns the Alabama song, In cabarets when she learns the September song and in Concert Halls to weep when she sings Mack the Knife.

I hope she listens to it, not as the definitive version but as a way to enter the world of cabaret, but really thats selfish. She will sing what she needs to, and thats alright by me.

Apr 03

DIZZEE RASCAL — ‘I Luv U (Clean Radio Edit)’

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Botch job — they cut out the girl MC, which means they lose the bits that make the song loveable as well as sensational (plus: a love song as well as a sensation), that duel of ‘oh well’s. Without that it’s just being hectored by a genius.

(The swearblock noises are great though, corroded arcade blurts much more in keeping with the tune than the usual censor-bleeps.)

KATE BUSH – “The Dreaming”

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I spent pretty much all of yesterday reading the BBC’s Doctor Who Episode Guide. I think I’m undergoing some kind of internal audit – all the things I liked when I was a kid and brutally blue-pencilled in my worried 20s are now up for guiltless grabs. Role-playing games (intriguing); Elvis Costello records (excellent); iffy sci-fi (iffy); Stephen King (rotten); and now the Doctor.

Something I never twigged until yesterday, probably because this had been lost by the time I started watching, is how Doctor Who could work as a kind of possessing spirit, inhabiting and twisting other BBC programmes and processes. The BBC was good at costume drama, so a lot of Who stories, the “historical” ones in particular, found the programme materializing inside the skin of some other proto-drama about smugglers or Romans or 20s dandies. Nomadic and cannibalistic, Doctor Who would roam around willy-nilly, trying on costumes and funny voices for the joy of it. The cheapness, the not getting it quite right, was part of the charm: an imagined world brought to life for a week or two, lashed together with gaffer tape and magic, then vanishing to make way for the next.

(Ed 2006: Having just edited this for punctuation, I have no idea what the Who bit has to do with Kate Bush’s The Dreaming!)

And Then They Lez Up

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And Then They Lez Up: Cozen’s t.A.T.u. epic is up and ready on Freaky Trigger – so is Dr C’s latest instalment in the C90 Go! series. Num num num.