Posts from 21st April 2000

Apr 00

It is a little bit pathetic to blog your own site, but needs must

New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 208 views

It is a little bit pathetic to blog your own site, but needs must, and during the current FTP crisis I’ve no other means of letting people accessing this from the page know that there’s a new article up. It’s good, too.

DEAD PREZ – “Hip Hop”

New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 394 views

DEAD PREZ – “Hip Hop”(CD Single, Loud Records)
Dead Prez think all those ‘fake-ass’ streetrap records “sound the same”. which just shows they’ve not been listening properly. Except they obviously have been listening, since “Hip Hop” rolls in with a magnificent insectoid buzz-bass sound not that far removed from the Beltramish bottom Jay-Z uses on his “Snoopy Track”. What this means is that “Hip Hop” is one of the few ‘undie’ tracks I’ve heard to have sonically got with the program and not sound like it was pining for the days when a man was judged by the obscurity of his funk samples. Better yet, “Hip Hop” achieves a similar lyrical effect, being a cold-shoulder to the ‘mersh rap industry which doesn’t then devolve into boasting about realness* or pointless verbal showing off.** Instead it gets down to economic brass tacks, pointing out that unless you’re ultra-big – and even then – all that’s likely to happen to you as a rapper is getting ripped off. It may not be the most original message, but it’s delivered unhysterically and with style, and that paranoid swarm-bass makes you listen a bit harder, too. “Hip Hop” is contemptuous and straightforward, but it’s exhausted too: “Hip / Hop / Hip / Hop / Hip / Hop / Hip / Hop” goes the chorus, and the ground-out syllables don’t sound like a celebration of a style, they sound like pacekeeping on a forced march. But to where?

* sadly the remix does.
** it’s become a truism to talk about how turntablism is just guitar soloing for the nu age, but nobody levels the same accusations of excess and wankery at those M.C.s who aren’t communicating anything, but are just showing off how fast or fluently they can rap. And you could name a similar charge at rappers who shoehorn in the furthest-out similes and references, too. Though there’s still something uniquely aurally horrible about a Malmsteen or Vai guitar solo, so let’s not go too far here.

SONS OF THE PIONEERS – “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”

New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 1,001 views

SONS OF THE PIONEERS – “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”(MP3)
Best known if known at all for providing the credits theme to The Big Lebowski, “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” manages in two-and-a-half minutes to achieve the kind of big-souled serenity Zen monks could spend multiple lifetimes looking for. Sons Of The Pioneers (“65 years of continuous entertainment!”) may not have been trying for anything so sublime, but a look at their discography suggests that they knew gold when they struck it, since “Tumbleweeds” crops up again and again. The lounge-country string arrangement rocks like a chair, and the massed-voice effect beckons you to just lie back and drown in the song, and its clip-clop rhythm and its sweetly fatalist lyrics. Maybe all country music was this good-natured once, back in the 50s when it didn’t have all those jumped-up upstart musics to resent, when it wasn’t so worried about being real. Or maybe the Sons were just schmalzy old showbiz pros who didn’t know their authenticity from their elbow: in any case their world is a wonderful place to visit.

It’s always nice when someone you

New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 102 views

It’s always nice when someone you admire turns out to have good taste. On the other hand, nobody’s perfect.

Britney And Co-Dependence: BRITNEY SPEARS – “Born To Make You Happy”

FT1 comment • 3,055 views

I’d previously stated that I like three things about “Born To Make You Happy”: its beat-based balladry, Britney’s unusually expressive vocals and that key change. I still like these things, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to justify to myself why I’m continually drawn back to its melodramatic charms. It is neither as sonically exciting or fascinatingly bizarre as much of the excellent pop music of the past few months, and Britney’s previous quality singles have both worked only in the context of initial impact, followed by diminishing returns.

Obviously then, I identify with this song somehow; and that’s scary, because as Tom pointed out in his review, there’s something really disturbing about “Born To Make You Happy”. The concepts of absolute devotion and complete emotional servitude sit uncomfortably with the large majority of us at the best of times, and Britney is young enough, small enough, but most of all girlish enough to make the idea quite sickening (too add insult to injury, Britney’s next album is tentatively titled “Oops… I Did It Again”). Certainly it doesn’t harm Reynolds’ sharp assessment that critical identification with Britney is tantamount to pedophilia.

But then, if listeners feel the instinctive need to distance themselves from this overbearingly emotional display, there’s also something bizarrely compelling about it, at least for me. The same reason I love Buffy The Vampire Slayer – the delight in watching the mundane stretch towards greatness – makes me want to applaud Britney, or her writers and producers, for making a pop song a construct to convey something so ambitious, so extreme. In essence, this is Britney’s ultimate manifesto, and it couldn’t be more at odds with the prevailing nature of disposable pop today.

You see, this song isn’t so much a declaration of love to an ex-boyfriend, or her slavering fifty year old fans. It’s really Britney saying “I think love is, or should be like this: if it isn’t perfect it’s terrible.” Love is an ideal (of course), and even if we feel it for someone else that doesn’t stop us from distinguishing between “reality love” – the love of relationships and marriages – and “ideal love”, which may not even be love at all so much as the belief that two people might become inextricably intertwined, unable to find the way out from eachother. It’s ideal love that teenagers and the lonely think about when they aren’t thinking about sex, because we’re not cynical enough or lucky enough to settle for anything less. It’s a puerile ideal – in real life we’re all far too independent and self-centered to want to dissolve ourselves in another person. It’s also selfish: this kind of love, even if reciprocal, would be so demanding, so utterly needy that the only candidate for it would be a clone of oneself. But if it’s puerile and selfish, it is still noble. We’ve been gifted with complex, powerful emotions, and it seems ashamedly small-minded to go through life living “safe” thoughts. Britney’s world might be scary, but it isn’t it correspondingly more alive? Don’t we all ultimately wish, if just for a day, or an hour, or a minute, that we could crash and burn into someone else’s psyche? Leave a mark indelibly on another human being, and receive in turn some imprint of that person upon ourselves, that changes us forever? Well, probably not, but it’s about as far as one can get from the ennervating monotony of the real world, where isolation isn’t so much a problem as a given, so the negatives can easily be brushed aside.

This undeniable urge is captured in two different lines in the song, each turning on the same heartbreaking melodic hook. “I don’t want to cry a tear for you, so forgive me if I do,” Britney sings, holding up another ideal – that love should always run counter to rational thought. We shouldn’t be able to control ourselves in love, just as we shouldn’t be able to pick our partners based on logical ideas of suitablity. Then, “If only you were here tonight,” she cajoles, “I know that we could make it right.” There’s a sharp ascent on the “we”, as if she’s gasping in pain at her own most desired fantasy. For Britney’s character within the song, reuniting with her lover is the equivalent of a self-destruct button – an end to all the agony in one final blast of soul-destroying oblivion. And though she may not actually mean it, she sings it like she does, and that’s more than enough for me. Suddenly it seems that nearly all my favourite songs have some element of this obsession bubbling under the surface. I see in “Born To Make You Happy” the same fundamental message of The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over”, or in a different way Amira’s “My Desire”, or Kate Bush’s “The Hounds of Love”, or Kitchen Of Distinction’s “On Tooting Broadway Station”, or any number of songs that have quietly resided in my collection, unaware of the common link they all share.

My friend David complains that we are surrounded by media (film, television and music, although not The Media, whose concept is love is usually quite sanitised) that tells us that love is this primal force that swings our lives mercilessly between agony and ecstasy. “It stuffs us up” he says, because it creates unrealistic concepts of what love should be. But the magnetic attraction these larger-than-life characters and their all-consuming passions hold over us tells us more about ourselves, and how we would like to be, than any “gritty” drama or down-to-earth punk holler. So, ultimately, yes I do empathise with “Born To Make You Happy”, because I secretly share some of it’s ideals – ones we might never see, or never want to see, enacted in public, but for a couple of wistful minutes, Britney will do just fine.

Tim Finney, April 2000