Tuesday, February 20, 2007

whoops I did it again

My favourite moment this week: after being asked if he liked Thai food, an American said to me

I don’t know, but I’ve been to Taiwan briefly and it looked ok, so I guess so….

But that's an aside.

What inspired me to put finger to keyboard today was the story going around about the forthcoming Milli Vanilli biopic in production as I type.

I’m intrigued by the MV story. The manufacturing of the pop group is one thing, there is an art form just in that…in this case thank Frank Farian, who pulled it off, using the same formula he’d perfected in the past. It’s an established part of the pop machine, it has been for decades and the charts, across the world are full of such records.

But what intrigues me much more is the way American pop industry reacted with such self righteous indignation to the fact that Milli and Vanilli (ok lets be fair…Rob and Fab..and the endgame to their story is very sad) were a manufactured group who perhaps did not sing on their own records. Witness the quote from the director:

I've always been fascinated by the notion of fakes and frauds, and in this case, you had guys who pulled off the ultimate con, selling 30 million singles and 11 million albums and then becoming the biggest laughing-stocks of pop entertainment

Which in a way sums it all up...the quote is idiocy. The fakes and frauds bit does not concern me, it’s the line “pulled off the ultimate con” which really raises a smile. Perhaps I’m being a little smug here but Milli Vanilli did absolutely no such thing. The truly intriguing part of this story is the way the Americans (the industry, the media, and the public) somehow were unable to see what was glaring obvious to the rest of the world, from the toppermost (to use a word coined by that decidedly un-manufactured, despite the collarless suits, artist, John Lennon) record exec to the most na├»ve squealing ten year old fan: that not only were these guys a complete pre-fabricated facade, but every indication was that they had very little if anything to do with their records. And so what….. who sang on The Crystals records…certainly not the girls….who played virtually everything on The Beach Boys surf classics, and for that matter, Pet Sounds…not the “band”..???

We all sniggered knowingly as they were awarded a Grammy, and shook our heads in bemusement as they were lauded as the next big thing (a soul act no less), selling some thirty million records in the process. Then came the big crash, the stripping of the award, the incredible furore, the anger and indignation, the cancelled tour, the bloody (and only in America) Class Action Lawsuits for gods sake. The American chat shows began to mock the group relentlessly, as did the likes of Weird Al Yankevich, without, to this day realising that the joke was completely on themselves. And it still is…

Still, from time to time I smile at it all. And I bet Farian does too…he got to bank the cheque regardless of what happened in the USA as everybody tried to point the blame at someone else, refusing to accept, or even see, that they were all responsible. There is some irony, watching a multi billion dollar industry, beset with arrogance and self belief, humiliate itself so badly in front of the whole planet, as it did. Hadn’t the name Boney M on Frank Farian’s CV set any bells off? It seems not. And I bet The Village People made their own records, yeah? Let’s face it, in an industry that has perfected beautifully the art of manufacturing imagery and idols who exist primarily to extract money from the masses, and whose real talent doesn’t go beyond photo-geniality, the level of naivety evident in the reaction to MV was incredible.

And I imagine these same people still think American Idol is “real”….and Britney has played a part beyond providing a vocal track to be heavily digitally enhanced in “her” music, despite more recent claims to have “co-written and co-produced” recent releases.

If it wasn’t for the tragedy surrounding one of the faces of MV (and indeed the self-implosion of Britney (although the cynic in me does wonder if her escapades right now may have something to do with a forthcoming album and an image reinvention, but I suspect it may be more to do with the realisation that her time in the sun is over)) this would be funny.

Monday, February 19, 2007

We've got five years / that's all we've got

Read Glenn Greenwald at Salon today if you have the time. Greenwald is usually superb, but the accolades this time need to go General William Odom, former director of the NSA under Reagan, who neatly demolishes the hard right rationale for staying in Iraq; and for Bush dragging us all into a global conflagration with Iran:

We could not have increased Iranian incentives for getting nuclear weapons faster, or more effectively, than the policy we've used to keep to prevent them from getting them. . . .
Sometimes you wonder how these people can be so damned stupid...

like a rat in a cage / pulling minimum wage

Here are some more songs, (almost) as they played today:

LCD SoundsystemNew York I Love You (DFA) …in which Murphy and Goldsworthy issue the first truly great song for the ages for 2007. And if these is any doubt that they are the best rock’n’roll band in the US of A right now, this, and the accompanying album, should, by all rights put that to rest. It’s staring them in the face, as they moan about collapsing sales (22% down on last year now…sheeeit), and the Americans don’t even know it. The song, the lyrics, the performance, and that fucking great bounce back ¾ of the way through, bellow classic.

Isaac HayesI Can’t Turn Around (Hot Buttered Soul)….one of those songs you need to revisit every now and then, if only to re-iterate to ones self how much house / techno are a bigger part of the grand tradition of black rhythmic music going back to Leadbelly and W.C Handy. It’s a bloody great song too…

Echo & The BunnymenAll That Jazz (Korova)…I like E&TBM when they are at their most strident…and this is strident on steroids….slicing guitar over staccato toms

Human ResourceDominator (Joey Betram mix…of course) (R&S)..I’m bigger and bolder and rougher and tougher…..I didn’t really think I’d be smiling in a Balinese garden to the sound of wailing rave fifteen years later, but here I am. And I can’t even find my glow-stick….there is nothing like a roaring hoover loop in the sunshine….wanna kiss myself / wanna kiss myself

Eric B & RakimMy Melody (Marley Marl 808 Remix) (mp3)…I found this on the net somewhere a few weeks ago, it being a mutant radio only remix, with the kitchen sink thrown in, done by Marley a couple of decades ago (somebody suggested that this may be on the extended version of the Paid in Full album (which I don’t have), but I don’t think so, as this is a good thirty seconds longer).

Arthur RussellSee My Brother He’s Jumpin’ Out (let’s go Swimming #1) (Audika)….from the album of unreleased material released in 2006, a dubbed out re-working of the classic Lets Go Swimming, sounding for all the world like Arthur working out with The Junkyard Band. Its well cool….

Faze ActionIn The Trees (Carl Craig C2 Remix #1) …..yes it sounds like Carl, very Angola (the second half), in that measured mid tempo way, almost a slow grind, that also feels like parts of The Detroit Experiment album (now that was a masterpiece), with the melancholy moodiness of the original strings laid over the top and climbing into the mix very subtly, and organically. How does this man do it?

Blue Magic Look Me Up (Atco)….I like the cute intro on this poppy Norman Harris production from one of Philly’s finest seventies vocal groups, although for a moment it begins to feel like one of the lesser Spinners' hits from the same era. It is pop after all, and slightly more lightweight than many of the other tracks from this group but it completely redeems itself towards the middle when it breaks down to a percussion fest, and then the swelling MFSB strings come rotating into the mix, layered with soft brass and a little, I think, electric piano. Bliss.

Mike ClarkeLet Your Love (Charles Spencer mix) (Third Ear)…..the line between house and techno is not only a hard one to define, it’s also a pointless one. As this record so neatly illustrates…I don’t know if this track could be exclusively claimed by either genre. I found this tucked towards the end of the Detroit Beatdown Remixed album, which I’ve played a lot over the past months. I’d never really heard much Mike Clark apart from an EP of disco re-edits I’d bought somewhere a while back. He’s one of a swag of lesser players from motor city and this song really crept up on me which surprised as it’s, on first listen, a little faceless, and sounds like the sound formless looping sub disco that has plagued Chi-town in recent years. But that’s the joy of music….it's the one you least expect…

Big YouthHit The Road Jack (Trojan)…..with a killer bass line that poor old Ray Charles could never have imagined in his most inventive (or indeed chemically induced) moments. Twisted Jamaican versions of things like this are a particular fetish of mine, and I dig the way he drops into What The World . I can thank Paul Weller for this, I found it on his Under The Influence collection

Catherine MillerHunchin’ All Night (Heavenly Star …via Sussed)….I’d never heard this until I found it on the recent Ian Dewhirst complied Deep Disco Culture Vol 1, a fabulous (you can use words like that for disco) collection of obscure as phuck tracks from the golden era of humanoid dancefloor anthems (before the machines truly kicked in). This is one odd record, it really is….addictive & dirty (hunchin’ being a by-word for, you know, with lines like hard times / so sore / baby, ain’t gonna give you no more); and mixed (I think) by Patrick Adams (the credits are vague on this) in a spacey (both in terms of the space in the mix and the actual cosmic-ness of the sound produced) way, albeit with addictively haunting real strings, and a mid tempo, almost post Disco, groove.

WireMannequin (Harvest)…tell me / why don’t you tell me…perhaps the perfect punk single, from the perfect punk album, from the perfect punk band. In the spirit of Pink Flag, I’ll keep this brief.