THE MONKEY TIME
Before I left the house this morning, I caught the beginning of Sting’s new video, for the song “Send Your Love.” The cliché this pop song is built around is rather basic—“send you love to the future.” Certainly not a bad or unnecessary message in these troubled times (or any times, since aren’t they always troubled?), but man, did it sound banal. Is it Sting, the overblown ex-punk who never really was a punk, and the depths his credibility has sunk to? Or is it us? Over twenty-five years ago, John Lennon sang “All You Need Is Love,” and it still resonates—but it’s no more simplistic than sending that love we need to tomorrow. Could it be that in some ways, we can accept pop music from a “simpler” time easier than we can in our own time? Our eyebrows are too arched, we are too sophisticated, to accept an easy proverb?
Is it pop culture in general? Have we gotten so full of our own supposed smarts that, for instance, melodrama is only truly acceptable as part of revisionist cinema? We can recognize, say, the brilliant subversion of a Douglas Sirk now, viewing it with our deconstructionist post-monkey sensibilities, but what if Todd Haynes were to make Far From Heaven his new career path, and not just a one-off homage? Would we still regale him for his brilliant recasting of a ‘50s “women’s picture,” or would we accuse him of descending into soap opera and thus losing his edge?
Millions of people read horoscopes for quick answers, and we all giggle at the simple platitudes of fortune cookies, suggesting a need for the occasional easy-to-swallow pearl of wisdom…so why must we demand our art be so complicated?
Lots of new music is on the way, and I am finding myself disappointed in some of it. Am I the only one bored to tears by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “new” album, Take Them On On Your Own? I joked elsewhere that I liked it better when it was their first album, and even more so when it was The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands--but it’s not really a joke. It’s how I feel. The production itself seems all wrong. Every instrument is recorded at the same level, and rather than being a storm with proper thunderclaps, lightning strikes, and sudden downpours, it’s like a heavy misting, a jumble of water that is more annoying than nourishing. It’s just a wall of sound—but in all the wrong ways. There are no pretty pictures or hooks to hang them on. The biggest mistake is not burying the vocals. The guy can’t sing much at all. He sings like he’s drawing a line with a ruler. He needs to be obscured, not the guitar, so that we can’t tell how feeble his vocal chords are and how shit his lyrics are. (Maybe he reveals the true problem with Sting’s single—it’s not that it’s simple, it’s that it’s shit.)
To be honest, Take Them On On Your Own has made me shy away from other current buzz rock acts. Though I was intrigued by The Raveonettes minialbum, Whip It On, I’ve stayed away from their full length. The new Strokes single is fairly predictable, only adding a slightly new moog-y sound to the Strokes formula. At least their singer is smart enough to hide the fact that he’s got no chops. They should get a distortion device endorsement, put ads in Vocally Faking It magazines, the way guitar gods do in wankster guitar mags.
Rock needs to thank David Bowie for delivering again with Reality. It’s probably his most rollicking album since Earthling, and his third consistently solid disc in a row (and really, the fifth that's very good overall, since his return from the "Let's Dance" wasteland). Some of it reminds me of the first side of Low, and maybe a little bit of Scary Monsters. Not bad comparisons.
As always, the reliable Spiritualized are a savior in the morass. Alongside Bowie, they have been consistent for the last several albums of really giving the goods. This time, they are surprisingly inspired by The White Stripes garage revival, and rather than spending years on perfecting the ideal noise, they recorded a down and dirty record. Amazing Grace is that fast-driving rave-up they flirted with on “Electricity” taken all the way forward. It’s brilliant.
Bubba Sparxxx is about to release his second album, Deliverance. Someone (who shall not be named lest he be subpoenaed hooked me up with an early copy several months ago, and it may be the best hiphop record I’ve heard all year. Timbaland was on fire with his production, much like he was with Missy Elliot’s Under Construction last year. He delivers on the hillbilly hiphop idea touched upon with Bubba’s first record, using sounds of the south with his usual burps and squirts to make a truly energizing record. I guess the final version has six songs not on the one that was leaked earlier—and hopefully it doesn’t ruin it.
The Outkast double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, is both satisfying and disappointing. The Big Boi platter is great. It’s the party hiphop with the funk elements one expects from Outkast. Andre 3000, despite delivering the excellent “Hey Ya” single, doesn’t fair as well. It’s almost like he tried to redo Prince’s Sign O’ The Times but got stuck on the sex, forgetting to put any of the pop in. Didn’t anyone tell him that the chorus (paraphrased) “I know you think your shit don’t stink but lean in because the roses smell like poo poo” was pretty goddamn stupid? I think the question answers itself…