The Roots of Songless Soul
Al Green: Al Green Is Love (Hi/The Right Stuff '75)
I never got with this album, which in the wake of the late-'74 grits-and-suicide incident kicked off Green's quick commercial decline with its only pop hit, the catchy, slight "L-O-V-E (Love)." That one sounds like it was waiting in the can for just such a disaster, and though eventually the post-paranoid "Rhymes" and the Afro-percussive "Love Ritual" caught my ear on compilations, the two other conventional songs here did not. Then I spun David Toop's midnight-soul concoction Sugar and Poison late this Valentine's Day and finally registered a genius piece I'd played 20 times before: the fluttering, vocalese "I Didn't Know," which makes eight minutes of impossible poetry from lines like "I didn't know that you feel like you do/Feel like you feel when you feel like you feel." Along with Sly's "Just Like a Baby," "I Didn't Know" is the linchpin of Sugar and Poison, and also the Rosetta stone of this album, which explores four or five other versions of the same idea. "Love Ritual." "The Love Sermon." It's all L-O-V-E. You got a problem with that? A
D'Angelo: Brown Sugar (EMI '95)
After getting religion about a precursor of songless r&b, I thought I'd revisit its modern wellspring, and wasn't surprised to have warmed to it‑-D'Angelo's concentration is formidable, his groove complex yet primal. But because it's bass-driven rather than voice-led, Brown Sugar is less subtle than Al Green Is Love, and less sociable too: D'Angelo, who was leading a great band through these songs by 2000, laid down all the instruments on four tracks and on two others brought in only co-producer Bob Power's guitar, which loosens things up nicely, though not like the string section on "Cruisin'"--a tune that originated with a pretty darn good songwriter named Smokey. A MINUS
Last night I posted a Facebook status update in which I stated that if I were ever to do a single-artist covers album – a project that, really, anybody can and should try, competitive musician or not (eat your heart out K. McCarty) – the single artist in question would either be Stephin Merritt, Grant McLennan, Chris Collingwood or Stephen Maffei. The choices are thought-out and exclusive; not only are these the writers I find myself identifying the most with (though my love for their work is still wholly subjective, even in my dad’s case), they’re all artists whose songs seems like they could generally survive a transfer from one mouthpiece to another, even if I’m not the mouthpiece for the job. Anyway, I wondered if maybe it was an unposed question anybody else had their own answers to. Dan Weiss did. So I pose it here, and encourage you to pursue your own particular foggy notions.
add’l lazy Sunday notes: my second EW comment ever was a thrown-together top 25 albums list I don’t stand by even if I still at least like everything on it. At the bottom I separated #s 23 – 25 into a “guilty pleasures section”, which to be more forthcoming now that we’re all amigos (aren’t we?) was basically designed to relegate the three artists Christgau never got with (I’m too yella) to a sort of face-saving purgatory. His dismissals of each of these artists are hardly dissimilar – for the most part, they’re sincere white wimps who were idiosyncratic (and good at it) enough to establish adoring cults but never to give our Dean the sense that he should give two ****. I played all three again today. You could make a fair case for Destroyer’s City of Daughters as objectively unlistenable, though there are good lines and I’m still bizarrely fond of the grating voice with the bad guitar. His out-of-nowhere New Pornos triumphs notwithstanding, my affection for D. Bejar might be almost entirely personal. The guy just charms me on levels that I’m sure hold no importance outside of my own head, and which have little to do with music. Bejar would soon give a solid stab at hard fey, a Bowie invention Ziggy himself failed to perfect prior to its feckless death throes at punk’s unforgiving hands. I often daydream about patenting the revival. Soft, hit-you-with-a-flower-if-I-hit-you-at-all fey is still N. Drake’s main issue even on an album as captivating as Pink Moon, easily his best on account of a production (if you can call it that)-induced atmosphere that accentuates the guitar Luen was crowing about before and makes his lyrics sound like appealingly cryptic Brit-poetry epigrams rather than his usual lofty hackhood. I hear an out-of-thin-air peace in this record I admire and envy, even if we all know Drake wasn’t exactly at peace. It thins out the more you try to pick it apart, but just let it float into your ears on a gorgeous late afternoon, absorbing it at an aesthetically rewarding location of your careful choice, and it’s pure beauty. And finally, E. Smith’s Either/Or is just a masterpiece, from the writing to the execution. If an effort this felt and complete and crafty isn’t worth your respect just because it picks sincerity over showmanship, then I’m more than satisfied operating without your system of assessment (whoever “you” may be).
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Great quote from the Lindsay Beyerstein article Milo linked to below: "I'm hearing a lot of 'Rihanna is a stupid famewhore for going back to the man who beat her. Where's her self-respect?' I'm not hearing any 'Chris Brown is a stupid famewhore for using the woman he beat to resuscitate his career. Where's his self-respect?'"
The subtext of course, is this: "How come Rihanna is attracted to Chris Brown and not a nice guy like me?"
I'd be curious to know how many women writers tow the line that Joey mentions above. None, I expect.
Facebook is social climbing, nothing else.
Prior to the Soul Giants, Estrada fronted a band called Roy Estrada and the Rocketeers. The group released at least one single on the King label, "Jungle Dreams (Part 1)" backed with "Jungle Dreams (Part 2)".
Well, at least we now know he left the "Gym" part out.
Thoughtful comments on the Rihanna/Chris Brown anguish:
[End worthy sidetrack]
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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