Poly Styrene/Gang of Four
No No Future for Them
Poly Styrene: Generation Indigo (Future Noise Music)
Life after "Oh Bondage Up Yours" began with Poly's dreamily unpunk 1980 studio-rock Translucence, a sui generis switcheroo absurdly accused of presaging Everything but the Girl. Now there'll be claims her easy-skanking groove is a "dubstep" breakthrough, once again obscuring the main reason her music has connected since she wore braces, which is that it's exceptionally tuneful, if not the main reason we care, which is that she's an exceptionally good soul. She never tops the vegan opener "I Luv Ur Sneakers." But the four humanist protest songs she rolls out just before an unnecessarily dreamy closer seem so unforced you feel for all those who have striven so hard to do nothing more. Ari, Viv, Exene‑-because sisterhood is powerful, this one's for you. A MINUS
Gang of Four: Content (Yep Roc)
As they add the quaver of age to Andy Gill's slashes and modernize Jon King's animadversions with cellphone photos, comparison with the 20-year-old Mall quickly reveals how blessed the mainstays are in drummer Mark Heaney, who in the great tradition of Marky Ramone has both the musical sense to respect Hugo Burnham's simplicity and the historical savvy not to attempt an anachronistic replication. Since their consumerist analysis was never that deep and their self-doubt always had a self-aggrandizement to it, all these adjustments are welcome. In fact, my favorite song here is "A Fruitfly in the Beehive," which begins a quiet patch the original band would never have sat still for. It's not the only time they speak of repentance, for what I don't know--not some endorsement, I hope. Inspirational Verse: "Where are we headed for? For a distant shore? Or some brand new war/Don't know why i can't ask for more, don't walk out the door, what am I left here for?" A MINUS
Note: The Poly Styrene capsule above was written several weeks before she died on April 25 of the cancer I was aware she'd been battling but didn't mention in the review. I could now change the tense to "she was an exceptionally good soul" in the only place the review refers to her life as opposed to her work, which lives on in the eternal present she deserves. But I feel as if somehow that would be a kind of hedge, and so decided to let the review stand as written--and also, more strangely I'm aware, the tag. Oh death up yours.
Couldn't make the wedding. Sent a $50 Macys gift certificate. Appropriate?
New Strokes' album has some great "singles"- forget the titles-not sure about the rest yet. Of course every Strokes' album has some great songs. That's like automatic and not to be discounted in rating this NYC band.
All due respect, 'though, I don't think there's anything to "get" about these kinds of sensibilities. You either tolerate -- or like, or agree with, or whatever -- them (it's back to my point about the explicit and/or implicit attitudes/values/beliefs represented in music again) or you don't.Thumbs-up for this (re: Smiths/Cure, who I sometimes enjoy)
Just home from tUnE-yArDs --
Where do I start? How about the data points. Small club, probably 500 max. Audience demographics - equal gender split, almost all white, probably middle 20's to middle 30's. Several older. Very few noticeable tats and even less piercing. Both unusual for Portland. Don't know what to make of that, kind of like there were as many fedoras as knit caps, and calf and knee-high boots decidedly out-numbered Chuck Taylors.
12 songs total; 8 from the new album (everything but "Wooly Wolly Gong" and "Riotriot"). Alto and tenor sax on stage for not quite half, Nate on bass for all but two. Merrill, Merrill and more Merrill.
She performs with two mikes. As her YouTube videos make clear, she uses one to record her multiple loops and then the other to sing the actual song into. Each song starts with her laying down 1-3 drum loops, followed by a vocal loop or two, and then whatever else the song needs, frequently a ukulele rhythm as well as a keyboard for "My Country" and a tambourine for "Fiya" for example. She runs the loops as the songs play out with a complicated arrangement of foot pedals and switches, and then sings and plays on top of all that. The saxes and bass play as normal, except that nothing that band does is normal. My technical skill betrays me here, except to say that there had to be twice as many non-standard chords and keys as normal ones. The layers of rhythm seemed to exceed those from the albums, and I would swear the same was true for the vocal loops. After an extremely rich "Bizness", which had to be denser than the album, she responded with a simple "Aw shucks" after the applause died down.
The rhythms are kind of blocky, not smooth like Sade for one ridiculous example, but so complex that you can't help but move to them. There were plenty of couples dancing. And her vocals are the not-so-secret weapon. Her singing was as clear and strong as the albums, flawless even. And she challenges herself vocally on just about every song, either with ululated loops, other vocal sound effects or jumps throughout her range. She carried the high notes at the end of "Powa" without even trying hard.
With the equipment set-up she uses, she could add as many new rhythm and vocal ideas as she can come up with on the spot and on at least one occasion, "Bizness", I would swear she did just that. It causes some disjointedness in the pacing of the show. Every song requires her to construct the loop foundation before the song can begin. Watching that becomes more of an analytical pleasure than a visceral one. Once, and maybe twice, either her technology or her touch failed her and she had to start over. It will be interesting to see how she develops that skill set as the years go by. It seems to me that the sky is the limit for her. She can create as big a sonic canvas to sing against as there are instruments she wants to bother with on stage. And her voice will be up to the task, in all likelihood. After the show, I told her soundman, who she thanked from the stage as if he were a member of the band, that someday she'll just record an album on stage every time she performs. By herself I mean.
And yes, I got an autograph. A brief, but very gracious and mutually grateful interaction.
Sure, Morrissey is a mopey sod, but oh my god when he sings "So for once in my life let me get what I want, Lord knows it would be the first time, Lord knows it would be the first time," it's an emotional A-bomb. Repeating the "Lord knows" line is a bit of emotional song writing genius, a dagger to the heart of disaffected youth everywhere.
John: Everybody likes Something/Anything? and rightfully so (though it has its dips), but that special place in my heart is more reserved for The Ballad of Todd Rundgren ("Be Nice To Me"! "Range War"! "Wailing Wall"!), plus a handful of pick hits from the entire canon from Nazz Nazz ("Only One Winner"!) through, I dunno, Deface the Music ("I Just Want to Touch You!") (including the Runt keeper you mentioned, which I'll bet everybody likes too). And a lot of his production work as well -- the late Skylarking, yessir. (Weird that he was behind the boards for the first Dolls record.) As for Jackson Browne, my favorite thing having anything to do with him is the Paul Nelson article on Pretender -- neither figure impresses me very much but that piece is astonishing. The album itself is bland by me but does contain a thing called "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate", which kills me and may be the only part of his oeuvre that does so. And hey, he was behind the boards on the great Warren Zevon. Finally, as for quibbling re: the Boss, I'd throw a B-, B+, high A- and A to those first four records, all of which I've heard lots & lots, respectively. (I have less of familiarity with the gated-drums/Elvis-voiced 80s phase*, dig some RC picks from the 90s and very much enjoy "Radio Nowhere" & the absolutely staggering "Queen of the Supermarket", which my girlfriend loathes.) E Street Shuffle is a highly memorable and very admirably crafted record, but he sounds too young and rough and Dylan-derivative when he lets his snazzy jazzy guard down. And everything on Born to Run is quite-good-plus, but nothing quite-so-perfect as tracks 2 & 5. C'est my piece.
Peterike: I'm a bigger fan of your comprehensive list than a solid handful of its inclusions. But rather than cataloguing my objections (you're more of an expert on pre-Yusuf Yusuf than me), I myself would add the Xgau-doubted Trouble, Sing Out/Sing Out, Where Do the Children Play? & especially Hard-Headed Woman from Tillerman (wasn't the title track well-used on Extras?), as well as the Xgau-approved Katmandu & that lil' Catch Bull riff called Can't Keep It In. Why worry when it's warm over here? (What??)
* EDIT: I wanna clarify this part lest I seem like more of a know-nothing than I sort of am. I've heard The River a couple of times and the only thing that sticks is the thing that was stuck there in the first place -- "Hungry Heart", which is a pop masterpiece & proudly resides somewhere in my top 10 songs ever. Nebraska is very good if a little An Horseish ifyaknowhatimean, and thus the gorgeously eerie "Atlantic City" (hey, that's not in the cornhusker state) is my pick hit. Born in the U.S.A. is great but not my kind of great, though "I'm On Fire" and the title track are and everything gets me at least a little bit. I don't like the two things I've heard off of Live 75/85 (the deathly slow Tom Waits cover and the long, ridiculous spoken intro to [I believe] "Born in the U.S.A.") and know I can't define the whole thing by that. And, shame on me, I've never heard Tunnel of Love.
"Father and Son" yup. Tears.
Everything from Teaser and the Firecat, his greatest.
Fill My Eyes (gorgeous)
Longer Boats (whatever the hell it's about)
On the Road to Find Out
O Caritas (probably faux authentic, but what do I know)
Ghost Town ("Buster Keaton & King Tut are waiting for Disney to wake up")
Oh Very Young
About half of the sporadically painful Foreigner Suite (esp the great hook at the end)
I Never Wanted to Be a Star (so I chucked it and became a Muslim)
P.S. Re: An Horse's sameyness -- add another true dat to the pile GMort initiated. The only thing I remember from the handful of times I played that record (purchased because of the geographical Go-Betweens connection pointed out in Xgau's review) is the one chord progression & "just like that good Hole album/I'm gonna live through this."
Ok, I guess I can never show myself here again after admitting that.
So I drop a question, get buried in work for a few days, come back and find 200+ posts to plow through. Anyway, thanks to all for their interesting thoughts on Xgau's "misses," such as they be.
I would add to the mix Queen -- yeah, ok, so sue me -- The Smiths and The Cure. I think there is a certain youth sensibility that Xgau just doesn't get. Sure, Morrissey is a mopey sod, but oh my god when he sings "So for once in my life let me get what I want, Lord knows it would be the first time, Lord knows it would be the first time," it's an emotional A-bomb. Repeating the "Lord knows" line is a bit of emotional song writing genius, a dagger to the heart of disaffected youth everywhere. I would give almost every Smiths album an A or A+ on the basis of sheer emotional simpatico. The Cure a bit less so, but still on the same wavelength.
Ryan yesterday: agree on Springsteen and Darkness. I think that Springsteen was another artist Xgau never quite understood the way others did (no... not "understood." He doesn't feel him the way others do). Born in the USA as an A+? It's a disappointment. The Wild, The Innocent to me was a total A+, one of the greatest and most unique albums ever crafted, a Top 100 rock album. There was nothing like it before or since, and even though it was followed by another masterwork in Born to Run, I always regretted that Springsteen didn't put out a few more albums in the crazy, discursive story telling mode of Wild. Songs without choruses. ("Bishop Danced" and "Santa Ana" from Tracks sound like outtakes from it, both terrific.)
Finally, total odd ball pick. Any Trouble. Probably a lot of you younguns never heard it, and even you old timers might have missed it in the 80s. Xgau gave it a C+, but it's a perky pack of killer hooks, crisply produced. A great pop album.
Oh, and whoever mentioned Horse Lips (can't go back and look right now), yes! I loved that record. That's probably more than Horse Lips has been mentioned anywhere in twenty years.
Bob Marley & the Wailers: Uprising (Island 1980)
Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: Goes to Washington (Elektra 1979)
Poly Styrene: Translucence (United Artists 1980)
Out of the Vinyl Deeps - Ellen Willis on Rock Music
I registered for the conference on Saturday and although I need to do some errands in the AM, my goal is to arrive by 1 or 2PM, in time for Xgau's reading. I confirmed with Nona Willis Aronowitz that it's not a problem to arrive late as long as you've registered.
Richard: Glad your son is getting better. Here's some healing thoughts from this side of the Bay.
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.