Al Green turned 62 in April of this year. He’s also responsible for one of the greatest vocal takes in pop history:
MP3: Al Green – “Take Me To The River” (from Al Green Explores Your Mind, 1974).
All of which means he’d be within his rights to rest on his laurels, spending his days preaching the lord’s word, or getting good and fat on a couch in Arkansas. But he’s not. He’s still recording.
The trouble is that he’s not changing. When you listen to his latest record, only the presence of Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend hints that it was released in 2008, not 1978. The production hasn’t changed: the keyboards still play that slow Green groove, the lo-fi drums keep the rhythm tight. If Al was aiming for that Green-in-the-70s sound, he nailed it.
MP3: Al Green – “Just For Me” (from Lay It Down, 2008).
Unfortunately, we’ve heard it before, and done better (by him!). He’s not teaching us anything we didn’t know. The songs, though they’re almost all good-ish, sound like b-sides from his glory days.
But here’s the question: should we expect anything else? Should we really expect artistic progression and growth after 50? Hasn’t Al Green given us enough already? Shouldn’t he be allowed to rehash his old sound just for the fun of it — just because he enjoys it?
Of course, Al can do what he wants. And, recycled or not, Lay It Down is a better soul record than 90% of soul records released this year. But imagine if he was still pushing hard, trying to squeeze every last drop from his talent. Imagine if he sang about a world that he’s seen change so much since he released Tired Of Being Alone in 1971.
I want the desire of a 58-year old Bruce Springsteen. The weirdness and passion of a 67-year old Bob Dylan. I want Al to want it and fight for it… not to rely on the fact it’ll come to him. But I guess I’ll take a phoned-in Al over no Al at all.
It implies I haven’t been on the internet since last week, but I just watched that Pork And Beans clip. It’s good:
It kind of makes you go ‘how’d they manage that?’ Good job then that Buzzworthy has an interview with director Matthew Cullen.
(The most surprising part of the meme-rich video? That it makes Weezer seem more relevant. You’d think that a clip with Tay Zonday would be a surefire, never-miss way to compound the fairly reasonable idea that Weezer are busted, over-the-hill, and culturally irrelevant.
The success of the clip, and the fact it’s brought Weezer so thoroughly back into the spotlight, comes down to the fact it’s done so well. You’re treading a very fine line when you get internet-related kitsch involved, but Cullen has — with sharp ideas, tight editing and access to genuine webcelebrities* — nailed it).
Bonus track: I really like this Tay Zonday track. Yes, unironically. The reverb-heavy bass laid down over a jangly guitar makes it sound like an Entertainment!-era Gang Of Four track produced and recorded on GarageBand. With vocals by an inexplicably earnest David Bowie, and lyrics written in ’65 by a young Curtis Mayfield.
I may be pushing it a little with the Bowie-Mayfield links.
*What a terrible phrase.
I’ve mentioned The VH1 Effect in the past; the strange process through which a seemingly mediocre or outright terrible song transforms into a quality single you can’t get enough of simply because you’ve heard it so many times. (The opposite? The Pictures Of You Effect, in which a song that seemed either comically bad or sort-of-tolerable becomes completely, life-alteringly fucking terrible upon repeated listenings).
Which brings us to Scream, the fifth single from Timbaland’s Shock Value.
On first listen, it definitely sounds like a classic fifth single: not especially catchy or accessible, seemingly released solely to cash in on whatever Timbalust the record-buying public still needs sated. But upon further listens, and after your tenth viewing of the film clip, the VH1 Effect comes into effect. Full effect. And all of a sudden you love the song.
And you try to understand why you love it. You ask questions:
1) Why is the chorus so goddamned good? Is it the way it emerges from nowhere, exploding like a melodic dove shot from a cannon? Is it the way ‘scream’ is more of a whisper than an exclamation point?
2) Seriously, why are girls in balaclavas so hot?
Here’s one theory: the hotness of the women sets off one part of your brain (the part that likes attractive humans), and the garb so strongly associated with criminal behaviour sets off another (the part that gets excited/freaked out when you see bank robbers). When both parts of the brain go off, there’s a culmination of senses, leading to a heightened ‘that’s weirdly and totally sexy’ response. This is, of course, an extremely scientific theory.
Another idea: the women are transformed into hypersexual caricatures of feminity, the focus resting solely on their eyes, lips, arse and tits. As such, men enjoy the image… but it’s kind of chauvinist that they do. I know a woman named Germaine who agrees with this.
And the final theory: Timbaland understands something about aesthetics, and women, that the rest of us never could. This is likely.
3) Why does Timbaland now insist on going shirtless in his clips?
4) And why is he always diddling about with futuristic touch-screen technology in his film clips? Did he pop one thousand boners watching Minority Report or something?
MP3: Marlena Shaw – “California Soul” (Diplo Remix)
Because it’s fun feeling old.
MP3: Harry Connick Jr. – “(I Could Only) Whisper Your Name” (from She, 1994).
Fuck me, can you imagine someone not loving this song? And if you met a hater of Harry, could you trust them?
Personally, I can’t think of a harsher indictment of someone’s character than an inability to love this 1994 classic; those exuberant horns blowing the water out of the Mississippi, the charmingly awkward rhymes (the highlight: ‘opinion/dominion’), and Harry singing cool and slow, like he doesn’t realise just how good the song around him really is.
MP3: Cake – “Jolene” (from Motorcade Of Generosity, 1994).
It’s easy to forget that Cake were good. But they were. Just in a really 90s way. So if they release anything nowadays it’s like, Cake? Seriously? Still?
MP3: Beastie Boys – “Root Down” (from Ill Communication, 1994).
Most of us share a strained, distant relationship with the Beastie Boys. Those boys we once loved.
Sure, we remember the magic times Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz soundtracked: punching cones after a good old skate, getting messy at that party where Nathan totally fingerbanged Katie, stealing Posca markers for a teenage graf session. But now, when we hear Ill Communication, an awkward distance emerges from the recognition that those magic times have passed, and we’ve all moved on.
We’re 14 years from ’94, but ‘I kick my root down, I put my root down’ makes it feel like just yesterday.
MP3: Lucas – “Lucas With The Lid Off” (from ((Lucacentric)), 1994).
If anyone knows Lucas, can you please ask him to comment on the Warship? I just want to know he’s still alive and doing okay.
MP3: Green Day – “Long View” (from Dookie, 1994).
Wow, that’s really 1994. And I still kind of like it.
It’s easy to be awed by the amount of beautiful music in the world. Moments come when it’s difficult to believe that humans could create such sounds: so perfect, so free, so true.
These moments rush at you, the melodies seem divine of origin, and the world slows. It might be hearing the Paris, Texas soundtrack on a cold, empty country road in the early morning. Or Fire And Rain playing as you watch drops fall on the leaves in your backyard. Maybe it’s Harry Nilsson’s primal scream on Without You after she leaves the home you both made.
And then there’s the other side of the coin: the tracks so poorly played, or ill-advised, or grotesquely stupid that you wonder what you did to deserve such aural insult. The songs that wreck moments, disappoint fans, and anger ear owners everywhere.
In the coming months, the Warship will explore those songs. The absolute worst of the worst.
We start with an obvious target: a real head-scratcher from Duran Duran’s immensely terrible Thank You, a mid-90s cover album designed to heap praise upon the artists who inspired LeBon and the boys. What was supposed to pay homage comes across more as a cruel insult.
Especially the bizarre acoustic cover of Public Enemy’s incendiary 911 Is A Joke, a track that seems weirdly racist when a white, English, upper-middle class arsehole in a linen suit sings it:
MP3: Duran Duran – “911 Is A Joke” (from Thank You, 1995).
There’s nothing good about that. And a lot wrong with it: the inexplicable fake American accent, the dodgy breakbeat, the fact it’s Duran Duran doing Public Enemy. The worst part is that it even happened — Simon sang it, the engineer recorded it, the record company released it. Someone should’ve said something. Anything. ‘Why are we doing this song? We’re Duran fucking Duran.’
Bonus track: For those interested in songs that seem weirdly racist when white people sing them, check out Neil Diamond’s cover of Mr. Bojangles. The ‘dance! dance! dance!’ demand makes Diamond sound like a bored slave owner:
MP3: Neil Diamond – “Mr. Bojangles” (from Gold, 1972).
For the good of basketball, the Lakers need to beat the Spurs.
Yes, the spastic hyper-physicality of Manu Ginobili entertains, and Mr. Longoria sure can break ankles, and you’re forced to respect the semi-automatic clutchness of The Big Fundamental… but the Spurs have to go. No more debates about sly ankle pokes and hip-shot elbows from Bruce Bowen, no more opportunities for Big Shot Rob to lay big shots on smaller men, no more chances for your mates to drunkenly sing ‘I love it when you call me Big Poppa!’ at the television.
We need Kobe Bryant in the finals. A vicious competitor at the top of his game, cursed with an inability to censor his frustration, and fully capable of scoring a half-century when a game demands it (and frustratingly, sometimes when a game doesn’t).
We need the long arms of Lamar Odom punching into the lane for a silky soft two-step lay-up. We need Pau Gasol screaming and intense, fully focused on a) dominating the boards b) looking for the open man when the Spurs double down in the post and c) discovering fire.
And, most of all, we need Ronny Turiaf covered in towels, screaming French obscenities after every dunk, pushing his teammates over.
Good luck to the Lakers today. In San Antonio, they’ll need it.
MP3: Tupac – “California Love” (from All Eyez On Me, 1996).
MP3: The Game – “California Vacation Feat. Xzibit & Snoop” (from Doctor’s Advocate, 2006).
MP3: Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Hollywood” (from Freaky Styley, 1985). The Peppers have to be here, considering they’re such Laker freaks.
MP3: Warren Zevon – “Join Me In L.A.” (from Warren Zevon, 1976).