tremble clef

Friday, April 13, 2007

Vitamin C, "Vacation" (1999)

An old familiar face at work. I say hello, and ask if he's working on some one-off project. "No," he tells me, "I'm back full-time!" He was an IT tech for my office, up till a few years ago; then he left for the proverbial further studies, and now he's back.

When someone leaves your office, goes off and completes an entire degree, and then comes back to find you still here, you kind of feel like you need a vacation. And so I do. I'm off for a two week break. See you back here at the end of the month.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Prefab Sprout, "Desire As (Acoustic Version)" (2007)

The new, seven-minute acoustic version of "Desire As" -- included on the bonus disc accompanying the remastered edition of Steve McQueen -- no longer begins with its most famous lines: "I've got six things on my mind/You're no longer one of them."

There is, instead, a two-minute long extended guitar passage. And then, Paddy tells us: "They were the best times, the harvest years/With jam to lace the bread/So goodness, goodness knows why you'd throw it to the birds/You mark the good things, play the heartstrings, play them one by one." Although he swallows it somewhat, a pronoun has been changed from the original (which went, "goodness knows why I'd throw it to the birds"), and the final line added. Paddy the spurner, from the original, is now the jilted.

When we get to the well-known lines, after that opening verse, they, kept in their original incarnation, therefore don't make complete sense. Shouldn't they, after all, now proclaim: "You've got six things on your mind/I'm no longer one of them"?

Or they now make a different kind of sense, perhaps. Maybe, like her, who threw their love "to the birds," he too has changed his mind. "Desire," as the chorus goes on to remind us, is "a sylph-figured creature who changes her mind." It affects every one of us; it is indeed independent of us, not so much exercised or experienced by us, as it is a figure who inhabits us. Or maybe he now says -- pretends -- that he too no longer thinks of her, as a kind of vengeance for the fact that she has left him. But who's to say that those lines ever made sense? I've got six things on my mind -- you're no longer one of them -- except when I sing about you? Can you really ever tell someone that you no longer think of them? Doesn't that utterance always disprove itself? Whether the new version of "Desire As" imagines that he who was rejected comes to also feel the whims of Desire, or whether it demonstrates that the only way we can cope with the incomprehensible workings of Desire is by pretending we can -- and both reactions perpetuate the cycle -- the song turns those lines away from being cruel dogma, and towards being filled with infinite mystery and unfathomableness.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rage, "Run To You (12" Version)" (1992)

OK: I have to design a pamphlet about jazz
I think the sax on the front doesn't work.

BL: but people are still having sax, etc

OK: do you know, I have a copy of that album?

BL: !!!!!!
the single might be understandable
but the album?

OK: yes, they made an album!
it was $2
came with a bonus disc
which was the single!

BL: how bonurrific
i may be able to best you
remember that euro cover of bryan adam's "run to you" by a group called rage?
i have the album!!!

OK: no.
was it awesome?

BL: it WAS quite awesome
all thundering synths, washing over you etc

OK: because "Run To You" is great anyway

BL: um, is it?
I'm not sure I have any sympathy for bryan "oh no, it's such a chore having to fuck two women" adams
"i love you, my madonna! but i can only do you, whore!"
i think it made the UK top 10

OK: i don't think it was a hit here

BL: i don't even know what nationality rage was
but they were part of that wave of ravey dance pop -- shamen, bizarre inc, utah saints -- that in the early 90s was, um, all the rage

OK: I stopped listening to pop for a period between 1992 and 1994

BL: i hope you didnt miss "cotton eyed joe"
your life would have been empty without it

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, "Umbrella" (2007)

The gushing about "S.O.S." completely flummoxed me, but there's much I love about the new Rihanna single. Such as:

1. the big drums, and especially the steam-engine "boom-ssst" on every downbeat;

2. the uplift going into each chorus, which is achieved the first time round by having the new wavy synth line enter, and the second time by having the guitar trash out some power chords right before the chorus;

3. the way it's a song about a friendship, instead of a romance, which is pretty unusual in the R&B/hip-hop context. In fact, it's quite touching the way the girls stick together, and should one of them get hurt by the cards the world deals, "together we'll mend your heart." Of course, it's entirely possible that "umbrella" is just some sort of street slang for vagina. Actually, that would be awesome, and I'm going to start using the word that way;

4. the hilariously catchy "umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh..." echo, which almost makes me think that the platonic friend being sung to is named Ella;

5. the fact that the production, by Chris "Tricky" Stewart, almost seems resigned to Rihanna's characteristic inability to hold a note, instead allowing her to spaz out and hit a bunch of different ones with every "eh" (here's a rough transcript of the way she sings that part: "eh EH eH ehhh EHHH!?! EhhHH!!!");

6. and even Jay-Z's rap is okay. It's become a kneejerk reaction in some pop circles to enjoy singles by R&B starlets but lament the guest raps. Sometimes the reaction, though usually not thought through, is justified; male rappers have a tendency to turn every song into an extended double entendre, sometimes by totally missing the point of the song. Jay-Z could have done just that (at least on this "clean version" of the single I have), but his rap is really just a kind of intro -- and, judging from the namecheck of Rihanna's album title (Good Girl Gone Bad), not just to the song but to the forthcoming record.

7. As I said, male guest rappers have a tendency to turn every song into an extended double entendre. Unlike me. Have I told you baby you're fiiiiine? Come stand under my rain-slicked, twirling flower of an umbrella, aw yeeeeah.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ultra Naté, "Automatic (Paul Jackson Version Excursion Mix)" (2007)

A friend and I once batted around the idea of making a mixed CD, to be called "Robots In Love," that would be filled with a certain kind of track. The template would be Daft Punk's "Something About You": electronic numbers, preferably with vocoders, that are also deeply, quiveringly emotional love songs. To some extent, the imagined title of the compilation doesn't do full justice to the kind of songs I, at least, was picturing. That title is simple, matter-of-fact: there are robots. And they are in love. Duh. But I was also partial to such songs because they often imply, if only in my mind -- one admittedly influenced by numerous sci-fi films, such as Blade Runner, that draw on this trope -- that love actually transforms the robots, makes them human. Paradoxically, the compilation title names something that doesn't exist. Robots in love would cease to be robots.

There's a good case to be made for including "Automatic" on the CD, whether in its original 1984 Pointer Sisters incarnation, or in the form of Ultra Naté's excellent remake. Sure, neither is particularly electro -- the bassline of the Pointers' version is rubbery, not quite reggae but a bit like Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop The Music," while Ultra's cover is a stompy house record, although the dark and dirty Paul Jackson remix has some great stuttering robotic bleeps and beats -- but they are sung by human vocoders: Ruth Pointer, of course, with her rumbly low voice, while Ultra digs into her lower register with great gusto.

Except that the song seems to play with the human/robot distinction in much more complex, not to say incoherent, ways. (I'm not sure I noticed this in 1984, but then again I had the excuse of being wee.) It's really not clear if, in "Automatic," love makes our narrator(s) more or less of a robot. That she is one at some point seems apparent: "I go from sadness, to exhilaration/Like a robot at your command." In this reading, she, a human, becomes an automaton when she's around him. But, wait: it seems that she was always a robot (even though, going by convention, this already makes no sense: if she was a robot, how did she fall in love?). "Your camera looks through me/With its X-ray vision/And all systems run aground/All I can manage to push from my lips/Is a stream of absurdities/Every word I intended to speak/Winds up locked in the circuitry." It would seem to be more the case, then, that she was a functioning robot before she met him; now, he makes her so nervous that she is still a robot, albeit a jittery, malfunctioning one.

And yet: the metaphor the song uses to describe this state of spastic robot-ness is...becoming "automatic." "No way to control it/It's totally automatic/Whenever you're around/I'm walking blindfolded/Completely automatic/All of my systems are down." So: she's an automaton...who is emotional enough to get nervous around a guy and fall in nervous that her circuits shut down and she becomes...automatic? Does love simply double her sense of who she is?

Does. Not. Compute. (And therein lies, in all senses, the song's wonder.)