A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Friday, August 30, 2002

Hey musos! Yes..I'm back for the final posting of August--and less than a month away from the big *2 Year Anniversary* of "21st Century Schizoid Man"! I took a week off from my day gig...and *not* having the money to travel anywhere cool..say India or Spain..or my beloved British Isles..or even anywhere cool in the good ol' U.S. of A., like M.A.D.'s pad in Minneapolis or California..I mainly stuck around these parts with some good friends (one in particular--she knows who she is) and some great tunes. That's right...I finally scored my copies of the Orbital "Work 1989-2002" compilation disc and the *brand-new* Future Sound Of London (Amorphous Androgynous in the U.K.) disc, "The Is-ness".
I thought that for this post..I would borrow the "meta-review" idea from C-Dog and link to a review of each disc found at PopMatters. I was browsing at PopMatters last week and read both reviews, written by Matt Cibula. Each review is well-written, but I do have a few disagreements..so I thought I would just throw in my comments in comparison to his.
The Orbital review finds Mr. Cibula largely in praise of the compilation, but recommends the disc to novices only...while telling long-time fans to avoid it. "Which is, finally, what's weird about this collection. There's no way that anyone who is familiar with Orbital would want this CD. You just get too frustrated at the eviscerated versions of your favorite songs, and it's impossible to judge the progression of the band when their songs are all out of order. No, this is just for Orbital neophytes, who will get all geeked up about finally discovering this music and rush out immediately to get everything in their catalog. Fans who are waiting for a best-of will just have to accept it: owning all the albums is the only way to do that." He *does* have a point about all of the shortened versions of the tracks--but I believe the reason for that is simply to be able to include more of their material on the CD. This is an outfit whose average track is somewhere in the 6-to-9-minute range--that doesn't make for a *whole* lot of tunes on an 80-minute disc..and they probably didn't want their die-hard fans (like myself) shelling out for a 2-disc comp. of stuff they already own. Also, they included a lot of remix/7" versions of tunes--a few of them tough to track down now, like the "Industry Standard?" mix of Are We Here (from 1994's "Snivilisation" album) and the "original version" of Choice, called the "Crucifix Vocal US Hardcore Punk" mix (from the first self-titled album...or the "green" album).
I do agree with his assertion about the inclusion of Illuminate (from 2001's "love-it-or-hate-it" "The Altogether" record). "I have heard some critics wax wroth over the decision to include "Illuminate" on this album, because it features Gray (who I guess is supposed to represent "sell-out") and because it comes from their latest album, the disappointing The Altogether. Maybe I'm supposed to affect a superior purist-type pose, but I just don't see it." It is a great track..and yeah, that *is* David Gray singing..but it's happy melody and synth hooks stick in your mind for days..so I've got no problem with the Hartnoll brothers deciding to mesh it in with the final line-up of "Work". Again, this version of "Illuminate" is an "original" mix cut during the sessions for 1999's The Middle Of Nowhere, but was left off of that album when it was thought it didn't suit the overall "mood" of "The Middle.." and re-worked for "The Altogether".
And finally, he nails the point right on the head with his praise for Orbital's genius for engaging melodies..."Every piece here has three or four or seven different riffs that stick like peanut butter and intertwine and break apart and come back together. If I didn't think it too pretentious, I'd compare them to Bach; the Hartnolls have a knack for themes and variations that few of their contemporaries even bothered with." I'd think it pretentious if he compared them to Bach also--but I *will* go as far as to say that some of Orbital's pieces are as epic in scope and ambition as The Beatles' psychedelic-era records--this ain't just dance-music, folks!
The same applies to the new F.S.O.L. disc...I was pleasantly surprised by it. I had read a couple of reviews (including Mr. Cibula's)..and that increased my anticipation quite a bit. When the opening track, Elysian Feels, started up...I immediately *knew* I would like this disc--and noticed how far removed their sound is from their last, 1996's Dead Cities, which alternated between industrial-rage ("We Have Explosive") to melancholy piano solos ("Max"). There is *so* much sitar swathed in the grooves (courtesy of band-friend Baluji Shrivastav), you would think F.S.O.L. were trying to make the instrument fashionable again...which I don't mind--though I know that doesn't sit well with everyone!
Again, Mr. Cibula's review is favorable toward F.S.O.L.'s "psychedelic make-over". Though he does take Gaz Cobain to task for his "hippie-dippy" lyrics. "Apparently, Cobain equates "psychedelic" with "throw any damn thing in there and put a sitar on top and people won't really care what you're singing". This was what some freak-out music did, to be sure -- but only the bad boring stuff. This is meandering wank with no real destination: "She's hiding from the yo-yo / It's a real no-no / Life with Jo Jo"; sure it could end up going somewhere, but it doesn't." His complaint is fair enough, and having listened to a *lot* of psychedelia (old and new) in my day--I can relate to the notion that some people think trippy lyrics are the juxtapositioning of opposites--completely not so. However, I didn't find The Mello Hippo Disco Show to be quite the excruciating listening experience that Mr. Cibula did--in fact, it came across to me as Cobain's somewhat oblique tribute to The Beatles' I Am The Walrus--same loping beat and Cobain trying in earnest to emulate John Lennon's surreal style..falling far short of the mark, to be sure, but at least trying.
If you have the recently-released U.S. version of the album--the track list is different from Cibula's promo-copy. The track after "Mello Hippo.." is Goodbye Sky (reprise)..then Osho..then The Galaxial Pharmaceutical, which I enjoyed but Mr. Cibula also found not to his liking. "But there are a couple of problems. The epic closer, "The Galaxical Pharmaceutical", is a 15-minute combination of bad Floyd and "Major Tom"-era Bowie, all paeans to "Mr. Spaceman" and "Mr. Policeman" (that latter from "Life on Mars", what?) and ending with "The spacecraft has been programmed for me"-type stuff. It sounds great, but the lyrics kill it." I will concur that the lyrics *do* distract from the music, which sounds like it was painstakingly constructed to have a seamless feel to it..even though it has several different parts--just like an old progressive (Yikes! there's that *word*!) suite by Genesis or King Crimson. Again, I liked it and got past Cobain's goofy "universal love/self-pity" elements in the lyrics to the core of the tune--an epic psych/prog/techno fusion that requires a *lot* of listens to hear everything going on in it's grooves.
Mr. Cibula *does* spotlight one of my favorite tracks from the album, the absolutely amazing Go Tell It To The Trees Egghead...."Go Tell It to the Trees Egghead" follows, and it's what I was talking about before: a brand-new direction for rock music. This swinging gentle pastoral thing rides an easy tabla beat and marries slide guitar and sitar and meandering flute and prog synth and toy zylophone and an "electric accordion" line and harmonica and blues licks -- it's chocablock with beauty and ease and newness." This track had me clicking the "reverse" button on my CD player so many times! It would finish and I'd listen to it again..I couldn't stop. The flute part is akin to the gentle flute line in Canned Heat's classic "Going Up The Country"..the sitar and tabla make their entrance so subtlely you almost can't remember *when* they became part of the mix. Brilliant tune...great instumentation..I almost wish that "Go Tell It.." was the 15-minute track instead of "Galaxial..", but it's two-chord phrasing probably wouldn't hold up over 10-minutes without getting *severely* repetitive. He also makes a point about Cobain's guitar melody in the song Divinity being similar to Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song"..."Wed to a guitar line that sounds exactly like Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song", Gaz sounds like crap here spouting off about how "One day you will find / Inexhaustible ecstasy"." Having heard the track now, I can say that yes, the melody is similar--but the chords Cobain is playing are standard chords that nearly *everyone* has played..still, need I point out the George Harrison/Chiffons lawsuit over "My Sweet Lord"? I know, I know..Mr. Cibula was having a little fun at Cobain's expense..but I bet he played those chords, thought it sounded good for a tune, and decided to pen some lyrics...let's hope Sandler doesn't "pull a Chiffons" on F.S.O.L.
All in all, I'm very excited about "The Is-ness" and the return of The Future Sound Of London. I thought they had long since split and now they are in a near 180-degree turn from their last effort and I dig the results! If you're a fan of psychedelia but feel that electronic music is "cold" and "impersonal", you would do well to listen to this disc..you won't even believe these guys own a sampler *or* a sequencer or even know what ProTools is. I mean, they thank George Harrison and Ananda Shankar (a relative of Ravi and a sitar master in his own right--he recently passed away) in the credits, fer chrissakes! Even Matt Cibula has to give it up for them (before slapping Cobain's wrist *one* last time).."In the meantime, The Isness means that FSOL is back as a force to be reckoned with . . . it's a great fun album, as long as we're not indulging in that "mumbo jumbo slow fellatio" shite. Eh, Gaz?"*

*All quotations taken from PopMatters; reviews of Orbital's "Work 1989-2002" and The Future Sound Of London's "The Is-ness" written by Matt Cibula.