Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grand as 'Owt

An appreciation of Grand Royal, then, as planned some time before Adam Yauch's untimely death...

Few people can claim to have coined a new word in the English language.  Even fewer record labels can claim the same honour.  But The Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label, which was extant for all of 9 years, can, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as in the second issue of its in-house eponymous magazine (below), it used the term "mullet" in print for the first time, referring to the hairstyle popular among hockey players and MOR rock acts.  That the Grand Royal empire extended into print as well as clothing (with the partly-Beastie bankrolled X-Large) demonstrates something of the all-encompassing nature of the group's worldview in the 1990s, as well as the extent to which they were providing a lifestyle choice as much as a soundtrack.

But its the music we'll concentrate on here.  The group's roots were in American hardcore as well as rap, which meant that the Beastie Boys had two DIY label templates to emulate; the likes of Ian MacKaye's Dischord, and their former label Def Jam.  The gambling-themed logo (seen above) seemed to suggest that a purchase from Grand Royal may have been a risky proposition.  In truth, though it put it its fair share of clunkers, it batted way above average, and discs by the likes of Luscious Jackson, DJ Hurricane, DFL and Noise Addict meant that its artistic kudos was high, even when sales weren't.  While it seemed initially that the label was going to act merely as an outlet for the Beastie Boys' less commercial offerings and side projects (Big Fat love, DFL, BS 2000), it soon branched out into genres and styles that may have seemed anathema to many of the more narrow-minded fans of the label founders' output.  The abrasiveness of EC8OR, Shizuo or Atari Teenage Riot, for example, may have been of a piece with Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz's cartoonish brattishness, but their sound, forged in Berlin, would have been a hard sell to most Beastie followers.  Similarly, the gentle, largely acoustic sounds of the Josephine Wiggs Experience, the Kostars and Ben Lee might seem a little strange to anyone who came to Grand Royal directly after buying Licensed To Ill.  But then this was a group that had long ago shed its one-dimensional sophomoric image, and was now embracing Buddhism and basketball, feminism and fashion.  So the eclectic nature of the label, which could encompass the likes of Bis, the Propellerheads, the Moistboyz and Ween, was entirely appropriate.

It's to the aforementioned gentler sound of the label that we'll turn initially.  The Kostars were Jill Cunniffe and Vivian Trimble of Luscious Jackson, and their sole album of campfire songs, Klassics With a K (GR 025) is one of the highpoints of the label's output, though unjustly overlooked.  You can download Jolene on the Freeway below.  It's good driving music, though it helps if the sun is out and you're on a wide flat road, somehere like Nevada.  A tailback on the M25 might not be the right setting.  Ben Lee, the one-time love interest of Claire Danes, was Grand Royal's Australian wunderkind, fronting Noise Addict from the age of 14.  His second solo album Something To Remember Me By (GR 044) came out when he was a relatively ancient 19 years old.   Bear that in mind when you listen to Household Name, a meditation on the ravages of fame on young stars in the entertainment industry.  Last of all, The Josephine Wiggs Experience bring you Make Me Feel Like Doris Day from the album Bon Bon Lifestyle (GR 035).  Wiggs was the then-partner of Luscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach, as well as a member of The Breeders, which presumably led to her record coming out on Grand Royal.  I'd like to think, though, that the album stands on its own merits, regardless of possible nepotism.  Part two of our appreciation to follow.

Download Household Name by Ben Lee (mp3)
Download Jolene on The Freeway by Kostars (mp3)
Download Make Me Feel Like Doris Day by Josephine Wiggs Experience (mp3)

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