Monday, October 09, 2006

Blue period

A recent article in the Grauniad collated readers' top literary songs. But writing one song that mentions, say, Thomas Hardy or Brendan Behan isn't really a stretch IMHO. Sustaining a literary theme over a whole album, though, is a talent that eludes most artistes.

Luckily Hector Zazou succeeded where Rick Wakeman and countless others have flunked. His Sahara Blue, released in 1992, is an eclectic take on the poetry of Rimbaud featuring an extremely diverse array of collaborators, including celebrity gourmand Gerard Depardieu, and Richard Bohringer, arguably best known for his role in Diva.

As well as roping in French acting talent , Zazou (crazy name, crazy guy!) also persuaded Barbara Gogan of The Passions, John Cale, David Sylvian (appearing pseudonymously as "Mr. X" on the European release, presumably due to contractual problems) , Anneli Drecker, Sussan Deyhim, Khaled and others to contribute vocal interpretations of Rimbaud's ramblings. A similarly starry corps of artists provide the backing music, which ranges from plangent guitar noodlings to Middle Eastern pop, via downtempo proto-trip-hop. Most of the 12 tracks, though, could be played at your next dinner party without making anyone spit out their soup; they're engaging and quirky without being overt.

The first track on the album, I'll Strangle You, is the exception. An all-out stomper, it's Rimbaud goes disco (discaud?). Even in their most absinthe-addled moments, Verlaine and Mallarme must surely never have imagined that at the turn of the 20th century their nihilistic buddy would be sharing a track with ex-members of the Sugarhill Gang (i.e. Keith LeBlanc), Bomb The Bass (Tim Simenon) and Bill Laswell (yes, him again). A Season In Hell for poetry purists, perhaps, but a post-modern heaven for the rest of us, it features M. Depardieu and Anneli Drecker sharing vocal duties.

Hunger is a moody Gallic take on Rimbaud's Delires with vocals courtesy of John Cale, while the album's closer, Lettre au Directeur... features Sussan Deyhim ululating "like Yoko Ono with PMT" (as a friend so charmingly put it once upon a time), bookended by Bohringer (in French) and Sylvian (in English). You may need to dust down your French GCSE before downloading these. Hey, who said this blog wasn't educational?

Download I'll Strangle You

Download Hunger

Download Lettre Au Directeur des Messageries Maritimes (all deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Buy Sahara Blue

Marley's Ghost

Leading on (fairly) smoothly from Vivien Goldman below, we now turn to Mr. Robert Nesta Marley. I don't own very much by The Wailers, for the same reason that I own hardly any Beatles records. You don't really need to own them. Their music is everywhere anyway; it's totally permeated Western culture. Just go to any cafe in Amsterdam, and see what I mean. Despite this, I've fallen fairly heavily for Dreams of Freedom: Ambient Translations of Bob Marley in Dub.

A reworking of all the songs that have lost much of their meaning through incessant repetition (e.g. No Woman No Cry, One Love, Is This Love), this particular delight was brought into the world courtesy of Chris Blackwell and Bill Laswell. It works precisely because Marley's voice has been pushed way back in the mix, or in most cases totally eliminated from the songs. Not that there's anything wrong with his voice, of course. It's just that it's so familiar, it has to be removed to make the songs once more unfamiliar. Instead the songs are rendered as ambient instrumentals punctuated by the I-Threes' heavenly vocals, here brought to the forefront of the soundstage (blimey, I nearly went a bit "What Hi-Fi" for a second there). The contributions of Bunny Wailer, Aston Barrett*, Carlton Barrett et al are boosted and augmented by the Material usual suspects, in this case Karl Berger on string arrangements, Aiyb Dieng on percussion and Tetsu Inoue doing whatever he does with his electronics gubbins.

Laswell really is the patron saint of Irk The Purists, managing to enthrall and exasperate in equal measure. There were groans when this album was announced, and this piece from '97 summarises some of the objections. Undaunted, he went on to remix Miles Davis and Carlos Santana to similar opprobrium, especially in the case of Miles. Jazzers, it seems, are the biggest purists of all. Those of you, though, who disdain those record-rack dividers (rock/rap/r&B/heavy metal etc.) as much as I do can enjoy a couple of snippets of the album below.

BTW, the tracks have a very abrupt start and end, as the album is one seamless mix with no pauses between tracks. Just so you know.

Download Waiting in Vain (ambient dub)

Download Exodus (ambient dub) (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Buy Dreams of Freedom

*Incidentally, has anyone else noticed that Aston "Family Man" Barrett has been written out of the Wailers story at the official Marley site? Try going to here, and then take a look at this to see what I mean. I know he tried to sue the estate and all but, c'mon, what's with this Stalinist airbrushing of history? The guy's got enough problems remembering the birthdays of his 52 kids! At least give him his props, even if he's not getting any more moolah.

...and no blue M&Ms

How great is this?

See Iggy and The Stooges tour rider here (18 pages)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

More YouTube goodies

Currently enjoying:

Beck Cell Phone's Dead (How can a scientologist make such a fantastic sound?)

The Rapture Get Myself Into It (Finally making the music they've been promising, now that they've dropped the DFA)

Mu Paris Hilton (You wouldn't want to be locked in a room with her, but Lily Allen wishes she was this credible).

Friday, October 06, 2006


Ha! Someone's just pointed out that I've used the title "Life's a Scream" for two separate posts, one in July and one in September. Clearly, my frame of reference is embarrassingly small, and confined only to ancient ACR singles. Sorry if you feel short-changed by my lack of puns.