Paul Fuzz Presents: Flew In From Miami Beach BOAC
The White Stripes' 'Icky Thump': Blues Rock in the post Hip-Hop Era
What, nothin' better to do?
Why don't you kick yourself out?You're an immigrant too
Who's usin' who?
What should we do?
Well you can't be a pimp
And a prostitute too
."The White Stripes - Icky Thump
I've got 99 Problems, and Meg ain't one. So my theory is this: 'Icky Thump' is Straight Outta Deetroit
, late 60's blues rock (Cream, Sabbath, Led Zep) re-structured in a post-hip hop style. Not rap-metal, not funk-metal, not Run DMC vs Aerosmith, but something all together more natural, a great rock song by the world's best rock band built and delivered like a hip-hop track. The useful contemporary reference points for 'Icky Thump' are not Wolfmother or even Deetroit garage rock 45s, but 'Black Album' era Jay Z,
Dizzee Rascal's 'Fix Up, Look Sharp' and the more rock orientated end of Eminem's work. It has been noted elsewhere that 'Icky Thump' owes something in terms of chord changes and groove to The Doors' 'Five To One'
. The first time I heard 'Icky Thump' I thought it very reminiscient of Jay Z's 'Takeover
- a song itself built by producer Kanye West around a huge thudding loop of...you guessed it: The Doors' 'Five To One' In it's overall construction & delivery, 'Icky Thump' is much closer to the Jay Z track than the Doors song it samples and thus the circle is complete; a contemporary blues-rock track constructed like a hip-hop track which itself is built around the sample of an old
Production-wise "Icky Thump" is monsterously heavy and record, the drums are huge and funky a la John Bonham, the guitar solos are demented and frequent, and the whole thing just packs a mighty, mighty analogue THUMP the likes of which you don't really hear on the radio no more. The most unusual and memorable production twist, the sound which really defines the track, is the use of a B-3 Organ set to OBSCENELY LOUD FREAK OUT DISTORTO FUZZ; it is a sound unlike any other you will hear on day-time radio, a musical hook as arresting and exciting as Pharrel William's minimalist synth stabs, and one which certainly has one foot in the past (I guess there's a little ELP / Deep Purple in there) but has much more in common with something like DJ Shadow's 'Organ Donor'. Live, Jack plays over-amped, roaring, buzzing keyboard almost entirely to create ryhtym, texture, depth, and again, the sound is much closer to a DJ scratching (think the futuristic abstractions of prime Invisible Scratch Pickles) than a traditional rock keys player, especially as that jet-plane hammond noise is accompanied only by Meg's hammering drumbreaks.
Perhaps the aspect of 'Icky Thump' which is most strikingly hip-hop is Jack's delivery of the lyric, which is pure Beastie Boys. While there is a narrative of sorts (there's some sorta loose Mexican bandito vibe), largely the lyric consists of classic Jack White voodoo surrealism and the words appear to have been chosen primarily for their rhythmic qualities and dynamic punch, arranged in solid, 4 bar chunks. There are two successive verses which are of particular use to us here.
Firstly, the "White Americans" verse, which has already sparked critical debate owing to the fact that Jack's lyrics so rarely broach politics in such an explicit manner. Jack's views on US immigration law aside, this lyric strongly echoes the lyric of a song by fellow Detroit native; Eminem's 'White America." Like Jack, Eminem is a white artist trying to carve out an identity for himself in what is traditionally a black musical form; Eminem's hip-hop is Jack White's blues. Jack's delivery of this verse recalls nobody if not the angry-young man fury of Eminem at his most splenetic, and invokes the spirit of hip-hop (by directly adressing contemporay social issues) in a way almost no other White Stripes lyric does.
Also of interest is the verse which ends "You can't be a pimp and a prostitute too." In terms of my argument, this is a key line, the line which most eloquently expresses Jack's blues rock / hip-hop formula. On the one hand, pimp / prostitute imagery is classic blues stuff, the sorta dark sex 'n' sin imagery that blues guys have been working with from the Mississipi Delta to Chicago, and is perfectly in keeping with The White Stripe's vintage americana aesthetic. On the other hand, pimp / prostitute imagery is now
almost exclusively associated with contemporary commercial hip-hop culture, the bling-bling, booty-shaking, big bucks world of Snoop Dog and 50 Cent, a world where the 'Superfly' styled 'Pimp' is a highly glamorised figure. Consequently Jack's use of 'Pimp' in a contemporary rock song must be understood at least partly as a conscious appropriation of modern hip-hop vernacular: it reads
like a hip-hop lyric, and Jack's delivery is very much in a rap battle 'diss' style.
The great success of 'Icky Thump' is that its absorption of hip-hop techniques into 60's styled blues-rock is achieved 100% gimmick-free. No trendy 'scratching' pasted over heavy metal riffs or white-boy rapping grafted onto Funky Drummer beats here. This is NOT a 'cross-over' record. I don't suppose for a second that Jack went into the studio explicitly wanting to "do something like '99 Problems'/'Takeover'", but that isn't the point. The point is that he and Meg have effortlessly internalised the 'Takeover' sound and re-shaped it in their own image, creating something which approximates the power & structure of that sound, while managing to reclaim its heavy 'live band' rock roots. 'Icky Thump' is fundementally a superb psychedelic blues rock track, but it is one which could have only been produced in the post hip-hop era - and only a band as smart, tasteful and weird as the White Stripes could have pulled it off.
Labels: Hip Hop, White Stripes
The Grunge Noir Of 'Clerks'.
(Dir Kevin Smith, 1994, Miramax)
Ladies & Gentledudes, I present to you Kevin Smith's 'Clerks', the prototypical 90s slacker movie. Concept: two college drop-outs called Randal & Dante hang out at the New Jersey convenience store and neighbouring video store where they work, spend entire movie rapping about sex and Star Wars, playing roller hockey etc. Dialogue is generally wise-ass & garnished with all sortsa super-hip pop culture references. Supporting cast is made up of junkies & dope dealers, a couple of whom are weed tokin' grunge punks custom-bulit for instant
cult status and Mtv pop cross-over success. Soundtrack consists of early 90s US alt rock desinged to really max those Generation X CD sales. 'Clerks': the prototypical 90s slacker movie.
When I first caught 'Clerks' at a friend's dorm room in first year Uni (shout out to my man Rob Laverick), I knew almost nothing about it, and so I understood it only instinctively
as an art-house experiment in no-budget black comedy, a fairly high-brow (though generally unpretentious) movie characterised by naturalistic performances, a wildly creative script and a distinctive aesthetic all of it's own. Basically I just thought it was pretty damn cool. I mean, it's shot in black & white: it's gotta
right? I loved all the 'Star Wars' stuff, there were alot of genuine
laugh-out-loud jokes, I dug the whole 'entire narrative based in one location' thing (being a 'Resevoir Dogs' / 'Die Hard' / '12 Angry Men' fan) plus it just looked
so great and different, this heavily distressed, punk, B&W lo-fi aesthetic: grunge noir
Much of my favourite art is art which was created with hugely limited resources, and the things I love about them are frequently the consequences of those limitations. 'Louie Louie' by The Kingsmen is an awesome all-time garage rock monster precisely because
it is sloppy, rushed and amateurish, NOT in spite of those things. The same is true, say, of Ed Wood's 'Plan 9 From Outer Space', or the Velvet Underground's first three LPs. It is the falling short
of perfection that is interesting. And the fact that a particular look or a particular sound is the result of something as protosaic as budget restraints
as opposed to uncompromised artistic vision,
is totally irrelevent. Those limited resources are what gives the art it's character, they enforce a strict aesthetic, impose themselves upon the tone & look of the whole piece, and consequently the piece begins to warp, it becomes something other,
wierd, underground... cultish.
It says alot about Smith's own taste in cinema that every explicit movie reference in the 'Clerks' is not to avant garde film or even to the pulp/cult/alternative canon quoted in Tarantino's contemporary Miramax work, but to the super-mainstream 70s high-concept blockbuster cinema of Lucas & Spielberg, namely 'Star Wars', 'Jaws' and 'Indiana Jones'. The allusions to this supposedly 'low-brow' school of cinema are central to the Generation X, post-modern tone of 'Clerks' - the generation 'Clerks' represents was brought up on 'Star Wars', not Swedish art-house, and more-over they are a generation who refuse to acknowledge notions of high & low brow, of 'the canon.' So when Randal & Dante discuss the moral & political subtext of 'Return Of The Jedi', Gen Xers cheer them on 'cos it reflects their own belief that 'Star Wars' is just as worthy of critical debate as 'Citizen Kane'. Maybe more
(For the record, they're right. 'Star Wars' is waaaay better than 'Citizen Kane'.)
So it comes to pass that a Gen X director with a George Lucas addiction makes a movie, but 'cos he don't got no bread or no Hollywood
connections he can't make his movie look like 'Star Wars', it's gotta look all grungy and badly lit and roughly edited. It's gotta be black and white.
And it looks amazing
. Not only that, but the one thing which no budget can affect - the quality of the script - is brilliant from beginning to end. You're lucky this review wasn't just a list of memorable quotes.
"Look at you, you can't even play! Don't pass to this guy, he sucks. You suck
You had to allow me one.
A few thoughts on The Wu Tang Clan
The Wu Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah; aka Ironman,Tony Stark, Monster Don, Theodore Deini, Phat Ghost, The Ghost With The Most (amongst various 30+ other aliases listed at Wikipedia), pictured here 'flossing' what can only be accurately descibed as the Greatest Item Of Bling In The Entire History Of Pop Music. I mean, you can keep your soverign rings, your fat gold chains, your personalised Air Force Ones - Ghost's got a MASSIVE GOLDEN EAGLE
. He's gone there.
While you were out pimping your ride, Ghost's been out Blowing Your Mind. If you're really looking for some serious props from your peeps, you gotta be rocking a huge bird of prey themed amulet on your arm: except no substitute. "Oh, I gotta crate of diamond encrusted Kristal" - get outta here! Where's your ridiculous golden eagle, huh? I mean, you coulda at least made an effort, even a golden Pied Wagtail or something, y'know? I've already ordered my
golden bird amulet: a GOLDEN ALBATROSS. Yee-uhh boyyy
. That's right. A full size Golden Albatross. 20 pounds of bling. A wingspan of 9 feet. "Oh, hey Paul, how are you...OH MY GOD! What the hell is that on your arm?" "Oh, what, this? It's my MASSIVE GOLDEN ALBATROSS."
I've kept up a mild obsession with the Wu Tang Clan ever since I was first introduced to them 10 years ago as a skinny indie kid by a local hip-hop head called Matthew Brydon (shout out!
) who also ran the local paper shop. Brydon never really dug The Stone Roses, and I was increasingly interested in discovering something funkier
than Fools Gold, so one evening he was like 'check this shit out
', and dropped The Wu Tang's Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
, the crew's debut LP. It hit me like an atom bomb. Lyrically it was like nothing I'd ever heard before, hip-hop or otherwise; martial arts, chess, blaxploitation, and Eastern philosopy re-mixed and spat out in wild, seemingly free-form spontaneous prose, delivered infact with such ferocity and so thick with obscure allusion and slang that I musta missed a good 50%. It was violent, certainly, but it was the vibe
which threatened as much as the words. Where
are "The Slums Of Shaolin?" What
sort of drink is "Nighttrain?" (And where can I buy it?) I was pretty sure that I heard 'Chim chimmeny chim chim cherie' from Mary Poppins in there somewhere too...The music was super heavy - bassy, dark and deep -but peeking out of the grime were shards of great lost 60s soul 45s, Stax stuff in particular, sweet female vocals hanging like mist around the low-slung drumbreaks and ultra-obscure kung-fu movie samples. Where most bands I was listening to had 4 or 5 members, the Wu Tang had 9, each with many different aliases, and each bringing their unique styles and skills to the table - "coming together," as they say in one skit, "like Voltron." Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah...I mean, it beat Graham Coxon, right? These guys were more like superheros than pop stars. The Wu Tang presented an entire alien culture...no, an entire universe,
I actually learnt
stuff from listening to them, stuff about the geography & psychology of New York, cult cinema, comic books, philosophy, and that's before you get to the crate digging education
of being exposed to the canon from which they drew their beats, a history of dusty RnB 45s...sure, I could do without the 'torture' skit which pre-faces 'Method Man,' it's mildly ugly, video-nasty, childish stuff, but I figured then - as I do now - that the Wu Tang are not there to paint a pretty picture, and if I feel uncomftable listening to it then that's probably the point. You take from art what you want and leave the rest, and when the art is as rich and dense as the Wu Tang's '36 Chambers'; you can afford to leave a little.
Labels: Hip Hop
Billy Shipton Is The Coolest Doctor Who Character Ever And I Think The BBC Should Give Him His Own Show
I really dug Saturday's Doctor Who the mostest
, but that's not important right now. I'm here to talk about Billy Shipton, aka The Coolest Doctor Who Minor Character Of All Time. Yessir. I'm here to campaign for a new BBC show following the high-octane, all guns blazing adventures of super-bad ass cop Billy Shipton
), trapped in 1969 by the Weeping Angels, as he hammers wildly around sleazy pre
in a cherry-red Dodge Challenger busting the head of pimps, revolutionaries and East-end Krays
style gangsters all to a kick-ass soundtrack of late '60s psyche-rock; Hendrix, Cream, early Led Zep...imagine a car-chase conducted to the hammering funk of Led Zep's
'The Immigrant Song'. I could sell this show on that image alone. It'd be exactly like 'Life On Mars', only waaay
cooler, and fully trashy, like a Roger Corman
directing Performance, and every episode he'd hang out alla
time in dingy burlesque clubs and gambling dens, and he go to a black-panther style informant dude who'd be all like 'Yo. I'ma
give you the skinny on this dope-peddling piece of trash, but what's a brother gonna do for me', and he'd have a bumbling comedy hippy
side-kick called, like, Bozo or something, and Bozo would just sorta stumble around in a haze of pot smoke inadvertently helping Billy out or narrowly avoiding bullets, falling anvils, jugganauts etc like a stoned Mr Magoo. But basically the show would just be Billy going around wearing hipster mod-threads being really cool and listening to Jimi Hendrix records.
ELVIS! The Late 60s Funk Of The Memphis Flash
"The Original Elvis Presley Collection No. 29:
Live A Little, Love A Little / Charro! / The Trouble With Girls / Change Of Habit"
All logic suggests that this scrappy hodge-podge collection of late 60's Elvis odds 'n' ends should suck like nothing else on earth. For a start, it's No.29 in a series of god knows how many, and it ain't like this is a 'Now! That's What I Call Elvis' deal, I mean, the guy put out alotta good stuff, but you gotta figure that by No. 29 they're probably scraping the bottom of the jelly jar somewhat, the really
top-draw stuff having been served up over the course of the first dozen or so LPs, though now I think of it the whole enterprise looks so damn cheap that I'm not sure any
of the LPs in this particular series are likely to be Solid Gold All Killer No Filler 50000000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong sorta affairs. No, this whole thing stinks
of the very worst sorta ultra-cheap mondo-exploito rip-off pile 'em high & sell 'em low quality-control free Presleydelia that has been churned out relentlessly ever since The Flash danced his last, shamelessly mugging Elvis freaks for their every nickle & dime and damaging their hero's reputation in the ugliest of manners. The Colonel would be proud. Just dig the luh-hame
sleeve design; random, unsympathetic and entirely artless 80s 'graphics', ELVIS
spelt out in some godawful 'wacky' font, pictures of a coupla original 7" sleeves (themselves pretty horrible)...I mean, it's the worst.
And that's before you get to the track listing.
The soundtracks to 4 rubbish late-60s Elvis movies carelessly shoe-horned onto one CD, which I picked up the bargain bin for £3. Doesn't scream QUALITY, does it? And yet...
against all odds, the 29th Elvis Collection actually contains Some Really Great Music
. I mean, don't get me wrong; 80% of it is pure, unadulterated shlock. I'm talking garbage like you've never heard. 16 tracks of swill. But making up the 20-strong tracklisting are THREE
(Count 'em!) bone-fide smashers and 1 runner-up which at least has the decency to open with an absolutely MONSTER drum break. In order of appearance....1. A Little Less Conversation (from Live A Little, Love A Little)
The JXL remix was a stinker, an example of lowest-common denominator big-beatery whose attempt to make 'update' Elvis for a generation of clubbers was entirely uneccessary due to the fact that the original 1968 'A Little Less Conversation' is pretty much a perfect pop/funk floorfiller already. Rehabilitated into the Elvis canon by David Holmes on his excellent Oceans 11 OST, this is a real gem, and it's only a shame that Elvis didn't get the chance to do more up-tempo, late 60's styled RnB like this..2. Clean Up Your Own Back Yard (undubbed) (from The Trouble With Girls)
Elvis does sizzling country-funk. An excellent low-slung Memphis groove, some sleazy slide-geetar and Elvis bitching about how he wishes alla these 'backporch preachers' and 'drugstore cowboys' would just stay the hell off The King's back, making it easily the hippest lyric he ever delivered, especially the 'You tend to your business, I'll tend to mine' refrain, which brings to mind Elvis's TCB: Takin' Care Of Business motto. Close in feel & spirit to Tony Joe White's swamp/country material, I've DJ'd this back-to-back with Aretha Franklin's version of The Weight
and they go together aces. Would have fitted perfectly on those excellent 'Country Got Soul' comps they put out a coupla years back..3. Change Of Habit (from Change Of Habit)
It's a film about Nuns! Nuns wear smocks called 'habits'! Habit is another word for habitual behaviour! So it's like, Change of "Habit",
yeah?! I've never caught the movie, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess it ain't exactly Black Narcissus
in Nun Movie terms (Idea for future post: Top 10 Nun Movies). Inexcusable punnery aside, this Song From The Movie Of The Same Name opens with a huge, totally unexpected fuzz-bass riff, which is then joined by full-fat funky drums, and then...becomes a slightly better than average Elvis track. But while it lasts the break is killer, hands down the straight-up funkiest moment on any Elvis cut, and will be familiar to fans of DJ Format who looped it on 'Here Comes The Fuzz'..4. Rubberneckin' (from Change Of Habit)
More up-tempo pop/RnB in the late 60's style, wherein The Memphis Flash lays out his 'philosophy', which is to 'Stop, look and listen.' This sounds oddly like the Green Cross Code Man's philosopy, but that's not important right now. Paul Oakenfold remixed this a coupla years back, and inevitably it was utter pish, but the original - cut from the same cloth as 'A Little Less Conversation' - is stompin' floorfiller which rattles along excitedly with great gospel backing vocals and OTT brass. And it sounds like Elvis is getting a kick out of it too, which you can't say for most of the material on this CD.
All in all, well worth a punt, and proof if proof were needed that great music can be found in the most unlikeliest of places. The oddest thing about 'The Original Elvis Collection: No29' is that while 4 groovy tracks outta 20 might not sound like a great ratio, it's still about 4 tracks better than you could reasonably expect from it - it's something of a fluke, really, and there's no reason to assume that Collection No.30, fer instance, will contain any essential, and certainly no funk or 'break' orientated, Elvis music whatsoever...but on this evidence I might just give it a try.
Labels: Breakbeats, Funk
More White Stripes Brilliance
In addition to Anna Wait's recent White Stripes/Simpsons post, dig this great exhange recorded in the NME this week as Jack discusses the equestrian theme of their new 7" sleeve artwork, with the Jackster on fine tongue-in-cheek form -
NME: How involved were you with the vinyl design & artwork?
Jack: Meg wanted the vinyl to be white, I thought it should be red, we quarrelled. A compromise was made...Meg does love horses though, so I threw her a bone on that one.
NME: Can you ride horses?
Jack: Of course we can ride horses, we're from Detroit.
What a band.
Labels: White Stripes
Best News Day Ever!
Aw, man, I just watched the Channel 4 News, and I'll be damned if it wasn't the most entertaining news day for months. Very light on distressing personal tragedy and death, but heavy on big political stories and Heat-style gossip, I dug June 7th the mostest. Here are the highlights...
.1. High-speed powerboat battles! James Bond-style Hollywood action comes to the G8, as the German military take on a maverick buncha Greenpeace anarchists and -dig this- actually RAM the peacenik's vessels to a halt in the water!
.2. Romance! Bush 'n' Blair cosy up for one last fling at the G8 Summit, where the two ol' buddys make like a Neo-Conservative Brokeback Mountain! Now watch this drive!
.3. Sleazy Tabloidism! Peaches Geldolf kicked out of Big Brother for bullying Jade Goody! Or Something! Paris Hilton released from jail with leg-clamp thing! Heat Magazine proclaims Leg-Clamp Things 'Hot'!
.4. International Political Intrigue! BEA Systems, The British Government, One Billion £££'s and a Saudi Prince! The only thing missing from this
story's is a good speedboat battle! Infact, Speedboat Battles are the thing missing from MOST stories; I mean, I liked A Doll's House,
but every so often you're like, 'where're the Speedboats at'?!
Also: how insanely cool is John Snow?