As many of you may already know, I have been waiting ten years to see The Prodigy in concert. One of the first bands I followed religiously, The Prodigy have in the past cleverly planned their US visits to coincide with times during which I was trapped in boarding school; visiting overseas; sick with chicken pox; immobile with depression; or consumed with a fierce obsession to crusade around the country and talk about freaky mutant people spanking each other. It’s unfortunate for the Prodigy that their first US performance in years is coming so many months after the release of their latest, underrated album,Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Even the briefest of promotional tours — just Los Angeles and New York! — would have, I suspect, improved the disc’s sales considerably. As of this writing, AONO is generally considered a flop.
Reports of European shows have been exceedingly favourable, with news that mastermind Liam Howlett’s continued to develop and evolve many of the new tracks on stage, as well as reexamine the old classics (the new version of “Firestarter” is most welcome, as far as I’m concerned). As I said in my review last September, AONO is a booming proclamation of Howlett’s renewed vigor for songwriting (read: fucking you to death on the dancefloor), and I can’t wait to get rocked proper in the desert later this year.
AONO’s greatest strength is inspiration. It’s been a long time since I heard a dance record that so beautifully conveyed how much fun its creators were having during the production. Since, maybe, the last release by The Chemical Brothers.
Push The Button, released stateside last week, is (I think) the fifth album by the duo, whom, you may be surprised to learn, I was not a huge fan of as a kid. Probably thanks in part to my obsession with David Bowie and Brian Eno’s incalculably brilliant 1995 death-of-the-twentieth-century concept album 1.Outside, and because of my having been forcefully inserted into what was essentially a McCarthian, segregation era right-wing gulag of a town, I was extremely preoccupied with the idea of living in the future. As such, I gravitated towards music and fiction that my adolescent self felt would reflect the culture of and be mainstream in the new millenium. My favourite comics and films were things like Transmetropolitan, Cyberella, Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys,and Terminal City, and my music of choice was all but exclusively what they were calling electronica.
The Prodigy sounded like the future. Underworld sounded like the future. All the drum n’ bass, jungle, hardcore, trip-hop, rave, ambient, house, prog-house and the rest of those impossible genre classifications all sounded like the future.
The Chemical Brothers did not. Their music was too retro. The psychadelic imagery, the funky basslines and guitar licks, the old skool vocal samples and rap sounds; even the the soulful britpop singers created an all too organic experience for me to appreciate. In my mind I imagined us now living in apartments that looked like the insides of iMacs with pixilated Japanese text tattooed on our faces and listening to misshapen wave forms for sex music, not chilling out in a flannel beanbag with a Corona, a cigarette, a pair of Pumas® and mouthing the words, “the brothers gonna work it out” over and over.
Naturally, my 15 year old vision of the future never happened, electronica returned to the underground with a quickness, and I became a big Chemical Brothers fan. Also, I now drink Corona, wear sneakers and lip-sync, but no beanbag yet. Ironically, as the Brothers became “dancier” with each new release, I found myself most drawn to the first two albums (although I try to make it a point to listen to “Hey Girl, Hey Boy” almost every day — for strength). That’s probably why I like Push The Button so much; it’s a return to finding the best things about the music these guys love and spinning it (heh) into something new and glorious.
“Galvanize,” their bombastic lead single collaboration with A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip (whom, for the purposes of this journal entry, I will pretend to know a lot about) is an instant Chems classic that actually improves with every listen (but avoid the radio edit, it’s definitely missing something), and they turn in yet another (potential) hit with The Charlatans’ singer Tim Burgess (“The Boxer”). Other standout tracks include the dirty hillbilly instrumental “Marvo Ging,” tribal and ethereal “Hold Tight London” featuring vocals by somebody called Anna-Lynne Williams and drums by The Charlatans’ drummer Joe Brookes, and “Believe,” the album’s only electroclash conceit with vocals by New Order tribute band du jour Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke. And speaking of New Order, the Chemicals have, after several attempts over the last decade, finally written the New Order song they’ve always wanted to, and it is the stunning instrumental “Surface To Air,” easily their best album closer yet.
But Push The Button’s not all fun games. The Anwar Superstar collab “Left Right” is clearly the standout shit track of the album, followed closely by “Come Inside,” which may contain the most annoying vocal sample the Chems have used yet. A very respectable backing track saves “Come Inside” from total failure (instrumental mix b-side, fucking please), but nothing can save “Shake Break Bounce,” which is dire and stupid and goes nowhere and resembles the duller, more meandering tracks on the Prodigy’s Always Outnumbered….
All in all, a very successful comeback by The Chemical Brothers after the largely disappointing Come With Us. It’s a shame the Flaming Lips won’t be returning to Coachella this year, because a live performance of the excellent “The Golden Path” single would please me immensely. Even more tremendous than that would be New Order’s Bernand Sumner joining the Brothers on stage with his guitar for a rendition of their Surrender single “Out Of Control.” More orgasmic still would be the Chemicals joining longtime heroes New Order on stage to perform their amazing 24 Hour Party People collaboration, “Here To Stay,” the best New Order single since 1993’s “Regret.”
There is nothing I can possibly say about New Order that hasn’t been said before and doesn’t dramatically understate their importance. New Order are fucking heroes. There is absolutely no music produced in the last fifteen or twenty years that doesn’t owe something to those musicians, and it’s a tragedy that so few Amerikans seem to be aware of it. Hopefully this high profile festival appearance — which is to follow the release of their new album Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, already assessed by some journalists as the album of the year — will be a crash course for the ravers. Er, I mean punks…?
Eh, probably not, since Frank Black’s apparently the only one allowed to be an old, fat, ugly rock star anyway. Oh well, good luck, boys.
(and no, i’m not saying the Pixies suck, i’m saying the man’s getting on a bit, leave me alone it’s true)
Redemption and relevance in the eyes of fickle Amerikcan children seems to be a chief theme of this year’s Coachella festival, which brings us, finally, to nine inch nails.
Nobody on the ticket has as much to prove this year as NIN. Once considered by many fans (and now just many journalists and other musicians) to be on par with Nirvana as one of the most important acts of the 90s, Trent Reznor has squandered the people’s good will in remarkable Bush-like fashion. Following a hugely successful period in the mid-nineties that saw Reznor release the mega-selling, genre-defying masterpiece The Downward Spiral and its subsequent remix projects; tour with David Bowie; produce the Natural Born Killers soundtrack album, featuring yet another new song; launch his record label nothing with the debut of Marilyn Manson; produce and co-write Manson’s multi-platinum Antichrist Superstar; and record a lauded cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” for The Crow soundtrack, Reznor went into hiding, emerging briefly in 1997 with the Lost Highway soundtrack on his own nothing records, featuring the shockingly impressive “The Perfect Drug,” a single so anarchic in its style that it defies any accurate classification. It was impressive, to say the least, but its heavy drum n’ bass influence and pop chorus alienated some fans. I loved it, myself.
nine inch nails finally returned with 1999’s double-disc The Fragile, “their” first album in five years. The Fragile was a remarkable achievement in sonic artistry that set the production bar so high no major rock band has since reached it. Unfortunately, the album was impenetrable (and possibly too expensive) for basically everybody, and plummeted from the number 1 spot more quickly than any record ever had. The Fragile has aged clumsily since it came out six years ago. While the production and instrumentation remain very impressive, especially on the more experimental and instrumental tracks (which most casual listeners probably wouldn’t enjoy), about half the songs on the double-album feel shoehorned-in and would be better suited as b-sides. Reznor’s apparent lack of concern for grammar also hurts the album considerably (which is pretty damning, considering the run-on sentences in this journal). More bloated than epic, The Fragile would have made a brilliant single-disc album with accompanying EPs in the tradition of The Downward Spiral. Had this been the case, I think we would have been reading a lot of comparisons between The Fragile and Kid A, an equally difficult album that was still embraced by the public). There are a million ways to compare and contrast the two albums, and another million ways to speculate why one did better than the other, so I’m not going to go into it here, but I think it’s an interesting discussion. Unfortunately, having the discussion would mean someone would have had to actually listen to The Fragile, and such people are scarcer than girls who read Batman comics.
Six years absence after a total flop album is a recipe for suicide in today’s music industry (and yesterday’s, too, I suppose), yet tickets for the first new NIN tour dates in London are reported to have sold out in just twenty minutes, and somebody has enough faith in Reznor’s new album to give him top billing at the extremely important Coachella Music Festival, although it is true that nine inch nails concerts are by definition fucking brilliant, and that alone might be enough to ease any skepticism the Coachella promoters may feel. In any case, it will be very interesting to see what nine inch nails returns with in April.
Also appearing are lesser dieties Weezer, Wilco, The Faint, Fantomas, Josh Wink (who’s collaborated with Reznor before — another live duet, maybe?), Gang of Four, Roni Size, Junkie XL, M.I.A., and the great Dresden Dolls. It is my hope to see all these acts and to avail myself of the high content of underground hip-hop at this year’s festival. You know, so I can roll.
So thank you, O lord, for bestowing this concert lineup unto me, and for letting me get that hotel room fairly close and at a reasonable price.
Please, God, don’t let it suck.
And please don’t blow up my radiator again on the way out to the desert ok thnx God bye.