Thursday, August 02, 2007

Stuff, 07/02
Click on a link, put a dime in my cup.

The Knife - Silent Shout (Deluxe Edition)

I freely admit to the fact that I "slept" on these guys, long past the point where I probably should have given them a fairer shake. The fact is, I had a promo copy of Silent Shout sitting on my shelf for over a year before I even listened to it all the way through. The first time I tried to listen to the Knife, sometime last summer, I was so immediately and violently repulsed by the weird vocal processing they use for just about every track that I immediately dismissed them, despite the hype and despite the weighty critical claim. To my ears it sounded silly, hysterically weird and totally unfortunate.

Well, it still sounds a bit silly. I'm of two minds about it: on the one hand, it's off-putting for the very real reason that it seems almost like they're not really taking things seriously. As if the whole thing is somehow beneath them so they're just "taking the piss", laughing at the same audience they're supposedly entertaining. I think, especially when you look at their elaborate stage presentation, there is more than a little bit of the much-maligned "electroclash" in their genes, in particular the consciously daft performance art approach of Fischerspooner.

But the thing is, Fischerspooner were horrid. They admitted as much, really, when they said on numerous occasions that their songs took a decided back seat to their show. The crucial difference here is that the Knife have some really good songs as well as a really good grasp of what works and doesn't work in the world of sinister synth-pop. There's a bit of Tears For Fears, some 80s Genesis (yay for Invisible Touch), a tiny dash of Underworld and a heaping dollop of Violator-era Depeche Mode. The new Deluxe Edition adds both a live CD and a bonus DVD with the same live set and all their videos to date. Considering how much of the group's appeal is based on their presentation, it's a fairly essentially supplement, as these things go. But it wouldn't be worth much if the songs weren't worth hearing, and in this instance the songwriting is more than a match for the visual presentation. I'm always skeptical - justifiably so, I believe - of bands that place such a weighty premium on their visual presentation, but with the Knife you definitely get the feeling that the songs aren't simply an excuse to dress up in funny costumes.

The Manic Street Preachers - Send Away The Tigers

Finally the Manics have another US record deal, with Sony subsidiary Red Ink. It's funny, the Manic Street Preachers have been one of the biggest bands in the world for over a decade, but they still can't get arrested in the States - their last album wasn't even released here. Maybe now that they've got another label here they'll go back and give us a proper release for Lifeblood, hmm?

Anyway, if you're expecting something in the mold of Lifeblood, you'll probably be disappointed here: the order of the day is mostly a return to the loud guitars of their earliest recordings. That is not to say a return to their punkish mode, a la "Found That Soul" - Send Away The Tigers is glammy like Gold Against the Soul, with some of the later albums' more elegant and developed songwriting intact. First single "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough" features a guest vocal by Nina Persson of the Cardigans. I had never really paid much attention to her before but there's something almost hypnotic about her voice here. I think I might pick up some Cardigans one of these days.

They do get a few demerits for the cover of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" tacked on as a hidden track: I hate solo Lennon, and I really don't understand why people continue to idolize his post-Beatles work so much. Oh, wait, yes I do: he's dead. Well, fuck, if Paul McCartney had died in 1980 instead of John, you'd all be wetting yourself over Wings at the Speed of Sound instead of Plastic Ono Band. And if I ever have to sit through another turgid, insipid cover of "Imagine", I am gonna go nuts and strangle some geese or something.

Mozart - Requiem (Morton Schuldt-Jensen, conductor)

I was in the mood to hear Mozart's Requiem the other day, and it just so happens that the Barnes & Noble near the Target in Holyoke has an extremely awesome classical selection. Pleasant surprise! I've never been let down by the Naxos label and this 2004 recording is no exception to that rule. I am always surprised by how lopsided the Requiem is when I hear it - it always seems to me as if the climax comes too early. Perhaps this is a reflection of the piece's somewhat piecemeal origins - I am sure a PhD musicologist could tell me exactly. But it's more interesting to me to see how the piece begins big and seems to end on a much more subtle note than the listener would instinctively expect. Again, it's always a temptation with this piece to try and parse exactly where Mozart ends and Süssmayr begins - but I think its best for us amateurs resist that temptation. The slightly dissonant stylistic shifting gives the piece some of its character, at least from where I sit. Not perhaps my favorite piece, probably not even my favorite Mozart piece, but it always commands my interest.

Garbage - Absolute Garbage (Deluxe Edition)

And from Mozart to Garbage - no editorializing intended, folks. I admit that I ordered this album almost solely based on the strength of the remixers available on the deluxe edition's second disc - Massive Attack, Jagz Kooner, UNKLE and Felix Da Housecat, to name just a few. (There's also remix by - ugh - the Crystal Method, but you can't win 'em all.) But to my surprise I found myself listening to the first disc, the "hits", a lot more than the remixes. I always forget how much I like what Garbage does. It's not exactly rocket science, but they've got a tight lock on the whole post-grunge pop industrial sound. I was also surprised by how strong the later material was - tracks like "Cherry Lips" and "Why Do You Love Me" may have been released long past the point where the band could rely on any serious airplay, and consequently I was not very familiar with them, but they're easily as strong than the more familiar likes of "Stupid Girl" or "Special". (No comment on the rather facile lyrics on early tracks like "Vow"). I probably wouldn't have taken the plunge if the set hadn't been heavily discounted - $12 is a great price for two discs - but in any event I am glad I did, and may just be inspired to go back and fill in some of the gaps later.

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