DJ Shadow is someone whom I continually find frustratingly uneven; so much of his work feels self-indulgent and lacking the presence and beat that I want from it, and then he’ll turn out something like this, one of the lead-in tracks from his 2011 album The Less You Know, The Better. There’s a freshness and simplicity to this song that always appeals, a sound that sounds under-produced and almost live-to-tape despite being constructed entirely from samples, combined with a lyric that’s at once lovelorn and funny. “I’ve been trying/To get you to love me/I’ve been trying/To get you to care/Put forth a lot of effort,” the unnamed vocalist complains, sounding as if it’s been a chore trying to woo his unrequited beloved, the unspoken sense of “C’mon, you owe me” just under the surface.
Add to that the more produced parts of the song – By the time the flute enters around 1:51, I am always inexplicably reminded of Hall and Oates; I wish I could understand why – and this becomes a wonderfully unexpected comedy track of sorts, set off with the “Hi, kitten. This one’s for you” smarmy sample that comes in just before the vocal begins. When Shadow is on – and it feels as if he’s definitely on in this song, which works on multiple levels – he can be fantastic. I just wish he was on more often.
And here’s to reworking/detourning advertising jingles. DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s Product Placement is a really enjoyable album, fucking around with found material created to sell you things and turning it into something that’s as much commentary on that as it is music in its own right. From that, “The Real Thing” is likely my favorite track; it’s actually one of the more straightforward mash-ups on the album, just two different versions of “It’s The Real Thing,” the most famous one by the New Seekers and the genuinely amazing Ivor Raymonde Orchestra one from the early 1970s. For the most part, the Raymonde Orchestra version carries the whole thing, and you can understand why when you listen to the original:
Seriously, how great is that? Cheesy, yes, but just awesome. Listen to that drum break at 2:16!
For completeness, here’re the New Seekers:
That has a charm in itself, doesn’t it…? With those ingredients, how could any musical cake fail to be delicious? Much tastier than Coke, that’s for sure.
For some reason, I remember this being the soundtrack of the year of my Masters degree, or at the least the end thereof. I’m not sure if history actually agrees with me on that; I suspect it may have been released after that year of weirdness and discomfort was over, but I don’t want to ruin things with reality by checking. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… was a frustrating album for me, in large part because it didn’t have the ADD kineticism and intensity of this song all the way through – Although part of me wonders how listenable an album it would’ve been if it had – but this remains the one DJ Shadow track that will forever justify his entire career for me. I adore this track, with its single-minded purpose to make you want to shake your butt and the off-kilter way it goes around making sure that happens.
Also spectacular: Cut Chemist’s remix, which adds more old-school R&B (especially those horns):