This was my first exposure to Outkast; I’m pretty sure I heard it somewhere on Radio 1, and was entirely blown away by it; soon after, “Miss Jackson” came out and I was hilariously put off by it. Even now, it seems depressingly weak after this, and too much of a sop towards mainstream tastes and singalong styles. Quite where my prejudices come from, I have no idea.
(I seem to remember, but could be wrong, that this song was banned from the BBC following the Iraq war in 2002; it’s possible I’m getting that mixed up with the earlier blanket ban on anything by the band Bomb The Bass during the 1990s Iraq War, for similar “Don’t say bomb!” reasons.)
Outkast’s Idlewild album, ostensibly the soundtrack to their movie of the same name, was depressingly uneven and a disappointment considering the hidden gem that the movie itself is. But Andre 3000’s various contributions to the endeavor, rooting further into a particularly American musical tradition that his earlier massive “Hey Ya!”, were well worth paying attention to. “Y’all know about the blues, don’tcha?” he asks at one point in “Idlewild Blue,” and it’s kind of amazing to think that this song’s very structured, syncopated version of the traditional blues riffs (both musical – listen to that guitar – and lyrical, with the whole “I live a life/But it just ain’t mine” posturing) might actually be their introduction to the blues. If so, it’s an easy entry point; the doo-woppy backing vocals and upbeat detournment of the downbeat genre sweeten what the blues have to offer, but still give enough of a taste of what the blues are to tease the ears of those who get it. After hearing this, there’s a lot of temptation to wish for a straight-up blues song from Andre, just to hear what he’d bring to it.
As part of my dream last night, I dreamt that there was another new Gorillaz song to accompany this one – a truly wonderful, can’t-keep-yourself-still-when-you-listen, collaboration between Damon Albarn, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Andre 3000, whose contribution is just blindingly awesome (“New word: onomatopoeia” indeed, before he goes on to rap using onomatopeic verses. Seriously, holy crap), and something that might be the final Gorillaz release ever, given the apparent falling out between Albarn and partner Jamie Hewlett. If it is, it’s a great way to go out, all blips and blops and something that shouldn’t work at all, but does, gloriously… Kind of like the project in general, really.
(The new song in my dream sounded great, although I can’t remember what it sounded like now, of course.)
Bonus: The full 13 minute version of “Do Ya Thing,” which has never been officially released but is worth it just for Andre’s freeform craziness.
But comic book fans need to feel perpetually beleaguered and disenfranchised, marginalized by phantom elites who want to confiscate their hard-won pleasures. And this resentment — which I have a feeling I’m provoking more of here — finds its way into the stories themselves, expressed either as glowering self-pity or bullying machismo. There are exceptions: Mark Ruffalo’s soulful Hulk (though not Eric Bana’s or Edward Norton’s); most of the X-Men. But even that crew of mutant misfits turned protectors of humanity exists in a circumscribed imaginative space.
The fates laugh at my promise to have “stuff tomorrow, really,” from yesterday. Today was crazy busy, and I managed to be 30 minutes late for both meet-ups with friends I had. Normal service will apparently be resumed soonish, I can only hope.
You’re thinking “Is this the first day Graeme has missed a 366 Songs entry in awhile? He was doing so well!” To which I, sadly, have to reply “Yes, it is, and yes, I was.” What can I say? Time was not on my side today, despite what Mick Jagger might have you believe; it’s the kind of day when I just want to sit down and let my brain unfurl for a few hours. Stuff tomorrow, really.
(* If you’re Dylan Meconis, you’re possibly also thinking “If you don’t come into Periscope tomorrow, I will hunt you down and kill you with my eyes.” I will! Honest!)
In the end, it didn’t really fit into the piece, and I suspected that certain Marvel bodies would’ve taken offense at it, giving me hassle that I didn’t really need or want. But, you know, I’d written it so here it is.
“Marvel didn’t pay Kirby for The Avengers idea?” I find myself saying. “The idea that a bunch of pre-existing work-for-hire characters could continue existing together? What jerks, not predicting in 1963 that kids’ disposable pulp heroes would be worth billions of dollars half a century later and cutting their employee in for money they could have kept for themselves. The bums.”
This is one of those “What? I can’t even, I mean, whuh? Really” things. I can get not necessarily joining protests against publishers for their shabby treatment of the people who created the intellectual property that made the company literally hundreds of billions of dollars, but I really don’t get this new “You’re surprised by that? You clearly don’t know how the world works. I have disdain for you” mindset that seems to be emerging in response.
For all that “Only A Northern Song” devolves into aimless free jazz noodling and one of George Harrison’s most dirgy melodies (I think it’s really his particularly flat vocal that makes it feel that way; it almost sounds as if it was recorded and then slowed down, oddly enough), there are two things that make his song worth keeping on your digital music device of choice. The lyrics, obviously, are one; somewhere between sarcastic good natured ribbing and bitter meanness about the Lennon/McCartney dominance of the band’s songwriting chores (“Northern Songs” being the publishing company that took care of songs by the two during their Beatles output, for those who didn’t make the connection through the lyrics alone). Suddenly, lines like “If you’re listening to this song/You may think the chords are going wrong/But they’re not/He just wrote them like that” and the much more bitter “It doesn’t really matter what chords I play/What words I say or time of day it is/When it’s only a Northern Song” make a little more sense, right…?
Less meta and more groovy is the second reason: Listen to that spectacular opening.
Man, work that organ. Both of Harrison’s original contributions to the Yellow Submarine soundtrack have this same thing going on: Unworked, somewhat ramshackle songs with absolutely blinding openings. And as great as “Only A Northern Song” is, I’m seriously not sure if many other Beatles song had an opening quite as wonderful as “It’s All Too Much”:
“Ebeneezer Goode” was a ridiculously big hit in the UK in 1992, staying number one for four weeks despite the tabloid press managing to work themselves into an outraged lather over the drug references in the song; it’s quite clearly a song about ecstasy – The chorus, after all, goes “‘Eezer Goode/’Eezer Goode/He’s Ebeneezer Goode” the first part of which translates/is heard as “Es are good/Es are good” – but it’s not just a “Neck ’em and have a good time!” one, considering the “A gentleman of leisure, he’s there for your pleasure/But go easy on old ‘Eezer, he’s the love you could lose/Extraordinary fella, like Mister Punchinella/He’s the kind of geezer who must never be abused” verse. That turnaround may get lost in the horrific dayglo singalong of the rest of the song, though; this is very proudly from the period where “rave crossover” meant “8-bit meets Casio meets childish” (Anyone else remember “Charley”? Aieee).
Listening to this for the first time in decades – It’s twenty years old, and I don’t think I’ve heard it in at least fifteen years – what jumps out is how close this is to Britpop, and especially Blur’s earlier stuff. It’s the storytelling aspect, the creation of a character through which to address a different topic. Once you get past the way this song sounds, there’s really not that much difference between “Ebeneezer Goode” and “Colin Zeal” or “Ernold Same.” I wonder if either the Shamen or Blur ever really made that connection themselves, and if they did, whether either party felt guilty about it.
For those playing along at home, there’re a couple of pop cultural steals in here worth noting. The opening “A great philosopher once said…” is Malcolm McDowell, from If…, and if the dirty laugh isn’t Sid James from the Carry On movies, then it’s someone doing a Sid James impression.