Tuesday, May 31, 2005

M, I

Madonna- The Immaculate Collection

The singles, starting with ‘Holiday’ and running all the way through ‘Vogue’ (no one really counts ‘Justify My Love’ or ‘Rescue Me’ as singles, do they? The latter was a throwaway tack-on, and the former was a vehicle for a video that doubled as softcore porn).

No matter what’s said about Madonna- she doesn’t give a shit- the fact remains that she paved the way for the current state of pop music, and that no one, save perhaps Bowie, has changed styles on such a regular, successful basis. These songs are fairly inescapable, even now, and their ubiquity diminishes their weight, as ubiquity will do. Crazy songwriting and performance in a pre-digital era.

Madonna- Ray Of Light

Madonna is an interesting study because of her perpetual need for reinvention. When ‘Ray Of Light’ was released, there was all this hubbub about William Orbital, a credible if somewhat obscure techno dude helping her out with the production and everything, and the eponymous single was, well, pretty techno in and of itself- big and thumpin’, an instant favorite of the boys in tight shirts. So, based solely on the ‘Ray Of Light’ single (and, come to think of it, ‘Frozen,’ another one from this slab), it’s no surprise that the general public heard the record and chalked it up to another of the woman’s endless stream of metamorphoses. You know, ‘Madonna goes electro!’ or whatever.

That’s the version that’s easily gleaned from the signifiers thrown out in the singles. And, honestly, if this record was just that, just a techno re-invention, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good or interesting as it is. I’m no Madonna expert- I like the singles well enough and read the press, but don’t have a huge handle on her career after a certain point (say like 1993 or 4, when I was deep in the throes of goose-stepping around Portsmouth in a fundamentalist punk haze- Madonna wasn’t punk, despite Watt’s efforts to that effect).

Still, though, the electronica is just the surface of this album. She spends the whole time singing to her daughter, a time capsule for whenever little Lourdes is old enough to listen to and appreciate her mom’s stuff- a gift, an exact “where were you” that nails down a period of time when Madonna’s outlook and attitude changes visibly. It’s not for us, the listening public, that’s the cool thing. It’s for her and it’s for her kid. All that gets lost, veiled by the apparent new image, which turns out to just be window dressing. Sure, there are singles, but most of the songs that make up the body of this album probably wouldn’t sound as good outside of the context of the other tunes that make up its running order, a testament to cohesiveness and focus.

Make*Up- Destination: Love Live! At Cold Rice


If YOU’RE DOWN WITH NATION OF ULYSSES/WANT TO GIVE THE MAKE*UP A FREE PASS:

You’ve got to appreciate the whole re-invention of Ian Svenonious. Nation of Ulysses propelled him into the spotlight: they were an act that dressed in suits when they played their frenetic blasts of barely reined-in punk, all buttressed by band literature that read like party propaganda- revolutionary stuff that urged listeners to drink more coffee and give each other hickeys to fuck with the man. After the Nation folded, Svenonious started the Make*Up, a slickly dressed ‘gospel yeh yeh’ band that did garage-y rock with a dash of soul, a little organ. Ian acts as the minister, calling out to the band, who respond like they’re parishioners:

“Make Up?”
“Yes, Ian?”
“Are you ready?”
“YEAH!”

The Svenonious shriek, impossibly high-pitched, is in full effect. Amazingly entertaining and innovative stuff, especially live, where the call-and-response pays off handsomely as the crowd gets drawn into the spectacle of the band and their thing. It’s cool, funny, and, most importantly, makes the band easily transcend the performer/audience barrier by getting everyone involved, having a good time. All amazingly catchy, convincingly retro, and a whole lot of fun.

IF YOU’RE ALL SET WITH NATION OF ULYSSES/THINK THE MAKE*UP IS A CROCK OF SHIT:

Whatever, dude. The whole ’13 Point Plan’ was a bunch of hooey that didn’t mean shit to begin with- drinking coffee and giving hickeys to incite revolution? Yeah, how about ‘pretending to be something you’re not to get your band more attention’? Vaguely worded claptrap that never meant anything to anyone but suckers. Then the Make*Up were just as stupid, except worse- they called themselves a ‘gospel’ band, a pandering attempt to make the kids think they were hipper than they actually were by associating themselves with something cool-sounding that no one in ‘the scene’ knew about (just like how no one in the scene knew about revolutionary politics, let’s face it. Even the kids with Crass albums; especially not the Nation of fucking Ulysses).

The whole call-and-response thing is contrived and pretentious- no one really thinks that that shit is spontaneous, do they? And, for that matter, does anyone really think that this ‘live’ album was recorded at an actual show? Bullshit! All of the crowd noise, the emcee, between-song banter- fake, dubbed in later to make the shitty production values sound more ‘live’. Spend the money and record a decent album already, fuckers! Gotta quote my roommate here Dave and say that this weak-ass bullshit is the reason why people hate everything about Washington D.C.- limp dick theatrics and utter pretense can’t save an awful band from itself.

CHECK ONE:

______ They ruled.
______ They sucked.

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