ARTHUR RUSSELL: 24→24 MUSIC (1981)
1) #1 (You're Gonna Be Clean On Your Bean); 2) #5 (Go Bang!); 3) #2 (No, Thank You); 4) #7; 5) #3 (In The Corn Belt); 6) #6 (Get Set).
Technically, this record is credited to «Dinosaur L», but that was just one of the many fleeting monikers that Arthur Russell would use over his chaotic career; in reality, this is his first succesful attempt at putting out an LP — no mean feat, considering that he'd already been a major fixture on NYC's underground scene for more than half a decade by then. However, like quite a few other unfortunate souls, Russell suffered from acute perfectionism, which led to very sporadic releases — and, as it always happens with perfectionists, drastically imperfect ones.
Before this album, Arthur had already made a name for himself writing and recording several club hits in the disco vein, most notably 'Kiss Me Again' and 'Go Bang!' (the latter is actually included on the LP). The idea behind most of them was to get smart and turn disco into an art form, just like the Beatles managed to do with basic pop rock a decade earlier; in fact, another side project, «Loose Joints», headed by Russell in 1980, openly declared an intention to come up with a «disco White Album», but eventually had to eat shit —because «genius», per se, does not yield amazing product.
Still, while I'd never go as far as to claim that Arthur Russell had true «genius», one has to admit that 24→24 Music, an experimental 30-minute LP exploring the true power of disco rhythms, is disco the way you never heard it. For starters, its title is derived from the fact that each track undergoes a rhythmic/melodic shift every 24 bars. To my ears, that certainly is not the case, but it certainly is true that every single track undergoes several radical shifts as they go along — in stark contrast to the usual story with club disco grooves, stretched out to eternity so as to offer all sorts of dance opportunities.
Not that one couldn't dance to these tracks — on the contrary, the rhythm section makes it certain that the seven/eight-minute grooves continue uninterrupted. But as the beat goes on, in the background you virtually have a musical slide projector, incessantly shifting gears, from jazzy organ solos to R&B-ish brass explosions to funky, bluesy, or metallic guitar breaks, to strange and completely unpredictable vocal overdubs. And, sometimes, various combinations of all those. It's an odd melange of ideas, some of them mediocre, some fabulous, but all of them rushing before your eyes and ears way too quickly.
As a matter of fact, most of these ideas were improvised: Russell preprogrammed the beats, and his musician friends played whatever would be playable on top. If that idea sounds odd, it might actually seem odder that nobody really thought of it before — after all, disco is just a simplified, mechanized form of funk, and for a hot bunch of musicians to go «disco jamming» would hardly be a serious problem if they set out such a goal. On the other hand, the final product, with all these shifts and cuts (Russell must have worn out several pairs of scissors assembling the LP version), sounds anything but improvised.
Of course, the album falls into the unhappy category of «no-man's-land-records»: real disco fans would hardly bother with it because it was so weird (not to mention being so late: was anybody even buying regular disco stuff in 1981?), and regular music intellectuals would definitely not become attracted to the style just because some weirdo from Oskaloosa, Iowa had found a way to express his creative artistic nature through it. And, frankly, as much as I'd love to love this record just because it sounds so totally like nothing else... well, there just might be a good reason why everything else sounds nothing like it. If I want to dance (which I don't), I'd rather just choose one of those Donna Summer grooves. But if I don't want to dance... do I really have to spend my time counting out sequences of 24 bars for thirty minutes? Now there's a good question to ask Arthur Russell, if, by any chance, you die and meet him in Heaven before the end of the day.
Still, a thumbs up, if only for the masterfully hellish atmosphere set up on parts of '#6 (Get Set)', especially when the dry distorted glam-rock guitars start dueting with Sly Stone-style brass fanfares. Don't forget to turn the volume up when that bit comes along — it's as sleazy as classic mode R&B ever gets, and double sleazy if we remember that, at that very same time, Michael Jackson and Prince were dealing the final death blows to classic mode R&B.
Check "24-24 Music" (CD) on Amazon