ARTHUR RUSSELL: THE WORLD OF ARTHUR RUSSELL (2004)
1) Go Bang (Dinosaur L); 2) Wax The Van (Lola); 3) Is It All Over My Face (Loose Joints); 4) Keeping Up; 5) In The Light Of The Miracle; 6) A Little Lost; 7) Pop Your Funk (Loose Joints); 8) Let's Go Swimming; 9) In The Cornbelt (Dinosaur L); 10) Treehouse; 11) Schoolbell/Treehouse (Indian Ocean).
Combing the archives and separating «what looks to have been almost finished» from «what looks to have been barely started» is an entertaining occupation, but what the world really needed was a comprehensive compilation of stuff that Russell had managed to officially release back in the good old days, under a variety of different monikers — stuff that earned him his reputation in the first place. Most of it only came out as singles (highly collectible by now) or scattered tracks on «various artists» releases.
The aptly titled World Of Arthur Russell is not fully comprehensive; it covers most of the directions and projects Russell was involved in throughout the 1980s, but never exhaustively (for instance, of the three songs released by the «superproject» Loose Joints, only two are included here). Nevertheless, it is a good starting place to get to know the man in both of his most important incarnations: the «thinking man's dance-pop wizard» and the «echoey cello romantic». Some have lodged complaints about the final product sounding quite disjointed, but, heck, it's a compilation, not a rock opera: feel free to re-join it any way you want.
Rhythmic grooves dominate the record, which is not surprising, since rhythmic grooves were Russell's main means of earning his living. And, starting with arguably his best-known track, 'Go Bang' (originally released as «Dinosaur L»; different mix here from the one used on 24→24 Music), and ending with the electronic bongo showcase 'Schoolbell' (a collaboration with Peter Zummo from around 1986), they all share more or less the same ideology, despite being very different from a technical point of view. It is as if Russell managed to see the worst flaw of disco and post-disco music — the «robotization» of sound, the replacement of the «living and breathing groove» by the formally impeccable, but spiritually meaningless mechanic techniques and technologies — and decided to turn it upside down by multiplying and diversifying his own robots.
I cannot even say that I like any of these tracks — but I am impressed by each and every one of them. Listen to 'Wax The Van', a 1987 collaboration between Arthur and singer Lola Blank. The rhythm section is trivial, with the bass line sounding like something you'd hear on a generic Eighties Eurocrap album. The singer sounds like a parody on early Kate Bush. The cheap Casio lines are... cheap. The minimalistic electric piano solo at the end of the song has been done many times before. But taken together, all these elements mutate into one single mega-odd entity. You can think of it in a variety of ways — music of the future, ahead of its time by two thousand light years; psychological bait, paving the way for mindless kids at the disco to plunge into more complex music; reflection of the soul state of a deeply troubled, insecure person etc. But whichever particular way you prefer, there is no denying the bravery of this and other experiments — here was a guy who, instead of choosing a safe (but boring) career in modern classical, intentionally penetrated the dumbest of all spheres of pop, and infused it with a creative avantgarde spirit.
I mean, much of this sounds like «parody» (the «sleazy» 'Pop Your Funk' is the most glaring example), but I am not even sure if humor and satire were ever present on Arthur's mind while writing and producing this material. «Sexy» dance-pop frequently borders on unintentional self-parody by itself, and putting all these flourishes on the style cannot help but make it funny. However, that is not the main point. The main point is that thirteen minutes of 'In The Light Of The Miracle' are like an insane «dance-prog» epic, where Latin percussion rhythms, ambient synth landscapes, tricky interweaving vocal harmonies à la Gentle Giant, and dissonant avantgarde cello passages all coexist in a state of mathematically justified psychedelia.
Whenever you are ready to take a break from this befuddling mix of weirdness and banality, Russell's sensitive side is here for you, with nice, accessible versions of 'Keeping Up' and 'A Little Lost' that remind us of how exactly the guy missed a successful career in romantic balladeer-ism. And the brief two-minute version of 'Treehouse' echoes World Of Echo, reminding us of how exactly the guy used to undermine all the LPs released during his lifetime with «unlistenable» production technologies, palatable only for those select few who spend half of their lives training their ears to orgasm at the sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten.
In brief — yep, this here is one truly eclectic collection, although it certainly does not open up the entire world of Arthur Russell. But it is definitely the place to start for the uninitiated person. If you do not get interested in anything beyond 'Go Bang' and 'Wax The Van', it is also the place to end; but if the «quiet» and «echoey» side of Arthur intrigues you as much as his dance side, by all means, go on to World Of Echo and Another Thought. In the meantime, this is the easiest, even if not at all «heart-friendly», thumbs up in his entire catalog.
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