Somewhere under the Heathrow flight-path, Eugene Chadbourne, plump Professor Weeto lookalike, avant-grade country musician, and presumably the only banjo-playing socialist to ever try putting an electric guitar pickup in a rake, sings his chirpily offbeat song about people killing each other over land. Chadbourne’s output slaloms so wildly between almost traditional country and experimental improvised noise-jazz that it’s fully possible – especially given his proficiency on the guitar – that he’s playing the banjo badly because he likes the sound, rather than just not being very good at it.
Eugene Chadbourne albums habitually sound like they were recorded in a tin shed, and there’s a reasonable chance they were. That’s not a criticism. Septuagenarian drum-king Warren Smith provides pitter-pattering propulsion to Chadbourne’s fumbling banjo on ‘The People With Too Much’, the latter squeakily upbeat as he paints a prole’s-eye view of the mindless excess of the needlessly wealthy.
Hippedy-hop has all but lost its initial burning righteousness, its Chuck D holler, and prostrated itself before the tastelessly bejewelled, puddle-shallow gods of conspicuous consumption. There are some exceptions, of course, like left-wing Pan-Africanists Dead Prez and the brutally articulate Immortal Technique. But one of the most interesting new artists to have recently appeared and bucked the materially-fixated trend is the very differently political Frank Ocean. His debut album, Channel ORANGE, is a masterpiece-creation of alternative RnB, studded with subtle, socially-conscious vignettes rather than bludgeoning calls for revolution. The stark ‘Benny And The Jets’ piano throb that pulses under ‘Super Rich Kids’ perfectly complements Ocean’s wryly bleak meditation on the sad, empty lives lived by the offspring of the mindlessly wealthy. He doesn’t condemn them, although the track is an implicit condemnation of their hollow, emotionally-mangling way of life. Instead, he pities them, which is far more original.
When Paul Weller dissolved the Jam and started the Style Council, the death-defying stylistic leap was one many of his hard-core adherents would never forgive. The Jam were coarse and self-consciously proletarian, Weller’s rasping bark venting the frustrated ire of his generation. All this urban grit and rage and salt-of-the-earth authenticity, so one hoary old interpretation would have it, was sandblasted away when the Modfather capitulated, gave in to the silky, vacant sheen of yuppie-era consumerism and was swallowed up by the anodyne lift-muzak that scored that Thatcher decade. Obviously, this was an extremely selective oversimplification. Politically at least, Weller had done anything but sell out. It was The Jam, it’s very worth remembering, that started out being vocally Conservative, had voted for Thatcher in 1979, and patriotically draped themselves in the Union Jack – albeit in a calculated move to distinguish themselves from the legions of anti-establishment punk acts stomping around at the time. Continue reading
As an expression of pure political venom, Tramp the Dirt Down is unparalleled – and, obviously, controversial. Understandably, some find a song about stamping on an old lady’s grave somewhat distasteful, if not representing sickening extremism in the form of a pop single. For others, the fact that the old lady in question is Margaret Thatcher makes it entirely justified.
Wind-rippled Celtic serenity – uileann pipes and mandolin – turns distinctly eerie when the singing starts, Costello sounding variously dead-behind-the-eyes – ‘I saw a newspaper picture of a political campaign’ – sickly, mockingly sweet – ‘when England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam’ – and heavingly sincere ‘when – they – finally – put you in the ground’. Continue reading