If ‘spinning away’ means some kind of head trip, Cale and Eno will take you there. Brian Eno is the kind of superproducer whose projects all tie into one big visionary web. John Cale is the antithesis of a superproducer; everything he works on is oddball, weird and obscure. Together, they’re a dream team. I can hardly think of another collaborative album where two very different aesthetics meld so seamlessly together. (Except of course, for the records Eno made with David Byrne.) This is psychedelic electropop that was far ahead of the curve in 1990, but it sounds right at home next to all of today’s indie darlings.
Mark Ronson is a superproducer known for having a hand in some of the most memorable records of the past 20 years. (He helped launch the careers of Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Adele, among other luminaries.) His work as a solo artist hasn’t made much of an impression on me up until now. A producer’s job is to make others shine their brightest, not to have a sparkling personality of their own, and a producer’s album is usually only as good as its guest stars. However, I really enjoyed last year’s Late Night Feelings. Not least because it features a stellar collection of guest stars, from Angel Olsen to Miley Cyrus. I liked the general theme of loneliness and heartache – what Ronson describes as “sad bangers” – and the woozy, lowtempo atmosphere. I smell a divorce and/or midlife crisis behind these songs, and it makes it feel more intimate the usual ‘bunch of stars jamming together’ producer vanity record. The guest vocalist in this case is Ilsey, who is also a songwriter and producer who specializes in making other people’s records better.
There hasn’t been a more oddball success story than Ween; they’re two weirdos who started out making tapes in their basement and somehow became beloved cult icons. When they say they’re going to play a blues song, you can expect a grown man singing “Am I gonna see God, Mommy?” in a baby voice while the audience sings along. It’s the kind of a ‘you hadda be there’ in-joke that unites fans and leaves normal people confusticated. Normal people would say that songs like this one, or The HIV Song, or Buenas Tardes Amigo, are ill-advised and maybe kind of offensive and definitely, definitely not-funny. Not to mention the disappointment of all the record buyers who were duped into purchasing this record by the schmexy cover (deemed less “politically incorrect” than the gay cowboy design the Weeners originally came up with – my, how the times have changed.) Those fine upstanding normal people probably expected to find some good old-fashioned mindless jams about drinking and dancing, not the distorted cries of some weirdo pretending to be a terminally ill child for the lulz of it. Which is exactly why Ween served as a meme-factory for like-minded weirdos in the pre-meme wasteland of the 1990’s.
The cover art of Roxy Music’s Manifesto says it all: a scene of confetti-strewn revelry that turns out, on closer inspection, to be comprised entirely of window mannequins. That’s how a lot of people grow to view their lives after a few years of rock star excess. Never has Bryan Ferry sounded so weary, and striking jaded poses is his shtick. He envisions an empty ballroom, presumably paved with discarded champagne corks, and no smooth siren in sight to redeem all those sleepless hours. What a sad way to end the night, dancing alone after your own party.
This may be my favorite thing that Moby has done in his post-18 years. It is, if you didn’t pay attention listening, an ode to The Spiders From Mars, and as such it touches my sentimental buttons. We are so very much in need of a space messiah, and if Moby thought we were in need of him in 2005, he didn’t know what we were all in for. For one thing, we still had David Bowie in 2005. Now we really don’t have much hope for anything at all anymore. We have to be our own Spiders, I guess.
Cage the Elephant has been getting better and better. When they started out they seemed like they’d formed a band because they’d heard a Raconteurs record. But they quickly grew out of that comparison. They’ve become one of the best guitar bands, full stop. Quirky and smart guitar rock is one of the most endangered genres right now, and it’s become rare to hear rock songs that have a spirit and vitality reminiscent of sixties music without aping it chord for chord. This is, of course, the kind of growth that comes from years and years of dedicated work, of writing and performing and recording, sometimes to great acclaim and sometimes to deaf ears. It’s a long term relationship between an artist and their work and their fans.
I discovered the Flaming Lips in the early 2000’s, like a lot of people, and I though they were at least a relatively new band. The Soft Bulletin was one the first Lips records I went out and bought. I had no idea that it was actually their ninth album, and it wasn’t even their big mainstream breakthrough. It took them two decades of being obscure weirdos that nobody except indie record store geeks listened to, to become a band that normal people listened to at parties. I think about that a lot. It is, obviously, a teachable moment about trusting in the journey and whatever, but mostly I think about how cultural tides change over time, allowing people to have their moment who would never had had a moment before. Sometimes very few people want to hear what you have to say, and sometimes everyone does.