A Flaming Lips concert is a cynicism-free zone. With cynicism-free zones becoming increasingly endangered, if you should ever have the chance to see a Lips show, you should definitely jump on it. They have a great light show. Also, confetti and balloons like you’ve never seen. But mostly, what they have is a collective faith that all you need is love. All you need is love, an open mind, faith in humanity, some LSD and a shit-ton of balloons. That kind of positive spirit must be hard to hold on to, as artist and as a person, over decades, but the Flaming Lips have managed to stay weird, in the best possible way.
1998 wasn’t ready for Belle & Sebastian. They were too uncool and Scottish for 90’s Cool Britannia, and you couldn’t sell Americans on literary allusions, references to French pop culture, verbose Morrissey-esque song titles, or tunes without a hook or chorus. An Arab strap, as it happens, is another word for cockring, which may actually have been the only thing about the third Belle & Sebastian album that could have been used to stir up some hype, except that Stuart Murdoch claimed that he hadn’t even known the sexual reference. Today, of course, all of the above are #mood #aesthetic #softgrunge etc. and totally on-point for a generation too clever for pop but too sensitive to listen to loud music. In short, this album was way ahead of the curve for its time.
I usually don’t try to include too many songs in languages I’m not at least somewhat familiar with. Because, obviously, I don’t know what they’re about to talk about them. The lack of context and understanding isn’t conducive to critical discussion, but it should not be a barrier to enjoyment. That’s why I’m putting up more Rail Band songs. Because I’ve really been enjoying this record, and more people need to get on board. Even people with a wide range of tastes within their own culture may feel alienated by music in a strange language from a culture they know nothing about, but music by artists like Salif Keita should be beyond language barriers. If anything, this music makes plain how much in common is shared by cultures all over the world. Keita grew up listening to postwar Latin Jazz, which was wildly popular in parts of Africa, while learning to play traditional music of Mali. The combination of Malian music and jazz is just the same music coming full circle after slowly evolving as it moved around the globe over the course of centuries.
This has become an iconic music video, which even I can remember catching glimpses of on MTV. That was when Moby was, somehow and against all odds, a major pop star who got to shoot videos with Gwen Stefani. Although what everyone now remembers from the video is the image of Stefani licking Moby’s shiny bald dome (repulsive or wish fulfill-ey, dependent on your viewpoint) it was supposed to be a parody of the gaudy millennial celebrity culture that Stefani was the epitome of at the time. Those were some crazy times, when pop stars and rappers flounced around dressed like outlet mall hoes and pimps, and cellular phones were the height of luxury. Moby, of course, had no semblance of a ghetto pass, even at his coolest, and the whole point of the song was that he would very likely get murdered if he went joyriding in the South Side of Chicago. He also would never unironically shoot a video with champagne and dancers in a hot rod and his name spelled out in marquee lights. Hence, at the very end, the jar of “Moby Mayo”. If this was today, we would feel compelled to unpack what it is, exactly, that’s being made fun of, and why, two or three degrees of context in, it’s at the very least problematic to be doing so. Don’t they know that the display of conspicuous consumerism associated with hip-hop videos is actually a subversion of racist cultural expectations of economic disparity? But nobody talked like that in 1999, and the products of terminal-stage MTV were very much ripe for a little gentle ribbing.
I have no idea how I happened to stumble upon this particular album by Rail Band ( aka Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako if you’re nasty) but I certainly know who Salif Keita is, and his years with Rail Band are just part of his legacy bringing Malian musicianship to the rest of the world. The group has been active, in a variety of lineups, since 1970, and are known for blending Malian griot and other traditional musical styles with jazz and Latin influences. What we think of as “world music” really is, literally, world music; as more and more people resettle and form diasporic communities so their cultures influence and take from the host cultures. A musical collective like the Rail Band brings together the cultures of dozens of people over the years, with different interests and backgrounds, forming a new tradition.
I just realized that I haven’t listened to Angelique Kidjo in a very long time. Like, almost a year. And I wonder why. She has been one of my favorites ever since I first grabbed one of her promo discs at my local record store, back in analog times. I grabbed it because I like her look on the cover. After I listened to it, I went on a mission to purchase as many of her albums as I could find. I actually had all of her albums on CD at one point, back when that was a pretty impressive achievement. So that’s pretty much part of the soundtrack of my early 20’s right there. I can’t say how much her tunes and positive vibes have made me happy. I need to relisten to every one of those records.
If that title is incomprehensible to you, well, it’s British slang, innit. Drug slang, to be right proper. Ecstasy and speed, which you have to be all sorted out for, when you’re off to a rave. The delightful part is that this song caused controversy when it was released as a single, with an op-ed in the Daily Mirror calling for a ban and much brow-furrowing about its alleged “pro-drug” message. Such was the outcry that Pulp actually acquiesced to to changing the design of their album art to make it appear less “pro-drug”, while reassuring the public that the message was, if you listened the song at all, decidedly anti-drug. Which just shows how the British press could still, as of 1995, happily get their own and lot of other people’s knickers all knotted up over the alleged content of an utterly innocuous pop song, something they – the British press – have a longstanding reputation for.