By Sarah Smylie and Jeremy Mathews
Trip hop’s oldest mastermind, Massive Attack, released its newest confection 100th Window on Feb. 11, and for those of you up to date on the trip-hop scene, its much awaited arrival falls short. For such a new sound, trip hop may have played out of its opportunities—that or Massive Attack is out of new ideas.
Trip hop was formed out of a reaction to stoic pop music, combining subdued beats, electronica, dub, instrumentals and minimal vocals. It is also a hybrid cousin of the New-Age garbage and hip-hop beats. While the sound as a genre is hard to describe, the best music released in the last decade has been trip hop, from DJ shadow to DJ Krush to Portishead to My Bloody Valentine to Tricky to Bjork. Each album contributed to the forging of a slow hypnotic sound, a sound that has now become interconnected to electronica.
Massive Attack was among the founders of trip hop, known for its landmark albums Mezzanine and Protection. These albums seemed impressionable, radiating a kind of interconnectedness and brevity that shaped the sound of trip hop. Massive Attack is also known for its collaborative efforts and deep history within the music industry, which is fitting to the music, which is eclectic and innovative. Yet for 100th Window, featuring Sinead O’Connor and Horace Andy, its production and overall mood is tainted with a nostalgic familiarity, trying to recreate what the sound has done in the past. The result is a polished, sentimentality brandished with stylish back beats overcast by O’Connor’s almost unbearable preaching voice, as in “Special Cases.”
It seems that in the effort to do something
meaningful, something with a clear objective, projecting a sort of depressed
hope, Massive Attack has missed its mark, landing directly in the minefield
of empathetic overindulgence. And though musically 100th Window is another
facet of trip hop, it seems to have lost its backbone, its nonchalance,
its ambition and directed itself toward the corner store where they
only sell washed-up bald women and cajoled, excessive lyrics.
Fuzzy Warbles (The Demo Archives)
Fuzzy Warbles (The Demo Archives)
Down in every musician’s archive lurks a demo collection that could become an indispensable release that opens a window to a fruitful career—or it could be an indulgent collection of low-quality versions of previously released songs. Fortunately, the first two volumes of Andy Partridge of XTC’s ambitious 10-part Fuzzy Warbles series fall in to the indispensable category.
Partridge, long-time frontman of innovative Brit-pop legends XTC, decided that, since bootlegs of XTC demos have been floating around for years, he might as well offer top-quality recordings and make some money from it with his own label, APE (Andy Partridge Experiments). A quick listen makes it clear why rabid fans collect these recordings so fervently—because Partridge really is a god.
Partridge’s terminably witty lyrics, catchy pop hooks and brilliant arrangements are already in place when he records his sketches, which range from quick guitar-and-vocal numbers to fully produced material that’s ready to be on an album.
Some of the songs in the compilations were later recorded for mass consumption, like the primitive versions of “Complicated Game” from 1979’s Drums and Wires and “All of a Sudden” from 1982’s English Settlement and the already-hashed-out versions of “Then She Appeared” and “That Wave” from 1991’s Nonsuch. Five of the 19 songs on the first volume and six of the 18 songs on the second disc are versions of previously heard recordings, leaving plenty of room for the real treasures: the unreleased songs.
While a few of the songs are simply Partridge joking around or making a reggae-style answering machine message for his brother in-law, many of the songs are stellar, album-quality material. These include pop gems like “I Don’t Want to be Here” (Vol. 2) and “Wonder Annual” (Vol. 1), which is about the joy of watching his wife masturbate.
Two more highlights are numbers Partridge wrote for the animated musical “James and the Giant Peach,” which weren’t used because, as Partridge tells it in the informative liner notes, Disney only wanted to pay him $30,000 with no future royalties. Listening to the quiet, sweet, infectious “Everything’ll Be Alright,” all I can say is “Pay the man.”
While the XTC virgin would be better
to start with a cohesive studio album, like the perfect pop of English
Settlement and Skylarking (1986) or the rocking Black Sea (1980), those
already addicted to XTC’s sound will get a nice fix from Fuzzy Warbles.