The Final Part
Shop Around Ö part 52.
Thereís an irony here somewhere when the charts are full of awful singer/songwriters. Iím sitting (or rather sort of somehow dancing around the room) with Volume 2 of Buzziní Fly on in the background. Now this is a Ben Watt mix ≠ ďreplenishing music for the modern soulĒ. Itís not what Iíd listen to all the time, but it works for me as a snapshot of the best in house music. And I still love the idea of Ben championing this underground music.

The highlights of the compilation (perhaps blasphemously for purists) are Benís own works, where there are spoken word contributions. Of particular note is our Estelle (part of that pop, grimy, hip hop, ríníb wave with Shystie and Gemma Fox, and we are desperately awaiting future developments after such flying starts) reading 'Pop A Cap', which I hope is part of a mooted magnum opus featuring others like Robert Forster.

It is this kind of bravura and extravagant thinking we should be encouraging. So what if we fall spectacularly on our faces? I love the spoken word in pop. I love the absurd. I love that new Fiery Furnaces set, Rehearsing My Choir, because popís not been this grand in such a long time. I picked up a promo copy out of curiosity, and love it madly. Never heard them before, though had been intrigued. But the Friedberger brother and sister combination, with a song suite based on and performed by their venerable grandmother, is irresistible. The language is exquisitely poetic, and the instrumentation is imposing, like a magic toyshop erupting in anarchy with everyone and everything contributing to a glorious racket. The closest thing I can think of is Pere Ubu and David Thomas, the Mirror Man work, and indeed the grandmother sounds scarily like David Thomas. Itís completely disorientating and daft and divine.

It is this whole thing of sitting down and coming up with an absurdly ambitious big idea, and seeing it through, that fascinates me, when the converse is a dull group plodding on and every now and then just getting enough songs together to put out and ponderously promote. Give me the likes of living legend Mike Watt who came up with the idea of persuading Petra Haden to do an accapella version of The Who Sell Out. Just Petra singing the whole of The Who Sell Out. No instruments at all. All because this was the record Mike and his comrade d.boon played endlessly before punk broke, before they became minutemen, before d.boon died. So he gave her the record and an 8-track recorder. And Petra went off and over the course of a few years recorded her interpretation of The Who Sell Out. Itís all there, even the ads, and itís incredible. Itís not a big Meredith Monk art statement. Itís just beautiful. And strange.
Petra comes from quite a family. Her father is Charlie Haden, and he has recently released a new Liberation Music Orchestra set called Not In Our Name. I didnít know it was out, but saw (you guessed) a promo CD, where they are recreating the cover of that original and very essential protest from1969, with its anti-Vietnam stance and very pro-Che/Spanish Civil War/Ornette celebrations. The new record comes from a similar place. Itís arranged and conducted by Carla Bley, beautifully. Actually the Fiery Furnaces set reminds me of Carlaís great Tropic Appetites project. So, Not In Our Name, yes, is very restrained and maybe mournful. The disgust that fuelled the 1969 set is expressed rather differently and very poignantly.

The inclusion of a refracted 'America The Beautiful' is apposite. America The Beautiful is the title of the (recently salvaged by the reactivated el) exquisite Gary McFarland ďjazz-rock tone poem about the state of the country, circa 1968, with the environment in shambles, a seemingly endless war raging, and corporate greed running amuckĒ. It is too a magnum opus of daring and flare, beautifully capturing both extremes of love and hate, and mixing music in a way that is incredibly natural but bold and bizarre.

A close comrade of McFarland was David Axelrod, and I can think of few things better to do today than immerse myself in some of his late Ď60s pop extravaganzas now that my shopping is done for the year. All I would say is that when shopping around you never end up where you expect to be. And anyway early in the New Year thereíll be a Japanese edition of The Pop Groupís We Are Time, and I need to work out where I can get it cheapest. I am just so desperate for a new generation to hear a tortured soul sing: ďSearching for love in the library of a ghost town.Ē And then thereís a new Joyce record I havenít heard yet, and the Keyshia Cole CD I never got around to buying Ö

© 2005 John Carney