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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stupid Morning Epiphanies, or, 'The Ironic Shirelles'

I define myself largely as a musician and songwriter. By extension, this means that I regard myself as having refined, informed taste in music. Why, then, do my tastes diverge so very far from what's generally considered the canon of what's good? I mean, it would be one thing if I liked all the critical favorites and then had my proudly open dirty little secret prog love on the side - every music lover has that one thing that they know is impossible to defend, yet they love it without irony. So if my library and pantheon were to consist of the acknowledged greats - a little Graham Parker here, some Patti Smith, Laura Nyro, Radiohead, etc. - I could justify my love of emotionally distant and pointlessly intricate tripe* as a mild eccentricity.

But no. Twenty years after I'm supposed to have moved on to more mature stuff, I still find the greatest listening pleasure to be had in comparing live performances to studio versions of Supper's Ready.

For all of that, my other favorite music is new wave, the explosion of (mostly) ultra-pared-down rock that ruled from 1977 to 1984 or so. It's where punk went to get top 40 action - the love child of disco and garage rock. Many of the artists of new wave took their cues (as had the generation before them) from the black soul and r&b artists of their youth. Talking Heads took more from Al Green than just the one lone cover. Gary Numan polished up the Parliament synth groove so successfully that he ended up being a favorite sample of hip hop producers thirty years later. The Police rode in on the ska/reggae wave that swept through the UK, also with Madness, the English Beat, UB40 and... uh, Eric Clapton?

Anyway, I'd suspect that a lot of the reason I like new wave is for the weird ghostly echoes of black musical forms. So why, then, do I finally have to admit that I have little love for Elvis Costello - a man who is generally perceived as being among the finest songwriters and performers of his generation, who was at the vanguard of the new wave and who slathers his work with deep soul references?

Wrong references.

Listening to the radio in the car this morning, it hit me: Christ, this fucking Costello song sounds like the wall of sound on the morning after. Byzantine, echoey production with tambourines and clanging piano, like the shit you'd fire a wedding band for playing. Really, they all sound like that. Billy Joel got it out of his system with one song, but Costello's entire career is one long weird ironic take on The Shirelles. Even as a producer, he drags down Squeeze with that slop.

The dead giveaway - the real hand-tipping moment - was when Costello paired up with Burt Bacharach (who I actually rather like) for new songs that were supposed to artificially generate nostalgia for that 60's period of Bill Building dominance. In a way, it worked: upon seeing Costello and Bacharach performing a song live with a Montovaniesque string section on Letterman one night, I became instantly nostalgic for the period before I heard them do it.

Anyhow. I finally have a definitive answer as to why I do not like Elvis Costello. So stop pestering me about him.

D.

*Curious note: though the phrase 'emotionally distant and pointlessly intricate tripe' can easily apply to Phish, I do not like them. At all. The earheart is a strange creature.

19 comments:

shaunian said...

And you know what's really funny? Various people over the years who have heard your/our stuff under my supervision, have remarked at how much you sound like him. Ha. I still really like him. But I understand.

Dave Kopperman said...

Believe me, I'm flattered when people compare it to Costello. I also get 'XTC,' and Andy Partirdige is another guy I just don't enjoy the bulk of his work.

Don't get me wrong - EC's got some great songs and amazing lyrics, etc. - I love 'Allison,' 'Couldn't Call it Unexpected No. 4,' 'So Like Candy,' and a few others. Certainly enough to justify a very selective 'best of.' But even the songs of his I really love (especially his early 80's numbers like 'Watching the Detectives' and 'Oliver's Army') are marred by that weird production he loves and particularly the barroom stylings of Steve Nieve, who plays every keyboard like he's scoring a silent film of the sinking of the Lusitania.

What I'd REALLY like to hear is an album that collects all of the McCartney/MacManus songs as one record, since every single one of those dozen or so numbers spread out over four of their own albums is (no joke) stone genius. The mid-80's production kills a lot of it, but I propose that Paul and Elvis get together one weekend with a crack four piece and redo them. Hell, you've already got two top 40 hits (and one #1) on it.

D.

shaunian said...

Funny. I don't see (hear) the XTC similarity at all. But take it as a compliment. Because again, to show our musical disagreements, they are one of my favourite bands.



In other news, I don't like phish either.

Dave Kopperman said...

The XTC reference in more about the kind of material I used to write in the late 90s, which was much poppier, with 800 chords to a song, crazy mode changes and everything. I think the massive dose of the Byrds that I got starting in 2000 really was a game changer for my writing, and all of that pop stuff went out the window.

I made an active choice to simplify my chord changes, using as few as possible to support the melody. I note that it's around the same time as I really segued from playing keys to playing bass, which may have influenced that as well. As Karl can attest through clenched teeth, I really like pedal bass parts. I don't know if you remember the song Mercury Retrograde, but that was a song that was the transitional one from my pop stuff to whatever it is I thought I was writing during the 'Downtown Dream' period.

You know, maybe I'll Weekend Listening it this weekend...

D.

Dave Kopperman said...

For the record, again, there's plenty of XTC I like - too many good pop melodies for me not to - but the overall listening experience is kind of claustrophobic. Too much studio perfection, not enough air.

D.

Anonymous said...

See, I find XTC to be one o the most overrated bands ever.. one genius song... the rest a convoluted morasse..

EC's first 6 lps? Untouchable..

No way ALL of them are tambourinesy and echoey...

and the Shirelles are great..

Dave Kopperman said...

Only one good song? I don't much like them, but you'd have to give 'Peter Pumpkinhead' a nod, at least. And there are a few others.

The Lizard Music gang really was all over that Brit-Pop stuff, and worshiped at the altar of Partridge and Costello - I was inundated with their music whenever I had occasion to stay in Red Bank or during the tour.

D.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever give EC's Imperial Bedroom a listen? It may appeal to you.

Dave Kopperman said...

Maybe. I'd certainly give it a listen. The fact that it's a studio construction (according to Wikipedia) and that it has no singles is probably not a hopeful sign.

D.

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to bet you'll love it.

Dave Kopperman said...

Well, set me up.

D.

Ansley said...

Imperial Bedroom is hard to listen to.. there's one great song on it though..

but I always found it taxing and convoluted...

XTC was a favourite of Guice from LM.. BOOOooring..

Peter Pumpkin eater's a pile of manure..

Again, taxing.. and not in a good way.. yet they were lauded for some reason..

Trust is my favourite EC album.. New Lace Sleeves.. THATS a song..

Fact is though, you and I will never really meet up as far as tastes are concerned.. you have yours and I have mine.. they intersect occasionally but never in the same intensity.. we just don't process info the same way.. so arguing opinions is pointless.

I would never assume that you would like much less love anything I recommended to you and I've known you for over 20 years..

The things you've taken to that I introduced you to were always strange to me and the things I thought you might like you were always nonplussed by (correct usage of the word)...

Dave Kopperman said...

Of course it would be impossible to say exactly what I will or won't like going into it, there are a few similarities that all music I like share - at least these days, and I think since I started seriously listening to rock in my late teens.

The most obvious is that I like group efforts. There are many solo performers that I enjoy, but 99% of the time I like hearing what a band can do. The exception to this is McCartney - who I perversely and uniquely like better as a solo artist than a Beatle, and frequently enjoy best when it's just him, a studio and some instruments.

I tend to like music with a good rhythm section. This is, of course, reason two why I'll never get into Brian Wilson's studio masterworks - I don't know if he just had it in for Dennis, but both Pet Sounds and what finally came out as Smile really suffer to my ears for the extreme lack of rhythmic backbone. Is there something about descending into schizophrenia that makes people arrhythmic? Barrett had a similar loss of rhythmic snap. This rule would usually trump rule one - great rhythm work on Joe Jackson's early albums from his hired hands. The reason this doesn't apply to Costello is that I think the Pete & Bruce aren't a particularly good rhythm section.

I do like strong, smart lyrics, but it's obviously further down the list.

I'm not a big fan of blues-based electric guitar, with Gilmour being the only musician in that category that I like. And he's more of a country/folk player with blues coloring than a real blues guy.

I like artists that follow the Beatles paradigm and find ways to change. Even if it's a change for the worse (as it usually is), I admire the attempt.

Um. Not a big fan of aural density. Giant massed overdriven guitars don't do it for me, with the very rare exception, such as "Rocket" off of Siamese Dream.

I do love contemplative music that builds and decays organically, but I generally don't like the end result of that, ambient music.

Pandora all that, see what comes up.

D.

Ansley said...

See.. when you say stuff like you prefer McCartney's solo stuff to his Beatles work and that Pete and Bruce Thomas are not a particularly good rhythm section (only maybe the BEST rhythm section ever), you completely lose me..

Dave Kopperman said...

Yeah, they're good. I misspoke. It's Nieve that I really dislike, partly because I felt like LM always wanted me to play like him.

Although I do feel that Graham Maby and David Houghton were better in that genre/era.

D.

Ans said...

Yeah... I can see where you'd be farted on him in that case..

Dave Kopperman said...

It's not the only reason - I like clean, unfussy playing and warm mid-range sounds on keys, and Nieve is the exact opposite of that. But you can imagine that being expected to play in the style of a musician you don't like on instruments you don't much care for didn't help.

There's no getting around it - Nieve overplays.

D.

shaunian said...

Why would I not remember that song?

Dave Kopperman said...

I never know if anyone remembers anything that I've written. Certainly I don't.

D.