So has it occurred to anybody that the guy who let the dogs out might be the same guy who stole the keeshka? (Who might be the same guy who’s on first?) Just a thought.
Mystikal: “Shake Ya Ass”
Most gluteuteusly maximal butt song since the also-Louisianan “Back That Azz Up,” mainly because of how wound-tight it is: It grunts more like James Brown than any hit in the 20 years of hip-hop that JB made possible. Turnip greens and pork’n’beans and crawfish (which the artist pulls heads off of) and soil trod by Wilson Pickett inhabit those hard backwoods squeals and “lawds,” too (the reformed No Limit soldier’s equally crunk OutKast collaboration last year was called “Neck Uv Da Woods”). Though, weirdly, “S.Y.A.” is also one of two currently notable rap smashes (the other being Nelly’s “E.I.”) to use the word “iceberg.” Gotta admit I prefer my daughter’s rewrite: “Take a bath! Wash yourself!” But I still bark along when Mystikal shouts out to a “full-grown German shepherd” once his throat starts ryding rougher. Maybe he figured out where DMX’s dogs are at.
Stillwater: “Fever Dog”
Is the dog scratching and howling outside this guy’s back door a groupie, or what? (As ridiculous as Almost Famous is—it has even less to say about the ’70s than That ‘70s Show, and barely more about rock critics, seeing how the hero is a celebrity journalist with no opinions—at least Cameron Crowe identifies enough with groupies to treat them like human beings.) Or maybe the fever dog’s allegorical: you know, a hellhound on the golden god’s trail. Personally, I’d rather think of it as hay fever, which makes this the best allergy ode since “The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count” by the Divine Comedy, if not “Achoo” by Sparks or the theme from Green Acres. “When the Levee Breaks” drums cavalcade under propulsive Robert Plant—okay, Ian Astbury—wailing, all the way to the fake orgasm. (Zep dog songs: “Black Dog,” “Hot Dog,” “The Rover.”) So how come all the movie reviews compare Stillwater to Skynyrd? They look like Foghat.
R. Kelly: “I Wish”
The crossroads Kelly claims he’s camped at come from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, not the king of the Delta blues singers—he’s one more hard guy getting teary-eyed over dead homies, boo hoo. What matters, though—and what most sets the song apart from Carl Thomas’s r&b ballad hit “I Wish” from earlier this year—is soul-stirring high notes that channel both the sacred and secular sides of Sam Cooke. Stevie Wonder used the same title for a song about a lost childhood of nights hanging out with hoodlums and Sunday school money spent on candy, but R. swears he used to spend his own Sundays in church. Voices in his head tell him to go back there; then voices in his background build to an “I Want to Know What Love Is” gospel chorus.
Neurosis: Sovereign EP
Individual titles (“Prayer,” “An Offering,” “Blood,” “Sovereign”) on this multimedia-CD-ROM-but-who-cares suggest a Catholic mass, but these arty San Franciscans open with a meditation session: Let your mind rest, your mind is a conduit as vast as the universe, yikes. Pagan-ritual drums kick in at funeral-march tempos, then Steve Von Till’s vocals stretch out into a yawning chasm; neither M. Gira nor Nick Cave ever allowed themselves so much generosity. Cellos, bagpipes, woodwinds, violins, Moogs, tick-tocking clocks, and grinding little worms of guitar spiraling up from miles below the earth’s surface provide interludes of calm and stillness amid the bloody murder—Neurosis might be the only American metal band able to make the vomit-vocal thing tolerable, even tranquil. Since this loud music functions mainly as Muzak, Steve Albini’s vocal-camouflaging production shtick actually makes the sound sharper—for once.
Paris, Texas: Brazilliant! EP
Not even back in Big Black’s Anglophilic mid-’80s heyday—also the era of Hüsker Dü’s Metal Circus and Breaking Circus’s The Very Long Fuse—did Midwestern bands (Paris, Texas come from Wisconsin) sound this post-punk-British. The opening breakbeats are pure Neil Peart rush, but after that Scott Sherpe’s vocal spew is all Mark E. Smith, guitars jangle pretty in pink, and taut Wire/Only Ones/Magazine/Cure rhythms come to grinding halts. Hard to tell whether “Le Tigre” means Scott’s a Kathleen Hanna fan, since its words concern being a tiger in a cage. And is he saying “lost like polished brass,” or “like Hollis Brown”? Either way, when his staccato whine-yelp softens as the last song’s melody roils toward New Order, oh he’s got green eyes.
Causey Way: WWCD EP
Hyperbolic vocoder hiccups, ’50s robot-movie effects, oingo-boinging angles, and miniaturized prog-rock changes, all clicking together into a well-hooked wall of voodoo: mostly keyboards (Farfisa, Moog, Casio, Univox), but also theremin, “various pedals,” secret-agent-man guitar, and a manual typewriter. In other words, jokey chemistry-major rock by woofers in tweeters’ clothing who complain “science made me a Homo . . . [dramatic pause] . . . sapiens.” Which is in their catchiest song. Which they open the record with. Which means they want a novelty hit.
Laptop: User’s Guide EP
Just like Causey Way, they put a computer on the cover of the record (a year-old teaser for an album that never came out—ironic, since one song mocks some fellow striver’s second record being dead); their EP title, though, is oddly congruent with effete Brit-wavers Appliance’s Manual album from last year. So: more buggle-pop, a few BPMs slower than necessary. Jesse Hartman is a mannered, self-absorbed jerk—no wonder he gets your voice mail every time he calls—but there’s something likable about how he knows it. Revolving his angst around a cover of nasal-wave legend Wreckless Eric’s most lovelorn song, he actually pulls off that catchy-for-all-its-clumsiness 1979 caddish-young-sadsack-who-never-gets-the-girl aura: looking sharp, squeezing out sparks, getting stiff. “You can’t take me anywhere,” he warns. “I might run into an ex-affair.”
Mya: “Case of the Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do)”
This Swizz Beatz extravaganza is what that one old Aaliyah single everybody loved so much might’ve sounded like if its singing and lyrics had had as much life in them as Timbaland’s bumptious bottom. Mya’s afraid you might surrender to the midnight-phoning ex who started turning tricks when you broke up with her back in ’96, and she’s for sure acting in the obsessive tradition of all the great “whatcha gonna do” landmarks: Heart’s “Crazy on You,” Teena Marie’s “Lips to Find You,” Ellen Foley’s part in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” Inner Circle’s theme from Cops. Not to mention all the great ex landmarks—except maybe “War Is Over (Weapons for El Salvador),” by the Ex.
Trinity Hi-Fi: “TV Dinner for One”/“Turn the Lights Down”/“Hey Joe”
Kay Dee-Kay, in the first song, just split up with somebody, who took all his CDs and the “hi-fi” (who calls it that anymore?) and left her microwaving blue chicken like ZZ Top. She wants revenge, but it’s still no “Hey Joe.” And neither is her “Hey Joe,” the second “Hey Joe” this year (see Parisian indie-pop combo Tahiti 80) that’s not the “Hey Joe”: This one’s aimed at a soccer player and remixed by Dee Jay Punk-Roc, who sounds more punk rock on his own album. Curious, too, that Kay would reference one of the best songs ever about being married while wishing you weren’t on a single complaining about being single: “Close your eyes and think back to when young hearts run free/Sister Sledge on the radio, singing I got all my sisters with me.” Who her noirishly passive-aggressive Brit-soul really sounds nostalgic for is Lisa Stansfield, who was soaked in formaldehyde from the git-go. Smart songs—but if caged tiger Candi Staton was a victim (sometimes) of the very songs she sang, Kay Dee-Kay’s a victim of the repressed way she sings ’em.
Deann Macomson: “Hillary”
In which Bill pulls out, Tipper gets unzipped, and the senator-elect stands by her man and looks repressed in a dress. “Janet Reno’s too butch for me/A real woman’s what I need.” Lipstick-lesbian love song of the next six years. Or four, at least.
Village Voice, 14 November 2000