Today, Michael Jackson:
It’s Halloween, what did you expect?
Today, Michael Jackson:
It’s Halloween, what did you expect?
Today, Tears for Fears:
I’ve spent a not-insignificant amount of time talking about my love for 80’s music and aesthetics, so it shouldn’t be a particularly big surprise that, when Tears for Fears decided to drop a new song in 2017, I’d want to give it a listen and highlight it here.
I mean, let’s be up-front here: Tears for Fears, as a band, hasn’t been relevant since The Seeds of Love, if I’m being charitable, or more likely, Songs from the Big Chair, which was in… 1985, aka three decades ago. That said, however, I’ve rather enjoyed bits and pieces of their 80’s and 90’s work, all the way through, sigh, Raoul and the Kings of Spain, but their 2004 album Everybody Loves a Happy Ending was… weird. It’s not bad, as such, in the same way this isn’t bad, it just doesn’t sound like Tears for Fears anymore, and, uh… that’s kind of the only thing the band has going for it at this point.
That said, I don’t hate this; there’s a fine sound to it that, while not especially current or consistent with what you’d expect from the band, sounds fine enough to listen to more than once. The chorus is also pretty well composed too, enough that it it honestly supports the rest of the song more than you’d think on first listen. Would I listen to the rest of this record? Probably not. But this is a fine first single to release from it in any case, and that counts for something.
I discovered this song through YouTuber Mitch Cramer, AKA Heavy Eyed, as he runs a wonderful Discord full of people who are, somehow, willing to put up with my bullshit. A user there, “Not a Pigeon” (who I suspect may be a pigeon) posted this track, and I’m nothing if not interested in checking out R&B when it’s good. I know that, based on the things I post here normally, it’d be easy to say “dude likes industrial, pop and EDM” and move on with your day, but I have kind of an eclectic musical upbringing; my mother used to sit me down in front of MTV to watch Twisted Sister videos as well as alternating between 80’s pop and country in the car, and I grew up surrounded by En Vogue, boy bands, grunge and industrial music, so I honestly just want to love everything, given the chance. I’m as likely to have Nine Inch Nails or Aphex Twin on a mix as I am Janelle Monae, is the point, so despite having never heard of Kelela before, I was all in to jumping into this to see what her music is all about.
Turns out, it’s complicated.
On a basic level, it’s R&B, in just the way you’d expect, from a solid electronic beat with some solid bass behind it to some really beautiful vocals from Kelela herself; you could probably hear it on the radio or at a club or whatever and not think twice about it. However, there are little things about this that I kind of love that are beyond the surface, like how the song is basically a relatively complicated way of saying “Look, you wanna fuck or nah? Because if not that’s fine,” which isn’t really a topic that you hear as an up-front conversation unless it’s coming from Lil Wayne, basically. Also, there’s a bottle-popping sample that’s used to fill in the beat, which is just this random detail you don’t pick up on the first time that’s interesting, even if it isn’t anything complicated. It’s just… interesting, in an uncomplicated way, essentially.
Today, Shiny Toy Guns:
Since I mentioned them yesterday, I thought I’d fit them in here while the memory was fresh.
Anyway, while “You Are the One” is probably the most obvious song to pick from the band (except for possibly “Le Disko,” which I don’t care for), the main reason I went with it is because it’s honestly one of the very few songs from the band that resonated with me. See, while I really like “You Are the One,” I mostly don’t have an opinion on the rest of the band’s body of work, because, frankly speaking, it’s “okay” at the best of times. The first record, We Are Pilots, has a couple of decent standouts aside from “You Are the One,” such as “Starts With One” and the title track, but the follow-up record, Season of Poison, did nothing for me, outside of possibly “It Became A Lie On You,” and I mostly just… forgot about them until researching the Taco track.
Credit where it’s due, though, as “You Are the One” is still a really fun, interesting song, even years after the fact, and I can’t help but love it even now. Featuring an astonishingly solid 80’s aesthetic before that became the hip thing for musical acts to emulate, there’s a fun, energetic feeling to this song that is completely contrasted by the fairly morose lyrics, and I just can’t help but love the hell out of this song for simultaneously being ten years too early yet also slightly tone-deaf. It’s kind of amazing in its own way, and I just enjoy it way more than I probably should.
Two observations I want to make, right up front:
1.) I’m sure there are a few people out there who are either assuming that me calling him Taco is some kind of asinine joke or that he was one of those weird-ass 80’s performers who went by a singular, bizarre name, but nope! Dude’s birth name is apparently Taco Ockerse, which… is a thing, and
2.) I had to search longer than I wanted to for this version of the above music video, because for reasons I don’t entirely understand, when you search for this song, you generally turn up either live versions of the song, or the original version, which features women in blackface singing the “Super Duper” line, no I am not fucking kidding, I don’t know who thought that would be appropriate in the 80’s, holy shit. I understand why he did it, but for fuck’s sake Taco.
Now, I want to note that this is yet another cover song, specifically a cover of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” from Irving Berlin, a song written in the 1920’s about opulent wealth that was most heavily popularized by Fred Astaire in the film Blue Skies. I also want to note that basically twenty or thirty acts have covered this song in its lifetime in addition to Astaire and Taco, including Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Robbie Williams and Shiny Toy Guns, but I tend to like the Taco version the best out of all possible versions, and not just because of its goofy 80’s aesthetic. Rather, for as weird as this video is, Taco’s video has a very minor something to say about the opulent lifestyle of “the Ritz”: it’s bullshit.
Seriously, watch this video and note how it frames the idea of “puttin’ on the Ritz” against homeless people diving around for a dollar. It’s kind of amazing as a weird social commentary attached to a silly dance version of a popular 40’s song, and I can’t help but love that it’s almost accidentally subversive in its own way, even if that’s not entirely what Taco might have been going for (though the dancers in blackface seeming like a callback to the song’s origins could mean it was intentional… or that Taco’s producers are idiots, which is also possible).
Plus I kind of want a light up cane, sorry.
She is a band my friend Jonah turned me onto a few months ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I went through and listened to their body of work again, and goddamn if they can’t put together a really interesting vocalized electronic track with minimal effort. I mean, I love EDM of various genres and subgenres, so I’m probably the exact market bands like Plaid, Digital Daggers and She are aiming to please with their work (if they care at all), but it’s always exciting to discover a band that can put together a track that just sounds compelling and enjoyable, which is something She is able to do with relative ease.
Now, She as a band isn’t really notable for the above song as such; the self-titled track from the album, “Coloris,” and “Tokyo Nights” seem to be the tracks most people love from this record, and with good reason, because they’re both great. However, in the above song, “Monochrome,” there’s a lot to love, and it feels like it comes completely naturally, whereas in the in the aforementioned tracks, the artist really feels like they’re putting in a lot of work to get there. To put it another way, Monochrome feels like a simple, but really effective, song, and while part of that comes down to an effective use of female vocals, the song feels really simply composed, in a way that’s not too busy and flows well. The music flows well from one piece to the next, in a way that feels natural and organic, and it’s honestly a song you can feel penetrate you. “Coloris” and “Tokyo Nights” feel like heavily organized, busy numbers, and while I love them as well, there’s something about a simple, organic-feeling song I just can’t deny, which is why “Monochrome” is the song I went to above and beyond any other.
Today, Scandroid (yes again) because Jesus Christ:
On one hand, I appreciate the core thematic concepts. The Scandroid brand is meant to be based around more robotic and sci-fi concepts, so it’s cute that the video features robots doing the Thriller dance. I also appreciate that the main robot is a werewolf robot with a red paint job, because that’s a direct reference to the original video on multiple levels. Finally, putting the lyrics on the marquee of a theater is a neat touch that, again, calls back to the original song and video in a way a lot of creators probably wouldn’t. If you’re coming to this from that perspective, and you can take the song itself out of that context, there are a lot of really great ideas here.
However, the core problem is, it’s fucking Thriller.
Listen, I generally try not to be a musical purist, because experimental or variant music is what helps us, as a culture, to grow our genres and expand music beyond what it was into what it can be, but “Thriller” is basically one of the very few “perfect” pop songs that exists on this Earth. I’m not saying you can’t cover it, or that it’s wrong to dislike it, but I am saying that if you are going to cover it, you need to bring your musical A game or an interpretation no one’s ever come up with, and this is… not that. The music itself is basically just the original tune, but jazzed up a little (in the “tweaked” or “fine-tuned” sense, not as in “he added actual jazz to it” sense), so from jump the best you can be is “as good as.” Further, however, while Klayton isn’t a bad singer per say, he’s not fucking Michael Jackson, and his vocals can’t even begin to touch what was done, so he… just doesn’t try. The vocals are mostly flat or given the robo-vocal treatment, and the end result is a whole lot of nothing.
I mean, I don’t know how else to describe it, but look, just… don’t do this. I know people love Michael Jackson, but if you can’t either spin the song to be unique or, failing that, perform at the level of the original artist, don’t do it. Jesus Christ.
Today, Scandroid (AKA “Celldweller, again”):
Moving on from “covers that maintain or improve upon the spirit of the original,” we move into “covers that basically remake the original song,” with “Shout,” a song most people will either remember from its original 1980’s release as a Tears for Fears song or, failing that, from when Disturbed covered it back in 2000. Now, I love the original version of the song a lot, because I’m an 80’s kid, but I also enjoy the Disturbed version of the song in its own way, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously (the Ice Ice Baby reference, for example) but clearly knows how to redo the song in a way that, well, sounds like Disturbed.
This, by comparison, just… sounds like the original.
Now, I do want to note that the video clearly shows that Klayton’s either learning on his own how to loosen up a bit, or is at least learning how to do it from Bret Autrey, as the random in-joke toward the end is cute, and the 80’s aesthetic that’s just oozing out of the video is kind of neat. The song itself, though, is… just the original song, with Klayton’s vocals, and while that’s fine, it’s also not anything to be excited about because, again, I have that song, I don’t need a slightly newer and slightly cleaner version.
Also, uh, two things re: the video:
1.) Am… I supposed to take away from this video that the overall message is “it’s liberating for women to leave their lives for a little bit to dress in 80’s aerobics wear and dance in a shitty warehouse to Tears for Fears covers?” because I don’t, and I’m not sure how you would, and
2.) Where in the fuck did that pencil come from Klayton?
Anyway, we have one more cover to get through, so stick with me until Monday, yeah?
Yes, it’s more discussions about covers, but this one came up for a reason, so just work with me for a couple of days, yeah?
Now, I’m well aware that I’ve discussed Klayton Scott on this site far more often than any reasonable person would, between a repost of a record review, a Random Song of the Day, and mentioning his work while discussing Blue Stahli multiple times, but I like industrial music so it’s kind of a given that I end up hearing stuff from Scott since, well, Scott’s label Fixt makes a lot of industrial music. I’m also sure that, unless you’re a fan, you probably don’t care very much about his work either; while you’ve almost certainly heard the instrumentals of one of his tracks in a trailer for a film or game, it’s not likely you’re buying his records or anything, because nothing Fixt has released has gone platinum at this point.
Today (and for the next couple of days), though, I want to use Klayton as, essentially, a singular living example of the covers discussion I brought up earlier, due to a cover he released recently that sort of fulfilled the “HAHA HOLY SHIT” quotient. Technically speaking, I could’ve done this with Disturbed a while ago, but given the choice, Klayton is less likely to make people roll their eyes at me, so let’s go with this.
Up first is “Tragedy,” a single released under the Celldweller name over a decade ago (Klayton released this originally as a standalone single, but includes it on the Celldweller 10th Anniversary release, so assume it came out sometime around 2003-2004), which sharp-eyed readers will note I made fun of during the recap of my original review of the Celldweller record. Here’s the thing, though: with a decade’s space between the original release, as well as some consideration after the fact, I have to say it: this is probably a better song than the song it’s covering. Now, no disrespect to the Bee Gees, because screw you they were awesome, but if you don’t remember the original version of “Tragedy,” here’s a link.
Back with me? Okay, now I want you to note, this is meant to be a miserable song, TO THE POINT WHERE ITS NAME IS “TRAGEDY”, and then consider what tone Barry Gibb brings to this track. For most of the tracks in the band’s catalog, Barry is amazingly on point, but in this song? Yeah, I’m… not getting a sense of tragic despair from it. Compare that to the Celldweller version, and well, while the Bee Gees version might be more technically sound (as Klayton still had a major issue with overproduction at this point), the Celldweller version gets the tone spot-on and lays into it hard through the entire thing. Klayton sounds miserable, and it fits the song a lot more than Barry’s vocals do, as does the tone of the music backing up Klayton’s vocals.
So yeah, this is basically a wonderful cover from that perspective. The others that are coming? Not so much.
I’m not sure how I ended up becoming a fan of Plaid; I want to say it was because of Hamish from Writing on Games mentioning them during one of his videos (possibly Watch_Dogs 2) but it’s possible I’d discovered them before that and am simply ascribing this because I’m a big WoG stan.