Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jaybee Wouldn't Know a Good Fill-in-the-Blank If...

Wasn’t it Frank Zappa who said that Americans wouldn’t know good rock n’ roll if it bit them on the ass? It’s a shame he didn’t test this thesis by actually making any.

Easy now! I didn’t say Frank wasn’t the greatest artist of all time. He clearly was, but blah, blah blah…

Okay now that I’ve distracted the Zappa fans let’s admit that the guy never played rock and roll in his life, and, well, good for him, and for us, because it probably would have been even worse than what he did produce.  (Sorry Petey!)

Okay, not fair. But possibly accurate. I base this judgment on five of his 5,000 or so albums. But then again, I’m still bitter over having bought Waka/Jawaka thinking it was Hot Rats, due to the misleading-to-idiots cover art (note the faucets):

But I’m just one of those heathen less interested in influences and sophistication than the end result, and, well, fun.  And let’s face it, unless you’re into Frank’s potty humor he’s no fun at all.  

But why am I ragging on Frank, who, sadly, died, prior to 9/11 (lucky him)? What I’m really interested in is the not-recognizing-something-if-it-bit-you-on-the-ass phenomenon. I was having trouble with the concept since I’m not sure why a bite on the ass would somehow help me see or hear better.

But I may have finally gotten it. And It, came in the form of Synth-Pop (Duran Duran, Soft Cell, etc.) - or rather the complete absence of it - which only dawned on me after listening to this record about TWENTY times:

Colossal Youth - Young Marble Giants

This is what happens when you get older. You not only forget things. Without realizing it, you begin to splice together things that aren’t supposed to go together at all. Like recalling the Ten Commandments but somehow missing all the “Nots”.  (By the way, do you notice how I say “you” when I mean me?  I do that a lot. Usually when I’m pondering one of my very few shortcomings.  I only use “me” instead of “you”  when erroneously attributing lovemaking skills.  Somehow people see through this, but I resolve to carry on nonetheless.)

So immediately below are my original notes about Young Marble Giants by Colossal Youth (or is it Colossal Youth by Young Marble... oh, nevermind), followed by the eventual recognition of my own stupidity. And I’m talking sh*t about poor Frank?

Come to think of it, I don’t think I like any artist named Frank. Yep. I just did a search of “Frank” on and I can state that I don’t like any of them.  Over a lifetime I’ve come to tolerate Sinatra and even like a lot of his songs, but it’s been a long road. I don’t think I have enough time left for Zappa, especially if I approach all those Franks alphabetically.

Anyway, here goes:

“Bare bones synth “pop”, and at first, antiseptic to a fault. One thing I always hated about 1980s synth-pop was how it had no balls. CY has somewhat of an excuse in that the lead singer (whisperer, really) is female.

I catch myself here and can now report that there isn’t a  single synthesizer on this whole (25 song) album!

Now why did I think there was?  It goes back to an article by Stephin Merritt, where he lists his year-by-year favorite records of the 20th Century. I somehow confused it with another article where Merritt states that the Human League’s Dare is a synth pop classic. And I go and splice these two separate thoughts together.

Or at least that’s my theory.  And really, why should my theory be considered any more reliable than what I now happen to think was a mistake?  I’m far too lazy to go checking into this stuff. For all I know Stephin Merritt said exactly what I originally thought he said, and this whole thing is his fault.

Anyway back to the only part of my notes that remain somewhat valid:

“Amidst the usually whispered or mumbled vocals, a bass eventually emerges, and every once in a while a guitar. Sometimes a keyboard (but never in the same song as the guitar.)  It’s kind of like Pylon but on Prozac instead of Welbutrin. I guess I have to give it another chance.”

And it got a lot of chances, since it was eminently playable in a number of different contexts (work, early morning, late night, dinner) without  irritating anyone. (Which is normally my definition of bad music, but whatever).

Which is what I required to finally realize the most obvious aspect of this non-synth-pop record. It’s also a non-drums album! All rhythm is handled by said guitar/bass/keyboard.

So it grows on you. And while some might prefer something less spare, I think it’s quite nice. Peaceful even.  B+

When to Play It: Night. Dinner, or when you don’t want to wake anyone.
When to NOT Play It: A party (unless everyone has just taken heroin.)

And it just goes to show that some records - maybe even some by Frank Zappa - require a non-idiot listener to figure out the most obvious things.

"Young Marble Giants"

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