Friday, February 20, 2015

Talent vs. Genius, Round Two, or Bad News Bear Hug:

As I’m sure you remember (right!), last year I wrote about the Dandy Warhols and in particular their album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, which I liked a lot.

I was prompted to get it because of the documentary “DIG!”, which was about the friendship/rivalry between the Dandys and their idols, the Brian Jonestown Massacre. One couldn’t help but be interested in both of these bands.

As 13 Tales confirmed, the Dandys were the professional ones, who were maybe a little more balanced and career-focused. And indeed, part of the tension between the two bands comes from the Dandys eclipsing the supposedly more talented BJM.

And what about BJM? As you can tell from their name, they’re bad news twice over. Worshipped by the Dandys, they were brilliant but mercurial - drugs, fights, breakups, all usually taking place right on stage - led by genius/megalomaniac Anton Newcombe.

In my younger days I would have immediately gravitated to this obviously misunderstood, greatly maligned gift to Western Civilization, but I’ve since come to believe where there’s smoke there’s fire. So I went for a surer bet - The Dandys - and 13 Tales turned out to be one of the best records I got in 2014.

Plus, the BJM made lots of records. And if I were younger I probably would have jumped into their catalogue head first, getting each one of them. But now I’ve got to be more selective with my time, and I’ve learned that geniuses are prone to inconsistency so why wade through all the records they made on their off days?

So I decided to hedge my bets by getting their 2 CD retrospective. Which, since xgau trashed it would be a hell of a hedge if it turned out to be awful. So it took until my birthday, and an excuse to get someone else to potentially waste their money, for it to be time to jump into the abyss.

And people, let me tell you It. Is. Just. Great!  

In what is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence, this record hit me on the first play. Each song - all 38 of them - had something to offer.

Review the Review:

How could something so obviously good have been trashed so thoroughly? So I went back to the xgau review.

“… Newcombe gets a no doubt small, no doubt excessive cash advance to prove his genius…. the world passed on the first time. The world was right, and will be right again every time Newcombe revives.”

Well xgua clearly dislikes this guy. Not just the music. The guy. He’s probably right. (Please watch DIG! to form your own opinion.) He never did have much use for drug people. As the former roommate of one, I can sympathize.

So they’re not role models. But I suspect that many of my heroes wouldn’t stand close scrutiny, either. Gandhi was a great man but I wouldn’t buy any of his records.

In terms of consistency and of how often I want to hear it, this is hands down, the best record I’ve gotten in 2014. The fact that it’s a best-of is the only thing that kept me from putting it at the top of my album list.

But deep down, I suspect I’ve been conned. These guitars may only sound so good because they’re so familiar. But if they’re so familiar why do I keep playing them?

So, back the the xgau review:

“His recombined riffs rarely break the shambolic surface...“
To me, those riffs sit real pretty right there on that surface. Plus I really like the riff, so when it gets recombined, I like that one, too. And I prefer the BJM’s shambolic to the Dandy’s commercial sound.

“and whenever two consecutive lines of lyric grab and hold, they complain.”
Well, yeah. Drug people are like that. Everyone’s against them, all the time. It’s never their fault. Newcombe's voice is nasally whine, so it’s actually pretty well suited to the words, which he's not really emphasizing anyway. Plus, I was never a big word guy, either, especially when the music is this good.

And finally, xgau goes on to contrast the Dandy’s “panache and professionalism” with BJMs (Newcombe’s, really) “heroin and lies”. Harsh, yet true. I really did hate that roommate by the time he moved out.

Did He Hear What I Heard?:

I heard these lovely, echoing guitars. Retro but you can’t tell from where (most of the time). It may be the best “lost sixties album” ever. When you were fifteen, if you ever half-heard a song on the radio and never found out who it was you could do worse than to get this record to make up for it.

On the other hand, when you do eventually track those obscure records down, they rarely live up your recollection. And in a couple of years I may look back on this record with some embarrassment. But for now, I’m basking in that shambolic, druggy, whiny, retro, probably-non-as-good-as-it’s-pretending-to-be record.

Like the Warhols, the BJM aren’t above, ahem, “borrowing” things, but where the DWs grab actual riffs and run, the BJM prefer to just wear the general aura of sixties on their sleeves. I should object on principle, but I just smile.

How many 2 CD sets (38 songs!) can you put on and listen to all the way through?

Brian Jonestown Massacre vs. Dandy Warhols: A Technical Decision:

So, who wins? Well, BJM, but it’s not really a fair comparison. This is a compilation afterall.
It’s also sit around and get high music. If you don’t partake, it’s probably sit around and get depressed music. Or be mad at the world music. Teenage music. Music for losers.

Derivative. Morally wrong. But I’ve never been able to resist music that I shouldn’t like for some theoretical reason.

When things got really heated between the bands - BJM did a song called “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth” and the Dandys threatened to write a song called “You’re Not Sixteen, But Your Girlfriends Are”. So does this mean Newcombe’s a pedophile, too? I prefer to not think about it. The guitars help me do that.

Sixties style guitar rock is right up my alley, so God (along with James Brown, Art Tatum and Monteverdi - the other compilations I got in 2014) forgive me, this is the one I keep playing. Three months after getting it was still going strong. A

When to Listen to: When you’re in kind of a dark place and might otherwise take drugs. This will substitute.

When NOT to Listen: When your roommate has just stolen your rent money to buy drugs.

“Prozac vs. Heroin”

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