Album: Matthew Herbert Big Band, There's Me, and There's You (Accidental)
Friday 07 November 2008
Matthew Herbert has gone to extreme lengths to give his political-protest big-band album There's Me, And There's You a literal, physical connection with its targets. The result is a series of protest songs quite unlike any since the days Henry Cow fused Maoist analysis with fun-dodging art-rock.
In Herbert's case, it's a matter of matching locations and materials with themes. Though the core big-band performances were recorded at Abbey Road, there are plenty of additional noises culled from unusual sources and places. Representing Iraqi victims of Blair and Bush's "war on terror", for instance, matches struck in corridors below the Houses of Parliament also bring to mind the Gunpowder Plot. The basic loop of "Battery" is derived from sounds created by an actual battery charger, to link the piece more directly with the state-sponsored torture methods it abjures.
The overall theme of There's Me, and There's You is the use and abuse of power in the 21st century, whether that power resides in the church ("Pontificate"), the media ("The Story"), greed ("Rich Man's Prayer"), monarchy ("Regina") or the various power sources affecting concerns such as climate change and consumerism. But these individual critiques are slyly pitched to insinuate themselves imperceptibly through arrangements echoing musical theatre, cartoon music and brassy jazz, in contrast to the hectoring tone which turns so many away from the standard folk-protest mode of political music.
"The Story", for example, opens the album with horns and handclaps colluding in a nu-soul groove while soul-jazz diva Eska sings "Nothing of great importance/ Nothing to tell/ Nothing to shake your confidence/ Nothing to break the spell", as if she were addressing standard romantic issues rather than news values. "Regina" opens with what sounds like a canteen of cutlery being dropped down a flight of stairs, closely followed by a jet engine, before gradually developing into something that sounds like a cross between Native American drumming and a Stan Tracey jazz piece; and despite its grim torture theme and musique concrète rhythms, "Battery" soon builds into a bustling, Bernstein-esque brass arrangement, for which one can easily visualise a perverse Abu Ghraib-inspired dance routine. It's typical of the provocative contradictions at work on There's Me, and There's You, from basic musical matters of dynamic range and instrumental contrasts, to more problematic issues of tone, theme and treatment. But compared with the usual protest sloganeering, it's an intriguing, thoughtful album that's both engrossing and entertaining.
Pick of the album:'Battery', 'Yessness', 'Regina', 'Breathe', 'The Story'
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