III: Temples of Boom
"Once again, the powers of the herb open up the mind/ Seek deep inside and tell me what you find." Well, violence mainly, in 's case. Temples of Boom is probably the most morbid rap album of them all, drenched in the metaphorical blood of enemies both real and imaginary, and lacking even the simplistic "sociological" rationale for its celebrations of violence that one gets in the work of, say, Ice Cube or Ice-T. Tracks like "Boom Biddy Bye Bye", a murderer's gloat, border on the catchily psychopathic, while the staccato Spanish threats of "Killa Hill Niggas" treat the very act of vocalising as an offensive act, a stiletto stab in the ear; one is reminded that, according to Borges at least, knifing is considered the acme of machismo in Latin American cultures, for the bravery of its physical proximity. Much the same applies here, vocally.
Despite the group's contention that the tremendous Black Sunday was an imperfect, hurried recording, Temples of Boom is a vastly inferior release, lacking the musical spark and lyrical imagination of its predecessor. "Illusions", for instance, uses again the theme of mental illness, but without the infectious bounce of "Insane In the Brain" or its pointedly anti-alcoholic message, while the use of the Ezekiel speech from Pulp Fiction and the ritual invocations to throw one's "set" (a gang hand-signal, apparently) in the air and "wave it around like you just don't care" hardly shock with their originality.
It's on the matter of originality, though, that the album's most ferocious castigation is based, Ice Cube being roundly denounced in "No Rest for the Wicked" for allegedly appropriating the phrase "Los Scandalous" from an early mix of a track. "I got a can of kick-ass with your name on it, Cube" - well, his Oedipal name, actually - "you wanna come collect it, or should I bring it to you?" Could this be the start of a flurry of answer records, perhaps? Should we wait for Cube's response - or, given the tenor of both parties' recordings, will they just blast each other away on the streets of "Killafornia"? And might that not be taking the notion of intellectual property a tad too far?
Original Soundtracks 1
Island CID 8043
The Passengers in question are Brian Eno and U2, taking a day trip away from the more commercial imperatives of the latter's albums, with a little help here and there from turntable-scratcher Howie B, of Mo' Wax fame, and tenor singer Luciano Pavarotti, of mo' food fame.
These 14 pieces were ostensibly recorded for a selection of international films which, if not completely apocryphal, are hardly likely to play widely outside the ICA. Eno, of course, is a Music for Films veteran of more than two decades standing, and he's brought his usual working methods to tracks such as "Slug" and "United Colours", arranging blocks of sound into a semblance of emotional order without any attempt to replicate "real" instrument sounds, with all their back-catalogues of associations.
Since, as usual in incidental music, the themes rely mainly on warm-bath moods and textures rather than more hard-edged specifics, it's all a bit amorphous and open-ended. Bono's lyrics, too, are more impressionistic than he would use in U2, whether sung in a strained falsetto ("Your Blue Room") or a gentle murmur ("Slug"). Only the Pavarotti/ Bono duet "Miss Sarajevo" develops a significantly formal structure; not surprisingly, it's the track chosen as a single.
This year has seen an unprecedented plague of "tribute" albums, for artists as diverse as Lennon, Gaye, Cohen and Hendrix. This is just as ropey as all the others, featuring sodden, sluggish versions of pre-Swordfishtrombones material by the likes of Tindersticks, Drugstore and The Wedding Present, few of which add either to one's knowledge of the song in question or to the sum of human happiness in general.
The main problem is the ease with which Waits's songs can be over-dramatised, a problem he himself spiked by adopting absurd extremity in his own delivery, in a kind of parody of drunken emotion. Without that, these versions are simply lifeless (Alex Chilton's "Downtown"); with it, they're simply annoying (Violent Femmes' "Step Right Up"). Musically, too, there's an immense gulf between Waits's sophisticated beatnik primitivism and the drably methodical strategies on display here. It's all the more strange, given the interpretive possibilities offered by the material: the Canadian singer Holly Cole, for instance, recently released an entire album of Tom Waits covers, any and all of which are far better than just about anything here. Only Tim Buckley's lachrymose "Martha" - a 20-year-old recording - and former Gun Club leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce's "Pasties and a G-String" (done as a desert-dry drawl-rap) come close to grasping the nettle with the necessary force.
Hiatt's latest album was apparently written on the hoof, while he was touring with his road band, and it shows. Walk On is stuffed with travelling songs of every stripe and colour, from involuntary wanderlust, through reluctant departure, to burnt-bridges abandonment. Along the way, he manages to suggest something of the effect of the American pioneer spirit, both good and bad. As he sings in "You Must Go": "You must go and you must ramble/ through every briar and bramble/ till your life is in a shambles". Accordingly, the characters in these 13 dirty-realist miniatures are all various shades of desolate and lonely.
At his best, in a song like "Good As She Could Be", he manages, like the girl in the song, to cram an entire life into three verses and a chorus, but with enough left unsaid to keep you speculating about the gaps; like every decent storyteller, he realises that intrigue seeps unbidden from between the lines.
Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits
Virgin CARCD 30
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