Bohemian Rhapsody

Unlike Bosco, Joey Kingpin doesn't usually hide his passion behind a smirk (though "Transylvania A Go-Go" is a dumb title), and he makes less effort to beat his music into song form. But he shares Bosco's mix-and-match approach, with the whole gamut of pop music as his source material.

For instance, an old soul bassline reminiscent of "Cool Jerk" runs through "Transylvania A Go-Go," along with pieces of what sound like Steve Cropper guitar and Booker T organ, which crops up on the next track too, as well as disco-era synth-congas, a "Planet Rock" electro bass, and Stax-Volt horns, though these are mostly reduced to brief rhythm riffs. And on through his album A Beat Down in Hell Town: gentle guitar strums, vague airplane-takeoff sounds, diva vocals, acid-house bass, hard-rock guitars, and so on. For all the energy and variety in the music, there's beauty and stateliness underlying it, a sense of form that seems more like sound sculpture than song, reminding me of Space's great 1977 Eurodisco hit "Magic Fly," or Eno's Another Green World.

A couple Joey Kingpin songs have crazed master-of-ceremonies vocals à la Fred Schneider of the B-52s, and Schneider himself shows up as a guest vocalist on the Bosco LP ("I'm the future king of France/I'm an empty swimming pool/So get crazy, let's dance." Right. Anything you say). This is appropriate, because the B-52s were an earlier band that tried to pull in cultural material they appreciated but felt at odds with—for example, Kate's and Cindy's beehive hairdos—and their way of doing so was to more or less put it in quotation marks. Though the strategy often came across as precious, it sometimes gave the material campy energy that hadn't been there in the first place. (At least, I don't recall beehive hairdos having much energy in their day, except when they were attended by real bees.)

Electronic dance has to work awfully hard for its eclecticism, doesn't it? Maybe this is because the genre is so bohemian. Compare it to pop and hip-hop: Ricky Martin can use surf guitar, and Petey Pablo can use Asian strings, and neither has to put it in inverted commas or make a big deal of it. But then again, they're not bohemians. Being a bohemian means feeling at odds with a lot of what you like, and wondering what to do about it.

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