This column is the prelude to the 29th or 30th Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll. Unfortunately, and that’s putting it mildly, it’s also the prelude to an American war on Islam. What does it mean that Islam gave me more albums than the poll?
Mixing producers from Natacha Atlas svengalis Trans-Global Underground to jazz-funk hack Narada Michael Walden to several actual Egyptians, risking a Moorish duet with Puerto Rican merengue diva Olga Tañón and countenancing the cornball soul shouts of an unidentified co-conspirator I fear is Walden himself, Hakim could have come up with crossover crap, and without crossing over. Instead he provides an object lesson in world fusion—even when it doesn’t translate all the way, Hakim’s barely contained enthusiasm and pervasive musical intelligence give you something to take home to mama. Figure that when producers outdo themselves this much, it’s probably the singer’s fault. A MINUS
ALI HASSAN KUBAN
The Rough Guide to Ali Hassan Kuban
(World Music Network import)
Situated in that strangely familiar territory between kinda boring and utterly weird, Kuban was modernity’s musical ambassador from Nubia, which some—mostly boring Afrocentric weirdos, but that doesn’t make them wrong—regard as a prime source of the Mediterranean culture all Americans share. And though it says something about developmental feedback and lineaments of greatness that this wedding singer from an ancient land was known to tip his kufi to James Brown, his funk has always sounded indigenous to me. For one thing, it’s melodic in an ancient, pentatonic way—that’s the Nubian part. The instrumental sound is Egyptian right down to its big-city horns and accordions. And the vocals would fit into many black African contexts—think flat rather than showy, Wassoulou rather than Wolof. Kuban cut four albums after he began playing Europe in the ’80s, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they’re trancelike or soporific. This draws on all of them. The best-of as public service. A MINUS
A funny guy, an angry guy, he sets up a concept album with a concept EP that ostensibly plays off his disappearance, from where he ain’t gonna tell you ’cause you really ought to know. In fact, it’s an excuse to drop random science about the place of hip hop in the military-industrial complex. A MINUS
The Lost Tapes
Remember that posthumous outtakes CD Bad Boy attributed to Biggie? No? Good then—it was foul, not just ill shit but stupid ill shit. These finalized versions of tracks fans have long bootlegged is the opposite. Where the ex-dealer thought it wise to conceal his brutishness, the fake thug thought it wise to conceal his sensitivity. Surrounding outtakes that were just outtakes is back-in-the-day recommended to Tim and Missy (even has some pronunciation in it) and four autobiographical pieces. The two about his parents are juicier than the mother love gushing from God’s Son. The Afrocentric pep song is so much deeper than the mawkish, misinformed new “I Can” that you believe he might yet get politics. And “Drunk by Myself” describes his alcoholism. Pass what Courvoisier? B PLUS
The Complete Recordings
You want full disclosure, I’ll give you full disclosure: Carola Dibbell and I annotated this reissue of two long-lost early-’80s EPs for $350, below my usual word rate but it was love—I did my part in an elbow cast. Two Georgia girls, 16 and 18 when they started, tiny and childlike and minimalist and sui generis and monumental—read all about it when you plunk down your almost-a-buck-a-minute (and-worth-it) for 10 songs in 22 minutes. Our notes, however, celebrate the official oeuvre, not the 13 live bonus tracks, only one a repeat title and only another—the best, as they knew—previously released. Though a few hold up fine as is, these latter, which I first heard when I got the final, are educational, as bonus tracks tend to be. Their lesson is that the EPs, rude though they seem, comprise recordings, not songs. As songs, the previously unreleaseds would be good enough properly sung, arranged, and balanced, and they also wouldn’t be on a par with “Playtime,” “Person,” or “Such N Such.” Lynda and Linda were charming live, you can tell. But on record, it took plenty of artifice to put their naivete across. Docked a notch for conflict of interest. A MINUS
Up until Doolittle in 1989, when the tunes blossomed, I pretty much missed this band. Put off by Black Francis’s feyness, I sensed what is now clear, that he’s a pomo sociophobe of a familiar and tedious sort. Where in retrospect his philosophical limitations seem harmless annoyances, they portended many regrettable developments in irony, junk culture, sexual eccentricity, and other folkways that deserved better. But that wasn’t reason enough to resist the music. In such cases, the recommended m.o. is in the destructive element immerse—understand its attractions from the inside, the better to combat or, what fun, succumb to them. Now Surfer Rosa and the Come On Pilgrim EP seem audaciously funny and musically prophetic. I like the way the elements form a whole without coalescing, and the brushed-aluminum patina they got on their punk-pop-art-metal amalgam. I guess these nine Come On Pilgrim outtakes are a little looser and wilder than the stuff they put on the market, but in retrospect once again they’re every bit as much a galvanic hoot. A MINUS
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO RAÏ
(World Music Network import)
Although I could easily manufacture Islamic dynamite (secular, true, but so’s Saddam) from my own store of cunningly concealed materials (if the inspectors don’t spy the chaba between the Faces and Donald Fagen, am I really obliged to point her out?), I’ve never heard a rai compilation that made me want to party till I puked. Ben Omar Rachid’s hard-to-find Tunisian Oujda-Casablanca Introspections still comes closest, but for something more representative this will have to do. It flattens when you want it to rev, decelerates awkwardly for godmother Cheikha Remitti, and kisses Cheb Mami’s pert ass. But its highlights include an intense opener from cross-dressing Abdou, desert romance from the murdered Cheb Hasni, and Cheb Zahouani’s “Moul El Bar,” “The Barman” to you, about partying till you puke. A MINUS
Brussels is already rocking when the cocky little French-Algerian embarks on a greatest hits selection from Made on Medina, my choice for hard rock album of 2001, though that Linkin Park joint gave it a run and sold more copies to boot. Sandwiched around the Berber-sounding chant “Bent Sahra,” four songs climax with the onomatopoeic “Foqt Foqt” before slowing down a little into the midtempo “Ala Jalkoum,” here differentiated with a Femi Kuti cameo. Seems like cheating, reprising all that Made in Medina. Only this album rocks even harder. A MINUS
I Get Wet
It’s simple enough once you accept it for what it is, which is as hard as the music is simple (and hard). It’s a Ramones album for an era when “Blitzkrieg Bop” is on the Shea p.a. and professional wrestling is on drugs. It’s a Gary Glitter/Kiss/Quiet Riot album with no lyrical lapses, tempo shifts, self-expression, or other concessions to human fallibility. The songs don’t all sound the same because if they did the thing would be perfect. And it isn’t. A MINUS
I’ve long suspected that a musically pleasurable album would betray everything the misanthropes at Def Jux stood for—their principles, their vision, their neuroses. But all it took was a normal rapper, which Mr. Lif is—for a rapper, abnormally so. However autobiographical this song cycle, which begins with a stickup and ends with a nuclear holocaust, it evinces not only conceptual ambition but detailed knowledge of what it’s like to work a job and raise a family. It’s underpinned by an analysis more Boots Riley than Talib Kweli or Steve Earle. And it fleshes out its cohesive narrative and cogent ideas with beats that respect the spare antipop ethos without abjuring such wayward rhythm elements as femme chorus, bass-drum-whoop jam, and $20 synth loop. A
Power passion speed—there can’t be any new way to configure those old saws around guitar-bass-drums, can there? Only then there is. Hardcore punk and hardcore ska join mook metal, hip hop criminal-mindedness, and the occasional rap element to form a music whose intense focus is absolutely punk and just about unprecedented. Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong and Blink-182 drummer Travis Berker are the masterminds, previously unrecorded hanger-on Rob Aston the singer who added lyrics and meaning. Aston sounds like the young Shane MacGowan and writes as both a drug-dealing scumbag and a street person on a mission. He could be either, or both. He could have juiced a memorable one-off or a definitive classic. A
Dud of the Month
The Last Broadcast
I don’t have the stomach to go check my Toto and Journey records; in fact, I don’t have my Toto and Journey records. But the burden of proof is on the perp. Technically proficient, melodically resourceful, sonically up-to-date—Toto and Journey were all that. They also rocked moderato and sang as if thoughtfully plumbing their Caucasian feelings. Admittedly, the Brits’ squarer sense of form boxes their corn up more discreetly, and their reassuring lyrical generalizations address matters of the spirit more than affairs of the heart. Also, they’re not yet huge here, which means so much to young people seeking identities they don’t have to share like Legos, although older people pining for their pop youth would just as soon they turn into the Beatles (sigh). Nevertheless, this is as vapid as it is expert, and if it ever does get huge here, a lot of slightly older people are going to wonder what they were thinking. B MINUS
Additional Consumer News
HONORABLE MENTION: Frank Black and the Catholics, Devil’s Workshop (SpinArt): makes writing short catchy postpunk songs seem so easy—maybe too easy, considering how hard the longer ones come (“Velvety,” “Whiskey in Your Shoes”); the Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.): the good-versus-evil of dreams (“Fight Test,” “Do You Realize??”); The High & Mighty Present: Eastern Conference All Stars III (Eastern Conference): ill for its own antisocial, tortured, sexist, barely profitable sake (Cage, “Ballad of Worms”; High & Mighty & Eminem, “Last Hit [Original]”); Nas, God’s Son (Columbia): confessions of a mama’s boy, tales of a hustler, lies of a mortal man (“Book of Rhymes,” “Get Down”); AZ, Aziatic (Motown): the Nas sidekick’s name rhymes with ***-*, and he makes the most of it (“Once Again,” “A-1 Performance”); Raï Superstars (Mondo Melodia): except for Cheikha Remitti, recorded in the shade of a nearby camel, the cosmopolitan, Francophile article (Cheb Nadir, “Rani Rya”; Cheikha Remitti, “Rani Alla M’Rida”; Noria, “Quin Rak Tergoud”); Khaled, Ya Taleb (Mondo Melodia): these daftly annotated old odds and sods could so easily be Les Meilleurs, and ain’t (“Ya El Mima,” “Ana Bia Taxi”); Xzibit, Man Vs (Columbia): he got a right to brag da beats (“Release Date,” “Enemies”); Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol): let Green Eyes dump him for real and we’ll see how long he hums in the void (“Green Eyes,” “In My Place”); Jay-Z, The Blueprint 2 (Roc-A-Fella): anyone who samples Paul Anka when he wanted Frank is no longer Jehovah and will never be the Chairman of the Board (“U Don’t Know [Remix],” “Poppin’ Tags”); Scarface, The Fix (Def Jam South): cocaine slanger as around-the-way G—paranoid, self-righteous, public-spirited, so downhome (“Safe,” “On My Block”).
CHOICE CUTS: Frank Black and the Catholics, “The Black Rider,” “1826” (Black Letter Days, SpinArt); Sawt el Atlas, “Andalucia” (Donia, Tinder); Super Furry Animals, “Tradewinds” (Rings Around the World, XL); the Vines, “Highly Evolved,” “Get Free” (Highly Evolved, Capitol).
DUDS: Benzino, Redemption (Elektra); Mercury Rev, All Is Dream (V2); Mohamed Mounir, Earth . . . Peace (Mondo Melodia); Busta Rhymes, It Ain’t Safe No More . . . (J).