Friday, July 28, 2017

New Order Presents Be Music

After reading Peter Hook's New Order bio, hearing this collection of tracks produced by members of the band is like uncovering a time capsule from the early 80's, and one can almost revisualize the atmosphere in the studio at the time thanks to Hook's painstakingly constructed timelines throughout his book.

Lord only knows how the people at Factory Benelux managed to secure the cooperation of the original New Order lineup in order to make this three disc set happen.  Factory Benelux did license and release many of these tracks in their original run, but maybe this was their way of paying tribute to label founder Annik Honore after her death in 2014.

The liner notes (which are worth the price by themselves -- painstakingly detailed and filled with entertaining stories) imply that they took on these jobs to allow for experimentation outside of the boundaries of New Order.  Experimentation here not only meant taking sounds that worked so well on New Order records and bringing them to other people's records.  It also meant messing around in the studio and making mistakes on their friend's records that they'd be reluctant to do with their own music.

The collection is a microcosm of New Order itself -- together but separate.  Disc 1 is dominated by Bernard Sumner's work.  It's mostly him trying to land a big New York club hit via various takes on the hard electro sound of "Confusion".  The cool, club-ready sounds are there, and the slick production couldn't have been better for the time.  That extra spark of inspiration that made New Order songs into classics are missing through.  Sometimes it's because the attempt to copy a specific song's aura is too blatant.  Paul Haig's "The Only Truth" is a perfectly serviceable dance rock tune, but it's not "Love Vigilantes", and it's trying too hard to be "Love Vigilantes" to not suffer by the comparison.

Disc 2 is dominated by Steve Morris' work, which turns out to be the most timeless stuff on here.  52nd Street's "Can't Afford (To Let You Go) is the electro funk stomper with a strong whiff of "Let The Music Play" that basically trumps all of Barney's attempts to produce the same.  In more recent productions such as his remix of Section 25's "Another Hilltop", and original productions and remixes for Factory Floor and Ladytron's Helen Marnie, he settles into a streamlined club pop formula that could fill floors equally well in the 90's, 00's and 10's.

Disc 3 is the most heterogeneous of the bunch, with Peter Hook's experiments in rhythm, the lone Ian Curtis/Rob Gretton production pairing (!), and the amazing "Video 5-8-6" that I'm thrilled to finally own on CD instead of in bootleg form (yes, I know it received its first official release a few years ago).

The full collection, spanning over thirty years of Be Music productions, offers a cutting room floor version of New Order as they evolved over the same time period, that is, if New Order had retreated from big rock star tours and singles entirely and decided to focus solely on their favourite club scene of the moment.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Radiohead in Israel

Radiohead played a gig in Park HaYarkon last night in front of 50 000 people.  It was the second shockingly huge crowd to pack the park in a week, following the GnR show that drew over 60 000.  Both of them outdrew the Rolling Stones' obsessively promoted gig from a couple of years ago.  The suffocating heat and humidity by all accounts couldn't put a damper on the spirits or endurance of the band or the audience.

For whatever reason, this particular gig drew more bile and insults from the haters.  Nobody bothered to stop the Britney Spears concert on July 3 from happening, presumably because they felt that she and her fans were too stupid and vacuous to appreciate the issues involved.

The lesson, as always: don't acknowledge the haters, don't feed the trolls.  Over the years I've read interviews with plenty of bands, big and small, declare that they're playing the gig and everyone who doesn't like it can fuck off.  The haters love dragging everything down to their level -- a pseudo academic grandstanding debate, where they can spout their bigotry and lies to an easily duped and misled public.  When they don't get the chance to launch the debate, they get pissed off and complain to their small cache of hardcore followers.  Thom Yorke's interview in Rolling Stone could have defused the situation in a perfect world.  His words were too well thought out, too well considered, too eloquently stated.  It kicked off the "he said, she said" portion of the debate that had now been given the green light to truly get underway.  Less talk, more telling your opponents to eat their own shit is the best defense.  It's not the most mature defense, but when hypocrites accuses you of moral failure despite being perfectly happy to make money anywhere HE can, the time for feigning politeness is over.  In short, the haters and bigots bully artists like Radiohead and piggyback on their fame to inflict their ignorance and bile on a much larger audience.  They rely on the cultural cache of others to broadcast their audience that they're not capable of reaching otherwise.

A NY Post article detailed Radiohead's connection to their Israeli fans going back nearly a quarter of a century.  Why hasn't the band tried to make that point themselves?  I hate to pick on Radiohead here because they are clearly the good guys in this story .  But why not say "we've been there, we like playing there, we have loyal fans there", end of debate? 

Thom Yorke inadvertently (I think) spoke to the essence of the entire phenomenon of anti-factual Israel-related reporting when he said, in his RS interview, "there are people I admire … who I would never dream of telling where to work or what to do or think" and "they talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that. It's extraordinary."

If you respect a person then you respect their judgement and their opinions, even if you disagree.  Celebrities who work toward social justice issues are usually afforded a lot of leeway on this, i.e. "if you respect my work as an artist and agree with my stance on these political issues, then I want to introduce you to this other cause that you may not have thought about but that is very important to me personally".  Here we have a list of artists/bullies who are happy to enlist in a mutual admiration society with Radiohead when it benefits them.  Radiohead then announce a gig in Tel Aviv and suddenly the same people are yelling "don't listen to Radiohead, they're uninformed and ignorant!"  If this ever happens to you, then they never respected your opinions to begin with.  Israel is one of the few political issues that creates this type of ugly, self-interested arrogance in people.  "We were happy to agree with you about these ten other things, but on *that* particular thing, you're wrong, and it makes you a terrible human being."   

Jonny Greenwood is married to an Israeli artist (I have never known any Mizrahi Jews to self identify as an "Arab Jew", which is how the media have consistently reported it.  But  I'd bet that 95% of the people reading these articles in Western liberal media have never heard of a Mizrachi Jew.  Baby steps toward properly educating the public, I suppose).  Can you imagine any of these so-called "enlightened" artists lecturing a colleague about making a visit to their spouse's birthplace?  It's almost impossible to contemplate.  Would they talk down to a Westerner with a Chinese-born wife in this way?  "Are you aware that there are human rights abuses in China -- how dare you and your wife travel to China and engage with people there?  Are you aware that you are enabling the oppressors?"  How much of a prick do you have do be to belittle a man and his family in that way?  

I would estimate that Radiohead sold at least 20K more tickets than they would have if the "controversy" had not existed.  Their fans were disproportionally exposed to the entire sordid affair and it created additional interest in their show that might not have existed otherwise.