Monday, March 31, 2008

Video: Pet Shop Boys "Integral"

Releasing "Integral" as a single should have been such a great way to close out the Pet Shop Boys celebrated Fundamental era. The most overtly political song the Boys have ever written has been championed as a favorite ever since Popjustice published the album's first review. The combination of catchy and decidedly "up" dance music with lyrics that address the UK's adoption of mandatory identity cards creates a chilling effect demonstrating "what fascistic power sounds like, and in doing so reminds us of why it must be avoided". However, when Disco 4 generated the single release of "Integral" what the general public heard was not the amazing album version but a remixed version of the song that takes a direct route in musically interpreting the evils suggested in the lyrics. While pleasant enough as an extra track the "Immaculate" mix of the song has no business pretending to be the "single" version as it truly takes the wind out of the sails of the song leaving those who haven't the original scratching their heads and wondering what the fuss was about. What a wasted opportunity for the Boys to demonstrate why they are still relevant and creating compelling contemporary music.

That being said the video is fantastic. Actually there are several versions of the video, including some designed to be watched on youtube and on cell phones, but the main video is something special. A white card shows us the world as the song's narrator sees it, pixels containing bits of information, as we visit some of the busiest hubs of London by way of time-lapse photography. Suggesting the rapid pace at which technology and authorities can identify individuals even in massive crowds it finds a good visual representation of what privacy advocates struggle to express. The room of smiling Petheads posing with digital identities as the song proclaims "If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear/If you've something to hide you shouldn't even be here" is particularly effective reinforcing the rapturous tone of the original that suggests people are willingly giving up the fundamental freedoms of democracy in the name of the war on terror:

: The block images that feature in the video form a type of barcode that must be in greater use in the UK than the US and can be scanned with cell phones that link you to a number of sites that address issues in the song. My research indicates the band made the images available to download as a pdf so fans can create their own videos but this probably requires a copy of Disco 4 in your disc drive and visiting but it has never worked for me. There are only a few fan videos on youtube which might mean that I'm not alone in my confusion. Still much respect to the Boys for trying out new ideas on a song that deserves a mass audience.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Flashback: Tricky "Pumpkin" (1995)

Tricky's Maxinquaye is not only one of the high water marks of the trip hop movement but one of the most critically praised albums of the 1990s with honors that include ranking as Spin magazine's 2nd favorite album of 1995 and one of Q magazine's 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. Portishead and Massive Attack had defined the genre in the public eye by the time the album was released but Tricky's vision changed the mixture of the genre's formula suggesting a British hip hop as even the album's biggest rock moment, the NIN-esque "Black Steel", is really just re-imagining a Public Enemy song. While some critics would argue it was the production that really grabbed the ear Martina Topley Bird got plenty of press, along with booklet photo appearances, as the sweet voiced female foil to Tricky's mumbling raps many marked her as a future star which played out when she released a 2003 Mercury Prize nominated solo album.
The album's sixth (and final) single is an odd piece of music. A largely unedited sample of The Smashing Pumpkins Gish era song "Suffer" provides the backing track as Tricky does his usual vocal interplay not with Martina as he does on almost every other track on the album but with a young vocalist Orbital had recently discovered yodelling during a performance art piece. This is the music video debut of Alison Goldfrapp:

: Following the success of Maxinquaye Tricky had a fling with Bjork, put in a memorable appearance as Gary Oldman's henchman in The Fifth Element and released four increasingly disappointing albums in four years before bragging about his record deal on the flopped single "For Real" which was his last before he was dropped by the previously indulgent Island. Tricky did stage a comeback with Blowback and is currently involved in a variety of projects including an album that might be released on April 7 2008 although you would hope to see some promotion at this point if that is true.
Alison Goldfrapp went on to ride a white horse and create amazing music with Will Gregory.

Fun Fact: "Suffer" was produced by Butch Vig who would call on Tricky to remix his band Garbage's own trip hop inspired single "Milk" shortly after the release of "Pumpkin".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Video: Portishead "Machine Gun"

The first shot out from Portishead's upcoming Third album is the single "Machine Gun". An uncompromising piece of minimalist electronic percussion it sounds like something you might hear from Cabaret Voltaire or Nitzer Ebb in the mid 80s making it something bound to put off many of the band's fans who have been waiting for over a decade for a new album. Those claiming to be familiar with the whole album have said this is the oddest moment on it which suggests to me that the band have no interest in being on the mainstream musical radar. Geoff Barrow in particular seems to be an opinionated fellow, try skimming a few of his blog entries to get an idea, that despises most everything mainstream and I suspect releasing this single first is an attempt to separate the group from anything even remotely pop:

: If the video above isn't working then stop by the official site where you can watch it in full screen mode after a quick sign up. Now it should be really interesting to see where the rest of the album takes us.