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Cassette (Re)collection: 4

Posted by NumberSix , 21 September 2009 · 331 views

When I first caught the tape-recording bug, the very first thing I recorded was the audio from a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. Woody was forced to play piano at gunpoint by a bank robber hiding inside the piano. Musical mayhem ensued. I listened to it again and again, but the cartoon and the musical number remained anonymous to me for 25 years...until the Internet revealed unto me that the soundtrack was Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2 and the name of the cartoon was "Convict Concerto". Years after that, YouTube was invented for the express purpose of letting me watch "Convict Concerto" again for the first time since elementary school:


I love it when the Internet shows me how it's salvaged pieces of my childhood.

Time to make with the keys:

Beck -- The problem with leading off your debut album with a killer first single is that the rest of the album has to struggle that much harder to compete. I've lost count of the number of albums I bought only to listen to song 1, rewind, and repeat. Despite deceptively shaky vocals and a chorus I couldn't understand for years (I took German in high school, not Spanish), "Loser" was a unique slacker-folk-rap-shuffle that sounded like nothing I'd heard before, and I replayed it constantly until the first few inches of tape began to wear down. Much of the rest of Mellow Gold sounded like nothing I'd wanted to pay to hear before. I sympathized with the working-teen stomp of "Soul-Sucking Jerk", and "Beercan" deserved to be a modest Top 100 white-dance hit. The rest of the album is a letdown in its stylistic bifurcation -- one-half atonal meandering folk lullabies, one-half promising mad beats drowned out by testing-testing-1-2-3 voicebox effects and look-ma-I'm-adult-now! profanities. I also bought Odelay when it was released in hopes of some improvement; the hit/miss ratio didn't uptick nearly enough to save it from pruning a few years ago. Beck might sound better with a pushy control-freak producer forcing him to perform one take after another until his voice achieves musical notes for more than one measure at a time.

The B-52s -- By all rights, nothing about their bestselling album Cosmic Thing should appeal to me. Everything the band does is a glossy throwback to the sort of overrated sugar-filled oldies I avoid while surfing the FM dial....but I love this album anyway. The chipper trio of Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Fred Schneider are a shiny happy antidote of unironic joy coated in just enough new-wave artificial flavoring to neutralize the overbearing moroseness of a grim-'n'-gritty world. Even though "Love Shack" follows me to every wedding and holiday party I attend, I never have that urge to shoo it away (unlike, say, the equally persistent "YMCA", which can dance off and die now). The other singles "Channel Z", "Roam", and "Deadbeat Club" have their own strengths; the filler material doesn't dip too badly in quality, either.

[Next entry: a parade of side projects from a punk singer turned paranoid orator.]

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