23 May 2006
I'M A BUSINESSMAN
Download: "St. Elsewhere"
Obviously we expected hijinks--the question was what and who and what would the rap blog community have to say about it. But Gnarls Barkley played it surprisingly simple: Technically, Gnarls Barkley cancelled last minute; Brush Fire, a Gnarls Barkley cover band, filled in for them. So 13 people came out to do the work of two--80s hair band flash and big wigs, three backup singers, four strings, some dudes on guitar and keyboards, a drummer, another guy with a cape, and then an enormous black man also wearing a cape. Those last two guys came out to "Final Countdown," more hijinks, and you know that got the mostly late-20s crowd throwing up the guns for "I didn't know Gnarls Barkley wrote that song for Arrested Development..." I hope you can imagine the hijinks when Brush Fire did the song about needing "some real good head." Can you? The answer is guns.
The goof felt tossed off, very superficial, until the band actually started playing. Webster's mix was off--keyboards pushed all the way up, strings and singers back, the drums mic'd such that you could only hear the bass and snare and no cymbals and all show, like when Digweed brings a turntable for the crowd but secretly has a five hour mp3 of thumping trance playing off a nano (you can find it yourself by googling thumping-trance-digweezy.mp3). But the mix was off because Brush Fire was a cover band--I mean right? The masquerade explains away the bad mix, the no momentum show, Cee-lo saying he wants to see "titties... and crowdsurfing," the general non-experience that was the Gnarls Barkley live show. More than explains, the masquerade almost demands imperfection, no?
Additionally: A bunch of times Cee-lo said "we just fucking" or "we're gonna fuck around, let's do it" etc. Weird to me to see an artist so anxiously denying ownership over his own songs, or at least renouncing responsibility for them by throwing his arms up with a shrug and and a smiley face, "here's a trifle!" as Hardly says. Even "Transformer," which is mostly just thinly-veiled navel-gazing and preemptive self-defense against people saying he jumped ship on rap and you just don't pull that shit, not around here on the internets--"I'm just being myself," he says and if you don't like it, internets, it's your fault not his.
But people love Gnarls so no worries right? Except that the new thing is not complaining about the glorious Gnarls hype but pointing out that all the Gnarls criticism hasn't really met the music head on--not given it the credit it deserves. "Crazy" is #1 in the UK but apparently that doesn't matter--that's not why this album is a classic. All the people who say this should really check out this guy/artist named Prince--get his worst records and chances are you'll find a "Smiley Faces" on each of those too, maybe a "St. Elsewhere" on the same platter if you're lucky.
Me, I like a few songs fine. But after the show I wonder whether Cee-lo/Danger Mouse think Gnarls Barkley is really all about the music, having fun with some sweet soul brothers and cutting some tracks for kicks and all. I don't mean to say there's a big get rich quick conspiracy involved here with CL/DM at the helm--there are much better ways to make money than the pop music. But I do mean to say they've found themselves or been forced into one of the more fascinating instances of the publicists and publicity engines becoming more "artistic" than the albums and artists themselves. These are the people leaking the untitled tracks, mobilizing myspace and the blogs, signing off on bizarre press photos and so on to create the facade of "totally tossed off pop that hits the spot ya dig!" when in fact it's their very very serious commercial art project, and they're not taking the piss.
Look at all these poorman's fluxblog mp3 bloggers fighting each other over hit counts and stupid-ass blurbs about their indie rock promos piling up and yeah, you start feeling like all the Gnarls hype feels a little slimy. My guess is a lot of people who got in on GB early on don't have the first clue they're clowning themselves by needing to post everyday--a promo and a concert ticket is nothing to a publicist-artist trying to generate grassroots buzz for bands that are way less interesting than the mechanisms by which they become popular. Voxtrot? Come on. When Wart Hardkavy swings by my apartment next January to pick up my Pazz and Jop ballot, chances are good my number one album will be Magnum PR, my number one single Sioux Z.
P. Diddy showed up last night, so did T.I. and this one guy who looked like a hybrid Nitsuh Abebe-Albert Einstein. All of these guys were not at Webster to hear Cee-lo sing about how he likes fucking dead people. They came to see Cee-lo ask "you guys having fun?" and a bunch of white people throw up their guns, then 30 seconds later watch Cee-lo ask "when's the last time you guys had this much fun?"--not a single person in the room knew that the answer was 30 seconds ago.