Thursday, November 14, 2002
Mr. Scruff | Ninja Tune
"It''s jazz for your trousers," says Andy Carthy, aka Mr. Scruff, who hails from Stockport, England. Trouser Jazz is Mr. Scruff''s second full-length release on Ninja Tune Records, which is well known for signing other notorious, humorous producers such as turntablist Kid Koala and Luke Vibert''s side project Wagon Christ.
Sheffield University art student-turned-DJ Mr. Scruff messed about for several years with goofy, obscure records, cutting and pasting them together into a sonic palette until he was finally discovered eight years ago. A mix of random, silly samples from vinyl excursions, bubbling jazz licks, bouncing funk measures, roots reggae, electro bop, hip hop and soul all instantly reveal Mr. Scruff''s playful, cheery sensibilities. Deep-fried disco melts into broken beats on "Sweetsmoke." Mysterious, sultry R&B vocals lathered over cheeky guitar licks on "Beyond" echo the days when Shirley Bassey ruled the airwaves. A kaleidoscope of wacky samples, Trouser Jazz is littered with eccentric electro singles like "Come On Grandad," "Shrimp" and my personal favorite, "Ahoy There!" which contains samples of Scruff''s cult single "Fish."
All tracks on Trouser Jazz are consistent with his motto, "Keep It Unreal."
Art, another one of Scruff''s vocations, mirrors that mindset as well. He still doodles odd little line drawings inspired by the fruity riffs blaring from his speakers. The potato-like line drawings groovin'' on the cover of Trouser Jazz were drawn by Scruffy himself. (To witness more of his madness, visit www.mrscruff.com.)
Scruff isn''t interested in fame. He does not attempt to appeal to the masses. He''s interested in knowing the answers to some important questions: "Does it make you go wibbly? Does it frimble?"
Even Madonna has joined the Scruffy following, revealing to Mixmag what she''s currently listening to: "Mr. Scruff. I love that weird little album that''s got so much personality."
Mr. Scruff doesn''t see that as something to get too keyed-up about. He''s too lost in his own world. Scruff says, "I tend to stand out just by doing my own thing." Keeping it unreal, an aphorism for a new musical generation.
A little too late in the game to be seriously placed right smack dab in the middle of classic rock heaven (despite at least a half-dozen tracks in rotation on most of those outlets), this Seattle group, fronted by the Wilson sisters, actually started a serious trend of their own. That is, in what would have been the twilight of their career, they began to employ lots of outside songwriters and hyper-professional middle-of-the-road producers who were more than happy to loan their tunes and time to these proven commodity movers. In that, they paved the way for Whitesnake, Ozzy and, most successfully, Aerosmith as late ''80s arena rockers on their second wind.
Like Aerosmith, however, Heart was at its absolute peak as a self-contained unit. Even if it sold many more records as a blow-dried hair metal ensemble, its great stuff is off the first two discs. "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You" successfully married Zeppelin heavy to Jefferson Airplane harmony, and the band''s finest moment ever, "Barracuda," completely demolishes the track whose horse-racing beats clearly inspired the song, Zep''s "Achilles'' Last Stand." Many other marvels of mid-tempo FM staplehood abound, like "Straight On" and "Dog and Butterfly," as well as the great ode to oral sex, "Even It Up."
The mid-to-late ''80s stuff is garbage. Glitzy and drenched in digital effects, Heart reached nadirs that no respectable rock band ever fell to while actually making sales. "Never" and "All I Want to Do is Make Love to You" are comparable to Journey or REO at their bottom and are very much a reminder of their Grace Slick fixation-she too turned into a manufacturer of dreck in the mid/late ''80s after her grand dance with sisterhood. Heart, like the Jefferson whatever, is therefore best consumed early-inspired stuff first, with the latter-day trash heaved out. The opposite of baked goods, for sure, but you get the picture.