Thursday, October 30, 2003
After forays into an eclectic blend of world music on his last two albums, Joe Strummer's posthumous release with The Mescaleros is basically a return to rock album.
Ironically, some of the album's best moments are when Strummer and the boys venture outside of the rock realm. With its backing vocalists and horn section, "Get Down Moses" sounds like vintage roots reggae. On "Midnight Jam," samples of Strummer's voice float above an ethereal instrumental--he passed away before recording the song's vocals.
The only rock song that really works besides "Arms Aloft" is the album's opener, "Coma Girl," a song that recalls Strummer's former group, The Clash. "Coma Girl," a mix of reggae rhythm and rock n' roll, suggests that Strummer may have been returning to the music that made him a punk rock icon with The Clash. Unfortunately, we will never know where the late, great Strummer was headed.
Worldwide Underground EP
If you consider Erykah Badu to be just another diva with a sweet voice, you might find her latest release, Worldwide Underground, a bit alienating. Her voice is sweet, of course, but it's the way she uses it that sets her apart from everyone else. Worldwide is a daring, sophisticated album--one that shows how seriously she considers her music as art, and how far she can stretch her musical talents. In the course of eight songs, Badu spans the whole musical board--from R'n'B hip-hop to techno rock. Guest players abound on the project, ranging from pop-darling Lenny Kravitz to underground hip-hop heroes Dead Prez. Roy Hargrove even pops in with some funky improv to sweeten the eclectic pot. But it's the 10-minute-plus Badu solo, "I Want You," that's clearly the pièce de resistance--the song seemingly grows from nothingness, propelled by a simple heartbeat, gaining urgency. Finally, when the melody breaks out...man, it grooves. It's one of those songs that you wish would go on forever, and Badu obliges. It may seem slightly indulgent, music like this, but it's music that we'd benefit from indulging in as well.
THE MARS VOLTA
De-loused in the Comatorium
Simply put, The Mars Volta is one of the most impressive and eminent new musical projects--with a sound that combines too many influences to be listed here. Their second album, De-loused in the Comatorium, is driven by an idea that is as progressive as Yes' The Fragile or anything by Emerson, Lake and Palmer but freighted with an intense emotional sincerity and (thank god) without the silly capes.
Vocalist Cedric Zavala's range is impressive and his delivery passionate but he pigeonholes himself in certain Bjork-like harmonies, which is forgivable considering that this is a concept album. And for comfort's sake, listeners might want to disregard the lyrics, which are impenetrably self-referential and filled with images of putrefaction.
In terms of composition, "Drunkship of Lanterns" is one of the album's most complex tracks, waffling at times between a sound that is alternately Radiohead and Miami Sound Machine. The sixth track, "Eria Tarka", showcases what The Mars Volta do best; fluid harmonic vocalization in a fascist-controlled instrumental context.
One might want to call it "indie" or "math rock" but De-Loused in the Comatorium should be filed under "prog(ressive)"--a designation thought to be long dead.