Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Immortals #93 - Booker T. And The MG's

Too much is made of their being an integrated band. Recognition for their monumental importance as the house band at Stax, a fine bit of historical revisionism. Their sound? Overestimated. And that's a shame, because they really should be loved for exactly what they were.

First, addressing the obvious- they had no vocalist. One of only 2 entrants in the Immortals list not to have featured a singer. But, at the risk of sounding an apologist, I'd posit that the organ and guitar on those records were a duo worthy of mention alongside any fronting duo in rock history. And I don't mean Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper, not the men or how they played those instruments/parts- that's an important distinction. I mean that the organ and the guitar on those records were Mick and Keith, John and Paul... or maybe more appropriately Sam and Dave. Even backing Wilson Pickett or Eddie Floyd, the instrumental track itself always seemed to present another frontman and sidekick, commanding the listener up front in the mix.

It's good that they had their effect on other people's records, because they released precious few compositions of their own (the landmark Green Onions contains a mere 3 original tunes.) Most if Onions is composed of reproductions of songs they'd already fleshed-out on other people's records, and yeah, it's sort of impossible not to prefer the originals we know and love. That's not to say that it isn't a sheer pleasure to listen to Booker T. and the boys- that title track is utterly un-improvable. But it would frankly be a lot easier to overlook the fact of their own songs' scarcity if it didn't highlight a suspicion you get listening to the MG's: that in a few records-worth of material, they could have ended up so much more than extras for the Akroyd/Landis canon.

In another universe they might have been the Animals (if never the Stones): remembered for their lasting influence but also beneficiaries of an era of mania that let them cash in while they were young enough to enjoy it. Instead, they get the distinction of being imitated in modern music just as often as they're sampled outright, a more obscured legacy (though certainly one of honor itself.) Maybe that's all fitting, just as well for the world's best backing band.

Click here to read more.....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Immortals #94 - Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails are the most popular "industrial rock" band of all time. So yeah, Trent Reznor got famous, but just technically.

No era of popular music was ever as accepting of naked emotional release as the 1990s, but as the grunge boom snowballed out of control, we lost our sense for deciding quality from insistence, meaning any two-bit lump could and would be signed to a multi-record deal worth many major label millions for our eagerness to confuse earnestness with talent. This would be taken to even further extremes (bordering on the grotesque and/or humorous) in the early 2000s with nu-metal and emo ascendant, but in 1994, that shit was juuust about to ripen. And so, after a modestly successful (but only cautiously embraced) also-ran debut called Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails was ready set the new curve.

The resulting album, The Downward Spiral, feels pretty transparently like exactly the record Steve Albini and Brian Eno's hyperneurotic trust fund kid would make. And not really in a cool way, but I fully get how it would have been taken that way 15 years ago.

In hindsight, I think the most compelling thing about the album today- like so much about the alternative/industrial genres- are its peripheral associations. No matter how schlocky Mark Romanek's video for "Closer" seems in a post-Saw-franchise-society, the truth is it's actually every bit as vital as the song for most of us, and probably more. Johnny Cash had a knack for stealing the songs he covered by virtue of the indelible, unmistakable mark he left on the source material, but I think we can all tell that he had an easier time of it elevating album-closer "Hurt" by virtue of the patina of superficiality it carries when eventually filed away in the Reznor oeuvre. I mean, Bowie himself wrote the damned piece in the original "Immortals" issue of RS, and for a while there in my thought proccess that alone seemed as interesting thing to write about as anything else related to The Downward Spiral.

And it was. And that's why I just said that. Yet Michael Trent Reznor remains a semi-famous, sort-of rock star... and a damned millionaire to boot! Does that dredge up any of the anger we were supposedly feeling and embracing in the 90s? Not really.

What were we talking about again?

Click here to read more.....