Friday, September 24, 2004

(apologies for the lengthy gap, but have you Run Away Home yet ...?)

songs currently


Two songs in one, the one existing at right angles to the other, fighting for supremacy; underneath the gloss, one of the weirdest hits of the Clinton/Blair boom era, and possibly the most frightened. Certainly the only Puffy hit from his annus mirabilis - in which he became a hate figure, not without good reason, in the circles where I moved at the time - to have anything to recommend it; if you want to know what this song would be if you took away the mental and spiritual clash within, you only need to think of Mase's horrendous, offensively non-committal and un-arsed "Feels So Good" (horribly apt that his comeback single was actually based around John Sebastian's theme to the sitcom that first made John Travolta's name in the US, which sounds like a six-years-ago Hip Hop Connection letter writer's grimly comic fantasy). "It's All About The Benjamins", the starting point for Puffy's critical assassination, was obnoxious even at the time and has been made still more so by later political developments, and the video for "Been Around The World" is beloved of that fucking prick "Daniel RF" so obviously IT MUST FUCKING DIE.

What they lack is subtext. There's nothing there beneath the uptown boast and swagger, and therefore whatever currency they may ever have had (and they *did* have plenty; I'd be the first person to admit that HHC hardly represented the mass public's taste at the time, especially not outside the US) dies off entirely when the mood turns (wasn't "I Need A Girl (Part 1)" a pathetic ghost?). In "Mo Money Mo Problems" though there's an inherent conflict between the usual Puffy '97 opulence - those silver suits in the video! - and the inference of the title; however hard you try to hide it, shit still piles up, still fucks things up, the difficulty of adjusting to circumstances well beyond those you were born to IS fucking real, however much the rhetoric of the era talks of "classlessness". It's the one song of Puffy's commercial peak period which dares to suggest that the "Victory" of one of his lesser hits is not yet total, not yet complete in the wider sphere, a conflict embodied in the WASP who nervously interrupts the golf game ('97 being the year of Tiger Woods' breakthrough, interestingly) and the song halfway through the video, a threat whose name is - come on, let's fucking admit it - the Republican Party.

Faith Evans' forlorn chorus - a world away from her contemporaneous crawl through The Police's worst UK number one - and closing Marvin quote run dramatically at odds with what the song suggested at the time for the first few half-attentive radio listens - it's as if an attempted celebration is constantly being undermined by a warning of the downside, and that shares of cultural equality can go down as well as up; a war is being fought within the song for its very soul. In '97 I only heard the facade; now, all these years of tension and turmoil and rage behind us, I see the nerves that lie beneath, nerves which we now know were more than fully justified and make "Mo Money Mo Problems" seem horribly apt, a hidden, coded warning to all that surrounded it, while all Puffy's other big boom-era hits seem utterly false and hollow without even the inherent quality that would give them a sense of poignancy (for which see anything from Bone Thugs' "1st Of Tha Month" - or for that matter Biggie's "Juicy" - through to Meth's "Retro Godfather" and Ghostface's "We Made It").

AVENTURA - "Obsesion (Eso No Es Amor)" (they've also done an English version with a rap on it, and there's a very similar English-language rap-fused cover by 3rd Wish & Baby Bash, but I'm sticking with the original)

A European exoticist's delight - that name! - but also a record that all European social democrats have a moral duty to, at least, not dislike; they may be based in NYC but the sheer scale of this song's pan-European success is proof that the tide is turning. As a five-year-old I'd have recorded this song's twists and tucks and turns, its chord changes and its flamenco flow, as definitively "European" in the truest sense. The Dominican Republic, like Moldova before it, has given a Europe determined to assert itself against US hegemony precisely what it needs at an unprecedented moment in its history. I feel an instinctive sense of brotherhood with this song, an instinctive belief in all it stands for. But when will "they" dare to give it a UK release?

NO MERCY - "Where Do You Go?"

What we all thought the 21st Century would be like. What Aventura would be doing if Gore was president; hear it and taste an era when you thought "European culture" would never be asserted again, as a concept, by anyone under 40. I suspect No Mercy - who were never anywhere near as big as their song, if you see what I mean - have gone back to the Latin market like all those Clinton-boom international stars (Martin, R., Anthony, M., probably Iglesias, E. before too long)

DMX - "Who We Be"

His most unashamedly-sounding-like-what-Charles-Murray-thinks-all-black-people-are-only-capable-of-sounding-like moment. The brutal physicality is tempered by a desperate awareness of its own pointlessness and impotence, even more so at three years' distance.

TERROR SQUAD - "Lean Back"

An exercise in formalism; each thrust forward is brutally, perfectly timed (and who'd have thought Fat Joe would ever have another chart hit, let alone one fit to disembowel "What's Luv" and leave its guts for dead). Seeing this at number one in the pop charts - nothing this deeply embedded into the streets has ever gone that far before - must be *the* most frightening thing imaginable for the terrifyingly influential *anti-human* bigots given enough rope to hang themselves a hundred times over in this week's Grauniad Friday Review. Still, in some ways, I wish this didn't *have* to exist almost as much as I wish *they* didn't exist full stop. I wish things didn't have to be so black and white (in both literal and metaphoric senses), so tribal, I wish people didn't always seem to end up fighting fire with fire. Ultimately Terror Squad are just another nihilistic contribution to the great black hole of human warfare - but *what else can they do*? It's a horrifying indictment of the US right now that I can sympathise with them so much.

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