The premise of Gorillaz, André 3000 and James Murphy’s 2012 collaboration, “DoYaThing“, was based on a thirty-second encounter Damon Albarn had with Brian Eno. Somehow, this is stretched to fill a thirteen-minute wig-out in which André 3000 repeatedly yells, “I’m the shit!” in tones alternating between satisfaction, hyperactivity, frustration, and incredulity. The encounter in question (Albarn asked Eno, “How’s it going Brian?”; the professorial Eno replied, “Everything I’m working on is coming out great,” with a surprising amount of hubris and breeziness) is a stand-in for the wider social trends of self-publicising, self-aggrandising, and under-thinking. Continue reading The cruel wisdom of Steve Albini
Call it a cynical, money-grabbing move with artistic payoffs: Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were moved to collaborate with André 3000 of OutKast and James Murphy (formerly of LCD Soundsystem) to help sell Converse sneakers. The most high-profile of the “Three Artists. One Song” series, this unholy troika pulled off a marathon stint in a recording studio to come up with “DoYaThing”, a glitchy electro number.
In its released state, it’s four-and-a-half minutes of nonsensical whimsy, with Albarn and André 3000 taking turns to spout non-sequiturs. Murphy crops up too, on the low-key falsetto chorus, doing battle with a misfiring analog synth. The beat is not dissimilar from the similarly standalone Gorillaz song “Doncamatic“. Whereas Albarn’s rapping shows him up as an amateur (his phrasing comes straight out of “Feel Good Inc.“), André’s contribution is typically spontaneous and naturalistic, showcasing the verbiage and rhyming that helped make hits like “Hey Ya!” stay classic.
“DoYaThing” is a song that grows on you: initially, I tweeted that it was somehow less than the sum of its parts. But the neat instrumental and production tricks win you over eventually—like the growly distorted vocals that bring André’s rap to a close, and the parps of brass that punctuate the verses.
The accompanying video (see above) is characteristic of the Hewlett œuvre: a grimy household populated by larger-than-life characters, through which the music weaves in and out.
As if this wasn’t enough of a media overload, there is also a thirteen-minute long version of the song, from which the released edit derives. I’m not going to talk about that; it’s best left to your own ears.
It totally gets people every time I reveal this, but one of my guilty pleasures is really good R&B. Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, even Usher – these are artists who have made some of the most enjoyable music during my lifetime, and I’ve always defended them to the hilt. The best music of this kind looks back – to Michael Jackson, Prince, Motown – yet is unafraid to take cutting-edge stylistic risks: consider how ground-breaking “SexyBack” sounded back in 2006, and how derivative all JT’s slavish impersonators sound by comparison.
And now we have a new inspirational artist on the scene – except this one’s also no slouch when it comes to about a dozen other genres. I have no idea to what extent Janelle Monáe has exploded onto the scene, but a label endorsement from Puff Daddy can’t hinder matters; neither can executive production from Big Boi. More importantly, with an album like The ArchAndroid under her belt, Monáe can practically do no wrong.
This album is epic in every way: over an hour in length; packed with bells, whistles, horns and the sonic trademarks of all her influences; skipping between brassy soul and rollicking funk and pastoral folk. Even better than this wide-eyed ambition is the quality of the songwriting – and frankly, I don’t care how much or little input she had on this front, because the quality never lets up: not in the hooks, not in the beats, not even in the city-scaping, city-aping arrangements. And, best of all, Monáe’s voice is a continual delight, keenly matching the tone of each song, from the wailing Beyoncé-plus of single “Tightrope”, to the dusky husky murmurings on “57821”. Her shape-shifting reminds me of Madonna, in a way, but Monáe’s got a considerably stronger set of pipes, and arguably her stylistic decisions are as honest as they are startling and unexpected.
This album is epic in every way: over an hour in length; packed with bells, whistles, horns and the sonic trademarks of all her influences
And then we come to the lyrics. I’ll admit, she loses me a couple of times with her Afro-futurist references, but there’s no denying that her unique vision shines through. Monáe has talked of the album as being like an amalgam of song, cinema and soundtrack, and throughout she succeeds in reaching this lofty target. Using androids as a metaphor for segregated minorities is pretty clever, mind, but it’s going to take listeners a while to digest her sophisticated, tangential, self-aware phrasing.
In the meantime, we should applaud Monáe for making what is probably the pop album of 2010. It’s catchy as anthrax, and never shies away from experiments, and if she keeps on like this, she could have a Bowie-esque career ahead of her.