Monday, July 17, 2006

Paint a Vulgar Picture? It’s as simple as ABC

I seem to have been hanging around bargain bins a lot, lately. Some may say this is behaviour typical of many respects of my life but whatever.

In the course of these bargain bin explorations, I have discovered a series of CDs that, for the most part, seem to be a cynical attempt of big biz music to scrape up and lob out the shit in their back catalogue that isn’t shifting enough product. I can’t say that I have come to expect much more from Universal. However, they have taken this approach to sleazy new lows with the so-called ‘Masters Collection.’ The name suggests that the artists represented in the collection will be those who have given us the most finely crafted popular music of the last century. Sure, John Lee Hooker, Louis Armstrong, and James Brown turn up, but after those namechecks, the unsuspecting public has a lot of old tosh thrown at it. Here, naturally enough, is where I come in. I fuckin’ love tosh. I’m an unashamed connoisseur of the tacky, the cheesy, the synthy. But I as enthusiastic as I can get about the stuff, I would never claim that Robert Palmer was a "Master", nor would I claim that Style Council were "Masters". Universal do and have (and you can find both those compilations in the bargain bin at J.B. HiFi).

However, it gets much more oxymoronic than that (with emphasis on moronic). Not only are Robert Palmer and Style Council Masters, their compilations are said to be “Classic”. Before I go on, here are the OED definitions of Master and Classic:

Master An artist of distinguished skill, one of those who are regarded as models of excellence in their art.

Classic Of the first class, of the highest rank or importance; approved as a model; standard, leading.

Now, riddle me this; would you consider that Bruce Willis or ABC fall into either of these categories? Well, in Universal's alternate universe they do. Careful reading of the liner notes of both compilations see the authors wavering between thinly disguised apathy and straw-clutching justifications of the artists' inclusion in the series. Consider the lines in the Willis booklet where his harmonica playing skills are described as “arguably impressive” and his records are cited as proof that he “refuses to take himself too seriously.” Ouch! The writer of this none-too-flattering patter doesn’t even sign off with their name, instead choosing the anonymity of initials. I’m guessing the author didn’t want to be associated with Brucey's music, an “homage to the music Willis loved, old soul and R&B.” (Basically, Willis’ two album career consisted of well-meaning but misguided and ultimately embarrassing cover versions of songs that were waaaaay beyond his capabilities and a couple of cheesy originals featuring his “arguably impressive” harmonica. Would you want to hear Willis clumsily plod through ‘Under The Boardwalk’ or ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’? Didn’t think so.)

ABC’s inclusion in the series is only slightly more justified. Most people I try to discuss them with don’t know which band I’m talking about until I break into the chorus of ‘Poison Arrow.’ The guy at J.B. didn’t, but I could tell he was overwhelmed by my vocal abilities, which are no less than arguably impressive. The liner notes for this disc stretch in a most unconvincing manner to give ABC some cred. Consider the opening line, “Fronted by an English Literature graduate, ABC were always going to be a different proposition in the world of pop.” Well, I hate to nay-say but I’m willing to bet that most bands have at least one member who is a former Arts student who realised their degree wasn’t going to lead them to anything but a lifetime of waiting tables. Indeed, sometimes English Literature graduates end up as the writers of liner notes, as is suggested by the author’s description of one of ABC’s incarnations as “big beats, coupled with a post-Archies’ cartoon image.” Right-o, then.

Certainly, ABC might be masters of the K-Tel compilation and Brucey might be a master of “arguably impressive” harmonica playing, but I for the life of my couldn’t find either of these in the extensive definitions provided by the good people at Oxford.

At the record company meeting/On their hands - a dead star...

You could have walked away/...Couldn't you?


Blogger Adam 1.0 said...

ABC were very underrated. I'll defend them to the death.

10:37 AM  
Blogger divinetrash said...

I love ABC, too; I'm a BIG fan of new-wave and synthpop (it hurt me a little inside to trash talk both them and Style Council). But I still say that to define them as "masters" and "classic" is a extremely odd, particularly given that nobody seems to remember them. I reckon it's fair to say that their post-'Lexicon of Love' work has all but been forgotten. That you speak of them in the past tense is indicative of this, seeing as they're apparently still active to this day.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Ah, the memories of the beauty of Swanston st McDonalds.

Yet, even the actual 'masters' have had their quality stuff cut from their "Universal Masters" compilations. I suppose my "Classic Parliament" has most of their decent songs, but my "Classic Muddy Waters" compilation has the barest of "classic hits" on it.

In short, Muddy Water's most memorable hits - "Got My Mojo Working" and "Mannish Boy" - have been reduced to a poor-quality live version and a re-recording in his 60s "Psychadelic" (strong sarcasm) era respectively.

Shame on you, Universal.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who wouldn't love a band who's biggest hit addresses its female subject:

"You think you're smart
Stupid, stupid"

Probably the person who listened further:

"No rhythm in cymbals
No tempo in drums
Love on arrival
She comes when she comes"

I am a simple man, and would hesitate to criticise a graduate of English literature. But I am also a native speaker of English and like to think that I'm of at least average intelligence, so I reckon I'm qualified to say that that sucks.

10:36 PM  
Blogger ManicLovely said...

Alex, I hope you're not going to make me listen to all of these "gems".

8:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've got a Classic Gap Band" & a Classic Kool & the Gang.

Yeah they've got the hits, but they never seem to feature the good album tracks.

Oh well, they're still worth 99 cents I spose.


1:00 AM  
Blogger ChristinaChox said...

Heya Al. I'll have a look through Rob's minidisc collection and see if I can find any bargain bin quality albums...I know Huey Lewis AND the News are in there somewhere, but they're just not trashy enough...I'll snoop around for ye me hearty.
Better yet, I'll look through mum's CD collection...she exclusively buys from bargain bins.

4:08 PM  

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