Monday, August 11, 2003

SALON MEETS THE BOOTLEGS: An overview of the whole scence including its murky legalities, plus Charles Taylor loves the bootlegs:

Mash-ups may simply be seen as a logical extension of sampling, the next step in a culture where everything gets combined to less and less effect. Except that the irony I hear in mash-ups is not the irony of hip detachment. Mash-ups are not only the logical evolution of the mix tape, those intensely personal collages put together as love letters or journals or mementos of a time and place. They represent some of the best things pop music has to offer us right now. They're the place where real rock criticism is being done, the glorious return of format-free radio, the vindication of fandom and an affirmation of the egalitarian spirit of rock.

I dig Charles' analysis of two of the more famous bootlegs. Here he is on Stroke of Genius:

Mash-ups don't so much trash the barriers of high and low that exist in the pop world as simply refuse their existence. What hip young Strokes' fan, steeped in Big Star and the Kinks and the Replacements, would be caught dead grooving to Christina Aguilera? But when you hear the fleet, chugging guitars of the Strokes' "Hard to Explain" backing Aguilera's vocal for "Genie in a Bottle," they're a match made in heaven. If you think of the refrain that Julian Casablancas sings in the Strokes' original -- "I don't see it that way" -- it begins to seem like a denial of the possibilities this new version opens up.

Somebody saw it a different way (the version, credited to Freelance Hellraiser, is fittingly called "A Stroke of Genius"), saw that indie hipness and teen pop could be entirely comfortable bedfellows. And you notice something else -- just how good Aguilera's vocal is. The lyric and the song's original backing may be just another piece of pop-factory product. Taken out of its original context, Aguilera's vocal reveals a commitment to emotion beyond anything the song deserves, along with a dramatic pull between erotic surrender and refusal.

The Strokes might be a bunch of guys mooching around the sidelines at a dance eyeing Aguilera, the hot girl who's just sashayed in. The guitar riff of "Hard to Explain" promises pleasure lurking just around the corner, if only this girl would venture out on the dance floor with one of them. She, on the other hand, is determined to keep herself in reserve, though the slight moan in her voice tells you she longs to give into what the music promises. The number could be the long-awaited marriage of the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," with its heartbreakingly naive question, and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's "I Wonder If You Take Me Home," where the singer knows exactly what will happen if she gives herself to the boy who's working overtime to melt her defenses.

And here he is explaining Smells Like Teen Booty, which I find to be a completely addictive song (i.e., I look forward to it more than any other portion of the vast Soulwax mix on Boom Selection):

For the most part, though, the elements of mash-ups work to complement each other, and never more so than in Freelance Hellraiser's "Smells Like Booty," a pairing of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child. On the Destiny's Child album "Survivor," "Bootylicious" kicks off to the opening riff from Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen." That stuttering guitar is meant to impart tension, but the track never delivers the mounting excitement of denied release. Worse, the vocals sound rushed, nervous, competing with the beat instead of being buoyed by it. The twists and turns of the vocal get swallowed in the mix.

It's stating the obvious to say "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hits faster and harder than "Edge of Seventeen." The oddity is that the pace of the song actually seems to relax the vocal, allowing every ounce of its lubriciousness to drop over the record like honey. It opens with the spider-vine crawl of Nirvana's opening riff and the vocal asking, "Kelly, can you handle this? Michelle, can you handle this? Beyoncé, can you handle this? I don't think they can handle this!" That has no sooner ended when Kurt Cobain's guitar, Krist Novoselic's bass, and especially Dave Grohl's drums explode and the release has already come.

But instead of being a premature ejaculation, the tension keeps building, band and vocalists striving to outdo each other's mounting excitement. "I don't think you're ready for this jelly," Beyoncé teases as the guitar and bass and drums work to an ever more crushing crescendo to prove otherwise. As she reaches the vocal's ultimate tease -- "I don't think you're ready for this" repeated again and again, the track reaches the moment in "Teen Spirit" where the rhythm is interrupted by the sound of the guitar, like a rubber band being yanked back. When the track reaches those interruptions, it's as if Beyoncé has succeeded in rocking her pursuer back on his heels, and as if she's smacking her bottom to punctuate her triumph.

This has to be one of the sexiest recordings ever. If "Stroke of Genius" is a dance of seduction, surrender, and retreat, this is a full-fledged sexual face-off, predatory and retaliatory between two sides determined not to give an inch. And lest it sound as if it's Destiny's Child alone who benefits from this pairing, Nirvana gains something, too, and what they gain is precisely the thing that grunge never had: sex. "Smells Like Booty" adds the one thing to their résumé that was missing: a great rock 'n' roll fuck song.

Stroke of Genius and Smells Like Teen Booty are both ideal bootlegs, unleashing the possibilities of two different songs and improving them both and seeming to come from a parallel universe with a unified pop culture not organized along class or age or racial lines. And he mentions other stuff (Steinski?) that I've never heard of and now have to check out. And you should check out those articles if you think you might like that craaaazy bootleg sound.

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