Friday, March 19, 2010

Lady Gaga

The video for Bad Romance is all over the local music channel MK, along with Jack Parow's Cooler As Ekke, and though one should always separate the visual from the music as the sights may detract from the sounds and take the place of the imagination when it comes to interpreting the lyrics, this video is probably one of the more arresting and gripping videos I've seen for a dance act.

The high concept is a big production full of erotic symbolism, with lots of pretty explicit eroticism, and plenty of symbols of alienation. There are dance sequences, dream sequences, image vignettes, and plenty of fast paced flow from scene to scene. Red leather, white leather, weird futuristic couture outfits, masks, icy, distant men in suits, and one glimpse of a voluptuous, lace panty-clad ass, which may be the diva's derriere, or at least one likes to think so. Mostly Lady Gaga is hidden behind hair and make-up yet there are also images of her as more or less open, innocent and naïve disco waif.

The video ends with the artist posing elegantly on a bed alongside an equine skeleton. Perhaps it is a homage to The Godfather movie, perhaps it is a visual pun for the phrase "flogging a dead horse." it is possibly one of the more bizarre endings to a music video I've ever seen.

Behind all of this is a disco beat and a catchy tune and it is not difficult to understand why Bad Romance is yet another monster neo-disco hit from the alleged new Madonna.

Some crappy entertainment magazine recently claimed that the Lady is searching for love in al the wrong places and is lonely, lost and desperate. At least, that is what I gleaned from the cover blurb. I did not read the accompanying article as I believed it would be bare of facts and chock a block with half-truths and innuendo, as these articles tend to be. It's not as if I am about to write a love letter to Lady Gaga to advertise my availability.

The only Bad Romance I'm interested in, is the hit tune of the moment.

I believe she has dark hair but the look she sports is blonde and a part early Madonna and part Christina Aguillera when she is blonde. The vocal strength is close to Christina than to Madonna, and the music Is nothing like the very Eighties electro dance tracks Madonna used for her breakthrough hits. Like Aguillera, Lady Gaga relies on her pipes as much as she does on her image to get through to the masses, and I salute her for it. There is nothing like a disco diva with a proper voice singing good, tuneful dance pop songs, though I would imagine that the Lady would want to be regarded as more than mere dancefloor fluff. She has something to say and will say it to a beat you can dance to.

Lady Gaga makes music you have to play loud. And you must want to shake your booty. And maybe you can read the lyrics and marvel at her philosophical insights.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pretty Blue Guns

Blues rock is a style that is not too popular or prevalent in South Africa today where the modern rock styles of the new millennium are the fad of the moment. Globalisation has caused a situation where the majority of local bands sound little different to any number of foreign acts, and the generic effect is of groups who sound alike and not very interesting. Guitar solos are not cool; big, soaring anthemic rock is the hip thing. That everything sounds alike is a minor issue.

It is always refreshing to hear a band who does something different to what their peers are doing and who then distinguish themselves from the herd in so doing. One such group is The Pretty Blue Guns who may look like emo kids, or whatever look the common or garden band aspires to, but sound a hell of a lot different.

If I cast my mind back the best (relatively) recent comparison I can think of is the defunct Billygoat (one of the Trippy Grape bands from the mid to late Nineties), who came from much the same concept as Pretty Blue Guns, and Delta Blue who started as a purist blues band and then became soulbluesrock monsters by the time of their third album Inbluesstation.

There have also been other blues bands in South Africa over the years who perfected their cover versions of blues and blues rock standards and entertained thousands in pubs all across the land, but apart from being quite entertaining they did not contribute much to the development of the local scene because they hardly, if ever, wrote their own songs.

Then there is Dan Patlansky who channels Stevie Ray Vaughan and is happy to be the hottest guitars linger in the country and is incredibly earnest about it all.

Now we have The Pretty Blue Guns who are named for a Tom Waits song and who bring the proverbial modern rock energy to a blues sensibility in a kind of first for South Africa where this kind of roots blues infused rock is not yet as prevalent as it is elsewhere, because most local rock acts are very serious about their modernist and up to date hip credentials.

PBG look like every other local rock act from Bellville to Benoni yet stand apart because they dig a different beat. They have guitar solos and slashing slide guitar And they write damn good traditionally recognisable tunes.

Lost Faith is the best lovelorn kiss-off song I've heard in a while.

The piece de resistance is Devil Do, the last track, which is a fine approximation of an old timey gospel blues, much like the song Ain't Going To Heaven off Delta Blue's (so far) last album, Heaven. For some reason South African white boys are rather more keen on the delights offered by Satan than the heavenly rewards good Christians are supposed to enjoy.


There is not much of a Tom Waits connection here, except for the band name, and the blues is more of a background to the muscular rock the boys play, yet it is a fine debut, assured and full of the kind of energy punk is supposed to have and which sounds so lacking in so much of modern rock today. The guys are young and still have to absorb their influences fully but if they slightly overreach themselves when they sing about subjects best left to old bluesmen, I sense a genuine commitment to the style and sources and perhaps a keen interest to build on a tradition.

If they can get it together to be a bit of a jam band, as blues rock really demands of its practitioners, The Pretty Blue Guns would be a very satisfactory live experience.



New Holland

Google New Holland and you find a bunch of links for a company that manufactures agricultural equipment and machinery, such as heavy duty tractors. They even have some YouTube videos.

There is also a reference to a very old name for Australia. There is just one link to the band New Holland's 2009 album Exploded Views.

Strange, eh? In this day and age I would have expected the band to have a more prominent profile on the Internet. Anyhow, it does not matter, I guess. Exploded Views is a corker of an album and for my money one of the best local releases, along with the debut from Pretty Blue Guns, of the last year.

New Holland are lumped in with the "Bellville bands" that have been celebrated in a compilation of their own. Obviously the bands that do come from Bellville now completely disavow this kind of shorthand categorisation. On the one hand, belonging to a scene is good when the scene first gets attention, as the identification with what is perceived to be hip and happening can be of great assistance in making a breakthrough to commercial viability, but then it may become a millstone when the tide goes out and the attention moves to another scene. Then you are just stranded along with the driftwood of that faded scene and nobody is willing to accept you in any other context.

The first, and the best, always transcend whatever scene they come from and I believe that New Holland should easily be able to do so as well. This is just a great rock band with passion, intensity, excellent songs and inspired arrangements. New Holland is one more example among many of the kind of band that produces music that makes me believe South African rock need no longer stand back for anyone in the world. There may be internationally hugely successful bands New Holland would never be able to outdo purely and simply because of geographical limitations, but I cannot see many of those bands delivering a product that could surpass Exploded Views.

The joyous thing is that the guitars bounce and crunch in much more individual style than the modern rock bands that sound like cut-outs from the same base metal template. It is refreshing to hear a group with a different aural appeal, who are not scared to fly closer to the sun than the rest, or to jump sideways when everyone else try the slam dunk. The other wonderful thing is the odd washes of electronica that colour the rock with a vaguely ambient, uh, ambience.

Another odd thing is that the band members seem to be nice Afrikaans boys who have obviously decided that it is not their road to stardom to sing in Afrikaans. The Afrikaans rock scene seems pretty substantial, as large, if not larger, than the more internationalist scene where English is still the language of rock and roll. The 'taal' is now fully accepted and acceptable as a language in which all manner of local youth can express themselves from stupid pop to rap to death metal, not to mention Christian rock and roll, yet many of those bands are as unimaginative as their English singing peers and are as interchangeable. If singing in English, even if it is not the home language, helps New Holland gain a worldwide audience, more power to them.

Something To Believe In is the classic hit song: it's about putting your creative efforts out there and only being happy when you sing your song, and it sounds just like something you've heard before but never have. If that is not a sign of a world conquering hit, you can call me Meyer.