On Saturday morning I drove down to one of my local JB HiFis (there are several in my area, and they are multiplying - it's like a zombie apocalypse of audiovisual retail) to spend a voucher I got for my birthday. I ended up buying two CDs:
1. 'Worldwide Underground
' by Erykah Badu
On the face of it, there's no reason why I would want to buy one of Erykah Badu's albums. The woman should, by all rights, be a laughingstock.
Let's start with her name. In her late teens the then Erica Wright changed her name to Erykah Badu in order to reject her "slave name" - apparently being called "Erica" is an unacceptable concession to The Man. Given that she was born in 1971, four or five generations after the abolition of slavery, it's a little hard to see her rationale, but we allow a certain amount of eccentricity in our musicians.
Then there's her lfestyle. Erykah identifies strongly with the black ghetto experience. This explains why she has three children, all with ridiculous names (Seven, Puma and Mars), by three different babydaddys, none of whom has a proper job. All she needs is bad hair extensions, garishly painted acrylic fingernails and an ass the size of a minivan and she could fit into South Central Chicago like a kosher canape at a Bar Mitzvah.
Erykah is also prone to spouting worrisome soundbites. When asked why she had stopped wearing her trademark African headwraps on stage, Erykah replied, "Art is my religion. You don't see the head wraps anymore because I am the head wrap
." Which rather speaks for itself.
Wikipedia also notes the following quote: "I try to be as honest as I can. Being humble is so 2007". I can see where one might get such an attitude, if one spent most of one's time hanging out with (and being impregnated by) rappers, a group not noted for their discreet modesty. Oddly enough I don't recall a sudden breakout of humility among the rapping classes in 2007, but it could be that I'm just out of touch.
So the woman is tacky and yet pretentious, given to laughable pronouncements, and somewhere between Britney Spears and Ike Turner in terms of family role modelling. Why on earth would I buy one of her albums?
The simple, mitigating truth is that for all her personal faults she is enormously talented. Her music is a blend of modern urban R&B and retro 70s soul, including samples from old blaxploitation trailers. It's complex yet smooth, standing out in a black music landscape dominated by interchangable songs in which a diva crams a dozen notes into every phrase while some guy goes "Uh huh" and "Oh yeah" in the background. Her music is authoritative and sophisticated where the majority of the black urban music scene is just thuggish and gaudy. And in the proud tradition of my people, I am appropriating her music and intend to play it at my next dinner party. If she knew she'd probably have an anuerism.
2. 'Music for an Accelerated Culture
' by Hadouken!
It's fitting that I discovered Hadouken! after one of their songs was used as the soundtrack for a YouTube video - they are the embodiment of everything Gen Y holds dear. In the first listen through alone, I picked up references to skinny jeans, mp3s, Playstations and MySpace. Throw in some emo hair and you could create a Gen Y-er from scratch just from their lyrics.
According to Wikipedia, Bebo, MySpace etc they have a guitarist, a drummer and a bass player, but frankly all I can hear is vocals and synths. They feature crisp, aggressive electronics with lots of shouty, chanty singing. I'm reminded of The Klaxons, even though Hadouken! are supposed to be "grindie" while The Klaxons are supposed to be "new rave". So much for any hopes I had for a career with the New Musical Express.
On the other hand, iTunes classifies them as "emo", JB HiFi had their CD in the "dance" section, and Bebo classes them as "garage/new wave/electro". So it's hard not to get the sneaking suspicion that none of these people know what they're talking about!
I realise that the facebook generation are prone to babbling on about themselves like there's no tomorrow, but even so Hadouken! seems to have a remarkably solipsistic streak. Take the main line from the chorus of the first track:Welcome to our world / we are the wasted youth / and we are the future
Of course you are, poppets. Have a juice box.
To be honest the whole Gen Y thing is laid on so thick that one is tempted to think that there's a 50 year old svengali behind the scenes, rather hamfistedly attempting to play to the tastes of cashed-up 20 year olds. But whatever. I like it because it's good to listen to cranked up too loud while driving too fast, even though I look like a nit because I have a convertible and am far too old.