Konono N°1: Congotronics (2005)


It took a nation of Belgians to hold them back.

Purchase his album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Bazombo trance music is a fiercely polyrhythmic style indigenous to the area between Congo and Angola, and is usually played on likembes (the thumb piano) and hand drums. But years of Belgian colonization had pushed many natives into the urban cities, where it was hard to hear the music over the noise of modern culture.

In 1980 likembe master Mawangu Mingiedi fought fire with fire and founded Konono N°1, the first bazombo group with electrified amplification. And they didn’t just run down to Guitar Center and buy some gear. They plugged their likembes into massive handmade speakers built with magnets scrounged from Belgian car radios. They carved working microphones out of wood and attached them to oversized megaphones, also left by the Belgians. They made percussion out of pots, pans and brake drums. All these inventions created crazy distortions in the sound, which gave the group a uniquely brutal and industrial flavor.

Flurries of watery fuzzy metal tones crash into martial drums topped with shrill whistles and call-and-response chants. Imagine campfire songs performed by an extremely angry marching band on amphetamines. It’s that primal and earthy, yet it’s not always clear which earth.

Intense and unique Konono N°1 went virtually unrecorded until Congotronics. Although twenty-four years had passed, not one item of their instruments or sound system had changed. That’s the equivalent of Grandmaster Flash sticking with the same turntables for his entire career. Talk about “keeping it real”.

THE FALLOUT: An unexpected critical success is starting to become a commercial success as well, and Konono N°1 is touring Europe and USA this year.

Congotronics is available from Amazon. For all you Public Enemy and Kraftwerk fans, here is the organic equivalent.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Basehead belches up a tipsy classic.

Q-Tip: Kamaal The Abstract (2000)


Thanks for advancing music, now drop dead.

Purchase this album: Amazon

(The following article was written in 2005, but in 2009 the album was finally released.)

THE SCENE: As the ex-leader of the beloved conscious rap group A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip irritated his fan base with his unexpectedly jiggy solo debut, 1999’s Amplified. Sensing that he wasn’t cut out to be a fur-wearing mainstream rapper he completely flipped the script for his next album, 2000’s Kamaal the Abstract.

Much like Sting did for Dream of the Blue Turtles, Q-Tip also assembled a tight team of jazz musicians and crafted a sweet album of finely textured pop songs that crackles with deep grooves and the joy of live band performance. Kamaal the Abstract humbly melds the best aspects of acid jazz, hip-hop and alternative rock into an ambitious and exciting new form.

“Feelin” jumps in with a seemingly ordinary hip-hop track but expands like a peacock plume with chunky guitars and radio static. After rapping and scatting for a bit it’s all about the O.G. organ solos, played so vibrantly you’ll forget that it goes on for minutes. It’s full of “walking down the street on your way to the party” spirit.

Q-Tip’s commitment to the flow of the groove is so sincere he sometimes vanishes altogether, as he does in “Do U Dig U”. He introduces his spacey and souful singing voice then lets the flutes take over, gilding slinkly across crisp percussion, recalling those smoky bohemian clubs with the small round tables and red lights that serve mojitos.

The electric piano-driven “Barely In Love” warmly invokes the buzz of a new crush with the most joyous hand claps you’ll hear outside of a gospel choir:

When you really think about it
love is truly powerful
the undeniable force
that makes it magnetic
when you can’t explain
when you do
what you do
can’t nobody take away
when you do
what you do

His band turns up the intensity in “Heels”, his playful ode to women’s shoes, with stomping drums and funky xylophone. “Abstractions” is a musically dense bottle rocket of fun where he repositions himself, the new advanced model Q-Tip, as a playful musical adventurer.

THE FALLOUT: Arista Records treated the album with all the love of a stripper at a church picnic, branding it “uncommercial.” Promo copies were released to hip-hop and rock journalists, who alternately raved it up or ripped it to shreds. A Spike Lee-directed mini-movie was commissioned and abandoned. A 2002 release date was set and cancelled, causing Q-Tip to negotiate a release from his contract. Five years after it was completed, Kamaal the Abstract is still lying somewhere in Arista’s vault.

UPDATE: It’s now available from Amazon and you can listen to tracks here:

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Introducing Konoko N°1: the world’s only electrified Congolese trance punks.

A. R. Kane: 69 (1988)


The underground ’90s sound, one decade early.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1987 the London duo of Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala were in a quandary. Under the name A. R. Kane they’d released an EP called Lolita, which garnered some critical praise. But they also were part of a collaboration called M/A/R/R/S which released the international dance hit “Pump Up The Volume”, although their handiwork was invisible to the buying public. Nevertheless they returned in 1988 with their watershed dream pop album 69.

Drenched in caverns of echoes, 69 eerily predicts trip-hop and ambient dub music, years before those phrases were ever conjured. It’s a wet sounding album, an empty ghost ship washed up on the beach, its crew long since gone completely mad.

“Crazy Blue” actually starts with incoherent babbling, as heavily echoed guitars clang like incoming tankers fighting for pier space. The moaning vocals remain in the background, hiding behind each other in the tonal fog.

The melancholy dance continues with “Suicide Kiss”. Its dub-like bass pulsates as if it’s drilling toward the earth’s core. Guitars sizzle like sparks off a welding torch.

The aptly named “Dizzy” is a tune straight out of the asylum. Its creepy cello adds a disturbing formality to the din of screaming background vocals. You can feel the too bright hospital lights and hear the cries of people who obviously made their instruments out of bedpans and restraints.

“Spermwhale Trip Over” sounds like surf rock created by a band who’d never seen the ocean. The moist undulating waves of droning feedback nearly submerge the lysergically-enhanced lyrics:

here in my LSdream
things are always what they seem
here in my LSdream, in my LSdreaming

and all the shifting shapes
all changing to grapes
never making mistakes
in my LSdream

In “The Sun Falls into The Sea” A. R. Kane reduces their attack to hundreds of tiny ringing bells while voices hauntingly glide and wail, free from the shackles of rhythm.

THE FALLOUT: Influential as was on the underground dance scene, 69 was not a hit record. A. R. Kane released several more gems before calling it quits in 1994.

69 is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here. Dream pop shoegazes on.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Q-Tip records a masterpiece and his label locks it in a vault. Hear tracks from Kamaal the Abstract.

Terence Trent D’Arby: Neither Fish Nor Flesh (1989)


Let’s make a concept album, where the concept is me.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1988 Terence Trent D’Arby rocketed from nowhere to become the artist of the moment. His debut album Introducing The Hardline sold millions of records on both sides of the Atlantic and his single “Wishing Well” went to number one in England and America. His musical stock-in-trade was Sam Cooke-styled R&B rave-ups, and in classic R&B mode he mostly sang about women. He was also quite cocky about his musical talents and gave great interviews about his utter, utter brilliance.

But that same year he met his idol Brian Wilson and sang on Wilson’s first solo album. Brian Wilson hadn’t created a complete album since 1966 when he composed The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the original rock’n’roll departure album. While working with a man who represented the zenith of music freedom, D’Arby must have sensed that this was time to ask, no, demand complete artist control for his next album. And so he set off to create (deep breath now) Terence Trent D’Arby’s Neither Fish Nor Flesh: A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction.

T.T.D.N.F.N.F:A.S.O.L.F.H & D. represents D’Arby’s state of mind circa 1989. “I’m concerned with the fate of mankind” he seemed to say, “as well as maintaining my stature as King Of All Macks”. And as the sole composer, arranger, producer and primary musician, it’s truly his world.

“Declaration: Neither Fish Nor Flesh” begins with silence, lots of it. A good half minute passes before any sound is audible and then it’s a slow bloom of liquid guitar fuzz and tuned feedback while D’Arby low-talks about being neither fish nor flesh. In “I Have Faith In These Desolate Times” he shares his world optimism over nothing but the delicate plinking of a koto water harp. It has the lilting spirit of a unicorn gallivanting through the forest, at least until the end where it completely turns into a “James Brown meets Foetus” groove.

D’Arby’s precision arrangement skills are evident in the next piece, “It Feels So Good To Love Someone Like You”. It’s a masterwork of composition as he creates a dreamy exotic island from flutes, sitar drones, waterfall sounds and whale samples, and he powers down his usual hard-charging vocal attack into “caress” mode. It’s the song by which to slowly eat honeyed fruit off your lover’s hand.

Quite unexpectedly D’Arby pulls off a quintessentially contemporary sounding pop song. “Billy Don’t Fall” is the hit single that never was, perhaps because it’s a pop tune about AIDS and gay tolerance, recorded back in 1989 when AIDS was considered a karmic death sentence:

Billy was a young boy
Who’s fate did decree
That he would like only other boys
So being with a boy came to him naturally
Billy was a green boy
His thoughts so naive
He wondered why he was so victimised
And his fear brought him close to me suddenly
Billy my friend
Don’t fall in love with me
I’m not that kind of guy
But I’ll stand by your side
If you need me to be

The album’s centerpiece is “This Side of Love”, a bass-free classic soul carnival ride with train-track tension that gives the feeling it could fall apart any moment, much like love itself! (Man he’s good). Although this train is essentially just guitar and drums, it features cameo appearances by nearly every other instrument in existence, as if they were standing outside the gate and waving at the song as it passed by. Lyrically he’s wondering how he even got into this situation:

We’re on a roundabout whirl of scorn
The demons are smiling and the angels snoring
I feel like a stepchild Caesar that’s been
Beaten and bruised to please her
Wearing a rusted ring of thorns
What have I done to piss the Gods off
(To end up on) This side of Love?

The Alice-in-Funkyland style crescendos with “Roly Poly”. Double-time drums run backward throughout the song, which combine with shimmering strings and wordless background crooning to maintain an intoxicating sense of dizziness. D’Arby layers on the vocals till it reaches madness level, and then he keeps adding other rewind sounds until you just submit to its power. He also beats on a cardboard box, just because he can.

Neither Fish Nor Flesh is exceptionally well-arranged and mixed, and does provide proof that TTD was nearly as talented as he had been claiming.

THE FALLOUT: His egotistical pushiness had already made him enemies at his record label, who didn’t hear a hit single and withdrew nearly all promotional support. D’Arby also fought to have Fish released during the competitive Christmas season, which all but assured the album would hit the stores dead on arrival. As a result he didn’t release a follow-up album for four years.

Neither Fish Nor Flesh is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Self-indulgence has rarely sounded so charming. See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: A.R. Kane brings the ruckus into shoegazer culture.

Parliament: Osmium (1970)


If the Funk is ahead of its time, does it make a sound?

THE SCENE: According to George Clinton, the five-man ex-doo-wop group Parliament performed polite music you could play for your mother, while their five-man backing band Funkadelic was the group that would scare your mother into cardiac arrest. The fact that all ten people were in the same band was simply a matter of convenience.

In 1970, even though Funkadelic was already signed to the Detroit-based Westbound label, Clinton signed Parliament to the Detroit-based Invictus label and delivered Osmium. Parliament had released several smoothed-out hit singles in the previous years, so the raw and roughneck Osmium had the effect of discovering that your seemingly normal parents were actually two-headed Martian warlords.

Although this album preceded their use of squiggly synths, alter egos and sci-fi concepts, Parliament still had loads of goofball energy and naïve eccentricity. Half the album is co-written by folk artist and label mate Ruth Copeland, and her straightforward melodicism and religious themes make a downright bizarre platform for the funk. “Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer” is a harpsichord and choir-led hymn based on Pachelbel “Canon” and is performed completely straight! No joking about Jesus this time around.

“Put a Little Love In Your Life” is a mini-progressive rock opera detailing the journey of a would-be star, with enough mood changes to rival a Broadway song. Slow organ riffs merge into spazzed-out guitar solos, voices drop in and out, tempos speed up at will, and yet it holds together.

Parliament gets its Nashville on with “Little Ole Country Boy”, a hyped-up country-and-western song complete with pedal steel guitar solo, washboard percussion and lots of yodeling. Yes, yodeling. Parliament also finds a place to showcase the bagpipes, of all instruments, on the beautiful dirge “The Silent Boatman”.

Peppered between these mid-tempo quasi-show tunes are lots of crazed funk songs. “Funky Woman” is an exceptionally tough call-and-response about personal hygiene that showcases guitarist Eddie Hazel’s sizzling tone and Clinton’s grizzled humor:

She hung them in the air
Funky woman
The air said this ain’t fair
Funky woman

She hung them in the sun
Funky woman
The sun began to run
Funky woman

She threw them on the line
Funky woman
The line, it started to cryin’
Funky woman

She threw them in the yard
Funky woman
The yard, it cried, Oh Lord!

The rockabilly “My Automobile” is a cute re-enactment of the songs’ own creation, with the band sitting around the studio harmonizing top-of–their-head lyrics, followed by the “real” version of the song. Osmium also contains an early version of Funkadelics’ “I Call My Baby Pussycat”, a naughty crunch rocker about, er, cats:

Now I’m a tom cat and you’re the pussycat
And I’m just sittin’ here, licking my paw
Now I’m the tom cat and you’re my little old pussycat
Why don’t you scratch me on my back with your claw?

I don’t know, but I’ve been told
That dogs are man’s best friend
Wild and warm is my baby’s love
My kitten is where it’s at

The album has a low-budget and fun country charm with a surprising amount of restraint, considering the source. Neither Parliament nor Funkadelic were ever this peculiar again.

THE FALLOUT: Even the band didn’t think an album this eclectic would sell many copies, and they were right. It did OK in Detroit but that was it. Parliament lost their recording deal but they were picked up by Casablanca in 1974 and released Up For the Down Stroke, which began a long string of bagpipe-free and high-selling albums.

Osmium is available at Amazon and you can also listen to tracks here:

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Terence Trent D’Arby does his Brian Wilson impression and brings his career to a screeching halt.

TV On The Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004)


Are you ready for doo-wop-tronica?

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 2003 Brooklyn duo TV On The Radio released their first EP Young Liars, a rich nugget of distorted instrumentation and crystal-clear vocals including a doo-wop remake of The Pixies “Mr. Grieves”. Energized by a fistful of nice reviews and a supportive record label they released their first full-length recording the following year, the even stranger Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes.

Now a trio with guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone, TV On The Radio continues to politely invert the hierarchy of modern rock songs. For starters lead singer Tunde Adibempe can really sing, and he drips multiple layers of his honeyed voice on every song. Secondly, there are no lead instruments. The guitars usually act as melodic percussion, while the drums sometimes drop out completely, as they do on the trance-like “Staring at the Sun”. Its droning rhythms cascade in waves while Adibempe’s stacked falsetto swims through the sound:

you’re staring at the sun
you’re standing in the sea
your mouth is open wide
you’re trying hard to breath
the water’s at your neck
there’s lightning in your teeth
your body’s over me

The lyrical tone of urban alienation and disorientation is present in every song, yet it’s tempered with melancholia and flashes of fun. Even the first song “The Wrong Way”, which begins with what sounds like a CD player skipping over an electrical hum, turns into a happy sax-filled shuffle while still keeping the CD player skipping sound intact.

What sets this record apart is the amount of soulfulness that’s rarely present any modern music. Dig the tribal drums of “Poppy”, the call-and-response guitars of “Bomb Yourself” and the barbershop quartet of “Ambulance”. An a cappella tour de force, “Ambulance” beautifully explains one couple’s view of interdependence:

You’re to blame
For wasted words of sad refrain
Oh let them take me where they may
Believe me when I say

I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance
And I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast
And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance
oh fall for me

The interdependence of warm, gospel voices and clinical, shadowy sounds is unique to TV On The Radio.

THE FALLOUT: International critical acclaim. Opening gigs for The Pixies. A new album is in the works, as a sextet. Doo-wop-tronica lives on!

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Funkadelic pretends to be Parliament and confuses the nation.

New Kingdom: Paradise Don’t Come Cheap (1996)


Way beyond funky, this one’s downright grimy.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1993 hip-hop duo New Kingdom released the lo-fi and poetic Heavy Load during the dawn of Death Row Records “G-Funk era”. Although it was critically well received Heavy Load wasn’t remotely gangsta and thus attracted little attention from the gangsta-buying public. Undaunted, partners Nosaj and SebStop spent three years crafting their followup, the hickory-smoked masterpiece Paradise Don’t Come Cheap.

Reckless and scorching, it’s an hour-long ride in the passenger seat of a ramshackle big rig on the hottest day of the year, and you’re all out of lemonade. Musically thick and vast it blends live half-speed hiphop beats with all sorts of pedal steel guitars, organs and dust. That’s right, dust. I don’t how one records the sound of microscopic layers of sediment but it’s on every track and it sounds fantastic.

Both Nosaj and SebStop don’t rap as much as rasp over the tracks, as if Tom Waits and Ol’ Dirty Bastard got drunk and planned a road trip, evidenced by the first song “Mexico or Bust”:

Mexico is callen me and damn if it ain’t all in me.
To pack my bags and grab a crate. Ain’t nuthin better than an unplanned escape.
Hell ain’t catchin up to me no way. I’m taken backroads riding side of the bus.
Wavin at runaways. Wanderlust has got us. Both lookin for a better day.

The guitars sound like lazy rattlesnakes uncoiling in the noonday sun as the drums lurch over a slowed down Texas-two step beat. Amazing.

The title track “Paradise Don’t Come Cheap” is a theme song in search of a movie, with its 007-esque spy horns and its own referencing of cinema desires:

Rented one bedroom upstairs in the attic. Off the wall murphy style bed.
Old black and white read nuthin but static. Caliber she lay like a lady side my head.
Whisper in my ear justify my bad habits. Mexican Gold had me sinkin in the mattress.
Careful what you wish for cuz it just might happen. As strange as it looks..the stranger it seem. It feels as if I’d been stuck inside a movie screen.

Lyrically the songs are about changing ones’ scenery, whether its surviving Armageddon (“Horse Latitudes”), traveling to outer space (“Journey To The Sun) or merely being “Suspended In Air”, all delivered by a unique and gritty flow that sounds ageless and primordial. On “Terror Mad Visionary” they come across like outlaws transmitting secret directions over a cheap AM radio, while on “Unicorns Were Horses” they testify like preachers stuck in an overly hot revival tent.

Their unique voices and twisted poetry cuts through the swamp of dusky sonics, which is no easy feat. At any given time all the turntable scratches, metal power chords and echoed beats merge into one pulsating, throbbing mass of sound. The sound of escaping from Hell, or perhaps escaping to Hell.

THE FALLOUT: It was a hit with alternative rock critics, who get their records for free. MTV gave “Mexico or Bust” a few spins but Paradise Don’t Come Cheap went mostly ignored by the public at large. In 1998 their label, Gee Street, was acquired by V2 and many artists were, um, dropped. But in 2005 New Kingdom finally announced plans to record their follow-up. Yay!

Paradise Don’t Come Cheap is out of print worldwide except for Japan, where they’ve always had an appreciation for odd music. If you don’t feel like paying import prices, used CD versions are easy to find, like right here. It makes great traveling music. You can also listen to samples here:

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: TV On The Radio infiltrates indie rock by wielding the power of electronic doo-wop.

Herbie Hancock: Sextant (1973)


Jazz can swing, and sing and sting, but what happens when jazz goes ping?

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: By 1973 keyboardist Herbie Hancock had recorded ten albums with Miles Davis, including the historic free-jazz sessions of Bitches Brew. That recording must have of woken up his inner freak-child because his own music started to steadily mutate away from traditional song structures toward dense aural sculptures, light on hooks but ultra-heavy on grooves and atmosphere. Hancock’s future of the funk also used a literal ton of bleeding-edge synthesizers, mostly tweaked to produce unearthly bleeps, blops and, er, pings.

After recording three albums of challenging and poorly selling releases for Warner Brothers, Hancock and his band Mwandishi moved to Columbia Records and unleashed Sextant, a fresh blend of African polyrhythms, melodic brass and layer after layer of tripped-out keyboard sounds.

“Rain Dance” begins with, well, imagine the sound of water slowly drip, drip, dripping onto the metal floor of an empty submarine. This submarine then suddenly drops 20,000 leagues beneath the sea of shrieking horn stabs, switches on the acoustic bass propulsion jets and cruises through the waters of electronic jellyfish and percussive sea critters.

The journey continues on land with “Hidden Shadows”, an arid trek through a rocky terrain populated with dive-bombing synthetic mosquitoes and bubbling percussion volcanoes that erupt drum geysers without warning. The rhythm section gallops quickly as if they are being chased by unknown assailants. Keyboard smears and horn solos hang in the air like angry buzzards circling its prey.

“Hornets” takes you deep inside the rainforest of wild, untamed instrumentation. It’s a twenty minute battle for jungle supremacy as every musician fights for control of the song, trying to ride the humid wave of its primacy while avoiding being sucked into the undertow. The horns and drums maintain a valiant catfight but Hancock’s wall of synths eventually outflanks all comers with a continual venom of exotic textures, both oppressive and effervescent.

Nowadays we’d call this music electronica or ambient, but in 1973 it was called “an unlistenable mound of dung that’s best ignored”.

THE FALLOUT: Sextant didn’t sell and the resulting tour was not well attended so Mwandishi called it day. Hancock focused his next musical project on merging jazz with funk, which was a novel idea in 1974. That album, Headhunters, became the largest selling jazz album of all-time. How’s that for a career rebound?

Sextant is currently in print from Sony and available from your better CD retailers, like this one. It’s the perfect headphone music for that odd trip to the aquarium. You can also listen to tracks here:

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: In the streak-free world of major label hip-hop, New Kingdom brings beats to the grime.

Prince and the Revolution: Parade (1986)


Sometimes synergy can really backfire.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1984, after the worldwide success of the Purple Rain movie, album, tour and hand puppet, Prince undoubtedly felt that he could probably record “America the Beautiful” and create a hit record, which is exactly what he did on his follow-up Around the World in a Day. But releasing a new album during a high-profile tour was an easy way to sell a record. The next recording, Parade, needed to stand on its own musical merit.

Well, that’s what a sane musician would have thought.

Instead, Prince decided to attach HIS album to “Under the Cherry Moon”, an incoherently self-directed black and white romantic comedy about a pair of gigolos looking for love on the French Riviera. The stench of this vanity project was so large Warner Brothers refused to name the album after the movie, hoping to salvage some record sales and perhaps postpone Prince’s career suicide for a couple of years. Alas, he and the Revolution delivered an quirky album that sounded like a soundtrack to a French art film, except for one crucial track that saved the album from total obscurity, “Kiss”.

“Kiss” is a three-minute concentrate of his signature sonics: chicken-scratch guitar slashes over clipped drum machine patterns, his obsession with dating and mating and rating women, topped with orgasmic vocals and grounded by a bass line that sounds like a malfunctioning muffler. And “Kiss” sounds like nothing else on the album.

When I first heard the opening track “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” I thought my speakers were damaged, as the song begins with a orchestra so heavily reverbed it sounds as if they were performing in an airplane hangar. Once this flourishing salvo finishes you’re dropped into the minimalist steel drum workout of “New Position”, which moves quickly into the lush embryo of “I Wonder U” and then into a possibly stupefying confusion.

These songs shimmer and sparkle with cinematic life, and many feature unexpected instrumentation: flutes and timbales in the pre-jungle “Life Could Be So Nice”, accordion in the Parisian café come-on “Do U Lie?”, and whatever that electronic duck sound is at the beginning “Girls and Boys”, which gives the album a light, humorous vibe.

A sense of relaxed fun runs rampant throughout, which helps the Kurt Weill-styled lounge ballad “Under the Cherry Moon” seem grand rather than silly. The Revolution stepped up to the songwriting process and added dozens of spectacular textures and melodies, even contributing a rare instrumental “Venus De Milo”. It’s a peculiarly slow orchestral ether but damn it’s nice.

Although there were other singles released after “Kiss” none were exactly hits, although the sharply styled funk of “Anotherloverholenyohead” is one of his best songs. The blend of macho keyboard riffs and delicate chamber strings parallels lyrics about pleading a lover to return to you while daring her to go:

Now all of the sudden
U try 2 fight it
U say you’ve had enough
Even though we had big fun
u want another someone
Yo happily ever after be
Sure as there’s a sun,
I’m gonna be the 1 and if
u don’t understand face to face
Baby I’ll tell u down on my knee, yeah

U need another lover
like u need a hole in yo head (baby, baby)
U know there ain’t no other
that can do the duty in your bed

What makes Parade special is that all of its lush eccentricities work, rather than sounding like “Experiments We Made on our French Vacation”. The songwriting is incredibly focused and succeeds as a concept album even without the movie, something André 3000 realized when he rewrote the entire thing and called it The Love Below. Really. The out-of-sync orchestral opening, the concepts of finding and losing love, the late-‘80s drum programming, the over-the-top vocals layering…all admittedly nabbed from Parade and not executed nearly as well. But what was radical in 1986 was simply edgy in 2003, and OutKast sold 5 million copies of The Love Below. Prince, on the other hand, had a crap movie suck the life out his album like an angry newborn infant at dinnertime, thus Parade was his worst selling album in six years.

THE FALLOUT: Showing the type of employee love one would expect from Enron, Prince fired all but one of The Revolution and cut his next disc virtually alone, the career-defining and hot selling Sign ‘O’ The Times. (Then his career went into freefall for sixteen years, proving that karma will eventually catch up with everybody.)

Parade is available from Amazon and you can listen to tracks here:

It does take a couple of listens to “get it”, but the tingly feeling it creates stays for a long time.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Herbie Hancock creates ambient music 20 years too early and it doesn’t go well AT ALL.


Why this site?

One day while reorganizing my CDs for the nth time I realized that many of my most-cherished recordings flew under the radar of nearly all my music-loving friends. Many of these recordings are Black departure albums. Since I love to share, a site was born.

OK, so what’s a departure album?

An album that either expanded the vocabulary of music (like The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band), or expanded the musical vocabulary of its audience (like Paul Simon’s Graceland). But while the engine of Rock Music Criticism is designed to pump up oddball-yet-great albums from White musicians, albums from Black artists who push the musical envelope are frequently marginalized and forgotten. At least until now.

But aren’t there any famous Black departure albums?

Sure. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. All albums that brought the listener somewhere they’d never been before and also sold a lot of units. There’s a few more but really, it’s a criminally short list.

So, any genre-busting album from a Black musician could get a review?

Not quite. It still has to be a great album, or else it’s just a justifiably forgotten record.