Grand Royal Wedding

Two things struck me when I started writing this post:

Firstly, I didn’t, and still don’t, want this to become a ‘music blog’. There are squillions of others out there that are solely dedicated to the subject, being produced by more earnest and knowledgeable writers than I, and I want to cover different topics and subjects as I know it can come across as a naval-gazing self-indulgent wankathon, and not offer the variety I hope to cover.

Secondly, when I sit down in front of the screen, I have an occasional, heart-stopping chill run down my spine as this very vivid and verbal realisation hits me: rather than my own voice, I hear the throrough-bred clothes-horse-faced whine of Carrie ‘fucking’ Bradshaw in my head – albeit with a less impressive moustache and slightly bigger tits. This is a major concern, and can actually not just stop my writing dead in its tracks, but throw me off course, affect my self-esteem and keep me awake at night. I am fighting this with every sinew of my ageing frame, and hope to be able to cast this aside and progress. Deep breaths…

But back to the first point: the reason this has been so musically influenced is that since the middle of March, three of the biggest musical influences on my life have released albums: a flurry of recorded activity unlikely to be matched again in such a short space of time. For the last 10 years Elbow have honed their songwriting to match their ambition, culminating in the beautiful collection of songs that is ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ (which I rambled about before on these pages).

Over the previous 15 years Radiohead have redefined the musical landscape and insisted on challenging the boundaries of what a ‘rock’ band should do, by continuing to leave critics and fans alike guessing what they are going to do next – ‘The King Of Limbs’ left a lot scratching their heads, whilst the band taps it’s foot, looks at it’s watch and wonders what kept you so long to finally get it.

Lastly, and for me the most exciting of all, the magnificent Beastie Boys return with ‘Hot Sauce Committee, Part II’. I am happy to report that it is the best record they have made since ‘Check Your Head’, the 1992 record that changed my life. As a 19 year old, I had difficulty trying to straighten out a twisted adolescence, whilst dedicated to carving my own identity, and escaping from under the shadow of my massively musically influential brother. I was into all sorts: Marvin Gaye, Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Gang Starr, Primal Scream, Herbie Hancock, Rollins, Kraftwerk – at that know-all age, striving for an identity that would help define me and give me the courage to burst into my brother’s room and say “yeah, but have you heard this?”, the good ship Check Your Head passed my desert island as all the food on the island had gone. From the opening bars of ‘Jimmy James’ I was swimming towards it’s bow.

Liam Howlett described it as “the most street album ever made”, and for my money he is still right. Smart, funky as hell, dirty, smooth, it was four sides of vinyl that had a variety on one body of work that I’d never witnessed, whilst held together by an unswerving middle-finger attitude that even today takes some beating. They set up Grand Royal, created an exclusive streetwear empire, and took hold of me by the hair and dragged me so deep into their world I struggled to ever think of one without them in it. It was all I listened to for a year: I systematically sat my friends down in my smoke-filled bedroom and made them listen to it, watching their reactions, like an audio Clockwork Orange, as the realization dawned on them that the musical landscape was changing; I wore a baseball cap for so long that the white embroidery on the front became copper coloured. I wish I still had that hat, because I would be wearing it again.

They’re back, and my God is my World ready for a new Beastie Boys album, as the funk had kind of been missing. The rumours had been growing for a while. But then the news of a 25 minute short film about the morning after the Fight For Your Right To Party video, featuring the great and the good of Hollywood surfaced. Who else could have rounded up Will Ferrel, Ted Danson, Orlando Bloom, Steve Buscemi, Susan Sarandon, Seth Rogan, and the most meaningful role that Elijah Wood has had since kicking the hobbit? They did, and they didn’t give a fuck about what anyone thought of it. It turned out brilliantly (as you can see below in teh Make Some Noise video). As has the album.

Again, from the very opening break of Make Some Noise, there is an air of meaningful authority about this record – given Adam Yauch’s cancer battle that delayed the recording and release of the album, there is also an undeniable urgency about it. There is no filler, there feels like there is no time, and less space. It has to deliver on every track or the time might run out. Plus, they have found bass. A criticism I would have from a hip hop perspective is that they have never delivered the deep bass the layers on top deserve – at times the sound can be thinner than Mike D’s wrists – but Hot Sauce Committee Part II can finally shake windows, rather than smashing them with a tv, with a drum sounds tighter than Pippa Middleton’s backside. Why else would Nas put his vocals on it? It also has, in Don’t Play No Game…, my favourite reggae track of all time. However, it is a very short list. Of one.

I have never forgotten how much I loved this band, and what they meant to me, but they are as relevant now as they ever have been, and even now they have the tunes to match it. Expect Hot Sauce to be poured all over summer barbeques, while I raise a glass to celebrate the anniversary of my Grand Royal wedding 20 years ago.

Follow me on Twitter @benopause

One comment

  1. nel_tom · May 12, 2011

    Best album of the year so far. And I am an Elbow fan. Best album of the decade? Probably. Great blog again Ben, and great line about Pip’s arse.

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