Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jeffery Lewis - "12 Crass Songs"

Originally written Big Black Disk.

Jeffery Lewis "12 Crass Songs"
(2007 Rough Trade)

Sound: ***
Performance **

It was once remarked in my presence that if an old painting was put into a new frame it forced the view to re-evaluate the work from another perspective. That's exactly what Jeffery Lewis' "12 Crass Songs" sets out to do. Jeffrey Lewis re-interprets 12 songs by punk band Crass as folk tunes. It's not such a strange idea as it first seems, in some ways punk and folk are closely related. Both genres are democratic musical forms. Anyone can form a punk band or become a folk troubadour. Being able to play an instrument competently, follow a melody, or in anyway sing are strictly speaking optional. All one really needs is a quick fire vocal delivery that's almost fast enough to slip by the standard left wing observations as being profound. A skill perfected by Bob Dylan.

The three best songs are all on the second side, which is a bit hard to find owing to the fact that marking the sides as A and B or 1 and 2 would be far too conformist. Instead one side lists all twelve songs, which is in fact the first side and the other side has a picture on it. "Do they Owe Us a Living?" is a bit catchy as a hint of melody is allowed to intrude on the politics. With the lead singer asking "Do they owe us a living?" and the backing vocals chanting, "Of course they do. Of Course they do." Then the vocalist asks again "Do they owe us a living?" The second answer is a resounding, "Of course they F6&%ing do!" The drumbeat adds a nice sense of urgency to the song. "Demoncrats" (sic) begins with the random tunings of a radio over a mournful organ figure, which is accented by a triangle. Add double tracked vocals and this is by far the most interesting song sonically. Of course the random radio tuning may land him in trouble, just ask Pink Floyd. Ironically the most effective track on the album is "Punk is Dead" which takes the musical form itself to task for it's many hypocrisies. With lines such as, "Punk is dead, yes that's right, punk is dead/It's just another cheap product for the consumer's head." and "CBS promoted The Clash, but not for revolution, just for cash." it's dead on the mark about the genre. The draw of Punk has always been more about the off stage antics and how much parents hate it than musical or lyrical content.

The record is very well pressed with very little surface noise. Included with the LP is a gift card that entitles the owner to download the entire album as MP3s. I didn't bother, it's a nice touch but I'll record the vinyl onto a CD and dump that into iTunes, to get the best sound possible. According to the website, "The downloads are MP3 format at 256kbps. These downloads are virtually indistinguishable from CD-quality audio and we think offer the best audio quality vs. download time." I'm glad that they are not 192kbps, but I take exception to 256kbps being referred to as "high quality" or "virtually indistinguishable from CD-quality." It's odd that they can tell that vinyl sounds better than CD and yet find 256kbps MP3s to be nearly identical to CDs. The booklet reproduces all of the lyrics in addition to a comic book inspired telling of how Mr. Lewis came to be familiar with Crass' music.

If I were between 17-20 years old I might find these songs powerful, compelling, and insightful. But I'm not and to these jaded ears they just sound like oversimplifications of all of the political issues they try to address. The singer's voice sounds OK, he might have a future reading news on NPR, his backing vocalist could handle the dreaded pledge drives. Isn't that what punks do when they grow up?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This record is awful.