john oswald ain't nothin' ta f**k wit...
Now Playing: bring that beat back w/billy jam (wfmu.org)
Topic: 2002 reviews (Jul.-Sep.)
[this review was originally posted to the BSOTS website...hmm, i wanna
say mid-2002, somewhere around there. know this: as far as sound collages
go, nothing tops this album. NOTHING. -jrs.]
69 Plunderphonics 96
Record label: Seeland
Release date: August 2001
I first got interested in sound collages listening to pieces like
“Revolution #9” by The Beatles and Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy.
Eventually, it was Negativland that I would compare all others to –
Escape From Noise, Helter Stupid, and the U2 EP did
my head in. But now, even Negativland pales in comparison to the figure
I’ll be studying for the rest of my life. His name is John Oswald.
Plunderphonics was first released in 1989. One glance at the
cover photo (a doctored image of Michael Jackson as a naked white woman)
should’ve made Oswald’s intentions clear – this man was on a mission to
completely rearrange pop music. The rearrangement is twofold: not only
taking a familiar song and severely altering its order, but to redefine
what pop music is in general. Of course, most people (when they didn’t
call it sacrilege) considered Oswald’s work the complete and total
antithesis of pop. It’s not repetitive, the hook has been plucked away
and thrown into the fire, and any commercial potential has gone the way
of the dodo. Yet it’s still “pop” in a way – the songs’ origins remain
recognizable. Not only that, but it’s done that way ON PURPOSE.
What he did to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” alone made the disc one of the
most infamous releases in recorded history. And regardless of the fact
that he never sold copies of the CD, regardless of the fact that he
encouraged others to dub his album, Brian Robertson, then president of
the Canadian Recording Industry Association (equal to the RIAA in the
States), had the master tapes destroyed. I wouldn’t even be writing
this review if Negativland hadn’t stepped in. Through “borrowing” the
album from John Oswald, they’ve made it available to the public. GOD BLESS ‘EM.
The folks at Seeland went all out on the packaging. What started out as
a single album is now a double-disc extravaganza, celebrating a quarter
century of Oswald’s work. Disc One (Songs) features more voice-centered
material while Disc Two (Tunes) is mostly instrumental work. The
introduction to Plunderphonics, “btls,” is our gateway into an
alternate universe. As the last resounding chord of The Beatles’ “A Day
In The Life” transforms into the opening guitar chord from “A Hard Day’s
Night,” we leave the realm of the rhythmically conventional and step into
a place where there are no limits. This is quickly followed up by “power,”
featuring an energetic preacher strategically placed over the music of
Led Zeppelin. (The use of irony is one of Oswald’s stronger qualities.)
Recorded in 1975, some call “power” the first rap song, a claim that is
certainly debatable, to say the very least. Further audio operations
are performed on The Doors, Elvis Presley, Edie Brickell, Madonna, Prince,
Sonic Youth, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Antonio Carlos Jobim, the
themes to 2001 and Andy Griffith, and countless others.
One of the most engaging tracks is “vane,” where Oswald takes Carly Simon’s
“You’re So Vain” and painstakingly splices in sections of a cover version
by Faster Pussycat. The end result is a playful tradeoff, often in the
middle of sentences. “black” and “brown” relish various characteristics
of James Brown’s music. Strict attention is paid to the forceful
punctuation of the horn section or James’s trademark grunts and squeals.
On 1988’s “pretender,” Dolly Parton’s rendition of “The Great Pretender”
is decelerated to the point of where it sounds as if the buxom country
star has undergone a sex change.
A examination of Plunderphonics is incomplete without mentioning
“dab.” This is Oswald at his most meticulous, reshaping Michael Jackson’s
“Bad” into a seven-minute climax of noise. Listening to “dab” is like
watching a solid object explode in a confined area and witnessing the
fragments collide with each other, providing they aren’t already stuck
to the walls. From the opening clicks of Jackson’s speech to the closing
clicks of the same, “dab” is a masterful exercise in sound manipulation.
Oswald had hoped that Jackson would be flattered by it, and it’s been
rumored that Michael did find the cut amusing, but no one can say for
sure. The only assumption that can be safely made is that Jackson’s
lawyers weren’t laughing at all.
This retrospective contains over 60 tracks, each one bearing an anagram
of the artist’s name it plunders. So Led Zeppelin becomes Deep Zen Pill,
Jim Morrison is Sir Jim Moron, Pizzicato Five is Taco Pizza Five,
Ludwig Van Beethoven is Devil Gun Won’t Behave, and so forth. The
package also features a lengthy print interview with John Oswald discussing
the creative process, the legal fiasco that ensued over “dab,” and his
own philosophies on music. Photo collages and other pictures accompany
the interview. Anyone interested in experimental works shouldn’t miss
this release – 69 Plunderphonics 96 is the Holy Grail of sound
collage projects. Seeing as how the entire project is comprised of 100%
unauthorized samples, it would be wise to secure a copy before it
*check out samples and purchase tracks through emusic.com.