December 18th, 2008


In which I am dizzied by talent

Dickon Edwards drew my attention to a rant on Taylor Parkes' blog about how terrible this film of Genesis performing Dance With The Moonlit Knight is:

Now, having recently subjected myself to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I fully expected to agree with Taylor. But when I watched the video and read the rant, something extraordinary happened. The video won, and the rant lost. The values of the video -- pretension, imagination, daring, not being afraid of mockery, talent -- trumped the values of the rant against the video (mocking pierrot types, mocking eccentrics, swearing at self-indulgence). Peter Gabriel's costumes were daring and interesting, his gestures winning, the dynamics of the music fascinatingly varied, with really alluring soft, spangled, twangling passages. The flute-playing that has Parkes clutching his head in exasperation has me soothed and impressed, and Gabriel's "fuckwitted scalp-carving" is, for me, an admirable piece of avant fashion -- that little extra spurt of eccentricity I wish more artists would squeeze out of themselves. As Parkes' swearing began to recede, like the voice of a frothing psycho being escorted out of the fairy ball, the music started reminding me of the best bits of Pink Floyd and The Incredible String Band, while Gabriel's stage presence was part Jagger, part Bowie, part pantomime.

I then watched a visually-brilliant Genesis appearance on a Belgian TV programme (singing The Musical Box, from their 1971 album Nursery Cryme) which I also loved for its theatrical gentleness and eccentric charm:

What the hell is going on? Genesis, brilliant? This band I used to scorn engineering students at university for liking? I always thought I hated Phil Collins (especially Phil!), Peter Gabriel and Genesis. And yet here they are on my computer being young, brilliant and handsome. Even Phil! With hair! Is it too late to recant? May I take back everything I've ever said about this band? May I glow, now, with pride remembering how Edwyn Collins once compared me to them? Taylor, you're quite, quite wrong. And so, for years, was I.

Am I going mad? I've found something else great today. A new artist, this time, one so obscure that he's only had two plays of some of his MySpace songs (unless the counter's broken). He's called David Shane Smith, and if I were a record company I would sign him like that. He's got something of Dylan about him, something of Cohen, something of Beck, something of Captain Beefheart, something of Mark E. Smith, something of Thom Yorke, something of Jeff Buckley, something of Ariel Pink. Some have compared him to Momus, but I don't think that's apt at all.

David Shane Smith could be a hipster or a schizo. I think he's probably a hipster, on balance; he was in Brooklyn, but now he's in LA. He hasn't released anything, unless by "released" you mean making homeburn CDs and handing them out to friends, free, in sleeves made from torn-out magazine pages.

His music is exactly the fusion between avant and trad that I want to be hearing, the balance that music needs if it's to keep advancing. It's not good enough just to have well-made songs in nice arrangements, you have to push and challenge and bend the medium itself, otherwise it'll go sclerotic and become an interpretive art, the new classical music. Smith does that. He challenges the medium, and therefore the audience. It's good for the medium, good for the audience, and good for him.

Listen to Brand, or -- especially -- Miserabilism, on Smith's MySpace page. You can tell that this guy learned to draw before he learned to scribble. He learned to range before he learned to derange, he could do familiar before he could do strange. Miserabilism starts like a Leonard Cohen song (there's even a tiny whiff of Coldplay about the start), but goes where neither Cohen nor Coldplay ever have or would -- into something very like an early Beck rap, in fact. The next track, Brand, sounds like mid-60s Dylan singing over cheap samples of Cohen's Master Song.

It would be tragic if this guy went straight, threw out the quirks. As tragic as Genesis losing Gabriel and his fuckwitted scalp-carving, in fact.