Posts Tagged ‘Stone Free’

This week I fired my wife. And my dog. I voted three times to do things I didn’t want to do and that my neighbors begged me not to do in the first place. I took away people’s rights. Why are people always whining about their rights? I’m white, I’m male, I’m straight, and I’m good. What else did I do? Oh right. I harvested enough secondhand CDs to build a wall around Mexico. Mexico will pay for it!

As we move deeper into the Digitazoic Era, people are abandoning physical forms of music like Republicans abandoning Trump in 2018. Over the next few weeks I’ll present some of my findings from a recent selection of Portland yard sales. I’ll also testify about my meeting with those nice Russians I met at my chess club.

When an entire neighborhood puts on a sale, I am there
Even if you love the music of the 1980s – even if you know so much about synth pop that people turn the hose on you when you show up at their parties – you may be forgiven for not knowing the British band Level 42.

I only know them because of one song, and I didn’t hear that one until the ’90s. I liked it a lot, so when I found two of their CDs, World Machine (1985) and Level Best (1989), at a yard sale in the middle of a heat wave, where I had several competitive shoppers and a rapidly wilting wife to consider, I grabbed ’em (the CDs).

The gentlemen in Level 42 started out in life playing smooth jazz. They dropped the jazz, kept their synthesizers, and added ordinary singing, melodies less memorable than Spandau Ballet’s, and a glaze of funk, as in Stevie-Wonder-WomaninRed, Chaka-Khan-is-sleeping-in-this-morning funk.

Level 42’s commercial breaththrough was World Machine, which included their only U.S. Top 10 hit, “Something About You.” It’s a pop diamond, the only time all of Level 42’s strengths came together: their excellent playing skills (I particularly admire the drummer), their ability to follow a musical theme without wandering into a cul de sac, their generally upbeat approach to life even when love goes awry, and the way their songs all seem to tell a story. “Something About You” is far and away their best hook, too.

World Machine has some sweet moments, and you can find a few more on their greatest hits, Level Best. I really want to love Level 42. Sadly, though they aspired to be Tears For Fears, they were instead an underpowered Steely Dan.

Hard-core CD buyers are like the defensive line in a hockey game
At the same sale, and despite having been illegally cross-checked and fouled twice, I spotted P.M. Dawn’s Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991). The only thing I knew about P.M. Dawn is that they contributed the most fun track to the Jimi Hendrix tribute album Stone Free (1993). Given how cheap these things were on that scorching early-summer day, that one data point was sufficient to close the deal.

As I eased my way into traffic Monday morning I fired up the first track, which was a minute of electronic doodling with a few thoughts directed at God. I decided that if the next song was more of the same, I’d hit Eject.

But the next song was one I remembered, and it was awesome: “Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine,” one of the greatest titles in the history of everything. It’s a meditation on discovering that we humans could blow up the world at any moment. Or maybe it’s about a break-up with a girl named Sandy. Springsteen had problems with her, too. “Reality and life are not the same,” P.M. Dawn informs us, and if there are seven words that explain the presidency of Donald Trump, those are them.

I was expecting a rap album and I got one, but not the one I expected. This is a rap, rock, dance, and R&B album WITH SYNTHESIZERS, as you can hear on the album’s No. 1 hit, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” a song that samples “True” by…Spandau Ballet! And you were wondering how I was going to tie all this together.

Princess Internet tells me that P.M. Dawn was two brothers from New Jersey. The Utopian Experience contains plenty of teenage philosophizing (our heroes were about 20 in 1991), and song titles such as “To Serenade a Rainbow” belong in the My Little Pony musical, but guess what you won’t find here: gangsters, pimps, whores, guns, body counts, or any song that proceeds from the theory that women are subhuman breeding stock.

There’s scratching, but only on one track. They name-check themselves three times, ask Prince what he’s up to, and quote The Beatles twice. The rhyme scheme follows the standard rap aabb, but they can work cleverly within this restriction: “The breeze, the wind…/It fluctuates my adrenaline.”

Prince could do just about anything, but he couldn’t rap. He would’ve been proud to have recorded The Utopian Experience. He would’ve kicked the guitars up a notch, too.

Next yard sale: Classic rock!