I have no beef with technology. Some of my favorite music – from Kraftwerk to Public Enemy to Moby – has been made inside the whirring pneumatics of machines. But there’s little I love more than the empathy and telepathy involved when musicians play with and off each other. The Bill Evans Trio. James Brown and the Famous Flames. The Hold Steady. That music lives and breathes, and there’s always the chance that it will run off the rails or rise through the stratosphere because it’s a warm, organic collaboration between men, and not a cold, controlled concoction of machines. It provides thrills without chills.
Apparently, I just wasn’t made for these times.
In the lead review in this week’s Rolling Stone, David Fricke takes on the new album by Ben Harper (of whom I’m no particular fan), and opens with a pair of sentences that seem astounding and disorienting to me:
On paper, it reads like a self-conscious exercise in antique cool and classic-rock righteousness. Singer-guitarist-songwriter Ben Harper and his band the Innocent Criminals recorded the eleven songs on Lifeline, Harper’s eighth studio album, live in a Paris studio, straight to analog tape, in seven days flat.
I understand studio craft, overdubs and the relentless pursuit of perfection. Some of my favorite records have resulted from a rare and meticulous precision. But I’ve always admired the spirit that allows a band to plug in, face each other, and go for broke. At some point, I guess, playing live and without a net became “self-conscious.” I remember when we called it “authentic.”