Sunday, August 26, 2007

Craftwork

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.”

7 comments:

Trip McClatchy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trip McClatchy said...

I agree Michael - it has no bearing whether an artist spent months on a song ("Good Vibrations", "Born to Run") or minutes to bash out a whole album (the Clash's debut), it's the end result that counts. Does it move you?

Maybe all Fricke is trying to convey is that no matter how long Ben Harper spends on a record, the end result will be... not good.

Michael Atchison said...

Overall, it's a pretty favorable review, so I don't think that's exactly what Fricke is trying to say.

Trip McClatchy said...

Okie-doke.

It's probably just wishful thinking on my part.

Satch said...

I gotta tell ya, and I know that it’s just the cynic in me, but whenever anyone promotes a recording with tag lines like: live in a Paris studio, straight to analog tape, in seven days flat.” Well … I don’t buy it. Sorry. But are you gonna tell me that there are absolutely no overdubs, no studio ‘effects’ – nothing but setting up the mics and going for it?

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Ben Harper’s music – so maybe that’s just me. Maybe Ben and the boys just really nailed this stuff and they’ll win me over and I’ll be there to see them the next time they come to town. Maybe not.

But, whenever I see ‘live in a Paris studio, straight to analog tape, in seven days flat.’ I get a little suspicious. Like Paul & Gene finally fessed up to after years of denying it – there aint a whole lot that’s ‘live ‘on KISS LIVE.

Art said...

I'm just psyched to read a Kraftwerk reference. . . . Saw Ben Harper live (not much of a fan) and he rocked. Of course, my girlfriend was swooning the whole time, but I didn't feel the urge to go buy anything.

The Boy said...

Ben Harper's one of those artists who hasn't put out a perfect album yet--nowhere even close--but with each new album he adds a bunch of new textures to his overall catalog. From what I've heard so far of Lifeline, this one's no exception. And while I'm sure there were a few overdubs and modern editing techniques, knowing what I know about him I'm quite certain that 90% of the album was recorded exactly as he said it was. He's strange enough to actually attempt something that "self-conscious"...