Justin Smallbridge: Your Grammy – Elderly, sweet, well-meaning, frequently confused and utterly clueless

justin_Smallbridge_headshot_01The Grammys are over for another year. The record business has been putting on this self-congratulatory wingding for 55 years now, and as much as things change, it’s good to know there are some traditions that last, like the tradition of having an annual televised music awards show. It’s even more poignant now, with both the music and television businesses collapsing. In just a couple more years, The Grammys will seem as much of a relic of a forgotten, bygone past as whatever it is Mumford & Sons thinks they’re doing.

And what is that, exactly? I’ve tried to figure it out, but I haven’t had much success.

Grammy20132I know it fails on several fronts. The “authenticity” the Mumfers seem to be straining so hard to achieve is obviated by how hard they’re straining to seem “authentic.” And authentically what? It’s only a theory, but I think their parents bought the soundtrack album to the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” thirteen years ago and played it a lot while one or more impressionable little Mumfords were being shuttled to play dates or daycare and it made quite an impression on them. Or maybe they were really impressed by Dexys Midnight Runners grimy “potato-famine chic” period, during which they had their only hit, “Come On Eileen.” (You remember: “Come on, Eileen / I don’t wash, I’m unclean / I’m a dirtbag / And my overalls stink.”)

grammy-mumfordThe Mumfords don’t seem to have bothered to listen to anything else from either the mid-1980s or whatever era they think they’re resurrecting, nor really bothered to understand how to write a song with verses, a chorus and a bridge, since their “songs” always seem to lack at least one or more of those elements as well as a third chord. Still, I’ve got to hand it to them, stretching a minute and 45 seconds’ worth of music into some kind of hillbilly love song to Jesus that lasts almost five minutes. Also, it’s nice to know the lead singer has a career playing a young Stephen Fry to fall back on once this Mumfording runs its course.

Mumford & Sons play their possible hillbilly love song to Jesus for the Neon Peon and the Carpathian Broadcorping Castration. This is what it would sound like if 30 Rock’s Kenneth Parcell & his pastor Reverend Gary were English and formed a band. 

But who could blame the Mumfords? Look at the success of Arcade Fire, who’ve ascended to some kind of pinnacle using a combination of harangue and tedium to bore their audience into submission. “If we all play this one chord as loud as we can for about seven minutes while I yelp tunelessly, we can’t miss.”

The Mumfords winning album of the year is a positive sign, though. That kind of Grammy approval assures they’re finished. The Lumineers better hurry up and get whatever they can get out of being “Mumford Junior,” or “Son Of Mumford & Sons” or “Mumford II: Acoustic Boogaloo” or whatever imitative hipster douchebag Mumford clone they’re trying to be. With Mumford & Co. now riding a speedy toboggan for the delete bin, the Lumineers are about the only fake-old-timey outfit with a shorter shelf-life ahead of them.

The inevitable end of this hobo folk spasm will raise a practical problem two years from now: what will become of all those ankle-boots, suspenders, collarless shirts and other fake 19-century-laborer attire plundered from thrift stores and great-grandfathers’ closets? I guess they’ll eventually find industrial_art_07their way back to Goodwill once Mom cleans out the closet because Junior has had to quit trying to dress like an 1844 steam-loom repairman or whale-oil renderer and fight for a slot in the junior executive trainee program.

A Mumford & Sons fan. Exactly as illustrated. Could also be a Lumineer or contemporary Brooklyn-based artisanal mustard and/or bourbon cook.

Sticking with the theme of “it was fun while it lasted; hope you enjoyed your career,” how about [lower-case-f] fun. [period] getting the New Artist prize? The prize seems to be just “new artist” now, not “best new artist.” So why choose just one? “fun.” join such esteemed predecessors as phony-baloney silli-billi Milli Vanilli and their lip-synching nonsense lyrics to the beat break from Chuck Brown’s “Ashley’s Roachclip.”

Photo of Chuck Brown“Girl, you know it’s true. Well, not the notion that we’re singing, or anything other than being good-looking packaging for this cynical German attempt at bogus, non-threatening hip-hop. But there might be something that’s true that you know, girl, although it may have nothing to do with this song. You may know that an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by another force. That’s true, and you may know it . .  . girl.” Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers: “Ashley’s Roachclip.” The break Milli Vanilli used so poorly occurs at 3:30. 

It was put to much better use in Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid In Full.” 

fun. are young, aren’t they? And so what if their big single has enough fascistic flavor to lend itself to a Nuremburg rally remix just as well as a machine-tooled teen pop anthem? Forty years from now, it’ll finally acquire the kitsch/trivia cachet currently enjoyed by a medley of the Starland Vocal Band’s greatest hit; they, too, were anointed Best New Artist by the Grammys.

The Starland Vocal Band: last century’s “fun.” Or are “fun.” this century’s Starland Vocal Band? 

fun-we-are-young-videoAlso, since “fun.” were on The Colbert Report, I have never forgotten that that Frank-Whaley-looking lead singer does not wear socks or underwear, ever. Ick.

“Hello. I’m Commando Skidmark of “fun.”. I don’t wear socks or underwear. Fun? Not on laundry day.”

Nice to see the Black Keys win a prize, even if it’s because the Grammy voters thought they were finally giving the White Stripes or possibly The Proclaimers the recognition they deserved.

frankoceanLet’s not overlook Frank Ocean. His indeterminate, wandering love song to a character in a picaresque satirical novel, imaginatively titled “Forrest Gump” —  just like the novel and the movie made from it — was truly, uh, something that occurred. Can’t wait for the inevitable follow-up single in which Frank declares his undying ardor for Benjy Compson in William Faulkner’s “The Sound and The Fury.” I sure hope it has the same meandering, tuneless noodling that’s such a delightful element of “Forrest ForrestGump2Gump.” Ocean and Gump: Forrest not sure about Frank’s intentions; not clear whether Frank has seen movie about Forrest.

Isn’t it sad when people “write” “songs” about movies they didn’t pay attention to and may not have actually seen?

Frank Ocean. “Forrest Gump.”

I think Frank Ocean may have been thinking of a composition by another Frank — Zappa, by name, whose “Dangerous Kitchen” the melodic/compositional approach of “Forrest Gump” seems to have been patterned after, only Ocean chose to go the baffling nonsense lyrical route, rather than the concrete imagistic practicality the late Mr. Zappa favored.

“The Dangerous Kitchen” / Frank Zappa

But of course, the high point was “Record Of The Year,” which was won by a cover of the old Police song, “King Of Pain,” rewritten as a minuet for the Keebler elves and performed by a thing called “Gotye,” whatever that is. It’s hardly surprising the world fell in love with a song that includes the unversality and simple, heartfelt truth of a line like “You can be a dickhead to a certain kind of sandwich.” Yes, can’t we all? Fittingly, given the twee, elfin tone of Goatey’s smash hit, the Grammulators found a hobbit that had been dipped in used cooking oil and rolled in pubic hair wielding a magic wand to present their prize award.

Greasy Hobbit Announces Gotye Winning Record of the Year http://youtu.be/Bpp8pEdgMCk

public_enemy“We’re Public Enemy. Remember when we were LL+Cool+J++1986intimidating, instead of irrelevant?”

“And I’m LL Cool J. Once upon a time, I was the smartest, swiftest MC around. Now I’m the lead in a superannuated police procedural franchise and doing MC gigs of a different kind for much less discerning audiences. Hey, I’m still working.”

Rap_is_DeadThere were some sad moments, too. I’m very sorry to hear rap is dead. It’s a genre I liked a lot, while it was viable.  But its death is the only conclusion one can come to given what passes for rap these days. The nail driven into its coffin was the Grammy show-closer, in which two once-great performers proved their days of relevance are long behind them by being invited to perform on the Grammys, as well as having to endure the insult of sharing the stage with Travis Barker and Tom Morello. To make absolutely sure we all got the message, the Grammys used that performance as the accompaniment to the sponsorship billboards from companies who’d paid for promotional consideration.

Well, at least I still have those records. The Grammys can’t take those away from me, even if they’re helping to destroy the industry that produced them.

LL Cool J / “Rock The Bells” [original] 

Public Enemy / “B-Side Wins Again” 


Justin’s column appears here every 4th Friday

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJustin Smallbridge is, among other things, a writer, producer, broadcaster, voiceover artist and record collector.

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