post brought to you by: ledyard
A couple weeks ago, I heard about a project of seemingly uberepic hipster-nerd mind-exploding proportions: The Bird & The Bee (previously known in my world for one of The Aughts’ greatest hooks with ‘Fucking Boyfriend’) had made an album completely made up of songs from the Hall & Oates songbook, lengthily titled “Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates”.
You may ask:
Q: Ledyard, why should I think of this news as Brain-Blowing?
A: Well [insert hip fake online name here], I always thought that The Bird & The Bee have a mildly cool thing going, with a sound that typifies mellow hipness as it stands today. The only drawback (aside from the hook mentioned earlier) is that their songwriting kinda, well, uh…. sucks. However, bring in the greatest pop songcrafters of the late 70’s & early 80’s (excluding Jim Steinman and Don Blackman perhaps) and !like that! you have fun hooky songs fresh out of the oven (albeit reheated 30 years hence) and wrapped in sweet & salty sushi bar indie sheen.
BOOM goes your musicnerdbrain!
So here’s the thing: it’s incredible……………. for the first two days or so. Around the 49th hour, something dawned on me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this combination of two SEEMINGLY amazing things had spawned something so incongruent it might cause an unexpecting musicnerdbrain to implode from confusion.
SHHHLLLLERP!! went my musicnerdbrain! So what’s the deal?
We all recognize that Hall & Oates has had a resurgence of popularity with the young folks lately, and I for one think it is extremely well-deserved. The problem lies in the fact that their music is not appreciated like Bob Dylan’s, for example, in a kind of awed wonder and with a subconscious fear that the greatest music has already been written. No, Hall & Oates’ music is (and should be) appreciated like a Chuck Norris movie, which is to say it is AWESOME with a capital everything, but is still enjoyed in a mildly tongue-in-cheek way.
We now return to The Bird & The Bee then. They have the typical sound of an indie band of our times: smooth, deceptively lo-fi and hi-fi (whichever implies that neither is true), hushed, and very tongue-in-cheekISH. I emphasize the ISH because it is an important distinction between them and the music they are covering. The Bird and The Bee, like many bands, want it all: they want to be postmodern, modern, humorous, serious, knowingly influenced, unflinchingly original, and often taken at least to some degree seriously.
This combination of goals often yields results that sound subdued and hip (some may say safe), in other words 85% of the indie pop scene (ok 95%). So it’s interesting to be able to hear older, well-crafted but very silly songs put through this filter, because this generation’s heroes and this generation’s music don’t really sound very similar once you get beyond aesthetics.
On this record, the singing is well done in that breathy nonchalant way indie chicks tend to sing, but, noticeably, many of the idiosyncratic vocal parts (‘No Can Do’, for example) have been removed in an effort to sidestep corniness. Similarly, the productions are cool, but only just, creating music that immediately gets filed in the ol’ Memory Banks under R for ‘Really Cool Dinner Music’. And ultimately that will be it’s best medium. Have people over who like indie music and they will respond to the aesthetic of this record very quickly (a subtle glance at the iPod or a so-casual-it-must-be-hiding-desperation muttering of ‘who are we listening to?’), and of course once they realize what songs are being performed they will wag their tongues like Scooby Doo. But ultimately they too will reach the point when they realize they just want it to be more (and not for lack of better term, because this IS the term) fun. Ultimately, the music should be more fun.
The point is, no matter how seriously Hall, Oates or Chuck Norris wanted to be taken, the days when that mattered are long behind us, and the reason they are popular now is because their work is so awesomely bombastic that it’s hard to believe it was made unironically (and if you have read Hall & Oates liner notes, you know they are not the ironic types). And because any seriousness is lost on today’s audience, all one is left with is the Fun Factor. When you have The Bird and The Bee take Hall & Oates and treat them as elder statesmen for a tongue-in-cheek society that wants to be taken seriously, what ends up happening is similar to when you watch a bad movie that is in fact much too bad: you watch and giggle for about a half hour, then suddenly get bored with being ironic about it and just want to be entertained.
And it was at this moment that I realized the best thing to do was to switch back over to the originals, where things were not ironically and strangely awesome, but rather sincerely and lamely AWESOME. And to be honest, they groove a lot harder (which can’t be said for H&O often). This is not a bad album by any means, but it doesn’t feel necessary or inspiring in any way either. Perhaps I need to give it another three decades to truly get it.