Monday, March 7, 2011

Thoughts of an Aspiring Music Snob:
Week 97 - Fine Young Cannibals

Chris is trying to compensate for his lack of musical knowledge by immersing himself in one new artist each week. At the end of the week, he will write up a brief summary of his opinions. You can read about the origin and parameters of this project here.

I have to start out with a personal aside (after all, if I can't bitch about my personal life on a public blog, where can I?). Due to a completely bone-headed move on my part, I spent the better part of Sunday going out of my way to drive back to a hotel where I had left some Very Important Documents. So, while this gave me a lot of time to listen to the Fine Young Cannibals, I was not in the best of spirits, and returned home a little too late and a lot too tired to actually write something interesting about the band. So this week's entry is going to be a little shorter and more stream-of-consciousness than usual.

After last week's relative success choosing a band based on my familiarity with a lone song, I decided to visit the Fine Young Cannibals because of their annoying-but-sort-of-catchy hit "She Drives Me Crazy." This is a song that totally screams "Eighties Synth Pop," and I was kind of expecting most of the band's songs to be in this style. But it turns out that "She Drives Me Crazy" was just one of the tricks in the band's rather large bag, and they actually skewed toward some weird eighties variant of soul music. 

Yeah, you read that right - soul music. A lot of the Fine Young Cannibals' music contains swooning vocals, fiery brass and lyrical saxophone lines, and then all of this is shaken up and thrown into a bunch of synth and drum lines from 1985. It's a very strange mix for a band that ended up being stranger than I had anticipated. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it just left me cold. 

The Fine Young Cannibals' second album, The Raw and the Cooked (1989) found the perfect balance between crooning soul music kitschy eighties synth beats. I'm not a huge fan of this style of soul, but the weird, almost dated production of these songs kept it interesting. Case in point - "I'm Not the Man I Used to Be" and "I'm Not Satisfied" are two songs that would actually be pretty boring just as songs, but the crazy beats add a new jolt to the tracks, and transform them into something much more fun. 

The album also works because Roland Gift is the perfect vocalist for this kind of music. He can handle the husky R+B of "Good Thing" as well as the high-pitched falsetto disco of "Don't Let It Get You Down." A band that wants to utilize a bunch of disparate influences needs a singer like this to tie everything together, and Gift fulfills that role admirably.

Not everything is a success - the straight soul ("As Hard As It Is") or the straight rock ("Don't Look Back") are simpler, and also a lot less impressive to me. The Fine Young Cannibals also like cover songs, from their laid-back rendition of the Buzzcocks in "Ever Fallen In Love?" to their bombastic take on Elvis in "Suspicious Minds." Neither song really connected with me; the group seems a lot more like a novelty act when they're tinkering with familiar tunes. 

Their first album - Fine Young Cannibals (1985) lacked the ridiculously catchy beats, and therefore it didn't impress me as much. Most of these songs blended together to my ears, and it's clear that the band is still working on its formula on this album. Still, it's worth noting both the immensely catchy "Johnny Come Home" (the band's breakout hit) and the gaudy "Like A Stranger" that ends with Gift shrieking with a manic female chorus in one of the weirder moments of a weird band. 

My final verdict? A band with surprising breadth and far more cards up their sleeve than the ultimately dismissable "She Drives Me Crazy." But also a band that really encapsulated everything that mattered into The Raw and the Cooked. Their first album is unnecessary, and it's unclear what the band would have done if they stayed together. The Raw and the Cooked is a lot of fun, but that's really all that needed to be said. 

BEST SONG YOU'VE HEARD: "She Drives Me Crazy"

This song got more annoying as the week went on. 


This is actually just a so-so song up until the utterly bizarre ending. 

NEXT WEEK'S ARTIST: Iggy Pop (and the Stooges)