Peter Weatherall – Men In Blue

A few years ago Peter Weatherall lived in my town. I’d see him at the library every so often, his head down studiously, more suited to, say, Cambridge (where Weatherall studied some kind of genius degree until he realized he’d never get a Nobel prize so, um, become a beloved internet children’s singer? I’m not making any of this up – I realize part of the signature Really Real (TM) Style is prone to hyperbole but I swear it’s all true. Here is Dr. Peter Weatherall’s homepage, Kidsinglish dot com, where he greets you like an affable yet slightly aloof professor who mostly publishes in journals nobody reads. On the side of the homepage are dozens of albums, mostly intended for children. “Hello Song” has over a million views. In it Weatherall intones, in a accent which is peculiarly neutral, “Hello, how are you? I’m great! I’m fine! I’m OK!”

Most beloved internet children’s singers would’ve stopped there and carved a career out the Hello song. Not Weatherall. Here is a song on Platonic solids, best line: “we should thank Euler too, because F+V-E=2” (sung by a whole goddamn chorus of Weatheralls).

I mean. I MEAN. The man covers it all. You could conceivably have a solid understanding of all of humanity’s greatest achievements, albeit one with unconvincing brass synths and one taught by an all-seeing all-singing god, but still! If aliens were looking into ‘humans’ and kingsinglish dot com was the only thing they had as a source, they’d probably scratch their heads and go “well, at least they know f+v-e=2” and the other aliens would all shrug and go ‘that’s something’ and get back to analysing the only other bit of source material they had (I know I just said Peter Weatherall was their only source, but one of the other Aliens – Bob somebody – found another source while they were listening to the 10+ years worth of music on Kidsinglish dot com). And the other bit of source material the aliens have, aside from this, was like – maybe an episode of “I wanna Marry Harry” (the show that tricked women into thinking they were marrying that Prince Harry).

Anyway – my friend J and I used to swap  Weatherall tracks and discuss him the way you discuss any other musician you have a mutual interest in. I feel here – the part where the writer talks about their personal~ experience with a musician and how they relate~ is probably the most boring bit of most memoirs/movies/etc. Like, “man, John and I were so into Bob Dylan and we’d listen to his records all night long and it was groovy, man”. So let’s skip that. The important bit I want to convey is how we both genuinely like Peter Weatherall, and not with the feigned admiration that woman you know who never gets rips in her stockings likes ‘outsider artists’ like ‘that Daniel Johnstone, ooh, I saw a documentary about him, that Daniel Johnstones’

Then Peter Weatherall moved away from town and I got a job and moved away too, for a while, and then, then! All of a sudden. All sudden-like. Peter Weatherall blessed us with a ‘serious’ album, and then another, all with stories and videos, just like Bey. In “Men in Blue” he shows us his ‘typical recording setup’ and sings with beguiling charm a chorus which becomes more sinister – ‘men in blue/we love you/we love everything you do’. Each verse becomes more pointed, the satire sharper, yet sung in the same sing-song manner with which Weatherall might sing “The Hello Song”. Weatherall wryly quips “you perform strip-searches” as innocuously as a checkout operator says “have a good day” (bonus points if you notice Weatherall is WEARING blue as his sings “Men in Blue”).

Men in blue, we love you,we love everything you do (do, do, do)/You’ve got batons, you’ve got tasers, you’ve got pepper spray/and you’ll use them on protestors that get in the way/Men in blue, we love you…

Partially the genius of “Men in Blue” is Weatherall’s reliance on the classic verse/chorus/verse formula, which is not unlike Randy Newman’s use of tinpan alley formula, or even the great, gnomic Tom Lehrer, who I’d be surprised if Weatherall was not familiar with (Lehrer did write the prototypical science song, after all). Partially it’s the vocal overdubs, which are faintly ridiculous when juxtaposed with the less ridiculous content – it feels like a out-take from The Beatles’ “White Album”, a McCartneyesque melodic object which didn’t quite make it. But that’s what’s so refreshing about Weatherall – he lacks the pretension of latter-day Beatles, he wants to show us his recording set-up, his keyboard, his soul – in another universe “Men in Blue” is probably in the top 40. A+

 

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Lawrence Arabia – Another Century

OK I AM BACK MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!! It has been so long! Because! I! Forgot! My! Login!

Or, NZ music criticism was dead for three months: now I am back. Thanks for holding down the fort, Sasha Free-Jones. Thanks for holding down the fort, Joan Didion. Etc.

Let’s start with Lawrence Arabia, because I go to great lengths explaining why he is not the real Lawrence of Arabia and how this can be confusing and how it’d be better if he really were the real Lawrence and not just some guy from Christchurch or wherever. Arabia sings in dulcet tones – when they are good they are very good, like Brian Wilson straining his vocal chords whilst bedridden and producing Smiley Smile. I’m a sucker for Do-Wop. And yet, something about the track bothers me – as if it’s written for National Radio. In fact, I had National Radio playing in the shower the other day, and Another Century came on. So I guess there’s some truth to my glib mean girl comments. I’ve never been a big fan of Arabia’s work. It’s too mannered, too well thought out. This is why I cry out with joy when his voice only just makes it through, when the dulcet tones contrast with trying to find something. What I mean is Death of a Ladies Man, the greatest Leonard Cohen record, is also the greatest Do-Wop record because it captures this incredible tension between Phil Spector and Cohen and the lyrics benefit from it, Paper Thin Hotel actually sounds like a paper thin hotel. Here there’s a feeling of pastiche, like he doesn’t quite mean it, a kind of wink-wink-how-clever-am-I? type deal. The line about farmers/disaster is good, though. C+