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Was (Not Was) - Boo! Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 2008
ImageBoo! is genius. Boo! is funk. Boo! is America.

And the Was (Not Was) boys, Don & David, have risen from the R&B graveyard to give us a fright which, like all good horror stories, is rooted in the idea that something has gone incredibly wrong (or is about to) but no one notices because they’re way too busy doing whatever. 

Boo! is jammed with hot melodies, funky ball-bustin’ bass, and two of the greatest voices in music, "Sweet Pea" Atkinson and “Sir” Harry Bowens. But, as outstanding as those things are, they’re not what make Boo! so incredible. It’s incredible because it’s filled with amazing songs which, if you pay close attention, will scare the holy shit out of you. It’s as if they’re holding up a fun house mirror so we can see our ugly reflections, with the only problem being that the mirror is barely warped and what we’re seeing isn’t that far removed from the real thing. 

With Boo! the Was bros take us on a tour of the ugly side of Dorian Grey America using the funk/R&B/dance styles of the past 40 years as a road map showing how far we’ve come. From tight Motown soul to Memphis Stax funk, from O’Jays harmonies to System syntho-pop, from the so-bored-with-life-nothing-gets-me-off characters of the opener “Semi-Interesting Week” to the apocalyptic cowboy closer “Green Pills in the Dresser” (lovingly recited by Kris Kristofferson), Boo! is danceable, delightful and devastating. It makes you realize how subversive and devilishly intelligent popular music can be.

Well, to get down to it, Boo! is so fucking great there’s not much more I can say, other than to tell you about the bits that I find most enchanting and add that you should go out and spend your hard-earned dollars on it because you either like real music, or you like the Madonna/Timberlake poop that’s currently staining the buying public’s undies. So here are the bits: Hearing singers this amazing harmonize on a line like “Who broke the fucking TV?” (on the song “It’s a Miracle”) and make it sound as if it’s nothing more than a lyrical cliché, set my face into a perpetual smile. The only thing missing from this treatise on the miraculous is seeing the Virgin Mary’s face in a tortilla.

“From the Head to the Heart” is a tender ballad (sung I believe by Donald Ray Mitchell but I don’t really know because I can’t get any liner notes anywhere, thanks iTunes, thanks World Wide Was website) about a guy who goes out to steal a new TV set. While in the act a piece of the window he’s smashed while breaking in falls and decapitates him, thus the highly sensitive title. That’s funny in itself but my favorite line is “Tragic? His fate is not uncommon.” Is that’s where we are today? This kind of thing is common?

The David Was spoken word cut is “Needletooth.” I have no idea what it’s really about but it sounds as if Ornette Coleman’s plastic sax did the nasty with L. Ron Hoover’s magical vacuum cleaner and nine months later… “Needletooth.” My best guess is it’s about a futuristic robot superhero on a reality TV show who performs only if paid and gets quite ugly when he needs to collect cash that’s owed to him. But like I said, that’s my guess. It’s not as funny as “Dad I’m in Jail” but it’s really creepy. “Two wake up pills and a bow and arrow cocktail / and I’m good for the day.” Needletooth sounds just like me.

“Forget Everything” is straight ahead P-Funk and if the vocal melody sounds a little too much like “I Blew Up the United States” from Are You Okay?, it is all the better for it. This song makes me want to shake my ass with a white man’s overbite. “I just dance, play the fool / forget everything I ever learned in school” sounds like too many people I know and isn’t it ironic, or something akin to irony, that one of the funkiest dance songs in existence would poke a finger in the eye of the very people who would appreciate it… those who dance, Nero-esque, while everything around them is in flames.

“Crazy Water” has a five second baritone sax break that will force you to ask the immortal question, “why aren’t there more baritone saxes in popular music, and if there were would my testosterone levels go up?”

The aforementioned “Green Pills in the Dresser” is centered by the line “the midgets are unruly.” Book of Revelations be damned, I believe this is how the world will truly end, with a gravel-voiced cowboy letting us all know that “he’s got to be going” and all manner of strange and twisted things going on around us. When at the end Kristofferson intones “Is it too soon to come back?” and laughs, it gives you the impression that even the guy announcing the end of the world doesn’t understand the finality of the prospect.

And with the ending of that song, which is also the ending of Boo!, their grand message is driven home.  Beneath the sheen Was (Not Was) is exposing our inability to focus on things meaningful and important. The surface is shiny but if you scratch a little deeper the horror’s there for everyone to see. 

And that’s why Boo! is so great, because it is fearless.

And frightening.

And perhaps fecund.  And it comes at exactly the perfect moment.

Boo! is America 2008. Scratch its surface.

I downloaded Boo! from iTunes as an AAC @ 128kbps, 44.1 kHz and you’ll notice that I gave it a nine even though it’s my favorite release this year. In this instance I would have paid for greater fidelity. The production by Don Was is just incredible, the arrangements are detailed and imaginative and the musicianship is other worldly. The drumming is knock knock knock-out! The only thing negative about it is the loss that came with the download. I’m planning on buying the CD just so I can get a better recording and wish there was some way for me to get something even greater than that ‘cause I bet it sounds fantastic. Computer, home system, car radio, there wasn’t a lot of difference between them even though I must admit I think Boo! was mixed for radio (???) because that’s where it sounded best.  I hope W(NW) got more than a one record deal from Rykodisc, and kudos to them for signing W(NW).  

Extra Features
My iTunes version of Boo! came with a video of the single “Crazy Water.”
Yippee. What year is it, 1986? I believe it is time for all of us purchasers of music downloads (yes, I do it all legally) to complain. Each and every release should come with a digital booklet. I’d rather have that than an extra song any day, and, after all, if the song was left off the release in the first place is it that good? Or is that just what artists have to do to get on the iTunes main page? I know that sometimes the extra songs are really good, like on the Black Crowes’ Warpaint, but then again that release came with a booklet too. And it was a damn good one. Wake up, music sellers! Wake up, music distributors! I think it’s time for a sound revolution.

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