DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album
The Grey Album
The stoic pessimism of the Democratic presidential race is mirrored in The Grey Album and the controversy over copyright law reform that it's refueled. Both are rallying cries for candidates with the greatest chance of changing the status quo, with the unspoken acknowledgement that just about anybody can be a better exemplar of what's possible once it's changed. Visit boomselection.info and you'll find mash-ups as good as or better than this quasi-illegal fusion of the Beatles' White Album music and Jay-Z's Black Album lyrics that has elicited threats from EMI/Capitol's lawyers. But the dialectics posed by The Grey Album (rap vs. rock, art vs. theft, generation vs. generation) are pretty irresistible--obvious enough to engage the media but complex enough for legal activists and music fans to take to their blogs indignantly.
The White Album was, as The Black Album claims to be, the last hurrah of a pop phenomenon. The premarital separation of the MacLen songwriting team could be heard in the The White Album's lack of peer-editing. Working mostly unchecked by the other, each Beatle retreated further into his respective indulgence: schmaltz and melancholy. But Danger Mouse is crafty: As a DJ, he knows that hammy pop-song treatments work great as hip-hop backdrop. What comes off as excessive in a singer-songwriter context lends confessional nuance to an over-the-top rap narrative where everything's overstated. The twist comes when he proceeds to jam every wrong sentiment against every wrong lyric. The grave bildungsroman delivered by Jay-Z's mother on "December 4th" weaves through the sunny cadences of McCartney's mom ("Mother Nature's Son") rather than Lennon's (the less-euphemistic "Julia"), who instead plays buckshot hopscotch as the hacked-up backing track for "Dirt off Your Shoulder."
As brilliantly incoherent as The White Album was, Danger Mouse's structural grab-ass reveals that this was the Beatles' most sonically homogenous album, written mostly on acoustic guitars on an Indian commune rather than in a decked-out London studio. The Grey Album's constrictiveness begs for the crunk invention of a thousand other mash-ups not hemmed in by chronology or theme, not acting as a mechanized inversion of Swinging Strings Play the Beatles. I want to hear a grey as stark as black and white. I want the pallid death-rhythm of Wings' "Let 'Em In" to show me how Jay-Z's cooler-than-cool "Threat" can be as ice-cold as a face-down trip on a moving sidewalk in January. I want Danger Mouse to track down Jay-Z's dad for a remix of "December 4th" that melds a lost father's ambivalence with John Lennon's infantile wail on "Mother," a dialogue that'll trump the Oedipal unease of Eminem where The Black Album merely shadows it, as if Lennon's primal scream therapy was as much about his life in 1946 as 1964.
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