The Hidden Cameras: The Smell of Our Own

Courtesy of Girlie Action
The Hidden Cameras
The Smell of Our Own
Rough Trade

Napoleon once wrote to his gal Josephine, "I will be arriving in Paris tomorrow evening. Don't wash." As love letters go, it was as pithy as they come: romantic, dirty, sincere, and utterly matter-of-fact.

The Smell of Our Own

is the same kind of love letter.

As a gay lad singing next to his parents in a Baptist church in suburban Toronto, Hidden Cameras frontman Joel Gibb heard and saw some unsettling things, which is the point of going to church in the first place, but maybe they weren't the things the church intended him to see. He was awed by the phallic fetishism of crosses and nails, and the super-hard body of Jesus. In the collective rapture of sing-along lurked an orgy. He'd study this ambivalence, first as a semiotics student at the U of Toronto, then as a singer-songwriter, exploring the collision of symbolism that links sexuality, the church, and pop music, under a moniker inspired by Foucault's Discipline and Punish.

Like most great and scary social experiments, the Hidden Cameras don't seem like one. They're a musical Trojan horse of raw and heady ideas, woven into a blanket of pop sensibility rather than hiding beneath one. To this end, Gibb has appropriated a few other things from the wood-paneled church basement--earthy materials like acoustic guitar, tambourine, organ, and a choir (!), as well as a marrow-deep sense of hymnal practice, from the strong, simple chord changes to the gnawingly catchy refrains you find yourself singing (even though they're dirty as hell, and you're at your job, not to mention the fact that you're not even gay).

"Solid is the rock of my man," goes the refrain from "The Man That I Am with My Man," a swooning, violin-tinged acoustic chanson that would be a feather in James Taylor's cap. The song navigates the holy and the profane on a number of levels. Beyond the obvious double entendre, Gibb plays on the connection between the secularization of gospel lyrics and the birth of rock 'n' roll (where the "he" of a paramour replaces the capital-H pronoun referring to God). Even in oldie bubblegum like the Cookies' "Don't Say Nothin' Bad (About My Baby)," you can hear a tweaked-out hymn, with "baby" referring not to a boyfriend but to the infant Jesus.

Gibb subverts the textbook history of rock with a few significant twists. Because if rock 'n' roll starts with Jesus on a cross and ends with Iggy crucified on a mic stand, how much has this form really evolved? And who is the real phallus-worshipper, the teenybopper fan or the rock god himself? You finish listening to The Smell of Our Own with the creeping sense that maybe rock's central impulse is the desire for sexual union with God. Or that maybe rock 'n' roll is the first inherently gay art form. Your confusion is their sex. Come join hands with the Hidden Cameras; there's nothing to be afraid of.

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