The Freelance Mentalists.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Some Albums Are the Very New of Jack; or, WTF Is a Castleer?

Tony Toni Tone, Sons of Soul (PolyGram) 1993

It's pretty clear that any list of the greatest albums of all time must contain this album somewhere in the top two, or lose all credibility and not be worth reading the rest of, even if it contains many great and well-respected records that show up on all the other lists but unfortunately are NOT by Tony Toni Tone. (Sorry but I can't figure out how to make a little accent mark over the last e, their fault for having the stupidest band name in the history of band names.) So that's a given, then.

But there are a lot of corny lists out there that DON'T celebrate the brilliance of T to the 3, and I don't exactly know why. Maybe because it's all recorded at a Brechtian distance, the Verfremsdung in full effekt; Raphael Wiggins never really sounds engaged the way we want him to be on the love songs, and is much more invested on songs where he gets to diss someone or when he's suggesting something dirty. There's definitely something wrong when a singer's most dramatic vocal moment is on the line "My ex-girlfriend is a ho." Things are a bit better when D'wayne takes the mic for "Slow Wine," or for the spoken-word moment on "Tell Me Mama," because he sounds like he gives a damn. But overall, Raph's I-don't-care-ism works perfectly, because it lets us listen to everything the TTT way: with that part of our brain that doesn't worry about signifiers or the signified.

They just don't care about anything! It's amazing! R-Wiggy has the best nasal voice in pop history, something he can just pull out anytime he wants, but it means nothing, no real passion for humans or for their trifling emotions, nothing so base as that.

No, what Raphael is in love with is music sweet music, the textures and the skin and the nooks and crannies of a great "Gangsta Groove." Dude isn't afraid to call a track "Tonyies! in the Wrong Key" because that's exactly what it's all about; dude ain't afraid to rip off "8th Wonder" or Sly Stone doo-wop riffs if that's what he needs to do.

And yeah, that's what he needs to do. I don't think he even exists except in music. How the hell can a song like "If I Had No Loot," a paranoid mean-spirited song with an irritating vocal sample about "the New Jack Swing," a song unlikable at any speed, sound SO DAMN GOOD eleven years after I first failed to dislodge it from my mind? Why does "Dance Hall" beat the pants off Sean Paul even now? How do they get away with a NINE MINUTE slow jam on "Anniversary," with swelling and ebbing complex gypsy strings, that fails to suck?

I'll tell you why: because they just don't care about anything. The only thing that Tony Toni Tone loves is itself, its own shiny shallow virtuosity, and its encyclopediac knowledge of the history of music. This frees them up considerably--they don't have to give a rat's ass about us, about you or me or our little squabbles or problems! Liberation!

So all that's left is the relentless cool of people who truly don't give a fuck. I bought this CD for $2.98 and it's worth 300 times that.
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