Friday, July 16, 2010

Foul-Mouthed Crooning

Rock music, Graham Cray used to teach, engages with the soul and the emotions before the brain. So we tend to hear a piece of rock/pop (I won't bore you by listing all the sub-genres) and say, 'This feels good,' before we notice that the lyrics are inappropriate. Anyone out there tapped their feet to Sympathy for the Devil?

Of course the Christian watch-dogs can jump on the 'ban it' bandwagon a little early. Banning things always gives them publicity. Back in the mid sixties there was a outcry about the Animals doing a version of House of the Rising Sun because of its glamorisation of alcohol, overlooking the fact that it was a warning against it, 'Oh mothers, tell your children, not to do what I have done.'

Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood had a complex message about delayed orgasm, by a group with a gay sex agenda. It was blocked by Mike Reid and banned by the BBC and has enjoyed huge commercial success ever since. It seemed to fall foul of the 'there are certain things you just don't talk about' rule.

Which brings us to Plan B, the performance name of Ben Drew. I saw him live a few years ago supporting Roots Manuva. He was clearly a gifted lyricist, singer, song-writer and guitarist but the content of his ditties was drugs, under-age sex and other unseemly stuff. I wasn't sure if he was being ironic, a story-teller or giving us an insight into what it was like to be him. What is beyond doubt is that I wouldn't play his songs to my mother (that's what PG means by the way).

At the moment I am playing Plan B's latest, The Defamation of Strickland Banks. He has only gone and reinvented himself as a soul crooner in the Raphael Saadiq mould with an occasional outbreak of rapping. No lyric sheet and you can't get everything at first listen but the web-site makes it clear that the issues he dealt with when I first saw him are still bubbling under. A title such as Love Goes Down doesn't over-stretch the imagination but we also discover that Stay Too Long is about post drinking violence. The final track What You Gonna Do? seems to me to invite me to react to his work. The next album will be urban again. Will I buy it? Listen to it? Does that change because of the style? By the way the song is actually about whether the police will release or charge a man they have arrested.

Song-writers are story tellers and we don't criticise novelists for covering brave issues. Nor do we assume they condone the behaviour they write about.

So I'll listen and enjoy Plan B without switching off all my critical faculties. And I bet my Mum would say, 'This is nice.' Cos in a funny sort of way, it is.


jw said...

Bit picky in a peripheral part of an interesting post.. Mike Reid was the stand up guy who was married to someone in the Queen Vic.

St said...

Quite right JW; I mean Mike Read don't I.