Friday, 11 October 2013
They might, break and they might fall... ‘Duck Rock’ (1983) - Malcolm McLaren
Occasionally there comes an album that breaks all the rules. One which is marketed by the cocksure impresario who put it together as the panacea to the doldrums of modern music. This is Duck Rock... an unimpressive sounding album I’ll grant you, but one that has afforded a massive amount of listening pleasure throughout the years. A true aural experience in every sense of the word, it combines some of the great electronic, hip hop and world musicians of a generation to create a collage of the music that was emerging in the early 80’s.
First, let’s establish the late Malcolm McLaren, a man known mainly for his involvement with ‘alternative music’ and the punk scene, notably through his association with The Sex Pistols and his former girlfriend, fashion legend Vivienne Westwood. A highly creative ‘fellow’, following the collapse of the fad-ish punk and the emergence of new cultural streams like new wave, electronic, hip hop and dance this ginger-headed genius decided to put his thinking cap on and come up with something that would really capture the imaginations of a generations, a project that would be as ambitious as it was (it turned out) prolific.
The blueprints of the recording are shrouded in a sense of legend, mystery and a whole bunch of bullshit but one thing is certain, McLaren was able to put an album together, and with some of the best names in the business. Step in the dynamite combination of crack producer Trevor Horn (ABC, Yes, Grace Jones, Seal) and a two top-flight engineers: Anne Dudley and J J Jeznalick (Art of Noise) without whom this album would not have come together. For anyone interested in music production and studio work, this album is a must because it is so complex, textured and layered; choc full of samples it is an odyssey through the power of a good ear and a good mixing desk.
In addition, the masterful production is supported by both the Soweto Zulu Choir, a South African group who give a harmonious and bravura performance on so many of the tracks. This is in direct opposition to The World Famous Supreme Team (WFST), a radio based rap troupe who MC the whole album, provide the continuity and occasionally rap where appropriate to McLaren. When all is said and done, this is definitely an album of the 80s but punctuated by the beat of tribal drums and African guitars, and it is at this juncture that I think we should take a closer look at the album:
Oblata: One of my least favourite tracks on the album, this is an odd mix of Zulu drum beats and ambient music which might appeal to some. Certainly at the time it was probably quite revolutionary as I am sure that no one had ever heard an opening like it but... it’s not for me.
Buffalo Gals: Everyone who has ever listened to Eminem with have heard his homage to this song on his smash his ‘Without Me’, but this is the original, a pioneering track that apparently helped bring hip-hop to the mainstream. Drenched in drum machines and samples it is a great song with Malcolm McLaren stamping his mark with the signature refrain as well as a short but sweet rap by the WFST.
Double Dutch: There are few songs that could be based on a skipping craze but this one is. Preceded with some recordings from the WFST’s radio show it descends into a gospel infused dance track incorporating a healthy amount of South African sounds to create a hugely uplifting and thoroughly groovy track to get down low to... all I’ll say is Skip they do's the double dutch, that's them dancing.
El San Juanera: This is an intermission of sorts, a short skit from the WFST on the back of their cult radio show. Not much to say about this but a nice cultural snippet.
Merengue: Definitely a homage to latin music, with McLaren adopting a camp tone and singing in Spanish to the intense beat of South American drums and aggresive backing vocals. It rises to something of a climax and, production-wise, has Trevor Horn’s stamp all over it. Not my favourite.
Punk it Up: One of the flagship tunes on the album and a tribute to the people that McLaren met in Soweto as well as his association with The Sex Pistols this could not be further from the awfulness of the aforementioned band in its glorious, uplifting spirit. A joyful but ‘anarchic’ track!
Legba: Another weird ambient interlude, punctuated by percussion, it is in these moments that you see the birth of another band which would rise from the ashes of this project: ‘The Art of Noise’. This has the bands blueprints written all over it.
Jive My Baby: If I every had a daughter this is the track I can imagine dancing embarrassingly to at her wedding (if this was on the DJ’s playlist)! It is one of my favourite tracks on the album and one which brings a smile to the face through its sheer exuberance, all I can say is ‘Set alight the lights, jive my baby!!’.
Song for Chango: An intense track of pure tribal music from South Africa, this seems to break up the continuity of the album until it slips into a bizarre soundscape of keyboards and synthesizers and then reverts to the original... just bizarre, but strangely pleasing.
Living on the Road to Soweto: A protest song of sorts, giving at one moment the bleak picture of the fraught township at the centre of South African politics in the 1980s and also a song of hope and joy celebrating the culture, dance and music of the country.
World’s Famous: My favourite track on the album comes as a highly incongruous and woefully short piece which pits the legendary Anne Dudley and the WFST in an incredible meeting of minds (which should have been an album in itself). This is Art of Noise meets rap, a funky, electronic exercise that suits many a late night drinking session for it’s wonderful signing of quality... it should have closed the album.
Duck For the Oyster: Just shit... a terrible end to a fantastic, innovative album!