When musicians collaborate: a cautionary tale

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Yesterday I posted a bite-size review of a collaboration between Deerhoof and David Bazan, which is the latest in the series of releases featuring Deerhoof and invited guests such as Xiu Xiu and Jeff Tweedy from Wilco. The idea is that the guest works new words and vocals around an existing Deerhoof tune.
It struck me collaborations are very much in fashion at the moment. Two of my favourite albums of last year were Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat's 'Everything's Getting Older' and King Creosote and Jon Hopkins's 'Diamond Mine'. Although in both respects the musicians involved are from slightly different genres of music, they blend together beautifully to create something unique and distinct from their other work. In Creosote's case in particular, the finished work is essentially studio-wizz Hopkins's re-arrangements of existing songs from KC's extensive back catalogue. On 'Bubble' for instance, Hopkins's percussion tracks are built from recordings of balls of paper being flicked around a table top.

The first CD I got in 2012 was Darren Hayman's January Songs, his ambitious internet-based effort from this time last year, which took collaborating to new height, enlisting the services of others to help write and record (and make a video!) every day during January. The project's tumblr has over three hours of audio and visual content.

In contrast to these efforts, there are two elephants in the room when we talk about collaborations. One is the very recent release from Skillrex and the Doors 'Breakin a Sweat', which is remarkable for the fact that the Doors are still making music 42 years after their frontman died, but also for the astonishingly poorly edited (and constantly used) sample of Ray Manzarek saying “C'mon baby light my fi”. It's just NOT GOOD!
The other one is the much talked about, and much reviled, collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica, 'Lulu'. It was a sitting duck for critics and fans alike, and it has been savaged all over the media, although there is a small school of thought that thinks Lou is back at his impish streak and is delighting in pissing people off again, much like he did on Metal Machine Music, or when he reversioned his classics on his Rock n Rock Animal live album, or when he tried to rap on the Original Wrapper, etc etc...
Never mind his past efforts though, this current album 'Lulu' doesn't really work for me. Both camps are well past their best and Metallica especially just sound so compressed and slick that they bore me, and unfortunately some of these somgs are very very long. It's also unfortunate that they chose the most easily mocked tune as the lead track, here it is complete with arty video by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream)

The View is at least amusing because he has made James Hetfield sing “I AM THE TABLE” over and over. My problem with it isn't necessarily with Lou's lyrics or monotone delivery - hell, those are two of the best things about him! - it's really to do with the way the musicians collaborate. Over the course of the album they don't sound like they are in the same room. This was exacerbated by their appearance on Later and their attempt at White Light White Heat, which sounded like a lost old man wandering in on a metal band rehearsing and playing cover versions for practice.

Anyway, It's not like me to be negative on these pages. Here are some collaborations that I actually like.

Broadcast and the Focus Group. Two distinct units coming together to do something unique.

Aesop Rock featuring John Darnielle. You can argue that these guys don't sound like they are in the same room either, and this is more of a cameo from chief Mountain Goat John Darnielle than a collaboration, but I just wanted more people to hear it. (Warning: vid is an OTT horror spoof and may make you queasy)

Gang Gang Dance with Tinchy Stryder. I just love the way these guys fire off each other, although this for me was an unlikely collaboration at the time, it totally works.

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