If you lived in New York four summers ago, you might have believed that all sound waves had been taken over by Naughty by Nature. "O.P.P." seemed to pump out of every apartment window, car, and club, and the acronym ("Other People's [insert sex-specific 'P' word]") subsequently entered the lexicon. The ultimate invasion came when a TV news station asked random commuters the question: "Are you down with O.P.P.?" Even suits at the World Trade Center knew the reference and blushed behind their $100 sunglasses.
Back then, it was difficult to imagine a future for Treach, Vinnie Brown, and Kay Gee: How do you surpass ubiquity? Well, in their case, you follow it with another No. 1 anthem, "Hip Hop Hooray." OK, but how do you do it twice?
You growdafucup, augmenting braggadocio with social commentary. You take your time developing a production style, digging a little deeper for samples that aren't immediately recognizable and putting the drums way up front in the mix. You dub all the bad words from the vocal tracks before mixing them in so the shorties can listen. You start a record company, a clothing store, and a film production house. And you dispel any doubts in the first five minutes of Poverty's Paradise: "Naughty by Nature fall? Nigga please!/ We just took the time to form three companies."
Stanley Sanders once asked how it helped his former neighbors that he had gotten himself outta Watts, never to return. It didn't, he said. So how did it help East Orange, N.J. -- parts of which make South Central look like West Palm Beach -- that its hometown rappers shifted 3 million units?
Naughty by Nature are now employing dozens of people in a city whose manufacturing job base fled to South America faster than Josef Mengele, and whose public education system is notoriously bad. The most respected people in town, NBN get more props from residents young and old than the mayor, a status alluded to with alarming confidence in "Holding Fort": "Even if the city won't give us permission/ Listen ... Now better not fuck around and try to shut us down/ We'll find out who run this town."
Treach is the undisputed heavyweight champion of alliteration and the horizontal rhyme. He matches sounds across a lyric rather than on the last syllable of each line -- and fast: Adidas couldn't read us so they freed us/ Then we dropped Reebok from a treetop/ Succeeded then got weeded, oh!/ And grandpas and grandmas know our grandma from Santa Ana to Atlanta/ Where cops ain't a fan of niggas' bandanas.
Forget about the sycophantic single "Craziest," the only throwaway track on the album. NBN is pop though still hardcore, hardcore though not gangsta, political though not preachy, funny though not clownish, and nationalist though not confrontational. And they're impossible to ignore, so don't get frustrated trying.
-- Paul Tullis
Naughty by Nature plays Mon, July 31, at the Fillmore in S.F.; call 346-6000.
The Red Krayola
Amor and Language
Over the course of nearly three decades, no one has ever accused the Red Krayola's absurdist art-pop Übermensch, Mayo Thompson, of being obvious, and that's certainly not going to change any with Amor and Language (itself a play on Art and Language, a group of conceptual artists Thompson collaborated with in the '70s). Here, Mayo and some 20 other avant-indie musicians conspire on nine genre-hopping dadaist vignettes that, while "songs" by definition, defy convention at every turn.
Actually, things start off on a deceptively straightforward note with "Hard On Through the Summer," a catchy little psych-pop celebration of the peak travel season. But also on deck is "The Ballad of Younis and Sofia." Over a telegraphic riff and strange static glitches, Thompson launches into a journalistic narrative about an Air Morocco plane -- piloted by Younis -- that crashed into the Atlas Mountains minutes after takeoff in 1994. Suicide, the investigators venture, which Younis' mother vehemently denies: Her son was a happy man. Finally, the omniscient black box reveals the truth: someone (Sofia?) crying, "Help, the pilot has died!" Are we enigmatic yet?
It gets weirder. "Play extremely loud," exhorts the CD cover, not so you can bang yer head Krayola-style, but rather to make out the bizarre synth-doodle nuances and mumbled wordplay. Consider "T(I,II)," a quirky ballad that begins with Thompson crooning, "We were turning you over in our minds/ At about 10 rpm." He then moves into a detailed discourse on the physics of rotation, which culminates with the repeated refrain of "A Mental Picture of You." This segues into an instrumental that wouldn't sound at all out of place on a Pavement record. Go figure.
On "Luster," we're provided a clue -- or is it a red herring? -- as Thompson sings that "What I'm trying to say in my own candid way is 'I wonder.' " The folky "A-A-Allegories" features some verbose mutterings about rhinoceroses, "The Wind" has something to do with blowing smoke up your ass, and "Stil de Grain Brun" concerns ... pesticides? Hell, I have no clue. Go ask Mayo -- my brain hurts.
-- Mike Rowell
The Red Krayola plays Sat-Sun, July 29-30, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.
Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth
Some slightly overwhelming soul-funk experimentalism from 24-Carat Black, circa 1973. Like Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth, most of funk's concept albums are remembered somewhat less fondly than crap like Tommy (with the exception of James Brown's Hell), but the record companies are finally catching on to the samplers' secrets five years after the shrinking of the profitability margin. Anyway, you'll recognize that the first couple of minutes of this re-release have been put to use by Naughty by Nature, but what's most interesting is how playing Las Vegas -- invoked here with sinking-ship strings, overweening girlie vocals, and telethon drumming -- was considered an aspiration by many African-American artists long after it lost its totemic status among the white hippie-oisie (and long before it gained back its coke-nosed privilege). We tend to forget how many classic soul songs -- take Otis Redding's "Can't Turn You Loose" or Jerry Butler's "Mr. Dream Weaver" -- ended in a flag-waving footlight crescendo historically more common for a Joey Heatherton or a Wayne Newton (rent John Boorman's Point Blank for an example of the satire of such). Much of this CD's tragic ghetto imagery possesses the feel of having been relayed by car phone, and it's all the more authentic for that fact. I suspect that Esquivel fans will take to this one side by side with the designer pimp-hat strivers of modern smiley-soul.
-- D. Strauss
Common rock knowledge has it that, in any given band in the known universe, the drummer will have the least going for him in the cerebral department. It makes sense: The oldest form of musical expression, percussion is also the one that's evolved the least. While even the meagerest of barre-chord bashers requires at least some panache and dexterity to effectively execute his duties, it's still the drummer's job, after millions of years, to basically just hit things. Hard. So it's not a surprise that, of all those who wish to rock, the cretins naturally gravitate toward the traps. A sweeping generalization and clich of the highest order? Perhaps. But as my friend Craig once said, "Clichs are clichs because they happen all the fucking time."
So why is Foo Fighters, the eponymous debut by ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and his band, such a near-perfect triumph of buzz-saw songsmithery? Maybe it's because Grohl had a four-year jump on guitar before he even picked up the sticks -- more out of necessity than anything else -- in Mission Impossible, his mid-'80s hardcore band.
Grohl's claims of egalitarianism aside, Foo Fighters is his baby all the way, an aggregate of material he's been woodshedding since his days in Scream. In fact, for the purposes of the release, Grohl is the band; though he's since filled out the lineup with former Nirvana bandmate Pat Smear and ex-Sunny Day Real Estaters William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel on guitar, drums, and bass, respectively, Grohl handled all of the musical chores on Foo Fighters himself (aside from a cameo appearance by Afghan Whig Greg Dulli on "X-Static"), and admirably so. This is no masturbatory exercise in self-indulgence, even if Grohl is playing with himself; the arrangements are concise nuggets of compressed abandon that do their job and get the hell out of the way for the next well-wrought batch of hooks. It's utilitarian rock in the best possible sense of the term.
One minor complaint is Grohl's penchant for lyrical inanity; it's either pure chutzpah or pure folly, or both, to wrap the maiden single "This Is a Call" around a catch phrase like "fingernails are pretty." Such transgressions are easily forgiven, though, in light of the more than adequate message the musical medium provides. He is a drummer, after all.
-- Tim Kenneally
Foo Fighters play Wed, July 26, at the Fillmore in S.F.; call 346-6000.
Seven Day Diary
Skin and Blister
Skin and Blister means "sister" in Cockney rhyming slang, perhaps a reference to the close relationship between Seven Day Diary songmakers Pamela Laws and Nancy Hess. With support from guitarist Ken Weller and ex-Sextants drummer Matt Boudreau, vocalist Laws and bassist Hess deliver swirling, folk-tinged tales of love, deception, and letting go in a context of blustery female power. But though the actual songwriting seems to stem from the heart, with emotionally bold lyrics and impassioned vocals, it's candy-coated on this major-label debut with slick production by Gil Norton (Belly, Catherine Wheel) and Dave Bascombe (Tears for Fears). The high polish works on moody, jangly material like "Today and Everyday" and "He Can," but masks the vulnerability of tracks like the churning "Starfish." (That song originally appeared rough and ready on the band's 1993 EP Figure Six, a Villanelle Music release.) Skin is still endearing overall, but a bit more friction, miscommunication, and frustration, as well as a less-structured musicality, would have benefited the band's recorded sound. There's a new wave of female artists -- Alanis Morrissette, Jennifer Trynin, P J Harvey, Carla Bozulich of Geraldine Fibbers -- reaffirming the draw of raw, articulate emotion. Live, Seven Day Diary has it down, which is why these San Franciscans are club favorites. Maybe next time the band will be able to capture it on disc.
-- Kim Taylor