Wednesday, 21 May 2008

SCOOTER: The Question Is What Is The Question?

So is the wind finally changing back? Out of the long dark tunnel of Third and into the longer, deceptively brighter promenade of Jumping All Over The World? The commercial triumph of both would suggest a New Pop fightback, and not before time either - the eleventh hour victory of Scooter over the new plank of stern wood masquerading as a Madonna album is a significant event, slow week or not, particularly since it represents a gigantic 99 cone of a fuck you salute to the venerated music press, the slightly less venerated blogosphere, the deadly static mainstream radio of this nation - no one bothered to bother with them, suffocating in "proper" "new" "music," so they sneaked up and walked away with the prize.

Nobody saw it coming, not even the array of popists currently busy watering themselves over the flaccid MoR mock pop of Alphabeat. This is because "experts" who "matter" don't hang around HMV of a Saturday mid-afternoon, watching the copies of Jumping All Over The World complete with bonus free 20 Greatest Hits CD jumping off the shelves. Isn't that an idea waiting to be expanded - why, if Athlete, say, want to flog a few more copies of their next stillborn and polite hiccup of a record they could do worse by including a bonus free CD of, say, Trout Mask Replica or Songs For Swinging Lovers. That would help get the buyers back into the shops - except, of course, as I said, they are in the shops, filling them all up, but just not buying what the Guardian or Popjustice would like them to buy, the latest pitch from their pals in *blank for legal reasons* or *ditto* PR.

And it's high time that we started demolishing these rancid stables of canon again. When I started out on the Portishead thing a fortnight plus ago I decried the failure of nearly all contemporary music and music writing to reflect the horrific grief I and many others felt as Tory Britain slowly and smugly reasserted itself. But this was also a kick reaction against the lack of actual pop in contemporary pop - the Brit School scrubs, the Dermot O'Leary rep reliables, the "polite" way forward; all ashamed of being pop, all not wanting to live next door to other races unless they're 30 or 40 years older. Even the declining Xenomania one-act empire (let's not bring the shameful Gabriela Climi into any discussions on "pop") has stuffed its gob with so much meaning-free subtext that it's beginning to turn purple and choke.

There's hardly any urge to party again, and a lot of the time that's what pop needs; not a semi-sit down lecture on what such and such a record could be, but putting out banger after banger and THEN theorising about it, if you've got your breath back. So Scooter - who, let us remember, proudly proclaimed on 1996's "Back In The UK" that "we started in 1994" - are exactly the refreshing hosed bath of sherbert that pop needs, and the fact that they're all more or less the same age as me should make the kids improperly ashamed.

More importantly, they can party and deliver subtle stand-up lectures at the same time. I don't know any other act who bases EVERY one of their tunes on the precepts laid down in the KLF manual but Scooter are one - on the greatest hits CD alone, witness and wonder at the "It's Grim Up North" quotes and the "Join the JAMMs!" exhortations rumbling through the brilliant "Apache Hits Rock Bottom!" (the KLF do over the Shadows), not to mention "The Logical Song" passim and everything else I mentioned the last time I wrote about them. On the new album proper they restrict their direct KLF references to the MC5 intro (uncensored) which heralds the amazing "Jump That Rock" in which huge chunks of Status Quo's "Whatever You Want" are redeployed to cheerfully violent means, including the entire, rubato guitar-only introduction (after which HP Baxxter takes a huge, satisfied breath as though just having demolished another pint of strawberry cider) before the riff is mechanised and gradually speeded up to become stock car crash custard pie 20000000 bpm mentasm! The Quo invent Atari Teenage Riot!

And if another lamentable fact of modern musical media life is that bands cannot stage custard pie fights on TV, like Wizzard used to do on TOTP, and anyway the health and safety Colins wouldn't let them get away with that these days, then be aware that the new Scooter album is the profoundest of custard pies aimed at the bullseye of tepid, timid pseudo-pop in 2008. Half the tracks follow exactly the same formula as they have nearly always observed, i.e. unlikely old hit sung with the voice sped up to 96 rpm then being subsumed by hysterical techno crashes and Baxxter's sublime/subliminal vocal non-sequiturs; witness the parable about the three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches relayed in the track which is reasonably entitled "And No Matches" over some crummy old resuscitated Eurohit ditty which sounds like Gunter Grass live at Cream.

"Enola Gay" is a hardcore version of "Enola Gay" which I'm sure OMD will relish; "Neverending Story" is THAT "Neverending Story" and the deceptive gift of Scooter's version is demonstrating just how lovely Moroder's meandering but logical melody line is without the distracting voice and mullet of Limahl. "Cambodia" is a surprisingly solemn recasting of the old Kim Wilde electro-weepie.

But even the best of parties must hold a conscience, and that comes with the increasingly uncompromising run of tracks towards the album's end; a reading of the Sisters of Mercy Goth chestnut "Marian" is performed straight, and partly in German, with Baxxter adding a layer of vulnerability to the trademark Eldritch baritone, and reminds us of the incredible debt all of this music owes to the equally unheralded Front 242s and Front Line Assemblies and Young Gods of a generation past. As for "Lighten Up The Sky" and "The Hardcore Massive" we could almost BE listening to Thrill Kill Kult or even Laibach; great bronze arcs of atonal rays of rhythm, nudging ever more certainly towards omnisonic disturbance.

Then it's back to the beginning, with a nod to the word-perfect dictionary definitions which open and close the record (to the accompaniment of the same classical sample used on Funky Monkey's "Peaceman"!), and maybe the record's two greatest achievements, the title track which introduces the concept of Bounce Techno (as in Space Hopper, or as in Human Resource's "Dominator" slowed down to manageable speed) and heavily quotes Sailor's "Glass Of Champagne" to the accompaniment of football crowds and Baxxter's frenzied "Jungle jumpers under orders!," and then the dazzling "The Question..." which uses an ancient Mouth and MacNeal sub-Eurovision jingle of a song, puts it at maximal speed and then demolishes it, with the improbable aid of that crusty old Lyn Collins/JB "yeah...whoo!" sample which I haven't heard since they'd been reduced to the Andrew Lloyd Webber novelty hit level in the early nineties. HP is in demon form here - his "no diggity diggity HP" insertions confirming a TOTAL understanding of what makes pop - with references to his prick being longer than Rick's, wonderful Mars, fixing a candle with a spanner, "Pi nami nama" (followed of course by "like a hammer"), and the usage of timeworn samples is beyond inspired (the "LOUDER!" that comes between "the question is" and "what is the question?"). Towards the end he issues a special announcement to the audience: "Please refrain from NOT smoking!" and finishes, exhausted, by asking "Can I have a light, please?" answered by a Rasta "yeah, mon!"

This music isn't going to soundtrack any dinner parties - at least, not those worth going to - and if you're not already 75% out the door and bounding, beaming, down the road to your nearest record emporium to pick up a copy of this phenomenal New Pop Party record COMPLETE with bonus Greatest Hits (20 of them! Count 'em! A day per track with 34 tracks? Do you think I'm that mad? And don't answer!) then you deserve all the Sandi Thom yeah-but hit on head with Salvation Army newspaper BE RESPONSIBLE tickings off you deserve. Really, it's the best revenge, and after eleven days of Portishead I think even writers have earned the right to shiny yellow catharsis and yes, I of all people am fully aware that you can't have one without the other but look! The sun's out! All due respect to MC Sauce!!