Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Less is MOR

It was inevitable given the ever-expandable retro space but 70s-style MOR seems to be in vogue. The music industry, auxiliary media included, never discriminates between scenes and genres best left alone and those ripe for a revival (usually more ably resuscitated in Blogistan, anyway) –it’s all output helping to sell more units of a given product, be it Mojo or the latest round of Eagles revivi-discs. Doubtless the current interest in all things folk has also helped provide an automatic link for some to the blander tones of the mid-70s safehouse. And obviously the media, by looking back, inherently nod to scenes of more presumed ‘musicality’ (with the spirit drained out in coke paranoia and personality crises?). Devoid the context, and it’s all about the tunes, man.

Barney Hoskyns has found his plate up to which to step again, going over old and new ground in his Hotel California: Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys. It’s not directly centred on the mid-late-70s trough but the narrative does end up there, flying private luxury jet towards the gatefolded juggernaut of the big players, Eagles, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac among them. What was the music for by that stage? Nothing but a mere glimpse into the world of some LA troubled minds having trouble locating their muses.

Elsewhere, late 90s chill out compilation kings Zero 7 are planting themselves in the American pastoral with their new Garden long-player. Granted, they always had firm 70s influences but these were always more tilted to the soul and funk of their first heroes, and I have a soft spot for their slick tunes on their early EPs and uplifting numbers on the first album. In changing tact, this UK production duo seem no more out of their depth than any other outfit trying to second guess the arrival and destination of the next bandwagon, and wisely they have been right on the money in having Sia sing ‘California’ on the second track’s chorus, something about “throwing it all away” [sure]. There’s also Jose Gonzalez on guest vocals, whose voice is so 70s MOR-ish [and so double-tracked?]. Elsewhere, tracks are layered with heavy 70s synth sounds - another route back that's doing good business at the moment.

Then there’s new-ish talent like Midlake, out on the usually reliable Bella Union, offering their Trials of Van Occupanther. The kooky title and Mighty Boosh-inna-forest-style cover misleadingly suggests some acid folk experience awaits the listener, but generally this is the music of Don Henley, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie’s jaded dreams – all slick electric piano and light guitar harmonising floating under flighty vocals, the first tracks especially. Later tracks suggest a greater awareness of more modern musical dynamics but we’re generally stuck in a unmoorish miasma here. And how important is ‘lake’ as an unconscious association to ELP and lake itself as an image trigger, somewhere to find yourself/go looking for answers?

There's nothing unpleasant about either of these albums, of course, but nothing remotely uncanny and deviant either. Midlake will get away with it for a while because for new listeners this will sound a bit different, but the floodgates won’t be able to handle the MOR sludge to follow. Zero 7 won’t make many more desperate lunges before slipping back the other side of the production desk and Hoskyns’ book will remind you that this was a soni-culture that’s wise not to covet.
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