Some of the finest and/or most striking examples of modern popular culture have been born out of creators imposing ridiculous restrictions on themselves. The Coen Brothers tying themselves to the storyline of Homer’s Odyssey for ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, the real-time straitjacket 24 has willingly slipped into for three series, Demetri Martin performing huge palindromes within his stand-up routines… All subject to baffling self-imposed restrictions, all fantastic. Frustratingly, the latest, example, DJ [a]Danger Mouse[/a]’s ‘The Grey Album’ – a start-to-finish staggering, witty, delightful and ferociously funky remix album in which the vocals of [a]Jay-Z[/a]’s ‘Black Album’ are endowed with tracks composed entirely of samples from [a]Beatles[/a]’ ‘White Album’, right down to the very last snare drum – may never see the light of day, because the moment that EMI heard about it, they rained a confetti of injunctions on it and harried it from the public domain like litigious foxhounds. This is frustrating, because they are bolting the stable door so long after the horse has bolted that the horse has had time to send them a postcard – the album is out there now, probably already octuple platinum in download terms, and [a]Danger Mouse[/a] has publicly stated that he doesn’t care about the money so long as people get to hear it. What makes it even more frustrating is the short-sightedness of EMI’s ire – one imagines a straining suit way up on high somewhere, veins bulging as he mulls over the gross sacrilege of sampling [a]Beatles[/a] – you can’t do that to The Beatles! Two of them are dead! – and prepares to unleash the legal dogs of war. To such people, sampling is that thing like wot [a]Puff Daddy[/a] does, as devoid of artistic merit as a cabal of drunken townies murdering ‘I Will Survive’ on karaoke night. In reality, the astonishing deconstructions and desecrations that [a]Danger Mouse[/a] visits upon both the Fab Four and Jigga make ‘The Grey Album’, at the very least, one of THE great avant-garde pop records of the millennium. Like all great hip-hop producers, [a]Danger Mouse[/a] takes production to be an act of vandalism as much as it is an act of creation, and the glee with which he shreds and reassembles [a]Beatles[/a] tracks is all over every last second of ‘The Grey Album’ like stink on poo-poo. What he does to, for example, ‘Glass Onion’ or Piggies isn’t just sonic manipulation – it’s a virtuoso display of sampler-as-threshing-machine, DM bending and abusing his sound shards like a midi [a]Jimi Hendrix[/a].
The cruelest irony is that, as well as maybe getting a few dad-rockers to investigate independent US hip-hop, ‘The Grey Album’ might very plausibly introduced to a new generation of B-boys the realization that, yo, that cat Ringo got some fat beats. And pop fans everywhere would have wolfed it down like some kind of special ice cream that makes you get thinner.
Guess that won’t be happening.
Even so, for what it is, for what it does, for what it represents and for exposing the idiocy of people who only care about ‘what it earns us’, then, a truly, TRULY great pop record.