Save Yourself(K Records)
I was a bit apprehensive picking up this disc. I had heard all about The
MakeUp and on paper, it did not bode well for them. You see, I live in
Boston, Massachusetts, a town filled to the gills with derivative "garage"
bands, "surf" bands, "mod" bands, glam-rock velvet goldminers and 70's
throwbacks; bands all too happy to shill for the audience acceptance by
pigeonholing themselves into neat little categories and writing music "in the
style of", rather than doing something original with their creative and
artistic urges. Any press junket regarding the MakeUp is inevitably spotted
with the words "60's style soul" or "groovy" or that dread phrase "Yeh Baby!"
If one were to believe everything they read, it would be easy to draw the
conclusion that the MakeUp were simply another 60's throwback, steeped with
mucho style but very little substance or soul.
Upon listening to this album, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that
this is not the case. Yes, the 60's soul influence IS there. However, the
MakeUp are able to work within said forms and still produce wonderfully new
results. There is no assault of "funky chops" (slap-bass, affected vocal
style, syncopated drum breakdowns, 'rapping') that any other misinterpreting
caucasian soul group might employ. I'd be more likely to compare the MakeUp
to the early Stooges before I would to Sly Stone. Iggy Pop once detailed a
great epiphany which determined the subsequent coarse of his band. While
sitting in with Chicago bluesmen as an "apprentice" in an effort to "study"
the blues, it hit him what it was that separated the authentic from the
copycats: the key was simplicity; directness; less is more.
The MakeUp keeps things to an almost ridiculously simple degree. Steve
Gamboa taps the drums in the manner of a middle school jazz drummer yet his
sense of restraint is the greatest clue as to how phenomenal a percussionist
he most likely is. There are no busy hip-hop beats. Only the most basic
pulse is ever employed. Like all great soul drummers, Gamboa never drives;
rather he is towed by the others like a waterskier, freeing him up to
decorate the space with odd novelty. In fact on the opening title track, it
sounds as if the trap kit was forsaken in favor of whatever salt shakers,
pots, pans and dishes might have been lying around the studio kitchen.
Michelle Mae plays the most elementary two-note bass-lines possible. But,
coupled with Gamboa's easy beats as well as the sparse guitar and keyboard
work of James Canty, the resulting brew is no less soulful, no less groovy
and no less funky than anything recorded by Booker T. and MG's.
Vocalist Ian Svenonius has the potential to be the truly annoying, impossibly
white funk MC-wannabe (think Anthony Keidas). Amazingly, even on record,
without having experienced the group live, I am still drawn to Svenonius'
playful lyrics and sly innuendos. His whelps and shrieks again call to my
mind Mr. James Osterberg's early work, albeit, in a much less hyper, less
"I Am Pentagon" is a ridiculous likening of sex with geometry, but Svenonius'
committed delivery endears the silly chorus to the casual listener's brain.
His coy mannerisms and frequent off-hand "Oh Yeh's", which are liberally
sprinkled throughout the album, are just as vital a component to the mixture
as the instrumentation.
"The Bells" is my favorite track. This song is a sultry variation on the
musical themes of the Stooges' "Dirt" from the Funhouse record; a basic
repeated bassline with occasional wah-wah squawks by the guitar. In both
songs, the wah-wah is employed as a separate instrument as opposed to being
an enhancement on a solo guitar line. The fun comes from the fact that both
respective guitarists make it sound as if they might have recently been given
the pedal as a present and have almost no clue how to "properly" use it. The
result is a beautiful cascade of noise. The verses in both songs are
dripping with an aching lust that is only occasionally allowed to flow
unabated in the erupting choruses. "For whom does the bell toll? It tolls
for thee..." is langourously intoned by Svenonius and then joined by Mae's
buxom enhancement of "Baby Baby Baby" leading to the final answer, "It tolls
for ME". The sneer in Ian's lecherous voice really comes through on such
lines as "For whom does the cock... crow?" You sit, smirking in the
knowledge that poultry is the farthest thing from his sick mind.
The MakeUp are even able to "makeover" a tired warhorse like "Hey Joe" into
their own sexy pyschodrama. The spoken closing section might be a tad goofy,
but it nontheless fits into the overall character of the record. The
production by James' bro (and Fugazi skinsman Brendan Canty) injects the
sparse setting with soulful ambiance, giving the whole proceedings a nice
humid analog feeling without sacrificing clarity or crispness.
So what more can I say? The MakeUp do the 60's thing but they do it right.
They do it all in their own way. A person who dismisses them simply for
proudly declaring their soul influences is not listening or watching closely
enough. I eagerly await the chance to sample their renowned stage act. In
the meantime, this album is going to be my personal sexy headphone soundtrack
for a long time.
Written By: Sir Brian C.