!!! / Various Artists
Strange Weather, Isn't It? / Lagos Disco Inferno
(Warp / Academy; 2010)
By Chris Molnar | 10 July 2010
Strange Weather, Isn’t It? and Lagos Disco Inferno are two albums cosmically united by three things: a year, a sound, and landing just slightly shy of the zeitgeist. If Lagos Disco Inferno featured tracks that were recorded yesterday, you’d already be sick of it; Ezra Koenig would have his dirty fingerprints all over it; it’d be a landmark compilation. As is, Lagos is merely another “Stuff White People Like”-type blog outgrowth met with indifference by a market oversaturated by the likes of Strut’s Nigeria 70 series or Soundway’s Nigeria Disco Funk Special. Meanwhile, !!!’s new album finds them re-trenching into the long, empty groove threaded through the singles on 2004’s Louden Up Now, and thanks to Nic Offer’s increasing refusal to get karazzee, it seems like that tough guy James Murphy will continue to own the little market share once his.
Of course, in this case the cosmos pushes back.
Let’s imagine that, thanks to a ridiculously expensive time traveling Vice magazine gig in Nigeria (…sell-outs…), !!! ended up in the early ’70s, a dance-off the only thing between the band and home.
Thus: Chainlinked Lagos studio, ca. 1973. Paul McCartney is getting mugged stage right. In the foreground we see !!! squaring off with the artists from Lagos Disco Inferno. The wielders of Strange Weather reek of a seething, chastened swagger; those under the banner of Lagos Disco Inferno represent, in whatever way seems most salient in opposition to Offer’s clan, a “state of mind where third world poverty met the oil boom, where African traditions clashed with Western decadence” (as per the liner notes); under an enormous tree, Fela Kuti sits athwart a golden throne, judging the proceedings while a dozen women fan him with copies of Prince Nico Mbarga’s Sweet Mother. A conversation ensues, and soon all realize the contest has begun.
Nic Offer: I won’t deny I got a dirty mouth. My mother tried, my father tried, my teachers tried, but they couldn’t wash it out.
Christy Essien: Mama said you gotta do it slowly. Papa said you gotta take life easy.
Nic Offer: I don’t give a fuck about that motherfucking shit.
Christy Essien: Take love slowly, take life easy.
Nic Offer: Like I giiive a shit. Like I giiive a shit.
Fela Kuti: Them go use your shit to put you for jail.
Asiko Rock Group: Just settle down, yeah yeah.
There’s something guilelessly profound about !!!’s lyrics this time around, a nice contrast to the coked-up “good times” bullshit from the group’s first few albums. Of course, the music itself is more funk than disco, beats spooling out naturally as opposed to mechanically. Strange Weather, Isn’t It? is neither as iconic as the schoolyard taunts of Louden Up Now, nor as insular as the less catchy Myth Takes (2007), resulting in a stern, serviceably funky album that sounds like the mumblings of an oddly determined street person. Opener “AM/PM” combines mid-seventies background vocals with late-seventies throb, a weird bit of curdled background music highlighted by Offer’s insistence that we “turn off the radio.” The album’s mix of adult contemporary washes, choruses, and triangle (perhaps ushered into vogue by Ariel Pink) with !!!’s ominous, angry “Miss You” creep is maybe what makes the album so unconvincingly grown up. “It’s a good day,” Offer repeats on “The Most Certain Sure,” but he doesn’t sound like he means it.
Back in Nigeria, Offer isn’t playing the new hits. That’d too close to what they’re dancing against, sure to look insincere. Dust swirls. The African bands stare down the !!! posse; Geraldo Pino’s bass player lays down the ass-magnetic riff for “African Hustle.” It thumps, a seemingly more organic version of everything !!! has been playing all evening. Vice spares no expense and suddenly we flash-forward to wildly energetic vignettes early Pino 12-inches passing between the hands of adolescent New York dance punk bands. But back in the ’70s the bass stops, leaving Linda McCartney’s tambourine and backup vocals wafting from the bloody spot where Paul lies prone.
Nic Offer: Hey, am I making any sense at all? Does anyone here speak English?
Paradise Stars: Do you want to boogie?
Nic Offer: Hello? Is this thing on?
The one new song !!! do play is “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass,” with a tight, heavy rhythm, trebly guitar leads, multiple riffs, cowbell, and cymbal bell milking a wandering storyline and Offer’s monotone for all it’s worth. Its sentimental recounting of a flirtatious encounter is oddly naïve, a strange development that way less successful on the backup-singer-dominated “Even Judas Gave Jesus A Kiss,” which has startling Milli Vanilli vibes both musically and lyrically. The guitar delay is here, the sixteenths on the hi-hat, but wait, he just wants a kiss? And he’s that committed to the title phrase? No wonder they’re ashamed to whip it out in front of Lagos Disco Inferno’s unnervingly intense declarations of dance-worthiness and emotional pain.
!!! is missing their mojo, basically. “Don’t stop” is a fine mantra for the band. For “The Hammer” too: the backup vocals even become more explicitly Madchester-happy, which goes some ways in explaining their overuse. But Offer’s best moments rely on biting turns of phrase, and such a bland statement just makes his sneer sound toothless. The driving beat is noisy and multi-layered, but it goes nowhere, comes from nowhere.
And so, of course, at the dance-off !!! slowly grow into the realization that they just can’t get in the groove anymore. The raging cowbell and Astatke horns of Pogo Ltd. gradually increase in volume. The home team appears to be growing larger as the time-travelers recede, almost seeming to flicker, Marty McFly-style. Kuti nods for the new arrivals to be locked in cages built especially for thin hipster-types, never to be seen or heard from in their century ever again. Their pleas for help are quieted instantly by Doris Ebong’s “Boogie Trip,” which sounds exactly like “This Is Radio Clash” without Joe fucking Strummer and with an insane funk guitar lead. Denny Laine strokes McCartney’s head while Linda softly weeps.
MFB: You will feel the boredom pain.
Nana Love: Don’t don’t go away, please no baby. Hang ooooooon.
The music fades into a proto-Arthur Russell jam with some classic rock lead guitar jockeying and crazed screaming.
Nic Offer: Shit, scheisse, merde.
Lagos Disco Inferno album cover: I like it.