CD: Spookey Ruben, Mechanical Royalty
Label: Hi-Hat Recordings/Sonic Unyon
Release date: 2009
Written and produced by Spookey Ruben
He Revived WHAT?!
?Drawing circles in the sand with open-minded hands
The magic castle in your eye touches the sky
New companions mark the triumph on Magnetic Hill
Another chapter in our lives passes us by . . .?
Spookey Ruben, from the title track of Mechanical Royalty
Is there any bygone pop music genre that hasn’t been resuscitated at least once? When Brian Eno released Music for Airports I thought surely there was no other genre so offensively banal it couldn’t inspire someone to breathe new life into it.
Yet here we find Spookey Ruben with a full-length glorification/satire of the music of the ?70s, taunting all the smug boomers who, at the first appearance of the Ramones, tossed, with noses wrinkled, their Rush, Jethro Tull, and Yes albums.
Like Eno, Spookey has mastered the subtleties of musical drollery, defying all current standards of artistic merit and yet somehow able to talk about his music in an utterly deadpan manner, like a scientist who’s discovered, say, the cause of nocturnal emissions and yet isn’t the least bit giggly when discussing it.
The quality of these songs as pop music is superlative. ?If You Wanna Know? is simultaneously a parody and a work in itself, satirizing a host of ?70s Top 40 love songs while clearly deserving to be played right alongside them, maybe someday even being hailed a rock classic.
?American Processed Cheese? nails hip hop, grunge metal, and the music industry’s remorseless exploitation and covert oppression of the rebellious spirit of youth, rendering it as digestible as?well, you know.
Like Jonathan Coulton, Spookey’s voice is pop-dreamboat perfect and thus sets you up for something scandalous: in Coulton’s case shockingly incongruous lyrics and in Ruben’s case the fearless resurrection of historic musical kingdoms which, when they fell, fell mighty hard.
Why did the yacht rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal of the ?70s take such a nosedive in popularity among record buyers? This is just an opinion, but one widely shared: it was time to strip down. We had gotten sweaty and heavy under all those sound layers and felt we had to throw them off in favour of the simpler tunes, straightforward lyrics, and staccato rhythms of punk, new wave, and the increasingly popular ?50s flashbacks. That’s all.
Perhaps the thing that attracts the intellectually precocious to progressive rock and its tributaries is all the freedom and unfettered creative license the genre offers. Just about any instrument could be used, any theme set to flowery verse, at least until it all got contrived and methodical and the musicians began taking themselves way too seriously. (I have an album by Rick Wakeman that almost makes me cry, I feel so embarrassed for the guy.)
So what was in progressive rock that a young musician/composer of the new millennium would want to revive? I imagine the teenaged Spookey to have often been, as you and I were, restlessly clawing through his older siblings? albums for something, anything, radically different from what he was hearing on the radio. And he found it.
Finding the radically different is almost a necessity for a creative type working in an industry only too eager to shove you into a stall and turn you into a helpless cash cow. As the title Mechanical Royalty suggests (mechanical royalties are royalties, carved up a dozen different ways, paid on sales of music recordings), taking something as astronomically fun as music making and reducing it to an accounting problem is a crime and a half.
For all you culture makers out there, look to this album as an example of what can be done with a little guts and the integrity to follow your own muse and nobody else’s.
Mechanical Royalty manifests six of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it makes me want to be a better artist; 3) it gives me tools which help me be a better artist; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; and 6) it stimulates my mind.
The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to email@example.com. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.