Volume 93, Issue 62
Thursday, Janurary 20, 2000
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
DJ Rap still has a lot to learn
DJ Rap has carved out a name for herself largely based on the strength of her penchant for half-naked photo shoots in a seemingly endless string of trendy magazines.
"She's beautiful!" they proclaim in large and loud typeface with, "...and she's a musician, too," added liberally in the ensuing small print. That should tell you something right there.
Not that it's impossible to be both beautiful and talented, but when an artist is making headlines mainly because of their appearance, it should send off warning signals to audiences. Thus, this debut record for the UK-based turntablist has been subject to a lot of abstract pre-release hype. It seems almost everybody knows who she is or has heard her name and yet no one has actually heard her music, or knows what to expect from the album.
And the truth is not much. Learning Curve is essentially an electronic-by-numbers affair, complete with standard issue beats and ooh-look-how-diverse-I-am forays into drum 'n' bass and big beats. After around the 10th track, it all tends to blend into one long tuneless, uninspired hum.
Although it's clear that the hype was largely unwarranted, it's probably not safe to completely write off DJ Rap there's hope for her yet. Her lyrics are uncharacteristically strong for this genre and her songs (which tend to veer towards the poppy side) probably wouldn't be as bland if she wasn't so caught up in trying to be everything to everyone.
With any luck, Learning Curve will be just that for DJ Rap and her next record will see her fully realize her talents and find her own musical voice.
Anyone who has seen Magnolia will no doubt testify that the movie's success is owed in large part to its effective use of musical score.
Unlike many soundtracks, the songs found on this offering are irrevocably intertwined with the storyline of the film director P.T. Anderson has even stolen lyrics from a couple of tracks and used them as key lines in the movie. What results is a soundtrack that evokes memories of the film in a way that most don't.
Of course, all of this would mean nothing if the music couldn't stand on its own. Fortunately, in addition to being a worthy addendum to the epic film, the soundtrack to Magnolia is also a extremely strong collection of timeless and thoughtful pop songs.
Nine of the 13 tracks on the record feature the work of much-maligned solo artist Aimee Mann, a longtime friend of Anderson's. Mann's songwriting is augmented by the remarkable production skills of Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright) the result is a batch of enduring songs that possess a unique and timeless quality.
Album opener "One" is a faithful update of the old Harry Nilsson song which effectively sets the thematic stage for the rest of the album. Overtop a sparsely plucked Rhodes intro, Mann sighs "One/is the loneliest number that you'll ever do/Two/can be as bad as one/it's the loneliest number since the number one." Simple, yet effective stuff.
This is followed up with the upbeat "Momentum," a song which boasts explosive and seemingly random bursts of guitar, strings, keyboards and even horns. This unique meditation on getting older sees Mann finally conclude "and so for the sake of momentum/I'm condemning my future so it can match the past." Other standouts include "Deathly" and "Wise Up," the song which is featured most prominently in the film.
The album is rounded out by the inclusion of three largely dispensable tracks. On some level it makes sense to include Supertramp's "Goodbye Stranger" and "Logical Song," since they also figure somewhat into the movie. But, like Gabrielle's pop fluff hit "Dreams," it's hard to hear it all after Mann's efforts and not somehow feel like they're polluting what is otherwise an exceptionally strong record. Luckily, a concluding Brion-penned instrumental salvages the bottom end of the album.
Regardless of the few unfortunate miscues, the soundtrack to Magnolia serves as a wonderful testimony to the film and if there's any justice in the world it'll help break Mann to a wider audience.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000