Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Genius of Lydon

I ran across it again -- listening to an otherwise acceptable cover of a Sex Pistols song, the whole thing went to shit the minute the singer opened his yap.

I have a problem -- whether it's me, or Tom, or anyone else -- because the tendency to sing in the exaggerated Rotten style, with faux Rotten-English accent, seems to be overwhelming and unavoidable. Or nearly so.

I think that it's because he's the man. He got it, and he gave it, an' that's that.

Of course, hearing him unable to cover his own songs without sounding goofy suggests he may no longer get it in the same way he once did but, hey, ain't that true of almost all of us?

As the comments section reveals,

[ amidst an interesting discussion by misterparker of the challenges facing a JR attempting to work in 2007, and my own thoughts on JR's development as a singer ]

I now think that I may have mixed two different thoughts to create the impression that the "crap vox" to which I refer were on JR's new vocals.

Not so; the crap vocals were done live by a band in Texas.

Rotten presents some interesting challenges as he's evolved over the years.

You can go HERE to read his discussion of the re-recording of Anarchy and Pretty Vacant --- ShOcKinGLY, Steve Jones plays the bass on the tracks. Ha ha ha.

There's also a video trailer on behalf of the "Guitar Hero III" game, featuring John Lydon and Steve Jones. . .

My heroes


Mister Parker said...

It must be hard to act your age when everyone is paying you to act like you're still 21. I imagine he's faced with three choices: (1) sing from the perspective of being 51; (2) sing an imitation of what you think you sounded like when you were 21; or (3) stop singing altogether. I imagine there's only money to be made from choice number 2, although you end up sounding like Robert Goulet doing a send-up of himself.

What a drag it is getting old ...

Sir George Martin said...

Anger Is An Energy

My impression of the singing issue is that he's not faced with a "51" v. "21" problem, as much as he's developed a troublesome style over the years.

I'm building in my own assumptions here, but I get the impression that during Pistols years, he was doing his best job of singing in a rock 'n' roll band. He probably knew that he was not a conventional voice, or a conventional lead singer, but he worked in the genre with his own stamp.

By his PIL years, he was rejecting the trappings and conventions of rock 'n' roll, borrowing from some other disciplines and evolving a more avant garde style. More spoken word, more dissonant, more . . . a lot of things This was layered on top of his already unconventional sound and style. It sounded great, unless you hated it.

By late PIL, he was scatting and "non"-singing a lot, and wasn't too worried about whether it matched up with the music. And on some songs, he was doing his best to sing a pop song in a pop voice, still knowing he was who he was.

When the late-90s Pistols reunion tour came around, he was, of course, the brilliant and lionized Johnny Rotten. The Pistols stuff was something he didn't go back and re-learn, but he'd forgotten lyrics and songs, and he'd already developed in PIL a very less-disciplined approach to singing -- which he just laid on top of the Pistols work.

With mixed results. The Filthy Lucre record, a live record from the beginning of the tour -- from their first live performance since the Cow Palace -- was, imho, brilliant. But he was a late-40s Rotten doing it his way, and I can understand not digging it if you were looking for Pistols purity.

By the tour they did a couple of years ago, he wasn't paying attention, and had forgotten a lot of Pistols stuff that he thought he was "on top of." He wasn't. It was still great, but I think he was wavering in his approach, and not focused like he'd been. He was being Johnny Rotten more than he was performing.

Now come the two new recordings, where I think he's sorta trying to do your No. 2 -- he's trying to approach it like the lead singer in a rock 'n' roll band, albeit with Johnny Rotten's qualities on full display. But he has moved to a different place, and traces of the non-r'r singer rear their ugly head.

Which led me to say that he can't cover his own songs. He could'a done a new version as No. 1, but the video game makers probably wouldn't have wanted that. I don't know if he would have, either; he might separate that John Lydon from Johnny Rotten. He could'a done his own full-fledged number 2 and TRIED to sound 21, but he didn't want to, and wouldn't probably be able to. So he tried to cover his own song, with mixed results. It still sounds okay, but it sounds like he's not committed to No. 1 or No. 2.

Sir George Martin said...

"troublesome" for laying on top o' Pistols, I shoulda said . . .

Sometimes I think it's a style; sometimes I think he's just lazy.

In this new thing.

mister muleboy said...

I also just realized that this may have looked like a criticism of JR because I didn't distinguish a couple of things.

The cover I heard that went to shit was by the Galactic Couboys / the Phlegmatics. I liked the music, then the guy started singing doing his own imitation of JR. Just like I do, just like Tom does, just like everybody does. After a while, you can kinda sorta break free of the imitation; at least Tom and I have, to some extent.

Then there's the problem of JR singing his own re-recordings of the Pistols songs. They don't go to shit the same way; it's more complicated than that, as my discussion in these comments starts to explore.

But as I looked at my original post, it just looks like I'm slagging on JR and saying he can't redo his old stuff.

That wasn't where I was going with this post; it really came out of observing that Dallas bands or Fairfax County, VA bands can't cover psitols songs without adopting a horrible fake working-class London thing. And then noting that it's not like JR can do his '77 thing either. . . .

mister muleboy said...

May the Road Rise With You

Mister Parker said...

See, you know 100 times more about John Lydon than I do. Although I am a fan of both the Sex Pistols and PIL. But I don't know anything about the craft of music or performing so I can't articulate any of the things you can.

But maybe I understand a bit of what you're saying. Maybe it's a little like the fact that the single best writer of "Bad Hemingway" imitations in history was Ernest Hemingway, especially when he was old, paranoid, sick and lazy. And then when he couldn't even do that any more, he ate the business end of a shotgun.

Hope I die before I get old ...

Oops, too late.