psychoanalysis (what is it?)
(Tommy Boy Records)
"As long as I can remember, people have hated me."
With that repetitive sample, Prince Paul sets the tone for his first solo album, psychoanalysis (what is it?). Beginning with that first track, "why must you hate me," the listener is quickly exposed to the reasons the narrator is so detested. Prince Paul has worked behind the hip-hop scene for years, since his days in Stetsasonic, and built his reputation by producing De La Soul's monumental 3 Feet High and Rising and collaborating with Wu-Tang's RZA in The Gravediggaz. But the Prince Paul on psychoanalysis is a far cry from De La Soul's D.A.I.S.Y. philosophy. This recording bears more similarity to Kool Keith's neurotic brand of misogynistic dementia.
The track following "why must you hate me" is the definitive explanation to Prince Paul's question. "Beautiful night" is Prince Paul telling his shrink about last night, rambling about date-raping a girl, killing a bartender ("The Beastie Boys, you know what I'm sayin', those niggaz had me riled up man"), snapping a cracker's neck and relishing each second ("I mean, I wasn't wrong for that shit, was I dog?"). He follows that with "open your mouth." If I need to explain that one, you oughta be reading your Bible instead of New Times.
Most tracks on the album continue the histrionic thug stories; when Prince Paul's not talking about killin' or fuckin', he shoots for straight comedy. While tracks like "drinks," a psychedelic ambient groove with barroom conversations sampled over it, and "booty clap," an exaggerated, Miami-style, "get that ass in the air" bass jam, succeed enormously on the humor scale, other attempts, like the standup "dramady" "the world's a stage," fail miserably, possibly even intentionally--it's hard to tell, 'cause this Prince is a weird MF.
The reasons for buying this recording have nothing to do with its subject matter. The fact is that Prince Paul is a production genius. psychoanalysis is a masterpiece of beat pastiches, covering almost every hip-hop style of the past decade. "Beautiful night" busts g-funk better than Warren or Snoop ever seen it done; "to get a gun" and "j.o.b.--das what dey is!" raise sampling and scratching to the level of DJs like the Invisbl Skratch Piklz and the X-ecutioners, and "dimepieces" kicks it old-school Run-D.M.C.-style--stripped down to drums and minimal scratching.
The liner notes admit, "This album is a compilation of senseless skitstyle material that was slapped together by prince paul for his own ill enjoyment, now his enjoyment can be yours for just ?$." There's no lyrical substance to this album at all, but homeys like Wesley Willis and Kool Keith have proved that's not necessarily a liability. But to hear a true master just fucking around in a studio, that's what makes it worth your $.
Good Will Hunting
Most movie soundtrack albums function more as marketing ploys than coherent musical statements. Songs are either tagged on as blatant record-company favors or used to sell a piece of Hollywood hackwork on VH1.
But Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting is a different story. This maddeningly erratic, maverick filmmaker obviously had some kind of vision when he attached music to this tale of a brilliant but unmotivated young rebel. Stealing a page from the two most culturally significant soundtracks ever released--The Graduate and Saturday Night Fever--this album uses one artist as its fulcrum, mixing new and old songs by this artist to indirectly tell the film's story.
Where The Graduate leaned heavily on Simon and Garfunkel, and Saturday Night Fever revolved around the Bee Gees, Good Will Hunting is Van Sant's bouquet of admiration for Elliott Smith. Probably the most brilliant indie-folk songwriter of the moment, Smith donates six tracks to this project, and his fragile, melancholy, young-Alex Chilton tenor establishes a mournful mood that the album only rarely breaks.
Smith contributes only one new song to the album--a typically fine, gently rocking electric tune called "Miss Misery"--but the quietly desperate "Between the Bars" resurfaces here in truncated form with a new Danny Elfman orchestration that proves surprisingly effective. Smith so dominates the album that even Elfman's instrumental piece "Will Hunting (Main Titles)" sounds like a Smith ballad with the vocal wiped off.
In this context, even hoary chestnuts like Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and Al Green's version of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" make sense emotionally, if not musically. As with any soundtrack album, this collection has its flaws (did Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" really deserve a cover by Andru Donalds?), but it's generally satisfying as both a soundscape of the film and a welcome showcase for Smith's artistry.
Brown Eyed Soul:
The Sounds of East L.A., Volumes 1-3
Decked out with car dice and shots of Whittier Boulevard, this three-CD set of low-rider music isn't solely the work of Latino artists. Rather, it's a collection of music embraced by the Latino community, which explains the inclusion of the Marvelettes, the Safaris, Bo Diddley, and Jesse Belvin alongside Thee Midnighters, Ritchie Valens, and El Chicano. Each volume splits its time between all-out frat-rockers like the Blendells' "La La La La La" and doo-wop ballads, many of which, like "Please Baby Please" by Cannibal and the Headhunters, were recorded long after the supposed demise of the genre.
The slow-moving ballads evoke what it must've felt like strolling empty L.A. streets on Sunday afternoon back when all the stores were closed and all the iron gates were pulled down. That Sunday kind of love is best illustrated by Billy Stewart's "Sitting in the Park," which is included here amid some compelling sound-alikes (the Romancers' "My Heart Cries" and Thee Midnighters' "Dreaming Casually" to name but two).
If you're out to prolong that romantic mood, Volume Two works best. Volume One is a tad too heavy on Fifties doo-wop, much of which sounds pedestrian compared to the shimmer of later vocal-group works like Bloodstone's "Natural High," found on the largely upbeat Volume Three.