sound patrol 12-23-04
If you get a Trojan horse, ride it
After two full-lengths and a couple of EPs on the now-defunct indie label Mr. Lady, Le Tigre has apparently tired of preaching to the choir. Predictably, many longtime fans of the New York-based electropunk trio are crying sell-out; aside from the fact that This Island is on Universal, the biggest, baddest multinational entertainment conglomerate in history, the new CD boasts production assistance from Ric Ocasek of the Cars and noted knob-twiddler Nicholas Sansano. Before you scoff at the naÃ¯ve notion that ethical purity demands impoverished obscurity, remember that Le Tigre has long worn its DIY ethos on its collective sleeve, ridiculing the "hysteria of male expertise" and suggesting that technical proficiency is just another masculinist plot designed to suppress female expression. If true believers feel betrayed by the move to Universal and This Island's slicker, shinier, possibly patriarchal sound, it's hard to blame them. On the other hand, it's a bit unfair to demand that a band with a message -- even a leftist/feminist/queer-centric one -- should confine itself to the underground ghetto. Why not ride the Trojan horse as far as it can take you, if that's what it takes to get your message into the clubs and onto the airwaves?
If only it were that easy. Despite its superficial gloss, This Island is not a radical departure for Le Tigre, and it's not going to win over any Ashlee Simpson fans. The lead single, "New Kicks" -- which consists almost entirely of spoken-word samples from Amy Goodman, Al Sharpton, Susan Sarandon, and assorted peace protesters -- is too weird and hook-challenged for Clear Channel, and "Seconds," an anti-Bush tirade, is, alas, still timely but nonetheless pointless. Truth be told, Le Tigre has never quite matched the lo-fi brilliance of its self-titled debut, an intoxicating concoction of '80s new wave, '60s girl group, art-punk tribalism, and minimalist electro-pop. But anyone susceptible to the trademark Le Tigre sound -- a cheerful cacophony of Casio chirps, guitar buzz, and handclaps -- can't help but dig This Island. Aside from an uninspired cover of the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited," the songs are catchy and ferocious. Vocalist and ringleader Kathleen Hanna delivers the polemics with a chirpy venom -- imagine a pom-pom girl who's suddenly realized midcheer that John and Yoko were right, that she really is the nigger of the world.
Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz
The self-proclaimed kings of crunk are back for another album of grimy, brutal, morally reprehensible party music. "It's our punk rock," Lil Jon has said, but he's not talking about the militant anthems of the Clash, Gang of Four, and Minor Threat. If crunk -- the Dirty South subgenre that Lil Jon and his Boyz have popularized -- has a punk-rock counterpart, it's the nihilistic hardcore of Fear, G.G. Allin, and early Black Flag, minus the irony and white-boy self-loathing. Whereas golden-age hip-hop was all about the lyrics, crunk privileges the inarticulate speech of the id. So stupid that he's gotta be some kind of genius, Lil Jon is the Chauncey Gardiner of the genre.
Like last year's multiplatinum Kings of Crunk, Crunk Juice is loud, repetitive, and nasty, rife with gratuitous misogyny and violence; the album's tenderest moment, a showcase for pretty-boy crooner Usher, is a paean to anal sex. He may not be much of a lyricist, but no one on the contemporary rap scene shouts better than Lil Jon, whose gruff, comical roar turns every vowel and consonant into a jackhammer. If you're looking for enlightenment, you'd best look elsewhere; if you just want a fitting soundtrack to the decline and fall of our particular empire, you could do a lot worse.