More Work Songs from the Planet of the Apes
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Review by James Smith
Why do things that are mediocre go places? Why do things that are watered down and uninteresting win awards and get celebrated?
More Work Songs from the Planet of the Apes is not an "ear candy" pop album, and probably won't have massive chart success. It isn't exceptionally well recorded and the playing is occasionally out of time. In fact, there is a special note on the CD jacket that reads: "At any time during this recording, certain instruments or vocals may appear to be out of tune. This is completely intentional and part of GFC's ongoing policy to expand the listening experience."
Wiseman makes no apologies for these imperfections because they contribute an important ingredient that many more polished albums lack: "flavour". But sorry, no Grammy for this album.
This 11-track CD is the sixth album by Canadian-born Wiseman. Throughout, Wiseman weaves an ornate tapestry of styles that include folk, grunge, pop, blues, rock, country and some wickedly whacked-up programming.
The opening track, "20 Year Plan", examines the absurdity of accepting long-term exploitation to attain a comfortable retirement: "It's a ten cent job on a twenty year plan/ it's do or die in this slow quicksand". He questions the point of such a dehumanising sacrifice only to inherit a world with "poison in the water and acid in the sky".
In "Fooled Again", Wiseman throws all caution to the wind. While the main melody and lyric remain constant throughout the piece, the instrumentation and musical style change frequently. The result is similar to hearing songs change stylistically as you shuffle along the FM radio dial, from country music station through to the sweet soul and rock stations. Wiseman doesn't make elevator music and is unlikely to work with Kenny G.
"Disneyland" questions the IMF restrictions placed on developing countries, and the media's reluctance to report the impact this has on the poor: "Oh don't it smell like some perverted money making plan/ How come we never hear about that here in Disneyland". I can only admire an artist who can explain the machinations of imperialism in two verses — and do it over a psychedelic drum groove.
"Libelous" is a song about the British protesters sued by McDonald's. It discusses the role of the military and the state, multinationals and how business buys legitimacy from unscrupulous academics. All this, as well as great pop harmonies in the chorus.
Even Wiseman's love songs have an odd charm to them. "Sweet Gertrude" is actually about a woman named Maureen: "She asked me to write a song about her/ I think I will but I'll call it Sweet Gertrude just to piss her off".
It's refreshing to come across an artist who is raising consciousness through music and not merely contributing to the abundance of pop fodder. Wiseman doesn't preach or spoon-feed his listeners but rather raises awareness through his clever use of imagery, provocative questions and humour. My only disappointment is that Wiseman doesn't propose solutions to the crisis he so aptly explains.
While Wiseman incorporates some interesting production techniques that work well, they do at times obscure his vocals. Fortunately, like most artists who consider lyrics an important element of their art, he provides a lyric sheet.
Wiseman's voice and music probably won't have mainstream appeal. Perhaps this has more to do with how we are conditioned as listeners to be prejudiced against certain tone colours, harmonies and musical forms. Without sounding anything like Frank Zappa, Wiseman's music contains a similar odd beauty and is worth investigating.
When it comes to the rules, Wiseman is often on the wrong side of the road, but More Work Songs from the Planet of the Apes is an interesting ride.
Bob Wiseman's web page is <www.bobwiseman.ca>.