Sunday, August 16, 2009

"2000 and Fifties: The Whisper Story"

"There is nothing new under the sun." Alright, hear that. Under the ground, well, that’s another story. The underground, if you like it, is where the action is. Elvis conquered the world breaking cover from a subterranea of blues and boogie the white folks had crossed the street to avoid, but which all the while was a time-bomb ticking as the pulse beneath their feet. The Beatles, incubated in underground Hamburg, broke cover to reconquer it. Punk, meanwhile, made the underground the foreground, reinventing culture randomly. Its imprimatur is everywhere today, its foremost pioneers assimilated at last to a point unthinkable even ten years ago.

The Boss reaching down to cover Suicide’s surrealist hymn "Dream Baby Dream" is the tasteful end of a spectrum where today John Lydon plugs butter and anarchy is a commodity. Martin Rev, Suicide’s musical, as opposed to lyrical, vocal half, composer of "Dream Baby Dream", is one of those for whom the underground is the only ground, whose insight makes it into – for his many admirers and fans – holy ground. And it is from Rev that came the music for "Whisper", subject of a new remix project conceived and produced by its lyricist, veteran pop and punk operator Marty Thau, whose career has already seen go from the sound heaven of early Van Morrison to the concrete soul of Richard Hell, with stops along the way to rear the Ramones, Blondie, Real Kids, New York Dolls, and Suicide, whose eponymous debut album established a parallel chorus-verse since responsible for countless electronic rock’n’roll mutations.

By a virtue of a fortuitous Facebook hook-up, about a year ago Thau came across Jeremy Gluck, former singer and songwriter of second generation garage punk heroes The Barracudas, whose solo work includes late-Eighties "I Knew Buffalo Bill", a collaboration with Nikki Sudden and Rowland S Howard considered the first "" work. Already a hardcore Suicide fan, Gluck couldn’t believe his luck to find himself in touch with Marty Thau, and duly interviewed him for top UK fanzine Bucketfull of Brains.

It didn’t stop there, though. At a point when both were looking for a new challenge and renewed commitment to music, by degrees an interest in collaboration became evident but was not catalysed until Thau suggested Jeremy covering "Whisper", a song written by Martin Rev and himself included on Rev's instrumental CLOUDS OF GLORY LP in 1980, which he also co-produced. Thau always believed WHISPER might be something special if it had a lyric, so he wrote one but did nothing with it until he decided to give Gluck a shot at doing the vocal.

Mediated by e-mail, chat and some furious file transfers, gradually "Whisper" was knocked into shape: Jeremy would send Marty draft vocals, the latter communicated instructions back by email and the odd call and when he finished he sent Marty the files to assemble and mix. Over a period of weeks the correct treatment appeared and at a local studio Jeremy laid down his parts. After a false start, an agreed new female part was finally nailed by Jeremy’s partner, Kate McEwan.

The files were duly despatched to the States where Marty assembled and finessed them into a polished production resembling nothing more than what might be called "Amartycan Graffiti", uniting and acentuating as it does elements of the Fifties romantic pop sensibility that informs the instrumental original while introducing late Sixties touches that taken whole create a strange, timeless feel that is both intimate and chaste, flying in the face of the vogue for crude pop and replacing sex drive with a kind of muted love cruise. It’s refreshing, disarming and deceptively catchy, Rev’s ingenious backing track a hit worthy of an imaginary "Alphaville" chart; joined with the soft-focus vocals, especially McEwan’s breathy and whispery anti-attack, this is elegant, retro-pop of a kind in too short supply.

Initially the idea was just to do a "Whisper" single but the project expanded. Different versions from different producers - each interpreting the song in their very own inimitable style but using Jeremy’s and Kate’s vocals however they wished – has resulted in llar mixes by Brendon Moeller, Beat Pharmacy’s rising remix and DJ star; revolutionary mixer Dub Gabriel, whose version is an homage to Suicide and dramatic departure both; UK rising star Amurgit, who offers a reggae take; and more to come.

With digital distribution due from The Orchard, run by Thau’s old friend and colleague Richard Gottehrer and with whom he originally managed Blondie, and interest bound to be serious from across the underground rock’n’roll and club spectrum, the WHISPER EP is going to make a lot of noise. Release date TBC.

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