SELF-HELL: Sadly, it was inevitable: a self-help book that uses as its springboard rock music. All You Need Is Love, by Pete Fornatale and Bill Ayres (Fireside, 224 pages, $11), consists of little essays connecting classic rock songs -- "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Changes," "Hungry Heart," "Nature's Way" and loads more -- with vapid little insights on dealing with life.
"Over many years of interviewing rock stars and listening intensely," says the press sheet accompanying the book, "Fornatale and Ayres have been touched and awed by the profound insights in rock music. Eager to dispel the popular stereotype of rock & roll as only about sex, drugs and dancing, they reveal how classic songs hold powerful messages about relationships, self-worth, and our place in the world.... " Unfortunately, the authors neglect to examine the most insightful song about relationships, self-worth and our place in the world, the Stooges' "Now I Wanna Be Your Dog."
They do, however, offer hope for the forlorn in the advice to be gleaned from Roy Orbison's "Running Scared": "How can you ever know for sure? How long will those growing doubts eat away at you? Suppose the other person, the person who was your lover's lover before you, suddenly reappears and wants to resume the relationship?" The advice: "Honesty in a relationship is essential. Trust cannot be built on deception. Yet the past is the past and unless its effects endure into the present (as in this song) potential damage must be weighed carefully on both sides." Gee, thanks. Perhaps the authors would do well to look in the mirror as they listen to Dylan's Blood on the Tracks: "Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth. You're an idiot, babe, it's a wonder that you still know how to breathe." Maybe they can analyze that one.
POP NARCOTICS: On its surface, the music on Kahimi Karie's self-titled U.S. debut collection (Minty Fresh) is saccharine, bouncy pap, the kind that the punk in me wants to vomit all over. But then, really, I never was much of a punker; I only liked the music, which maybe is why my true colors are revealing me to really dig the depth and breadth of Karie's superficial music. Drawing from a palette inspired by the French pop of Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg, the sampling mess of Cornelius and Beck and the deviant synth-pop of old-school new sensation Momus, Kahimi Karie makes music that is thicker -- and much less superficial -- than it seems. Ominous slide guitars steer otherwise insipid melodies in dangerous directions, harmonicas wail out of control (one song features the harp work of Beck), and rhythms reveal themselves to be more confusing than their first impressions. The result is a fantastic new-school international pop record that'll appeal to any fan of artists name-dropped above. Bonus points for her cover of Jorge Ben's "Take It Easy My Brother Charlie."
And speaking of Momus: The prolific Scottish pop dude recently had to pull back a bit after keyboardist/composer Wendy Carlos threatened a lawsuit in response to the lyrics to Momus' song "Walter Carlos" from his new The Little Red Songbook. You may (or may not) know that the one-time Walter Carlos caused a stir in the '70s when he underwent a sex-change operation, transforming himself to Wendy Carlos. In the song, Momus sings of Wendy traveling through the "wormhole" of time to "visit" her former male self. Apparently Carlos didn't like the song and threatened legal action. Momus pulled the song from his album -- though some copies are still floating around St. Louis -- and replaced it with three others.
-- Randall Roberts