Whither the humble 7-inch record? The little slice of music was once the fuel of the music industry, in which it served the same purpose MP3s serve in this millennium: Got an itchin' for a tiny glimpse of heaven? Walk to the music store, toss the clerk two bits and whammo, the song you just heard on the radio is yours forever. A few decades after the album supplanted the 7-inch as the most profitable format, the 7-inch revived itself in the punk and indie-rock community, where its value as oddball object was reinforced by the existence of the sleeve itself: It served as a 7-by-7-inch bit of canvas that creative rock types could design to fit their obscure identities. When the CD replaced the album in the profitability department, the casket seemed to have been nailed shut for the 7-inch, but it's still alive and kicking: The 7-inch has become the hipster format of choice in Great Britain, where electronic artists once blindly committed solely to the bigger 12-inch format are downsizing purely, it seems, for the object's aesthetic potential.
With a sound quality that pales in comparison to 12-inch records, though, and way, way more expensive than CD-Rs and MP3s, the 7-inch has slowly lost its luster, at least for now, as tech-savvy types focus their energies on perfecting online digital reproduction and turntable freaks concentrate on the 12-inch platter.
But the simple fact remains that for per capita punch it's still tough to top the pleasure of popping on a 45: It's an object, not a file; they're cheap to buy and fun to caress. And a 7-inch is even more pleasurable when the damn thing houses three songs as sturdy as those found on the new 45 by the Emphysema Kings.
The line between "loose" and "unpracticed" is a fine one and totally open to individual interpretation; where one listener hears sloppiness, another will hear drunken inspiration. The Kings are loose in the most drunkenly inspired sense: The glorious handclaps (we've always had a thing for handclaps in songs, be it four dudes clapping in unison or a synthesizer key activating cheesy fake ones, because claps bring celebration to a song, as do sleigh bells) that kick off "Legendary Heroes" stumble in, as do the hum-toned guitar line and the flat-as-hell-but-who-gives-a-damn voice. The result is guitar rock without your run-of-the-mill contrived anxiety, without the tired, the-faster-the-better punk philosophy. The Kings toss off hard guitar songs, but they're hard because they're thick, not because the lead singer is feigning anger.
The Emphysema Kings prove the age-old rock & roll adage that every so often needs to be screamed for everyone to hear: Simple songs need not be dumb songs. You can check an Emphysema Kings track online for proof. Hit www.radiopenny.com (the band is part of the ever-expanding roster of artists affiliated with the promising Radio Penny studios) and download the two-for-one MP3 "Bowl" and "Capacity," the latter featuring Heather Gracey of the Patsies on vocals. "No one's listening," sing the Emphysema Kings. "Everyone's wrapped up in their own little world. No one's listening. They don't care. They don't care."
We care. And they've got the best band name in town, to boot.
LOST IN THE '80s: "We kind of like to joke that last year was our ode to the '70s and this year is our ode to the '80s," laughs St. Louis Pridefest 2000's Rolf Rathmann. "And eventually we're going to be able to afford an ode to present-day music. My dream would be Savage Garden or someone like that." Rathman's talking about this weekend's Pridefest, which hits Tower Grove Park on Saturday and Sunday and features live performances by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Lisa Lisa and former Bronski Beat singer Jimmy Somerville, among a dozen or so others. It's a well-programmed lineup and one that honors three artists who were cornerstones of gay culture in the '80s.
The most important of these is Somerville. As part of Bronski Beat, Somerville had -- and still does have -- this crazy beautiful voice that owes as much to over-the-top operatics as it does to the pop repertoire, and even if what comes out sometimes is grating as all get-out, it's nonetheless unique and passionate. "As a solo artist he's doing incredibly well," says Rathmann, "and has a huge hit in London. He's doing a 12-date tour of pride festivals this month, and that same weekend he will have just finished a festival in Toronto and then from us he goes on to Toronto to do a concert at their Pridefest. We're really excited that he felt St. Louis was an important enough venue to add to the lineup." Bronski Beat's Age of Consent is a landmark record in the annals of gay history; its defiant, uncloseted lyrical themes flew in the face of a pop world not accustomed to dealing with the topic of homosexuality in a face-to-face manner. After Somerville left the Beat, he formed the Communards, who also had several hits.
Lisa Lisa had her Cult Jam and created synthetic funk that was produced by the remarkable early rap-and-funk team Full Force. Her huge dance-floor hit "I Wonder If I Take You Home" has withstood the test of time; it's still rolling, still funky. And though Frankie Goes to Hollywood's singer on their risqué 1984 hit "Relax," Holly Johnson, is no longer part of the band, Frankie and new singer Davey Johnson (not to be confused with the coach of the Dodgers) will no doubt kick out the hit, as well as the totally ridiculous anti-Cold War song "Two Tribes."
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