overdue review: saul williams - the inevitable rise and liberation of niggy tardust!

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Dic 10 2007, 15:32

I wrote this awhile ago and posted it in my LiveJournal, but this seems like a more appropriate place for it, so I've moved it here.

As you probably know by now, Saul Williams's latest album was produced by Trent Reznor. I had not heard Saul's previous music, but purchased The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! out of respect for Trent's work and a belief that anything he supported so strongly would be worth listening to. That, and the fact that the price was $5 (or free). It refuses to fit neatly into any genre. If you haven't downloaded it yet, you can get it at Saul Williams's site.

I was not disappointed. The album is creative, which sounds like a redundant thing to say about music until you consider current RIAA-approved, Clear Channel-controlled radio. Saul started as a spoken word artist, so while I expected the lyrics to be top-notch (and they are), I was surprised to hear the richness and beautiful tone of his singing voice.

Black History Month starts things off strong. It straddles the line between consciousness and "money, ho's and rims" (to quote Kanye West), but keeps most of its weight on the conscious side. The lyrics on this and other songs could be published poetry without the beats, and he spits them so fast that I had to read along to keep up.

Convict Colony heads more in a rock direction. And why not? Black people invented rock. But that's another post. The song reminds us that the ancestors of many black Americans had no say in their immigration to this country.

Tr(n)igger contains heavy samples from a Public Enemy song called Welcome to the Terrordome, which I really need to go listen to, so that I can get a sense of the original context. My favorite lines: "Would Jesus Christ come back American? What if he's Iraqi and he's here again?"

Sunday, Bloody Sunday is a U2 remake. Most covers of famous songs just make me want to hear the original. This version holds its own, though the drums could have been changed up a little more. Hearing Saul sing it changes the mental setting from Ireland to inner-city U.S.

Break was the first song that Trent leaked in advance of the album's release. It describes the mental stress that daily life as a low-income, inner city black man can produce. Subtle, constant, negative messages about identity must be consciously let go of, lest they overpower. It's a daily beat that could make anyone break.

NiggyTardust cleverly plays with what may be a mostly white audience, letting them know that the album's title shouldn't make them feel too comfortable. It also sets out the tenet loving yourself requires loving others: "you are yourself, my darling dear, and were never a n-----."

DNA has some bass that just begs to be turned up. My car doesn't have great speakers, but "DNA" makes me want to go buy some and drive around all day. Intense, meditative lyrics, amazing flow - if I had to pick a standout track, this would be it.

WTF! lets the listener in on a secret. You've been brainwashed; now it's time to get your brain dirty again. "Bring yourself to be yourself." Saul's mesmerizing voice makes individual authenticity seem possible.

On Scared Money Saul admits to feeling "alone, homeless, peerless." Based on the quality of this album, he's right about the "peerless" part. Saul contrasts stereotypes of black people with an unshakable belief in the power of humankind to rise above their circumstances.

Raw is intimate and earthy. The drum's heartbeat conjures up an incense-scented room, tapestries, wooden floors, thick blankets... the rest you'll have to imagine for yourself...

Skin of a Drum focuses on the pain inherent in life, and how it can prevent us from connecting with those we love. We edit the way we present ourselves to the world. We're afraid that lowering the facade will make us vulnerable.

No One Ever Does is an intense song that showcases Saul's voice. It touches on the search for God and the idea of finding love within.

Banged and Blown Through explores the devaluation of human life in inner cities. What potential is lost? What contributions to the world are missed because people's individual "orchestras" are not protected?

Raised to Be Lowered lets Saul's lyrical talent shine, as he delivers amazing lines about being true to yourself and meshing with the world instead of fighting it. He talks about being one with your art ("throw away the pen and pad and simply be the poem ... fuck the words, just ride the beat"), and then contrasts that high ideal with pernicious self-doubt ("was I raised to be lowered?).

The Ritual. The lyrics in the file say that we're supposed to "stop reading and dance." Hmm. I hate to end the review on a low note, but this song really didn't do it for me. Caricatured, overly macho boasting doesn't even make a good dance track...

Bottom line, if you're still debating about putting down your $0.33 per track, you might as well go for it. You get to hear a bunch of solid music, and tell the music industry dinosaurs to FOAD.
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