The Old/New Man (2)
Oblique Numan post #2. About a year ago I went to see one of the finest albums of all time 're-enacted' by (at least some of) its performers. The Don't Look Back 'phenomenon' is not one I in any way endorse, but the Impostume had the powers of rhetoric and a free ticket on his side, so I went along. There's probably two kinds of responses to these things from the performers, one where they know full well their own genius, and the other where they can't imagine why anyone would want to see such a thing, and are a mixture of flattered and baffled. The Genius' response was of the latter sort. Pissed at the start, the erstwhile lyrical swordsman became ever more half-cut as the evening went on, and his bellowing delivery and a truly appalling sound system made for an all-but unlistenable experience - the eventual encore of moshpit Wu classics was far better than this failed attempt at reliving the past. The GZA spent some time inbetween songs railing - as well he might - at the star system and love of Mammon in contemporary hip hop, but it all became less and less coherent. There, on stage, was The Genius, Maximillion, the GZA, 'the notorious henchman from the North', saying to us 'see unlike these motherfuckers today, I'm just like you.'
After writing a long post about the Wu a few weeks ago, I decided to investigate what the GZA is up to now, in the form of last year's Pro Tools album. It's not bad - he's still sharp, still coherent, still better than most MCs alive - although the alchemy, the sense of overwhelming apocalyptic terror, the Wire-esque sense of an entire society being encompassed in vignettes, have all severely lessened, as you might expect. The main reason is obvious enough - the lack of the RZA, or rather the fact that even the RZA can't conjure up the atmospheres he once could. It's the sound of an intelligent, middle aged man refusing to pretend to be stupid, refusing to be cowed, which is something. But right at the end it all suddenly snaps back into unlife. 'Life is a Movie' crashes in with the clattering drums and paranoid Moog strafings from Gary Numan's 'Films', and a throaty, tired RZA who sounds impossibly aged, giving an incantation on his powers, which are suddenly restored by this most incongruous of samples, an injection of cold blood after the sub-Kanye soul of the rest of the LP. Then we get the GZA, who has one thing on his mind - poverty, unglamorous, non-gangsta poverty, the side of The Real you don't hear. Bare cupboards, late cheques, unemployment, and eventually a comedy of accident, and in the last Brechtian verse, an aside on the money and compromise behind the blockbuster. The chorus is a dialogue between a Wu-singer lamenting the cinematically examined life that lies behind all hip hop, answered by Numan's pained, autistic whine, the voice of someone no longer able to live life as spectacle - 'I don't like the film! Play it all back!'.