Opium Jukebox: Music To Download Pornography To

Opium Jukebox
Music to Download Pornography To
Invisible
2001-03-28

Robin Williamson
The Seed at Zero
(ECM)
US release date: April 2001

by Michael Stephens
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These are very different CDs. I’ll review them together because both are end-of-the-line, vanity projects from people who used to play in cool bands and neither merits a review to itself.

Opium Jukebox is Martin Atkins (ex PIL & Killing Joke) and friends playing a set of instrumental versions of alternative and mainstream standards. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Whip It”, “Tainted Love”, “Head Like a Hole”, “Cars”, “Unbelievable”, “Ball of Confusion”, and “You Spin Me Right Round”, are all performed with “quirky” arrangements and instrumentation: sitar, dijeridu, toy piano, etc.

The set begins promisingly with a few seconds of atmospheric, analog synth and vibes, before drifting into the melody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” played on slide guitar. The novelty of hearing Nirvana’s classic played in an odd instrumental version wears off before the track is half way through. After that, it’s just a question of “what will they do with this one?” The answer, every time, is “nothing interesting”. You want to hear Gary Numan’s “Cars” played by someone who is just about able to pick out a melody on sitar without making any mistakes?

The band name suggests stoner versions of hits. You might expect far out jams, imaginative weirdness, cool studio trickery. Don’t. You might also expect that mediocre musicians doing instrumental music would make up for their lack of chops with passion, imagination and energy. Don’t. Invisible wants to represent this CD as outasight drug music by alternative gurus. Not!!! It’s like listening to your burn-out friends fucking around for hours and hours with instruments they can’t play. The title might mean “transgressive pleasures”. It actually means “solitary masturbation”.

Robin Williamson is an ancient Scottish geezer who now looks like David Crosby on a bad hair day. Robin used to play in the Incredible String Band, who are worth checking out if you like psychedelic, Celtic-influenced acoustic music. But avoid The Seed at Zero at all costs. Believe it or not, this is even worse than Opium Jukebox. When I tell you that it features Robin singing his favorite Dylan Thomas poems, you’ll get some idea of how bad it can get. Trying to put music around a poem is like trying to get a tune out of a piece of sculpture. The two arts just aren’t compatible. Poetry and song lyrics may look alike but they’re different. Bob Dylan is not a poet. Dylan Thomas is not a songwriter. Just trust me on this, Robin. I tried to tell him, but either he was ignoring me or he didn’t have his hearing aid turned up. Robin’s honest-to-God, “why fight it”, approach to aging does raise some important questions about Aerosmith’s recent Rolling Stone cover, though. Plastic surgery? Face lifts? Tummy Tucks? Implants? Monkey Hormones? Formaldehyde? Let’s have some feedback on what it took to keep Joe Perry and Steven Tyler looking like it’s still the 1980s.

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