Music

Swamp Dogg Sings About 'Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune'

Photo: David McMurry / Courtesy of Chromatic PR

Swamp Dogg sings to and with himself on Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune to create a cyborg-like voice that suggests the essential loneliness of human beings locked in separate body machines.

Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune
Swamp Dogg

Joyful Noise

7 September 2018

Jerry Williams, Jr. began as an R&B singer back in the '50s, created classic Southern soul music in the '60s, and then got totally strange in the '70s, reportedly in part due to LSD consumption. He became psychedelicized as Swamp Dogg and rivaled Frank Zappa, George Clinton, and others from the era because of his imaginative weirdness that combined an odd sense of humor, science fiction, human greed, and sexual proclivities into a humping mass of sonic wonderment. His irreverence allowed him to make bold statements about the state of race (and other social and economic issues) in America whose hyperbolic truths were verboten elsewhere. Dogg was also a dog for love, and he continued to sing and write odes to that miracle feeling. Life may be a bitch, but who doesn't love a mother.

Dogg is back with a new album about love and loss that's superficially different than anything he's ever done before. He's gone electronic. Poliça's Ryan Olson produced Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune in which the title is no idle boast. The synthesizer/vocoder elements are central to the sound and the aim of the project. Dogg sings to and with himself to create a cyborg-like voice that suggests the essential loneliness of human beings locked in separate body machines. The 75-year-old singer evokes the nostalgic future of the past, all stainless steel and glass, where self-control is the only control one ever really has. The rest of the world is automated, and all its inhabitants are automatons that can only be redeemed by contact with other human beings.

Consider Dogg's collaboration with Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) on "I'll Pretend". Dogg sings in a calm voice about his heartbreak, but the sonic effects of the vocoder betray his love. The lyrics capture the depth of his feelings, which are close to maniacal. He notes the absence of sound but pretends not to hear the silence. He imagines what he doesn't see and invents what he doesn't smell. He's not just making believe. He's desperate. And the Auto-Tune just enhances how out-of-touch he is. Dogg's narrator would rather live in a fantasy world than accept reality without the woman he loves.

Dogg ain't afraid to get down and dirty. On the appropriately entitled "I'm Coming With Lovin' on My Mind" he details what he's looking to do ("I'm gonna kiss you from your head to your feet"). The electronic accompaniment here intensifies the feeling of sexual desire. He uses the same technique with more comic results on "Sex With Your Ex" and "I Love Me More". Dogg may be serious in his carnal sentiments but the electronica lightens the load so he can kid ("I need you like an eagle needs an airplane" he croons) about the physical nature of intimacy.

Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune is bookended by a pair of covers of pre-rock chestnuts: Nat King Cole's "Answer Me, My Love" and Hoagy Charmichael's "Stardust". The opening track features horns and strings in addition to the vocoder and electronic effects. The song concerns a man unsettled by his lover's leaving. He sincerely declares his affection, but the bizarre music behind him suggests it is now and will remain unrequited. His sorrow has unhinged him. "Stardust" closes the disc in a more hopeful manner. Though he may dream in vain, the memory of love's refrain brings him peace. The vocoder is used much less here. The electronics are employed more to create the reverie of thinking about the past. But Dogg doesn't just let the feelings lie. He closes with bombast and fanfare as his voice and the instrumentation get louder until the fade out. It's a fitting way to end the album, with a strong declaration of love and loss.

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