Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Short stack of cool

The Go’s latest, its influences and you

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Dressed up in splotchy Partridge Family hues of tangerine orange, lima bean green, and that curious cornflower blue unique to toys and Buicks of the era, Fisher-Price’s plastic wind-up phonograph is an icon of the 1970s. Its blocky tone arm was great, and so was the scratchy sound that tickled out of the little speaker on the side. But its coolest feature might have been the compartment on the back, the cubby that held a short stack of those ridged, equally colorful plastic discs the little phonograph played. They were like singular 6-inch treasures. And not to call it kitsch, but that’s what Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride, the Go’s long-awaited next album, feels like. (It’s “next” and not “fourth” or “fifth” or whatever, because the band’s previous releases have been criminally neglected or otherwise under-supported by their various record companies. Let’s focus on now.) The 12 songs on Howl hold together as an album. But each is also unique, its own color-streaked snapshot of where they’re coming from this time, somewhere in the ether between the Grass Roots, bubblegum pop, the Rolling Stones and Zabriskie Point.

As produced by vocalist-centerpiece Bobby Harlow, Howl comes across just like that, or at least John Krautner’s guitar does, drenched in faraway reverb but also ensuring on mid-album tracks such as “Help You Out” and “Mercurial Girl” that the little moments between Harlow’s chanted, soulful couplets ring with descending-note fuzz. And there are tambourines too, and bass lines that hum along with the popping snare drum. It’s easy to imagine that it’s all part of an amazing album by a group of unsung heroes resurrected from the late ’60s or early ’70s, and Harlow probably drifts off to sleep some nights doing just that. But it’s more fun to reach into the phonograph’s cubby with each new song, and see where the Go are going to take you this time.

“Caroline” and “She’s Prettiest When She Cries” are dressed with pretty, slightly sad piano leads, and the latter’s gentle “la la la’s” make the song Go enough that you can forgive its “cry”-“goodbye” rhyme scheme.

“Mary Ann” is an AM radio single to end all — it could have been one of those Fisher-Price plastic jobs, or a flexi in Dynamite! — it’s girl group, it’s the Poppy Family, it’s going to make you ready for summer. But then there’s “Refrain,” which drips with soundtrack music atmosphere; it makes you see shadows moving slowly across cracked desert ground. (Harlow, sounding high: “Every shadow has a name/When I think of mine I moan ...”) They keep it all together — it’s worth noting again that Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride is an album first, a cohesive chunk — but it’s the Go’s coolest trick to try on so many moments, styles and shades of their influences, and do it largely without sounding stuck in the past.

This is what great songwriting does, of course. It allows a band to own its own material, to put its stamp on it. And if the Go have done anything over their weird career besides build a mystique, it’s that they’ve proved to the national types and everyone writing them off as garage revivalists or “the band Jack White used to be in” that songwriting can ring true even if its vehicle is homage or influence.

“I’ve got nothing to prove, I’ve got nothing to lose,” Harlow tells some unnamed demon woman in “Smile,” the album’s moody-cool closer. (“You can take your body away!”) And it doesn’t seem like the Go means anything more than good music with this latest record. It’s not like it’s meant to break nationally, even if it does. They’re obviously proud of their influences, but proud also of the way they mirror them with their own brand of songwriting. It’s a collection of little fetishes, of singular treasures, each their own color, stacked in a cubby and waiting to be discovered.

Friday, April 21, at Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. With Siddhartha, the Pizazz, and Greg Ashley’s Medicine Fuck Dream.

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