New Gramophone, Who Dis?
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox has been averaging about three albums a year across the last wee while – blink, and you’ll miss one, then they’ll release another, usually on the back of a YouTube viral hit. The band – a floating cast, certainly in terms of cameo lead singers – is headed by pianist Bradlee. And the aim is in the title really, “Postmodern Jukebox”; the trick being to dress the pop hits of today (and yesterday – they do reach back to the 1980s occasionally) in vintage-era jazz threads. It works. Time and again. And it has huge pull. As well as, I’m sure, people deeply cynical of the aims and execution.
But I saw them perform and it’s certainly a really talented group of players, and here’s been a way to succeed – to fill the world with harmless, charming fun – music that either resonates, or, remade for a laugh at the least.
Not everything works on this latest album – as is the case on all of their albums, no doubt – but the nice surprises do warm the cockles of the heart, slightly. A sunny version of The Cars’ Just What I Needed removes all power-pop flavour but gives a rosy wee singalong feel. Dolly Parton’s Jolene is stripped of that weird, hurtle-along rhythm that (usually) provides much of the tension. And though it’s easy enough to turn something on its ear and recast it as a torch ballad this take on Jolene does actually thrive.
Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know is presented like a modern-day re-imagining of Peggy Lee’s Fever (replete with fla-boom tom fills and sizzling hi-hats) and its slinkiness is clever and striking. A song we’re sick of has been reborn. That’s some magic trick.
But Nine Inch Nails’ Closer – without the word ‘Fuck’ – comes across like the 90s iterations of this manufactured sub-genre, The Mike Flowers Pops and Frank Bennett; that’s to say it’s all gimmick and no meat for the sandwich.
It’ll take a lot to convince me that this isn’t – mostly – music for people with no real idea what makes music wonderful. But the band can play. There’s no denying that. And fun can be had. Again and again it seems.
I’m impressed but hardly ever moved by this. I’m sure you’re not meant to be moved by it. But still. If I can’t be moved then it’s hard to get fully on board, right? That’s the physics of the situation.