Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The worst record that I love to pieces

Posted By on 06.26.12 at 12:40 PM

tighten_up_vol_88.jpg
The first time I realized that pretty much no one else in the United States of America appreciates Big Audio Dynamite's Tighten Up Vol. 88 was partway through a lip-synch dance routine that I'd put together to try out for my rural middle school's annual talent show. During a particularly frenetic move, as I reached to secure the military beret I'd chosen as part of my stage costume, I saw a look of unambiguous horror on the faces of the middle-aged country-assed women on the judge's panel. At that moment it occurred to me for the first time that not everyone in the world feels as warmly as I do about Mick Jones's post-Clash experiment in combining samplers, drum machines, Don Letts, and the kind of epic, sentimental pop that epitomized Jones's contributions to the Clash.

Predictably I didn't make the cut.

Since then I've advocated frequently for Tighten Up Vol. 88 and Big Audio Dynamite in general to a number of people, who've been all over the place in their levels of musical knowledge. I've received the same unambiguous message every time: We do not like this record and we think that it's weird that you like it so much.

I feel like my case is solid. Mick Jones was the Paul to Joe Strummer's John: considerably less badass, but more daring in his embrace of emergent musical techniques (in Jones's case samplers, drum machines, and rap beats) than the cooler coleader of the group, not to mention much handier with a hook. But my opinion of the album is clouded by the fact that when my parents brought that tape home to me from England in 1988, I hadn't heard anything as strangely modern-sounding as Tighten Up, which bridged my emerging appreciation for rap music with an already well-established love of the Clash.

And every time I try to back up my argument for the record, the music itself fails me. "Applecart" in particular is an objectively awful song. The treacly, unearned sentimentality smothers the good hook buried somewhere beneath Mick Jones's Deep Thoughts, and on top of that it's played at a fraction of the speed that the melody demands. Because it's stretched out to a running time that it does little to justify (four minutes and 21 seconds), every time I've played the song for someone they've cut it off before the second chorus.

Listening to it now, I might be embarrassed about the place Tighten Up Vol. 88 has in my heart, but I refuse to be embarrassed about anything that I genuinely like. A lot of that probably comes from that moment onstage in my middle school's cafetorium when I realized that there was something different about how I heard music.

When Big Audio Dynamite announced last year that they were reuniting for a series of festival dates—largely on the strength of nostalgia for the group's post-Madchester surprise 1991 hit "Rush"—I put Tighten Up Vol. 88 on in order to celebrate, and to revisit this cherished part of my musical development. I couldn't even make it all the way through the album. Which somehow doesn't make me love it a bit less.

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