Sunday, October 31, 2010

3 Mustaphas 3: Soup of the Century (1990)


(Rykodisc)

!! CAUTION !!

Let's get this out of the way: world music is not really a thing. Even the divisions of the term are too broad -- sure, you might say you dig African music, but of what region? What style? Groups that are billed as world music tend to be designed for those who like the idea but lack the patience required to actually learn anything about it. That's not meant as pejorative, but it's likely that those with a passion for non-AngloAmerican musics will be unimpressed with the result.

3 Mustaphas 3 is the kind of band that has a false "back story," the kind of band who gets a "grab bag" descriptor in most writeups. They get fawned over for writing Tejano songs with a klezmer bent, or country songs in Japanese about exotic food, Middle Eastern music played by dorky Britons. But this is eclecticism for its own sake and doesn't offer memorable enough creative elements of its own to be meaningful.

Most of the songs are either instrumental or sung in various other languages, which is a relief since the English lyrics are just the kind of precious "quirk" that Yonder Mountain String Band fans should enjoy. The biggest problem with the record, for me, is its production, which has all the arid cleanliness of the worst sonic advancements of its time; I'm not a "warmth" obsessive but the music just sounds so digital, and it's not interesting enough to overcome that.

3 Mustaphas 3 often get credit from their cult for "blending" styles the way Asylum Street Spankers or Andrew Bird later would; I concede that the dated production is one of the elements that hurts this claim for me, but much more importantly, Soup of the Century feels like a sampler of what sorts of music from all over the world, Scotland to Greece to Mexico to Bostwana, fuse well together in their core form. I fail to see where the bent that would give these fusions an identity appears, but maybe I just need to learn a few more languages and to accept unrelenting goofiness as a match for expert musicianship, which I have a hard time with. (I mean, isn't any musical genre at its best when it illustrates complex emotion instead of functioning for its own sake to impress someone? I digress.)

I do really like the song title "This City Is Very Exciting!" but regardless, this one's going in the reject pile.

[Editorial Note: This will be the last "archival" review for several weeks. I have a ginormous backlog of new albums I want to listen to and write up, and if I'm to get them finished by the end of the year I must buckle down. Thus, for the time being, this weblog will be reviewing 2010 releases only. Sometime in December we will return to the regular pattern of a new album followed swiftly by an old one.]

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