Saturday, April 14, 2018

When I Was Born for the 7th Time (1997)

I'm trying to remember how Cornershop's rare stew of pop music and electronica inside the context of British-South Asian culture made its way into my home. Rock critic Robert Christgau gave it an A so that might be it—I remember I found it in a used record store in Vancouver. When I Was Born for the 7th Time is the band's third album. I tried a couple of others but they didn't nearly hit the same sweet spot for me. Coming back to it many years later I still like it quite a bit, but Christgau's assessment of a void at its center may be true enough, a point I hadn't noticed as much in the earlier throes. I've never been that impressed with the cover of "Norwegian Wood," except as gesture—I'm an originalist on that particular song. But it's interesting, again as Christgau points out, how it has to be taken as a kind of moebius strip reclamation project "for the land of the sitar." Which, to be clear, and strictly speaking, is not the land of Cornershop's nearly last man standing chief singer / songwriter / guitarist Tjinder Singh. He's a British citizen, born in Wolverhampton (I can't speak to whether it was actually for the seventh time). So maybe it's curious then, or maybe no surprise at all, that my favorite track on recent visits has been "Good to Be on the Road Back Home," which I had assumed until this minute was a cover of a country classic but is actually a Singh original. Obviously, on some level, it is working in the shadow of Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" (and Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and others). It's a great song and a great production, but in many ways what makes it is the guest vocalist, Paula Frazer (straight outta alt-country San Francisco), who somehow elevates it to impossible heights. "Make way for a lady," as Singh introduces her. But make no mistake—the album is a heady, nearly dizzying pastiche of styles (in fact, there's not much more country). Let it play and they will come to you. Its real calling card is the song "Brimful of Asha," an ode to the 45 single, which became a #1 hit in the UK after Norman Cook (better known as Fatboy Slim) gave it a remix. It comes on with acoustic chords and rhythm courtesy of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," hunching and lurching with Singh's glottal Indian tones swallowing the mic, and working up to its grand sentiment: "Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow, everybody needs a bosom / Mine's on the 45." Fatboy Slim took it and revved up the tempo, decked it out with more electronica flourishes, and the rest is history. Either version is fine by me but I know the original on the album better. Lots of surprises on this one and still pretty good. Inspirational line (from "What Is Happening?"): "Turkey gravy."

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