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Phony Beatlemania Biting the Dust

You can hear that music play,
any time of every day,
every rhythm, every way!

- The Kinks, "Denmark Street," Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One

One of the advantages of my current job as a local editor for The Onion's A.V. Club is I get so much crappy music in the mail. It's not the most opulent of fringe benefits, and it rarely actually helps me in my work, but I'm not complaining because you never know in just which ways crappy music has the power to entertain. For example, a few weeks ago I received a pair of sophomore albums from The Gurus and The Winnerys.

The press release header - a bar of yellow between two red stripes, as on the Spanish flag - read: "Rainbow Quartz (Records) presents TWO BANDS FROM SPAIN. But you wouldn't know it unless we told you . . . they sing in perfect English!"

They also achieve the stunning feat of borrowing from the Beatles (and the Kinks), the press release notes earnestly, inadvertently leading to a question much larger than the mere existence of two more slabs of trite-pop in the universe: Will phony Beatlemania ever really bite the dust?

The Gurus' and The Winnerys' emphasis on borrowing from the Beatles' mystical Revolver days, along with the albums' titles, The Swing Of Things and Daily Urban Times, suggest a kind of hip farsightedness while at once admitting that it's just stylistic gibberish. On the Daily Urban Times cover, the illustrated face of bassist Javier Polo (yeah, I want to kill him and steal his name, too) even seems to be gazing at me in detached, Lennonesque derision. Some of the lyrics credited to Polo follow suit. For instance, from "So Many People:"


So many people I heard crying oh my God!
As they all watched the wreckage of their world
Swimming under heavy flying mysteries
Hiding out from heavy dust

I ask myself: Did he fucking pay attention in English class? (The title of the group's first album at least suggests a familiarity with bad puns, so I'm a bit confused.) Or did he listen to a bunch of psychedelia records and figure, "It's all gibberish anyway; all I need to add is a specter of humanistic concern?" Then I figure out that Polo's a garden-variety 9/11-ist, sloppily appropriating the various emotions and politics therein, and it makes a little more sense, though it still has an impressionistic fuzziness that could be either sincere or just lazy.

Polo's also an Iraqist! Dig "No Longer White:"

How did you get to that throne?
Did you forget your best wishes at home?
Can't you hear all that roar?
Isn't so much pain enough?
Is this the job you can do 'fore you go?
Leave those Muslims alone!
Stop destroying our land drinking blood and tears
Swapping killings for oil is your vilest deal
Stop playing chess with the poor and the weak

It puts me in a militaristic mood. I say America should strike back by exporting me, my acoustic guitar (which I can barely play), my mostly forgotten Spanish, and all the combined musical glory that implies, to the most revered galleries of the Prado, the most Moorish edifices of Cordoba. That'll learn us to leave those Muslims alone! And isn't playing chess with the poor and the weak at least a way to provide them with a little company?

Want a measure of just how blatantly The Winnerys appropriate Beatlemania, their press materials aside? The first track on Daily Urban Times is called "Get Into My Life." Which implies they're taking the classic "Got To Get You Into My Life" and making it less interesting. For my money, the better tribute is Beatallica's truly inspired parody, "Got To Get You Trapped Under Ice."

winnerys_music.jpgYet The Winnerys' competence at creating '60s pop mockups almost obscures the fact that the listener is essentially being lectured in Pidgin. I tend to notice the music first because I've had so much experience with the latter on public transit. And this Pidgin slides under the radar, because it's been buffed free of the halting and trepidation that usually accompany a speaker's second language. "No Longer White" paves over its own lyrics with Rubber Soul/Revolver-inspired cheer. In spirit, I guess, it's probably meant to resemble the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing," a spiritual scolding that bubbles with George Harrison's giddy guitar hooks. Maybe Mr. Polo is telling us that he's ascended to a new plane of derivative hip by delivering a tirade without losing his pop-crafted cool. But ultimately I'm going to have to agree with the ever-sage Allmusic, which calls The Winnerys "the Castilian Rutles," a label that seems even more perfect once you've heard "My Daily Ray Of Sunshine:"

. . . You're my daily ray of sunshine
The daily ray of sunshine of my world

The trick is to tell yourself the tears are from laughter. Mine are. The chorus of the Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine" is shorter and somehow less dumb. Conciseness is key in English, Polo.

The Gurus seem to be the newer and more urban ones, and not just because their CD shows the band staring at a mysterious glow emanating from one member's crotch, and/or the center hole of the disc. The Gurus on this record can be found often mixing their best George Harrison impersonations with their best Beck impersonations, which I can sometimes enjoy without feeling like a twerp. And, unlike New Urban Times, it never makes me feel like I'm playing "name the Beatles song this song most resembles," aka "Pictionary in Hell." I wouldn't spend money on this album, but I will give the band the benefit of the doubt: They at least seem capable of evolving their sound, psychedelic dick jokes aside.

The Gurus' LP ends with a cover of "I Need You," one of the Kinks' many early throwaway singles. It's a song that was charming because it was so disposable; see Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One for background, not to mention "Lola," the Kinks single that kicks every other Kinks single's ass straight to hell. But of course, while The Gurus are doing all this bald imitation, they've got to try and sound like cheeky musical anthropologists. And their bass player, at least, is trying to look like one: Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see the video for "Good Morning," in which he plays a Paul McCartney-favored "violin"-body bass and even tries to make some of those goofy faces Paul makes when trying to make eye contact with the audience.

But what's really going to screw both of these bands? Their label and publicists. Don't expect me to be surprised at anyone from Western Europe who has a fair command of English. Especially not after hearing better bands like Sweden's The Hives (who I guess are just as derivative, but they used it in the interest of pure, tongue-in-cheek fun, just mowing people the hell over instead of clumsily coaxing them into listening) and France's Phoenix. National and linguistic boundaries don't really help us explain or appreciate rock music, and if you think they do, you're no better than the jerk who wouldn't stop yelling "CAAA-NA-DAAA!" between songs at that New Pornographers show I went to last year.

The Clash said phony Beatlemania was biting the dust in 1979. Nearly 30 years later, it's still biting it. Maybe one of these days it will finally be dead.

Scott Gordon works out of The Onion's Madison, Wisconsin office. His new blog is World's Biggest Corporation. His last piece for The Beachwood Reporter was "Da Vinci Code Blue." He also wrote the classic investigative piece, "The Declining Quality Of The AMC Channel."


Posted on September 12, 2006

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