The Chinese Album confounds categories of good and bad.
sure it's a bad album, for instance, but, like John Lydon's
Path, it's laughably bad; i.e., a bad album that gives me
just can't help but guffaw at every dorky misplaced element that
the sophisticated air of mystery/genius often associated with great
(Hey, it's better than falling asleep.)
Now if you're someone who found Spacehog all sophisticated and
in the first place just because they looped Penguin Cafe
"Telephone and Rubber Band," then you probably should be told
Chinese Album is a "rock opera," stuffed to the rafters with
proper nouns that are a silly trademark of the genre, and which
Simpsons make fun of every time they do one of their sardonic
theater parodies. Dramatis personae are as follows: Violet Race,
John, Lucy, Mr. Big, Captain Freeman and a guy made
"Anonymous" by modern
living who has a "one-inch cock" in the libretto even though singer
Langdon chickens out and sings "one-inch thought" instead.
Mungo City, the Isle of Capri and 2nd Avenue. And you can take a
the Skylark, which I think is an airplane. Each song is a cliched
point on the dramatic curve, my favorite being the "Step right up!"
which in this opus is the song about the Skylark (you can't have a
opera without a "Step right up!" song).
In the great tradition of rock operas, the story makes about as
as David Lynch's "Lost Highway," which is tragic indeed because,
Lynch, Spacehog are trying to make sense out of all this mess.
attempt, in case you care: I think it's about a girl who gets raped by
father and runs away to the big city. Then already I get confused,
believe she manages to become enamored with the protagonist
(?), despite how
existentially evil those city dwellers can be. Soon, though, the girl
in with a nouveau riche
crowd and opts for a superficial life of glitz and glamour. The
is left, smug and alone, at the end. So it's an anti-
modernist/anti-technology/big-city parable that, for my buck, is
fun than OK Computer. And no, I have absolutely no idea
Chinese about the album.
Because miracles do happen, Spacehog could have parlayed this
something that would top critics' polls in '98 -- if only these hogs
so plum spaced out of it, pigging out on a sound that places them
hopelessly behind the times. Supposedly this was to be the album
the band eased up a bit on the '70s nostalgia. Despite some
effects and moody ambient strings, it's clear that these guys are
an eight-track flashback. Langdon's voice fuses Donald Fagen,
devoid of the
irony (oh, definitely devoid of the irony) with David Bowie gravitas.
Indeed, glam is the most consistent reference point ("Captain
very "Suffragette City," yet it's also the Queen-iest moment),
"Goodbye Violet Race" recalls the pomp of my beloved Sweet (it's
to be told that Langdon has a role in Todd Haynes' forthcoming
"The Velvet Goldmine").
But the boys aren't just sittin' pretty on their glam laurels. On
they trade in the feather foppery for some newsie knickers and do
Gilbert O'Sullivan shuffle. Then, back to Fagen for a moment, they
Steely Dan attempting one of Paul McCartney's precious post-
playlets in "Lucy's Shoe." I'd trace the vocoder in "Mungo City"
Afrika Bambaataa if I had never heard of ELO. And, geez, even
Seals & Croft
get fair spin on "Almond Kisses."