Adventures of a University Finalist

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The King of Ze Swingers


Kid Creole and the Coconuts - Off the Coast of Me (Universal Island, 2002)

Kid Creole and the Coconuts - Mister Softee
Kid Creole and the Coconuts - Darrio
Kid Creole and the Coconuts - There But For the Grace of God Go I (12" Mix)
Kid Creole and the Coconuts - He's Not Such A Bad Guy After All (12" Mix)

These songs are strong competition for the grand prize of being the greatest demos masquerading as an album to ever be committed to vinyl. The debut album of the maverick Kid Creole, leader of the Michael Zilhka's rag tag band of troops representing the New York label, Ze Records, is a magnificent effort despite the fact that I've only included two tracks off the original cut. The other two, "There But For the Grace of God Go I" and "He's Not Such a Bad Guy After All" would later become disco classics when they became big hits for Machine in 1979.
Although I am normally loath to quote over writers, whilst brushing up on my knowledge of Machine, I found that Allmusic described "There But For the Grace of God Go I" as every bit as compelling as "Inner City Blues", "Freddie's Dead", and "The Message". Now that's a compliment if ever there was one. Not that you'd think of those songs for a millisecond if you listened to the Kid's original arrangment. With its subdued piano led tropical shuffle and the Coconuts, the Kid's three valkyrie backing singers, uttering comical faux-Mexican "ay yay yays" it is essentially a very light confection. This instantly shows the touch of a the Kid's status as a musical idiot savant as he seeks to mirror a playful musical side with a gritty narrative giving the song a fascinating chimera quality. Machine may have given the song structure a more claustrophobic groove but it keeps that brilliant chorus that compromises simply of the song's title chanted in a sharp Brooklyn drawl before speeding into a collision with an exasperated set of howls and crooked curses. The man even has the temerity to litter the song's instrumental guitar workout with the whistles of traffic cops and his own shout of "You're at the top of the heap/the top of the pile/the top of the low" before the song's lyrical fable ends in tragedy. In a song that at first sounded so buoyant the hum of the steel drum suddenly turns ghostly and sick. A trick has been played on the listener and this time there's no-one to comfort you with the knowledge as to how the magician pulled the proverbial wool over your eyes.
If ever you wonder why the August Darnell, the Kid's real life alter ego, gave the Coconuts equal billing with himself when they're just a glorified set of backing vocalists then you must be crazy as in every single song they shine like Tiffanys diamonds. Their greatest moment, for me, would come later on the third breakthrough album, 'Tropical Gangsters' with their caffeine drenched chatter of "Onomatopeia" throughout the band's biggest hit, "Annie I'm Not Your Daddy" but they were also given lead duties on the other Machine prototype, "He's Not Such A Bad Guy After All". Any song that begins with handclaps is always going to be something rather special but this B-Side (!!) with its spoken word introduction of "Sure he's a bad guy/but he's good bad" really delivers on its promise. It's full of funk guitar, programmed drum machines, and drawled Betty Boo vocals that attempt to smother the message of a woman forgiving her partner's domestic abuse out of dependence and naivety. It should be as harrowing as "There But For..." but this time it's all so frothy in complexion that you're giggling rather than crying. The bridge, with it's chants "I give him what he wants" supplements by ecstatic moans, doesn't help stopping the corners of the mouth from slowly upturning either. It's a classic case of the tease quickly followed by put down that leaves you exhilirated but a bit dirty at the same time.
As good as those two tracks are, the opener of the album, "Mister Softee", is a novelty that always leaves me laughing and reaching for the 'repeat' button on the stereo. It begins with a milky white Coconut sigh of "You're no good for me" leaving the piano to gambol happily along accompanied by some subdued horns toward Kid Creole who has a feather in his hat, crocodile shoes on his feet and rubber in his hand. Darnell is summed up perfectly as a musical entity when you think that Bambiesque atmosphere is crushed by his first words of "I've got a funny feeling, baby/ that tonight you want to sleep with me". This whirlwind won't even be stopped by the others attempting to restrain him with their pleas for him not to elaborate; to push for answers that no man wants to hear. From then it's all knowing double entendres about his own sexual prowess hinting at both erectile dysfunction (the title of the song for goodness sake!) and the size of his member ("Don't you make an issue over something that's as small as this"). It's all rather dreamlike with the Coconuts' insults framed by this wonderful synth effect giving them the impression of imagined slurs raging through Darnell's sexually fevered mind. By the end, he's on his knees and the listener's rolling in the aisles. As a result, listening to any of the Kid Creole albums are an exhausting affair with you either being left quietened by his hidden socio-political agenda, dry heaving from sheer mirth, or exasperated at how he manages to do it at all. He'd come off the rails later with his entry into the purgatory that comes from a life of self-parody but he should always be for this: his first steps into the New York underground music scene in his own gaudy fashion.

Buy - Kid Creole and the Coconuts - Off the Coast of Me
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