Summer is out of control

In some circles, "derivative" is just about the worst insult you can hurl at a band. Usually, it means that "this band vaguely resembles another band that is very close to my heart, and this infringement requires that I respond with the utmost invective in order to prop up the artificial sense of singularity I've erected around said band." Or something to that effect. I never thought that Interpol, for instance, actually sounded that much like Joy Division -- but people who did and rejected Interpol on those grounds just perplexed me. Especially in cases where the cherished band is defunct, with no chance of ever releasing any more music, wouldn't you be stoked for a new band to carry on that legacy and make more music resembling the music you love?

Ratatat's sui generis transduction of stadium rock to neon-tinted electro-hop is difficult to perceive as derivative. Nevertheless, their upcoming sophomore LP, Classics, finds them ripping off themselves. I'm not talking about just continuing down the path they'd already established. I'm talking about "Lex", which is basically a bald-faced reshuffling of the formula that made "Seventeen Years" from their first album such an insane banger. Wailing, heavily processed guitars pinwheeling over rigid drums? Check. Splashy/fluttery percussive embellishments? Uh-huh. Fat, buzzed-out bass whooshes? Yup. Concise, toothy breakdowns, and mellow atmospheric sections to contrast the overarching stomp? Check check. The similarities are remarkable, and cynics will gripe, but I couldn't be more stoked about it. Having listened to "Seventeen Years" hundreds of times, I'm grateful for "Seventeen Years" redux. Just because all rollercoasters are inherently similar doesn't dull the thrill of riding more than one, right?

One, surprising about the Public Enemy single which kicks off this post is the two-note riff that kicks in after a minute or so - the one nicked from Buffalo Springfield's two-chord insta-anthem, "For What It's Worth." It's a strange callback, given that "Give it Up" was PE's least political single to date. But there's that riff again, four years later, on the last PE single to be listed in my copy of Joel Witburn's Top R&B; Singles 1942-1999, which is also PE's contribution to the soundtrack of Spike Lee's ho-hum b-ball flick, He Got Game. This time, Stephen Stills himself puts in an appearance, but sounds like a latter-day Harmonica Frank Floyd. And, alas, Chuck D is atypically off his game:

Indeed. Still, the production's nice, and the collaboration's right up there with Bob Dylan & Kurtis Blow's. Incidentally, in the course of assembling this post, I stumbled across an Otis Redding recording which, I convinced myself, was the original source of that self-same riff:

There would have been a nice symmetry about it - Stills stealing a Steve Cropper riff which, three decades later, ends up back on the R&B; charts. But no, "Pounds and Hundreds" wasn't issued until 1992; if anything, it seems that Cropper's copping from Stills, and not the other way around. It's like Greil Marcus said, in a slightly different context: "What does Huck owe Jim, especially when Jim is really Huck in blackface and everyone smells loot?"

Or, actually, as is so often the case, it's not like that at all.