The great theme of William Gibson’s two trilogies is – after the worst happens, after things collapse, what do you do next?
If you’re a Gibson character, you hack. You improvise. You make. Duct tape and fiber optics and forgotten DaVinci notebooks. Too many people wasted time with the trappings of cyber-punk, when Gibson’s point all along was to work with what you have to hand, and build something wonderful from it – like a home, a community, a way to go forward.
It’s Europe after the war.
It’s a seriously optimistic view, one which comforts me after the slow burning disaster of 9/11 and everything after – and like a lot of people, I’m attracted to artists who give off that sense of having picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and are sorting through the wreckage, looking for bright, shiny broken things they can put to their own ends.
This is the zone post-punks like Pere Ubu and Mission of Burma worked effectively 30 years ago. There was less at stake, though we didn’t know it. From the perspective of the early 21st century, the music from back then seems like a rehearsal or a premonition.
Pat Metheny and Peter Gabriel both aim for that world with their new albums.
‘Orchestrion’ is Metheny with a robot orchestra, all manner of drums and vibes and pianos and such triggered by Metheny, using special software and controls.
It should be a triumph. It should be clacking and clanging and garbage can drums, doodads and gizmos, with Metheny playing against the noise of the machines, barely controlling them.
Instead, it sounds like a…Pat Metheny album. The robots pretty much imitate his band, and it all just flows. Metheny’s a talented guy, and one suspects he got what he wanted from the experiment, but there’s a fatal lack of tension here.
(Edit – I could rightly be chastised here for wanting the artist to do what I want, not what he wants. Fair enough – but I still don’t think the music ever moves out of Metheny’s comfort zone, in which case, what’s the point?)
Peter Gabriel, on the other hand, has put together something (title: ‘Scratch My Back’) of music fragments, recovered from the rubble. It’s other peoples’ songs, with piano and strings and very slow, tentative reads, as if only parts of the scores could be found – and no clue about the original context. It’s mood music for sure, the kInd of music that almost requires you to use words like ‘bleak’ and ‘elegy’ but it’s not, really; I think it’s the sound of a man salvaging what he can from a very bad decade.
There’s also a fair amount of emoting, in an awful, Sting-like way that will put people off and divide listeners. With this album Gabriel joins Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland as the kind of artist people either love or loathe deeply.