SILLY WILLY ON MILLI VANILLI
By Wil Forbis
A couple of years ago when that whole Milli Vanilli debacle was going on, I had a rather heated argument with a friend of mine. It centered around the fact that I like the Vanilli's song "Girl, You Know It's True". I wasn't saying it was a great Bach oratorio, I just thought it had a catchy melody and a snappy beat. My "friend" (as if anyone who disagrees with me could actually be my friend) had managed to resist Vanilli's charms. Since the group had just been exposed as frauds and were about as popular as llama saliva, he had the force of popular opinion on his side. Please note, I wasn't saying I liked Milli Vanilli themselves, just one of their songs. It is the fact that I can separate an artist from their artwork that allows me to continue to enjoy the music of Guns 'n' Roses and the paintings of Adolph Hitler. My imbecillic chum refused to see my point but we finally settled things by agreeing that while he probably dislike the Millis because it was the popular thing to do, I probably liked them because it was the unpopular thing to do. Then I killed him.
I've been harking back to the Vanilli controversy recently, and kind of giving it a mental review. The whole scandal, if you recall, really caused quite a stir and altered the face of the music business. America had been dancing along with these two sinewy Lenny Kravitz clones, when it came out that they had nothing to do with the album. The real singers were two fat, bald guys who had the sex appeal of a dead German shepherd. The music business had pulled another fast one on the upstanding youth of America (not to mention those idiots at the Grammys) and we all felt a little used and degraded. I, personally, have to be paid if I'm going to feel that way.
When you think about, the whole Milli scandal probably did a lot to hasten the demise of corporate rock and give rise to the independent companies. Integrity began to play a far more important role at how we looked at musicians. Were artists playing their own instruments? Were they writing their own lyrics. Was an album a product of a band's vision, or a sly marketing scheme by those overpaid, morally deficient L.A. producers? These questions determined the fate of many an upcoming band in the early nineties (Soundgarden passed, The Lynch Mob failed.)
The Vanillis were a perfect example of Hollywood dressing up a band for success. They got two good looking boys, had them lip-synch along with actual vocalists backed up by a seasoned studio band, and viola! A hit album. However, as much as we may think we've left that behind I think studios still dress up bands to make the ready for mass consumption. Recently I've been paying attention to a lot of the bands that perform on Saturday Night Live (Hole, Pearl Jam, Faith No More...) ang I've noticed one thing: They suck. Well, maybe they don't exactly suck, but they sound nothing like their albums. Big sounding walls of noise seemed to be replaced with unsyncopated grooves and out of control feedback. (The only band that did sound anything like their album on SNL was the Spin Doctors. The only problem I have with them is their singer looks like an old roommate of mine who ran up a 300$ dollar phone bill and has yet to pay it back. I hereby encourage any of' my readers who come across anypne resembling the singer from the Spin Doctors to beat him over the head with a two by four while yelling "This is from Wil Forbis, you two faced bastard!" If you get the right guy I'll send you your bail money. If you accidentally get the guy from the Spin Doctors tell him I said "Hi." )'
Now I know it's a very popular thing with musicians right now to not know how to play (or tune) your instrument. I understand this is a symbolic "Fuck you," to the mainstream. But I figure, if you're gonna suck live, you ought to suck on your record. At least be consistent. I'm pretty sure that is Hole playing on those Hole albums and Pearl Jam playing on "Vitalogy," but why do the albums sound so much better? Technology is the answer. A variety of expensive doohickeys and whatchamacallits can improve vocals and guitar playing so that even a bunch of monkeys would sound good. (Y'know, I say that as a joke, but I think that's actually a pretty neat idea. An actual band of monkeys. Just give 'em some instruments, stick 'em in a studio and let 'em loose. I bet it'd sound like early Nazareth.)
Now, I'm not exactly sure what I'm saying here. I'm certainly not insinuating that a band is cheating to use effects or overdubs in the studio. I'd say they're just making the most of the studio situation (though a lot of people, including Steve Albini, would disagree with me.) To be honest, I don't give a Satan about the ethics of music. If I found out tomorrow that all those Hole songs were sung by two bald, fat guys it wouldn't bother me a bit. If anything, this whole article is just a bunch of incoherent rambling.
While writing this, I was listening to the first White Lion album. I think the song "Wait" is pretty.
If you want a more coherent and thought out analysis of the Milli Vanilli situation, I strongly recomend this piece.
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