In the course of pursuing an honest living engaged in my day job and ensuring there will be bread on the table of my nearest and dearest (checking that the answers to the Masterquiz questions which will appear in the paper a page along from the questions are the correct ones – can life get any more exciting?) I came across the fact that Wu-Tang Clan has released a new album of which only one copy has been pressed and whose sale will come on condition it will not be played in public for 88 years. Well!
‘Wu-Tang Clan, m’lud? Well, they’re a sort of kind of “hip-hop” combo. They produce music which, I’m informed, is popular with many of the younger generation, m’lud, especially those youngsters who like to think they are “street”, a bit like, if I might venture to attempt to guess what might have been m’lud’s taste in popular music when m’lud was rather younger than he is now, a kind of Beach Boys or Supertramp or Brotherhood Of Man or Stevie Wonder, but a more insistent beat and ghetto lyrics.
“Ghetto” m’lud? Well, it’s where many of the young men who appear in m’lud’s court come from. “Street”, m’lud? Well, from what I can gather from my son, it has to do with using a certain kind of modern slang and pretending you are black, although I understand Wu-Tang Clan are black, so they don’t have to pretend. Yes, of course, m’lud, there is perhaps more to it than that, but perhaps m’lud will forgive me that I am not as au fait with the notion as, say, my son is.’)
That question and answer intrigued me, but I must admit that although the name Wu-Tang Clan did ring a bell, I really wasn’t too sure who they were and initially confused them with Bombay Bicycle Club (of whom I know equally as little and, after googling them now know they have even less in common than with me.
My first reaction was some rich oil sheikh with more money than sense had made an offer that Wu-Tang Clan couldn’t refuse and had bought the album for a sum similar to what it might be expected eventually to make on condition that they didn’t release it to the public. Why? Well, I assumed, it was some kind of novel one-upmanship: when the sheikh and his fellow too-rich-to-be-sane pals got together in his penthouse apartment in London or Paris or New York and were vying with each other as to who was the richest fuckwit of them all, he could whip out Wu-Tang Clan’s latest – it’s called The Wu - Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, for what it’s worth, which isn’t a lot because you’re never going to hear it – as his trump card. Makes a certain kind of sense, doesn’t it?
Then I googled Wu-Tang Clan and found there website (here) and got the full story. Here’s an excerpt:
‘Wu-Tang’s aim is to use the album as a springboard for the reconsideration of music as art, hoping the approach will help restore it to a place alongside the great visual works – and create a shift in the music business, not to mention earn some cash in the process.’
The album will go on
tour in galleries, but those attending will be searched for illicit recording equipment and to further ensure that no recordings will be made, they will only be able to hear it on headphones.
Apparently, only one copy of the album has been pressed and this now sits in a custom-made ‘silver and nickel engraved box’ in a vault in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains.
The album’s main producer is someone called Tairk ‘Clivaringz’ Azzougarh (his quote marks, not mine), a chap – a rather pushy chap I would have thought according to the account on the website – who more or less wangled his way into producing the album, then wanted to come up with some novel way of ensuring it had as long a lifespan as possible. And that, m’lud, is, I suggest, the nub of it all.
Read the Wu-Tang Clan website blurb and it all makes a certain sense: any number of singers and dancers seem desperate to attain the – to my mind rather spurious – status of ‘artist’ and so, it would seem, do Wu-Tang Clan (. . . use the album as a springboard for the reconsideration of music as art, hoping the approach will help restore it to a place alongside the great visual works . . .). And good luck to them.
But then putting on my cynical hat – which, admittedly, I choose rarely to remove – it struck me: essentially this is just a novel piece of marketing schtick. I mean record label marketing departments the world over must be more than desperate for their label’s clients to stand out from 1,001 other wannabes hoping to launch a career, but there really are only so many tricks. I should imagine that bog roll and washing powder manufacturers are perpetually faced with the same dilemma. And what better way to announce: this is our new album but none of you’se is gonna hear it, bro.
Well, actually, they will, though having it ‘appear’ in art galleries and the like the world over would pretty much ensure that at least half of their fans won’t come along, and that they will, presumably, instead simply attract any number of arty-farty groupies just dying, darling, to brag that they got a ticket to the Tate’s presentation of Wu-Tang Clan’s latest.
There is just one flaw in the whole manoeuvre: so they tour the album in art galleries, then sell off the only copy to the highest bidder who is, apparently, contracted not to allow it to be played in public for 88 years. But isn’t the whole point of buying or downloading the music you like that you can play it again and again and again and again and again (rather like my daughter has played again and again and again and again and again Let It Go, the theme song from Frozen)? I know it’s what I did when I had bought a single or album I liked. You might argue that they’ve got their money so what the hell, but I wouldn’t: I think it is just one more marketing ploy with a rather fatal flaw.
. . .
After writing the above piece, I thought I might as well check out Wu-Tang Clan to see what all the fuss is about, and I have to report that I still don’t know what all the fuss is about. I should say that I am one of those poor saps for whom one hip-hop R&B track goes a very long way (rather like the blues, it has to be said), so perhaps I’m not one to judge. But the tracks I heard sounded rather cheesy and predictable. Sorry, lads.
As for this desire – call it an obsession if you like – to be regarded as ‘artists’ and what you produce as ‘art’, well, I don’t really get that, either. For one thing I am of the distinctly minority view that in the sense that most people talk of ‘art’ there is no such thing as ‘art’ – that ‘art has a moral purpose’, that ‘art has a social purpose’ etc ad nauseam (you probably watched the same TV programmes), well count me out. In this case it is probably quite apt to use the cliché ‘follow the money’ and take a close look at who exactly benefits from bigging up ‘art’: why gallery owners, curators, arts journalists and ‘experts’ of every stripe. And if some chappie appers on the gogglebox declaring that, say, what Gilbert & George produce is ‘art’ but that what Alma Tadema produce wasn’t (or at least is ‘bad art’), who are we to contradict. After all, he is ‘the expert’ and we are not.
Bring art back down to earth, I say, stop using is as some failsafe to gain spurious respect and/or pull the birds.