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Haiti relief good for Haiti, bad for ears
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Music review

Haiti relief good for Haiti, bad for ears

Haiti relief remake gets SNL spoof; Shane MacGowan & friends release UK single

  • Shane MacGowan
    Courtesy artist websiteShane MacGowan

Like the best laid schemes of mice and men, hipsters and hangers-on have decided to unite to help the earthquake victims in Haiti.

In an era dominated by giant, profit-driven megacorporations producing approximately 35.6% of their total musical output in songs about clubbing, the urgency of the circumstances in Haiti got Usher and Pink et alia to sing something else. And lo! A remake of supergroup USA for Africa's "We Are the World," originally written and recorded by Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, was born.

And this weekend brings another Haiti relief single, and an arty UK effort at that. Shane MacGowan has gathered a bunch of UK-based hipsters like Nick Cave, Mick Jones and Johnny Depp to join him in a rendition of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' classic "I Put a Spell On You." This too is a good thing, right?

Yes and no. While the updates in technology since George Harrison's Bangladesh concert and Live Aid have generated a lot of money from a generation largely making their first charitable contribution by using their iPhone, the projects themselves are not exactly musical masterpieces.

"We Are the World" part deux has been excoriated by critics and laughed at in dorm rooms all over America, so I will spare the long commentary and offer that from the creepy ghost-MJ being sampled and doubled by sister Janet to the entrance of Lil' Wayne and Autotune at the 5 minute mark and beyond into sheer mashup chaos, the whole thing is a laugh riot.

Really, the Saturday Night Live parody was unnecessary. The SNL cast does a nice sendup of the fame whoring that was "We Are the World," but having Barbara Streisand and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls sing in the same bar is a much better punchline.

The second "We Are the World" suffers from its own peacocking about its history. The video is prefaced by self-important celebrity, who is followed by second self-important celebrity, and then the song passes the self-important stick around a studio full of pop icons. The ghost of Michael Jackson is inserted without irony. The actual cause seems much more removed here in the occasional clip than did the Ethiopian famine in the original. What's much, much more important is the pantomime of compassion and concern by J-Hud and Josh Groban and the rest.

The perfect antidote to this well-intentioned unpleasantness would seem to be MacGowan, formerly of The Pogues, calling up a bunch of thoughtful indie colleagues to record "I Put a Spell On You" to benefit Concern Worldwide. Within the UK, you can use a text code to order the single for £1.50 (about 3 dollars). Americans will be able to order the single through a website.

This is all wonderful news for Haiti, and wonderful news for humanity. It is not, however, good news for fans of the music of MacGowan himself, Nick Cave, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Mick Jones (The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite), Caitlin O’Riordan (The Pogues), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), or even UK starlets Paloma Faith and Eliza Doolittle.

This feels like a novelty single, like an inside joke between friends that only sounds good in that context, like a "you had to be there" sort of thing. Verses are traded as each takes his or her turn at attempting to ape Hawkins' swaggering vocal. All fail miserably, with the possible exception of Hynde. The punchline is that Johnny Depp plays lead guitar.

Recent YouTube user comments include "I have done my bit and ordered the single but when it comes i'll bin it cos it's bloody awful," and "oh i love johnny depp his the only reason im watching this vdeo! [sic]" I'll side with the first; while I will order the thing, I have no particular desire to hear it again despite my love for the bulk of the catalog of several of these artists.

"I Put a Spell On You" is the aesthetic polar opposite of the "We Are the World" remake. Reverence and earnestness are right out. Its link to the Haiti tragedy is, it would seem, completely tangential, soused thinking by crazy genius McGowan, who claims he sees the song as a modern day "hymn of hope and love." Either that, or it's a bit of a piss-take and a taste risk to use a voodoo themed song to raise money for Haiti. It's like the kind of politically incorrect joke you would tell at a party but not at work.

How can we reconcile our ears to this racket? I recommend some actual Haitian music, some Boukman Eksperyans or a nice merengue, and perhaps a nice donation to Doctors Without Borders. They are on the ground in Chile.

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