While most (pretending to be) quite clever reviews start off with some seemingly irrelevant anecdote that is later revealed to be critically valuable to the entire point of the review, I find rotten meat enemas more enjoyable than such clichés in expositions on subjective aesthetics.
Instead, I will delineate my objectives and provide you with my completely magnificently designed rating protocol for each and every album I do. It’s one of a kind and under more protection than Tupac (I know he’s alive, secretive bastards!).
I plan to review (almost) all of John McLaughlin’s pro-f
ucking-lific discography in reverse chronology (latest release first -> then older and older releases for the less vocabulary enriched). At least, until a new album comes out (or my friends drag me to go around the Mediterranean in the yacht).
I will explain how I will arrive to my rating after I forcibly extricate an anecdote (ugh) out of thin air. You see, I have always been a fan of the exotic and foreign (probably explains why I have such an enormous egggo). If there was something I was a bigger fan of, however, it would be of the European
. I drive German, wear Swedish, cologne-ize Italian, and date French (this review is totally dedicated to Claire by the way).
Hell, up until 2004, the only Indian thing about me was my first name. My last name is more Anglo-Saxon than most of England. It wasn’t until I discovered musical bridges between the East and West (mostly thanks to the border-defying music of John McLaughlin) that I began recognizing (and reconciling) the many similarities and disparities in my artistic/cultural heritage and where I grew up (more on that below).
It is probably no wonder then that one of the greatest tragedies of the late 20th century was that I ended up languishing in the least exotic, foreign, and European possible place ever during my elementary and middle school years: a lower class suburb in New Jersey. Most of the white trash there didn’t know how to pronounce Giorgio Armani, let alone spell it.
It is from my elementary school yearbook (third grade to be exact), that I base the dataset for my highly praised and tremendously venerated rating formula. The dataset for this award winning formula is the names of my fellow classmates. They all had the most utterly generic American names ever. You couldn’t help but yawn if you ended up saying these names. If minivans were converted into phonemes, they would end up in my yearbook.
So, a dataset has been acquired…By now, I’m sure you’re asking all sorts of curious and impatient rubbish like “but what about the actual formula?" Yes, yes…I’m getting to that!
The formula can be found in the infamous Routh’s Final Assertions On The Behaviour Of The Universe & A Good Number Of Rather Important Things (otherwise referred to as RFAPOTLBOFTU&AGNORIT). Yes, I know it hasn’t been published yet and cannot be found anywhere. Yes, I know you checked all of the internets for it. Yes, the entire thing has proper capitalization. Don’t you dare type (or say) it with lowercases. DON’T YOU DARE.
One of the facets (arguably one of the most important…argued by whom? I don’t know) of the Postulate is this deliciously short yet incredibly elegant (and beautifully italicized) postulate:
The quality of any album, when given the proper dataset for comparative analysis, can be quantified as the ratio (or percentage when multiplied by 100) of exotic names in over the total number of names of musicians contributing to the album.
This formula is often referred to by geniuses and heads of state as the Routh Anthrosemantic Percentile/Ratio Approximation
So, there you have the formula (and a little piece of my epic biography). I told you it wouldn’t take too long!
Now, let’s move onto the actual album!
This is John McLaughlin’s first electric (and eclectic!) studio album in almost a decade (8-9 years for the exceedingly anal retentive). The last eclectric venture was called The Promise
and featured more jazz and rock titans than one could shake an enourmously sized stick at. It was an album that was like a “Cliff’s Notes" summary of many of the styles he had played in and friends he had met in the forty years he has been playing guitar. Blues, straight ahead jazz, jazz/rock fusion, Indian classical, flamenco…Much of the musical spectrum he had covered in his life was featured on this one Compact Disc.
So it’s quite understandable for fans to get rather excited (or appalled) when they had read interviews that talked about his next studio album being something completely different from anything he had done before. Also, he would be doing it with South Asian Underground musicians on board for the ride this time! Many thought that he would be working with the big names in the Underground such as multi-instrumental progressive futurist Karsh Kale, eclectic dance fusion producer Talvin Singh, or flamenco/jazz/Indian Classical fusing composer and guitarist Nitin Sawhney.
Well, Industrial Zen has finally been released.
Yes, it is different.
Yes, there are elements of electronic (dance) music. Don’t you dare call it electronica, Dan.
But Talvin, Nitin, and Karsh (who have all become extremely good friends with my MP3 and car CD player in the last six months) are nowhere to be found. Instead, we get some of the same musicians that were on The Promise
and a handful of new names like Indian classical vocalist extraordinaire Shankar Mahadevan (who is also currently touring with John in Remember Shakti) and blues/jazz guitarist supreme, Eric Johnson.
One thing is readily apparent: John definitely isn’t holding back when it came to the composition and arranging. Harmonically and melodically (and even tonally), it is much closer to the material of Allan Holdsworth (another massively famous and influential fusion guitarist from Yorkshire, who was also born around the same time as John as well!) than the more “easy listening" (relatively speaking anyway!) of Shakti or even the hard and heavy Mahavishnu Orchestra.
To put it very simply, this album needs to be listened to with the kind of care and diligence usually reserved for bomb defusal squads. To run with that analogy, Industrial Zen is more along the lines of a big bad intercontinental ballistic missile than some dinky Roman candle. You’re going to have to be attentive of every instrument and note being played over every chord. If at any time, you lose your grip, you will soon be probably lost, possibly angry, and definitely confused. If (and when) this happens, I suggest putting on some Brian Eno or Harold Budd immediately for maximum aural recovery.
But, if you do manage to hang on to the incredibly intricate composing/arranging, fearsome virtuosic improvisation, and the sonic assault of so many countless timbres and tones, it is definitely one of the most incredibly rewarding listening experiences out there. There was countless times where I was simply left astounded at what I was hearing and feeling. Not too many albums can do that for me.
Even though Industrial Zen
is much more like a bridge linking the acoustic/electric past and present to the electronic future and not the cold fusion powered quantum teleporter to God’s living room that many had imagined and hoped for, it still comes highly recommended.
Like much of McLaughlin’s discography, there quite simply isn’t anything else out there which is remotely similar. Highly Recommended.
Routh Anthrosemantic Percentile/Ratio Approximation:
Musicians (in no order):
1. Bill Evans = 0
2. Gary Husband = 0
3. Hadrien Feraud = 1
4. Mark Mondesir = 0.5
5. John McLaughlin = 0
6. Eric Johnson = 0
7. Vinnie Colauita = 0.5
8. Ada Aovatti = 0.5
9. Dennis Chambers = 0
10. Zakir Hussain = 1
11. Tony Grey = 0
12. Matthew Garrison = 0
13. Marcus Wippersberg = 0.5
14. Otmaro Auiz = 1
15. Shankar Mahadevan = 1
RAPRA (%) = (Exotic/Total) = (6/15) * 100 = 40%
40%…Not bad, John.
Not bad at all.