The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

February 22, 2006

Why oh why

So this thing begins with some tape background noise. Then there's a disaffected drummer churning out a Yanni-type pseudo-bossa nova beat, and immediately some kind of bleeping organ sets in, like those small Casios they had in the early 1980s, only it can't be because this was recorded about ten years earlier.

And then, a few beats later, a trumpet player appears in the right speaker, while the drummer and the Casio continue on the left, and it's obvious that this man can't play. At all. The song is only 2:38 minutes long, but he is struggling to get a straight tone out of his instrument every time he blows into it.

And the next song offers no particular relief. The Casio bleeps along again, and the trumpet player still hasn't learned how to play. At least on the third song, the trumpet is at some point drowned by a heavy-handed Hammond organ that was mixed on top of it, presumably because some sound engineer decided that no listener should have to endure this abysmal playing.

And you are asking yourself: "Why, oh why did they record this? And how could this ever end up in record stores? And what on earth were they thinking?"

It turns out that the bad Chet Baker record that I mentioned last week is really pretty bad. In fact, it completely redefines how the term "bad" can be applied to music recordings.

The story goes that the comedian Steve Allen was a big fan of Baker and let him appear on his TV show several times in the late 1960s when Baker was in pretty poor shape because he had lost his teeth and couldn't play the trumpet properly any longer as a consequence of this.

At some point Baker asked Allen for $5000, and Allen said he would give him the money, but he wanted Baker to make a record for it. And so they recorded Albert's House, a record of tunes composed by Allen, which Baker fans have since been referring to as "Albert's House of Pain".

What's so weird about this record is the acute sense of unintentional (or perhaps intentional?) irony about it. The liner notes call this "a welcome collection of warm new melodies" and say that there "is a quality in Baker's tone that is unmistakeable". Well, yes. The song "A Man Who Used to Be" is referred to as "a haunting waltz ... which may one day become a standard". Which is even true if you take "haunting" very, very literally. There is a reason why this hasn't become a standard.

Picking A Man Who Used to Be as the title for the reissue is ironic again considering Baker's biography up to that point, and issuing this rather hard-to-stomach record in the "Tasty Jazz" series seems pretty daring. Especially considering that it comes in a pseudo-luxury slipcase and is apparently a "24-bit high definition remaster". Considering the piss-poor sound quality of the original I'm not sure if it wouldn't have been preferable to do a low-definition remaster instead.

I don't think I have even one other record that is quite as bad as this one. There are records that are bad simply because they are totally average, or totally boring. This one, however, is an unique blend of incompetence and irony that alternatingly makes you wince in pain and laugh in sheer disbelief.

I'm not going to listen to it very often, but somehow it was worth spending €6.99 just to see how bad a record can actually be.

Posted by Horst on February 22, 2006 10:18 PM to reviews | Tell-a-friend

dieter said on February 27, 2006 12:07 AM:

So, you did buy that rubbish, after all. Knew you wouldn't be able to resist. ;-)

Horst said on March 1, 2006 11:43 AM:

Actually, I wouldn't call it "rubbish". It's more of an interesting, if somewhat outlandish, experience.

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