Sunday, February 2, 2014

Album Review: Tackhead – For The Love of Money (2014)

It’s been a long time coming but finally it’s here. Back in 2011, Tackhead released a dub version/cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Exodus’ with the promise that the track was a teaser for a new album – the band’s first studio album for more than two decades. Some early reports suggested the new album would see the light of day sometime in 2012, which then became 2013, then “late 2013”…

Finally, a couple of weeks into 2014, it’s here, and For The Love of Money doesn’t disappoint. Nearly a quarter of a century on from the group’s heyday, Tackhead is back, covering a diverse range of material from the likes of Stevie Wonder (‘Higher Ground’), David Bowie (‘I’m Afraid of Americans’), Lou Reed (‘Walk On The Wild Side’), and James Brown (‘Funky President’). There’s the O’Jays’ title track, Marley’s ‘Exodus’, a phenomenal re-working of the band’s own ‘Stealing’, and a whole lot more. If you pick up the extended 23-track version of the album, as opposed to the standard 15-track release, you’ll also get the funkiest Beatles cover you’re ever going to hear, plus a whole raft of alternative mixes of various tracks from a roll call of producers including Adrian Sherwood.
Tackhead has always been a strange beast and something of an acquired taste. Acquired, as in you had to go out there and discover the band’s music for yourself. It’s never been commercial radio fare, the collective has remained very much underground, and four studio albums across 30-odd years tells its own story. Formed from the core of the Sugarhill label’s original in-house studio band – bassist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Skip McDonald, and drummer Keith Le Blanc – Tackhead has often operated incognito or via another name (see Strange Parcels, Fats Comet, The Maffia) and has rarely been given the credit or wider profile it deserves.

It’s easy to forget that without these guys, Hip hop legends like Grandmaster Flash (at Sugarhill) or Afrika Bambaataa (at Tommy Boy) might never have altered the course of popular music as we knew it. Certainly it is difficult to see how ‘The Message’ or ‘White Lines’ could have been anything near the crossover successes they became had it not been for the contributions of Wimbish, McDonald, and Le Blanc. Throw in vocalist and long-time Rolling Stones session man, Bernard Fowler, and UK dub guru Sherwood, and you start to really appreciate the full range of talent and experience this band brings to the studio ... and to this album. 
There might be an argument that For The Love of Money is just another album of cover versions, but I think that partly misses the point. These aren’t just any old cover versions – they’re very specific classic tracks, carefully selected for their funk content, their political relevance, for what they mean to a very special group of musicians. Besides, in most cases the songs have been given complete makeovers. And if they’ve not been given a complete makeover then at the very least they’ve been brought right up to date.
‘Stealing’ – originally found on the Friendly as a Hand Grenade album – is a genuine stand-out on this, the cut-up corrupt preacher samples giving it an edge and a cynicism not fully realised or immediately obvious on the original. It’s a brief return to the industrial-strength Hip hop of yore, and a reminder that for Tackhead, technology works, technology delivers …
And nobody is safe when Tackhead take aim – political figures, bankers, the clergy and religion in general, the media  ... US foreign policy gets a fair old bashing. It’s sample heavy – a lot of Obama etc; it asks all the hard questions, it’s very politically savvy, it’s a form of modern day blues, whatever the hell that is anymore … but chances are you’ll be too busy being seduced by Wimbish basslines to really care one way or the other about the issues.

So no “new” material as such, but a lot of new Tackhead to get your ear-buds into ... and when a band is this professional, this good, this funky, well, there’s not much point trying to resist. If there’s a feeling that Tackhead has softened since that late Eighties peak, a notion that they’re much older and far more mellow in late middle age, then it comes only because this album feels far less “industrial” than a lot of earlier material. There’s less grind and riffage in McDonald’s signature guitar this time out, but the blues element remains strong, and the funk is never less than front and centre.

Sherwood is obviously a key man in terms of production, but from all accounts Le Blanc had a much bigger role on this. Dubvisionist features, while Gary Clail offers up a deft hand on James Brown’s ‘Funky President’.

I picked up the Dude label’s 23-track download on Juno, which gave me a whopping 107 minutes of listening pleasure ... but just go and buy it in whatever form you can. As first album purchases of the year go, this one’s as good as they get.

No comments:

Post a Comment