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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reverse Cowboys

posted by on April 17 at 13:52 PM

Gnarls Barkley has released their album The Odd Couple for free on the internet. Only it’s called elpuoC ddO ehT and it’s the entire album compressed into one thirty-something minute-long track, played backward.

I’ve listened to it, and, honestly, I kind of love it. I had no idea that backwards music could be so soothing. I think it helps that Gnarls Barkley don’t use a lot of guitars in their music; guitars sound really grating when they’re played backwards. But the beats on this album make a soft sucking sound—as in the sound of suction and not the sound of badness—and it’s trance-y and mellow for the majority of the album.

Parts of songs sound like calliope music, and Danger Mouse clearly uses backward samples, because occasionally, there’ll be the sound of something—a bird song or a sound effect, say—that goes forward while everything else is going backward. Those work like freaky little signposts, to remind the listener that the album is not being played in the proper direction. It’s actually pretty easy to forget. The most vibrant song on the album is “nuR,” the reverse of the current single “Run.” It’s fast and jerky and it sounds like a schoolyard fight between two large armies of children. There don’t seem to be any calls for the listener to commit suicide or surrender their lives to Satan, which is a little disappointing.

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True story: When I was a kid, my Dad, a devout-but-not-moronic Christian, at the urging of a friend from church gave me a recording of a fundamentalist preacher named Marty Tinglehoff (no lie). Tinglehoff's specialty was analyzing the lyrics of popular music for subversive messages, with a side-light in warning of the perils of back-masking (as it was called in those days.) My Dad actually sat and listened to this guy's tape with me, and seemed as skeptical as I was about the backwards stuff. (He did aver that "Big Balls" was pretty crude, though.)

Listening to this had the exact opposite effect that Rev Tinglehoff was trying for, however, as it induced in me a lifetime obsession with lyrical double-meanings and subversive content, as well as sending me running to my turntable to reverse-spin every single album I could get my hands on that was purported to have backwards messages on it.

My conclusions? A: The bridge in Another One Bites the Dust may well be construed to say "It's fun to smoke marijuana" when played backwards. B:Hotel California really is about the Church of Satan, but only when played forwards. And C: The lyrics to Stairway to Heaven are equally incomprehensible no matter which direction you come at them from. Where concerned Christians hear "Here's to my sweet Satan" in Robert Plant's tortured backwards cries, I hear only "Echinacea!"

Now, of course, digital audio means you can perform these experiments without ruining your needle. It's a lot less fun, though.

Here's to my sweet Echinacea!

Posted by flamingbanjo | April 17, 2008 6:17 PM

I ♥ Reverse Cowgirl.

Posted by left coast | April 18, 2008 12:15 PM

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