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Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence & Despair

REVIEW: Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence & Despair
2.16.2002 by Sean


The Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence & Despair [Bar/None Records, 2001]]

Two words? Kids rock!

Flipping from radio station to radio station, the average listener can't help but be bored by the consistently humdrum delivery of the typical radio single. Smash Mouth breaks into the bigtime with an enthusiastic, electric carnival of a song, and then follows up with a half-dozen by-the-book repeats. For every energetic breakthrough album (by, say, the Strokes), there are ten more top forty discs that might well have been recorded by sleeping musicians. What deepens the travesty is that the average music lover - you and I - adore good songs. We hear the classics we know note-for-note, and we bellow them along with the stereo. We stand up and dance. We embarass ourselves as 'El Scorcho' travels out of our Walkmen and into our feet. And then we hear those lucky punks who have managed to get paid to groove, and they're snoozin' through their recording sessions.

In classical music, in jazz, musical chops go a long way. When it comes to rock'n'roll however, enthusiasm is worth more than a tuned instrument. If you love what you're doing, someone's gonna love to hear you do it. It doesn't matter if you're Iggy Pop or Van Morrison, an 85 year-old bluesman, or a seven year-old kid from rural British Columbia.

In 1976 and 1977, Hans Fenger taught a group of sixty Canadian students to perform their favourite classic rock songs. Twenty-five years later, these choral recordings - touched with acoustic guitar, glockenspiel and raucous, jarring, utterly fantastic cymbals - have been rereleased and lapped up by the world's music lovers. There is something delightful and resoundingly life-affirming about hearing these kids jangle their way through the Beach Boys' "Sweet Caroline", or Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon". Their delivery is so distant from the conventional pop machine, so separate and so ambivalent. The album starts hesitatingly, with weak voices and little that really appeals. Once the jingle-bells begin, however, "Venus and Mars/Rock Show" becomes emblematic of Innocence & Despair's prime strength - the kids simply sound like they are having so much fun. There's a delicious novelty to hearing familiar tunes like "Good Vibrations" interpreted by what amounts to an elementary school choir, but beyond that, it's impossible to listen without a smile on your face, without remembering what it is that makes you listen to music in the first place. Although the wobbly soloes that make up "Desperado" and "The Long and Winding Road" are a little grating in their sappiness, the amazing energy of tracks like "Sweet Caroline" or the epic, adventurous "Space Oddity" (yes, a David Bowie cover) more than make up for the little misstep. On the whole, this album is both a surreal wonder, and a truly enjoyable musical collection. The slightly desynchronized rhythms are endearing rather than painful, the too-loud cymbals make me (and friends) laugh every time, and otherwise ho-hum lyrics ("God only knows what I feel without you") become invested with the empassioned earnesty of children.

If you love music, you will love Innocence & Despair.




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