Elektra’s 40th Anniversary – Plunderphonics (1991 Elektra promo EP)
This is one of the weirdest CDs I have ever run across. Remember in 1990, when Elektra did that anniversary CD called Rubáiyát that featured Elektra’s new bands covering Elektra’s old bands? It was the first release of Metallica’s “Stone Cold Crazy” and the first time anyone heard a hint of what Metallica were up to in the studio after Justice. This promotional EP is a companion piece to Rubáiyát.
So what’s this EP? A “plunderphonic” is like a remix. The big difference is, they use only finished recordings, no multi-track master tapes. No going back to strip a vocal out of a song, no fiddling. Only actual snips of complete songs are used. A “new” piece is creating by chopping up and rearranging bits from other previously recorded pieces. Therefore, anybody can make their own plunderphonic using readily available songs. The man who invented the term, John Oswald, did the “plunderphonics” for this very rare promotional EP. His lightning-fast edits keeps things surprising.
The main attraction here, and the reason I own the CD, is a piece called “2 Net” by Metallica. I bet you never heard of that one, let alone heard the piece! It is a 1:21 mash-up of “Stone Cold Crazy” with a bunch of bits and bobs from …And Justice For All, and it’s as weird as that sounds. It’s a blur, almost incomprehensible. Fitting the thrash giants’ riffs into 1:21 will tend to have that effect. Building a composition out of Hetfield barks and Ulrich snares is fun as it sounds, even though it’s over before you can figure out what’s going on. Oswald mixed in some of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” vocal for some melody. Crazy!
The most interesting track is the most unlikely: A cross between Carly Simon’s and Faster Pussycat’s “You’re So Vain”. The end result, “Vane” makes the two into one. If you have ever wanted to hear Taime Downe and Carly Simon perform the song together, this is your chance. It’s incredible how well the two versions contrast, since Faster Pussycat is about as different from Carly Simon as anyone can imagine. It zips from Taime to Carly and back again, as they trade words almost seamlessly! Another successful track is The Doors’ “O’Hell”. This is (obviously) based on “Hello, I Love You”. Bits of other Doors songs provide more instrumentation and effects. Fans of Morrison will absolutely adore it and imagine their own plunderphonics to invent. The MC5 arrive with “Mother”, based off the Kick Out the Jams album. It’s a lot of shouting and screaming and it’s all good. For something soft, check out “Anon” by Tim Buckley. This is taken from Buckley’s “Anonymous Proposition”, made shorter and psychedelic.
It is very hard to describe the complexity of these tracks. There could be hundreds of individual edits per song, because there is so much going on. The Simon/Pussycat song is a great example of how this is more than just a gimmick. It’s art, and anybody can try to do one themselves. In fact, without knowing the name for it, I have heard many plunderphonics before, at our annual Sausagefest countdown. Tom and Uncle Meat are skilled at making them, but I have never heard anything like these five tracks before — ever. These are above and beyond anything I’ve heard in the field.
The liner notes indicate that five more plunderphonics were planned for this CD, but not included. “Recipes” for making your own are inside. It’s almost like five bonus tracks, but you have to make them yourself!
Rating this CD is difficult, and since it was never meant to be sold, almost pointless. However you can find reasonably priced copies on Discogs, so a rating is necessary. This CD is interesting. It’s good, but it’s not meant for listening for pleasure. It almost acts like caffeine to the brain. Every song has so much going on that you are constantly listening and trying to catch it all. It’s also short, so buy wisely.