1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear – Soldier, Komar & Melamid

1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#89: Soldier, Komar & Melamid – The People’s Choice Music (1997)

MATT KELLY is aghast and amazed at one of the amazing and annoying records in the history of recorded music.

In the 1990s, clown princes of Russian performance art Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid (located in the States since the ’70s due to authorities at home not being the biggest fans of their satire) began a series of works called People’s Choice where they parodied democratic values by applying them to art. Leading artists in 11 countries were commissioned to create portraits which had to strictly adhere to poll results taken on what the populace wanted to see in paintings. They soon repeated the same project with music, teaming up with musical scientist Dave Soldier, lyricist Nina Mankin and soprano vocalist Dina Emerson to help them realize their vision.

 

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Polling over 500 people on what they did and didn’t want to hear in music, they produced ‘The Most Wanted Song’. The result was a syrupy love ballad with a cheesy sax and overwrought vocals of romantic desire with poor electronic drums and a big synth finish which is rather on point as a facetious snapshot of popular tastes though it seems to capture the 1980s more than it does 1997.
But it is this song’s dark counterpart we are here to discuss. For you see, pranksters as they were, Komar and Melamid spent most of their time creating ‘The Most Wanted Song’s’ nightmare twin. They took all the data about styles/instruments/themes people did *not* want to hear and tasked their team with using it to make ‘The Most Unwanted Song’, a gauntlet of aural irritation. Soldier, Emerson and Mankin set about making the most annoying track ever devised with gusto, resulting in a 20-minute monstrosity.

It’s all here. Country and Western. Tuba solos. Accordions. Unhinged opera singing. Out of touch hip hop. Religious messages. A tuneless children’s choir. Keyboard preset instrumentation. Elevator music. Banjo picking. Holiday songs. Intellectual lyrics. The national anthem. Bagpipes. New age. Advertising for Walmart. Free improvisation. Screaming. Strident political messages blaming you for the world’s ills. A cheesy message of unity at the end. And yes, an unhinged opera singer rapping about Wittgenstein over a tuba-laced beat while a harpist goes nuts in the background before a pìobaireachd jam session.

Because with masterful trollishness, the track gives you each of these things one by one in a water torture-like procession and then starts to SLAM THEM ALL TOGETHER. It’s a deliberate, fascinating, thrilling and funny exercise at times akin to Trout Mask Replica as a group of musicians who know full well what they are doing toy with the refinement of the unlistenable.

Emerson deserves top marks for giving the song her all, gamely rapping away and screeching her heart out, but my favourite has to be the group of kids who were ushered into the studio and let loose to squawk their way through intentionally carelessly written holiday jingles such as

“Ramadan! Ramadan!
Lots of praying with no breakfast!
Ramadan! So much fun!
Do all your shopping at Walmart!”

while that damn tuba continues to parp away over the cheapest dance beat you can imagine. Then Emerson sings the National Anthem in the background at the same time. Another layer of genius is added in how things keep returning. You might get through the first opera rap or children’s section and wipe the sweat from your brow, glad to have that behind you only for these motifs to rear their heads again and again as the various musical vehicles constituting this sonic traffic jam begin to collide and pile up.

Music listeners with a taste for the ridiculous and a perverse sense of humour are sure to find this a treat. ‘The Most Unwanted Song’ may be what they want the most.

 

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Matthew Kelly is the most important person in the music industry – the type of obsessive nerd without whom it would have no reason to produce box sets and nine-hour long documentaries.

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