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December 08, 1989 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-12-08
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Chapman explores
her limits in strong
second album

Going Underground
A native Londoner recalls the horrors of tube t

Tracy Chapman
Elektra Records
If it no longer shocks us that
young, gifted and Black Tracy
Chapman, the urban folksinger, is a
Top-40 artist, then give Tracy
Chapman all the credit.
Gimmick-less, unless you count
complete honesty in singing and
songwriting as a gimmick, her debut
album sold an astonishing 9.5 mil-,
lion copies. The ever-cynical critics
read out of that success the feeble
penance of the entire music industry,
feeling guilty for propagating the
same injustices against which
Chapman railed. Talk about screw-
ing up a good thing!
Theatime has come for the fol-
low-up album, Crossroads, and for
the critics to take their trumpets out,
polish them up, and start blowing
the sophomore slump tune. Fortu-
nately, Tracy Chapman's song re-
mains louder and stronger than their
pessimistic squall. Crossroads holds
its own as the song of personal
courage in the face of social obsta-
cles, carrying on in the difficult tra-
dition of Billie Holiday, Nina Si-
mone, and Joan Armatrading.
Crossroads gives us more of the
Tracy Chapman that we invited into
our homes last year. Chapman
makes us believe in her because she
is at once intimately vulnerable and
inspiringly brave. "I'm trying to

protect what I keep inside/ All the
reasons why I live my life," she
warns the hellhounds on her trail
during the title track. It might be
taken as the plea of a young woman
to her family to let her run her own
life, or as a stern message to the
showbiz types who no doubt tried to
Whitney-ize her over the past year.
But no concessions to pop formats
have been made, even as co-producer
David Kershenbaum fills out the
sound with keyboards, violin, and
accordion. Chapman, with her guitar
and vocals, is still the star.
Occasionally, even a star blinks.
Take the clangingly mixed meta-
phor, "All the bridges that you burn/
Come back one day to haunt you."
And "Material World," which takes
aim at the same easy target as the
debut's "Mountains 0' Things,"
reminds everyone that Chapman still
has a lat of growing to do.
But a sense of a young artist ex-
ploring her own limitations prevails,
and makes Crossroads the success
that it is. "Born to Fight," comple-
mented by Snookie Young's dix-
ieland trumpet, breaks some new
musical territory, while "All That
You Have Is Your Soul" gets closer
to saying the whole thing at once
than Chapman has ever come before.
Helped out by Neil Young's piano
and guitar, it uplifts the self to a
new plane of esteem that Whitney's
"The Greatest Love of All" only
mocked. U
-Mark Swartz

Tracy Chapman

By Sharon Grimberg
Downtown, the lights have gone
up. The annual month-long pre-
Christmas bombardment of yuletide
carols is upon us. The constant re-
minders that there are only seven-
teen-and-a-half more days in which
to buy great Aunt Ethel her woolly
socks/thermal vest have begun. And
it's the time of year when we should
think about going home.
Home for me is that bustling
metropolis across the Atlantic, the
hive of activity, home of Dickens,
KeynestheTate, the BritishMu-
seum, The Jam and the London Un-
In the past three years I have been
home only once, and once was al-
most enough. Within the space of
one hour, fifteen miles and a hope-
lessly unpracticed negotiation of the
Underground, I emerged at Kings
Cross jangled and convinced that rid-
ing on pick-up trucks in Papua New
Guinea was really a far more effi-
cient means of transport and proba-
bly much less dangerous.
Memories of drizzly Sunday
evenings flooded back. Evenings
when around 9:55, I would tear my-
self away from the telly, curse at
having to miss "Spitting Image",
and set off into the gloomy, muggy
night to buy my weekly travel pass.
All this because, as a hardened
tube traveller knows, it is a com-
plete nightmare trying to buy a pass
in the morning. In all likelihood,
some totally anti-social individual
will be absorbed in a lengthy trans-
action at the ticket office, involving
a check book, credit card or - quite
possibly- both. London Under-
ground's service is haphazard enough
without the unnecessary addition of a
frustratingly endless wait first thing
on a Monday morning. God only
knows if you will make it in before
London has a nighttime popula-
tion of about ten million people and
a daytime population of about 22
million. Given that some of these
people are very old, very young,
sick, unemployed, work unusual
hours, drive, take the bus, or forget
on occasion to go into work at all,
that still leaves a vast number who
make up the rush-hour tube- and
somehow they always seem to be
taking the same train as you.
Inevitably that means traveling to
work/school/home with your head

jammed into someone's armpit, your
face squashed against the window,
and numerous umbrellas gouging
out uncomfortable indentations in
your backside. And if you think the
overcrowding is bad in the summer,
just wait for the Christmas rush.
Every day thousands of grim
commuters pile out of the tubes at
Belsize Park, Camden Town, Chalk
Farm, Covent Garden, and other
popular stations. Unless you've
placed yourself strategically on the
train and have gotten your sprint
from the tube to the elevator door
down to a fine art, you could well
pass out from hunger or exhaustion
before you find yourself in the line
that will definitely lead to the next
ascending elevator.
Of course, you could attempt to
walk up the mammoth stairs that
lead to street level. If you happen to
be the type of person who runs up
volcanoes three times a week before
breakfast, this should pose no im-
mediate problem. For the rest of us,
though, whose last recollection of
physical activity was a hockey game
in the last year of high school, such
impetuosity would be sheer folly.
For years British Rail has been
admitting its past inadequacies and
working towards a brighter future

under the dubious slogan "We're
Getting There." Should the London
Underground lay claim to the same
achievement, I swear that there'd be
a commuter riot. To my certain
knowledge, there have been two mi-
nor mutinies on the Northern Line
as it is.
One of these occurred when weary
tube travellers discovered that the
stationary train they had patiently
been sitting on for twenty minutes
was not going to Golders Green as
they had been led to believe; it was
not in fact going anywhere at all.
When passengers were kindly re-
quested to disembark, passengers
kindly refused to do anything of the
sort. A battle of wills ensued. After
an hour of stubborn resistance a vic-
tory was won for commuter solidar-
ity. The train moved on.
Mile for mile, it is cheaper to fly
Concorde than ride the tube. A
weekly three zone pass, (this will
take you to the outskirts of London),
will cost the princely sum of fifteen
pounds and ninety pence. A one-stop
hop in the central zone lasting all of
two minutes will set you back fifty
pence. At a current exchange rate of
S1.65 to the pound, it's an expen-
sive way to put yourself through
daily misery.

Back in the early eighties in the
heyday of the Greater London Coun-
cil, (London's local government
body which was disbanded in 1986
by the Tory government), a large,
local government subsidy was
granted to London Transport which
would have made commuting in
London more affordable for the aver-
age London worker.
Within months, the High Court
had ruled the subsidy illegal, since it
was to be raised by increasing prop-
erty taxes within the Greater London
area. This, they concluded, would
have constituted a reallocation of
wealth from London dwellers to
those who commuted to London
from the suburbs.
For those of us who suffer from
an incurable dose of tubephobia, the
alternatives are grim. Traffic conges-
tion within the Greater London area
at almost anytime during the day is
horrendous. Average traffic speeds
have fallen to eight miles an hour,
which is what they were a hundred
years ago when those who could af-
ford it were hailing hansom cabs to
take them to work. Worse still are
the buses. If you can't breathe due to
overcrowding and insufficient oxy-
gen on the tube, at least the oxygen
you do manage to inhale will be free

Sans Clash, and rarely shouting, Strummer sells out
with the rest of them, and his new album shows it

far n
of tra
of ciga
that I
Ethel t
pair of
ping fo
sales ar

Joe Strummer
Earthquake Weather
Epic records
Lester Bangs - THE rock critic
of the seventies, best known for
declaring he would "suck Lou
Reed's cock" if given the chance -
loved the Clash. He loved that they
were "righteous," singing about the
right issues, the right way, with the
right conviction. He loved the way
they hung out with their fans after
the show and stayed in everyday
people hotels.
It's a good thing Lester's dead.
First Mick Jones, now leading the
techno-dance band Big Audio Dy-
namite, makes a hobby of com-
plaining about the way his manager
made the band stay in ratty hotels
where fans could walk right up to
them. Now Joe Strummer comes
out with Earthquake Weather.
You saw it in the record store,

right? There's Joe, once half of the
songwriting team that drove the
Clash to greatness, playing James
Dean again - cigarette hanging
from his lips, guitar at his hip,
standing in the final light of the
sun. But wait a minute, what's go-
ing on here? Isn't that a swimming
pool? Sho'nuff, Joe's standing on a
diving board somewhere in Califor-
nia, doubtless in the backyard of
some godawful California dream
home. What happened to our angry
young man? This is the kind of
California that would have made
Lester nauseous, and if he had heard
Joe scream "Let's rock again!" be-
fore the first word of
"Gangsterville," he would have
been physically ill.
Maybe it's unfair to compare
Joe Strummer to the Clash. But
why else would you buy
Earthquake Weather, anyway? As
you've already guessed, Earthquake

Weather doesn't look too good
when you hold it up to the old
Clash. With the exception of
"Gangsterville," the album's
promising first song, or "Shouting
Street," the only place Joe can work
up the balls to shout (about a girl,
of course), "Earthquake Weather"
sounds similar to the music of
"Sandinista!" or "Combat Rock," if
a touch slower and less spirited.
Nowhere does it approach the power
of the Clash's first three albums.
As he tells you, "Revolution came,
revolution went."
Joe gave up on us. He's still
bored with the U.S.A. and wants to
tell us about it in detail in songs
like "Slant Six" and "Highway One
Zero Street" ("where Elvis buys his
Pabst"), but lacks the spirit to do
anything about it.
The biggest surprise on this
record is that it shows Mick Jones
wasn't the only one in the Clash

Sho'nuff, Joe's standing
on a diving board some-
where in California,
doubtless in the back-
yard of some godawful
California dream home.
hooked on reggae and funk. Joe
does the Jah-thing a little in "Ride
the Donkey," demonstrating he can
do it - but shouldn't ever again.
The funk influence is all over the
album, but the masterwork is
"Boogie With Your Children" a
burner with an air of gospel exhor-
tation: "Boogie with your children/
In peace and love/. Sing Marvin
Gaye/ To the Lord above."
Sure is a far cry from "I want a
riot of me own." U
-like Sullivan

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Joe Strummer

Page 6 Weekend/December 8.1989

-Mike Sulijyan

Page 6

WN ekend/December 8,1989

Weekend/Decenber 0, 1989

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