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++ Needle Drops is now an occasional music column that a number of Neumu writers take turns writing. All columns prior to March 2004 were written by Philip Sherburne.


++ Recently ++

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 = The Stooges Unearthed (Again)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005 = Documenting Beulah And DCFC

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 = Out-Of-Control Rock 'N' Roll Is Alive And Well

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 = Just In Time For Halloween

Monday, October 3, 2005 = The Dandyesque Raunch Of Louis XI

Monday, August 15, 2005 = The Empire Blues

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 = David Howie's Sónar Diary

Monday, July 25, 2005 = Hot Sounds For Summertime

Monday, June 27, 2005 = Overcoming Writer's Block At Sónar 2005

Monday, June 4, 2005 = Cool New Sounds To Download Or Stream


++ Needle Drops Archives ++

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Monday, October 3, 2005

++ The Dandyesque Raunch Of Louis XIV

By Johnny Walker (Black)

++ Has rock 'n' roll lost its balls? Reading the recent column on Louis XIV by Nick Sylvester in the Village Voice, one might conclude that any rock band in 2005 willing and able to bare its lusty side risks being iron(i)ed to death by a legion of college-boy rock critics schooled in the guilt-trip feminist theory that, after experiencing a hysterical peak in the 1990s, is now dead everywhere but in the hallowed halls of academe, having set off a massive and deserved backlash in the culture as whole — one that didn't, unfortunately, wash away the theory monkeys who rode white-male-hating all the way to the tenure track during that same decade.

Sylvester's wink-wink, nudge-nudge "review" of Louis XIV in concert, in which the band is continually damned with ironic faint praise, is a case in point. To make an argument that a rock band, of all things, should somehow be found "guilty" of harming rock 'n' roll by engaging in ribald, dirty talk demonstrates just how tightly the PC mindset has 21st century rock 'n' roll by the, errrr, balls.

Undoubtedly, castrated rock bands circa 2005 are more literate than those of times past, and even horndog dandies like Louis XIV, as shown by leader Jason Hill's angry email response to an earlier Sylvester pan, now routinely scan the rock press. The self-conscious result of this is a generation of mostly whiny, sexless rock bands ("Limp Bizkit" indeed — a moniker that sums up the phenomenon in question all too well) steering clear of what the egghead Gang of Four once labeled "rockist," or in other words, sexual, posturing (to which avowed rockist Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones sneered in reply: "They should take [their music] to a laboratory then!").

++ The "rockist" philosophy is encapsulated here in Sylvester's panties-in-a-knot worry re Louis XIV's lyrical content: "What bothers me about them on record, they're so artless about it, no interest in finesse, merely phoning in as if 'show me some tit' is just something that's expected out of them. No interest in surprising us, or even shocking us. They're young dudes jiving old dude slang; vaginas are 'beavers,' dicks 'jimmies,' and even then their quacks aren't quaint enough for that to be a thing."

The problem with this kind of thinking is the notion that everything in life must conform to the technological imperative of being "NEW AND IMPROVED!" However, a trip through rock history here yields some perspective. As gutter-dandy Bon Scott, whose band AC/DC surely made a huge impact on Louis XIV (Louis came onstage to the strains of "It's a Long Way to the Top If You Wanna Rock and Roll" when I saw them at the Paradise Club in Boston recently) once sang, "She makes my heart race/ Every time she sits on my face" ("She's Got Balls"). Likewise, oft-mentioned Louis influence and glam-rock dandy Marc Bolan of T. Rex cooed, "I wanna call ya/ I wanna ball ya all night long" on The Slider's "Baby Strange," while brother-in-sequins David Bowie demanded, "Suck, suck, suck/ Baby give me your head/ Before you start professing that you're knocking me dead" on Aladdin Sane's volcanic rocker "Cracked Actor."

The question that looms for Sylvester and those like him is: "How do you improve on sex?" The term "rock 'n' roll," after all, was originally a euphemism for fucking. Is Sylvester really suggesting that new, more sociologically appropriate slang for "beavers" and "dicks" is what's needed here? Or is he actually just evincing the usual middle-class squeamishness regarding blatant evocations of sex in rock music? Unfortunate for Sylvester and his ilk, however, is the historical reality that whenever rock music gets too far away from the sexual imperative, it loses its mojo quicker than Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open and becomes a flaccid self-parody, ceding more crucial demographic territory to the crotch-grabbing denizens of hip-hop, who aren't shy at all about discussing matters of lust. One reason people still flock to see the Rolling Stones (another big influence on Louis XIV) is that, live at least, they've still got their mojo workin', in an era when most rock bands couldn't find theirs with a flashlight.

++ Personally, if I have a complaint about Louis XIV, it's that they don't give enough credit to their musical forebears. Jason Hill has remarked that what sets him apart from previous glam-dandies like Bolan and Bowie is that he has been far more lyrically direct, but given the previous lines quoted from those gents and the illustrious Mr. Bon Scott, it seems more likely that Louis XIV are carrying on the proud tradition of strutting raunch and roll, something they should never shy away from celebrating — and celebrate they do on their ace 2005 long-player, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept (Pineapple/Atlantic), which abounds in lyrical gems like "We don't need to go to the pool/ If you want me to make you wet" ("Pledge of Allegiance").

Likewise, Louis XIV's ass-kicking live show also worries Sylvester, who finds a contradiction in their tight, buttoned-down demeanor as they deliver the raunchy goods: "[Louis XIV are] very reserved, very thankful, no rock posing or dick swinging or racy bantering. Are they playing off their namesake's regal demeanor? Maybe, though Franz make more of a noticeable thing out of it; this was something else. They're not shocked or even tickled by their song's content — this is just how things are, to them. They're concentrating, really, respecting their own songs — so much that they'd be really bummed if they flubbed just one note."

Again, Sylvester fails to grasp the point — as with the forebears Louis XIV obviously idolize, the band's rigid adherence to form in its live performance is a quintessential tenet of dandyism. I recognized this the minute the band started into their set in Boston: like French poet Charles Baudelaire, Louis XIV strive to maintain tight control over themselves even as they engender chaos all around them via their confrontational subject matter. And when Jason Hill sang, "God save the Kinks/ And music from the Big Pinks/ Because sonny boy, he's better than you think," the connection came clearly into view, Hill aligning himself to the Kinks leader (Ray Davies) who once penned a song simply called "Dandy."

Indeed, Baudelaire's dandy is a man always in control, immersing himself in "the joy of astonishing others, and the proud satisfaction of never oneself being shocked." Such a praxis is exactly what I witnessed at the Paradise Rock Club: Louis XIV enjoying the kick of transgressing the boundaries of polite society, yet looking good and remaining disciplined while doing so. Long may they reign!
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