Saturday, January 11, 2014

MC Chris and the Star Wars Bounty Hunters

Fett's Vette

MC Chris, born Christopher Brendan Ward, is a “nerdcore” rapper, and I hesitate to say he is the only one, but certainly he is one of the first. As a nerd MC Chris has gravitated towards job opportunities other musicians might not think to employ, of course I am referring to his many appearances on Cartoon Network’s, Adult Swim. MC did the voice of Hesh on “Sealab 2021” and MC Pee Pants on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” among other voices on other shows. Both “Sealab 2021” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” are too strange to properly explain in passing and both characters add an additional level of complication I do not have time to properly elaborate on, needless to say MC Chris is a special sort of nerd for appearing on these shows and like many people “Sealab 2021” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” was my first exposure to MC’s voice, and in turn my first exposure to his music was the episode of “Sealab 2021” where the closing credits were accompanied by that song about the bounty hunter from Star Wars.

MC’s first big break was the big success of “Fett’s Vette” a rap song about the Star War’s bounty hunter Bobba Fett, who according to the song’s lyrics is bounty hunting to pay for a corvette. I am aware that a classy vehicle like a corvette can be expensive but somehow I suspect a star ship like Slave 1 just might cost more, but then again what do any of us know about the intergalactic economy of the Star Wars universe? “Fett’s Vette” appeared on MC’s first studio album “Life’s a Bitch and I’m her Pimp” which came out in 2001, it was a self produced album, half of which was composed of comedy skits, most of which contained self degrading humour.

“Fett’s Vette” became really, really popular. The Internet just ate it up. Behold:

Someone customized their alternator Autobot Tracks (who turns into a corvette) into Bobba Fett... makes sense.
And the winner for the most dedicated nerd, this guy.
As mentioned, MC Chris is a comedian of sorts and likes to have skits on his albums often including fictional conversations with his manager Mr. Chandler (at least I hope their fictional), who berets MC for making terrible albums, and, ironically, terrible skits. The popularity of “Fett’s Vette” overshadowed everything else MC did, so three albums later on his 2006 album “Dungeon Master of Ceremonies” he included a skit where his manager Mr. Chandler gives him a hard time about it. What was Mr. Chandler’s advice? MC should make more songs about Star Wars bounty hunters.

MC Chris being a slave to his own sense of humour ultimately wrote and recorded every single awful suggestion Mr. Chandler made regarding the Star Wars bounty hunters; much the way he eventually recorded the terrible song suggestion “Smackababy” that a homeless man recommended to him in a skit of the same name. In case you could not guess for yourself “Smackababy” is a song about smacking babies.

He never released cassette tapes.

In 2009 on the LPs “Part 6” volumes one through three, one at a time, “IG-88’s 57 Chevy,” “Zuckuss’ Prius” and “Dengar’s Dumptruck,” were released.

IG-88's 57 Chevy
IG-88 gets a fun animated video.

Zuckuss' Prus

Dengar's Dumptruck

Of course as per Mr. Chandler’s instructions we still need Bossk on a segway, or as he so eloquently put it, “put him on a goddamn segway already!”

So in 2010 on MC Chris’s sixth studio album “MC Chris Goes to Hell,” “Bossk on a Segway” was released, along with the final cut versions of “IG-88’s 57 Chevy” and “Dengar’s Dumptruck.”

Bossk on a Segway

IG-88's 57 Chevy (MC Chris Goes to Hell Version)

Dengar's Dumptruck (MC Chris Goes to Hell Version)

And after all that, Mr. Chandler hated it, also he’s a zombie now.

There is one more Star Wars related song by MC Chris, I mean of course there is right? “Han Solo” about the roguish space cowboy we all love. The song “Han Solo” is a parody of Jason Derulo’s “Ridin’ Solo.”

Han Solo

I should call it quits here, but in the effort of being thorough let’s talk about “Apple Tummy” and “Apple Lung.”

In 2009, MC Chris released a remix album “Apple Tummy” which contained reconstructions of some of his most popular songs, which of course had to include his most famous song “Fett’s Vette.” In this version MC’s rapping is played over top of the John Williams’ “Duel of Fates.” This version feels very appropriate, probably because “Duel of Fates” appearance on the original Star Wars trilogy.

Fett's Vette (Apple Tummy Remix)

In 2012, MC Chris released yet another remix album titled “Apple Lung.” This album was produced I believe primarily so parody songs like “Han Solo” and “I Heart Drugs” would finally have an official studio release, but it also included several of MC’s most popular songs redone with various popular samples from music history.

The “Apple Lung” version of “IG-88’s 57 Chevy” includes samples from Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug” and “Closer,” The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” and The Eagles’ “Hotel Colifornia.”

IG-88's 57 Chevy (Apple Lung Remix)

While the “Apple Lung” version of “Fett’s Vette” includes samples from Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” and Sum 41’s “Fat Lip.”

Fett's Vette (Apple Lung Remix)

So that is the story of MC Chris and the Star Wars bounty hunters, because nerds and Mr. Chandler weren’t content with Bobba Fett driving a corvette.  I learned a lot from these songs, like I had no idea Dengar had a machine brain.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves
Because these guys needed a rap anthology.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Magnum - Shadow Town

Some things get better with age.

Magnum is a British progressive rock group. Formed in 1978 the line up has changed a little over that time. Founding members, singer Bob Catley and guitarist Tony Clarkin, are still leading the band today. Keyboarder Mark Stanway deserves mention as well since he had been with the band since 1980, effectively being there the entire time. A pretty consistent line up all things considered. Also interesting that I mention the singer, guitarist and keyboarder since the three things that impressed me most about Magnum are those three things.

Magnum is not a hugely successful band. After thirty-seven years and seventeen albums they have only every appeared on two countries’ top one hundred lists, Sweden and their native United Kingdom. Like so many progressive rock bands, Magnum fans were loyal, and after so many years of keeping the dream alive a great amount of respect has been earned. Bands reduced to cult status typically end up having a pretty damn good career and presumably a pretty damn awesome life. Needless to say Magnum never made a big splash in North America and has gone past the notice of a lot of music fans, until now.

Bob Catley, he uses a lot of hand
gestures when performing live.
Like so many other great singers I discovered Bob Catley through his amazing work with Avantasia. Of all the many incredibly talented singers in the super group Bob Catley’s voice managed to stand out as the most soulful. An American friend I made in Berlin told me that it was always Catley’s songs that put tears in her eyes, and while I perhaps am I little less emotional about it, I fully understand what she was saying. Catley’s voice has a certain expressive passion that is unprecedented even among other high caliber singers. Obviously I owed it to myself to investigate the career of Bob Catley further.

At first I was drawn to albums like “Wings of Heaven” because it was Magnum’s most commercially successful studio album, also out of Bob Catley’s solo work “Middle Earth” caught my eye because of the obvious Tolkien influence, but ultimately it was Magnum’s latest album “On The 13th Day” that best captured my attention. The 2012 album “On The 13th Day” is a really energetic rock album that has both passion and a touch of the political, mostly notably on the track “Shadow Town.”

“Shadow Town” is a song about surviving poverty, typically a painfully theme of struggle, and with lyrics like;

“And it’s nothing at all,
For a rich man to be,
Completely blind to the call,
Of the whole misery.”


“Nothing’s for life,
Except the cold and the poor.
Oh, and it’s sharp as a knife,
That’s one thing they know for sure.”

And also;

“You’re pocket’s empty but then,
You never had much to start.
It’s got you thinking again,
It’s almost breaking your heart.”

Some very dark scenery is strongly established and this theme would normally be considered depressing, however Magnum does something splendid with the topic, they sing about the strength to endure and overcome while hiding none of the pain. The weight of poverty is crushing the individuals described in this song, yet still there is a message of perseverance. There is strength to Catley’s voice that makes this dark song, somehow encouraging and strong.

The chorus is just perfect;

“The grey stone crumbles,
As years are passing,
Caught up in this shadow town.
And life’s much harder,
To keep on living,
Everywhere’s just closing down.
The streets are angry,
And shouts from children,
Nowhere in this shadow town.
There’s no one winning,
But they’re all standing,
Waiting for it to come round.”

Yeah, that’s right, we’re all still standing. So far “Shadow Town” is my favourite Magnum song and is apt to stand as such for a long time, it just struck such a cord to me, as someone who stood strong in the face of crushing frustration and poverty when I did a decade tour of duty as an actual starving student. Life is not about dark themes it is about overcoming them.

Sixty-five years old and still
rocking out.
Catley and Magnum’s earlier work did it did not grow on me as suddenly as “On The 13th Day” and “Shadow Town.” This most recent endeavour really impresses me, and I am unsure if this has something to do with some amazing late in their career refinement by Catley, Clarkin and Stanway, or if something special simply happened during the recording, or if I just happened to fall in love the Magnum songs that sound the most like Avantasia due to the style of which Catley is singing. Which brings me to the most interesting thing about Bob Catley and Magnum, I think they are getting better with age, and I think it has everything to do with Catley’s voice becoming that of a wizened older man.

While my knowledge of the band is still finite it seems to me the single biggest difference between early day Magnum and current day Magnum is Catley’s voice. I am not convinced Catley has “improved” as a singer since he was singing impressively his entire career as near as I know, but there is something extra in his voice now compared to then. He almost sings with a presence of insight and wisdom, if such things can be felt simply from someone’s tone and expression, then that is probably it. Catley now sings with an aged voice of wisdom and with that a heart full of powerful memories. Catley sings now with more passion and emotion perhaps because he has seen more, understands more, and feels more as a result. I do not know if that is the case but it sure is fun to speculate. Whatever has happened Bob Catley seems to have become a greater singer with time and is still capable of producing fantastic work.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

P.S.  Honorable mention goes to "Let It Rain" which is a close second favorite song of my from "On The 13th Day."