“Christmas On Riverside Drive” was under the name of August Darnell, but it was the furthest thing from a solo track as obviously all of the Coconuts were in tow for the full Kid Creole experience. The reliance on a big synthetic beat marked it as being of ZE 1981 origins but it offered much more sophisticated elements such as the liquid jazz guitar runs, the congas and percussion of Andy Hernandez and taut rhythm guitar that propels the song irrevocably forward. I always have too little of the work of Darnell in the Record Cell. Every time I listen to my Kid Creole albums, I resolve to buy more.
When I think of 1981 and ZE Records the first sound that come to mind were next in the program. Material and Nona Hendryx contribute a white hot slice of funk rock that must have been heard by the writers of the breakthrough Madonna hit. But put all thoughts of that disco popsicle put of your mind. Here, Material offered a tough, urban disco that was the furthest thing from the bland trappings that the girl from Detroit rode to stardom. I would like to hear a good dub mix of this track, as it is light on the lyrics to start with. As much as Ms. Hendryx bites the lyric, it’s the powerful, near Gang of Four level, meaty bass playing from Bill Laswell that sticks to the walls like a bowlful of pasta. This was very muscular music.
Speaking of Detroit, Was [Not Was] hit their best neo-P-Funk stride on the prophetic “Christmas Time In Motor City.” This was perhaps the one recording that I associate most strongly with the ZE Records aesthetic as I almost bathed in it in 1981. The tough funk rock track took a cold, hard look at the buckle on the rust belt. It was filled with enough energy and bounce to almost make one overlook the dismal picture painted by the lyrics. After the freakout solo before the middle eight the song took a harsh turn when David Was related the life of a homeless guy on Christmas eve with a dispassionate eye for depressing detail. The worst thing is that 34 years later, people are much worse off in the Motor City.
I could never make head or tails out of what a normal [almost average] guy like Davitt Sigerson was doing on a magnet for psychos [I mean it as a compliment] such as ZE Records. “It’s A Big Country” almost plays like a slightly more mainstream take on a Christmas song that Jonathan Richman might have written. True, “It’s A Big Country” lacks some of the darkness that Richman would have probably left in, but in the end, it’s still a unique and engaging view of Christmas cheer that easily evades cliché and mawkish sentiments.
Next: …The end of the trilogy