Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The KLF - The White Room (1991)

My suspicions were aroused way back in the eighties when an interview with the lads in some music paper revealed how they had taken to calling themselves Rockman Rock and King Boy D, just like the rappers you see on the telly, and which seemed to carry a faint stench of trying too hard. At some point I was slung a tape of 1987 (What the Fuck is Going On?) by someone who assured me it would blow my mind, which it didn't, and in fact I thought it was fucking awful. Then there was Doctorin' the Tardis which was also wank, unless you regard everything which makes a reference to Doctor Who, no matter how ham-fisted, as a work of genius. It was big, bold, crass, and populist according to theories set forth in their book about how to have a hit single, but it sounded exactly the same as their supposedly philosophically cunning underground material to me. Finally they became the KLF, most of which passed me by, excepting a version of What Time is Love? which I had on some compilation album, and which was okay, I guess.

Surprisingly, I didn't have high expectations for this record. To be fair, I didn't have any expectations, not really. The above impressions were fleeting, and there must surely be some reason for their popularity, I told myself. The White Room seems to be in all sorts of lists of best things ever, so fifty cents in a sale seemed like a risk worth taking.

Except I get the thing home and find I've bought me a fucking hip-house album, and whilst hip-house may not have been an entirely worthless genre because there are always exceptions to any given rule, it sort of was when you really think about it; and this is hip-house fused with whatever you call music recorded by middle-aged white guys utilising the voice of a black man suggesting we put the needle on the record when the drum beats go like this. Underneath it all are a couple of nods in the general direction of acid, trance, or whatever title it had been given that week. They're decent enough tracks, but as with everyone else who ever knew better through having been to art college, the KLF can't let anything simple work on its own terms and have to throw a shitload of once trend-setting tech at it as a self-conscious distraction from the fact that they might have felt more comfortable rocking out as a traditional Hawkwind covers band. Thus did we end up with stadium house, which in this case can be equated to Trevor Horn's idea of dance music, which can in turn be equated to the proverbial unidexter at an arse kicking competition in utilitarian terms. Naturally the KLF hired a bunch of marginally funkier helpers so as to keep the thing from bearing too close a resemblance to a school geography project, not least being Tony Thorpe of 400 Blows; but ultimately the best which can be said of The White Room is that it isn't quite as funny as Porridge's attempts at house music.

Excepting things involving Ken Campbell and the novels themselves, has anything good ever resulted from thematic overinvestment in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy? I'm struggling to think of anything. It might be argued that Drummond and Cauty eventually redeemed themselves with their worst artist of the year award and the spectacle of Rachel Whiteread puckering her mouth into a dog's bottom of disdain as she grudgingly accepted all that lovely lolly whilst loudly announcing that it would of course be given to starving artists, because it matters that they shouldn't have to get real fucking jobs like normal people; but that came after and as such provides little consolation as one struggles to get through the full, terrible forty-three minutes of this bollocks.

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