In the unseemly scrimmage of musicians heading for the exit door in 2016 I missed the passing of Prince Be in June, which is a shame as I always had a soft spot for P.M Dawn*. They had a softer, more spiritual side than a lot of the hip-hop acts back then, not to mention a frankly eccentric dress sense**.
I heard their 1995 Deep Purple sampling single ‘Downtown Venus’, a year or two before I ever heard Purple’s own version of ‘Hush’:
I think I may have won their 1995 LP Jesus Wept when it came out, I can’t remember buying it and back then the title alone would have put me off it. If the title didn’t, the cover would have for sure – it’s a strange hyper-coloured, heavy-on-the-airbrush, garish affair. I wasn’t familiar with the style back then, but in the last 5 years or so there is a stall in my father’s antiques centre that sells all manner of spiritual books about unicorns and angels and such like^; the covers mostly all had this self same unreal look about them and I suddenly got it.
But surface reflections aside^* after the usual hip-hop LP ‘Intro’ (why not just hit the first track,people? ever) we get ‘Downtown Venus’, the Purps sampling catchy single which I rather like, Be’s sweet vocals borne aloft on an almost baggy beat. Next up ‘My Own Personal Gravity’ is rather trippy and laid back, unsurprisingly, with some great vocal harmonies and touches of Beatles-like psych, as well as a very interesting guitar solo from Cameron Greider. It’s a good track.
Unfortunately, P.M Dawn then found the knob marked ‘Saccharine Overkill’ in the studio and the next 4 tracks are slathered in the stuff, a cloying sweetness that robs what they are trying to say and play of any memorable edge at all; pretty much killing Jesus Wept for me. There are some melodies and nice gentle beats for sure, but without anything grittier to set it next to, the sensation is somewhat akin to trying to survive on a diet of wedding cake for 6 weeks straight.
Listen up silence fans because, rather topically for 1537 readers, P.M Dawn included a full 21 seconds of it on Jesus Wept, rather movingly recorded at the grave of one of my heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. As recorded silences go, I like it and would be up for recording a cover version if only I had my own band. Luckily for us, silence fans, some kind soul has Youtubified it for us:
That was so good, I played it twice.
It’s slim pickings for me on the second LP of Jesus Wept, again it’s far too sweet to be wholesome – a shame as P.M Dawn are never less than great at melodies, but end up coming off occasionally like a far less groinal Prince^^ and nobody really wanted that. There is one great exception though ‘The 9.45 Wake-Up Dream’ is a great slice of hip-hop psych, put together beautifully with all manner of live instrumentation. But seriously P.M Dawn, 9.45? I’m a couple of hours into my working day then, you bums!
Sadly, for reasons best known to themselves Jesus Wept ends with a medley of covers two tracks I quite like Prince’s 1999 and Talking Heads’ ‘Once In a Lifetime’ BUT they dare to sully my ears with the vile excrescence that is Nilsson’s ‘Coconut’ … (shudders).
No wonder the big guy wept.
But there’s more, I also acquired a promo 12″ of the second single Sometimes I Miss You So Much (Dedicated to the Christ Consciousness), not the snappiest title but far from the sappiest track on Jesus Wept. The original version is alright-ish but the remixes here by K-Klass and B-Flat are actually very good indeed and flout 1537’s Third law, which states that ‘any remix will basically be a longer version of the original track, with most of the best bits taken out’. I think I know why too. Clearly P.M Dawn, even on a devotional song, wished to tap into that wild, assured sexiness and guaranteed commercial success that only one extra factor could conceivably bestow – Welshness.
It’s true. K-Klass were based out of Wrexham in North Wales, just a stone’s throw away from the 1537 Compound. Their ‘Klassik Mix’ adds a great bass line to the track and a really purposeful beat, this de-sugarizes it perfectly and tips it further towards dance than hip-hop, it really is an excellent remix. They add their own keyboards and Aziz Ibrahim (Stone Roses, Asia and H Band*^ member) plays guitar on it too. Their other mix ‘K-Klass Pharmacy Dub’ turns it into a full-on house tune 1996-style, shall I just say it is very much of its time – I like that sound, it makes me nostalgic for being young and dumb and dancing a lot, but if you don’t have that then chances are you wouldn’t dig it.
B-Flat on the other hand just seem to remix the song at 78RPM – full on raving beats and slightly helium-y vocals. Again it’s good fun, but to be taken out and played strictly once every 20 years or so.
Okay, so it hasn’t all been to my taste but there is a gentility and sweetness that shines through this music that is both compelling and unusual in hip-hop. Take a bow sweet Prince Be.
725 Down(town Venus).
*Prince Be, or Attrell Cordes to his mum, was the chunkier chap in P.M Dawn. He’d had some awful health issues for a long while before his passing apparently.
**think, ‘elderly aunt dressing up in the dark as Stevie Wonder circa 1973’.
^not a Christian book shop per se. I was surprised to learn there is almost a whole other angel cult (he typed very carefully), which has very little to do with mainstream Biblical worship type stuff.
^*literally, as this is simply one of the very shiniest LPs I own.
^^Mr Squiggle is duly thanked in the LP credits.
*^this forming that often sought connection between P.M Dawn and Marillion. Word up.