Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the wordiest of them all? So it goes with the re-ignition after a quarter of a century of the collaboration between Mayo Thompson’s The Red Krayola and Turner Prize short-listed conceptualists Art & Language (A&L). Both parties threatened this year to finally record and release long-standing operatic project, Victorine, the libretto of which was published by A&L in 1984.
As it stands, with lyrics and texts by A&L scored by Thompson and impeccably played by some of Chicago’s finest, this new set is a far cry from the harsh social-realist music hall of their 1976 virgin outing, Corrected Slogans and squat polemic on 1981’s Kangaroo. Then as now though, Thompson’s dry drawl takes a back seat to his collaborators, though the plummy tones of A&L’s English enclave which gave way to Lora Logic have here sired new vocal foils in the shape of ‘Krayolettes’ Elisa Randazzo and Sandy Yang.
Yang was drafted into RK on 1999’s Fingerpainting while an undergraduate at Pasadena’s Art Centre College Of Design, where Thompson teaches. Randazzo’s involvement dates to 1996’s Hazel, and is a long way from Fairechild, the band she fronts with partner Josh Schwartz. Mom and Pop Randazzo scored hits for Little Anthony and the Imperials and Dionne Warwick’s classic take on their ‘Goin’ Out Of My Head’, a vintage rock n’ roll lineage undoubtedly adored by Thompson.
The musical framework here is sparse and the delivery loose. Randazzo and Yang play it straight without milking the absurd extremes of what they’re singing about. So while they reference Rabelais on ‘Laughing At The Foot Of The Cross,’ its kindergarten sing-song regrain is deadpanned as if being read off a lyric sheet for the first time, then wrapped up in a melody that’s a dead ringer for The Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin.’
This approach is the sucker punch for some arch looking-glass discourse, though A&L’s preoccupations are more playful than of old. The revolution, if not over, has shifted from pure ideology to something less concerned with toeing party lines.
On album centrepiece, ‘Four Stars: The Ideal Crew,’ Randazzo and Yang come on like conceptualist valley girls sneering through Thompson’s pounding piano embellishments. Wrapped up in such prettified apparel, this particular art-school hop has fun at everyone’s expense.
Neil Cooper is a writer and critic