Monday, August 04, 2008

Lately the Easy Star All Stars version of "Let Down," sung by Toots & the Maytals, has been one of the only songs I want to listen to. I'd probably have mentioned this before if my mentioning it on my Facebook Twitter hadn't prompted Dan Gibson to post the video on Idolator. The riddim is simple and clean and taut, exactly the opposite of what you might fear if the very idea of Dub Side of the Moon (never mind Radiodread; I always liked Douglas Wolk's title idea, OK Rastafari) pushed your Patchouli-hatred buttons. (The echoed melodica on the album version's intro is its sole nod to psychedelia.) The horns blend curry and lime. And Toots! Holy shit, Toots. How many singers get old and let their past carry them, at the expense of being completely present on their new recordings? Not this gentleman. He sounds so huge, so incontrovertibly humane, so wise, so pained, so joyous, all of it at once--who sings like this now? Who ever could have? Two-dozen people, maybe, if they and we are lucky.

I've seldom been a raving Toots-head, especially compared to my man Peter Scholtes, who absolutely worships him; I'd bet that if pressed, Pete would name Toots his favorite-ever vocalist. (Since we've been friends, few are times that listening to Toots hasn't in some way reminded me of Pete.) But he has meant a great deal to me over the years. My examples are obvious: "Pressure Drop," one of the most hypnotic records I've ever heard (and, in the right frame of mind, one of the most terrifying); "Sweet & Dandy," which for about four weeks in 1997 was my favorite record of all time; the rock-hard "Funky Kingston"; both the rock steady and the hard-funk versions of "54-46 (That's My Number)"; the best stuff from Toots in Memphis, music as natural and powerful as breathing. The first album I dared put on in full after September 11 was the two-CD Island anthology released in 1996. I couldn't have chosen better, even if I had to skip "Pressure Drop."

I often hear lyrics badly, and I freely admit that having tried and failed to like OK Computer a grand total of three times I basically have no idea what Thom Yorke's singing apart from the lines everybody quotes from a few of the album's songs; I knew "Let Down"'s title mood and little more in my recent re-playings. I'm glad I didn't until I looked up the lyrics on a whim earlier today; I don't know if I'd ever have fallen quite so hard for it if I'd known Toots was actually singing something as adolescently dopey as "Just like a bug in the ground," you know? I don't know if I could have gotten there. But the line Toots is most obviously committed to in the verses is also the song's best: "One day I'm gonna grow wings." Toots sings it like he's just sprouted them. But it's the chorus he really commits to; his repeats of "let down again" are so impassioned you'd have to be a robot not to respond. It's not the only recording I've wallowed in of late, but it might be the best.