Friday, June 12, 2009

Pop made simple: the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

My favorite kind of comedic material comes from smart folks who act very silly. Of course this has been the foundation of some of the finest British humor, from Lewis Carroll to the sacred Spike Milligan (yes, he was Irish!) to the Pythons and beyond. Well the same concept holds for so-called “novelty music.” The more talented the players, the stranger and cooler the music can be. For a prime example of this, witness the extremely talented folks in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain giving their interpretation of perhaps the seminal Nineties tune:

The wonderful part here is that this “novelty” music is actually the creation of some very skilled folk, who wind up (lemme not sound too academic here — ah, what the hell) conveying the emotions behind the songs in their terrific stripped-down renditions (and demonstrating their own talent in the process). What the Ukulele Orchestra have comprehended, and convey quite handily, is the indelible nature of these melodies we’re so familiar with. No matter what the “idiom,” these tunes are awesomely catchy, and sometimes quite touching. The UOGB prove the utterly impermeable nature of popular music from classical to lounge to disco in this wonderful pastiche, “Fly Me Off the Handel”:

But of course the group's musical virtuosity can be forgotten sometimes, as when they take on a truly hook-driven ditty, like “The Theme from Shaft”:

or another movie theme, “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”:

At this juncture I should of course link to the group’s official site. They also are quite fine in collaboration: here with the Kaiser Chiefs on “Ruby”; here in beautiful harmony with the former Cat Stevens doing “Peace Train”; and an audio bite of their only Gainsbourg cover!

And being a child of the Seventies, I highly recommend the Uke-Orch’s covers of ’70s glam gems. Here they do “Satellite of Love” (I do love Lou Reed’s finer moments, but perhaps it might be more interesting at this stage of the game to hear female voices singing the hits…)

One of Bowie’s most touching little ditties, "Life on Mars.” This really is beautiful stuff and does great justice to the original (while adding other strands of pop melodrama). Both Herr Bowie and his one-time partner in crime Brian Eno have given the thumbs-up to the fine musicological stews cooked up by the UOGB:

And finally, since I’m a diehard Kate Bush fan, I’d have to close out with the Uke Orch’s wonderfully jazzy version of her seminal “Wuthering Heights”:

I would love to see these ladies and gents play these shores (at a place I could afford, which ain’t many these days). They are sublimely talented and, yes, delightfully silly.

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