Sunday, 7 December 2014

It Weren't I: The Wurzels and Rap Morality

The Wurzels have been largely written off as a dumb novelty band, responsible for bothering the charts in the 1980s with a series of comic adaptations of popular songs - at best a mild irritant, at worst, a reminder of an era when anything could end up on Top of the Pops. Yet this simplistic reading of the band fails to acknowledge the evolution of The Wurzels and the distinct stages of their career. Beginning as a West Country parody band, led by Adge Cutler, they slowly developed their primary themes - sex, cider and farming - into a conceptual critique of pop music's amorality.

The latest phase of The Wurzel's output has been characterised not
by the rewriting of popular lyrics to suit their obsessions: unlike their greatest hits, these covers play straight with the lyrics, but replace the orchestration for the familiar banjos, accordions and acoustic instruments of 'scrumpy and western'. While this often involves changing the emphasis of the song - Oasis' Don't Look Back in Anger  is stripped of its pretentions to depth and becomes what it always was, a leery singalong - it is in the vocal delivery that The Wurzels are at their most subversive.

It Wasn't Me was originally a libidinous r'n'b number by Shaggy: having been caught in flagrante by his girlfriend, Shaggy just lies to her face. Despite the immorality of the subject, Shaggy's youthful voice and the bounce of the beat insists that this sexual misadventure is a bit of fun and, anyway, it is perfectly natural that a virile man will spread some wild oats. 

In the hands of The Wurzels, the gap between reality and fantasy is exposed. Dragging the song out over seven minutes to a crawling lament, the two singers swap suggestions in elderly West Country accents. In place of the lively sensuality of Shaggy's source song, there is a libidinous horror. The refrain of 'it wasn't me' is delivered in an almost throwaway tone, increasingly unconvincing and desperate. The rap interludes are slowed down from Shaggy's ragga rush, highlighting the absurdity of the singers' insistence on being 'players'. 

As the chorus is repeated, the description of the sexual acts become more sinister, and the denial more sleazy and dishonest. Finally descending into a description of another sex session, It Wasn't Me is deconstructed into an ugly narrative of male fantasy. The spoken interlude, inevitably given the band's fascination with farm machinery, equates sex with riding a tractor, relating the conquest of the earth with patriarchal sexuality.  

And as for what they do to Spinal Tap's Sex Farm. It's meta heaven.

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