Listen to this while high: Stew and the Negro Problem's Making it.
Behind the buzz:
Before decamping for Broadway and glory, Stew was among L.A.'s most puckish
live performers and the Negro Problem the focus of a devoted local cult. Post Minstrel Syndrome (1997) was my gateway
bite, and I developed a taste for the weird pop confections whipped up by Stew
and partner Heidi Rodewald. The Big Time followed with Passing Strange, which won Stew a
Tony award for Best Book for a Musical and was filmed in 2009 by Spike Lee. This
paean to relationships and all they entail drops January 24, 2012.
Today's dope: The
NP's melodic caresses and lyrical pungency call for nothing less than a
gravel-sized pinch of Private Reserve, an indica strain sporting an insanely
high THC count.
rag: Stew once complained that the problem with working on the Broadway
stage is you simply can't just bust into "Cat Scratch Fever" any time you like. So the title track gets the band's ya-yas out in a single blast of pan-fried
Meat Loaf. "Pretend" is the downside of Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs," and
a funny sideswipe at the schmaltz that purifies. "Black Men Ski" turns on the
familiar joke of appearance-based bigotry, with Stew using it to celebrate the
upending of stupid expectations. Of all the NP's many relationship songs,
"Curse" is the keeper -- an irresistibly catchy meditation on the loss of
romantic illusion, salted with lines like "You don't need a new girlfriend/What
you need is a nurse." "Speed" is a predictably witty take on a drug for which
I've always had about as much use as a third kneecap. Heidi takes lead on "Love
is a Cult," bringing unusual force to "Love is a great gig, but the pay is
crap," and "I'm tired of waiting around for nothing to change." "Suzy Wong" is
late-nite TCM contemplation, "Pastry Shop" aborted political satire, and
"Tomorrow Gone" ends with a cheery five-mile long fadeout that abruptly snaps
off at just the correct moment. "Leave Believe" is a lovelorn duet between Stew
and Heidi overlaid with dainty soul harmonies and crashing George Harrisonoid guitar.
"Treat Right," being a confession you can't really put love's "mystery into a
melody," winds things up with a post-it on a pillow and a tenderly swinging
climax to the band's best-ever album.
If you like doing bong rips to The Lamb
Lies Down on Broadway, this will be your 2012 album of the year and could
well be even if you don't.