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Friday, October 21, 2011

Get Stewed with Stew and The Negro Problem's Making It

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2011 at 7:45 AM

click to enlarge listenwhilehigh_thumb_500x90_thumb_500x90.jpg

Listen to this while high: Stew and the Negro Problem's Making it.

click to enlarge Stew and Heidi Rodewald
  • Stew and Heidi Rodewald

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.

That Shakespearian

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.

Psychedelic verdict:

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.


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