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Welcome Black

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Album Review

So what is with Stew anyway? Is he merely an absurdist turning over every cultural myth to find the hideous truth beneath it? Welcome Black is out-bloody-rageous in its musical vision and sense of rock & roll as a place for political theater and social lampooning, as well as racial gut-busting. Where the shimmering thematics of "Fox Hills" prepare the listener for a nice, easy glide through "Ride 1," as side one is entitled, once Heidi Rodewald begins singing in her faux-theatrical voice about remembering this song, you know something is up. When Stew kicks into "Father Popcorn," with its amazing refrain and fragmented narrative, the whole spring comes unwound — and it's only the beginning. With "Lime Green Sweater" and its pseudo-doo wop choruses and Nicky Hopkins-styled piano wanderings rolling through the easy stroll of the verse, as Stew begins whistling the melody in the bridge, we begin to understand that this is Stew unabashedly wearing his Captain Beefheart homage hat. Musically it's nowhere near that sophisticated or angular, it's all smooth, rootsy rock & roll and R&B, but it's as poignant because nothing is too crazy, no viewpoint too dangerous for the Negro Problem — check out the lounge-y psychedelic pop of "Astro Sister," modeled on Jimmy Webb's less-coherent mid-'70s period. Then there's "The Teardrop Explodes," which is equal parts Jeb Loy Nichols white-boy soul and American icon-bashing tripped-out pop that takes on everyone from John Mellencamp to those who read Noam Chomsky and quote without understanding a word of it. The high-on collapsible rock of "The Bong Song" takes the entire cultural landscape and turns it on its burnt-out head: Why look for solutions when the problems keep us happy? This is Stew as true rock & roll outlaw, one who is as pleasant to listen to as he is dangerous.


Formed: Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Invariably, first one must discuss the matter of the name. The name the Negro Problem is meant ironically, but it's in no way used for simple shock value. Indeed, the name illuminates the entire raison d'être of the band: although artists as disparate as Jimi Hendrix, Love, the Chambers Brothers, and the Fifth Dimension were making psychedelic rock music in the late '60s, a disturbing racial divide has reasserted itself since then. The concept of a supposed stylistic division into "white music" and...
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Welcome Black, The Negro Problem
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