THERE SEEMS to be no consensus on how Spoken Word should be interpreted in terms of music, and art. The high art world both embraces it and pushes it to one side, and simultaneously, the average music fan instinctively turns their nose up, in an air of reverse snobbery, at its pretentious efforts in pop music. Indeed while Harold Bloom of The Paris Review once heavily criticised the poetry slams that ran alongside the genre, 2009 saw America’s First Family host the “Poetry, Music and Spoken Word” event, that was dominated by Spoken Word.
Spoken word that attempts a bridge with pop music, arguably, is more often than not, rather conceited. William Burroughs’ rock ‘n’ roll-inspired efforts could still only appeal to an audience that was once captivated by ‘Howl’, and Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Histroire de Melody Nelson’ has a incessantly down-tempo, acid-laden rock edge that does no favours in opening the eyes of the close-minded. Indeed Scottish duo ‘Arab Strap’ consistently made the most admirable efforts towards a spoken word pop-song, and if it wasn’t for the success of will.i.am’s Obama-sampling ‘Yes We Can’ last year, then Arab Strap would stand at the forefront of the genre.
This all leads to a British artist whom, while certainly flirting with the pretensions that swamp and mask this delicate genre, charmingly bridges the gap between spoken word, and pop. George Pringle’s debut ‘Salon Des Refuses’ is an autobiographical memoir; from her 2007 Oxford Brookes, Fine Art graduation, through to destitute years trying to make it as an artist. Pringle creates music alone in Apple’s Garageband, and her live performance borrows backing from her ipod, as she uses a style of karaoke performance that enigmatically brings her music to life.
Beneath George Pringle’s poetry lies the music that re-inspires the genre. Her blend of electro, synth-pop, and electronica couldn’t be more distant from Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Je t’aime… moi non plus’. Only ‘North America Scum’ by LCD Soundsystem toys with electronic music and spoken word like she does, and while referencing them on her song ‘LCD I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’, she, for the most part, exceeds their attempts.
From the breakneck drumbeats of ‘We Could Have Been Heroes’, through to the ambient techno of ‘Bonjour Tristesse’, or the glitchy, mellow pace of ‘S.W.10’, Pringle shows an electronic musical diversity, that forms the foundation for this L.P. Her strengths, however, are equally met by weaknesses; ‘Sparkomatic Miami’ suffers from an unexplainable irritability, ‘Big Screen Kiss’ isn’t in anyway needed to introduce the album, and ‘Pop Hit’, which was written two days prior to the album’s recording, should have been omitted for its cringe-worthy bass-line and by the nature of her DIY musical ethic, the album generally sounds un-glossed.
With any spoken word, the artist naturally makes the lyrics a more prominent part of a song. When lyrics are sung, they segue in to the music, and vocals can easily become an additional instrument. Spoken word shifts that emphasis to the songwriter-cum-poet. It is with her lyricism, or poetry, that George Pringle really shines. Whether she’s lost in dreamlike ennui, besotted or in love, paying homage to her passions, or storytelling in reflective states about London, she is consistently beautiful in her language and delivery. It is no wonder that as a poet she took to the poetry stage at England’s Latitude Festival, or shared the spotlight on the BBC Radio 3 literature show, ‘The Verb’, alongside Seamus Heany.
Salons Des Refuses is a well-accomplished debut, while musically weak in place, when the electronic musical backing succeeds, the coupling with her poetic craft creates superb music. George Pringle has elegantly made one of the most accessible Spoken Word albums to date; breeding poetry and electronica to truly break the mold of the modern status quo.