Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Danger Mouse w/the Beatles & Jay-Z
The Grey Album

Released 2004 on None
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 28/02/2004ce

Here’s how much of a sucker I am for this album. I downloaded it online, burned up a CD-R, all for free. Then I threw down 20 red-white-and-blue US dollars for an official copy – I was lucky enough to find an online retailer that still had a few for sale. Fuck, bootlegs of the CD were going on Ebay for $30. And last I checked, an original disc was going for $100+. So I looked at my purchase as a wise business move; if I were ever to get hooked on heroin or something, I’d be able to sell the disc for drug money.

But the main reason I bought a “real” copy of the album is because I love it so much. It’s so good that I’m afraid it’s going to resuscitate the Beatles fandom I thought I’d conquered with the past few years of metal, funk, and old soul. All those Beatles boots (CD, vinyl, and tape) currently gathering dust on my racks might find themselves back in rotation, and I’m not sure if I’m happy about that. I’ve been down the road of Beatles obsession before. I don’t want to go back.

I’m sure everyone knows the story, but for those who don’t: in December 2003, a rap DJ with the moniker Danger Mouse took an accapella version of Jay-Z’s Black Album and overlaid some of the tracks over samples and beats taken from the Beatles’ White Album. Without clearance from either artist, of course. EMI didn’t like this, and slapped him with an injunction. Only 3,000 promotional copies of the CD were sent out to independent record stores. Fortunately, several sites now feature the album in full for download, so it’s there for those who seek it.

The CD opens with “Public Service Announcement,” overtop a scratched-up “Long, Long, Long,” a George Harrison song I never really cared for much. DM’s mix, however, brings out all the good points of the song and condenses them into a very cool backing track. It’s a great lead-off for the album, especially right at the opening when the organ kicks in with Jay-Z’s vocals. The way Danger Mouse loops Harrison’s twangy acoustic guitar gives the track an Indian twinge that George no doubt would’ve loved.

The next track is another Harrison song: Jay-Z says his goodbyes to the rap world in “What More Can I Say?” over a slowed down “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” If the surviving Beatles had any objections to this record, this would probably be one of them: could you imagine Paul McCartney allowing the release of a Beatles album that started off with back-to-back George Harrison tracks? Doubtful. “What More Can I Say?” uses the most obvious sample on the album, looping the first several bars of “Gently Weeps” with the occasional Harrison vocal snippet.

“Encore” is comprised of Lennon’s “Glass Onion” and yet another Harrison song, “Savoy Truffle” (could Danger Mouse be letting us know who his fave Beatle is???). This one’s pretty funky, with Lennon’s “oh yeah” running throughout. Very cool effect. Fucking lawyers! This CD should be on shelves right now!

Next is “December 4th,” the lead-off on Jay-Z’s original Black Album. Danger Mouse uses “Mother Nature’s Son” to great effect, as Paul McCartney’s acoustic guitar is looped over a funky beat. The music and the vocals match so well you’d swear this was the original version of the song. Jay-Z’s rap is as melancholic as the Beatles’ guitars, with his mother providing a commentary on his youth. A great track – one of many moments of bliss on the CD.

Track 5, however, is probably my favorite of the lot. “99 Problems” on the original Jay-Z album was a hard rocker produced by Rick Rubin. Danger Mouse blows the original away. He takes the proto-metal glory of McCartney’s “Helter Skelter” and – somehow – makes it heavier. DM loops together its main riff, verse chords, and even the Beatles’ backing “aaah” vocals into one motherfather of a cool song. The Beatles never got heavy? Ha! The original version alone could do the job, but play this to someone who claims that, and they’ll realize the error of their ways.

If there’s any song on here that screams SINGLE RELEASE, it would be track 6, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” Lennon’s “Julia” is chopped and diced into a stuttering funk riff, with John’s “ah” punctuating each bar. Is that your White Album CD skipping? No, that’s just the genius Danger Mouse at work. This track should be thumping from low-riders everywhere. Fucking lawyers!

“Moment of Clarity” starts off sounding like “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” redux. But instead of “Julia” DM here loops “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” There’s a lot going on in this track, with a rumbling beat and lots of scattered noises. Lennon’s acoustic guitar holds it all together.

“Change Clothes” is a great song to play for someone who doubts the relevance of this CD. Danger Mouse takes ANOTHER George track, “Piggies,” cuts it up, speeds it up, and applies a futuristic beat to create one of the very best songs on here. In a perfect world, this would be another solid choice for single release. “The bounce is back” indeed! What Jay-Z original? Every track on here is an improvement on the Black Album.

“Allure” is made up of bits from “Dear Prudence.” Like “Moment of Clarity,” this one doesn’t have such a smooth flow. The light and heavy sections of “Dear Prudence” are jammed together, and it’s up to the beat to hold everything intact. Who knew Ringo could be so funky? Danger Mouse must have, because he succeeds in making him so.

Now we come to track 11, “Justify My Thug.” This one uses “Rocky Raccoon,” with the occasional guitar zap from “Revolution 1.” A very cool track. You might have noticed that Danger Mouse mostly samples acoustic songs from the White Album. I like my rock raw, but still I’ll say this makes for a unique listen. On their own, tracks like “Rocky Raccoon” weren’t heavy in the least, but splice together a few bars and add a heavy backbeat, and the song takes a quick turn into hard rock territory.

“Lucifer 9” is the most “artistic” of the bunch. Here DM samples the last song you’d expect to hear on this CD, namely the absurd avante gardeism that is “Revolution 9.” He also throws in a little “I’m So Tired” for good measure. This is a short track, with lots of backwards Jay-Z vocals and orchestral bits from “Revolution 9.” It would no doubt have Jay-Z’s core listeners scratching their heads. Hell, it would probably have Jay-Z scratching his head.

The CD wraps up with “My 1st Song,” another track that’s among my favorites, even though I see it criticized in most reviews. Here DM takes from “Cry Baby Cry” and the unlisted Paul McCartney bit “Can You Take Me Back,” which precedes “Revolution 9” on the White Album. In an ingenious move, DM loops McCartney’s vocal throughout the track, his ghostly voice circling over the hip-hop din below. Jay-Z spits out his rhymes over the thumping beat, and near the end the song mutates into a fuzzy “Savoy Truffle” shuffle, as Jay-Z delivers the requisite last-track-on-a-rap-CD-shout-out to friends and family.

So overall, how is the album? I think the hardcore rap fan won’t like it, and the Beatles fanatic probably won’t get it. For those of us who appreciate good stuff when we hear it, though…well, it’s fucking great. One of those albums you can get hooked on. Probably the most impressive fact is that Danger Mouse was able to manipulate Ringo’s drumming into such flawless hip-hop beats.

Anyway, as a final bit of advice for those looking to get themselves an actual copy of this, instead of downloading it: avoid the auctions on Ebay for CDs that have the cartoonish cover, with Jay-Z standing in front of the Beatles. That’s just a bootleg of the actual release, so you’re paying for a CD-R. The actual cover for the release is all gray, with “Danger Mouse” written in black and white on the lower right-hand side. Find one that looks like this, and you’ll be getting an original.

Fucking lawyers!

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