One of the joys that art can provide is recontextualizing things that are familiar. Assemblage and collage does this all this time, as in the works of people like Man Ray, Robert Rauschenberg, and Joseph Cornell. Such works make us ask questions about our relationship to objects in the world, serving as aesthetic delights as well as phenomenological quandaries. Less highfalutin’, they are just plain cool when done right.
In the case of Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals, the medium is different but the results similar (and just plain cool). It even makes us ask questions, mainly of the “How’d he come up with that?” or “How’d he do that?” variety.
Like his previous albums, Gregg Gillis delights from mash-up to mash-up and from track to track. Part of this joy comes from identifying the individual pieces Gillis uses.
“Wait, is that Temple of the Dog? Well, what do you know?”
“Cool, M.I.A. And, damn, I haven’t heard The Cranberries in awhile.”
“That is totally ‘Thunderstruck.’ Nice.”
“Did he just give us a little Rickroll?”
The greater joy, though, comes from digging on his combinations. “Whoomp! (There It Is)” over “In a Big Country” is just a great pairing—a life-affirming mash-up for party people shaking their derrieres. The opening track’s use of “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” over “Gimme Some Lovin'” is inspired; as is the bookending closer, which concludes (in lighters-in-the-air fashion) to “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” over “Faithfully.” And how about “Roc Boys” over “Paranoid Android”? By golly, somehow it works!
How’d he come up with that?
Even the little touches can stand out, like Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and The Cardigans’ Nina Persson doing a little call and reply. And there’s something comic about Thin Lizzy mashed with Soulja Boy or “Since U Been Gone” chainsawed by Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish.”
And yet there are two faults I find with some of the album, and in a way they are related. For one, some of the transitions from mash-up to mash-up are abrupt. They stop short before changing over, like a sudden, arbitrary twist of the radio dial (people still twist those, right?). There are just so many ideas that are being jammed together that some get left behind. “In Between Days,” for instance, gets thrown in but doesn’t get played with as much as it should.
The above leads into the other fault. Certain mash-ups on the album aren’t brought to a satisfying conclusion. “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check”/”Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is a thing of beauty from beginning to end, but I can’t help but feel that “I Got a Thang For You”/”Gypsy” ends about 20 seconds short of where it should. “ABC”/”Bohemian Rhapsody” is a total tease. Why not repeat the “Let me show you what it’s all about” part two more times? Just a little more, maybe? Just a little here and a little there?
Those gripes, though, actually point to the strength of the album. So many of the mash-ups are strong enough to support their own fully realized song. If you divorce yourself from the idea of mash-ups as songs per se and treat the album as one large song (and why not? the bookending was obviously intentional), the gripes are overshadowed by Gillis’ grooves. The individual mash-ups are all just parts of a track. It’s not just 14 tracks, it’s one long track in 14 parts. The whole album is a composition; the whole album is a work of art.
How’d he do that?
Tom Phillips – A Humument
Danger Mouse – The Grey Album
Jason Forrest – Shamelessly Exciting