I inject myself with out of tune music every morning so i wake up refreshed and ready for another day of falling down the stairs.
Edit: any of you who think I'm being "ironic" with this, I'm not. This album is an actual 100.
I personally feel like I'm a better writer than I was months ago, and I'm kinda disappointed at how simple my old reviews were, so consider this the start of my new "remastered reviews."
The story of the Shaggs is essential to understanding the music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eEpyxoNkwk
this video is a good retelling but to summarise it's essentially a story of a Father' greed and desire for wealth. Forcing his daughters to learn these instruments they most likely had no desire to learn, all so he could be the next "Jackson 5." It's also a story of stupidity, of a Father who was so enamored with success that he never stopped to see if the music even met the basic qualifications for "music."
It can be easy to look at The Shaggs' music and just say "that's stupid." It's a practically isn't even music with how incapable they are of playing instruments or singing. " And to that I say "You're correct, and you're missing the point."
Philosophy of the World is something that will never be made again. In the age of information if you want to learn about music it's easier than ever. Even without formal training, the shear amount of music that we will hear in our life will educate us on music subliminally. We maybe can't make it but most of us can probably recognize it by ear. Why might not be able to play the drums but we can describe "normal drumming." But someone in the 60s whos musical knowledge most likely consists of Nursery Rhymes, I don't think you could. If you we're simply told "Drumming is when you keep hitting the drum," would you be able to fully comprehend that? Would you be able to say that playing the same note 16 times in a row trying to go as fast as possible is "not real drumming."
The Shaggs is music from a distant place in our mind, the place where music didn't evolve past "Babies playing with a xylophone." It's a genuinely jarring experience that's only heightened by the production. Because this is a studio produced album. If this album was simply recorded in a closet with barely intelligible music, it wouldn't have the same effect. Because that's where we expect this music to be. We expect this childlike innocence to be bound to a living room or elementary music classroom, but in a studio, professionally mixed and mastered? It feels wrong, like a soul was ripped out and shoved into a world that is doesn't belong in. The drums that should be loud and overwhelming are perfectly placed, and that's scary. It's a cold desolate feeling, like the past has been ripped out of place and grotesquely stitched onto a cold metal husk. Like a child singing who was kidnapped and shoved on stage in front of thousands of people. It's a genuinely jarring experience.
Do you remember this photo: https://twitter.com/melip0ne/status/1120503955526750208?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1120503955526750208&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.livescience.com%2F65317-unidentifiable-objects-viral-photo.html
? Solar Sands recently made a video about how this image disturbs us due to how seemingly normal it is. How unremarkable these textures look and how you can swear it's something that has to have been something You've seen before. But you just can't place it, your brain simply cannot connect the wires in our brain to distinguish the objects in the image. And that's scary. He compared the image to the Caretaker's dymenta simulating music, but I personally believe the Shaggs is a better comparison. While the Caretaker uses ballroom samples, distortion, and the concept of memory in a very frightening way, we can still recognize it as music. Even though it tears at our mind, we hear the classical piano played in the background and recognize it as a memory of music. Can we give the same credit to the Shaggs? Can we distinctly hear the Shaggs and recognize it as Music? I personally feel that the Caretaker is far to explicitly eerie to be a fair comparison for the photo, but The Shaggs? There's something so seemingly normal here, it's just some kids on instruments. Then why is it mixed like this? Why are the vocals distorted to hell, why is it so monotone and pained? Why are the lyrics seemingly professionally written to sound innocent? Why do the lyrics have these innocent tone in their content, but weird deeper themes that no child should be making songs about. These questions never give you an answer, because at the end of the day you're looking at a memory of music in album form.
The lyrics especially give this a sad, "ironic twist of fate" feel to them. On the title track we have the lyrics
"Oh, the rich people want what the poor people's got
And the poor people want what the rich people's got
And the skinny people want what the fat people's got
And the fat people want what the skinny people's got
You can never please anybody in this world"
But, we know this isn't how the world works. The rich people DON'T want what the poor people have because the most likely already own it. It's a very childlike view of the world at first, believing there's a center to every issue, a "grass is always greener on the other side so be happy with what you have" tone. But then we have the line "You can never please anybody in this world." And it takes on a weird new tone. Before what seemed to be a superficial jealous desire for objects now becomes a weird emotional catharsis. You can never please anybody? It's a stab in the gut. "You will never be good enough." It helps with the strange confusion you feel. A strange contradiction from the "Fat people want what you have" to " They don't want what you have." It's not an issue of "I want that," it's an issue of "I am not happy with myself, and I wish I was anybody different." And it's scary, I shouldn't feel these feelings from a children's album, but for some reason, that's what's conveyed.
The simplistic lyrics help establish a strange tone. Not only does it contrast completely with the complex instrumentation, but it sleeps into your brain. The monotone singing pared with the rhythmic flow of the rhyme scheme just forces your brain to pay attention to it. The singing especially is stressed at the weirdest parts. In a tone that singers like Nico use when pointing out the main parts of a chorus ex: "I am the janitor of lunacy." here it's used randomly, disorinteding you and making you wonder "Did that mean something?" What does it mean when the lyric
"My Radio" is sang like it's a grand revelation.
(On a side note, as I was researching the lyrics I saw at points the sites just didn't know what they were. On the song "My companion" the lyrics are listed as "No one dare *** (?), I take my companion , It never has passed (?)" just adding to the weirdness factor)
I feel like the real ironic catharsis comes on "Who Are Parents," where the Shaggs sing about being denied kindness from "other kids" before saying that "Parents are the ones who really care." Well, do they? Did their dad genuinely listen to them or did he force them to follow out his dream. Did he care if his girls wanted "normal schooling" or wanted anything that didn't follow his path to stardom. I am not in the family so I obviously can't say, but I can't imagine that. I can't imagine these lyrics about the Shaggs shouldn't trust "other kids" and always listen to the "parents," it feels like a cry for help. It feels like brainwashing or cult like. Constant personal affirmation that your parents are good people and knew what they we're doing when they were raising you. Late nights wondering if they truly do care about you. That's what I feel when I listen to The Shaggs.
I wonder sometimes if it would be better if music like this didn't exist. Music brought forth by deep pain. The Shaggs should have had a normal childhood. Daniel Johnston shouldn't have suffered like he did to bring forth "Hi, How are You." Phil Elverum and Nick Cave shouldn't have felt the loss they felt to bring us "A Crow Looked at Me" and "Skellington Tree." Bowie shouldn't have had to face his own death to make "Blackstar." These great pains shouldn't be something that happens, and I sometimes wonder if it's exploitation to rate these types of music. A person's grief cannot be rated and catoried. So should this type of music exist? I say that not only should it, it needs to exist. The concepts of death, pain, mental struggle are awful things, that everyone has to deal with, and if someone is brave enough to make this universal pain, something for someone else to cope to. It's admirable. The fact that the feelings of pain can be something I can connect to and feel bound to, it helps me more than almost anything. The fact that artists like The Shaggs have become a way for me to connect to these strange feelings of insecurity, regret, guilt and and all these other strange feelings, it's something that I admire more than anything.
If I could remove this album from existence, in exchange for The Shaggs them having a potentially "normal childhood," I would. But what I gain from this albums existence is a strange reassurance in myself. That music can sounds weird and unprofessional. That we all have those subliminal anxieties about our existence. That our mind can't always fathom everything, and some things can be strange enough that it causes our mind to wonder.
So here's to "Philosophy of the World," the strangest album ever made.