Rob Smith Can’t Say No: Koot Hoomi, “The Dark Side of Hall and Oates”

Written by Music, Rob Smith Can't Say No

In which Rob Smith hears a bizarre album of Hall & Oates covers, and is not pleased.

I don’t want to do this.

You have to.

Why?

You can’t say no.

Not even to Jason Hare?

Nope.

Why does he hate me?

He doesn’t. He merely wanted to see how you’d react to hearing raga-inflected, off-key covers of Hall and Oates songs.

I thought he was asking me to review the new Bird and the Bee record.

Nope. Michael Parr got that one.

Jason likes Michael more than me.

Be that as it may, it falls to you to tell Popdose readers about Koot Hoomi and The Dark Side of Hall and Oates.

I don’t think I can do that in good conscience.

Well, since I’m your conscience, I think I speak with authority when I tell you, you can.

Well, I’m trying to apply the Updike Rules to Reviewing here—

Oh, God, here we go.

—and I just can’t. Rule Number 1: “Try to understand what the artist wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.” I cannot understand why anyone would wish to cover Hall and Oates songs in this manner. It goes against everything Hall and Oates stood for, and probably still stand for—soulfulness, simplicity, groove, quality, good singing, good playing. This music kills everything that the best Hall and Oates records brought to life. I cannot blame Koot Hoomi, whoever they are, for not achieving what they attempted, because I cannot fathom what their intent was, except to possibly ruin some great pop music.

So if that was their intent—

If that was their intent, they succeeded. And then there’s Rule Number 5: “If the work is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the artist’s oeuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Make sure it’s his and not yours.” This, by every indication, is the first and thus far only Koot Hoomi record, so there’s no oeuvre to investigate.

And in understanding their failure?

The failure is easy to understand. They tried to remake classic pop songs by ignoring the songs’ melodies, playing those songs on cheap instruments in somebody’s living room, and adding incongruous elements that keep even the potentially interesting portions of the work from shining through.

Example?

“Adult Education.” It starts out with a cool drum line, then somebody starts cawing like a crow that’s taken some gutshot and is on its back, about to be eaten by vultures. And then, someone else commences with rapping the lyrics.

Rapping?

More like reciting them. Then someone else starts shouting the chorus. It’s ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

Yikes. What else?

What’s the first cool thing you think of when you think of “Maneater?”

The bass line.

Right. Exactly. Now imagine “Maneater” stripped of the bass line, sung by a woman whose voice has been layered with echo to within an inch of its life. The main accompaniment is acoustic guitar, which is fine, except during the chorus, when an additional acoustic guitar comes in with a dude on background vocal, merely repeating the main vocalist—

Another echo.

Yes, another layer of echo. It sounds like a bad Mazzy Star cover band. But it’s head and shoulders better than “I Can’t Go for That,” which is stretched to a seven-minute dirge, complete with horrific attempts at chant-like harmonies and vaguely Indian tonal shifts, before the band launches into a propulsive acoustic rock arrangement with stagnant singing on the verses and a laughable talky/shouty chorus. And when you think it can’t get more silly and nonsensical, there’s a rap.

More recitation?

No, this one features someone shouting about Dianetics and robots and Celine Dion.

Holy God.

Yeah. Let’s see … you also have “Say It Isn’t So” as a sleepy ballad with an obnoxious, heavy-handed chorus. “Kiss on My List” starts with helicopter sound effects before degenerating into a bizarre percussion-spiked chorus that offers none of the song’s melody or suavity. The best of the more familiar tracks is probably “One on One,” but even that is hampered by flat singing and tinny production.

Is there anything about the record that you like?

I like how they go for some less obvious tracks, like “When the Morning Comes” from Abandoned Luncheonette, “I’m Sorry,” from Whole Oats, and several others I’ve never even heard. It would have been easy to just remake the Rock ‘n’ Soul Pt. 1 record and slither away, but there’s no “Sara Smile,” no “You Make My Dreams,” no “She’s Gone.”

They were spared.

They were, indeed. You know, there are two examples of how cool this record could have been, and, not surprisingly, they’re the two songs on the record when the band plays it straight. “Had I Known You Better Then” is a great deep cut from Abandoned Luncheonette that Koot Hoomi does really, really well. They’ve layered the acoustic guitars and poured on the aching, über-sensitive vocal, and it really works. I added it to a playlist I’ve been building recently, and it fits perfectly.

The other is a straight acoustic take of “Wait for Me.” It’s gorgeous. Its beauty stems from its simplicity; the band recasts it as a mid-tempo ballad, again with the guitar and vulnerable vocal up front, and it perfectly complements the song’s lyrics in a way the original doesn’t.

Heresy.

No, I’m serious. I love the original, but you have to admit, the AM radio compression that covers the thing like a wet blanket has not aged well. I’m not saying Koot Hoomi does it better—I’m saying the simple acoustic arrangement opens up new emotional possibilities within the song. It’s beautiful.

But overall?

Yeah, overall, the record is just not very good. In a lot of ways, a record like this is a good reason to keep major labels afloat. One role of major labels is to act as something of a gatekeeper: they weed out horrible, ear-destroying crap played by amateurs and present the public with horrible, ear-destroying crap played by professionals. This Koot Hoomi record could not exist were it not for the Internet and its democratization of pop culture, where every voice—good, bad, exceptionally bad, and Koot Hoomi—has an equal chance to be heard.

You usually advocate for such openness.

Yup, and I suppose I still do. I suppose my own selectivity keeps me safe from something like this.

Which is the whole point of this column—to discover new things. To try new stuff. To give everything an equal chance to be heard.

Yeah, I guess so.

So, in essence, Koot Hoomi’s The Dark Side of Hall and Oates is the epitome of why this column exists. You’ve given Web space to a record most would not have heard. People can read it, track down the record, and decide for themselves whether it’s good. You’re coming down on the side of saying it sucks, but others can be exposed to it and make that determination for themselves.

This record is really bad.

Yes. Yes, it is.

The Bird and the Bee record is really good.

Absolutely.

Next time out, I’m going to write about kid’s music. Good stuff that several readers have sent me. I’m looking forward to writing about that.

And you should be.

I’m going to get back at Jason for this.

Let the plotting begin.