I have a friend who despises Madonna, hates her with every fiber of her being. She believes that any artistic success Madge has had is due, for the most part, to attaching herself to a successful hot producer and sucking the producer’s young artistic blood, then moving on, like a horrifying Cruella DeVille-like mosquito (to mix the hell out of a metaphor). Patrick Leonard, William Orbit, Nellee Hooper, etc, in my friend’s view, most of Madonna’s success has been linked in varying degrees of success to whomever is “hot” at the moment. And to her credit (and artistic damnation), she’s been pretty great at this sonic cannibalization.
I would contend that Madonna choosing producers that make her “come alive again” artistically is quite a self-reflective and brave talent, akin to male bands picking Rick Rubin to work with. Willfully choosing someone that challenges you is no small feat, choosing to spend time with someone who will knock you off your comfortable pedestal and keep you gloriously uncomfortable.
Which is why artists pick Rick Rubin (and maybe why Madonna should herself one day): he’s a brilliant, back-to-basics producer who somehow has figured out the formula, which seems to be:
- Have creatively bankrupt band and/or singer rent a house to record in.
- Have said band and/or singer bring already written songs and play together in a room.
- Mix said band and/or singer in a way that is a throwback to their original, basic sound.
Which got me thinking. Who are some artists that should be working with certain producers to really shock them into a transcendent album? I humbly submit:
Prince Produced by Jack White
There’s a great intro to the documentary “It Might Get Loud” where Jack White is inexplicable nailing shit to a board on some rural porch. One by one, he attaches two nails, some thick wire, sets an old Coke bottle to pull the wire taught, nails an old, buzzy pickup beneath the nail, plugs that into a cheap little amp, and proceeds to shred a nice little blues lick with a slide. He then looks off camera and says, just like a punk: “Who says you even need a guitar?”
It’s a great moment, and it underlines that Jack White needs to play music. He’s an goddamn artist, and he’d dig up bones if they had an unmatched tonal quality. So here’s the plan:
Give Prince a duffel-bag full of two pairs of pants, a couple of t-shirts, Chuck Taylor high tops, no make-up, and about a dozen do-rags. He and Jack White sequester themselves in a cabin in Northern Minnesota or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (either one is great), just the two of them. They are given the following instruments and equipment:
- The Jack White assembled guitar from It Might Get Loud (or they make a new one).
- An ancient stand-up bass.
- A plinkly stand-up piano, preferably ripped-off from the local high school (‘cause those things are always wicked out-of-tune).
- A beat-up resonator guitar with a grumpy little vintage amp, like a Pignose.
- One steel drum.
- An old Slingerland jazz kit, with a piccolo snare.
- Any and all Harry Partch instruments they are able to procure.
- A cello.
- One slide.
- A reel-to-reel recorder.
Three months, a wood stove, bonfire pit, groceries, that’s it. No one gets a cell phone. White legal pads. No engineer. Two musicians, one cabin. No Prince “yes-men”. Here’s the final rule: after three months is up, the masters go to Jack. He decides what stays and goes. Prince has to give up control on the final product. He has to let go.
I GUARANTEE YOU this would yield one of Prince’s greatest albums (if he and Jack didn’t kill each other first, which is highly probable), perhaps one of the greatest albums of all time. A Love Supreme-good, Sketches of Spain-good. Hell, Sign O’The Times-good. Then, Prince does a tour where it’s just him onstage with any of the above instruments. He could use Jon Brion-type looping, but it would just be him, onstage, alone with his unmatchable talent and soul.
Just a suggestion. More wacky artistic pairings to come!
(BTW, Jack, I want a co-producer credit when this works. Even if I only fetch propane and bring you guys up S’mores.)
Lastly, I’m not under the opinion that Prince is an artistic corpse. The title is general. I just wonder what sort of stuff he’d create if he was challenged to a true collaboration, rather than calling all the shots all the time. So there you go.