When does a gimmick stop being a gimmick and become so good that it is its own real thing? And when it comes to music, which is a celebration of creativity no matter how you slice it, is there even any use using the word? I often wonder if Justin Hawkins of The Darkness ever loses sleep over the fact that his band are labelled a gimmick, a faux-glam band trying to relive the heyday of the late 70s and early 80s where doing cocaine didn’t land you in rehab, or if he just goes out there, performs as well as he possibly can and enjoys himself. I’m not sure what it is, but around this time of year (when Vivid festival takes over our city) I start having a real philosophical relationship with music-makers, because the best of the best of them end up in our backyard. I think that sometimes we forget, locked away behind our screens, that music is best experienced as a performance, and really good music performance is impossible to fake. Thus, exactly one year on from Hypnotic Brass’ storming of the Sydney Opera House, I present to you another group of soul-covering, horn-blasting party animals who revive songs that should never have gone away. This time it’s New Orleans’ Hot 8 Brass Band with a take on Marvin Gaye’s classic sexual healing that is so happy and punchy I seriously dare you to stay seated for the whole song. Go ahead punk, make my day.
In true blog-nerd form, I lucked upon this tune in a similarly abstract way as I did Loyal Divide’s tune last week – via Soundcloud. To be precise, this song bookends Starslinger‘s first hour-long mix that he released for free, which I had on rotation for weeks ahead of his appearance in Sydney for a label launch. You wouldn’t expect to find this tune there, after all, the rest of the tape is full of banging house tunes like the Toddla T remix of The 2 Bears, a bunch of Drake remixes and lots of explicit rap from Tyga and Wale. And then, like the sun shining out from the clouds comes this nine minutes of unabashed beauty, which I believe Starslinger actually pilfered from DJ Yoda’s Fabric mixtape but hey, it doesn’t even matter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are very few things in this world as nourishing and good for the soul as a well-tuned, all-pistons-firing horn section. Barging out with a euphonium and tuba double (yes, I was in the school band for ten years) that adds a swing the original bass line, as well as a really sweet snare drum groove that swings as heavily as it stomps, The Hot 8 Brass Band make it known immediately that they’re not here for the tributes, but to blow you out of the water. By the time those trumpets burn holes through the speakers in perfect tune and three part harmony, you’d swear it’s the way Marvin originally wrote it. Covers be damned, this is shooting you straight under the covers.
‘Sexual Healing’, despite sounding like a victory tune from a man at the height of his powers, was actually one of Gaye’s last hits and launched him back into the charts a mere two years before he died. At the time he was depressed, on the run from the IRS and had just finished excising himself from Motown, the label that helped make him. He rediscovered his mojo (and also rekindled a love of reggae) at exactly the right time, launching perhaps one of the most famous late-career comebacks in soul music history in 1982. All the passion and energy Gaye poured into his lyrics are articulated perfectly by these guys, who are so good at their instruments that they can literally bend their notes at the same place Gaye did his voice to enhance that sense of longing. It helps that the third time around, they drop the horns and bring out their own voices, clapping in time and forming a gospel chorus while the drums roll along underneath. In pushing out the brass first and then following up with vocals, the band honour both their own interpretation and the original, infusing it with so much love that it’s impossible not to be moved by it. At one point there’s just a double-time cowbell and a cacophony of soulful voices, which aren’t anywhere as good as the man who came up with the melody, but it doesn’t even matter. Sax solos beget triumphant trumpets beget sultry trombones, and all the while, that spontaneous live element, like the black church I always wished I’d been a member of , carries the song along. At nine minutes it’s nowhere near long enough. Get down on your knees and get sexy. It’s time for these Southerners to save your soul and convert your ears.
Hot 8 Brass Band – ‘Sexual Healing’