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The KLF / The White Room / Arista/KLF Communications (1991)


AUDIO: Justified And Ancient (Stand By The Jams)
They're the group who wrote a book about how stupidly simple it was to crack the British pop charts! They're the group who got Tammy Wynette to sing a bunch of gibberish lyrics about ice cream vans! They're the group who burned a million pounds of their royalties just to see what would happen! They're the group who fired machine-gun blanks into the audience to announce their retirement, before leaving a dead sheep (emblazoned with the words "I Died For You") on the steps of the BRIT awards! They're the group who coined the "chillout" genre and invented the illegal bootleg trend! They're the group who deleted their entire back catalog to maintain their myth! They're the group who claimed they'd only reform when world peace was declared! Really, how could anyone not love the KLF? Well... for a start, they could give The White Room a listen.

The soundtrack to an aborted film project of the same name, The White Room is the deeply silly epitaph to a group initially conceived as an elaborate reaction to the witless machinations of acid house-era techno pop. Formed by Big In Japan bassist (and later Teardrop Explodes / Echo & The Bunnymen manager) Bill Drummond (aka "King Boy D") and artist Jimmy Cauty (aka "Rockman Rock"), the Kopyright Liberation Front's first incarnation was as the Justified Ancients Of Mumu -- a group whose first single courted controversy for its illegal sampling of ABBA, Margaret Thatcher and various BBC broadcasts. After a series of now-legendary self-releases (their albums "1987 - What The Fuck Is Going On?" and the copyright-bating "Whitney Joins The Jams" are now much sought-after items), their first moment of chart-topping glory arrived with the 1988 single "Doctorin' The Tardis", released under the pseudonym The Timelords. Often sourced in discussions of the bootleg / mash-up phenomenon, the single spliced the Doctor Who theme with Gary Glitter's "Rock 'N' Roll" and shot straight to #1 in the ever-ludicrous British pop charts. In 1991, when The White Roomwas released, acid house and techno artists didn't "do" albums, much less concept albums that opened with a "stadium house trilogy" of top 10 hits. As befits the pop-joke conceit outlined in their Manual: How To Have A Number One Hit Record The Easy Way, the album was recorded in Dagenham, Essex with a mass of here-for-hire MCs, session players and vocalists -- some of whom, including P.P. Arnold, contribute little more than occasional, endlessly re-sampled wails of "Oooh", "Mu Mu", "KLF" or nonsense utterances (eg. "Come On Boy, D'Ya Wanna Ride?"). The album is far from faceless, though, as the multitude of personalities cadge a willfully strange, near-mythological cohesion from the knowingly self-reflexive lyrics and makeshift techno-pop beats. True to form, the album opens with a radio-play gust of wind and a bland excerpt of the hit "Justified And Ancient", sung not by Tammy Wynette but an on-hand session singer credited as Black Steel.

After 90 seconds, it closes with a bang, launching into the first entry of their "stadium house" trilogy: "What Time Is Love?". The song is extraordinary -- not just for taking an MC5 sample to the top of the British charts, not even for nabbing its crowd-cheer samples from a U2 live album, but because it throbs and pulses in a still-riveting manner that transcends the dated beatdrops. Fusing the siren-wailing urgency of rave anthemry with the drunk-on-its-own-riff brilliance of the stupidest, simplest pop music, it's the kind of song that sends electrifying impulses through the drunken brain.

That's true, also, of "3AM Eternal", with its deliberately infectious chant of "KLF -- Uh huh uh huh uh huh uh huh (beep boop blurp) KLF is gonna rock ya!", and of the closing moments of "Last Train To Transcentral", when the cries of "Mu Mu! Mu Mu! Mu Mu! Mu Mu!" take on a strangely liberating, mantra-like feel. It's the essence of great pop music, of great dance music, wholly compressed -- Drummond and Cauty weren't kidding when their Manual praised the lyrics to Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky": "For many", they wrote, "there is more universal meaning and resonance in those three lines ("I should be so lucky / Lucky lucky lucky / I should be so lucky in love") than in the complete collected works of Morrissey."

And so, to the Tammy Wynette collaboration "Justified And Ancient", issued in the form of five different mixes on a separate "bonus" disc. I still maintain (and there are those who'll back me up on this) that this song deserves a place among the greatest artworks of the 20th century. Not only is it a brilliant, gleefully daft, wholly nonsensical, perfectly ludicrous pop song with a chorus to kill for, not only is it a slyly subversive comment on the cynically repulsive old-artist-collaborates-with-young-artist phenomenon at the expense of itself, but, self-referential irony and all, it is and always will be globe-straddling pop music incarnate. Were a decision reached that all pop music was deemed unfit for human consumption and had to be destroyed, save for one song to keep us fickle masses in choruses, this would be have to be the one, folks. (This or "Smooth Criminal", but I digress.)

As for the rest of the album... couldn't give a shit. Filler. Wallpaper. Nothing more than paid-for studio time. Good on them for burning the royalties.

As providers of perverse, throwaway, three-minute pop-song manna, though, the KLF were punk rock, the Renaissance, Andy Warhol and Jesus Christ all rolled into one.

-- Allan Harrison

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