This is the age when modern miracles are born
Inventive. Eclectic. Chic. Chuck Prophet's music, informed by the past and devised by the media age, is the soundtrack to a junk culture with a massive case of attention deficit disorder. It samples a variety of influences, including Hammond B3 soul, psychedelic rock, alt-country, melodic pop, old-school funk, dramatic blues and mild hip-hop, as it twists and turns into a sonic concoction that is as sardonic as it is adventurous.
But just because Prophet's puree sound is a place where Dr. Dre and Charlie Feathers coexist, don't assume he's just another tawdry sampler or a Beck wannabe who goes out of his way to mix and mismatch odd combinations of sounds for the sole purpose of being a musical mad scientist. To do so would underestimate his visionary abilities and just how relevant and enjoyable such genre-twisting music can be when placed in deft hands. Prophet might be the perverse guy who invites all kinds of people to the same party because he likes them all and wants to see what will happen when they hang together, but by the end of the night he hopes they transcend any preconceived barriers.
"I like to kick songs around, pick `em apart and rotate the tires," he says. "Sonically, I have fun with the songs and cast each one like it's a movie. You cast it with a group of characters that complement one another and turn it sideways and bend it beyond recognition until you come up with something."
Prophet's reputation as a creative maverick began during the 1980s when he was the guitar slinger for the cosmic cowboy band Red on Green. He further endeared himself to critics and a loyal grassroots following with a string of solo albums he began making in 1990. However, his career and his art took a dramatic turn when he dropped his twangy guitar and began incorporating hip-hop and production techniques into his music at the turn of the century with "The Hurting Business." Two years later, "No Other Love" spawned the top-5 radio hit "Summertime Thing," which landed him the opening slot on Lucinda Williams' summer tour and introduced his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music forms to fans across the country.
Since then, the San Francisco-based Prophet has added another gem to his growing body of work that is impossible to pigeonhole and ignore. The charismatic "Age of Miracles" is so void of gimmickry that it should serve as a guide to other artists on how to integrate synthesizers, beat boxes and programmers with drums, keys, bass and guitars in a hip, organic way.
"I'd like to think I'm getting better at what I'm doing," Prophet says.
The title track, for example, is a `70s Bob Dylan country-rock tune with funky wah-wah guitar riffs, sweeping strings and a spacey chorus sung by Prophet's wife, Stephanie Finch, that sounds like it was filtered through an early `80s Mattel video game. It stands in direct contrast to the album's opening industrial ditty, "Automatic Blues," not to mention "The Chronic"-style "You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)," which is loaded with Moog synths. And yet those tunes are worlds apart from the eerie tale of three slain civil rights activists on "West Memphis Moon" and the hypnotic "Monkey in the Middle," brilliantly augmented by Rick Holstrom's stinging blue guitar.
But while "Age of Miracles" spans Prophet's sonic palette, he says thematically it shares a general crankiness with technology designed to make our lives easier.
"I'm not against technology," he explains. "But I still stand in front of the microwave and say `hurry the fuck up.'"
Despite his disdain for today's disposable society, Prophet still embraces it.
"It's getting harder to make albums in the conventional way because in a sense they're like novels, and when peoples' attention spans shrink down to the time it takes to load their MP3 players, you have to learn how to dazzle them with a sonic event every four measures," he says. "But when you lean in and do the work there's all kinds of rewards."