Once upon a time, and, more precisely the time that Verve's Bittersweet Symphony was played everywhere all day I had read in a newspaper something I happened to remember lately. It's not, the writer said, that it's such a great song. But it was something - it has the drive. He went on to define that drive as something essential to rock 'n' roll, and if I'm not mistaken, that feeling music gives you that you want to do something.
The Hidden Cameras are a strange affair. They were a strange affair even before the world discovered them and all the music journalists named them the next big thing: for example, they come from Canada (Toronto). Secondly, there's loads of them, about 13 - the number changes according to the circumstances and the member's moods; there are the musicians you normally get in a band but also a handful of string players, go go dancers, something like a choir... During their live shows, they project films; also, the lyrics to the songs, and they say they try to create an atmosphere different to the one of most indie gigs, where the crowd stands on one side, the band on the other, and nothing much happens. They say they want to make people dance... or something like that anyway...
They're also gay. Actually, probably not all of them are, but their frontman Joel Gibb and that's enough to characterize them, because the Hidden Cameras seem to be more of his project than a band. An art project gone mad some people say - but anyhow, it works well. Better than, some people say, Stuart Murdoch and Belle and Sebastian... Because of course the Hidden Cameras are yet another band that get compared to Belle and Sebastian a whole lot, mostly along the lines of "they're all Belle and Sebastian could have been, but they missed their chance". Anyhow... what was I saying?
Ah yes! Joel Gibb is gay. His lyrics are gay too: they are a hymn to homoeroticism which, however, sounds like a hymn to eroticism in general. And strangely enough, I didn't say "hymn" because I couldn't find a better word but because there really is a religious element to the Hidden Cameras' approach. What exactly I do not know but it is something true and deep, something that recognises the divine element in things that, traditionally, were thought to be as far away from it as possible:
I was late getting to church on the morning of my ceremony
Stayed up too late on the night before from fingering dirty holes in the dark
The morning sun blinded my eyes and made my skin look pale and tainted in light
Then I repeated my own vows, they were perverted and they smelled of myself
"there is is splendour in the harshness of bum"
the consummation makes a grumble and the sound that I have learnt called:
That's coming from a song that is supposed to criticize gay weddings. What's the point of "trying to fit in an archaic, straight, humbling institution? Instead of wasting your energy trying to legalise gay marriage, I think these gay men should be creating a dialogue about what marriage means." And yet no one has sued them or threatened to beat them up. Actually the press seems to either ignore all this, or -and that's what's happening more- be in love with them. Now you have to admit that that requires some really extraordinary talent of some sort!
And there's more to it still: Hidden Cameras do sound like Belle and Sebastian as everyone says. Kind of. Mainly they sound like the bastard child of Belle and Sebastian and Flaming Lips, but also like Heist (does anyone know Heist apart from me?). And the production does remind of Phil Spector like everyone says. But most of all they sound like a classical band or a choir - and that's a good thing, it's original, and it means they have a good imagination. And on top of this all, they sound so in a very exciting way.
Exciting is, in my opinion, the key-word for the music of the Hidden Cameras.
There's a History of Art theory that says you should just a work of art based on the reactions the public's reaction to it, thus claiming that its "worth" is not self-defined and it changes with time. To put it differently, what would I think of "The Queen is dead" if it arrived at my doorstep in the post on a tape from a friend, accompanied with the note "this album was made twenty years ago. No one has heard of them, but I like them lots"? I would like to say I would still like it as much, but I'm afraid I would be lying.
All this, not to show you that I'm young and impressionable, but to get to the question: what would Hidden Cameras be in my opinion, if I hadn't read so many times already that "The smell of our own" is a masterpiece? They would be a charming band with a good imagination that sound like they record in churches. "The smell of our own" would be a record I would sometimes play and think of when making mixtapes (remaining however unsure as to whether the recipient of the tape would like them).
And what are they now that all the world's music critics seem to think they're the next best thing? Well - they're probably the next big think. If this record is a masterpiece, honestly, I do not know - but it does have that drive as well as a few other things.