There are some things in life when you think that something is going to be really, really good, and it turns out to be really craptacular. The Phantom Menace, A Confederacy of Dunces, most films starring John Malkovich, the entire life of Neil Gaiman (including his ‘Hey, I’m sorry for upsetting people with my crappy behaviour, but you guys are a bunch of disabled feminists’ girlfriend, Amanda Palmer).
These things serve to remind us that we cannot take enjoyment for granted — the material world is a place of misery and disappointment created by a malicious deity who didn’t want humans to understand Gnosis. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
On the other hand, there are things which do the opposite of this. We come across them not expecting much and discover that they’re beautiful, wonderful, mysterious, and completely lovely. There’s a richness to them which you’d never have suspected, and you feel slightly silly for having doubted how magnificent it is.
Of course, I’m talking about Monkey: Journey to the West.
It’s a… I’m not quite sure what to call it. It’s a theatrical-musical piece, styled on Chinese/Japanese opera. I must admit to having an amateurish love for Japanese opera. It’s terrifying, confusing, and bewildering; I really don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to appreciate it fully, but I still love watching it when I can. Monkey: Journey to the West combines these styles with electronica.
And it’s amazing. It probably helps that it was composed by Daman Albarn. Seriously, the only thing that guy has ever done wrong was be a mime artist (apparently trufax).
So it combines this wonderful artform with the story of Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Most people remember the old Japanese television adaptation (with Tripitaka being played by a hot lass, causing much sexual confusion). In this version, we have the birth of Monkey, his affronts to Buddha and Heaven, his imprisonment, the commission of Tripitaka, the release of Monkey, three battles with monsters, then the enlightenment of the pilgrims.
So both form and substance are perfect. It’s challenging and refreshing — entirely enjoyable and I really can’t recommend the album recording enough.
If there is one criticism to be had, it’s a remarkably academic one: for the battle stories, Albarn chose to represent four males subjugating ‘wild’ women. All three of the conflict arcs covered this ground and it’s just unfortunate and unnecessary. Sure, it’s a scientific fact that an evil female is a thousand times more interesting and attractive than an evil male or a heroic female, but it seems like repressed misogyny if every opportunity is taken to have the heroes smack up women. Albarn’s never seemed particularly misogynistic (quite the opposite), so it seems really weird and out of place.
Note that he’s not the first nor will he be the last to follow this path. Most of The Odyssey is filled with tales of a guy battling against barbarian women. Polyphemus and the suitors are the only male ‘bad guys’ I can recall. From memory, even the demonic whirlpool is a chick. Oh, and to top it off, we get a speech from Agamemnon telling us how evil women are.
Hating on women is just the literary thing to do, really.