Plat Du Jour
ondon, November 21, 2003: Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson—known in the States for her show Nigella Bites, and also for holy matrimony with advertising magnate and modern-day Medici Charles Saatchi—is commissioned to oversee a light lunch for Prime Minister Blair and visiting President Bush. There would be discussion of the ongoing Iraq debacle, and there would be delectation of roast pumpkin and braised ham. The food would garner more press than the contents of the meeting. Come 2005, Matthew Herbert cooks up Plat Du Jour, ending it by recreating that lunch and flattening it with a tank.
South Beach, Atkins, every fad diet imaginable; Shrek cereal, Feed Lindsay. Our Western food obsession is so well-documented it's almost moot—we love it, we hate it, we love it, we hate it, but rarely do we think about how we get it. It takes a man nearly liquefying his liver in your local megaplex to get the mainstream in America to understand that McDonald's only qualifies as food because you can put it in your mouth, chew it, and swallow it; but even he can't bring himself to ask the begging question of where a family of four on the poverty line is supposed the get the money or time for real food. Likewise, Matthew Herbert begs lots of questions—how are Vietnamese coffee farmers supposed to subsist when market value for their goods is below cost? And, crucially, what are we putting in our bodies, and where does it come from? The product is Process Art of the best sort, where the reading is fundamental, and the tunes are berserk.
The above is posited as a caveat: the official website for this album is critical for any understanding of this record. The album was created using the sounds of food preparation and production—everything from free-range chickens to pickle jars to saved basmati seeds—and it's almost impossible to understand why, for instance, "These Branded Waters," which focuses on expensive bottled water and the lack of any drinking water for 69% of the inhabitants of India, ticks along at 182BPMs (because it takes 182.000 liters of water to make a ton of steel), without the helpful insight provided in the "Making Of" section of the site. And while I usually balk at outside material being necessary for understanding a work, the hours of data, anecdotes, and history give the heft of discourse and slides nicely into the music.
It helps that the melodies here, whatever their provenance, are lovely—check the widescreen pings of pickled popcorn on a silver platter on "The Last Meal of Stacey Lawton," about an executee of George W. who requested pickles for his last meal; or the haunting flute-like lines, via a toilet-paper tube, on the "Seven Seeds of Navdarnya," the one with the saved basmati seeds for percussion. The rhythms throughout are a feat in and of themselves, scurrying relentlessly, but remaining Earth-bound—the grime-step landfill treatise "Waste Land," or the carnival run-around Vietnamese farmeres say "An Empire of Coffee." Then there's "Celebrity," ostensibly the thesis statement here, the one with the lyrics, and the one (and only, unfortunately) featuring the indomitable Dani Siciliano. The lyrics are reprinted whole on the site—choice bit: "If money equals murder / I'm doin' time"—but the chorus deserves special mention as the nuttiest, most delirious I've heard all year. It goes, and I quote, "Go Gordon / Go Ramsay / Go Beyonce! / Go Beyonce!" Oh, and the track utilizes the noises made by celebrity-endorsed fat snacks, including the aforementioned, sugar-bombed Shrek Cereal.
Plat Du Jour isn't entirely without its muddled moments: "Hidden Sugars" doesn't make particularly good on the promises of its title for addled crack-rockery. But for a high-minded piece of process, one that rests on the old trope that the good stuff is always bad for you—or in this case, for the majority of the world—Herbert packs a lot of snap, crackle, and, particularly, pop.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JULY 24 – JULY 30, 2005
Reviewed by: Jeff Siegel
Reviewed on: 2005-07-25