Saturday, December 30, 2006

French New Wave and Ugetsu

Is it me, or is classic French New Wave cinema about finding innovative way to film losers? Any way, I recently watched two new wave classics, the 400 Blows (1959) by Francois Truffaut's and Breathless (1960) by Jean Luc Godard. Both movies are about delinquency, one at a childhood age and another at an adult age. Both movies depict the characters as living in an amoral world of confusion led by selfish drives. Both movies are about sticking it to the "man" on impulse. They're both good movies worth seeing, though I think age has taken away some of its groundbreaking appeal.

The 400 Blows follows the story of a young boy named Antoine Dionel who is the cinematic stand in for the director. Based on the director's own life, the movie depicts a boy who hates school and has a fractured home life. He shows an aptitude for doing the wrong thing and even his pure attempts at performing good deeds often turn on him. The movie gives a full, humanistic view of this character (well, who's going to make an autobiographical film and make themselves look like a jerk) and a heartfelt sensitivity comes across that is rare. The final shot of the film is classic and makes the movie worth seeing.

Breathless I found lived up to its reputation for greatness in its filmmaking style but also was somewhat bored by it. The story of a petty criminal who kills a policeman and becomes the laziest fugitive ever seemed a little silly. That the criminal would choose this time to start a relationship seems bizarre. But the movie sells these ideas well by depicting the lead character as a jaded fool who thinks he's clever. The camerawork is stunning, lots of shaky hand held camerawork and jumpcuts. It gives the story an immediacy and energy the movie desperately needs. The idea of two soulless searchers fumbling in their search for meaning without pontificating on it is surprisingly moving. As good as it was though, this movie really didn't grab me and I found myself favoring the 1983 remake with Richard Gere.

The 1983 version is a monumental piece of crap which amazes the viewer with how a group of people can be so committed to making a horrible movie. Richard Gere plays his character like a 13 year old, hooked on the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and reading Silver Surfer comic books. Poor ex model Valerie Kapiersky is terribly miscast as...well, she just shouldn't be allowed to act. In fact, I think she felt humiliated and quit acting after this movie came out. When gratuitous nudity is a movie's strong point, you know it can't be good. But, like witnessing a car accident, you end up watching just to see how bad it can get. It's also fun to compare the two movies.

On the non new wave front, I recently watched Tales of Ugetsu (1953). A Japanese film about greed in 16th Century Japan. Two brothers attempt to cash in on selling their pottery just before the invasion of an enemy force. The lengths and costs of their greed leads to disgrace and death (mainly for the women that love them). The first half of the movie is realistic and effective, a completely believable portrayal of greed with all of its negativity and appeal. I really enjoyed it until the second half, which becomes a ghost story.

Movies that switch tone in the middle often lose me. Sometimes, the trick can work such as David Lynch's Muholland Drive (2001). That movie stuck with me as a first class mind trip. But in other movies, I find it annoying., It's like saying, "remember the last hour you spent? Forget all that, cause it doesn't matter anyway." That's how I felt about Ugetsu. The ghost story does find another angle to drive it's point home (Dude, don't be greedy!) but the first half's realistic approach was so engaging I was sad to see it go.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

2006 in review

Well, the year is almost over. In entertainment, it wasn't that big a year for me but the highlights that were there I enjoyed. In music, a lot of old timer (my era) groups released music and toured but not much happened with new artists. Movies were pretty dull this year, I spent a lot of the year watching older films. In television, I've found I'm starting to enjoy Sci-Fi shows a bit more (Battlestar Galactica and the reruns of Firefly) but animated series dominate what I watch now. I hope 2007 is a little better than this year, which was filled with some decent entertainment but not much stood out. Except my picks for the year of course, which are:


Top 5 songs
1. "Life Wasted" by Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam wrote their best song in ages with this frantic rocker. For the first time in over a decade, PJ wrote a song with a hook and this tune stuck in my head all summer long. An inspiring and motivating rock song if there ever was one.
2. "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland
The "I'm Like A Bird" hippie reinvented herself as a club lovin' single gal on the catchiest song of the past year. It first showed up in phone commercials and then caught on from there. The tune reeks of 80's pop rap with the percussive beat, glossy synth lines and bass eq'ed male vocals. It even had a bit of storytelling with the male / female back and forth vocals of two single people looking for sex on their terms. Furtado's confessional rapping and Timbaland's "playa" attitude made for a lot of fun in 2006. Second best duet of '06: "Like We Never Loved At All" by Country couple Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Get a hanky for that one.
3. "Woman" by Wolfmother
It's Led Zeppelin! No, it's Black Sabbath!! Wait, it's Deep Purple!!! Actually, it wasn't any of those bands but an Austrailian trio who mimics them. Wolfmother's "Woman" blasted out of stereos like it was 1973 this year with a hard charging guitar riff and howling rock god vocals. If Robert Plant hadn't been ripped off so many times before, he probably would have had an issue. No finesse or art is this one, just balls to the walls rock. Classic rock pastiche runner up: Hinder's Aerosmithian power ballad "Lips Of An Angel".
4. "King of Might Have Been" by Chicago
In high school I was a huge fan of Chicago mainly for their melodramatic ballads. Decades later, the venerable band proves you can never run out of syrup with yet another overblown power ballad. All of the band's hallmark moves are here: pleading vocals, rapid fire bass line changes, a synthesizer orchestra and dramatic horn breaks. It sounds like a formula for disaster, but instead the song proves some things stay great just the way they are. Second runner up for balladeer bombast: Meat Loaf's "It's All Coming Back To Me Now".
5. "Tell Me Baby" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Pepper's second single from Stadium Arcadium was their bounciest funk groove in years, a bopping tune laced with a soothing chorus. Just when it seemed like they would become new age adult contemporary, RHCP hit back with their funnest song since the 90's. The next best song for silly fun - "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira and Wyclef Jean.

Top 5 Cds:
1. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers Vol. 1
It seemed like an unlikely candidate for anything memorable when 90's one hit wonder Matthew Sweet ("Girlfriend") teamed up with 80's minor sex symbol Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) to play the power pop songs they loved from the 60's. But the duo's love and considerable taste for the genre shines through on this 15 track disc. They cover Dylan ("It's All Over Now Baby Blue"), Young ("Cinnamon Girl" and "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"), Love ("Alone Again Or"), the Beatles, the Who...the list goes on. Through it all is tasteful production and strong vocals that pay tribute to the Summer of Love without getting stuck in it.
2. Tom Petty - Highway Companion
A couple of years ago I became a huge fan of Tom Petty after a decade of ignoring him. I was discouraged by 2004's concept album The Last DJ and was discouraged to hear there was a theme to Highway Companion (driving and aging). My fears were put to rest with this disc, a sturdy set of songs with Petty slightly echoing his past hits. The ZZ Topish "Saving Grace", Byrdsy "Flirting With Time" and the...well, Tom Pettyish "Big Weekend" & "Ankle Deep" were strong enough tunes to ensure multiple plays in my car.
3. Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam
They said it couldn't be done...Pearl Jam said that is. After deciding to consciously write the least catchiest songs possible nearly a decade ago, the band did away with their policy and wrote the hookiest hard rock songs they've done since their debut. Eddie Vedder rails against all authority and humans rights violations with the same passion and angst he held during the first Bush's Presidency. "World Wide Suicide" pulls no punches with it's anti war views while the slamming "Big Wave" will have you wondering if you accidentally left your Soundgarden CD in the player.
4. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
Technically a 2005 release, The Strokes third album saw them toss away the lo-fi vibe to their previous discs and replace it with punchy production and longer arrangements. "Fear of Sleep" was a personal favorite of mine with it's classic Strokes sound guitars and throbbing bass. The lead single "Juicebox" effectively recalled Franz Ferdinand while "Razorblade" pulled it's melody from Barry Manalow's "Mandy" of all things. If only they handn't chosen the dense, spidery "Heart In A Cage" as the second single bigger things might have come from this album.
5. Def Leppard - Yeah!
It was a tough call for this one. Bob Dylan's Modern Times was a strong disc as well and I already selected a covers album earlier. But I'm basing this list on what I played and Yeah! was the fifth most played CD for me in 2006. It helped that I saw them live this year as well. Focusing on the 70's glam rock that inspired them, Def Lep threw down their hardest rocking performance since Pyromania. The T Rex classic "Twentieth Century Boy" was a big favorite of mine. There are a few missteps, mainly a cover of the Kink's "Waterloo Sunset" with all the whimsy sucked out of it. Covers of Sweet, Bowie and Badfinger all hit hard and strongly bear the Def Leppard stamp. Even a cover of Michael Essex's "Rock On", a song I personally hate, can't stop me from listening to Def Lep.

1. Casino Royale
James Bond returned with an actual storyline and gritty attitude in Casino Royale, the most grounded Bond film since...From Russia With Love (it can be argued that For Your Eyes Only and On Her Majesty's Secret Service get close). New Bond Daniel Craig brings a newfound ruthless aggression to the role of the well known superspy. Movie of the year.
2. Little Miss Sunshine
Family road comedies arrive a couple of times a year, but few have any real heart. Little Miss Sunshine is all about having heart in the face of imminent disaster and is one of the few films of honest emotion I saw this year.
3. Akeelah and the Bee
It seems a bit like an afterschool special, but this heartwarming film about an inner city girl studying like Rocky for a spelling bee is truly inspiring and effective. Lawrence "Morpheus" Fishburne excels as the spellling bee coach and the lead actress whose name I can't remember is entirely believable as an intellectually earnest yet street hardened young girl. A little sappy and predicatble, but emotionally affecting.
4. X-Men 3
It says a lot that this is number 4, because this is not a great movie. It's an OK movie. Comic book violence and more Mutants than you can shake an adamantium claw at mark Brett Ratner's entry in the trilogy.
5. Mission Impossible 3
Tom Crazy-I mean Cruise, released his third Mission Impossible movie that for the first hour or so is the best MI you've ever seen. Big stunts, double crosses and micro technology abound in a big spy game swirl until you get to the end. The ending is so unbelievably sappy and unreal that it drains the credibility established by the first half leaving you entertained but disappointed.

1. Family Guy
Freakin' sweet! Peter Griffin and his nutty family returned from cancellation with a vengence. A comedy that shamelessly slaughters all sacred cows with no compunction or remorse is something to marvel at and Family Guy is that comedy. Even better, the show has caught on with a mass audience to ensure a few more years of yuks from the most tasteless, thoughtless humor around.
2. Star Trek
The classic series got the George Lucas treatment with a remastered picture and new digital special effects. What's better than Star Wars is the fact that no major plot points were harmed in the remaking of these episodes. Now, with new digital effects you can see the Enterprise orbit a planet while Kirk shakes his hands and yells "Khaaannnn!" Wait, that didn't happen until the movies. Well, you get the point.
3. As Time Goes By
Veteran actors Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer have a December-December romance in the reruns of this British comedy. A sense of character and true wit engages the viewer in this genial show. Dench and Palmer play a middle age couple who split on bad terms during the Korean War. A show with this much warmth and class is something rare, As Time Goes By is a fun and relaxing show.
4. Gokusen
The Japanese anime series about a high school teacher with a Yakuza background is a blast with it's bizarre tone about honor and compassion. Teacher Yakumi can barely conceal her Underworld bloodlust while teaching teenagers about life and mathematics. Big fun!
5. WWE Raw
Pro Wrestling's number 1 show continues on with reduced expectations. Fewer name wrestlers playing to smaller crowds would be enough to make some shows stop, but WWE Raw flies in the face of public opinion by getting back to basics. A mix of classic wrestling angles, Raw now features long time name wrestlers fighting in between cheesy interviews and big stunts.

Now, 2006 comes to a close. I didn't get the Who or Eric Clapton's CD's, so I can't include them in this review. Still, Christmas is coming soon and more reviews will follow. Until then, have a Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Aerosmith in concert

Last Sunday, I saw Aerosmith live for the first time. It was a terrific show, the band gave a lively performance with great stage effects at the Arco Arena in Sacramento CA. My memory may not be perfect but I believe the set list was:

Toys in the Attic / Walkin' The Dog / Love In An Elevator / Cryin' / What It Takes / Baby Please Don't Go / Stop Messin' Around / Seasons Of Wither / Dream On / Train Kept A Rollin' / Last Child / Sweet Emotion / Draw The Line

Encore: Walk This Way

I became a fan of Aerosmith during their comeback in the late 80's, though I always liked "Sweet Emotion". This was a great concert to go to although the set list was really short for a show they were headlining. Most of this tour has been split as co-headliners with Motley Crue which is why they have been performing a half set. As headliners, it would have been nice to have a fuller set especially since many hits are missing ("Dude Looks Like A Lady", "Janie's Got A Gun", "Living On The Edge" and "Mama Kin" just to name a few). Still, I cut these guys a little slack as they are getting up there in age. Besides, what they did play they performed with gusto.

The opening act was Hinder, that new band with the Aerosmith sounding power ballad called "Lips Of An Angel". Hinder tried hard to rock out but were hampered by mostly undestinguished songwriting. Very little stood out until they played their hit. Still, their energy caught a lot of support from the audience. For me, it pretty much sold me on skipping their CD.

Aerosmith's set began with a personal favorite of mine, "Toys in the Attic". The band blazed through this song as Tyler ran the various ramps of the stage and posed for the video cameras. The second song was a surprise pick, a cover of "Walkin' The Dog" with a great video of drummer Joey Kramer panting in close up. The favorites kept coming as "Love In An Elevator" was played with a great deal of crowd participation, particularly on the "Oh-Yeah!" parts of the verses.

The ballads "Cryin'" and "What it Takes" were played with only a few changes from their previous versions. Tyler mouthed "Your love is sweet f*ckin' misery" during "Cryin'". "What it Takes" was played half a-capella as it is on the "A Little South Of Sanity" live CD. My wife really got into "What it Takes" and sounded great singing it.

A blues cover portion came up with a lively cover of Van Morrison's "Baby Please Don't Go" and a Joe Perry lead vocal on Fleetwood Mac's "Stop Messing Around".

The next set of ballads were particularly stagy. "Seasons Of Wither" featured both fake and digital snow falling during the song and some terrific acoustic guitar from Joe Perry. "Dream On" is not my favorite song, but I got into the dramatic ending which included Tyler turning into a burning man on the video screen.

A barn burning cover of the Yardbirds "Train Kept A Rollin" brought the pace back up. A wonderfully funky "Last Child" followed. "Sweet Emotion" was dragged out to good effect, particularly the 70's styled middle section where Joe Perry stood under a triangular laser light slamming his guitar against a mic stand while throwing glitter in the air. "Draw the Line" started off strong but the band seemed to get lost half way through the song. They pulled it together for the finish as my wife and I left the arena.

I heard the beginning of the encore "Walk This Way" which included a brief bit of the James Bond theme.

This was the last show of Aerosmith's tour. It seemed like they may have shot a video as the camera work and video effects were extrememly professional. Also, Tyler sang to the cameras often and spent a portion of the show singing with his back to the audience. Guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford were both on top of their games. Bassist David Hull did an admirable job of filling in for Cancer striken Tom Hamilton, even including a bit of Led Zep's "Kashmir" into the bass solo. Drummer Joey Kramer was in fine form though he seemed to lose a step with age.

The Arco Arena lived up to its nickname "Echo Arena" but overall the show was a blast.
Just wish it was a longer show.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


My wife and I were browsing through premium cable channels when we came across a Japanese Anime series called Gokusen showing on Encore. We watched an episode since nothing else was on and have gotten hooked on this hilarious series. The gist of the series is that a new, seemingly meek high school teacher takes her first job teaching a class of juvenile delinquents. That sounds boring because its been done many times before, but the hook here is that the teacher is also the head of a Yakuza clan.

That's where the fun comes in, as Teacher / Yakuza leader Ojo juggles her violent, ruthless tendencies with her caring, nurturing intentions. She often loses control of herself while teaching class, switching from cold blooded fighting machine to naive sweet girl...sometimes in the same sentence. Most of the school thinks shes crazy, except one student who suspects something more about his teacher but can't figure it out.

Most of the anime I've seen is entertaining but has extremely complex storylines and hyperviolent action (Robotech and Star Blazers come to mind). Gokusen has violence, but the storylines are usually simple and the violence is often played for comedy making this an unusual show. It's like Robert Deniro in Analyze This, if he was a woman in his mid-twenties teaching a class. This is the funnest, lightest anime show I've seen and I get a real kick out of seeing the almost schitzophrenic behavior of the lead character.

In researching this series, I've found there is a live action version of this show as well. Hopefully, this will air in the US as well so I can compare the two.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Number 58

Generally, there are three types of successful rock artists. There are album artists who specialize in delivering a theme or concept over the span of a set of songs. There are singles artists, musicians who specialize in creating three minutes of magic but can't sustain their brilliance over a set of songs. And there are singles artists who think they're album artists, musicians who create a set of songs with the intention of a gigantic theme but only generate a handful of listenable songs. Number 58 falls into the last category,

Number 58: Lenny Kravitz - Greatest Hits (2000)

To say Lenny Kravitz is interesting is an understatement. Lenny grew up in LA and went to the Beverly Hills 90210 high school. His mother is Roxie Roker, an actress who appeared regularly on The Jeffersons. He originally modeled himself after Prince and in turn learned a multitude of instruments and wrote his own music. Eventually, Kravitz found his own sound by combining arcane influences such as John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone. In other words, any classic rock artist from the early 70's became an influence for Lenny Kravitz.

Kravitz often seems to have grandiose ideas for his music, attempting to create music that is timeless by taking the best elements out of classic rock for his own. On paper, it sounds great. In practice, Kravitz often falls short of his ideals but does manage to create effective and catchy singles which conquer radio waves across the country. For this reason, the best way to experience Lenny Kravitz is through Greatest Hits (2000).

While Kravitz may not be a dominant artist, his highlights are plentiful. The driving Hendrixian guitar workout "Are You Gonna Go My Way" has become a signature song for him. Kravitz can also throw in a little funk in his rock in a way reminscent of Sly Stone such as on "Always On The Run". The soulful R&B of "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" is a great tune in the early 70's R&B style. The John Lennon touches are revealed on tracks like "Stand By My Woman" and "Let Love Rule". Even the critically reviled remake of Guess Who's "American Woman" has an outstanding funky groove to it in Kravitz hands.

Many of Kravitz' albums included a great deal of filler that neither annoy or impress. But Greatest Hits cuts the filler out and leaves the beat moments of a prolific singles artist.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Survivor Series and WWE

A week ago I ordered the Survivor Series pay per view of the WWE and found myself a little mixed about the event. I enjoyed watching it, but nothing about it really blew me away. I think this leads to the heart of the problem for WWE wrestling right now, it's all a bit "been there, done that". One of the things I felt was exciting about wrestling when I first started watching it was the unpredicatbility. Seeing outlandish characters do impossible things to each other and brag about it.

It's not that the WWE isn't trying, in fact they're trying really hard to push our buttons. Recent wrestiling gimmicks include a new team called Cryme Tyme who act like fun loving petty criminals beating up on a Michael Richards type racist ranting comedian. But their attempts are to fall back on what worked in the 80's and 90's. The gimmicks have gotten broader in a more 80's style, such as a rough Irishman complete with shalale and leprechan (O'Malley? I can't remember his name), a worm eating voodoo guy (Boogie Man) and a Marine (John Cena).
At the same time, they're recycling what's left of the 90's with a reunited Hardy Boyz (which is awesome cause they're great together) and a mini size version of DX (Triple HHH and Shawn Michaels).

These moves keep WWE in a holding pattern where it is still entertaining. But it does show what the problem is. Survivor Series was entertaining but nothing really memorable happened. What I'm waiting for is something new and exciting to take place. Hopefully, WWE will find it and exploit it to death. I can't wait!

March Of The Penguins

The other day I finally got around to seeing March Of The Penguins (2005), a documentary about the mating cycle of the Penguins in Antarctica. I had put off seeing it for a long time, mainly because I am not that into documentaries. I do find I watch them more often now, but that is compared to not watching them at all. At any rate, I saw it - the movie that made Penguins the new Dinosaurs (remember that Jurrasic Park fad?). For proof of this, just look at how Happy Feet (2006) is making a killing at the box office.

March Of The Penguins tells a revealing story of how Penguins walk 70 miles to a central mating ground where they procreate and then care for an egg until it hatches. They care for the young penguin for a while until it is time to leave the new breed to become their own pack. Along the way, Penguins have to defend the eggs / younglings (sorry, Star Wars terminology) against freezing cold weather (it's Antarctica-it's known to be a little cold) and dangerous predators (you'll never look at seals and ducks the same way again!). It's a moving story to say the least.

It is beautifully shot with great views of glaciers and some fantastic underwater photography. Some of the images are the type movies now use digital effects for (the Southern lights, the Penguins high speed swimming) which makes the documentary filming that much more impressive. Where the movie is most effective is in humanizing the penguins struggle, framing their behavior by describing the impulses to procreate, to care for each other, provide for the family and act out when unhappy. It also helps to use the voice of God, er, Morgan Freeman that is.

In fact, it is so effective it made me aware of my own life and how it is important to both enjoy life and make the most of the limited time we all have together. Or maybe I feel that way because I'm off work right now. It made me feel like my (much ridiculed) graduating high school quote from REO Speedwagon, "Live Every Moment and Love Every Day". Hmmm...I guess that does sound lame, but that's how I feel!

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Sometimes bad things happen and you just want to kill yourself. Or Not. Or Maybe. Or Maybe after you get someone back really good. So gos Harakiri (1962), a Japanese movie I watched on Tv recently. Harakiri is a terrific movie about a destitute ronin Samurai asking permission to commit ritual suicide in a respectable clan house. The movie is told in a series of flashbacks depicting a stories first told by the representative of the clan and then by the Samurai as he prepares for suicide. It's over two hours long, but the movie is a marvel of pacing and story structure. The movie slowly reveals bits about the different characters through the flashbacks and their actions in the present.

Thematically, Harakiri is about defining the Samurai code of honor. What is respectable and what is not divides on a narrow line. The point of view from the person's station in life ultimately defines it. When the Samurai requests to commit Harakiri, the House officials debate on how to handle this. Should they allow it? Should they give him money to go away? Should they insist on it? The House's response to the request shows a strict traditional point of view based on power and a perception of entitled honor from a general view.

The Samurai embodies a perception of honor from a personal view, where family, compassion and caring take precedent over tradition and rules. The slow burning intensity of the clash between the two brings passion and magnetism to what should be a dry arguement.

The direction is epic but not overblown. The acting is first rate throughout the cast, all players are thoroughly convincing in their roles. Again, the pacing and unpredictability of the plot makes it watchable and suspenseful. A true classic film.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Number 59

And the countdown continues for my favorite CD's of all time. The next CD sort of went with a theme I've often had with popular acts, I get into them after their initial peak. I didn't like Prince or Bruce Springsteen until a few years after they had their signature 80's albums (Purple Rain and Born In The USA, respectively) probably because between MTV and Top 40 radio a successful artist became omnipresent for a while. As good as the music was in all cases I resisted these artists because I felt like their music was being rammed down my throat. It was the same way with the artist at Number 59...

U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)

The first U2 tape I ever had was a copy of War (1983). I liked it as well as the song "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" in 1984 but was not a literal fan of the band. Then The Joshua Tree (1987) happened and U2 hit the stratosphere both commercially and critically. They were everywhere on TV, on the radio and in magazines. They stood for everything that was right in Rock and politics plus their religious background made them popular with the Christian Rock crowd. They were perfect. Perfectly annoying from my view.

Apparently, U2 felt the same way and after the bloated Rattle and Hum album (1989) decided to do something about it. Bono downplayed some of his messianic tendencies by throwing on some sunglasses and playing the rock star in all its excess. The band altered their signature sound by adding distortion, feedback, drum loops and hip hop shuffle rhythms into the mix. Best of all, dropped most of their preachiness (in song at least) and added a dose of self effacing irony. U2 became human and was much better for it.

This is where I came into U2's music, the first single "The Fly" was unlike anything I ever heard. The distorted guitars and vocals, the shuffling drum track and the alternately crooning and spoken word chorus captured my attention. A local radio station played the entire CD and I was impressed. My friend (a longtime U2 fan) asked if I would like to see them live and I went. Live, they had that rare sense of charisma that can make a sports arena feel like a small club. The playing was intense and unique (The Edge's helicopter sounding guitar riffs ensure that) and the songs were catchy and anthemic. I realized what I had been missing all those years and became a fan of U2.

Achtung Baby will not be remembered as the greatest U2 record, but it is their most varied and the easiest to relate to. The big hit, "One", has become a rock standard over time and is a wonderful ballad about the need to overcome differences whether they be personal, political or spiritual. Bono's impassioned vocal and the band's empathic playing as they build from a soft beginning to a big finish seals the deal. This album would be memorable for this song alone.

But there's more! "Mysterious Ways" balances a catchy chorus ("It's alright, it's alright, it's all-right/ She moves in Mysterious Ways!") with a spare shuffling drum beat with the Edge cutting in (no pun intended) with bursts of guitar and synthesizer. Plus, live the song featured Bono singing to a belly dancer! Another hit, "Even Better Than The Real Thing" with it's ironic lyrics and driving rock groove became the template for future U2 songs ("Discotheque" and "Vertigo" followed a similar pattern). My personal favorite on the disc, "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" finds the band doing an actual relationship song to a galloping beat and strident chorus.

Of course, even with relationship songs and irony U2 still has some of that political commentary they're known for. The apocalyptic "Until The End Of The World" with it's hard charging guitars is a great rocker with a distinct nihilistic feel to it. "Tryin' To Wrap Your Arms The World" shows Bono a bit worn but still worried about the state of the planet.

With Achtung Baby, U2 was able to drop their "holier than thou" act and play on a more human scale. They were also successful musically in adding a host of other musical styles and effects to their previously immaculate sound. U2 shows the passion and angst their known for but offsets it with humor and irony. This disc changed my opinion from annoying to a lifelong fan.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Number 60

Carlos Santana...legendary guitarist and new age flake that he is, has always seemed best to me in measured doses. Santana has been around since the late 60's and has delivered a variety of music through his career. Fusion rock, jazz, arena rock, pop and even subtle bits of hip hop have bore the Santana stamp marked with his screaming, stinging guitar lines and Latin based percussion. A sense of adventure and passion laid under an insinuating groove is his trademark. But, as great as he is, I can only take so much of Santana. There's nothing wrong with him or his music, it's just a gut reaction. That's why I'm well served by his CD at Number 60:

Santana - The Best Of Santana (1998)

Before his unexpected comeback with 1999's Supernatural CD, it seemed like Carlo's Santana was destined to eek out his living on the oldies tour circuit. Santana was mainly known for the early phase of his career, when the name Santana stood for an actual band. The Santana band of the first three albums, which included Chepito Areas (percussion), Mike Carabello (percussion), Mike Shrieve (drums), David Brown (bass), Gregg Rolie (organ and vocals) and Neal Schon (guitar) in addition to Carlos Santana played a style of rock that fused Latin rhythms and rock song style. It was a style never heard before and earned them a spot at Woodstock. Even now, 40 years later, these early songs still have a timeless majesty to them tied to indelible melodies.

This time period is well represented on Best of which includes the instrumental "Jingo", "Evil Ways", "Oye Como Va" and the Fleetwood Mac song that would become their signature tune, "Black Magic Woman". These songs and a few others on the disc dominate the Best of and show how powerful a band they were. Sadly, after three albums this version of the band broke up (maybe not too sadly, as the remnants of this band became Journey).

The other known phase of Santana came when he adopted an Arena Rock sound along the lines of Journey. The Latin percussion was downplayed in favor of sturdier, more predicable rhythms and blazing fast guitars over an anthemic chorus. This version of Santana is also represented with "Open Invitation", "Hold On" and my childhood favorite "Winning". Also included is "All I Ever Wanted", the first Arena Rock song my wife knew that I didn't (she was really happy about that).

When not in either of these phases of his career, Carlos Santana had a tendency to get ambient and jazzy as reflected in "Europa" and "Bella".

As much as I liked this CD and the hits included, I'm pretty satisfied with the songs I have here. Supernatural was a Grammy winning hit album and featured my favorite Santana song, "Smooth". He's had a few other pleasant hits since then, but for my money nothing can match his Best Of CD.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale

James Bond is Bourne again in the latest installment in the longest running film franchise in history. Taking a nod from Matt Damon's Jason Bourne movies, Casino Royale focuses on characterization and a semblance of realism in its portrayal of a super spy. Many of the reviews of Royale have buzz words like "gritty" and "tough", the movie not only lives up to the early buzz but surpasses it. Casino Royale goes in the opposite direction of the Brosnan Bond films and benefits from the change. That's not a slam on Brosnan, he's still my favorite James Bond.

When Daniel Craig was selected to succeed Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, the world (myself included) did a collective head scratch. Craig was physically fit, but he was not a commercially known actor and had the face of a fifty year old. This plus the announcement by producers of going in a different artistic direction left a big question over the future of the franchise.

After all, serious James Bond films are historically the least popular in the series. The last Bond film to take itself seriously, 1989's license To Kill, was a commercial disaster that almost ended the film series. Also, Brosnan had repeatedly proven himself as an actor and star to the point he's was nicknamed the "Billion Dollar Bond". The previous actors in the role had all made a mark on the character's well, Sean Connery (original Bond), George Lazenby (lame Bond), Roger Moore (funny Bond) and Timothy Dalton (boring Bond) each had played the role. Even with the announced intention of making a serious film, Craig was an unknown quantity. What kind of Bond would he be?

Casino Royale takes 2 1/2 hours to answer that question, but the answer arrives with a resounding triumph. Daniel Craig is bloke Bond. He's less suave or stylish but enjoys the finer things and has a desire to prove himself. He's the Bond an audience can relate to as a person which draws them behind him in a way that I've never seen. In a scene where Bond resists excrutiating physical torture with humor, the audience roared in support. As an audience, we learn about Bond's conscience with murder and struggle as a government assassin. We learn about his background (he's an orphan) and what drives him to be a government agent. For the first time in years, Bond fails at missions and important events and doesn't laugh it off. This Bond is more of an everyman, capable of great things but also flawed as an agent and person.

Craig's performance is so strong it carries Casino Royale to the next level. The storyline is refreshingly small scale and direct: Bond is assigned to beat a high stakes gambler named Le Chiffe who launders and invests terrorist funds. To do so, much time is spent with Bond at the card table against Le Chiffe as a government handler (ably played by Eva Green) named Vesper Lynd ensures Bond doesn't exceed his spending limit. Green and Craig have an effective amount of chemistry to their relationship and their characters interact as people more than the predictable archetypes the series is known for.

The tone of the film matches the Ian Fleming books to a T. James Bond is confident but has occasional doubt, is intelligent but does not know everything and has concern over how killing effects his soul. The deaths in Royale are more brutal and graphic than any previous film (including Dr No, in which Sean Connery's Bond shoots an unarmed man and slits a guards throat with a knife). The gadgetry is kept to a minimum and the movie allows Bond to express a full range of emotion.

Not that all of the previous Bond movie traits are eliminated. Some of the action set pieces, such as a huge fight between Bond and a terrorist in a tanker truck at an airport is so large scale it felt like a different movie. The scene was highly remiscent of the Die Hard films and Raiders of the Lost Ark and didn't quite match the rest of the movie for me. Another action set piece at the end of film was also a bit overblown compared to the sleek simplicity of the rest of the film.

The movie came in second at the box office this weekend, being beat out by the penguin movie Happy Feet. That's unfortunate in that the opening may discourage the filmmakers from making serious Bond films in the future. Hopefully that won't happen, as Daniel Craig has proven himself to be an outstanding James Bond. Casino Royale is one of the best films in the entire franchise and entertains as a stand alone movie as well. My score for Casino Royale, 9 out of 10. Almost perfect.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Number 61

"It was a Sunday, day like any other day, with a small town another day" went the song "Long Long Way From Home." At least, that's how I thought it went but I later found out I didn't understand the lyrics to this song that well at all. Pleasant memories of harmless rocking out come to mind when I think of Number 61...

Foreigner - Records (1982)

Records was the first of many greatest hits collections for the British / American group Foreigner. Led by guitarist / keyboardist Mick Jones and raspy voiced singer Lou Gramm, by 1982 Foreigner had racked up four platinum albums and a gaggle of hit singles thanks to their classic AOR sound. Thanks to melodic songwriting and a musical style that is best described as Bad Company with a progressive rock bent, Foreigner rivaled Journey in arena rock popularity and influence.

I first paid attention to Foreigner when my friend let me copy his tape in the mid-80's. At the time, the only Foreigner songs I knew were "Urgent", "Hot Blooded" and "Waiting For A Girl Like You." I liked those songs so it made sense to copy the tape. After playing the tape, I was sold on what would become one of my favorite bands during my teen years.

The big selling point for me was how damn catchy these songs were! "Feels Like The First Time" was a classic rock anthem with its swirling keyboards and near disco beat driven by a meaty guitar riff. As ridiculous as the song lyrics are (They are the 70's equilvalent to "Like A Virgin") the hammering guitars and screaming vocals make it irresistable. Another rocker, "Juke Box Hero" with its pulsing beat and insistent chorus ("He's a Juke Box Hero / Got Stars In His Eyes!!!") also hit home. The aforementioned "Urgent" was about as loose and funky as I could handle in the 80's (which isn't that funky) anchored by Gramm's tense vocal and a killer sax solo by Junior Walker.

The outstanding ballad "Waiting For A Girl Like You" mangaged to be mellow without being entirely wimpy allowing for the band to maintain some rock cred. Thomas Dolby (of "She Blinded Me With Science" fame) provided some gorgeous keyboard parts to this classic ballad. For better or worse, the success of this song led to more ballads causing Foreigner to lose much of its rocker image.

But my favorite song was the very un-pc "Dirty White Boy". For Foreigner to risk offending people was very uncharacteristic of them. I often found it interesting that when I (a rock loving Asian) would discuss this song with others rockers (often white) they would become very uncomfortable. They were never sure if I was pulling their leg or not. This song came from the Head Games album (1979) where Foreigner tried hard (a little too hard) to toughen up their image. "Boy" is a hard driving, bluesy rocker with whiplash slide guitarwork and a menacing vocal from Lou Gramm. The reasons I love this song is:

1. It's a killer riff and vocal, maybe the perfect Arena Rock song delivered with real gusto and...
2. It's really funny. I mean, they thought after two platinum albums of polished pop rock they thought they could turn around and call themselves "Dirty White Boys"? And is this meant to be a compliment? Does it really sound tough? Is it racial self hatred?
3. The title "Dirty White Boy" just makes me think of some guy who doesn't bathe standing with a shirt full of holes and ripped jeans. Is this supposed to be cool?
4. The lyrics are really awesome in that silly, overstated way...He's a dirty white boy because he's so dangerous that only girls with low self esteem dare love him ("You want me to be true to you/don't give a damn what I do to you") and he doesn't buy into money, man ("Don't drive no big black car/don't like no Hollywood movie star").
5. And that second verse. It's like the ultimate mantra. it reads:

"Ive been in trouble since I dont know when/Im in trouble now and I now somehow Ill find trouble again/Im a loner, but Im never alone/Every night I get one step closer to the danger zone"

Yeah! The danger zone is where I live baby!!! I'm at least as dangerous as Kenny Loggins. Fear my footloose, danger zone living ass. At least meet me half way.

6. My wife often made fun of me singing this song, so it now has an added bit of sentimentality.

The icing on the cake of Records is the live version of "Hot Blooded" at the end. A corker of a live shot of Foreigner, this song is famous for Gramm's stage patter. Mid-song, Gramm yells for the crowd to sing along because "we've got the amps, but you've got the numbers...the strength in numbers! So I just want to hear you say, Hot Blooded! Hot Blooded!." In high school, if you started saying this bit you could bet someone else would finish it for you.

Cheesy rock that's cool as hell, that was the magic of Foreigner. I saw Foreigner in concert in 1985 and was impressed with their tight playing and professionalism. I saw them again in 1999, but sadly Lou Gramm had suffered some medical problems and his voice was shot. Foreigner had more hits and fine CDs after 1982, but Records remains a no nonsense collection of the band's best rock moments. Rock On (inoffensively)!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Magnolia and Short Cuts

"Can't We All Just Get Along?" The much quoted and ridiculed statement Rodney King made during the LA riots of the early 90's following the trial of LA police officers that had beaten King came to mind a lot while watching Paul Anderson's Magnolia (1999) and Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993). Both were movies I've meant to see for years but kept putting off. After watching these films back-to-back, I was reminded of two other movies: Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon (1992) and recent Best Picture winner Crash (2005). Despite being made by different filmmakers at different times, each of these movies put LA under the microscope and seemed to come to the same conclusion Rodney King did: In the face of the cultural melting pot that is LA boiling over, empty sentiment is all that's left to cling to.

These four movies paint an ugly picture of life in La La land. If these four movies are to be believed as representative of the LA experience, there are certain consistencies between them that come to the foreground:
  • The perspective is told from the point of view of characters who are white middle to upper middle class. Most black people depicted are feared and possibly armed except for one couple whose function in the storyline is to represent bridging the racial gap. Oddly, in most of these movies Hispanics don't exist at all (except for Crash).
  • The thousands of people in LA all know each other or know someone who knows another that has a direct relationship to the first person. In other words, everyone in LA knows each other somehow
  • Infidelity and Murder happen all the time and is successfully covered up often (I guess OJ kinda proved that)
  • The Police force is corrupt and racist (again refer to Rodney King)
  • Everyone in LA is really stressed out and/or drugged up (common knowledge)
  • The only thing that can really bring people together is a disaster, usually an earthquake (though in Magnolia, the disaster was a rain of frogs! An original idea, but weird. 9/11 did prove this, as there was a great deal of goodwill among people across the country following that tragedy).

After watching these movies, it's hard to believe LA remains a popular tourist attraction. It's shown as stressful, seedy, amoral and desperate. All four movies do a great job of using huge, sprawling casts to show how the actions of one affects the other and how everyone bounces off each other in a societal microcosm resulting in the full range of human emotion. In each of the movies it first shows the miscommunication and frustration of people dealing with each other to wind up to the big finish where everyone helps each other. Forgiveness and redemption are often the universal themes of these films.

But, what does it all mean? Los Angeles is used in these movies as a magnifying glass to address larger societal issues affecting America in general. Many of these movies end with a tone of hopeful humanism, that everyone will see that we all are just human beings regardless of our faults and should be treated as such. And while that would be the answer I would wish for as well, I think it really just comes down to economics. As long as the majority of people believe they have gained or have the potential to gain as much wealth and comfort as others, they will tolerate each other. When they don't, such as in the early 90's during a recession, riots ensue. It's not a coincidence that much of the rioting in the United States ended when the economy picked up. This is the issue I felt was missing from all the movies.

When I saw the standard of living for many of these characters living in their sun splashed environment, I realized I wanted that too! So Los Angeles is representative of larger America, just not in the sentimental way filmmakers would like to think. A better ending to these movies would be: The sky rains a torrent of money and everyone is rich. Why? Because most of us desire gratuitous consumerism and not altruistic humanism. Is that bad? Probably. And I'm as guilty as anyone else. I think that's the ultimate lesson learned from these movies. Give us a burger and a big house on a hill and we'll like anybody.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Number 62

Back when I was in high school, there were certain bands you could always count on to populate the cut out bins all year round. There was Tom Petty, Air Supply and my favorite of the cut out bin rack at number 62...

Cheap Trick - At Budokan (1977)

I collected many Cheap Trick records at a low price because they were all 3.99 or 4.99 at the time. Dream Police, One on One, Next Position Please, Standing On The Edge, The Doctor...I owned a lot of Cheap Trick. And Cheap Trick could always be counted on for having one good song per album. It wasn't a very high ratio of good songs, but the good song would be REALLY GOOD!

Such was the paradox of Cheap Trick, a puzzle that continues to this day. Their first three albums are considered classic albums though they all fizzled commercially. They recorded a live album intended solely for their Japanese fans and it became their defining American album. The followup album should have been a blockbuster but only went gold. They recorded an album with Beatles producer George Martin and managed to make a mediocre record. The only time things went as planned occurred with their "sell out" in 1988 translating into the #1 hit "The Flame". Despite their "sell out", they became revered alternative rock pioneers in the 1990's but could not use the buzz to their commercial advantage. Now that everyone has written off this band for dead, they turn around and record the excellent Rockford CD.

But in 1977, much of this had yet to happen. The first three albums were ignored in the US but inspired a Beatlemania response in Japan. Cheap Trick went to Japan and recorded At Budokan intending it for release in that country only. It became an in demand import to America which led to a domestic release and a smash album.

Why did At Budokan catch on? Because the record showed off Cheap Trick in the best light possible. The best songs from their first three albums are cherry picked onto one record. The Beatlesque melodies anchored by garage rock riffs gave the music both grit and grace. "Come On Come On" is a great example of White Album era Beatles colliding with Kinkish guitarwork. An unintentional bonus was the fact that it was a live recording. On vinyl, Cheap Trick utilized latter day Beatles production tricks like strings, piano and heavy reverb on the vocals. Live, Cheap Trick sounded raw and frantic like the early Meet The Beatles records.

The live setting and frenzied fans gave a huge boost to the solo heavy cover of Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame" and the rousing set closer "Clock Strikes Ten". Their two classic hits are the highlights, the first being the signature song "I Want You To Want Me". The half pleading vocal and steady beat combined with the wordplay heavy lyrics made for a memorable tune. The second classic hit is "Surrender", probably better known as the "Mommy's all right, Daddy's all right, they're just a little weird" song. The odd subject matter and almost punkish musical approach has made this song an anthem rock standard.

I played this record many times in my teenage years and still find it to be an engaging and energetic record. Although I bought the 2 cd complete concert, my favorite format of At Budokan is still the single record track listing. The consiseness of the track sequencing gave the record a thematic punch missing from the whole show. Cheap Trick has proven time and again they can never go back to 1977, but fortunately '77 has been recorded for everyone else for all time.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Plan 9 From Outer Space and Ed Wood

Ed Wood has historically been considered the worst director of all time and his film Plan 9 From Outer Space the worst movie ever. This past Halloween, I finally got to see the evidence. I can't honestly say Plan 9 is the worst movie I've ever seen (that would be Wise Guys, I paid a dollar to see it and still walked out of the theatre) but can see where the suggestion comes from. If this movie is to be taken seriously, it's horrible. But, if viewed as something made with honest intentions and failing so badly it becomes a joke, then it's pretty entertaining!

Plan 9 has to do with aliens resurrecting the dead to kill the living to keep mankind from creating a weapon powerful enough to destroy the universe...someday. The acting is uniformly bad and amateurish. The sets are made of cardboard and are reused repeatedly with very little redecoration. Bela Lugosi died before the movie was made and a blatant stand in is used to fill in for most of the movie.

On top of this, the flying saucers are plates on visible strings. The scenes switch from day to night and back to day in seconds. The pacing is leaden. The whole concept of the movie is ridiculous. So, what makes this movie watchable?

Two things. One is you keep waiting to see what will go wrong next. It's great to view this and tally all the errors in the movie. And secondly, appreciation of the moxie it took to get this movie made. It's not made with the intent of being bad, there's no self referential irony in this film. This lack of self awareness makes Plan 9 both funnier and more respectable at the same time. You've gotta appreciate the will to do something big acted upon, even if the result is disasterous.

This appreciation infuses Tim Burton's film Ed Wood, a biography of sorts about the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The movie is a fitting tribute, telling the story of Ed Wood's life with all of the trappings of Wood's movies. Johnny Depp plays Ed Wood, a cross dressing Hollywood studio grunt trying to become a director. Depp plays Wood as a nieve dreamer with an opportunistic streak. The Ed Wood depicted here wants his movies to be made, no matter what the cost in both finances and the quality of his own filmmaking.

Wood befrends an aging, dope addicted Bela Lugosi and is able to wheel and deal his way into making a few films. Through it all, Wood and his group of outsider friends ranging from wrestlers to psychics to drag queens band together to make his movies. If you see Plan 9, then see this movie to gain a better understanding of the whole thing. Tim Burton excels at making sensitive, whimsical movies about sociatal pariahs and Ed Wood is a great addition to his canon.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Look and Number 63

I felt it was time for a little change, so I've gone to a brighter template! I'm not exactly a computer genius so I find these things very exciting. Anyway, the brighter template makes the words a little easier to read and makes things a little more colorful. One band that would approve of brighter colors is Number 63:

White Stripes - Elephant (2003)

The sound of this band's buzz was heard for years before they finally broke big in 2003. The White Stripes are an unlikely band, a "brother & sister" act that are comprised of a guitarist / singer and a drummer. And that's it. No long list of sidemen or studio hacks playing bass or keyboards, no wall of sequenced synthesizers to make up for missing musicians, just bluesy alterna rock played in a raw minimalist format.

I haven't heard what's supposed to be their best album, White Blood Cells (2001), but Elephant delivers pounding garage rock with palpable force. Guitarist Jack White clearly leads the band with his cutting, feedback driven guitar riffs and strong sense of melody. Drummer Meg White has been made fun of for her drumming style, but you must remember a drummer can be as important in what they don't play than what they do. Between Jack White's meaty riffs and screechy vocals a more technical drummer would just get in the way.

The big hit song, "Seven Nation Army" is probably going to be on the list of the best rock songs of this decade. The pulsing beat, plaintive vocal and downbeat groove hits hard and the equally memorable video of the duo repeatedly coming out of the background to the foreground has been repeatedly mimicked in commercials since. The other hit, "Hardest Button To Button" fares just as well with a powerful stop/start guitar riff and some great drumwork (yeah, I said Meg White's drumming is great!) . The video of the duo repeatedly moving across the screen in stop motion increments has been copied (just recently this video was paid tribute to in The Simpsons) as well.

Elephant has a great mix of edgy garage rock, brutal blues riffing and odd ball Velvet Underground style left turns. Zippy, fast rockers like "Black Math" and "Girl You Have No Faith In Medicine" are balanced by slower numbers punctuated with bluesy outbursts like "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" and "I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart". Two other stand out songs are the classic rock blues of "Ball And Biscuit" and the self motivational "Little Acorns".

The recent work of Jack White suggests there may not be a future for the Stripes, but Elephant will always stand out as a great garage rock album.

Monday, October 23, 2006

TNA Wrestling and Number 64

About six years ago, I became a big wrestling fan. Wrestling was about excitement, overhype and overkill in every way imaginable. It was great fun. Sadly, a few years back wrestling made a conscious effort to become boring. When I say wrestling, I mean WWE, the only major wrestling promotion left standing after the ratings wars between WWE, WCW and ECW ended. When I first started watching wrestling, it was a big stunt show with people running in all directions knocking into each other. They would jump off the ringpost, the stage, giant ladders and crash through tables or into dumpsters. In between, larger than life characters would run their mouth about how they were the best of everything. The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Hardy Boys were the face of this style.

A few years back, WWE thought people did not want to see this type of action anymore and went to a more traditional, boring style of wrestling. This new/old style consisted of 20 minute matches where the wrestlers would grapple for 15 minutes. In the middle of the match would be a longggg sleeper hold which would take about 5 minutes and always ended with the hold being broken. On top of that, WWE thought it would be great to split their roster into two camps, RAW and Smackdown. They thought they were giving greater exposure to their talent, but they were really weakening their ability to put wrestlers over by showing them on one program instead of two.

At the end of the day, what was left? The only wrestler since the RAW and Smackdown split they have successfully put over fully is John Cena. Cena's a likeable guy who can do everything a wrestler needs to do well...except actually wrestle. His ability to talk and mouth off is first rate, but he only knows five moves and does them in the same order every match. With other wrestling promotions no longer able to stand up to Vince McMahon's WWE, it seemed this junk was all wrestling fans were stuck with.

Until WWE left Spike TV, then Spike signed up the only other wrestling promotion that could try to compete-TNA. TNA is led by wrestler turned wrestler/promoter Jeff Jarrett. In his prime, Jarrett wrestled for just about anybody that had a ring and a bell. TNA's initial approach was to pickup on what the WWE refused to deliver, fast paced mayhem and acrobatic moves. To take it a step further, Jarrett saw what used to work in WWE before the change and made bargin basement copies. Like Mick Foley / Mankind? Now there's Abyss, an enigmatic crazy guy with a mask. Like The Rock? Well, if the Rock got kind of fat, you can call him Samoa Joe. Like Sting? Actually, they got the real thing and Sting is with TNA.

Now that TNA's on Spike, old WCW wrestlers and every WWE wrestler that has become disenchanted with that company's direction have been coming over. In addition to Sting, two big WCW names Scott Steiner and Kevin Nash jumped over. Disgruntled former ECW wrestlers who saw their hardhitting wrestling styles softened and their careers slowed in the process made the jump, such as Rhyno and the Dudley Boyz. WWE midcarders like Christian and underused divas like Gail Kim and Christy Hemme moved as well. And in their biggest coup, TNA was able to bring over former olympic gold medalist / WWE world champion Kurt Angle over because he was tired of being mistreated and misused.

The end result is that TNA, a smaller and hungrier company, is now packing more entertaining action in one hour a week than WWE can with six hours a week. On TNA, the action is fast and furious. The scripted storylines are lamer than WWE's, but they don't spend as much time talking about it which makes it OK. Best of all, TNA has held on to some of their original wrestlers to maintain an X division, where wrestlers pull acrobatic moves left and right . No lousy five minute chokeholds on this show. Just people flying and getting chairs to the face. That's how wrestling should be.

And what should be at Number 64 is:

Journey - Raised On Radio (1986)

Journey's Raised On Radio will always be a meaningful album to me, even though I can't say it was the album I was hoping it would be. A lot happened in my life in 1986, I graduated high school and then moved away from home to start college. This album will always be tied to that period in my life and Journey is my favorite band, so why is this at Number 64?

Well, although Raised On Radio is a good album it ultimately wasn't really a Journey album. Journey had made their name as the top arena rock band with anthemic melodic rock and soft, teary ballads. During the making of Radio, creative conflicts arose which resulted in the rhythm section getting fired and lead singer Steve Perry writing separately from guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jon Cain. On top of this, Perry was riding on a professional high of a successful solo album and a personal low of caring for his terminally ill mother. Perry took absolute control of the project, minimizing the contributions of Schon and Cain.

On the way to a family vacation I heard on the radio the first new Journey song I had heard in three years. "Be Good To Yourself" was a classic Journey rock song with an uplifting chorus, shiny keyboard parts and Neal Schon's sizzling guitar solo at the end. It seemed all of the bad press was wrong, this was going to be Journey the way they had been before.

Then the album finally came out. I bought it the first day it was released, I bugged the record store clerk so much he tried to lie to me and say I was there the wrong day. I ran home and put it on the turntable. I was really pumped and the first song was..."Girl Can't Help It". While "Girl Can't Help It" is a fine song, it's a sort of midtempo song with a heavy dose of Oohing harmony vocals. It was confusing, I didn't know what to make of it. Didn't I buy a Journey album? The second song, "Positive Touch", was even more bewildering. "Touch" hopped along to an R&B beat and featured a saxophone solo. To this day, I consider this one of the worst Journey songs ever. The third song, "Suzanne", I thought was great except they stole the beat from A-Ha's "Take On Me".

Much of the rest of the album went the same way. It became clear to me that this wasn't a Journey album but really Steve Perry's second solo album with members of Journey guesting. With the exception of "Be Good To Yourself" and the excellent power ballad "Why Can't This Night Go On Forever", there wasn't anything recognizibly Journey on the album. Everything else downplayed the arena rock and replaced it with R&B and lightweight funk.

Still, by the standards of a Steve Perry solo album it was pretty good. "I'll Be Alright Without You", a sort of sequel to Perry's "Foolish Heart", is one of my favorite songs. I saw Journey play live twice on the Raised On Radio tour, both shows were outstanding. My friends and I stayed up a full 24 hours to see them perform their first live concert in three years. I sat through crappy bands like Device and Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran) and saw some mediocre sets delivered by Honeymoon Suite and the Outfield ("Your Love" is a great song until you hear an eleven minute version of it with eight minutes of crowd sing-a-long).

The concert also gave me respect for Randy "American Idol" Jackson, who played bass on this album and tour. His bass playing is considerably stronger than Ross Valory, who he had replaced. This album was Journey at the end of their peak run and while it could have been better, it still ranks as one of my all time favorites. As Randy Jackson would say, Journey "y'know, did their thing dawg." Luckily for Journey, that's better than most people's best effort.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Battlestar Galactica and Number 65

Before I start the regular part of this post, I first want to rant about a recent rash of overacting in music videos. It started with Hinder, which has a video where the singer starts off by trying to flail about while singing. He's trying to evoke Joe Cocker, but his lame attempts at "soulfulness" look like a seizure instead. By the end of the video, he's so overcome with "emotion" that he starts tearing at his hair and pulling at his tie like it's a noose. The song"Lips Of An Angel" may be the best Aerosmith ballad in ten years, but this video is just embarrasing. Tonight, I saw the video for Jessica Simpson's new song. As if the video didn't already reek of desperation (she sings about "belonging to herself" while she tries every psuedo sexy pose known to the human race) her overacting borders on the insane. Simpson doesn't just tear at her hair, she cuts it short on camera. Then she tears at what's left, while straining her facial poses and over enunciating with the focused power of someone taking a big crap. There is a point where she gets caught up in the drama and her mouth dropped so wide open I thought she was one of those Aliens where the little mouth then shoots out of the big mouth and rips your throat out. Scary!

Now that my rants over, I can now talk about Battlestar Galactica. I've decided to start watching this show and I've got to say, it's pretty good. I was a little reluctant to see it as I was a big fan of the original series growing up and even watched Galactica 1980 (never doubt the power of Kent McCord! Never!!). I loved the original series with the Star Wars lite special effects, cast of cool dudes (Richard Hatch and Dirk "Face" Benedict) and hot girls (Jane Seymour and some blonde girl), and those Viper jets where the pilots wear Egyptian helmets. Plus, when I saw the original Battlestar Galactica in the movie theater the basestar explosion at the end shook the building. It was a wonderfully cheesy sci fi show until it ran out of ideas and money. When you started to see the exact same flight pattern scenes of the different ships over and over, it just got old.

Now, Battlestar's back but it really has nothing to do with the '70's show. Sure, the outline of the story is the same with the mechanical Cylons destroying most of the human race except for a rag-tag fleet led by a Battlestar searching for Earth. But, this Galactica is a grimmer, bloodier version. Taking the best elements of Sci-Fi from just about every show ever made, it evokes the real world commentary dressed up in space suits approach of the original Star Trek with some bits of Outer Limits thrown in. This show takes itself very seriously, using the situation to make social and political commentaries on Iraq (the humans try to settle on a planet only to be overrun by the Cylons and have a new government forced upon them. The humans resort to terrorist attacks and suicide bombers to fight for freedom) and America (the humanist president is ran out of office by blind, self centered idealist). It's heady stuff, but only by disguising it's comments in space can a television program get away with tackling these subjects. There are times when I wish this show would lighten up a little, but overall it's entertaining and lives up to its hype.

Speaking of hype and cheese, here's number 65:

Night Ranger - Midnight Madness (1984)

Now we're getting to the good stuff, most of the selections on the countdown are from the 80's at this point. I became a fan of Night Ranger from their first hit, "Don't Tell Me You Love Me", when I heard it on Casey Kasem's Top 40 show. The song was a fast rocking tune with a catchy chorus and blazing twin guitars. It's still one of my favorite songs to this day. I quickly ordered their cassette from Columbia House Records and wore side one out (didn't care as much for side two).

Night Ranger built a buzz on their hit and a rambunctous live show where drummer/co lead singer Kelly Keagy sat sideways at the end of the stage while guitarists Jeff Watson and Brad Gillis ran around bassist/co lead singer Jack Blades. Keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald sat on the other end of the stage with Entwhilian calmness. When Night Ranger released their second album, Midnight Madness, it quickly became the album everyone in high school had to have.

The first single, "Rock In America", was very similar to "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" with its fast beat, catchy chorus and twin guitar solos. Midnight Madness was one of the first records I had bought and I played "Chippin' Away" to death when I bought it. When they released their second single, "Sister Christian", everything changed for this band on what was for me the most confusing ballad I ever heard.

In the 80's before there was internet, the listener had to rely more on personal interpretation of song lyrics unless the music video literaly translated everything. Although I thought the song sounded nice I really didn't get this song. The piano intro was nice, the chorus was pleasantly bracing and the soaring guitar solo was fantastic. But the lyrics about "motoring" and telling Sister Christian that her time has come was impenetrable to me. Why was a nun motoring and determining her price for flight? Where was she flying to and why write a song about it? Why should I care?

Well, the song proved to be a triumphant hit single and the defining Night Ranger song taking them to platinum record sales. The song has had an afterlife in movies (most notably Boogie Nights) and 80's collections for years now. And the internet has cleared up for me that this song is about the drummer's sister graduating high school (now the video makes sense). But that's now, for two decades I really didn't get into this song for the above reasons. Confuse me, will you Night Ranger!

The third single was recently selected as one of the most Awesomely Bad Love Songs of all time, "When You Close Your Eyes". Another case of misunderstood lyrics, I thought this song was romantic about a guy asking a girl if she misses him. VH1 clarified the song is about a guy thinking about the first time he got laid in the back of a car and wonders if the girl misses him years later. Talk about ego! Still sounds great, though.

Just goes to show somethings don't improve with age, but nonetheless Midnight Madness is an all time classic in my book. The killer duelling guitars of whammy bar specialist Brad Gillis and finger tapper Jeff Watson livened up even the weakest songs. Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy were interchanageable as vocalists, but both sang with fire. I saw Night Ranger in concert twice and were never disappointed by their energetic live show. This album will always bring back the few pleasant memories I have of high school, a time of playing football in the park with friends and then blasting Night Ranger while arguing over who was their biggest fan first.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tae Guk Gi or whatever its called and Number 66

By chance, I happened to start watching Tae Guk Gi-Brotherhood of War. For some reason I can't remember, I keep seeing this title or DVD cover around so I thought I would see what the big deal is about. It's a Korean movie about the Korean War (suddenly a little topical) told from the perspective of two brothers: One strong and big hearted but of average intelligence and the other a little sickly but very intelligent. When the war starts, both find themselves involuntarily drafted into the South Korean Army and fighting in the front lines. The older, stronger brother makes a deal with his CO that if he can get a medal of honor he can send his younger weaker brother home.

The older brother wins the medal of honor but becomes ruthlessly partisan and cold as a result. The younger brother rebels against the older brother and things come to a head when they visit home between missions. I won't give away more in case you should decide to see this flick.

Tae Guk Gi is an involving film that borrows a lot from Saving Private Ryan (fighting to save a family amid an even bigger war plus gory detail in the shootings and explosions) and even Glory (chaotic battle scenes and a lot of fistfights and bayonnets in the trenches). Despite the obvious influences, Tae Guk Gi finds its own voice in the doomed melodrama between the brothers. Like any melodrama, plausability can get a little stretched but fine acting (that gets across even with the bad english dubbing job), confident direction and epic action scenes gets the story across.

Interestingly, the director of this movie may have out Spielberged Spielberg by revelling in tearjerking melodrama throughout the movie. Spielberg has tried to keep his mushy heart hidden in much of his recent "mature" work until its time for the BIG ENDING. This movie dives in and doesn't stop prodding you with tragedy until you're waist deep in it.

In the end, I kept thinking about how this is "the front" that MASH was always talking about. They were right, the front is hell. With recent political events, we may end up revisiting this place figuritively and literally. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself for the benefit of everyone.

I can't think of a good transition, so here's Number 66:

The Smiths - The Singles (1995)

In the 80's, I didn't have any concept of what The Smiths were other than a few confusing posters with weird images that had no meaning to me. When I got to college, all my floormates could talk about was "Morrissey this or Morrissey that." I became so saturated by it that I actively hated the Smiths, even though I didn't know any of their songs. People talked about Morrissey like he was the last say in everything and I thought anyone who inspired that kind of behavior is...really annoying.

A few years ago, I decided to branch out into listening other bands than my usual Foreigner and Journey discs and gave the Smiths a proper listening. I found that I like the Smiths a lot. Not to the worshipping level of my dormmates, but at least I could relate a little. Morrissey's crooning, affected vocals over chiming guitars and a solid rhythm section created music that was both timeless and dated in that BIG 80's kind of way.

I enjoyed the odd perversity of the lyrics for "Girlfriend in a Coma" ,"Shoplifters Of The World Unite" and "Panic" (with the chant "hang the DJ!"). Finally, I saw what the big deal was about Morrissey. Morrissey comes across as, well, a self pitying drama queen though I mean that in a good way. The songtitles are filled with self lacerating shots like "Bigmouth Strikes Again", "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish" and "What Difference Does It Make". All sung in a 30's crooner vocal style with a touch of feyness. My favorite song, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" features Morrissey singing about how happy he would be to die with his lover in a bus accident. It's perverse, it's funny and sad...that's the charisma Morrissey has.

Their biggest hit, "How Soon Is Now" (with that classic guitar riff that goes "da na-na-na-na-na" followed by a "Whir-errrrr" over and over again) is an awesome song about sulking in loneliness. Feeling a little weary but still have a sense of humor about your situation? Then the Smiths are playing the soundtrack of your life.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

As Time Goes By and Number 67

It's a little rare for me to review television on the blog, so much tv doesn't seem to hold up to scrutiny or have any sense of originality. But there is a tv series that is repeating on public television which I think is outstanding and that's As Time Goes By. A british television series from the early to mid 1990's, it follows the relationship of Jean and Lionel. The two had an intensely passionate relationship during what sounds like either WWII or the Korean War but had a falling out due to a lost love letter. They meet by chance some 30 years later and after a lot of manuevering they fall back in love.

As precious as the premise is, the reason why this show works has less to do with big ideas than with studied characterization. The series moves as an unusually confident pace allowing the two main characters time to relate to each others and a set of recurring characters around them. Jean is played by Dame Judi Dench in what is the first role in which I can see why she earned her acting title. Dench imbues her character with intelligence, wit and empathy with a touch of pathos. Geoffrey Palmer plays Lionel as a likeable curmudgeon playing off of Dench's energetic performance (The two also interacted briefly but memorably at the beginning of the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies). The surrounding characters give the couple a sounding board for their other traits, such as the affable book agent Alstair, the disappointed romantic Judi and the even keeled Sandy.

It's rare that a television show doesn't talk down to its audience or pull cheap sweeps stunts to capture attention. As Time Goes By lays out its simple premise and characters and allows them to interact in a way that is realistic but with a sharp sense of wit. If you have access to public television, I strongly recommend watching this show. It's funny, human and touching in a way that most tv isn't.

Now, when I describe Number 67 the adjectives that come to mind are entirely different. That's because Number 67 is:

Def Leppard - Hysteria (1987)

On VH1 Classic I watched the making of this album and I've always been amazed that this album carries the stature it does. Hysteria was one of the first CD's I ever bought (I didnb't even own a CD player at the time). I thought if there was a band worth listening to in digital stereo, it was Def Leppard. Def Lep has always been a heavily produced band with all sorts of electronic noises, processed vocals and synthesizers to soften and sweeten their brand of pop metal. While this reputation had been established with High N Dry (1982) and Pyromania (1983), they took it to the next level with Hysteria.

In fact, when I first heard Hysteria in the summer of 1987 I didn't care for it much. Their previous albums High N Dry and Pyromania combined taut, catchy songwriting with polished guitarwork and AC/DC style rhythms. Hysteria kept the polish and memorable choruses but expanded their sound by removing much of their harder edged rhythms and looking for less obvious ways to rock.

For a fan of predicable music such as myself, Hysteria was a frustrating album. Much of the album moved at a midtempo pace. "Rocket" was way too long and confusing with a sound collage in the middle. It was 62 minutes long at a time when most were 45 minutes long. With the exception of the hard charging "Run Riot", nothing rocked with reckless abandon. It was weird and the difference showed in slow sales for the album.

As time went on, I liked the album more and more. The power ballad "Love Bites", despite the somewhat ridiculous lyrics (The idea of Love as a biting, bleeding thing never appealed to me) was terrific and the almost boogie of "Armaggedon It" with that great gliding guitar part (where the song goes Gimmie all of your lovin'/Gimmie all that you got/Every bit of your lovin/Baby don't ever stop). The lead single "Women" was a terrific, slow building rocker with a great instrumental breakdown at the end. "Gods Of War" was an awesome mid-album epic tackling that great 80's theme of nuclear holocaust and Reagan era politics.

Interestingly, a year after the album was out it finally caught on with the public. In the Summer of '88, "Pour Some Sugar On Me" was released as the fifth single of the album. The song, one of the original prototypes of rap-metal, caught on with its mix of T Rex and Run DMC. To this very day, "Sugar" is the definitive Def Leppard song and remains in the national consciousness to this day.

Other songs I didn't care for in the first year became more interesting later on. Until recent years, I didn't care of "Animal" because I thought it was too soft. Ditto "Hysteria", I couldn't see if it was a ballad or laid back rock. In fact, I didn't like the song "Hysteria" until this year. Go figure.

The best Def Leppard song from this time period wasn't even on this album. The B-side to the 45 for "Women" included a powerhouse rocker called "Tear It Down". An atomic rocker similar to "Comin Under Fire" from Pyromania, "Tear It Down" rocked harder than anything on Hysteria. Unfortunately, a watered down version of this song appeared on the next album Adrenalize.

Hysteria has grown to be a favorite album of mine and it continues to gain resonance as my wife has fond memories of this album as well. To many, this is the definitive Def Leppard album and marks a peak in their creativity and commercial sales.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Old Bob part 2 and Number 68

Growing up, my brother loved this Disney sci-fi movie called the Black Hole. In the movie, the best character was a rickety beat up robot called "Old Bob" that looked like a trashcan hung on strings. The robot was meant to represent the aged, down and out gunslinger who had one last good shot in him. Now, with both Bobs Dylan and Seger releasing new albums I am reminded of that character again. Dylan scored with an excellent album filled with wry irony and compassion. But how did the other Bob do?

Bob Seger is doing just fine, thank you. It's been over ten years since his last album, the misguided It's A Mystery (1995) where the only mystery was how the super consistent Seger make such a crap album. After a strong tour (which my wife and I saw) Seger disappeared. Now he's back, older and...well, just plain older! It's been so long since he's been gone he stopped dyeing his hair and got dentures! But unlike that other patron saint of heartland rock, Bruce Springsteen, Seger felt no need for reinvention and is all the better for it. On Face The Promise (2006) Seger delivers exactly what he is known for: a little country rock, a little fist pumping anthems and a whole lotta perspective on living life with two feet on the ground.

Face The Promise offers a smorgasboard of Seger's trademark sounds. There's wistful angst in the Against-The-Windish first single "Wait For Me". Bar Band rave ups on "No Matter Who You Are". 80's style workingman anthems with "Wreck This Heart" and "Simplicity" (the latter inadvertently steals the verse melody from Michael Jackson's "Bad"). Bluesy acoustic guitar on "No More" and "Won't Stop". And the list goes on, almost all of the tracks are well produced with a warm, earthy sound and the songwriting of a true craftsman.

There are only a few weak spots on the disc, mainly in the predicable heavy rocker "Are You". It provides nothing he hasn't done better on earlier albums. While not bad, the CMT-baiting generic new country of "Real Mean Bottle" written by country star Vince Gill and duetted with Kid Rock sounds stiff next to his regular material.

So, the other Bob passes the test of time, I give this disc a 7.5 out of 10. Now Face The Promise, damn you!!!

If you don't, you'll have to face Number 68:

AC / DC - Back In Black (1980)

This album has been praised and analyzed up and down for so long it seems pointless to write much about it. The most interesting thing I can say is that I got into AC/DC a little late, around 2000-2001. My wife bought Stiff Upper Lip (2000) and I enjoyed that disc a bit. We went to see them on tour that year and I was blown away by the best concert I had ever seen ever. Instead of seeing a band of old has beens, AC/DC rocked out full throttle as if their life depended on it for two and a half hours. They had flame breathing statues, cannons, giant bells and elevators. It was the most amazing live show I had ever seen in my life and I've seen over 60 concerts.

So I picked up AC/DC's back catalog after that including the legendary Back In Black album. Back In Black lived up to its hype with outstanding songwriting and a brutally raw performance polished up by producer "Mutt" Lange. It comes across like a greatest hits album, their best known track "You Shook Me All Night Long" debuts on this album (it would appear later on Who Made Who (1986) and other soundtracks) and features all that is great about this band. Screaming, sleazy vocals backed by a crunching guitar riff and a pounding rhythm section. AC / DC attack every song like a blunt instrument in the hands of a crazed lunatic.

The strutting, heavy riff of the title song "Back In Black" (currently used in Gap commercials) is here as well. The fast paced grinding guitars of "Shoot To Thrill" (from the XXX part 2 commercials) kicks the album into high gear. Elsewhere, they build their mystique in their most overt salute to deceased singer Bon Scott on "Hells Bells". The steady anthem of "Rock And Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" (featured in Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire) closes the album with a bonding battle cry for headbangers everywhere.

Even the filler tracks are memorable on Back In Black, particularly the mega sleazy "Let Me Put My Love Into You" (love that line "Let me cut your cake/with my knife/Ow!") and the raunchy "Given The Dog A Bone".

While their is an AC/DC album that rates higher on this list, Back In Black is a true classic that is even better than what people say it is. If you don't own this album, buy it now!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Old Bob part I and Number 69

Old Bob Dylan recently released a new CD, Modern Times (2006). I have a strange kind of fanship of Bob Dylan in that I'm not a huge fan of his earlier, seminal work. That's not to say I don't get a lot of enjoyment out of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall", "Masters Of War" or "Lay Lady Lay" as I love those songs. It's that his music is so revered and iconic that I can't relate to it. Song like "The Times Are A-Changin", "Blowing In The Wind" and "Postively 4th Street" are so strongly tied to their timeperiod (late 60's) that I can't relate to it now. So, funnily enough I find I'm a bigger fan of his more recent work, such as the excellent Love And Theft (2002). Now, he's released Modern Times.

Modern Times is like the ultimate Eric Clapton album without the guitar solos. Loose, shuffling blues grooves dominate this album. The early media push highlighted two strong tracks, the IPOD commercial "Someday Baby" lightly boogies its way by with a good sense of fun. "Thunder On The Mountain" name drops Alicia Keys while it bounces along to its shambling beat. The Robert Johnson "Rollin' And Tumblin" strongly resembles the Johnson covers Eric Clapton recently delivered.

With Dylan, lyrics are important and the story is no different here. My personal favorite is the song "The Levee's Gonna Break", a humorously sardonic song with lyrical imagery remiscent of Hurricane Katrina. "When The Deal Goes Down" and "Ain't Talkin'" shows off Dylan's darker, more serious side.

The only song that didn't quite work of me was "Spirit On The Water" because its about 7 minutes long but I thought it should end at 4 minutes. Too much of a good thing I guess.

Overall, this is another strong late career album from Old Bob Dylan. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Another downbeat folk rocker comes at Number 69:

Tracy Chapman (1988)

When Tracy Chapman debuted in 1988, she exploded all expectations of a dead genre (folk rock) while being an african american woman who was talented but not particularly sexy. Like many debuts where the artist gets some good attention from the label, Chapman was able to cherry pick her best songs from a few years work and have a compatable producer. The detailed approach paid off for her debut album, which features strong songwriting, smooth flowing production and impassioned vocals.

Chapman's low, quavering voice gives emotional resonance to songs ranging from simple folk ballads ("Baby Can I Hold You") to laid back protest rock ("Talkin' Bout A Revolution). The subject matter varies from materialism ("Mountain's O Things"), the death penalty ("For My Lover") and ghetto life ("Across The Lines"). Her big hit song, "Fast Car", encapsuled everything Chapman did so well. The lyrics told an engaging story of a woman with too much work and responsibilities in her life slowly watching her options fade away with time. The feeling of being trapped is almost palpable in the verses while the strumming guitar in the lifting chorus give a sense of short lived freedom.

The success of the album in 1988 underscored the public's need for music with some depth after years of empty synthesizer pop. Though Chapman herself has remained consistent in her work, she never sounded as good as on her first album.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Nobody Knows, Tao Of Steve and Number 70

Another long gap between some catching up to do! I'll start with a few random asides, love the revamped Star Trek-The Original Series with new special effects. I've seen two episodes and the facelift breathes new life into the classic show. So far, no "Greedo shoots first" incidents which is fantastic. Moving on, I like that new Hinder song "Lips Of An Angel". It's as if Nickelback decided to write an Aerosmith ballad. Best of all, it's a song that plays tricks on you. At first listen, it sounds like a bland love song - but on closer examination, the song is actually about how this guy is cheating on his girl with another girl and is really really happy about it. He can't quit cheatin' because the other girl has the "Lips of an Angel" but can't let his girlfriend hear the phone calls or she'll catch on. Great stuff! The last big fad for me is the video for OK Go's "Here It Goes Again". Gymnastic dance routines on a series of treadmills by four musicians makes for great video.

A movie that doesn't make for great video is the Japanese film Nobody Knows (2004). The movie tells the story of four children in Tokyo abandoned by their slutty mother and left to fend for themselves. This movie did score points for creating a realistic vision of their hermeted life (the children aren't allowed to leave the apartment) and insular world. The first half of the movie proved interesting in these terms. Sadly, the slow moving film fails to catch fire in the second half and the movie melts into a sort of bored mediocrity. By the time you get to the end, the movie seems so remote and ridiculous you're sort of dumbfounded by the amount of time you lost watching it. Sometimes it's better when Nobody Knows.

The Tao Of Steve (2000) is a lighter movie that I enjoyed much more. Starring Donal Logue (TV show Grounded For Life) as Dex, the overweight bong smoking slacker and part time kindergarden teacher, the movie follows its predictable plot faithfully but amiably. This movie has no pretentions, it's about this charming shaggy guy spinning his bullsh*t into gold. He scores with women and has an all around good time on his own terms, following the example of the three "Steves": Steve McGarrett (Hawaii 5-0), Steve Austin (the bionic man) and Steve McQueen (The Great Escape). Dex's life is uncomplicated and fun until he meets the girl of his dreams, Syd. He spends the rest of the movie re-evaluating himself to try to be worthy of Syd and has the standard detours while doing so. The performance of Logue and the simple execution of the ideas makes for a light, satisfying piece of entertainment.

If Dex were an 80's guy, his philosophies could be summed up by Number 70:

Van Halen - 5150 (1986)

I can't recall another album in my life with as much prerelease buzz as this one. When Diamond Dave left VH in 1985, everyone thought that was the end of the band. Then came the news: Sammy Hagar, the Red Rocker himself, signed up to be Van Halen's new singer. Rock fans across the nation became enamored with the possiblities of a more commercial singer backed by Eddie Van Halen's lightning fast guitar runs. They have a singer, not an entertainer was the running line. The first single, the great "Why Can't This Be Love" was a Top 10 hit thanks to the hype.

But the reason why it's Number 70 isn't because of the hype, but because it exceeded it's considerable hype. 5150 is an album stuffed with raging hard rock and steely power ballads combining the commerciality of Hagar's blustery anthems with the freewheeling guitar blasts from Eddie Van Halen. Fist pumping hard rock is delivered on the lumbering groove of "Summer Nights" and the contrasting guitar licks on "Best Of Both Worlds." VH wanders into ballad territory with shiny keyboard parts in the ET obsessed "Love Walks In" and the fan favorite "Dreams". My favorite track on the album is "Get Up", a song that has the famous Van Halen shuffle rhythm, a speedy finger tap solo from Eddie Van Halen and screaming vocals from Sammy Hagar.

Overall, it's really difficult to find a weak spot on this other than the throwaway ending song, "Inside". "Inside" is just a jokey sound mix to show the new Van Halen bantering with each other to underscore the comraderie of these fast friends. It seemed a little fake at the time because Sammy Hagar was attempting to be more of a party hearty kind of guy instead of the fierce rocker persona he had perfected up til then. Outside of some trying to hard by Mr. Hagar, Van Halen 5150 stands as one of the ultimate hard rock albums of the 80's