Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Da Vinci Code and Number 94

So Dark the Con of Man..I just finished reading this book and can't recall seeing this line anywhere in it. Maybe I just missed it. At any rate, this is the tag line to the successful movie starring Tom Hanks. I haven't seen the movie, so this is a book review. My first book report since high school!

The book is about an academic sybologist and a french cryptographer attempting to locate the Holy Grail through a series of hidden symbols and word / logic puzzles. It is a very fast read with an emphasis on logic puzzles and religious conspiracy theories. Characterization seems spotty at best but the alleged religious facts and sudden plot twists maintain interest throughout.

Ultimately, this book is an enjoyably light read. It's not to deep, no matter what the material in the book suggest, and will take you on a fantastic adventure across France and England. Now, I can't wait to see the movie! The book rates a 9 out of 10.

In order to move to the next topic, I will introduce it in the speak pattern of the Da Vinci Code:

Number 94! Galore! 1234567, all good children go to heaven!

The Go-Go's - Beauty And The Beat (1982)

The Go-Go's were the first self contained all female band to score a number one hit single, "We Got The Beat." The success of this song made the quintet the "it" band of 1982 and their single became one of those songs you could not escape from. The steady, insistent beat and the near call and response vocals made the song irresistably catchy all summer long.

An additional single made the Top 20, "Our Lips Are Sealed." "Sealed" was written about an affair between guitarist Jane Weidlen and a member of British group Fun Boy Three (they recorded a version of this song as well). The song matched "We Got The Beat" in terms of having a sunny pop mood and an effective song hook.

The rest of the album had strong points as well. Drummer Gina Schock turns in an almost manic drum performance, proppeling songs such as "How Much More" and the excellent "Skidmarks On My Heart". Slower songs, like the languid "Automatic", show a deeper side to the band's music.

In the end, the deciding factor for this band's success was audience size. Although the Go Go's sold many records they were never as successful as they were here. I can remember going to see the Go'Go's on the talk show tour. Man, were they wasted!. Everything they played seems off time and half hearted.

The Go-Go's stardom began with this album and slowly faded over time. The biggest surprise is to find out the Go-Go's were a punk band until cleaning up and taking pictures in a sudsey bath tub. Sometimes the right producer (Richard Gotthard) and the right image can make a big difference.The Go Go's officially broke up a while back but still reunite for charity concerts.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

MI3 and Number 95

Yesterday I went to the movies to see Mission Impossible 3. Before starting, I've got to say I've never been the biggest Tom Cruise fan. That's not to say I don't like him or feel he's talentless, I just never thought he was a great actor. As a result, much of the recent hoopla about what Tom Cruise says, thinks or does really hasn't affected me. I find the gossip about him entertaining, but that's about it. In terms of movies, Tom Cruise has appeared in many good movies but the only movies that have really grabbed me are the Mission Impossible movies.

I also enjoyed the TV show and generally like spy movies, so the Mission Impossible movies fit in with my tastes. The first (and best) one was directed by Brian Depalma. Depalma pulled almost every trick out of his I'm-so-ripping-off-Hitchcock bag that the movie gets by on pure style. In opposition to many of this films critics, I enjoyed the winding plot and was able to follow it during the movie. However, the producers listened to the critics and heavily watered down MI2. MI2 was directed by John Woo who pulled every trick out of his I'm-so ripping-off-Old John Woo bag that the movie seems tired from the start. It doesn't help that the plot is also a rip off of the old Hitchcock film Notorious. Still, the dumbed down plot and slo mo gunplay made this film hugely successful.

Which brings us to the current film, Mission Impossible 3. This time, JJ Abrams (of Alias fame) takes control of the film and infuses it with Alias' mix of high tech espionage and personal relationships. Unlike his predecessors, Abrams directs effectively in the style of televison with minimal flourish and economical use of framing and shot length.

The first hour to hour and a half are the best in any Mission Impossible movie. It begins with a cliffhanger where Tom Cruise is told he has an explosive device placed in his head and he must answer a bizarre question to keep his wife from being shot in the head. The opening is a classic cliffhanger and the film actually improves from there. Cruise accepts a mission to attempt a rescue of a captured spy whom Cruise trained. Cruise gets an actual team to work with, a move that makes the film pay homage to the original Mission Impossible. In this part of the film, much of the high tech hardware gets displayed and the heavily timed strategies build tension throughout.

Unfortunately, once the movie catches up with the cliffhanger flashback opening, it quickly goes downhill. The generic action movie final battle and coda are dull and implausible even at B movie standards. The supporting cast give fine performances all the way around, but it is clearly Tom Cruises' show. Given the weak box office performance, it is unlikely that there will be an MI4. If you stop watching the movie two thirds of the way through, I will rate it a 10. But, with the ending included its an 8 out of 10.

Speaking of sequels, my favorite CD at number 95 is:

Journey - Arrival (2001)

In the late 1990's, Journey attempted to reform with lead singer Steve Perry to take one more shot at greatness. Sadly, after recording and releasing the CD vocalist Perry suffered an injury that sidelined him for years. In the meantime, the rest of Journey (sans drummer Steve Smith) decided to continue without Perry. Instead, lookalike and soundalike vocalist Steve Augeri was recruited. Augeri could mimic the Perry vocal style and somewhat resembled him at a distance. Enough fans stuck by Journey without Steve Perry to encourage the recording of an album, Arrival.

Arrival is the first Journey album to not feature Steve Perry since 1976. For the most part, the approach of the band is similar to their approach with Perry. The CD is chock full of ballads (All The Way, Loved By You, With Your Love and Lifetime Of Dreams) and includes a few rockers (To Be Alive Again, I Got A Reason and Higher Place). The ballads follow a similar pace to the band's earlier hits (Open Arms, Faithfully) as do the rockers, but Perry's R&B influence is sorely missing. Without Perry, the album stiffens as everyone performs the music with energy but without much soul.

So, why is this album 95 if it doesn't seem that good? It's because I'm such a fan that even hand me down Journey is better than most other bands. The anthemic "To Be Alive Again", the dark rock of "Higher Place" and the bluesy "Livin' To Do" all stand out as first rate songs. While I will always miss Perry, the truth is the last few albums with him weren't all that great. It sounded like Steve Perry solo albums with members of Journey as guests. On Arrival, it is truly a band album as all members get to contribute. If you like Journey, I do recommend this album though I cannot to nonfans.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Shopgirl and Number 96

Yesterday I saw the DVD of Shopgirl, a movie starring Steve Martin and Claire Danes based on a book (sorry, Novella) by Steve Martin. The movie seemed to be about the feeling of loneliness while residing in a large society (in this case, Los Angeles). The movie features three main characters, each of whom suffer from neurosis and personality problems that keep them from belonging with general society. The lead character Marybelle, played by Claire Danes, is a struggling artist working is Saks who is desperately lonely. Steve Martin is Ray Palmer, a wealthy man who is lonely due to his fear of being close to people . The final lead character is Jeremy, played by Jason Swartzham (sp?), a creative artist who can only express himself in half random outbursts.

The movie follows the structure of a romantic comedy, but the somber, lonely mood drains much of the humor out of it. Instead, the movie seems like a bittersweet fairy tale. Dane's character, desperate for a partner, endures bizarre and insensitive behavior from her suitors Jeremy and Ray. The movie follows a slow pace and the jagged dialogue adds to the realism of the charcters and setting. The occasional shots spotlighting characters alone with the corners darkened around them added to the isolated feeling (the shots reminded me of REM's Losing My Religion video). All of the actors give strong performances, though Steve Martin's performance reminded me a lot of Robin Williams in "serious actor" mode and Jason Schwartzham's performance is a little too comic compared to the rest of the characters.

Ultimately, the slow pace that adds to the realism at the beginning starts to drag the movie down halfway through. Given that all of the characters are odd, there is difficulty in finding anyone for the audience to directly relate to. Without giving away the ending, the movie's final subject doesn't seem to be Claire Dane's Shopgirl but Steve Martin's Ray Palmer. And like Palmer, this movie has everything going for it externally but keeps everyone at arms length. I'll give this movie a 7 out of 10.

Following the popular theme of isolationism in a large society, particularly one ruled by instant electronic communication is the Number 96 CD:

Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)

Unlike many of the fans of Radiohead I have read about on the internet, I can't claim to love this band. I've read a lot about them and all the reasons why they are great, but outside of this album I can't see what the big deal is. Still, this particular album OK Computer stands out to me as one of the few modern albums to effectively capture a mood of restless disappointment caused by a society where all human interaction has been standardized by monalithic rules of behavior.

The hit song, "Karma Police", is a great example of this feeling. The song lyrically tells about how people who do bad things will eventually get what's coming to them. The lyric, "This is what you'll get when you mess with us" sounds intimidating but is sung in a detached, whiny manner that makes it seem like an idle threat. Musically, the album seems to alternate between U2 styled distortion and Pink Floydish pastoralism. My favorite track is "No Surprises", a song which to me is about the struggle between the safety of a planned life versus the lament of having everything be predictable. Another great song is "Paranoid Android", a six minute song that plays out like an alternative progressive rock band in top form with many sudden changes from quiet passages to slashing guitars.

While Radiohead seems a bit overhyped to me as a band, this album is definitely worth listening to.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

VH1 Is On And Number 97

Lately, I've watched a lot of VH1 because they've had a great series on the history of Heavy Metal. I had a great time watching the bits of videos by Motley Crue, Ratt, Quiet Riot and Poison. It made me nostalgic for those days when rock bands competed to put on the biggest, loudest show they could. The only downside is that sometimes VH1 seems like the Biography channel with long hair, I never see actual videos on it. Then again, I could probably extend my lifespan by not seeing Marilyn Manson videos. Never could get into that shock n' gore stuff. Anyway...

Number 97: Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (1979)

Following Lindsey Buckingham's album at number 98 is this double album (back when 18 plus songs couldn't be crammed on a single CD) recorded as a followup to their hugely successful Rumours album. Buckingham was determined to not repeat himself creatively, leading him to push the rest of the band to follow his muse in this expansive and expensive album. Inspired by new wave, Buckingham stripped back the production on his songs to a very basic level. Songs like "What Makes You Think You're The One" and "Save Me A Place" have minimal instrumentation and a DIY approach to recording. Other tunes like "Not That Funny" and "Walk A Thin Line" have a 50's rock vibe. Although he meant to sound cutting edge, Buckingham always came off like Buddy Holly on crack in this album. But, I mean that in a good way

At the same time, Buckingham gives Stevie Nicks the full treatment with the radio friendly lush production he's known for. The soothing vocal harmonies and guitar accents flow over the pulse of the rock solid rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. Nicks was on a major roll in her songwriting, releasing what I consider to be her best work. "Sara" was the big hit single for the album, although it is my least favorite Nicks song on the album because it is way too long. It's like that Seinfeld episode about The English Patient, the song takes a good beat and melody and then stretches it like this metaphor it keeps going and going...

Stevie Nicks has a great rocker on this album called "Sisters Of The Moon" which builds on her witchy woman mystique. "Angel" hinges on a swinging groove and a near deadpan vocal delivery. The best songs on the album is "Storms". This song plays like a classic country ballad with a killer harmony chorus and a downbeat mood. I really like how Nicks songs alternate in tone. At times wistful, hopeful, pained and accepting, the songs have an emotional core that seemed to get lost in her later work.

Christine McVie remained the most reliable songwriter, staying within her style of poppy blues shuffles and adult contemporary balladry. However, this was the only Buckingham / Nicks album where McVie didn't score the biggest hits. Nonetheless, the minor hit "Think About Me" and the ballad "Over And Over" stood out as highpoints on the album.

What was great about Fleetwood Mac was listening to three distinct singer / songwriters perform their different styles of music while being unified by meticulous production and one of the best rhythm sections in rock. Tusk features all of the performers in top form and captures them before their music became nostalgic or rote.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Brief Followup And Number 98

I was a little tired when I wrote the last entry, so there were some other comments about Loverboy I wanted to make. I first got into Loverboy after seeing their video for "Queen Of The Broken Hearts." It was an outrageous video in which Loverboy goes into the desert, meet a bunch of love hungry supermodels and then rock out in a sandstorm. Plus, the keyboard player talks in a computer voice! It just didn't get better than that.

I enjoyed Loverboy's music for the rest of the 80's having fond memories of Mike Reno's giant headband, the term "laser rock" getting used in music news articles and the sight of Canadian men in matching tight black leather clothes. Wait...that last part didn't sound quite right. I saw them in concert in 1986 and Loved Every Minute Of It (Ok, that was a really bad joke). They were a very energetic band to see live.

Anyway, now it's time to move on to Number 98 on my list:

Lindsey Buckingham - Out Of The Cradle (1992)

Lindsey Buckingham is the singer / songwriter / producer / guitarist of the 70's version of Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham joined the band along with Stevie Nicks in the mid 70's leading to a series of platinum albums and top 10 hits. Buckingham has often been considered a first rate producer and has been considered responsible for Mac's lush, melodic sound. However, I have been just a big fan of his unique guitar playing (he seems to finger pick everything) and economical song writing.

Out Of The Cradle was the album Lindsey Buckingham left Fleetwood Mac for in 1987 (he rejoined in 1997). The album is far and away Lindsey Buckingham's best solo album. It's the only solo album he's done that has the warm feel, cascading / echoing vocals and sharp songcraft that had been his hallmark with Fleetwood Mac.

The album has a theme running through it about leaving the past behind to find a better tomorrow. Highlights include the bouncy opener "Don't Look Down", the breezy "Soul Drifter" and the shimering beauty of "Surrender The Rain". Although the video for "Wrong" was a bit silly, it was still great to hear a good song get exposure.

In the end, Out Of The Cradle is an excellent album that highlights all of Lindsey Buckingham's best talents.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Number 99 And The Soul Patrol

Taylor Hicks won American Idol tonight, which I think is a great choice. Taylor definitely has the blue eyed soul thing down, particularly tonight when he blew Toni Braxton out of the water during "In The Ghetto". Taylor seems like a genuine, good natured person with a great deal of talent. The comparisons to Huey Lewis and Michael McDonald seem right on. Hopefully, the music producers won't change him when he goes to the studio. Soul Patrol!

Also, at number 99 on my favorite album list is:

Loverboy - Get Lucky (1981)

It seems amazing now, but this album actually was innovative for about 5 seconds in 1981. A straight ahead rock band with a new wave keyboardist. For a brief period of time, this was the sound many bands tried to duplicate and failed. The new wave keyboards courtesy of Doug Johnson) kept the band's music timely and lively.

Many radio classics came from this album, such as the anthemic "Working For The Weekend", the jazzy "Take Me To The Top" or the lite funk ballad "When It's Over". The only bad note is the lyrics to "Gangs In The Street", a laughable attempt at street cred from a group of Canadian musicians.

All in all, I have fond memories of this album at rate it 99 out of 100.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Pearl Jam Video, My Favorite 100 CD's And Bad Shrimp

I went to this weekend and was surprised to see a video advertised for Pearl Jam's song "Life Wasted". I clicked on it to see if it was a video they would actually be in, since they pretty much stopped making videos after the first album. I can't say I cared for the video itself because it was very gruesome and clearly based on the SAW movie styled album cover art. I'm just happy to see this band finally put itself back into the spotlight.

As I mentioned before, I'm going to start profiling my 100 favorite CDs. The obvious reason: I like to hear myself talk! Or in this case, type. Also, I enjoy reading other people's favorite CD lists and wanted to make one of my own. This list is based purely on my personal opinions, so keep in mind it will exclude many of the artists who usually show up on these lists (The Beatles, Bob Dylan) and emphasize the 80's. A lot.

My first entry at number 100 is:

David Bowie - Changesonebowie (1990)

When I first saw MTV, one of the videos on was David Bowie's "Let's Dance". I thought it was a strange song, it would say "Let's Dance" but the performer sounded so tired it seemed like dancing would be a chore. Then "China Girl" came out and needless to say, myself and probably other Asian Americans never heard the end of it. However, after two strikes against him Bowie released "Modern Love", which I thought was great. The commercial made me want to be a coffee achiever!

After that, I didn't think much about David Bowie. I had a college roommate who worshipped the guy, so I heard a lot of his music. Even then, I wasn't that impressed outside of "Suffragette City" and felt he was a bit overrated. It wasn't until about ten years ago, when I got this CD, that I changed my mind.

This CD, which includes many of his top hits, gave me his most popular songs in chronological order. I could see the progression from gender bending glam rocker to futuristic new waver and hear his bests moments up to the ill fated "Blue Jean" (hated that song!) Stand out songs included the classic "Space Oddity", the car commercial theme "Rebel Rebel" and the overplayed "Heroes". The "Fame '90" remix was also fun, though I am ashamed to admit enjoying it from the Pretty Woman soundtrack.

David Bowie's approach to music and self promotion blazed a trail for many other rock stars to follow. He always seemed ahead of the curve, finding new sounds and images that were original and provacative thorughout the 70's.

A final note about Bad Shrimp. My wife and I ate at a Chinese food restaurant we like to go to and encountered some bad sweet and sour shrimp. It was just one piece, but it was nassttyyy! I took one bite, it tasted like it had been marinated in public restroom drainage. I'm never ordering that dish again.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Snapshot Of Some Of The New Bands From An Old Guy

As much as I love rock music, I spent most of the late 90's listening to classic rock from the 60's and 70's. The reason? I thought most of the rock music from that time was repetitive soulless drivel. It seemed like rock seemed to stop after the grunge trend and all we were left with was Limp Bizkit. I mean, that "My Way" song was good but that was about it for me. I thought I would never listen to a new band again.

But, after the millenium started music started to change again. Suddenly, it was cool for young bands to write songs, play their own instruments and rip off the 80's! With that, I thought I would talk about some of the new bands I listen to:

The Killers - I'm kind of amazed how successful this band has become with it reeking of 80's new wave influence. They are mainly known for the catchy hits "Mr. Brightside" and the gender bending "Somebody Told Me". The whole album is a steady stream of post new wave without any irony, a must for anyone who enjoyed 80's pop music.

Franz Ferdinand - I've bought both of their CD's and think they've got a lot of potential. They remind me of the "skinny tie bands" that used to exist in the early 80's like The Knack. There's some artiness to their sound and a sense of fun in their tone. A little remiscent of the Talking Heads as well.

The Strokes - Sometime's they seem more like a sound than a band, like Television meets the Velvet Underground with a little bit of The Cure and The Cars. While they have never blown me away, I've enjoyed each of their CD's. Gotta love that Tron style video for "12:51".

Hot Hot Heat - A happy, playful 80's throwback. Their songs are upbeat with a poppy melody and some fancy wordplay in the lyrics. I really like the song "Middle Of Nowhere", it made me feel like it should be on the radio with Howard Jones and Belinda Carlisle.

There are a few other new bands / artists I listen to, such as White Stripes, Death Cab For Cutie, Rilo Kiley, Suftjan Stevens, The Shins and Wilco. I hope this current boom of actual bands last for a while as it's nice to pick up a new CD in the store and not know every song from beginning to end before I play it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

American Idol And Pearl Jam

Well, tonight I watched American Idol. Taylor Hicks pretty much owned the show with his three performances, pushing his soul man routine to the max. I really enjoyed his rendition of Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful", I actually liked it more than the original. Kathernie McPhee proved she is a voice in need of serious direction. Her performance improves if someone is calling the shots for her, such as Simon selecting "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" or her performance under the coaching she received from celebrity guest stars. Most of her personal selections of music without extra assistance has fallen flat. Elliot Yamin gave a solid performance but lacked the fire he showed in the previous weeks. I would predict Elliot is going to go...but given the show's unpredicatability I would not be surprised if Taylor was voted off. For no reason other than it would be shocking.

An additional review, though I haven't had time to closely listen to it, is Pearl Jam. I've liked Pearl Jam for a long time and have bought many of their CD's (the regular albums, at least). Their new disc is the best they have sounded in years. Although I have always enjoyed their music, somewhere after Vitalogy they seemed determined to write the least catchy songs they could think of. While this move resulted in good music that was less commerical and kept them from competing with the copy cat bands that rose in their wake, I was always wanting them to return to their original sound. Pearl Jam's CD features music that is as energized and anthemic as their early discs, particularly on the single "World Wide Suicide". The slower paced "Parachutes" also stood out to me. As time goes by, I'm sure I'll have more to say about this album. I give it an 8 out of 10.

In the near future, I'll also start listing my favorite CD's. I like to read other people's favorite CD lists, so I thought I would put one out there too. I'll probably do one disc at a time...after I get around to making the list.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Le Samourai And Alison Krauss

Yesterday, I watched a DVD I got for Christmas called Le Samourai. It's from the Criterion Collection and was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville in 1967. The movie is about a French hit man who is cool as ice on and off the job. The movie was both engaging and edgy with its jazzy sense of style and anti hero theme. I was impressed how the movie got me to root for the guy even though he was a killer who hardly talks to anyone. If anyone likes the early Sean Connery Bond films (pre-Goldfinger), I would recommend this movie.

Also, I saw the video for Alison Krauss' "If I Didn't Know Any Better" on CMT. Being an Asian American, I never really felt I could connect with Country Music. Maybe I'm getting old, but it now sounds good sometimes and my favorite country artist is Alison Krauss. She has a yearning, breathy quality to her voice and her band Union Station backs her with a high degree of musicianship in their playing. "If I Didn't Know Any Better" is a lush country ballad performed with bluegrass instruments.

Well, Family Guy (my favorite TV show) is on so it's time to go.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

I'm Blank

I thought I would add a post to give more to read to start with. So, I'll talk about a CD I bought by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs called Under The Covers Vol.1. The CD is made up of cover songs from the 60's. I've followed Matthew Sweet off and on since his Girlfriend album in 1991. Susanna Hoffs was in the 80's band The Bangles. They were known to play together on the Austin Powers movie soundtracks and now have made this CD.

The CD is pretty good, I would rank it a 7 out of 10. There are many highpoints on the album, such as the ragged classic rock jamminess on Neil Young's songs "Cinnamon Girl" and "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere". Susanna Hoffs gets into "Eternal Flame" like balladness on the Bee Gee's "Run To You" and Fairport Convention's "Where Does The Time Go?". They also do effective renditions of well known overplayed songs like The Beatles "And Your Bird Can Sing" and Stone Poney's "Different Drum."

Sometimes the albums crisp, clean production makes the music sound softer than it needs to be. The background vocals sound like The Carpenters in some places and the album lacks a centerpiece song to tie everything together into a cohesive whole. In the end, it's like listening to a reunited folk duo run through their favorite songs for fun. A fun, entertaining CD from beginning to end.

First Post


This is my first post on an internet blog ever! I thought I would give this blog thing a shot, so I'm going to write about the things I like: Music, Movies and TV. First, I'll give a brief introduction to me. I'm a middle aged guy who's happily married and have no children but a dog. I have middle aged guy tastes, so you'll notice a lot of old rock bands and old movies get mentioned here. Well, time to get started!