Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Donnas: Hair Band Revival?

If Cinderella had a sex change it would sound a lot like Bitchin'. And "Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone" would have more meaning too.

Over the past few years there has been a resurgence of classic rock influences creeping into modern music. It started with the "cool" bands as new groups sprung up from out of nowhere sounding suspiciously like The Cure or Joy Division. Then, 70's Blooze Rock followed as The White Stripes and Wolfmother began blasting power chords like the bastard children of Jimmy Page. But one segment of classic rock has remained relatively untouched, a genre so maligned that no self respecting person would want to play it: 80's Hair Metal.

The genre was relatively simple, wear big hair with a can of gel and spray in it along with bright spandex clothing. Perform while running, jumping, spinning or all of the above at once. Play anthemic hard rock with an overprocessed guitar sound or synthesizers to soften the tone. Have a pop chorus sung with multitracked eq'ed vocals and add a needlessly fast guitar solo. After that, write a sappy love song for the pop charts and you're set.
The formula worked brilliantly for about 5 years before it grew stale and was obliterated by Grunge. Many of the bands would eventually reform later but even they would try to recast themselves as true rockers, ditching the long hair, shortening solos and changing to the down tuned guitar style of Limp Bizkit or Korn.
The music itself still sells when it is repackaged as Monster Ballads compilations that cut out the weaker material. So the field is wide open if anyone wants to take the chance to bring the sound back and one band is taking that challenge-The Donnas.
The Donnas peaked in popularity a few years ago with the MTV hit "Take it Off" and album Spend The Night (2002). That song epitomized the band's approach- one part punk pop and other part classic hard rock. The punk beat and Brett Anderson's deadpan vocals kept the band's sound in the present while guitarist Allison Robertson reeled off Kiss / AC DC influenced riffs and solos. After the follow up disc Gold Medal failed to repeat their earlier success The Donnas formed their own label, Purple Feather records.
Now free to make the music they choose, The Donnas are dropping most of the punk influence and literally bringing in more cowbell on Bitchin' (2007). Over the course of 14 tracks spanning 45 minutes the quartet deliver a pop metal album every bit as competent as Heart or Vixen did with an added bit of energy that comes with artistic freedom. The highlights include the Joan Jettish "Don't Wait Up For Me", the Def Leppardy "Save Me" and the Judas Priest mock up "Wasted". The best song "Smoke You Out" is four minutes of hair metal glory as the hook, airy backing vocals and blazing solos all connect.
Sure, The Donnas lose some points for being derivative but they were never that original to begin with. Their charm lies in a feminine exuberance for rock and roll debauchery. And the change in their sound may add years to their career, as the one song written in their pop punk style "Girl Talk" ironically sounds the most dated. Brett Anderson's deadpan vocal style doesn't quite fit the new approach-she's not a wailer-but does give the band some personal identity.
They also gain points for going all out in their approach. The Donna's have redone their logo into a classic Metal style and the album cover puts a new spin on Loverboy's Get Lucky album cover. They definitely haven't reinvented the wheel on Bitchin' but they have put on a spare that hasn't been used in years. By the end of the album all questions are answered except one: Where's the power ballad?

I used to have a Whitesnake poster that looked a lot like this one.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Is Anybody Alive Out There!

It's okay Bruce, I'm gonna leave you alone now.

It's been a great week of Bruce Springsteen mania here in Mr. Mike's house and now it is time to draw it to a close. I've listened to The River, Magic, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Devils & Dust all week long and finished it off by going to a great show. So I'm going to close out "Springsteen week" with a couple of features.

To read what the Boss man is up to and get more background on the current Magic CD, check out the Rolling Stone interview at .

I'm dedicating the Top 10 Song's I'm listening to right now to Springsteen only for this round! (I know, try to contain your excitement)

You can keep tabs on the tour and see exclusive video footage at his website

And to close it all out, here's his new video for "Long Walk Home".

Bruce Springsteen - "Long Walk Home"

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bruce Springsteen brings the Magic to the Oakland, er, Oracle Arena

Springsteen tells his fans that size matters
Thursday night I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at the Oracle Arena in support of his new Magic CD. 20 years ago, I saw Springsteen and the band perform at the Oakland Coliseum where they put on a pretty good show that was slightly subdued. This show was the opposite, this was the type of concert the band was famous for making during their hey day. It was part rock show, part political soapbox and part secular rapture as the tight veteran band tore through their vast catalog. Also, the show added more meaning to the current Magic CD as not being about personal relationships as much as the state of the world today.

Playing to what looked like a sold out crowd, they opened with a large Jukebox prop that played music not unlike what would be heard on the Jersey Boardwalk. The band took the stage and Springsteen yelled "Is there anybody out there!" before launching into the Tommy TuTone riff driven "Radio Nowhere". Springsteen played to the crowd perfectly, throwing his arms in the air while growling into the microphone like a dog worrying a bone. He knew how to generate crowd excitement, whether he was stopping in sudden "rock star" poses or strumming his guitar with an exaggerated motion that looked like dry heaving. The E Street band knew their places well, moving to the forefront for their shining moments and then drifting back into the background.

They followed up with the surprising "The Ties That Bind" from The River album. Clarence Clemons unleashed his second sax solo to a huge response (he received a crowd pop every time he touched his sax). Then, the momentum continued on "Lonesome Day" as ace violinist Soozie Tyrell and guitarist Nils Lofgren received some face time. The Boss then played a lot of harp leading into "Gypsy Biker" and traded guitar solos with Steve Van Zandt in between Danny Federici's organ runs.

After a brief speech explaining that Magic is about how the lies are made to be the truth and the truth lies Springsteen dueted with his wife on the title track. The added presence of Patti Scalfia to the song made it more intimate than it sounded on CD. Springsteen then played a blusey harmonica solo while the guitar line to ZZ Top's "La Grange" played in the background. The solo morphed into a full blues band version of Nebraska's "Reason to Believe"

In one of the many time warps of the evening, the group shot into the heavy groove of the 70's classic "Adam Raised A Cain". The band started to catch fire and delivered a thundering rendition of "She's the One." The E Street Band jumped on the Bo Diddley beat full force for what was the best performance of the evening.

Springsteen then spoke about how the next song was about how American Civil Liberties have been destroyed and that it was unimaginable just a few years ago. He then worked the entire stage for the strutting bar band rocker "Livin' in the Future" before handing over the payoff with the anthemic "The Promised Land." Patti Scalfia was given some lead vocal space for "Town Called Heartbreak", a nice slinky bit of blues.

I went to the bathroom and grabbed some garlic fries during the epic "Backstreets" but returned in time to see most of the song (a brief note, the fries did not come from the bathroom). Roy Bittan's stately piano still delivers thrills on this song. My personal favorite track off the new CD, "Your Own Worst Enemy" came next.

At this point, it became clear that the audience as a whole was drunk out of their minds. Watching drunk middle aged men dancing like taser victims in full view of their children is quite a sight. What was really funny was watching these two guys yell in each others faces while trying to out-fist pump each other to the beat. It was so obnoxious that another guy from a seating section about 10 feet away made them stop. I've seen AC/DC. I've seen Pink Floyd. I've seen the Stones. I've never seen so many flat out wasted people in one place in my life than Springsteen. Brruucceee!

With everyone in an alcohol driven frenzy, The Boss dug into the drama of the anti war "Devil's Arcade" that ended with a lone drum beat from Max Weinberg. Then, he kicked into the gospelish "The Rising" to get everyone's energy back up. A second double shot of new songs, the straight ahead rockers "Last To Die" and "Long Walk Home" were strong performances but the audience became restless for something familiar. And that's what set lists are for, as Springsteen and his band jumped into a pounding version of "Badlands".

I usually leave during an encore, but this was a concert I wanted to stay for as long as possible while still avoiding traffic. A sea of cell phone lights replaced the bic lighters of old times. The encore led off with a pleasant take on "Girls in Their Summer Clothes". Springsteen showed some guts by asking for a crowd sing along for a new song that isn't even the single. Amazingly, he got enough of a response for a sing along.

The Boss then went into a Greatest Hits trifecta starting with "Thunder Road". The audience sang along in unison to the point Springsteen skipped singing some parts. "Born to Run" followed as the house lights went up so the kids could see just how smashed their parents were. I was convinced this one guy was going to dance his way off the 2nd level because he kept leaning over the railing like a scarecrow in a tornado. Without missing a beat, "Run" changed into "Dancing in the Dark" and it was 1984 all over again. I seriously started looking for Courtney Cox to show up on stage.

I left during a song I didn't recognize, pleased with having seen a truly great concert. The band was on, the crowd was entertaining and Springsteen is still The Boss. It's rare for a classic rock artist to emphasize new material like they did in their prime, but Springsteen stuck to his guns to deliver his message. The Magic disc has new meaning for me as a result, less a document of his love life than a concerned warning that his true love, the American Dream, is going up in a smoke cloud of right wing trickery and needless killing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Top 10 Favorite Bruce Springsteen lesser known songs

"There was a time when I had so many good songs they would literally fall out of my ass"-not an actual Springsteen quote.

This week I'll get to see Bruce Springsteen perform live with the E Street Band for the first time in 20 years. The only time I've seen The Boss play was at the Amnesty International concert in Oakland. That was 1988, in support of the Tunnel of Love album (which means it was a somewhat subdued show). It wasn't the transcendent experience all of the hype led me to believe, but the subtle power of "The River" still haunts me from that night. Choosing your favorite Springsteen songs is a tough thing to do because from 1975 to 1987 the guy simply could not write a bad song. So, eschewing his usual Greatest Hits here's a list of my favorite lesser known (but not unknown!) Springsteen songs.

Number 10 - Your Own Worst Enemy from Magic

An earlier post explained why I like this song, just goes to show the Boss can still write songs that are relevant and relatable.

Number 9 - Highway Patrolman from Nebraska

From my favorite Springsteen album Nebraska (1982), his music has been described as "cinematic" and that definitely fits this song. The story of a police officer reminiscing about the good times he had with his brother who he is in hot pursuit of is the stuff of movies. Thematically, it tackles the difference between personal values and public law and sides firmly with the personal.

Number 8 - Spare Parts from Tunnel of Love

In the late 80's broken families were big news and Springsteen illustrated the desperation of people whose lives are falling apart with this tune. The line about going out for some cigarettes and not coming back is classic.

Number 7 - My Beautiful Reward from Lucky Town

When Springsteen wrote this, he was mired in controversy for cheating on his first wife with the woman who would become his second wife. Much of his fan base lost faith in Springsteen at this point, he was no longer The Boss. Many of his songs at this point had a "may you reap what you sow" tone but this song said it the best. Love the imagery of being drunk on the floor searching for his Beautiful Reward.

Number 6 - Downbound Train from Born in the USA

Even as a teenager, the opening line had me hooked "I had a job / I had a girl / I had something mister in this world". Springsteen then unfolds the tale of a man who loses everything along with a dramatic midsection where the beat stops and the man dreams of rushing to his wife who is no longer there. I've never heard of him playing this live, but on album it's powerful.

Number 5 - Thundercrack from Tracks

A sort of cousin to his classic "Rosalita", the song is long with many different sections. The variety of grooves hit like an extended jam session going really well. A bar band classic that never was. I liked the slight bit of sleaziness in the song that seems to be about an exotic dancer. "Her brains they rattle / her bones they shake / Whoa she's an angel from the innerlake."

Number 4 - Out In The Street from The River

It's rare for Springsteen to write a feel good song so "Street" stands out as a party hearty classic. An upbeat, jaunty tune about getting off work and having a good time. The freedom to "walk the way I wanna walk" is a great feeling.

Number 3 - I'm On Fire from Born In The USA

This probably would not qualify as a "lesser known song" in most people's book because it was a Top 10 hit single. That's probably a good reason to not consider it but after the song became popular the lyrics and video caused the public to unfairly tag it as the ultimate anthem for stalkers. The fact that the song was about romantic obsession fell on deaf ears resulting in an unofficial ban on "I'm On Fire" that lasts to this day. I used to quote the song to my wife while we were dating so again, the relatability is definitely there.

Number 2 - Murder Incorporated from Greatest Hits

Although this was a single, I don't think anyone remembers this song. Written about the mob's influence on his beloved Jersey, I really just like the heavy groove and hearing Springsteen shout "Murder Incorporated!".

Number 1- Light of Day from Plugged

Springsteen originally gave this song to a movie soundtrack that became Light of Day starring Michael J Fox. Sung by Joan Jett, it was a minor hit in the mid 80's. When Springsteen formed his non E Street band in the early '90's, he revived this song as a showcase for the new band's talents. As a result, "Light of Day" became a sprawling piece of gospel fired rock with squalling twin guitars, rapid fire drumwork and skidding keyboard runs. My second favorite Springsteen song and performance, when he stopped to look into the camera to ask "Is anyone alive out there?" you'd swear he was in your living room.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

For Bunny

For the Bunny, who recently brought up this catchphrase from the 80's Cosby Show. The Cosby Show was the last television show to truly hold the attention of the American Public. Though other shows scored higher ratings afterwards, the Cosby Show was viewed by everyone in the country for the first few seasons it was on. America related to The Huxtables, a wealthy family living in New York. Cosby found a way to approach family sitcom humor with warmth and a lived in sense of realism.

The other night my wife brought up "Jammin' on the One", a classic phrase from the Cosby Show. The phrase has stuck in my head since then, so here's Theo Huxtable's famous party line as the new Flashback!

Theo Huxtable / Stevie Wonder - "Jammin' On The One"

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Clive Owen- you are the father!

Clive Owen gets bloody, muddy and runs a lot. in other words, it's a Clive Owen movie.

Maury Povich's worst dreams are realized in the sci fi thriller Children of Men (2006). Children of Men presents a near future 20 years from now where a plague has caused worldwide infertility. Along with the plague, the civilized world has descended into pure anarchy except for Britian. Britian is held together by an Orwellian government that monitors and dictates action and uses the threat of terrorism to keep people in line. But even in Britian, there are Mad Max like anarchists and an uprising threatening to overthrow the government. Immigration is not allowed, as anyone attempting to enter the country are thrown into Nazi like concentration camp systems (barbwire cages, prison bus transports with random victims selected for extra beatings) that have them wind up in a place that looks a lot like Iraq.

In the middle of all this, Clive Owen's character is a burnt out activist who is now a government drone in the Energy department. Until his activist ex-lover drags him into a mission to bring the first pregnant woman to the Human Project-a group of scientists who wants to find a cure to the plague. Owen quickly finds out that everyone wants the baby for political aims. He must guide the mother through hell to get her to the Project.

Alfonso Cuaron directs with a style that effectively blends smooth cinematic camera work with shaky hand held shots. The action sequences are filmed with a reality tv style normally seen on Cops - a brilliant sequence where a minivan is attacked by destitute by a waiting band of mauraders even tops Steven Speilberg's minivan sequence from War of the Worlds. The camera swings around with the exact motion and range of vision of a human head, making the action seem much more real.

Clive Owen does well in the role he always plays-the downtroden idealist hiding under a jaded exterior. Michael Caine continues to play variations of the mentor role he perfected in Cider House Rules. Julianne Moore gets second billing but is barely in the movie. The rest of the cast delivers capable and engaging performances.

Children of Men manages to pull together its story and social commentary without ever seeming false or contrived. The messages-a government that reigns by fear and torture, the terrorism it breeds, the environmental cost of unchecked pollution, and a strong anti-Iraq war stance come through without distracting from the story. Add a great classic rock soundtrack (even imagery, there's an extended shot of a pig balloon flying next to a smokestack) that includes the second best use of a King Crimson song in film ("In the Hall of the Crimson King" in this case) and you've got a great movie.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"She's my Rushmore, Max."

If Ferris Bueller was a real person, he would probably be this guy.

After many years, I finally took the time to watch Rushmore (1998), a movie about an intelligent and talented prep school student who juggles several extracarricular activities (playwright, director,debate team, wrestling team, every other team imaginable) but can never focus in his classes. Max, played by Jason Schwartzbaum, is a hyperactive dreamer who loves a school that despises him.

Max meets a teacher at his school and tries to date her only to lose her to his mentor, a Steel factory owner played by Bill Murray. Max considers this a personal betrayal resulting in a cartoonish feud between the two. Meanwhile, Max's grip on his beloved prep school slips because he's blinded by love for the school teacher. Murray's character is disillusioned with life until he befriends Max. A range of colorful characters populate Rushmore, including an Irish bully, Asian girl genius and a young boy who idolizes Max.

Rushmore has a tone that's wry and ironic balanced with an affection for human frailty. Directed and co-written by Wes Anderson, Rushmore captures the strong emotions and naked insecurity of adolescence from a bemused point of view. Ultimately, the movie is about adolescence itself-finding your place in the world as it repeatedly (in this case literally) smacks you in the face. The film is well cast and manages to strike an insular tone without alienating the audience. I'm glad I finally saw this movie, it was worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Artist Spotlight: Survivor

Uh, would you believe this was the biggest picture I could find of them?

One of my favorite music blogs, Jefitoblog, went away a little while ago which sucked because it was a great place to find snarky humor about music minutae. Another great public service that site performed was providing an "Idiots guide" to one of the greatest bands to hail from the Windy city...Survivor! I have been a huge fan of this band for years, at one point I was so much of a fan that my wife grew to hate the ultimate Rocky soundtrack group. This will be my first Artist Spotlight, where I follow an artist's career on completely subjective terms.
Survivor was formed sometime in the mid to late 70's and was given it's name because the musicians had "survived" the Chicago rock scene. Led by former Ides of March keyboardist Jim Peterik and guitarist Frankie Sullivan, Survivor was originally signed to the Scotti Bros record label.

Survivor (1979)

The first album featured beret happy lead singer Dave Bickler and a rhythm section who I can't remember. I hardly ever played this record because the rhythm section was much looser than the Marc Droubay (drums) and Stephen Ellis (bass) era that followed. None of that familiar repetitive "thump thump" beat. I later came to like "Somewhere In America" but overall it was forgettable, generic rock. I've heard rumors that it's Kim Bassinger on the album cover but never bothered to check into it. I don't think it looks like her.
Premonition (1980)

With Droubay and Ellis in the band, this is the first true Survivor album to me. It lead's off with one of their best tunes, the hard charging "Chevy Nights". "Take You On A Saturday" was the B side to, like, every Survivor 45 they put out so I had no choice but to hear it. Not a bad bit of strutting hard rock. Of course, the song that won them their spot on the Rocky III soundtrack is featured here, "Poor Man's Son". Sly Stallone reportedly liked the attitude of "Poor Man's Son" and it featured that trademark lock step rhythm. Plus they were doing the Safety Dance on the cover! ahead of their time.

Eye Of The Tiger (1982)

Sadly, some things in record jackets get lost transitioning to CD (if you look in the Tiger's eye, you'll see the band standing there) as does fashion (Um, beret's anyone? Because when you think of Rock, beret's are the first thing to come to mind. Apparently).
But "Eye of the Tiger" was the song that made the band the top one hit wonder of the '80's. It's awesome tie in with Rocky III, "Tiger" made everyone feel like the guy who could do one arm pushups and beat Mr. T. Stupidly, they picked the dull as hell "American Heartbeat" as the follow-up single and watched their momentum crawl to a halt. Too bad, the rest of the record had some killer songs like the Foreignerish "The One Who Really Matters" or the first rate power ballad "Ever Since The World Began". "Began" is so good that Survivor recorded it twice and even Tommy Shaw has a version of it. You know when ex-members of Styx are covering your songs, you're onto something.
"Feels Like Love", basically a rewrite of "Chevy Nights", blasted along to a fast beat and became a frequent concert opener for the band. The dramatic ballad "I'm Not That Man Anymore" let everyone stretch out and show their chops. Eye of the Tiger sold well and led people to believe that this was the start of something big.

Caught In The Game (1983)

Feeling good coming off a successful year, the band returned with one of their best albums. Caught In The Game featured strong songwriting and sharp performances. The blend of keyboards and guitars never got better than here. Yet, Game featured absolutely zero hits. Zip. Nada. The title track featured one of the best Arena rock riffs of the decade. The ballad "I Never Stopped Loving You" was a capable sequel to "Ever Since The World Began". The fast paced rock of "It Doesn't Have To Be This Way" and the wistful, epic "Santa Ana Winds" also caught fire.

And nobody cared. Was it the dopey video game inspired album cover? Was it the lack of Rocky? Were people tired of the beret? Whatever it was, Survivor had seen their time in the sun. The champs were down for the count. Or so we thought...
Vital Signs (1984)

While recording the next album, singer Dave Bickler developed throat problems that forced him to leave. Meanwhile, Sullivan and Peterik sat down with a real producer (Ron Nevison) to write deliberately commercial material. The band was paired up with ex-Cobra singer Jimi Jamison. Jamison sang like Steve Perry post pueberty and with a little swagger. Like Rocky himself, focus, determination and a willingness to sell out led to a fantastic comeback.

The comeback started with babysteps, Jamison's first assignment was "The Moment Of Truth" for the Karate Kid soundtrack. Despite the way cool image of seeing Survivor rock out in Mr. Miyagi's back yard, the song placed Jamison's voice in an uncomfortably low register and failed to land the winning crane kick on the charts.
But they could not be denied their comeback as their first single, the magical power rock of "I Can't Hold Back", went into the top 20. It was and is one of the best songs I've ever heard, from the acoustic guitar / piano opening to the rushing finale with backing vocals by Starship's Mickey Thomas. And a video inspired by the movie Risky Business! Because there's a time for playing it safe and there's a time for...Risky Business!
The second single, with it's Frankie Valli inspired keyboard melody, was the Top 10 hit "High On You". But it was the bombastic power ballad "The Search Is Over" that brought the band all the way back. Despite being recently rated as one of the most awesomely bad love songs ever, "Search" put Survivor back in the Top 5 for the first time since "Tiger".
The rest of the album featured classic power balladry and anthemic arena rock on par with anything Journey or Toto were putting out. It was a flat out classic record.

When Seconds Count (1986)

Initially, Survivor was able to keep up the momentum this time by recording their second Rocky anthem, "Burning Heart". Described by the band as "Eye of the Tiger" played sideways, "Heart" went all the way to #2 on the charts. It featured blistering guitarwork from Frankie Sullivan and clumsy lyrics about East vs. West and spiers, yet it all worked out.

In '86, they released the proper follow up titled When Seconds Count. A classic on par with Vital Signs, Seconds combined the songwriting of the last album with the musical performance of Caught In The Game. The first single, the "High On You"ish "Is This Love" went to the Top 10. Everything looked good in Survivorville.

Then for a second time, the bottom fell out. The equally "High On You" ish second single "How Much Love" failed to reach the Top 40. Then the "Search is Over"ish power ballad "Man Against The World" missed too. That was a shame, 'cause "Man" had Jamison's best vocal-a heroic American Idol worthy performance. Another power ballad, the album track "In Good Faith" ranks as one of my favorite Survivor tunes. And "Oceans" is a great piece of moody songwriting to a pure AOR feel.

Too Hot To Sleep (1988)

After I spent some time in the hospital, the first CD I bought was Too Hot To Sleep. My reaction? Did Survivor have to copy Journey to the point that they felt the need to fire their rhythm section? The answer was a resounding "Yes".

The switch to studio musicians did give the band some freedom in their arrangements, no longer forced to do the "Tiger" beat. The lead single "Didn't Know It Was Love" was catchy but at this point they were too wussy for the charts. Still, the wanna be pop metal of "She's A Star" has real kick and the weighty "Rhythm Of The City" had some balls.

Following Sleep, the band went through two decades of lineup changes and turmoil. Jimi Jamison recorded a solo album then toured under the name Survivor. Sullivan sued Jamison. Jamison sued Sullivan. Dave Bickler came back. Jamison sang the Baywatch theme. Sullivan sued the tv show Survivor. Jamison replaced Bickler. Jamison recorded the album Reach (2006) with Survivor then left again. And other than me, nobody cared.

Except for one shining moment, when some marketing genius decided Survivor would sound good in a Starbucks commercial. Here it is. Enjoy!

Survivor - "Glen"

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Number 43

Doesn't this CD cover look like those tv's that Caretaker guy was watching on the second Matrix movie?

A quick post to add to the 100 favorite CD countdown, number 43...

Number 43 - Pearl Jam No Code (1996)

No Code came at an odd point in Pearl Jam's career, after a few years of being one of the most popular bands in the country their fan base suddenly dissipated. Not gone away altogether, but definitely weakened. Part of it may have been due to the band's stances on certain issues-namely forgoing music videos and limiting their live performances out of ticketmaster's reach. These noble efforts were commendable but dropped their musical presence considerably, fans knew more about their political causes than any new songs they might have. No Code marks the demarcation point where Pearl Jam stopped being the most popular band in the world and started becoming the grunge equivalent of the Grateful Dead-touring and playing to a smaller but fiercely loyal core audience.

Also in the "not helping" department was the band itself, frayed by internal disputes No Code is the least cohesive Pearl Jam album there is. The band's performance is loose and at times demoish, fueled by the fluid rhythms of new drummer Jack Irons. The shift in the rhythm section changed the band's tone from Alternative Arena Rockers to a Garage Band. It sounds like a recipe for a horrible album, but No Code is actually one of my favorite Pearl Jam discs.

No Code is where Pearl Jam breaks free of their multiplatinum prison by inviting a range of ideas in. Sure, there's some classic Pearl Jam rawk on the rampaging "Hail Hail" which stands as one of my favorite Pearl Jam tunes. But beyond that are a series of experiments. A major Neil Young influence comes through (the prior year Pearl Jam recorded with Young) on the chunky guitar of "Smile" and the wistful acoustic beauty of "Off He Goes". Spoken word lyrics take center stage on the slow building "Present Tense". Polyrhythmic percussion and a sea shanty melody is featured on the hit "Who You Are". A brief flash of punky attitude shows up on "Lukin" and even guitarist Stone Gossard gets a lead singing assignment on the second arena rock song "Mankind". No Code closes with "Around The Bend", a patient look ahead at future possibilities.

And that's the beauty of No Code, it is an album without rules where Pearl Jam felt the need to push themselves in new directions. It is at once messy and disjointed yet holds together as a unified whole. Through it all, a piercing humanism comes through making it Pearl Jam's most emotional effort. As the album cover suggests, this is their stab at an Exile on Main Street gestalt. It's not quite that good, but No Code is one of Pearl Jam's most memorable albums.

Friday, October 12, 2007

KRQR Double Shot

The only radio station I ever gave a damn about...

In ye olde days of the Bay Area 97.3 FM wasn't the commercial alternative station Alice but instead was KRQR - The rocker. It was the hardest rocking station in the bay, not as intellectual as KFOG, not as old as KMEL (when it was the Camel, not the current hip hop station) and not as bankrupt as new wave station The Quake (a great station that ran out of money). KRQR was the Bay Area guide to classic AOR bands like Journey, Rush, 80's Eric Clapton and of course Led Zeppelin. At noon time they would have this program called the Hot Lunch (I think with Steven Seaweed) and would play two songs in a row from one artist, or what they called a "double shot". I always think of this term when something comes in twos, and with two posts in one night I have a blog posting double shot.

I was checking out some of the Donna's new music, I've had a soft spot for this band since seeing their video for "Take It Off" and heard their new single "Don't Wait Up For Me". "Wait" is a blatant rip from the Joan Jett classic "I Hate Myself For Loving You" but when it comes to the Donnas, I don't listen for originality I listen to hear a band truly commited to rocking out and rocking hard. They seem to be going thru an image change as well, ditching the slightly punky look for a Vixenish make over. Extra credit goes to the guitar player for finding a replica of Phil Collen's Pyromania era angular bodied guitar. And now...a double shot of Palo Alto's own-The Donnas!

The Donnas - "Don't Wait Up For Me"

The Donnas - "Skintight"

The Days and Nights of Dixie Dogg

I guess in this picture I'm Lucy. AaAaAaUuUuGgHh!

I tried to think of a clever title for the post, bonus points for anyone who can name where the title came from! Like Who's Line Is It Anyway? the points don't matter. It was not the best week ever for Mr Mike, but it did bring some clarity to a song from the new Springsteen album that I didn't really connect with at first. It's an album track so there's no audio versions of the song on the net (except for a guy on You Tube playing it on his keyboard) so I thought I'd share the lyrics instead:
Bruce Springsteen - "Your Own Worst Enemy"

You can't sleep at night
You can't dream your dream
Your fingerprints on file
Left clumsily at the scene
Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come to town
Yesterday the people were at ease.
Baby slept in peace
You closed your eyes and saw her
You knew who you were

Now your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Your world keeps turnin' 'round and 'round
But everything is upside down
Your own worst enemy has come to town

There's a face you know
Staring back from the shop window
The condition you're in
Now you just can't get out of this skin

Ah ah ah
Ah ah ah
Ah ah ah

The times they got too clear
So you removed all the mirrors
Once the family felt secure
Now no one's very sure

Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Everything is falling down
Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Everything is falling down
Your own worst enemy has come to town

Your flag it flew so high
It drifted into the sky

That song sure is depressing, glad this week is over! Don't want to end the post on a downer note, so I'm happy to say tonight my wife made me hot tea and the dog licked my face and "flopped" (If you scratch her ass she'll stick her butt up in the air until she falls on her back). Like Charles Schultz said, Happiness is a warm puppy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Springsteen looks for Magic but finds a mid-life crisis

Is this an album cover or a mug shot?

Bruce Springsteen released Magic (2007) last week, a rocking disc featuring the return of the E Street Band following the folky Seeger Sessions (2006) of last year. As with any Springsteen release it is highly anticipated and scrutinized with the ante upped by the presence of his famous backing band. While the band is looser and more natural sounding than The Rising (2002) anyone expecting to be Re-Born in the USA (1984) is going to be disappointed. This is not the second coming of The Boss but instead a continuing story of a man facing his demons with a dramatic sense of honesty.

If Magic is meant to recall any previous work, the album that comes to mind is Human Touch (1992). Human Touch chronicled Springsteen's personal state of mind at that era, in particular his love life. Touch found a man reeling from the public rejection of being revealed as a cheatin' husband and finding meaning in his newfound love for another woman. One of the few "band" albums Springsteen recorded without the E Street Band, the disc featured top session musicians adding a layer of commercial slickness to a set of decent but unspectacular love songs.

On a performance level, Magic is comparable to Touch in the smoothness of the arrangements. On the other hand, Magic has bursts of Clarence Clemons Saxophone and snarling guitar lines courtesy of Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt. The quality of the performer's musicianship elevate the material and occassionaly revive the spirit of classic Bruce. "Livin' In The Future" in particular jaunts to a meaty beat and high kicking chorus like it came from Born In The USA. Producer Brendan O'Brien gives his usual clear, muscular sonics to the proceedings but puts a bit of restraint on the E Street band. They are regulated to the sidelines for most of the album.

Part of the fun of a Springsteen album is trying to figure out how the music mirrors his life. An artist in the true sense of the word, Springsteen's music often gives indicators to where his head is at. Taken on that level, Magic features a set of songs about dread and self doubt over the future of a relationship which can be taken on either personal or universal terms. The songs range from facing or disguising his intentions ("Your Own Worst Enemy", the title cut) regret ("Last To Die") and making up ("I'll Work For Your Love") while searching for a connection with another person or people ("Radio Nowhere"). Springsteen sings with a sense of noble duty to follow through on his life commitments. Lyrically he explores these themes with constant references to blue eyes, blood, faith and Crosses. I don't know if Springsteen is religious, but this disc is a must have for fans of Catholic guilt.

Springsteen sounds like a restless spirit seeing time close the options he once had to live a different life. "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" is the perfect example in which a reverie of a man leaving his house to "Burn the town down" but instead just watching the girls "pass him by". Musically, I thought it sounded like Bon Jovi until I remembered it was Springsteen's sound first. That goes to show how long it's been since Springsteen has really recorded anything sounding like his glory days.

Magic works well as a portrait of a man in mid-life crisis trying to rock away his blues. It's not Born to Run or Born in the USA but a personal album writ large thanks to the support of one of the best bands in rock. It's not the staggeringly great album the fans have been waiting for. Nonetheless it is entertaining and satisfying.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It's back to the swamp for John Fogerty

Fogerty returns with his best set of songs since the Nixon Presidency

John Fogerty has had a career unlike most musicians, after a creatively fertile period where he wrote and performed songs that would become not just rock and roll classics but practically American Standards he found himself legally cut off from his own sound. Every time Fogerty tried to return to his famous "swamp rock" sound, Fantasy records would sue him for, well, sounding like John Fogerty. It's no wonder the guy developed writers block that would haunt him periodically for years, he had to keep thinking of ways to sound different than what came natural to him.

Which is why his new disc Revival (2007) is such a surprise. Following the haphazard Deja Vu album (2004) that seemed to fall apart after the title track ended, Revival is a full fledged return to the sound that made Fogerty great. The twangy guitar licks, clapboard drums and distinct howl of Fogerty's voice reach back 40 years to the old Creedence Clearwater Revival days. For the first time since those glory days, Fogerty sounds relaxed as he reclaims what he once owned.

Revival intentionally harks back to that time, particularly on the decidedly unsappy "Summer of Love". In addition to the album title, Fogerty revels in his return with "Creedence Song" with the quote "You can't go wrong / playing that Creedence Song." The rest of the disc is packed with highlights that recall the past without mimicking it. Fogerty's politics are just as pronounced as on the previous album as he takes shots at war and conservatism.

It's rare a disc exceeds my expectations, though the previous album did bring my standards down a little in what I thought Fogerty could do. You still can't top his mountain of hits, but for a single disc of material this is the best I've ever heard him sound. A first rate album.

John Fogerty - "Don't You Wish It Was True"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

My friends...the great experiment

Give it away, give it away now-wait, that's that other 90's band

Radiohead is trying out a revolutionary idea in selling their music by making their new album In Rainbows available for download months before it's official release date. On October 10th, anyone can download the album from and pay whatever price they want to pay for it. Meaning I could buy it for a dollar if I wanted to. Will it work? I think the entire music industry will be watching.

If it works well, the music industry will probably demonize it as the worst thing to happen since Napster because it means any successful artist could branch out on their own without a record company. Or worse, become their own record company by signing and promoting other artists. It's another step towards a decentralized music business that won't be as restrictive.

My opinion? Well, I think that site is going to crash when Radiohead's millions of fans hit the site on the 10th. I might be wrong (minor Radiohead joke) but the site is going to go from medium use to extremely heavy use in a day. Financially, I think it will sell about the same as it would on ITunes or any other digital outlet because the dollar a song and Wal Mart's $10.00 pricing is ingrained in us at this point.

Radiohead currently doesn't have a record deal so they will get to keep the money either way. I bet the fans will wear the price they paid as a badge of honor when they go to the concert, "Yeah, I spent like $50.00 for In Rainbows." In any case, this is a bold move that only an established band can make and they deserve some respect for trying it out.

Friday, October 05, 2007

For Mom

For Mom, here's the two parts from You Tube of the interview between Roy Foley and "the voice", Steve Perry formerly of Journey.

Steve Perry interview pts 1&2

Mr. Mike's Highschool Record Collection: Loverboy-Wildside

Remember when CD's used to come in long cardboard boxes that were three times the size of the disc? The 80's, we just didn't care, did we?

This disc came out in college to be more accurate, but Loverboy is truly a high school favorite of mine. One of the first records I bought was Loverboy (1980) which contained classic tracks like "Lady of the '80's". Get Lucky (1981), Keep It Up (1983) and the immortal Lovin' Every Minute Of It (1985) followed and made me dream of impressing girls with too tight leather pants and a big ass red headband-if I ever dared to wear that. But, by 1987 Loverboy had become passe', you had to either have skyscraper high hair like Whitesnake or save the world like U2 to have an impact. And into this marketplace the Canadian rockers dropped their worst album, Wildside (1987).

The band was admittedly tired at this point in their career, years of recording and touring had taken its toll. Wildside had a heavy reliance on outside songwriters and gimmicky percussion to try to liven up some mediocre songs. So why feature it? Because I've heard their big hits a bazillion times and when I reached for some Loverboy to listen to this week, I slapped on Wildside.

In college, you were supposed to have outgrown arena rock groups that dress in matching color leather. But I stuck to my guns and here are the battle scars to prove it:

1. "Notorious" - The hit single scraped the Top 40 by peaking somewhere around #38 and probably not with a bullet. Co-written with Bon Jovi (who Wildside producer Bruce Fairbain oversaw the Slippery When Wet album) the song sounds like a deliberate cash in on the Jersey band's hot streak. It's a barreling, fun rock song with a surprising amount of harmonica.

2. "Walkin' On Fire" - You know you're buying your songs at a budget when you have a generic song title like this. "Fire" ranks up their with basic song titles like "I Wanna Rock Tonight" or "She's Hot (insert adjective here)". At least it doesn't completely rip off another song title.

3. "Break It To Me Gently" - Oops, spoke to soon. That's OK, this isn't Juice Newton but instead a fun throwback to the classic Loverboy sound - fast beat, new wavey synths and a sing along chorus.

4. "Love Will Rise Again" - Outside songwriters take hold again, but with better results. "Rise" is overdramatic in a cliched 80's way that has grown on me over time.

5. "Can't Get Much Better" - Or "Lovin Every Minute Of It pt. 2". This is my favorite song on the disc, an overblown rock anthem that plays at headbanging but never delivers a crushing chord. I still love this song.

6. "Hometown Hero" - is like "Break It To Me Gently" with fewer ideas. Not bad but never makes an impression.

7. "Wildside" - the title track is filled with that clunky percussion meant to toughen up the sound. Skippable then and now.

8. "Don't Let Go" - was one of my favorite songs back then, a sturdy pop rock tune with steely synths and epic rhythm breaks. The lyrics are weak but the song gets over on pure structure.

9. "That's Where My Money Goes" - is great because it shows a little personality, albeit a sexist one (Loverboy sexist? "Hot Girls In Love"? How could that be?). All about how Mike Reno's girl spends his money. Amusing bit of blues rock with vampy synthesizers and cash register sound effects.

10. "Read My Lips" - A few brief years before George Bush (the original version) took office, forgettable song that I can't remember even after hearing it this week.

11. "Don't Keep Me In The Dark" - a stellar power ballad with a great vocal by Mike Reno. This was considered a bonus track, meaning if you bought the record you didn't get this song. Remember when rock critics used to fret over whether bonus tracks fit the original artistic intention of the album?

And that was Wildside, which managed to go Gold despite Loverboy's fading audience. This album is practically forgotten and literally sells for a penny on Thanks to You Tube, I saw a video for "Love Will Rise Again" that I never knew existed. Rad!

Loverboy - "Love Will Rise Again"

Tuesday, October 02, 2007 can't take the sky from me

I reckon I'll russle up some warp drive

The sci-fi show Firefly is not something I watched when it was on Fox a few years back. I was not watching much TV at the time and was a little put off by the whole "brought to you by Joss Whedon" being drilled into my head thing. While channel surfing, I would occasionally stumble upon it and not be able to make any sense of what looked like a western in space.

But I had a chance to catch Serenity the movie and saw something I hadn't seen in a while-a science fiction show with interesting characters and wit. Set in a post civil war intergalactic future, the show highlights one of the most interesting parts of the sci-fi galaxy-mercenaries. Mercs drift from job to job and are not bound by rules (Star Trek) or a cause (Star Wars). They are free to explore a fictional galaxy from top to bottom.

But Firefly plays it smart by not focusing as much on their mercenary lifestyle as the characters who inhabit it. The old west speaking Captain with a moral code, the second in command soldier, the lunkheaded muscle, the ditzy engineer, a high class concubine, a lighthearted pilot, the mysterious priest, an uptight doctor and his schizophrenic sister who is trained to kill. They fly on a ship that's the equivalent of the Millenium Falcon, a ragged hunk of metal that flies on borrowed parts and force of will.

Firefly mixes a sharp sense of humor in its blend of fantasy and reality. The humor makes the show stand out from, say, the realistic but dour Battlestar Galactica. Like it's namesake, Firefly buzzes lightly around sci-fi heavyweights that carry heavy messages and social commentary. It's that lightness that makes the show fun and a must see for me in reruns.