Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Five Favorite TV Shows and Movies

The end of 2008 creeps even closer, time to close the year out. Here's my five favorite TV shows and Movies of the past twelve months.

TV Shows

5. The Big Bang Theory

In it's second season, I found the Geekamania even more appealing as more focus fell upon supernerd Sheldon. Sheldon's anal retentive ways, cold logic and lack of understanding about human beings is like Mr. Spock in Star Trek IV minus the innocence. While Big Bang Theory won't be confused with great television, it's a fun time passer.

4. WWE Raw

How could I not pick the grappler's premier program? Wrestling still lacks the excitement of the 90's Attitude era though it has levelled off into a consistent spree of choke holds and jumps. And it's interesting to see people who were mid carders when I started to follow wrestling now get the Top Belts (the high flying mic fearing Hardy Boyz are both Champions now). Best of all, Chris Jericho dominated with his egotistical gimmick and rightfully was named Superstar of the Year.

3. The Clone Wars

The idea of a CGI cartoon Star Wars didn't appeal to me initially and poor reviews of the movie didn't help. But I gave the Cartoon Network series a chance and was rewarded with something better than 90% of the junk in those prequel movies. Better acting and tighter stories makes The Clone Wars light years ahead of any Phantom Menace. It's not amazing or at the level of the Original Trilogy, but at least you can watch The Clone Wars without shaking your head at how much what you're seeing sucks.

2. Family Guy

Lots of Animation Domination here, The Griffin clan is still my favorite comedy on TV. However, for the second straight season new episodes were hard to come by after the first four episodes. And with all those spin offs it seems like the jokes are getting spread thin. I really can't stand that I can see two new episodes of American Dad for every one Family Guy. The proposed Cleveland spin off means even fewer jokes to go around, I'm still a fan but a little disappointed. Disappointed didn't mean I stopped loving the crude and insane antics of Peter Griffin and gang, so they'll still rate high with me.

1. Chuck

The human dork computer rolled into the second season and caught fire. This year saw deeper characterizations while maintaining its tone of lovable farce. While too many episodes took place at the main set (the Best Buy knockoff Buy More), Chuck's canny use of spy head game madness, sexual tension (between Chuck and protector spy Sarah) and all out doofiness (an entire episode revolved around a secret code if you defeated Missile Command) made for a weekly hour of entertainment fun.


5. There Will Be Blood

"I...drink...your...milkshake!" With that phrase, Daniel Day Lewis put the crown jewel on yet another dazzling performance. This time as a paranoid oil Barron, Lewis amazes in this epic meditation on greed and corruption. The story of a thoroughly unlikeable but completely relatable person writ large, There Will Be Blood is a textbook on how to make a good movie.

4. Quantum of Solace

Daniel Craig's second outing as 007 had good and bad points, action excitement and more insight on the soul of James Bond versus well intentioned yet overly stylized direction. Sort of reminiscent of Licence To Kill and The Man With The Golden Gun in tone, Craig expanded on his gritty Bond. I'm sure once it's on DVD I'll watch it 50 more times and get even more out of it. For now, Quantum of Solace is an interesting, deeper yet intermittently exciting addition to the 007 canon.

3. Iron Man

Shellhead locked and loaded with a stand out popcorn flick. Robert Downey Jr brought in an offhand sense of humor while maintaining enough gravitas to sell the drama. Backed by a cast of Academy Award winners and nominees, director Jon Favreau delivers the goods. Like Iron Man himself, the film is part man part machine and designed for maximum impact. Though it didn't answer the one question I've had about Iron Man through the years: how smart is it to place weaponry built into your palm? You go to scratch your head and boom! No more head.

2. Wall - E

Pixar continues to create groundbreaking CGI, though this time out it was less about the actual graphics than the content. The first half hour was almost silent which is asking a lot of a kids audience. But it worked, it worked because Wall-E is well made by creating lovable characters that appealed to both children and adults. Sly social commentary about pollution and sloth also gets worked in nicely. A kids movie that has an artistic edge is tough to pull off. Wall-E makes it work.

1. The Dark Knight

The greatest Superhero movie ever made, The Dark Knight hits all its marks. Adrenalin pumping action, characters that stand out yet are true to the comic roots, brilliant direction and art direction, first class acting performances...the list goes on and on. While there certainly will be a Batman 3, The Dark Knight is so good it's actually worth stopping the series now. You just can't beat perfection. Plus, we all get to do that low gravelly "Batman" voice for fun. Talk like you're taking a big dump that's stuck and say "I'm Batman". Guaranteed hours of entertainment! Okay, maybe I need to find higher forms of entertainment.

And that wraps up the high points of 2008 for me. All right 2009, bring it on!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Midnight Madness - Tina Fey Edition

Tina Fey has always been funny, but this year her intelligent lacerating wit served with a smile seemed to strike a chord with people. Her career has been on fire this year and while I can't claim to be a die hard fan or anything like that, I've often enjoyed her humor. I played her SNL clips often as they were easily the funniest thing I saw this year. And this year some humor was definitely needed.

Entertainer of the Year - Tina Fey won the AP prize by having success on both the small and big screen during '08 and capped it with the most buzzworthy comic performance of the year as a certain Alaskan Governor.

Rorshach Test - A judge ruled in favor of Fox Studios that the Watchmen movie should not have been made without first being offered to them. The decision leaves the film up in the air about how or when or if it could be released. Bummer.

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter - A smashed guitar once owned by Kurt Cobain sold for $100,000.

Since U Been Gone - Kelly Clarkson's new single "My Life Would Suck Without You" is said to be coming out in January. Will she be able to comeback from the commercial disaster she pinned her Artiste' name on My December? It all depends on if Clarkson is willing to play the Pop star game this time out.

For Those About To Write - AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson is going to write a memoir. You mean AC/DC lyrics aren't autobiographical? Johnson doesn't spend all day drinking and ludely coming on to women? The illusion is shattered, my friends.

Purrr Batman - Eartha Kitt, a performer I mainly knew as Catwoman from the 60's Batman tv show, passed away on Christmas Day at age 81. I had no idea she sang "Santa Baby" until the news reported her passing.

Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers! - Bruce Springsteen looks to get in on the Wal-Mart cash cow by releasing a Greatest Hits exclusively to the department store chain. Isn't Wal-Mart the same place that had a problem with "Reno" from the Devils and Dust album?

Blue Morning, Blue Day - Bud Prager, the manager of Foreigner who played an important role in the forming of that band, passed away at age 79.

This Could Be The Right One - Canadian rockers April Wine are lined up for a 2009 Canadian Hall of Fame award just like contemporaries Loverboy. Yes!

Uprising! - Jennifer Aniston's hot streak continues, besting Brad Pitt at the box office with her movie Marley & Me.

Holy Bat Hype! - For a few weeks there's been a lot of buzz on whether or not The Dark Knight will dominate the upcoming Oscars in nominations. Can an Action film take home Oscar gold in a year with little competition? I hope it does, if only to drive a bunch of press about the "unwashed masses" over running the Academy. Should be fun.

Delaney Bramlett - A musician and songwriter who was a fixture in the classic rock scene passed away at age 69. Bramlett co-wrote Eric Clapton's "Let it Rain" and the classic ballad "Superstar".

Second Time Around - All my favorite shows are going into reruns until February. Time to catch up on DVD watching.

No Tube - Warner Bros. pulls their music vids from You Tube over contract negotiations.

Is that The Spirit? - Commercials for the new movie The Spirit features that Frank Miller graphic novel on film look (a lot of black, white and grey tones and what's that called...chiarosquiro (sp?) enhanced by CGI) that Sin City popularized a few years back. While I thought Sin City was great, I have to admit I'm finding this stylized look annoying in other movies. Probably just me though.

Last Christmas - Every year a certain Christmas tune seems to get played, or maybe I just notice it, more than the others. Last year Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" was omnipresent on the radio and shopping malls. This year was filled with various versions of Wham's "Last Christmas". None of the remakes can top the original though, so here's Wham!

Wham! "Last Christmas"

Friday, December 26, 2008

Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2008

Coldplay had my 11th favorite CD of the year, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Coldplay had my 11th favorite CD of the year, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Hey, stop copying me Chris Martin!

2008 was the year that everything least likely to happen, happened. As I read what I wrote in this post, I see the words "unlikely" or "least likely" pop up everywhere. I have even named a former life long nemesis to this list. It was the year of "Go Figure", it was 2008:

10. Lindsey Buckingham - Gift of Screws
As his career has progressed, Buckingham's artful refinement of his unique distillation of roots rock, Brian Wilson and 70's melodicism has become increasingly studied though no less sharp. This makes Gift of Screws a pleasant surprise as Buckingham cuts loose a smidgen with a greater focus on energy and Fleetwood Mac-isms than much of his recent work (including Fleetwood Mac albums). Fleetwood Mac white album and Rumours era rock abounds with a cluster of acoustic and electric guitars and multitracked chorus vocals (with Buckingham seemingly raising the EQ on some of his singing to mimic the Buckingham/Nicks sound). Did You Miss Me embraces his softer, swoonier side while "Love Runs Deeper" and "The Right Place to Fade" had me reliving his "Go Your Own Way" glory days.

9. Rick Springfield - Venus in Overdrive
One of the unlikely candidates for a comeback, Springfield once again displays his Genius of adapting personal experiences to the Pop / Rock sound of the day. As he has done throughout his career, Springfield takes the modern style of commercial rock and personalizes it with his distinct brand of angst and weariness (of the many people to once hold Teen Idol status, Springfield stood out in writing downbeat lyrics to his happy sounding songs). The lead single "What's Victoria's Secret" recalled "Jessie's Girl" in parts and Springfield worked the promo circuit including his old stomping grounds of General Hospital to push it. The rest of the album is just as good as "Secret", referencing the Stones and the Beatles in between the slick sonics worthy of a Disney star. The Genius strikes again!

8. R.E.M. - Accelerate

The least likely of the bunch to ride the retro train, R.E.M. cut out the arty crap and got back to the jangly fast beat riddles that made them College Rock darlings. Like the album title says, it was time for R.E.M. to speed up a bit and tracks like Living Well is the Best Revenge and Supernatural Superserious give a caffeinated kick in the pants. There are still some slower numbers for R.E.M. to get their more ambitious ya-yas out, but what sticks are moments like the silly album closer I'm Gonna DJ. I haven't played this much R.E.M. since Automatic for The People (1992).

7. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

The real success story for Winehouse is that she made it out of 2008 alive, I really didn't think she would make it. Forgetting that she is a violent mess of a junkie, the album Back to Black ties Classic Soul and Motown to engaging songwriting and a unique performer. Tears dry on Their Own recalls the rush of early Diana Ross while her hit Rehab was attention grabbing fun. Given her self destructive behavior, it's not likely Winehouse will make an album this good ever again. Winehouse is the beautiful sound of damaged goods, intent on proving that You Know I'm No Good was no idle boast.

6. Whitesnake - Good to Be Bad

Of all the 80's rockers to pull their spandex out of mothballs, David Coverdale was one of the least likely to succeed. Whitesnake had come to symbolize hair band excess almost as much as Winger and with little output from Coverdale since the 80's he seemed ripe for a limp pale performance. But Coverdale is a crafty one, bringing in guitarist Doug Aldrich to peel out simpatico Led Zep riffage to Coverdale's Plantish howl. Good to Be Bad is like a cross of the two best 'Snake albums, it has the down and dirty blues rock of Slide it In (1984) and the commercial hooks of Whitesnake (1987). With Good to Be Bad you get the best Whitesnake has to offer, the Led Zep lite of the title track, the power balladry of All I Want All I Need and the fired up go for broke rawk of Got What You Need. Coverdale proves he still has some hair spray left in his can yet.

5. John Mellencamp - Life, Death, Love and Freedom

Is this really my list? I've hated John Mellencamp for years so saying his name positively takes a bit of getting used to. This year I decided to cut Mellencamp a little slack and give him a fair shot at impressing me. His disc Life, Death, Love and Freedom was good but I didn't think it was great. So imagine my surprise when I made this list this week and found I liked this album to the point I would rank it my 5th favorite of the year. Like Springsteen's classic Nebraska (1982), Mellencamp takes a good hard look at the disillusionment with the American dream as it is taken away "Without A Shot" in this Troubled Land. Staring in the face of social and economic ills or maybe just a plain loss of values, Mellencamp paints a stark picture that mirrors the feeling of what's happening now like no other. Looks like all those people who recommended this CD to me was right: it is great and it's one of the best of the year. Hard to believe this all started with me liking the rockabilly My Sweet Love.

4. Asia - Phoenix

It only took a quarter of a century to get Steve Howe, John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes to record a new album, record time in the world of Progressive rock where band lineups change with the weather. Inspired by Wetton's recent health problems, Phoenix comes alive with feel good emotion and tricky band interplay. Surprising in its maturity, Wetton's smooth delivery backed by angular guitars, swirling synths and rapid fire drums bring back the Heat. I even got to live the dream and see these guys in concert this year. Easily the band's most optimistic record, Asia proves it's An Extraordinary Life. "Never Again" had the drama and poppy action expected from the First Supergroup of the 80's while at the same time delving into their storied Prog history like never before on tracks like Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya. Carl Palmer rules!

3. Sheryl Crow - Detours
Crow had become a bit of a media joke as her commercial power has faded, written off as a left wing nut job who survived cancer but failed in a high profile relationship with bicyclist Lance Armstrong. Detours shows Crow can have the last laugh, reteaming with Tuesday Night Music Club producer Bill Bottrell returns her to a more natural, lively sound than her recent outings. And with Bottrell, Crow finds her songwriting muse and writes an album of all killer and no filler (the first time I can say that about one of her discs). Serving as a self portrait, Detours gives insight into her openly lefty politics and wounded romantic heart. Cuts like God Bless This Mess, Love is Free and Now That You're Gone illustrate the power of her songwriting. My favorite of all the Sheryl Crow albums, one of those rare moments where talent, feeling and performance hit their peak at the same time.

2. Journey - Revelation

In what was one of the most controversial Lead Singer swaps in recent history, Journey picked a Filipino singer from You Tube to be the latest substitute for AOR legend Steve Perry. While predecessors Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto fared well, Arnel Pineda turned out to be the best replacement yet for "The Voice". Able to mimic not just Perry's range but recapture some of the soulfulness, Pineda added clear enunciation, an egoless approach and a high flying stage presence to the mix. Surprisingly, Pineda was also able to inject an upbeat personality and genuine feeling into the group's sound to bring Journey back from the brink. Meanwhile, Jon Cain and Neal Schon wrote material strong enough to be the best Journey album since Raised on Radio (1986). Rockers like Change for the Better and Never Walk Away soared like the Journey of old. The band that practically invented the power ballad serve up more misty eyed sentimentality on After All These Years in grand fashion. An album worthy of Tony Soprano's respect.

1. Metallica - Death Magnetic

The Bay Area Bashers rolled back the clock to the speed metal sound that made their name. Unruly song lengths, multisection arrangements, blazing fast guitar solos and growling vocals tear up the landscape. That Was Just Your Life and My Apocalypse could have just as easily come from ...And Justice For All (1988) with its total commitment to heaviocity (a word I made up just now). Some of their later, catchier style works its way in on All Nightmare Long or Cyanide but not to the point of weakening their edge. It's Metallica the way I've wanted to hear them for years: brutal, fast and uncompromising. Most of all, other than the Black Album and Garage Inc. it's the first Metallica album in twenty years to sound more like fun than work.

And there it is, my Ten favorite discs of the past year. Next up, my Five favorite movies and TV shows of '08.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Muppets and John Denver "12 Days of Christmas"

Monday, December 22, 2008

20 Favorite Songs of 2008

2008 - brought to you exclusively by Wal Mart

It's almost the end of the year so it's time to join the pack and bust out the "Best of the Year" lists. It could have been Guitar Hero, could have been Rock Band or just plain nostalgia but 2008 was a watershed year for Classic Rock. A slew of artists who I spent my high school years jamming to decided to reunite or reconfigure in some way to create new music. I normally pick just Ten favorite songs but this year I have enough for Twenty (I even had more than Twenty)! Most years I struggle just to find four songs to list so this just goes to show what a banner year it was for aging rock stars. Even Chinese Democracy came out (not that I care about the actual disc). So on with the countdown!

20. Lenny Kravitz - It Is Time For A Love Revolution

A brief marching blast of hippie Peace and Love with the reach to call for a cultural shift in values and sell department store clothing at the same time.

19. Chicago - Let's Take A Lifetime

The famed balladeers dial down the bombast and let the gooey syrup flow like Mrs. Butterworth colliding into Aunt Jemima in slow motion.

18. Def Leppard - Hallucinate

Sometimes self reverence pays as the Lep go full on "Photograph" mode with the hooky excess of multitracked vocals and revved up guitars that made them great.

17. The Bridges - Pieces

Matthew Sweet's protege's revive wholesome family oriented 70's AM Gold under a pillow of harmony vocals.

16. Flight of the Conchords - The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room

Pure love poetry: "You're so could be a part time model. Or a high class prostitute."

15. Alicia Keys - Like You'll Never See Me Again

Like a great lost Prince song, Alicia Keys pumps up the melodrama amid circling keyboards and a slow stepping groove.

14. Metallica - The Day That Never Comes

Time to stop guessing which other Metallica song this sounds like and just enjoy the ride. This I Swear!

13. The Lonely Island - Jizz In My Pants

Saturday Night Live wraps up their funniest year since I-can't-remember-when with the novelty tune of '08.

12. Rick Springfield - What's Victoria's Secret

Catchy ad campaign baiting pop rock awesomeness from The Genius.

11. Sheryl Crow - Gasoline

The theme song for a year that at its peak saw fuel prices skyrocket to the point people couldn't afford to drive to the next town while oil companies recorded record profits.

10. Death Cab For Cutie - Your New Twin Sized Bed

For anyone who at some point in their life wondered if there was another person out there for them, this song captures that feeling perfectly (fortunately I no longer have moments like these :)

9. Van Morrison - Soul

There's no way for me to describe Van the Man's butter smooth soulfulness in a way that hasn't been done before. But I'll try anyway. Van Morrison's voice is as smooth as C3P0's bronze ass. How's that? Oh, and this is a great song about how soul comes from within you, not what's outside of you.

8. The Ting Tings - Shut Up And Let Me Go

The New Wave revival has died off a bit though that hasn't stopped this duo from pushing this bit of IPOD worthy froth. The beat sticks in my head for days on end after I hear it.

7. Asia - Never Again

The Fab Four of my generation (not really, I just like saying that) regrouped and recaptured some Pomp Rock glory. Steve Howe shines with his most aggressive playing in ages. Never Again did I think I would hear these four guys play together, but here they are kicking ass like it's 1985.

6. Snoop Dogg - Sensual Seduction

I'm not big on rap music and not really a fan of Snoop Dogg so it was a shock to me that I like a song of his now. This jam is reminiscent of those old Zapp songs with the mechanized voices. Is it too late for me to learn the Running Man? Yes, yes it is. But not too late for me to like this song.

5. AC / DC - Big Jack

Barrelling down the freeway at 100 mph, AC/DC cranks up their trademark rumble and screech into a frenzy of Hard Rock ecstasy. I don't know who Big Jack is, but like most AC/DC songs it makes me want to drink till I fall down and yell loudly in the face of the nearest person available. Yeah!

4. Bruce Springsteen - Girls In Their Summer Clothes

Technically a 2007 song though it was released as a single this year so I'm including it. A touch of Brian Wilson enhances the reverie of this melodic masterpiece. The feeling of being too young to settle down yet too old to run with the kids paints a sharp picture of middle age. And it has Springsteen doing one of his best Orbison style dark crooning.

3. Journey - Never Walk Away

The 80's Arena Rockers put their new frontman Arnel Pineda straight in the line of fire by opening up with this soaring anthem. Energized by the new blood, Journey takes flight again with the power and grace that made them Platinum selling rock stars.

2. Coldplay - Viva La Vida

A song so good that everyone and their mother are convinced they wrote it, Coldplay brings in a sweeping orchestral sound I haven't heard since the hey day of the Moody Blues. Cold hearted orb that rules the night, steals the Sun from our sight...oops, wrong song. It may have just as well been the lyrics to "Viva la Vida" because I don't know what Chris Martin is going on about, something regarding bells ringing and St Peter or ruling the world. None of the words really matter, it's all about the symphonic groove struck here.

1. Dragonforce - Heroes Of Our Time

Well, let's get the disclaimers out of the way first. Yes, their recordings are said to be faked and sped up. Yes, every song they write sounds exactly the same as the song before it. Yes, their claim to fame is being a difficult level on a video game. So why can't I get enough of this cheese fest? Because I love me some cheese, especially with a little ham. And Dragonforce has got all that, Viking vocals, shred on top of shred guitar and ridiculous drum beats. I played this song more than any other song this year, so it deserves being named my favorite song of 2008. On the few occasions where I exercise, I love working out to this.

That's my Top 20 songs of the year, feel free to share your favorite songs of this year if you like because I enjoy reading about other people's faves. Oh yeah, I later realized Flight of the Conchords came from 2007 but I'm too lazy to redo this. I probably would have ranked Matthew Sweet's "Feel Fear" if I knew that. Next up, my Top 10 Favorite Albums of '08.

Midnight Madness - Wii Edition

It's been a long time since I've actually cranked out a post this late at night, so here it goes! On my Birthday I received a Wii as a gift and it's become a fun way for my wife and I to play sports in the safety of our own home. Tennis, Golf and Bowling have become great past times for us as we play against the endlessly resourceful computer. Of all the game systems I have owned, the Wii is definitely the most active and I can see why that makes it stand out against the technically superior competition. Oh yeah, I also got Super Mario Galaxy which is also a blast. Mario rarely has let me down in the past and he doesn't here, running all crazy over little planets. Wheeeee!

On the Horizon? - U2 is preparing to release their disc No Line On the Horizon in March of '09. Get ready for another year of domination by Bono and the gang, I liked their previous disc and they delayed this album to write more songs so I'm optimistic this could be a really good one.

No More Garnishing Milk Money Allowances - The RIAA is giving up on suing teenagers (and other people) who steal their music into financial oblivion and will focus on working with ISP's to restrict or stop the internet services of their targets.

I Thought The Day Would Never Come - The long rumored Guitar Hero: Metallica game looks like it's going to be real. Wonder if people make tabs of Guitar Hero songs? That would be cool. "No, the chord before the solo is a red-yellow, not a blue-green". I look forward to flailing wildly to "Seek and Destroy" or "Battery"!

Metal Health Will Drive You Mad - An Australian doctor claims Headbanging causes medical problems in the head and neck. I thought this was old news? And somewhere Jason Newsted says "See? I told ya so."

The Curious Case of Jennifer Aniston - The ex-Friend steals some of her ex-husband's thunder by gettin' provocative on the cover of GQ magazine. Easily the best career move in a long time by Aniston as she has gotten a ton of press for this. We'll have to wait and see if this translates into box office Gold for the upcoming Marley & Me. Or will she remain an actress better known for her looks than her talent?

Let's Go Crazy - Prince is starting to show flashes of new material online and on the radio as he works on a new album.

Mamma Mia! - I learned from that a musical based on the music of 80's Power Rock called Rock of Ages is both Broadway and film bound. You've gotta like a musical that manages to include Europe's "The Final Countdown".

No New Doubt - The No Doubt reunion will have a tour but no new album is the latest word.

DVD Mini Reviews:
  • I Am Legend - Will Smith joins the latest film wave of hunting Zombies as he places more or less the last man on Earth surrounded by the hungry malevolent creatures. Decent but not amazing, though Smith remains as charismatic as ever.

  • Definitely, Maybe - Ryan Reynolds and crew come up with an inventive rom com that is sort of like that TV show How I Met Your Mother. A good cast including Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weitz and Abigail Breslin help keep things moving. Not bad if you see it cheap, it's sort of like a TV movie with a film look.

Snikt! - The new trailer for the upcoming Wolverine movie is out. I'm not sure what to make of it, there's a lot that happens in the trailer but nothing really cohesive. I see action and grimacing faces and hey look it's Gambit kinda! But where's the bo staff and trenchcoat, mon chere? (what does "mon chere" mean anyway? He always said that in the comic.)

Wolverine Trailer

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Great Loss to the Trek Universe

Majel Roddenberry (then Barrett) as Captain Christopher Pike's right hand woman, Number One.
A sad passing today, Majel Roddenberry passed away today at age 76. Roddenberry held a special place in the Star Trek universe, appearing in both the Original Series and The Next Generation as well as being the wife of the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry. Not to mention performing the voice functions of the Enterprise computer in its various incarnations. Roddenberry's performances of intelligent and (with the exception of Number One) unabashedly emotional women brought some color to the Trek world.

Roddenberry played a variety of memorable characters, she was the cool and professional original Number One, the Nurse with bad taste in guys as Christine Chapel and the flighty yet crafty Betazed mother of ship's counselor Deanna Troi, Lwaxana Troi. Her TNG apperances were the most memorable because she got to play a comedic character and excelled at it. Though I had always wished they had kept Number One for the Original Series, that was a good character.

Her regular appearances in the various Star Trek series ensures she will be remembered though her best character was one that was offscreen. As the voice of the Enterprise computer, Roddenberry gave some personality to what was originally the only. thing. more. halting. than. William Shatner's. speech on the Original Series (It often started speeches with a bunch of tape sounds and the phrase "Wor-king"). As the Star Treks continued, the computer became more refined in its sound and recognizable as Roddenberry. Roddenberry's legacy will live on for one more Trek as the computer voice in the upcoming Star Trek XI.

Someone on You Tube posted a sort of "Enterprise computer's greatest hits" so I'll end with this clip. Majel Roddenberry has been referred to as "The First Lady of Star Trek" and the title suits her well. A sad day for Star Trek fans everywhere.

Majel Roddenberry / The Computer from Star Trek

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Focus On ... Retro Rock: Glam Slam or Bell Bottom Blues?

Johnny Bravo to the rescue! Lenny Kravitz has spun bell bottom Gold for nearly twenty years.

The Answer? It just may be The Answer, a band I hadn't heard about until recently when they got the opening act slot on the AC/DC tour. Now this Irish band is gaining a lot of buzz as the latest in a line of retro rockers. If recent history holds true, The Answer may be good for about one corker of classic rock riffola like The Darkness' I Believe In A Thing Called Love or Wolfmother's Woman before fading back to obscurity. Which made me wonder, how much value is there in Retro Rock?

It's a fine line between finding inspiration in a classist sense versus aping the past just because it can be done. Watching an artist dip heavily into the Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Queen vein can just be a reminder of how great those acts were more than present anything new. Or it can serve as a tool for self expression. The Retro Rock genre is epitomized by a man who often does both - Lenny Kravitz.

Lenny Kravitz filching of 70's jams can be impressive when he combines the right guitar riff with a strong hook and fine sentiment a'la Are You Gonna Go My Way or Fly Away. But in my opinion Kravitz is inconsistent, if any of the three elements listed are substandard the whole enterprise falls apart. And that's what lies at the heart of the Retro Rock issue for me, these retro artists can come up with the goods but too often its easy for them to fall into pastiche. Though to his credit Kravitz has managed to come up with memorable songs from the present and dating as far back as 1989.

It is possible to morph past being merely a copy of the Old School as The Black Crowes can attest to. Starting off as a band mocked for being slavishly contrived, The Crowes steadily evolved into a Southern jam band with its own style and authenticity. Yet they are the exception to the rule. Most of the Retro Bands I've heard don't have enough creativity to fill a whole album or career with prime material.

So where does that leave The Answer? I think they will be like The Darkness or Wolfmother once they come up with their piece d' resistance (is that spelled right? I don't speak or write French). For now, their renewed exposure is gaining attention for them and I've checked out the videos from their sole 2006 release and was sufficiently impressed. So I plan to enjoy their probably short but wild ride until after they hit their peak. Because when that magic formula of 70's guitar and melodies hit the right way it's pure nirvana (not the band). To check out The Answer for yourself, here's two fun clips - one reminds me of 70's glam rock mixed with a bit of Spirit in the Sky and the other strikes me as pure Purple. Great fun!

The Answer "Under The Sky" & "Come Follow Me"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Midnight Madness - 70's Singles Rap Edition

Hey there groovy chick! You are really happening in a far out kind of way. Mama you are one hot number. I need to know...who's behind those Foster Grants, smoking those Virginia Slims soooo foxy. You've come a long way baby. Maybe you would like me to get some Jean Nate for you. For I shall serve no wine until it's time. You got it mama!

My wife and I were having some fun talking about 70's style yesterday so I decided to make that the theme. It's funny how the passage of time can make things seem corny...and I never got how calling a woman "mama" that wasn't your mother was supposed to be cool. But never mind with that, it's time to get down with the hip cats of this week that make up the Midnight Madness. Right On!

Who's the Winner, Bub? - Wolverine's Hugh Jackman will be hosting the upcoming Academy Awards. And if any of the winners speeches go past their alloted time they will get an adamantium claw in their face! Whoa, geeked out a little too much there.

Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love - the Smoking Gun website uploaded evidence that Van Halen really did specify no Brown M&M's were allowed back stage on tour. Illegal drugs, abundant alcohol and groupies were OK, but no Brown M&M's!

Notorious - 50's model and cult star Bettie Page passed away this week.

Man Vs. Wild - host Bear Grylls was injured in Antarctica recently. I don't watch the show but it is unfortunate that the guy was hurt. Though I do have one question: This means Wild wins, right?

More J*zz in my Pants - Comedian Andy Samberg and his troupe The Lonely Island have a record deal now. Hopefully they will include classics like "Lazy Sunday" on their disc.

Blur Reunites - Woo Hoo! Actually, I've never really followed this band but that's the knee jerk response I have thanks to their hit Song 2.

Appetite for Self Destruction - Axl Rose finally does press, sort of, taking on all comers at a GNR online message board. The reclusive Rose proves he hasn't changed his my-way-or-the-highway approach to everything. Meanwhile, sales for Chinese Democracy continues to drop.

Taradise - America's best known party girl Tara Reid checks into rehab.

Copyplay - Chris Martin responds to plagiarism claims and says he did not copy Joe Satriani for their hit "Viva La Vida".

Wild in the Streets - Jon Bon Jovi promises the next album will have a big rock sound for Bon Jovi. And the band was named 2008's most successful touring act.

Satisfaction - Dartford, Kent is playing up the fact that they are the hometown to the Rolling Stones by naming streets after their songs. My selections? I'm rooting for Sister Morphine Drive, Star Star Ave, Moonlight Mile Kilometer, Beast of Burden Court and Emotional Rescue Street.

Blue Ridge Rangers part 2 - this time it's personal. Not really, John Fogerty has announced plans to record a sequel to his solo album of covers called Blue Ridge Rangers.

Send an Angel - No nod to 70's girls can be complete without Charlie's Angels. I used to stay up past my bedtime to watch this program. Anywhoo, here's the opening credits including Farrah Fawcett when she was still a Majors and her famous hair.

Charlie's Angels Theme

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Artist Spotlight - Loverboy

I never noticed until now how much actor John C Reilly resembled Paul Dean (l.) - can we expect a Will Farrell / John C Reilly parody of Loverboy soon?

When I read the news on Melodicrock that Loverboy is going to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame next year, I felt the need to show my appreciation of the 80's Arena Rockers. Mike Reno, Paul Dean, Matt Frenette, Doug Johnson and Scott Smith made up a healthy part of my listening diet in high school. Because in that decade it was fashionable to throw on a big headband and wear matching black leather outfits with your friends. Actually, the group's image or insult inducing name wasn't what I listened to them for, Loverboy was a straight up Pop Rock unit with touches of New Wave and a bit of gusto. And now, the career of one of Canada's finest - Loverboy!

Loverboy (1980)

One of the first records I ever bought, the quintet's debut album was one I didn't think much of at the time. I thought the sound was muddy and the songwriting not quite as "clean" (meaning they tended to get a little rawer and darker than their later albums). And the album art was confusing, the front cover looked Punk yet the band photos on the back looked Brady Bunch. Back then I played exactly three songs from this record: the fun-kay Turn Me Loose, the mid tempo fist pumper The Kid Is Hot Tonite and the automatically dated Lady of the 80's (because I wanted a lady of the 80's of course. Oh Justine Bateman, where are you now? Mallory! Sha la la la...). Their upbeat anthemic sound with Reno's strong vocals (although he always seemed to enunciate like a guy with marbles in his mouth to me) was a huge draw for me. A few years ago I picked up a Loverboy comp that had "Prissy Prissy" and "Little Girl" on it, I found that I now liked those attitude driven rockers as well. Careerwise, this record got the band's career off to a good start and sold well.

Get Lucky (1981)

For a few months, Loverboy captured the sound all of America wanted - barrelling Pop Rock feel good tunes with swerving New Wave synth hooks. The first single Working for the Weekend became a Rock standard, leaving people like me going off the deep end and wanting more cow bell. "Weekend"s impact drove Get Lucky to Platinum sales and was one of the best selling records of 1982. I was also hooked on the slower jams Take Me To The Top and When It's Over, both rendered with cool passion. The semi ironic Lucky Ones had some 'tude and the Bryan Adams penned Jump (not the Van Halen song) added more rockin' fun. Even the record's off moments worked. The ridiculous street cred posturing of Gangs in the Street shoots for drama but finds the funny instead. And Emotional is a rip of the Stone's Respectable. Nonetheless, Get Lucky was a benchmark of greatness in my book. And the toe tapping It's Your Life is in a class by itself, keyboardist Doug Johnson shines on this album.

Keep It Up (1983)

While the debut album was one of the first records I had bought, the first Loverboy item I owned was a cassette of Keep It Up. It all started innocently, I was watching Friday Night Videos and saw what is only the-greatest-music-video-ever Queen of the Broken Hearts. I videotaped that thing and played it over and over in that super annoying way that teenagers do when they find something new (my brother's relentless playing of New Edition is burned in my brain. Didjya get my secret? Didjya? Didjya?) I wanted to run out into the desert to meet Hot Girls in Love and rock out in a sandstorm. Yes, in reality I would probably die of dehydration and have no survival skills and any beautiful women that live in a desert alone are probably part of a cult but I was a teenager, I didn't know that. I only knew that it looked cool.

My neighbor Mike who used to tune me into new music hated Loverboy and ridiculed drummer Matt Frenette for moving his mouth while he played. Mike would say "What is he doing? Saying the notes?" Then Circus magazine compared the ballad "It's Never Easy" to a Todd Rundgren song and he borrowed Keep It Up for a month.

Elsewhere on the tape there were a lot of nuclear fear in tracks like "Strike Zone" and "Meltdown". I used to think the funky "Passion Pit" was about an orgy (I'll say it again, I was a teenager!) My last strong feeling from this tape came a few years later, I was playing it in my car when my friend Rick started saying "Predictable. Mew-sick." over and over during "Chance of a Lifetime". Couldn't deny it, he had me there. But I still like it.

Lovin' Every Minute of It (1985)

This tape was the one I played more than any other Loverboy before it. Bruce Fairbairn had done a phenomenal job of Producing during the first three Loverboy campaigns. Guitarist Paul Dean wanted something different than the tight and slick sonics the band had before, so Judas Priest Producer Tom Allom was brought in. The keyboards were peeled back a touch, the New Wave jettisoned and a lot more guitar was added. This was Loverboy's Arena Rock heart free of any frills. The Mutt Lange written Title Track was commercialized headbanging lite establishing the format Def Leppard would use well a few years later. The Journeyish power ballad This Could Be The Night was effective and included a co-write with the Journeymeister himself, Jon Cain. Another Bryan Adams cut, the stomping Dangerous, also had an impact. For me the highlight was "Friday Night", a party hard shout out to people still working for that weekend. And the not to subtle innuendo of "Bullet in the Chamber" is classic. I wore this tape out.

I saw Loverboy live on this tour and had a blast. They were incredibly energetic and sounded fantastic. Shortly after the band would have their last big hit, Top Gun's Heaven in your Eyes.

Wildside (1987)

I covered this album in detail before so I'll be brief this time. Wildside started off promisingly with the fast paced Bon Jovi collaboration Notorious. But it quickly fell off after that. Despite the return of Bruce Fairbairn to the Producer's chair the band was admittedly tired at this point and it showed in generic songs like "Walkin On Fire" or "Hometown Hero". After three consecutive Platinum records Wildside could only go Gold illustrating the fall off. They even dropped the typewritten logo! Solo attempts followed like Paul Dean's now out of print excursion that included the excellent "Sword and Stone" while Mike Reno popped up on a Two Corey's soundtrack with "Whenever There's A Night".

Big Ones (1989)

Normally I wouldn't include a Greatest Hits in a Spotlight because it usually doesn't add anything new. Not the case here as Big Ones adds three new songs in. The single Too Hot had minimal impact but when teamed up with its counterparts "Ain't Lookin' For Love" and "For You" the group shows they were looking to reclaim some energy and glory. Almost no keyboards are in these songs leaving heavy guitar and Reno's youthful voice. Big Ones failed to recapitulate the band's career, instead it put the punctuation mark on what would be the end of their peak period.

Six (1997)

I keep meaning to get the disc but never have so I really can't say anything about it. Loverboy was pretty far off my listening radar at this point, I didn't even know this was released until years later. I will take this spot to talk about the sad event that brought Loverboy back to national attention, in 2000 bassist Scott Smith drowned in the San Francisco Bay. It was pretty big news around here, a tragic end to the a fine bassist who embodied the band's young spirit (in videos he was portrayed as the smiling playa of the group).

Just Getting Started (2007)

Nearly a decade later Loverboy recorded their most recent effort, Just Getting Started. While it would be easy to write off anything Loverboy does at this point, I downloaded this album when I was subscribing to E Music and found it to be very good. Mike Reno dominates this album as he was inspired by the end of a relationship, the songs have that famous mix of big rockers like the title track or "Lost With You" and power ballads like The One That Got Away. I played this one in my car a lot last year, a worthy slice of Pop Rock that succeeds in both modernizing their sound while staying true to their roots.

So congratulations Loverboy to your induction to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. As they prep for the ceremony only one question remains: will it be red leather or black leather? Can't wait to hear that cow bell!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Walking On The Moon

Roxanne puts on the red light one more time as Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland jump for joy.

Last year in Oakland I got to see The Police perform as part of their reunion tour. The show I saw was a bit lackluster with flashes of greatness. I was unprepared for the trio's jazzier sound and barebones arrangements. But what made it disappointing was they seemed out of sync with each other. Their playing and singing were fine as separate parts, they just weren't jellin'. Even drummer Stewart Copeland began to publicly remark about the quality of their performances. As the tour went on, I began to read that The Police were improving and playing tighter. Still, I was unsure if that was just reunion hype or real. Now the band's new release, the 2 DVD / 2 CD set Certifiable has the last word.

Indeed the trio's playing did tighten up and become stronger as a result. Andy Summer's shimmering and careening guitar, Stewart Copeland's slapping drumwork and Sting's muscular bass lines interlock sharply. Certifiable captures a lively performance though the new arrangements still rein in some of the energy of the original tracks. At last the groups chemistry reached a point to justify their new approach.

The DVD set is divided into a concert and a documentary. The concert DVD is a real treat, the sound is mixed evenly, fully and clearly. In widescreen, the picture filled my TV screen without letterboxing. Coverage of the event was well done, good clean shots of the band members in performance as well as getting some of their interactions together to personalize it. And the Buenos Aires crowd goes nuts at every turn, no wonder they're the dream audience of every rock band. A home theater system's dream, Certifiable's concert DVD is great stuff. The overlong 2nd DVD is a documentary that doesn't do a whole lot. Reminiscent of classic Police documentary footage, it's rambling, excessive and loose. If you've seen Sting and Stewart Copeland banter before, this is no different. Too bad the second CD couldn't contain more performance footage. Oh well, it comes with the set so it's not like it's entirely worthless.

The two CD set is the same concert live. The sound on CD has a touch of a soundboard feel so at least it doesn't seemed to be fixed in post production. Without a video component the music has to stand completely on its own merits and thankfully it passes. The slight raggedness to The Police comes across stronger in a strictly audio format but it's a likeable edge this time around. It still seems like Punk Jazz, but with the band locked in a groove the stuff flies.

Like the tour, Certifiable is brought to us by Best Buy and is an enjoyable live souvenir of what I guess will be the last Police tour. If ever an 80's band deserved a victory lap The Police were it, every little thing they did was magic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Numbers 22, 21 and 20

Time Flies - Bruce Springsteen in 1975

I kept meaning to add to my 100 favorite Cd list during November and never got around to it, so here are the next three entries:

Number 22: The Clash - London Calling (1979)

When I bought the Rolling Stone magazine with the best albums of the 80's at the end of that great decade, I was amazed by how many records that were listed that I never bothered to listen to. At the top of that list was The Clash's London Calling double lp. I bought the CD and was instantly impressed by the naturalistic songwriting, punky energy and ability to adapt to different sounds. Going in, the only song I knew was the hit Train in Vain which I liked. After playing the disc a few times, I was impressed with the hard slamming rock of Clampdown, the whimsical Lost in a Supermarket, the swing style Wrong 'Em Boyo and the reggae driven The Guns of Brixton. All of the songs on this record had a feeling of almost gleeful creative excitement. The title song has gone on to be regarded a bona fide classic rock, er, classic. Sometimes the critics get it right.

Number 21: Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run (1975)

The album where The Boss stripped back the rambling lyrical delivery and rambunctous Jersey Boardwalk arrangements to deliver bracing common folk anthems about cuttin' loose, breakin' away and gettin' out in those hard driving cars of the night. A masterpiece of Heartland rock, the title song alone is worth the price of admission with its hyperactive pace, clenched teeth thrust and wild sax solo. Outsiders had a theme song for their independence in Backstreets while we all fought our way through the majestic Jungleland. And if that's not enough, the poetic grandeur of Thunder Road remains a highpoint of songwriting by anyone anywhere. It was here that The Boss was truly born, amid those burnt out shells of Chevrolets.

Number 20: Prince - Sign 'O The Times (1987)

You might think that like many people "1999", "Purple Rain" or "When Doves Cry" made me a Prince fan. But no, it was actually "U Got The Look" that got me into listening to one of the best artists of my generation. Prince's catchy dance floor duet with Sheena Easton could not be denied it's greatness and became a Top 10 hit. I bought the cassette and it became a gateway to the rest of the Purple One's work. Sign 'O The Times is the album that to me had everything Prince did well while at the top of his powers. The music is tight, timely (in the context of 1987), hooky and personal. You want sleazy Prince? There's "Hot Thing". Slow jam Prince? "Slow Love" Religious Prince? "The Cross". Jam band Prince? "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night". James Brown Prince? "Housequake". Psychosexual Prince? "If I Was Your Girlfriend".

Even politics shows up in the form of the reggae lead single title track. Sign 'O The Times serves as a portrait of an Artist at a time when their ability to express their ideas is almost cosmic. A fantastic record and staggering achievement.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Quick Humor

After covering a comedy classic yesterday I stumbled across what will be a modern classic today, modern classic meaning it will probably be referenced to death for about three weeks and forgotten but that's just part of our fast moving media age. I guess this clip comes from Saturday Night Live who has had a real hot streak this season thanks to the Presidential race. This time the humor isn't political and in fact gets a little dirty so I wouldn't recommend playing this clip around kids or anywhere that Political Correctness is required. A touch of Pet Shop Boys seems to influence this tune that's easily the best SNL song I've heard since "D*ck in a Box". So here it is, "J*zz in my Pants"! Nasty! But funny as hell.

The Lonely Island "J*zz in my Pants"

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Midnight Madness - Abbott and Costello Edition

Land of Confusion - Abbott and Costello work out the starting lineup in a comedy of errors.

I've been away for a little bit enjoying my Birthday! It's been a great couple of days, hopefully things will continue to go on a positive roll. One of the gifts I got was a Nintendo Wii, so now I'll have even more stuff to blog about. And now, time to go crazy.

Thank You! - Thank you to everyone for the Birthday wishes! You helped make this a great Birthday. And thank you to the Bunny!

Shotgun Blues - Axl Rose continues to follow The Tubes old "Completion Backwards Principle" by doing very little press for the release of Chinese Democracy but instead take the time to lash out at Dr Pepper for a botched promotional tie in. We missed you Axl! You remain the rocker whose next hit is usually a literal punch at someone.

Viva La Vida Redux - Coldplay's smash hit continues to be a magnet for plagiarism claims, this time by established guitar god Joe Satriani. Who knew Coldplay's most original sounding song could seem so derivative? What I heard did have some similarities, but I can't help but wonder if the timing of the lawsuit is because of the Grammy noms.

The Day Finally Came - Metallica is free of their record label and is considering the internet for future direct distribution of their music.

Darling Britney - Shades of the movement that started the PMRC, parents are getting upset about Britney Spear's song "If You Seek Amy" which is pronounced "If - U - See - Kay - Me". Where's Tipper Gore when you need her? The song is normal pop junk, but I have a soft spot for mildly offensive entertainment. Besides, April Wine beat Spears to this gimmick over 25 years ago.

It's Stevie Nicks, B*tch - Just seemed natural to follow a Britney Spears comment with this phrase. Fleetwood Mac is planning some touring in 2009.

Cable TV Roundup - What's new on Cable Networks? Let's take a look :
  • Hulk Hogan Celebrity Championship Wrestling - backed by real wrestling folk (Eric Bishoff, Jimmy Hart) this show comes with a bit of pedigree to its D level celebrity reality tv. The program is actually more fun that it has a right to be, watching the likes of Dennis Rodman, Todd Bridges, Danny Bonaduce and Dustin Diamond chop and DDT each other is pretty cool. It's on CMT.

  • That Metal Show - Wayne's World was not meant to be taken seriously...or was it? Eddie Trunk and crew gab over what's truly important, such as if Led Zep or Black Sabbath had a greater influence on Hard Rock. A rock geek's paradise on VH1 Classic.

  • Chase - The game show that's meant to be like a video game, it's very reminiscent of the old Schwartzenegger flick The Running Man. Contestants are given a backpack and a maze like environment to run through timed missions while evading Matrix looking people. A big game of Tag with special rules, I actually found this program to be fairly entertaining. It's on Sci Fi Channel (Thank you to Some Kinda Wonderful and her son for the correction, I had listed G4 which became Spike a long time ago and was the wrong channel anyway).

Grammy Awards - The latest Grammy Awards are out and so I thought I would take a look at the Song of the Year nominees:

  • American Boy by Estelle featuring Kanye West - I haven't heard this song until today, it's surprisingly breezy and slightly jazzy (the presence of Kanye West part had me expecting something harsher). A pleasant song that will undoubtedly get co-opted into a clothing commercial some day.

  • Chasing Pavements by Adele - An inventive video does a nice job of enhancing the song. The latest British girl to ride the old school Soul wave, this song does have a nice sweeping hook and strong plaintive vocal.

  • I'm Yours by Jason Mraz - Three songs into these nominated tunes and I think I'm finding a pattern. The Grammy's are all about relaxation this year. This song is Ok, maybe a grower, makes me want to take a tropical vacation. Or eat chicken wings at a sports bar. One of those two things.

  • Love Song by Sara Bareilles - A good piano based jam that got massively overplayed, still like the clever writing angle. And as this has been commercialized already, I think of that computer printer ad everytime I hear this. Still, a good song.

  • Viva La Vida by Coldplay - Or Lawsuit and All Of His Friends, this is my favorite of the songs nominated here. I wish they had expanded on the Apple video instead of this album cover come to life thing they did here. Oh well. One of my favorite songs of this past year.

And one for the road, I just felt like posting this classic Abbott and Costello clip. A & C movies were favorites of mine on weekend tv growing up, here's my favorite comedy bit of theirs, Who's on First. I once tried to memorize it, got nowhere close.

Abbott and Costello "Who's On First?"

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lost in the Shadows

When I first saw this disc, I thought "Another band that I never heard of that didn't make it so I won't buy it." Not realizing that pictured in front of me is singer extraordinaire Lou Gramm and guitarist Vivian Campbell. A few copies in the cheap bin later, I saw a sticker on this CD that would change the course of my life forever. Not really, but I bought the disc.

While shopping through the cheap used CD bin earlier this year, I came across a CD called Shadow King. I didn't think anything of it based on the title on the spine of the CD, in the $3.00 used bin there are a lot of acts I've never heard of in abundance. But a big sticker on it drew my attention. It said "Lou Gramm, Vivian Campbell, Bruce Turgon and Kevin Valentine." It was dated 1991.

For years I've been a fan of Foreigner and thought I knew just about every piece of pertinent information about the Arena Rockers. So how did I miss an entire album, an entire band even, led by one of the greatest Stadium rock vocalists of all time? I have no idea. I'll have to claim temporary insanity.

I bought the CD (of course) and have been playing it the past few weeks. It's a strong hard rock disc with muscular rhythms and masterful singing, naturally. Gramm is the best in his genre at pacing his words during a song to make the vocal stand out more. Shadow King seems so strange to me, when Gramm split with Foreigner I thought one of the complaints he had was they did too many ballads. Then Gramm turned around and had a hit solo ballad shortly after, Just Between You and Me while Foreigner emphasized their rock side with new singer Johnny "The future of Foreigner" Edwards (I didn't mind Edwards, I liked Unusual Heat). If I had known about Shadow King, Gramm's complaint would have held more weight with me.

Shadow King only lasted for this one album, Gramm rejoined Foreigner with Turgon in tow shortly after while Vivian Campbell joined Def Leppard. And yes, I'm now throwing out details to compensate for the fact that this band got past me. Well, better late than never I guess, I found a video on You Tube for the song "I Want You" that is pretty racy in that old style USA Network Up All Night kinda way. Wait, a video exists too? That's strike two for me. If they toured, I'll have to turn in my 80's rock geek card to the local authorities.

Lou Gramm, I'll have to give it up to you. You got one past me. You Hot Blooded Head Gaming Juke Box Hero. You trumped me in a game of trivia about your life that you didn't even know you were playing. Wow, that sounds twisted. I mean, uh,...forget it. I'm not a stalker, I'm not! You sir, are the ultimate winner. Or as Gramm says at the end of Dirty White Boy, "Yyeeaaahhhh!!!"

Shadow King "I Want You"

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Bond Identity

You're all talk: The new 007 adventure focuses on characters and feelings more than gadgets and explosions.

Today my wife and I went to the movies to check out the latest 007 adventure, Quantum of Solace. The second film to feature Daniel Craig as James Bond. This time out, Bond somberly pursues revenge on the mystery men who killed his girl Vesper Lynd in the prior film. The trail leads Bond to a shadow company of intelligence operatives and big money buisness people that none of the official intelligence community has a clue about. Tracking down these people is Bond's professional assignment as he knows its all tied together with whoever is responsible for Vesper's death.

Revenge has been done before with Bond in the equally somber Licence To Kill (1989) but the results are far more satisfying here. Real effort is made to deepen the character of James Bond in ways that hit closer to the Ian Fleming origins. In Q of S, Bond is a hard drinking insomniac haunted by the death of both Vesper and the people he's killed. Craig owns his performance, commiting fully to making his Bond the most lethally cunning of them all. Also developed in this movie is a better relationship with his boss M. While Dench's M remains a maternal scolder, her role is similar to Richard Crenna's Colonel Troutman in Rambo. Her exasperated responses to Bond's latest killing spree hypes his character to new levels.

Quantum of Solace also gets a little deconstructionist of the Bond legacy by bringing in a real artsy director, Marc Forster. Forster plays against the traditional 007 structure by playing up his surroundings. In most Bond films, 007 is the center of attention everywhere he goes. Forster shows Bonds locations in detail through scenery and overlapping dialogue with extras, whether its in dilapilated cities, shiny buildings or the desert-Bond is a moving piece in a puzzle and not the final solution. Quantum of Solace, more than any James Bond film that has ever preceded it, is set in a current political climate of Foreign Wars, Oil shortages, the interlocking of international events and a wave of resource hording set in motion by the U.S. A fairly stinging indictment coming from the best known fictional Western spy in history.

The direction leans heavily on mood and characters, delving into the emotions of people more than blowing things up. In the film's best sequence, Bond crashes a secretive meeting of bad guys during a play. The movie toys with sound, sometimes even no sound and juxtaposition of the events in the play versus the action to strong effect. This new approach effectively shakes things up and makes you see 007 in a new way even as certain imagery (such as a blatant nod to Goldfinger mid film and the return of the Walther PPK as a weapon of choice) reminds you this is a Bond film. The villian, played by Mathieu Americ, continues Casino Royale's penchant for middle men bad guys. This time the baddie is the head of a conservationist company that comes off more like a ruthless buisnessman than a mastermind.

There are weak points to the movie though. Forster (Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner) directs the action sequences in a way that is exciting but confusing. The shaky closeups create a splashy style that makes it easy to lose your bearings in. The Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko, is given a superfluous role that the movie would have actually benefited without. And while I was digging the focus on characters and spy agency vs spy agency interplay, there are some long gaps between action sequences that left some of the audience yawning.

But the real weakness in Quantum of Solace is how much it borrows from The Bourne Supremacy, the best of the Jason Bourne films. In Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne is out for revenge of his murdered lover to a certain degree, the early hand to hand combat scenes and high tech spy agency quarterbacking also echo in Q of S. Even the muted coda at the end has shades of Bourne Supremacy to it.

With these critcisms you might think I didn't enjoy Quantum of Solace, but I actually liked it a lot. The Bond film makers are trying to give Craig his own style and succeed in giving James Bond some emotional weight. It was fun to see how 007's actions reverberate across the spy and governmental community. Also, I think James Bond hasn't done this much intelligence gathering since From Russia With Love (1963). Quantum of Solace is likely going to go down as a "stand alone" venture like On Her Majesty's Secret Service because of its art house leanings making it hard to categorize. For my money, I consider Quantum of Solace to be one of the better Bond films even though it falls short of the great ones.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Shoot - The Top 10 Most Disappointing Songs

I missed posting on Thanksgiving, had a delicious dinner at my parents place. So my Thanksgiving post is a day late, with Turkey's being the key symbol of this Holiday I thought it would be a good time to do a Top 10 Turkey Songs. These aren't songs about...haven't you heard? I said HAVEN'T YOU HEARD? About the Bird? Bird Bird Bird, Bird is a Word...

Anyway, these are the 10 most disappointingly bad songs I've heard. They feature a lot of my favorite artists because it's harder to be disappointed in a musical act you don't have much of an interest in anyway. So here it is, the Ten most disappointing songs I've heard...Ten Turkeys- songs that should have been left overs. Pulled from the refrigerator, unwrapped from its protective foil and thrown out in the street. Somebody get the gravy!

10. Night Ranger - The Secret of My Success (1987)

The Bay Area rockers were on a roll with Top 10 hits and Platinum albums by the mid 80's. What could be better? How about a movie soundtrack theme for the latest Michael J Fox movie, co written and Produced by the inimitable David Foster? This is a plan that can't go wrong. The power of Night Ranger, the super slick sonics of David Foster and the likability of Michael J Fox all rolled into one. A Perfect Storm of marketing synergy. Depressingly, that's exactly what it sounds like- a marketing plan brought to life. Foster's Chicagoisms of synth horns, mannered guitar work and busy instrumentation didn't mesh well with Night Ranger's free wheeling high speed rawk. Unsurprisingly, Night Ranger saw their commercial fortunes slide after this song.

9. Cheap Trick - Woke Up With A Monster (1993)

By the late 80's / early 90's the Tricksters had been all over the map stylistically. When they got to "Woke Up With A Monster", the group seemed tired. It was like they were trying to work up some whimsy but only had enough juice to sound mean. Thankfully, shortly after Alternative Rock bands began citing Cheap Trick as an influence-buying them some much needed credibility.

8. Styx - Music Time (1984)

Styx was near the end of their initial run and to cap it they released a double live album, Caught in the Act. The record came with one new studio track, "Music Time". I was so excited, I was getting a live record by one of my favorite groups plus a new song. Then I actually heard the record. "Music Time" took all of the annoying excesses that ringleader Dennis DeYoung could muster and slammed it into a four minute tune. All the dorky Broadway jazz hands crap that DeYoung had in him to a cheap synth riff unchecked by anything. Seee it. Liiikke it. Loooovve it. DoitDoitDoitDoit. Waannt it. Neeedd it. Can't get enough of it! All the wayyyy!

7. Steve Perry - I Am (1994)

Can "The Voice" really do wrong? After hearing this track, the answer is Yes. The song is supposed to convey a sense of hard won maturity but instead it comes off as turgid and self indulgent. A torpid pace sinks any chance "I Am" has of winning me over, one of the few songs to be graced by Perry's voice that I just can't stand. It's like watching a bad episode of Dr Phil where a guy can't stop bleeding his heart out.

6. Boston - Corporate America (2004)

I like everything Boston, even this song I like in a so-bad-it-becomes-kinda-good way. Many an Arena Rock band has made the mistake of thinking a cheap, anxious synth line sounds good. Although this was recorded in the 21st Century, the overworked keyboards immediately dates the track as early 80's to the point that the rampaging guitars in the chorus isn't enough to ramp up interest. To top it off, Boston leader Tom Scholz stacks the deck with awful lyrics decrying the evils of large corporations. Look Out! Look Out!

5. Chicago - Bigger Than Elvis (1993/2008)

When Jason Scheff replaced Peter Cetera in 1985, Scheff was recognizably different in his approach though many did not notice. Jason Scheff had a more winsome style that could get more than a little sentimental. But until the recently released Stone of Sisyphus disc I had no idea how sentimental. On "Elvis", Scheff writes a heartfelt ode to lovin' his Dad ( not that way, get your mind out of the gutter sicko). Scheff's father was the bass player for Elvis Presley, the song chronicles how Scheff loves his Pop to the point that his Father is "Bigger Than Elvis". A beautiful arrangement can't mask the saccharine, be careful when listening to this or you may go into a diabetic coma.

4. Asia - Countdown To Zero (1985)

During the Cold War, the Arms race and possibility of Nuclear War was on everyone's minds. It was on John Wetton's mind, resulting in one of the worst anti-war anthems you could imagine. "Countdown to Zero" has more corn than, well, a corn field as Wetton builds the anxiety about irreconcilable international tensions. What really caps it is the ending, where Wetton reels off a list of Countries names and then pleads for Peace. In a large, booming echoey voice, Wetton slowly intones "Don't Do It. Don't Press the Button. No. Don't Start. Don't Start the Countdown to Zero. We Want To Live. We Will Live. Don't Press the Button." and goes on like this for a while. It's hilariously bad, in College I had a running joke with a roommate who also liked Asia where we would talk just like this.

3. Van Halen - How Many Say I (1998)

With Van Halen 3, Eddie Van Halen had finally gotten rid of all the lead singers that had stood in his way of total domination of the band. And now EVH could do what he really wanted to do...sing! With a weathered voice that made Roger Waters sound like Christina Aguilera, Eddie Van Halen ended Van Halen 3 with this piano based ballad containing an almost childlike circular melody. Raw ego never sounded so wrong.

2. GTR - The Hunter (1986)

Debuting with the outstanding "When The Heart Rules the Mind", GTR hit the scene as a team up of prog guitar legends Steve Howe (Yes, Asia) and Steve Hackett (Genesis). After taking in "Mind", I anxiously waited for the follow up single. What I got was this, the ridiculous "The Hunter". Musically, it's a very nice song featuring Howe and Hackett's fine acoustic guitars. What stops the fun is a sing songy melody with lyrics like "He's a fighter, he's a swan, he's the one I'm counting on. Steal the glory, take the prize - only the Hunter, only the Hunter...Survives!" El lamo.

1. Rod Stewart - Love Touch (1985)

For two decades this song has represented to me all that can be crappy in music. Taken from the soundtrack for the Robert Redford / Debra Winger rom com Legal Eagles, Stewart doesn't just go Pop but ingests it whole like a Sarlacc pit. It should be a slight, innocuous pop piece of fluff. But something in this song offends me on a deep deep level. Nothing here works for me, its not just the sound of someone selling out that gets me. It's the sound of a talented performer phoning in a performance to a song devoid any real feeling done in a style that's supposed to seem adventurous and fun. And then I had to watch this hunk of junk become a Top 10 hit. Oh the pain, the pain. I can't even bring myself to provide a link to this.

That wraps up my Top 10 musical turkeys, as I mentioned at the start these are some of my favorite groups so why carp on just one song versus the hundreds that I enjoy from these people? Simple, because it's fun. No one can be perfect all the time and these artists are no exception. Though that doesn't mean I can't have a little fun at their expense. And it's perfectly possible that other people may love these songs. So have you heard? Have you heard about the Bird? Bird Bird Bird, Bird is a Word...