Saturday, May 31, 2008

Number 32 in the Countdown...The Shinnin'

"Hold me like you did by the lake at Naboo"...The Shins receive the Queen's stamp of approval.

Preciousness is a rare commodity in the land of Rock music, everyone tries hard to be cool and worldly to the point it can become studied and forced. On top of that, being precious is not the most macho thing to do...but when it's done right it can have the light and airy effect of say Angel food cake (Mmmm...Angel Food Cake). And that chief component makes up the entry at Number 32 in my countdown-

Number 32 - The Shins Chutes Too Narrow (2003)

I started hearing about this band due to the sizeable buzz they received from the movie Garden State and the resulting marketing push to everywhere I shopped. While I won't bother to repeat the famous Natalie Portman line, I would listen to their CD at listening headphones in various stores and was impressed with what I heard. After seeing the video for "Pink Bullets" on the internet, I was sold. Besides, Queen Amidala told me to like them. And if you can't trust the taste of a teenage space queen with enough bad judgement to marry a mass murdering Jedi Knight, then who can you trust?

The Shins sound is like a clash of Love style vocals, indie post punk and winsome melodies. It shouldn't work, but it does and very well. Every track is a winner yet its hard to pick individual tracks because the songs blend well together to create a whole experience as a full album. The quiet "Pink Bullets" was the first song to catch my ear with its acoustic beauty. A sense of restless energy hits the opener "Kissing The Lipless" and "Fighting In A Sack". Even a bit of Country gets thrown in on "Gone For Good" to strong measure.

Overly literate lyrics adds to the fun and almost internal dialogue mood to Chutes Too Narrow. The precious atmosphere of a band exploring sonic textures without boundaries is palpable,a mood that evaporated on the pleasant but less affecting follow-up Wincing The Night Away (2007). It's hard to be precious when every second of making an album is videoed, interviewed and dissected for months on end.

But on Chutes Too Narrow everything was golden and the band presented an aural equivalent to Strawberries in Whipped Cream on top of Angel Food Cake. The Force is strong with this one.

The Shins "Pink Bullets"

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Bad Trip Edition

Groovy Times

Fleetwood Mac. Pink Floyd. Two rock groups known for creating some of the defining commercial and artistic moments in the 70's. These bands were so successful in that era that they overshadowed anything they accomplished beforehand. Fleetwood Mackers will recall for most people blonde girls in shawls spinning in capes and harmony vocals to a steady backbeat. Pink will remember either the dark, swirling atmospherics and cynical lyrics or what drugs they took to make them not remember.

Which leads to where tonight's Friday Night Videos is going, two bands with bright starts seemingly done in by Bad Acid Trips only to rise up with different band members and an entirely different sound. First up, the Mac.

After Rumours (1977), Fleetwood Mac was for all intents and purposes that lineup of people led by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. The fact that the band had struggled with different members for about seven years was erased. Also erased was their 60's period with original guitarist and founding member Peter Green. Green had gotten his break following Eric Clapton into the lead guitar spot in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. He was nicknamed the "Green God" but was a little publicity shy so when he struck out on his own, he formed a band named after the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass) - Fleetwood Mac. The Mac became renowned for Green's playing, at turns both bluesy and lyrical with animal power and tasteful precision. After building up their name with hits like "Albatross", "Rattlesnake Shake" and "Man Of The World", Green dropped some LSD (I don't do drugs, so I think you drop it-could be wrong there) and lost his mind. He lost it and didn't find it for about 30 years, at one point famously drawing a gun on his manager to allegedly prevent the manager from sending Green royalty checks. Pictures of the man from that time is of "the lights are on but no one's home" variety. Sadly, to compound his problems Green was diagnosed with mental illness. But in the mid 90's, Green did forge a come back and even recorded music for a while.

To me the song that best displays the classic Green era is "Oh Well", which ironically I first heard thru Lindsey Buckingham's performance on Fleetwood Mac Live (1980), a song that has both some humor and great guitar (2nd guitarist Danny Kirwan helps out as well). While Fleetwood Mac is the Buckingham/Nicks era to me, I do have an appreciation of the Green era as well after hearing it on The Chain box set.

Meanwhile, Pink Floyd was rising with the 60's psychedlic crowd led by the artsy Syd Barrett. The Barrett led Floyd was famous for their stageshow of playing movies of amoebas and Barrett's fanciful songs. He was psychedlic rock's dandy for a little while but again LSD rose it's mind expanding head and soon Barrett was impossible for the rest of the band to deal with. Barrett was replaced by David Gilmour who along with a rising Roger Waters would take the group into a less fancy but artistically groundbreaking direction. Later, Barrett would also be rumored to have mental problems too. In a way Barrett would continue to inspire Floyd as his plight became the basis for the songs "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "Wish You Were Here". Pink Floyd would become the band that all pot smokers that weren't Dead Heads would swear by with enough musicality and intellectual morass to grab Prog fans as well.

When I went to a Pink Floyd concert in 1994, I really didn't know much about them beyond The Wall (1979) and their then current CD The Divison Bell. While walking in, the band was playing "Astronomy Domine" which quickly became one of my favorite Pink Floyd cuts. I later found out this was a Syd Barrett song, so that's what I'm putting up here.

After the tripped out mind expanding 60's ended, LSD came to stand for Lead Singer Disease following Eddie Van Halen's comments about the fired/quit Sammy Hagar in the mid-90's. But before then LSD meant a drug that spelled temporary doom for two bands that really needed Cocaine to succeed.

Who will win between the Green God and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn? Who knew this post would be such a downer when it started? And why didn't I post about something upbeat like Tina Turner or The Rolling Stones? These questions, and more, will be forgotten by tomorrow but not before a little music. Play me out Johnny!

Fleetwood Mac "Oh Well"

Pink Floyd "Astronomy Domine"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thanks Bunny!

Meesa like high definition television

My wife had the great idea of picking up a HDTV and yesterday we did. Since then, I have been watching anything with special effects like The Matrix Reloaded or Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Right now, the movie doesn't have to even be that good just look good and noticing more detail than ever before. Thanks honey! Love ya!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

One last post for today, it's Memorial Day which is meant to remember the Veterans of past wars and current ones. So a big "thank you" to those people who have in the past and are currently fighting for our Country. I try not to get too political on the Internet so I'll leave it at that. A wise man, I think it was Sammy Hagar, once said "Remember The Heroes". So here's a clip of the Red Rocker performing that song from the Three Lock Box album. The video quality is not very good, just a general warning, but it's hard to find performances of this song online.

Sammy Hagar "Remember The Heroes"

Weezer Tube

The band Weezer is readying their new CD, the third one in their career to be titled Weezer. I can't claim to follow the band's every move or anything but I've consistently liked their CDs so I've been curious how this one would sound. Showing they have lost none of their quirkiness, they've written a song about record industry pressure to have a hit tune and supplied a video that reads like You Tube's Greatest Hits. References to Mentos with Coke, Leave Britney Alone, the Numa Numa guy and more are packed into this creative vid. Looking forward to hearing more Weezer!

Weezer "Pork and Beans"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Midnight Madness 5/25/08

Stevie Nicks takes a bow for her big day.
It's Memorial Day weekend and I'm feeling like a Superdelegate! There isn't much going on in the world of entertainment right now so briefly we'll go on through the Midnight Madness.

Happy Birthday, White Winged Dove - VH1's website says Monday May 26th is Stevie Nicks birthday. Ms. Nicks will undoubtedly celebrate by burning scented candles, writing a poem about water lilies and maybe some scarf shopping. But seriously, she's an awesome talent and her birthday is tomorrow. Rock on witchy woman!

Denise Richards has a reality TV show - And now we can see if she's as bad an actress off camera as on. Plus, Richard's friends can watch her steal their husbands in real time. Maybe Joey Greco will host?

Draw The Line - Steven Tyler goes back to rehab. He's been rumored to be off the wagon for years now, sad to see there was some truth to it.

Cooking with Gas - American Idol David Cook's first single goes to #1 on ITunes. Can he resussitate the American Idol winner franchise? Or will Ruben Studdard have company in the guest singers slot of the show next year? If Cook has to remake a Kenny Loggins song for contestant eliminations next year, can I put in a request for "Danger Zone"?

Apple Records - Not since the Beatles has the word Apple been closely associated with music, but their commercials have become the launching pad for many new artists. The most recent one, The Ting Tings "Shut Up and Let Me Go" with it's Franz Ferdinand style stomp is stuck in my head and the Coldplay ad with silhouetted band members against a colorful backdrop is fantastic. Still like those Feist and Yael Naem songs too.

Chris Gaines part 2 - Green Day released a new album under a different band name, Foxboro...something or other. Ever since Garth Brooks did it musicians don't feel like they've made it unless they can create an alter ego.

What Time Is It? - I can't believe I watched the Grammys and missed The Time reunion, I saw the Rihanna part and didn't notice the backing band at all. They're starting to play more shows now, I wonder if they can still do that electric slide move. That was cool!

Bringin' On The Heartbreak - The glut of Def Leppard media on VH1 Classic has brought back memories of original guitarist "Steamin" Steve Clark. Clark's guitar was part of the heart of Def Leppard, his style was both ragged and polished at the same time. A lot of emotion in his playing, whether it was the excitement of the opening riff to "Photograph" or the sad solo to "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" Clark's guitar always had a sense of honesty that no mountain of overdubs could bury. While Vivian Campbell has been an excellent replacement for Clark, it's hard to replace an original like him.

Neon Knights! - Some Kinda Wonderful was nice enough to post some Dio for me to listen to, so I thought I'd return the favor with some Black Sabbath, er, I mean Heaven & Hell to rock out to. I'm not the biggest Sabbath fan so I see no blasphemy in calling the Dio version by the same name. See, I said "blasphemy" because Black Sabbath has an evil reputation and...hey, I see everyone shaking their head in disgust. This is comedy gold people!

Black Sabbath / Heaven and Hell "Neon Knights"

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mr. Mike's High School Record Collection: Styx - Kilroy Was Here (1983)

Record burning, fear of Totalitarianism and Japan all come to a head in Kilroy Was Here.

After covering them a little yesterday and having a lot of fun at Dennis DeYoung's expense (one last shot-one of my favorite Family Guy moments was when DeYoung is called a "high voiced bastard" over the phone) I thought I would cover a Styx album. But choosing one was tough and I almost picked Edge of the Century (1991) until I remembered that I can't recall anyone ever doing a thorough analysis of the record that caused a temporary end to the band-Kilroy Was Here (1983). Because if it is one thing the world needs now, it's examinations of Styx concept albums.

So, to set the stage for the record the situation was this. Styx hit it big in the late 70's thanks to Dennis DeYoung's theatrical brand of rock offset by Tommy Shaw's straight up Arena Rock anthems. In 1980, they released their concept record Paradise Theater (an all time favorite of mine) which decried the decline of America's culture. In the midst of a recessed economy, soaring oil prices, unemployment and dicey foreign policy (sounds a little familiar) Styx's album was timely even if the concept part of the record was mostly ignored by the public.

After the record's release, the California legislature made a list of records and songs that supposedly had backwards masking i.e. Satanic messages that could be heard if you spun a record counter clockwise on the turntable. On that list was the song "Snowblind" from the Paradise Theater album and though the band is named after the mythic river that flows through Hell, Styx took great exception to being on this list. DeYoung in particular envisioned a totatarian Orwellian future where freedom is crushed by the Moral Majority and Japanese robots with only the renegade spirit of Rock N Roll to keep hope alive. And despite Tommy Shaw's dislike of another concept record, particularly a concept he had no drive for, Styx recorded Kilroy Was Here. Now we will revist what could be considered the final act of the true glory years of Styx.

The Full Story:

T H E P A S T "Dr. Everett Righteous, founder and leader of the MMM (the Majority for Musical Morality) became influential in American politics through the use of his own cable/TV network. He spoke about the evils of Rock 'N Roll Music and how its permissive attitudes were responsible for the moral and economic decline of America. He was charismatic, entertaining, and above all, he understood the media. The MMM soon gained enough power to have Rock N Roll banned."

"Robert Orin Charles Kilroy was a world famous Rock N Roll star. As this new law was passed, Kilroy and his band were finishing a national tour. Their last performance at the Paradise Theater would serve as the test case. On the night of the concert, as Kilroy played to a packed house, the MMM marched in and stormed the stage. When it was over, an MMM protester was dead. Kilroy was convicted of the murder and sent to a prison ship with other Rock N Roll misfits."

T H E P R E S E N T "... is a future where Japanese manufactured robots, designed to work cheaply and endlessly, are the caretakers of society. Mr. Robotos are everywhere, serving as manual labor in jobs that were once held by humans."

"Dr. Righteous enforces his own morality by holding nightly rallies where crowds hurl Rock N Roll records and electric guitars into huge bonfires. Jonathan Chance, the rebel leader of an underground movement to bring back Rock N Roll, has made Kilroy the symbol of his cause. Meanwhile, Kilroy has spent a number of years in prison. With no hope of release, he is subjected to the humiliation of mind control via the MMM cable network. In an attempt to contact Kilroy, Jonathan jams the airwaves of the MMM network, replacing a mind control session with outlawed footage of a Kilroy concert. Inspired by Jonathan's message, Kilroy plots his escape. Late one night he makes a daring attempt to free himself by overpowering a Roboto guard. Disguised as a Roboto, Kilroy moves freely throughout the city leaving graffiti coded messages for Jonathan. Jonathan discovers the rock code which leads him to the old Paradise Theater, now the site of Dr. Righteous Museum of Rock Pathology. There he sees the last Kilroy concert mechanically depicted by Kilroy look alike robots as the violent end of Rock N Roll... and there he and Kilroy meet for the first time."

1. Mr. Roboto - In terms of storyline, the song is about the escape of Robert Kilroy from his futuristic prison. But that's not what people think of with this song, the first single and Top 10 hit exists in it's own space of 80's kitsch. Robot voices, Japanese phrases (this song is the main reason most of America including me knows Domo Arigato means "Thank you" in Japanese), manic synthesizers and an even more manic DeYoung powers Mr. Roboto to camp greatness. For Dennis DeYoung (keyboards, vocals), this album was one big musical theater boner that he couldn't get enough of. "Roboto" has become the bands most enduring tune, it shows up throughout pop culture to this day.

2. Cold War - Tommy Shaw's (guitar, vocals) introduction as Jonathan Chance, leader of the Rebel cause. Shaw often said he had no feel for this album and there is a forced quality to the track. He does what he could, giving the song an ominous chorus and playful verse, but Shaw sounds a little bored. "Cold War" makes Chance's displeasure with the moralized society clear, but unlike "Mr. Roboto" it can't stand on its own.

3. Don't Let It End - After hitting #1 with the song "Babe" in 1979, DeYoung basically rewrote it for every album that followed. The amazing thing is, the trick worked every time. Whether it was called "The Best of Times", "Don't Let It End" or "Show Me The Way", Styx would hit the Top 10 time and again with a yearning DeYoung ballad. "End" was the most synth heavy version of the "Babe" series giving the track a little more character than the other clones. I guess we only have ourselves to blame for this, I know I bought their ballads at every opportunity. A fine second single.

4. High Time - Robert Kilroy and Jonathan Chance team up to bring back Rock N Roll by takin' it to the streets. Geez, Rush 2112 this is not. Musically, DeYoung often displayed a wry sense of humor on these sort of old tymey rock joints as a doo wop influence mixed with DeYoung talk singing his way through the voice like Dick Van Dyke in the Music Man. "High Time" gives more definition to the Dr. Righteous character by illustrating the opposition to him. Drummer John Panozzo and bassist Chuck Panozzo get a workout with the off kilter beat to "Time". I'm hearing the song play now, it's still painful after all these years. The third single from the record and obviously the least successful.

5. Heavy Metal Poisoning - Since 1977, second guitarist and third lead singer James Young (guitar, vocals) traditionally rewrote "Miss America" for every album except this one. Young actually seems inspired for Kilroy and it shows on "Heavy Metal Poisoning". Young, as Dr. Righteous, goes more than a little Rocky Horror Picture Show with the campy vocal and lyrics about drugs, mind control and Love Canal. Representing the Moral Music Majority, Young does a great job of establishing his role and makes Tim Curry proud.

6. Just Get Through This Night - The first of two Shaw ballads, Shaw shows he does have a little Rent in him with this cut about wishing for a different existence. It doesn't do much to advance the story but gives a little depth to the Jonathan Chance character. The one plus is Tommy Shaw's use of the Shami Sen to give a slight Oriental feel to the track.

7. Double Life - Young's second song, presumably to speak for either Chuck or John Panozzo's characters Lt. Vanish and Col. Hyde respectively. One of these characters is a double agent inside Dr. Righteous' organization. Young likes to rock hard and the group gives a stomping beat to make it more memorable.

8. Haven't We Been Here Before - One of Tommy Shaw's best ballads, the song captures the internal struggle to fight for freedom as so many before him had in history. One of the few cuts to be able to listen to outside of the story and still make sense, It leads to the end of the story...

9. Don't Let It End (reprise) - ...Where DeYoung brings back his Kilroy character for a rocking version of the ballad at track 3. Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung trade off lead vocals to show their solidarity. It signifies the closing of the story by displaying Kilroy's return to Rock N Roll ecstasy (and by extension, all of us).

Kilroy Was Here sold two million copies and had two Top 10 singles making it a successful conclusion to the Styx hot streak. DeYoung achieves his Rock Opera dreams with mixed results, as once the story is finally set in place at the end of track 5 it doesn't really go that far. Robert Kilroy meets Jonathan Chance and decides to Rock the Vote against Dr. Righteous basically. DeYoung's disappearance from the second half of the record is noticeable since it was his concept and the Kilroy character was central to the first half.

I've often felt that Kilroy was ripe for a Mamma Mia! type adaptation to the stage along with other Styx hits. Indeed, the tour for this album played out like theater with use of film, props and costumes. And though music censorship became a bigger media story in the years that followed, Kilroy Was Here seemed an out of step curio that fails to connect with it's larger message of freedom of expression. Tommy Shaw left following Kilroy to pursue a solo career and Damn Yankees (the band, not the musical).

Below is the movie that used to play before the concert would begin for their stage show concert of the Kilroy tour. Say what you will, but when it comes to Dennis DeYoung certain adjectives come to mind. Visionary...Intellectual...High Voiced Bastard...Dennis DeYoung proves he can do it all on Kilroy Was Here, even if you don't quite want him to. Save me Mr. Roboto, Dennis DeYoung's ego is crushing me!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Flashback Edition

Styx in, um, happier days...well, they don't look happy but at least they were together. Later Tommy Shaw (middle) would leave leading to two of my all time favorite videos of the 80's

Although I started on a Saturday, I thought it would be fun to play videos on Friday nights just like in High School when I would watch Friday Night Videos on NBC. I didn't have MTV so programs like Bay Area Hot Rocks, Friday Night Videos, Solid Gold and reruns of The Saturday Night Special got me through many dateless weekends. So to pay tribute to those late nights drinking Coca Cola and making endless mix tapes here's two videos I got into through the old NBC program.

The two videos hail from members of the Windy City band Styx. Styx represented everything that was wrong in 70's rock and I loved them for it. Bombastic beyond all reason, Styx was as epic as Arena Rock got with their high pitched harmonies, dual guitar attack and squiggly synthesizer solos. But all good things had to come to an end (particularly since DeYoung insisted on making concept albums that Shaw couldn't stand) so Shaw left for a solo career in 1984. Styx continued for a second before Dennis DeYoung started making solo albums of his own.

Tommy Shaw struck first with one of his best songs, the fired up beat happy "Girls With Guns". Shot in black and white with an amazingly hyper drummer, the video had a sense of fun lacking from Shaw's Styx material. Maybe he was happy because he no longer had to butt heads with Styx leader Dennis DeYoung and his Broadway singing style. The song wasn't a big pop hit and soon Shaw found himself singing movie soundtrack songs for movies like Remo Williams: The Adventure Continues (it didn't) until Styx reformed in the mid-90's. Shaw is now the leader of a DeYoung-less Styx, rockin' one Blue Collar Man at a time.

Meanwhile, Styx released a double live album called Caught In The Act along with one studio cut, "Music Time". Without Shaw, Styx became all about Dennis DeYoung leading to one of their worst songs and videos that I can't help but like in it's awesomely craptastic way. I was going to feature Dennis DeYoung's "Don't Wait For Heroes" but couldn't find it so I'm putting the spotlight on a song so bad that Styx's star power could only push it to #40 on Billboard's Pop Charts. Back then if you told DeYoung that one day he would be out of Styx and the band would be run by Tommy Shaw, he probably would have laughed. How times have changed.

So here it is, the dream we all dream of. Tommy "Styx is my band now" Shaw against Dennis "I'm the real Styx" DeYoung. And while I poke fun at Dennis DeYoung for singing like Liza Minnelli while dressing like a stock broker, I am a die hard fan of the "Babe" crooner. I just wish I could find "Don't Wait For Heroes", then you would have seen the full destructive power of this fully operational battle station! (Went on a slight Star Wars tangent there).

Tommy Shaw "Girls With Guns"

Styx "Music Time"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

R.E.M.'s Rich Pageant

R.E.M. speed up their career on Accelerate

When it comes to classic college rockers R.E.M., I am admittedly a fair weather fan. This probably stems from the feeling of taste makers and people "in the know" insisting R.E.M. was the greatest thing since the invention of the metronome throughout the '80's. I hated them for years without hearing a single song from them. When I actually heard their music, I had to admit they were OK. Then, as I went to college and heard a lot more of them (my college roommate was a fan and played Green in between Crowded House, Joe Jackson and Ramones records) and they grew on me. Soon after, I was a fan along for the ride of Out of Time (1991) and their true classic Automatic for the People (1992). At their peak, they were the Dallas Cowboys of the wimpy side of alternative rock - they were America's Band.

The R.E.M. doctrine was that the band wasn't great because of individual players but instead due to the chemistry that exists between Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry. An all-for-one-and-one-for-all approach included talk that if one member left the band, they would break up. In the mid 1990's Bill Berry left the band. And R.E.M. didn't break up.

I was disappointed that a band that to some degree stood for artistic integrity didn't keep their word and split. But what was more painful was watching R.E.M. become intensely mediocre, at least from my view. I heard songs or whole albums that followed and would grab onto a song or two per disc but otherwise be bored. R.E.M. became as wobbly as a three legged chair, boldly forging new yet dull paths into their increasingly hermetic sound. Around The Sun (2004) was the clincher, the band made an album so boring I had a chance to get it for free and still didn't bother to pick it up. Though I liked the song "Leaving New York" I heard the rest as a streaming free preview and dozed off.

Meanwhile, fans and the media armchair quarterbacked the band. Why don't they return to sounding like they used to? Why doesn't Stipe go back to writing riddles for lyrics? Why has their music been drained of all energy like a dying star? This type of second guessing (which I am not above either obviously) drives most bands nuts. Most bands say you don't like what you hear, form your own band then talk (always a valid point). Which is what makes R.E.M.'s Accelerate all the more unexpected.

However they arrived at this conclusion, Accelerate makes it clear that R.E.M. is willing to return to the past with a vengeance. Speedy grooves, jangling guitars, confusing lyrics sung in a stream of consciousness way, delayed background vocals - all the hallmarks of R.E.M. mid 80's comes back. And even better, the band sounds freed and renewed in getting back to their seminal sound. In terms of spirit and energy, this is the strongest R.E.M. disc since 1985's Life's Rich Pageant and will have you reminiscing about early tracks like "West of the Fields" in no time.

The opener "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" sets the tone early with it's near "It's the End of the World as we Know it" sound. "Supernatural Superserious" harkens back to Pageant because of it's chunky guitar riffs and memorable melody. They cut loose on the fun rocker "I'm Gonna DJ" but still find time to get nice and moody on cuts like the slow hurdy gurdy of "Houston" or the pensive "Song for a Submarine."

Accelerate brings the fun and excitement back which has this fair weather fan saying "Ahead is nothing but blue skies and sun." It's the first R.E.M. cd I've bought since New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) and find this album to be a fine follow up to that disc from over a decade ago. Should I go overboard and say I'm a Shiny Happy Person now? No, I won't do that but it's still really really good.

R.E.M. "Supernatural Superserious"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Idol - If You Can Smell What The Cook Is Rockin'

David Cook Idolizes a new generation of mild rockers

In a genuine surprise, Goo Goo Doll styled rocker David Cook found himself awarded with one of the top prizes in modern media, the title of American Idol! Just last night, the judges were saying despite Cook's best efforts he was out classed by teenage boy wonder David Archuleta. And indeed, last night was the best episode of the season as Archuleta reconnected with his naive soulfulness for the first time in months delivering heart filled renditions of Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" and John Lennon's "Imagine" (though "Imagine" was a bit of a repeat but with more strings than I remembered). Cook emphasized versatility, starting with U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and a songwriter contest entered song that had the feel of 80's pop rock. Cook closed with an emotional but subdued "The World I Know" by Collective Soul. Though Cook connected and sang the hell out of each song, the judges (and I) thought a recommitted Archuleta had his goose Cooked (yes, that was an awful bad joke). This was even with me favoring Cook over Archuleta in the first place.

The near flawless episode (I even enjoyed the boxing metaphor) resulted in one of their best voter turnouts ever at 97 million. For the finale, predictably Idol went for the medleys, the new kid/old vet team ups and other various guest star appearances. I missed some of the show, so the highlights for me were George Michael performing "Praying For Time" and Cook's bar band soaked "Sharp Dressed Man" accompanied by ZZ Top themselves. It was thrilling to see the little 'ol band from Texas fire out one of their signature songs to a crowd of blank faced tweens. The rest of the entertainment came mainly from the fun of seeing who they would pull out of mothballs next, would it be Donna Summer? Or Bryan Adams? Or even Seal?

So David Cook aka Mr. rearrange-any-song-into-an-alt rock-ballad has won the title of American Idol. His occasional Bono / Chris Martin impulses set aside, Cook seems destined to release a competent record of commercial rock music. For AI fans searching to make up for giving Daughtry the early boot, David Cook is the true American Idol!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Competition...Knives...Trash Talk...Meet The New Bloodsport

Gordon Ramsay looks for cooks on reality TV

My wife and I have taken to watching a few TV series that are extremely entertaining and fun. Imagine a television program where people armed with knives and blunt instruments go into intense competition with the purpose of eliminating each other for a prize. These contestants will stab and beat down until muscle and meat is broken down while they conspire and trash talk each other with as many mind games as possible. You may think I'm talking about Ultimate Fighting. But what I'm really talking about is cooking.

Yes, cooking is no longer about the late Julia Child and her peers kindly sharing recipes about sauteed this or braised that. Cooking on television is about putting your ego, heart and future on the line against other fellow cooks (sorry, chefs) to prove you can be the Iron Chef or Top Chef or Chef from Hell as the case may be. It's sort of like WWE Wrestling, except cooking isn't fake!

Iron Chef is the one that I think has been around the longest because I believe it started in Japan. Two chefs, one from an almost videogame like lineup of master chefs go up against up and coming chefs to work a given ingredient into a full course meal in about an hour. This is the most artistic of the cooking shows as these guys will work a turnip six ways til Sunday to make seven or eight aesthetically pleasing dishes that would get an A+ in art class. A panel of critics turn up their noses and rate the dishes to pick a winner. It's about honor and reputation, making it the most noble cooking show on Earth.

Meanwhile, Bravo's Top Chef Chicago takes the familiar reality show format of packing a group of strangers into a house where they compete for immunity challenges and elimination rounds, cooking their butts off to a variety of themes (tailgate day, wedding party day). Top Chef is the most engaging because it's so damn intense, these guys and gals would rather crap blood than fail to souffle'. When something goes wrong, these people jump in each others faces and throw any unsecured objects to the wall. And they put it all on the line for...a free vacation and a spot in Food & Wine magazine? That's beyond intensity and may count as insanity or means chefs are way underpaid.

At least the people on Top Chef can back up their verbal sparring and hissy fits with some cooking talent. The same can't be said of Fox's Hell's Kitchen which has the same reality show format as Top Chef but with a distinct difference. This years crop of chefs are so unrepentantly bad that by mid season Gordon Ramsay was dumbing down the menu to cheeseburgers and pasta-and they couldn't even get that right! But that's OK because the show isn't about cooking at all but the sight of Gordon Ramsay berating and insulting people in a way that would give any Human Resources exec nightmares. Too unskilled to cook anything, these contestants snipe and conspire against each other when they're not calling each other out. I'm convinced they deliberately brought on the worst cooks they could find to give Ramsay the maximum number of targets. The best part? One of these imbeciles will be head chef for Ramsay's new restaurant. The horror...the horror.

Personally, I can barely cook toast (my wife asked for French Toast and I made her bread buttered on both sides once) yet get a kick out of these "chefs" doing battle for little more than pride. I never knew cooking could be so fun! So the next time you eat a meal out, just remember you're not eating food but someones soul. Even if it's a Big Mac. If you can smell what the Rock is cookin'.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Def Leppard Show Some Sparkle On Their New Album

Def Leppard returns to Rock Rock 'til you drop.

Def Lep has spent some time in the wilderness following 1992's Adrenalize, they've bounced around between experimentation and throwbacks yet nothing really clicked with listeners. In 2006 they found their footing with the covers album Yeah! by returning to their Sweet / T. Rex roots. The Lep handpicked material and stripped back their sound a touch to allow some crunch in their previously teflon coated production. On their new disc Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, Def Leppard continues on this path but with original songs this time out.

In a surprising move, the Leppard wrote separately instead of the usual write-by-committee they usually utilize. The result is an album that has a great sound as the Lep bang out the rockers and bring back the shred guitar solos but the songs seem a touch underwritten. Song titles like "Gotta Let it Go" or "Come Undone" seem pretty generic. At least there aren't any song titles with the words "Angel" or "Can't Stop" in it. Though it's not that big of a deal, I could never understand half the lyrics Joe Elliot sings anyway and just like the sound of his singing. Elliot comes from that sort of raspy sort of smooth school of singing perfected by Sammy Hagar.

The one song written as a group, the lead single "Nine Lives", sticks the most with its classic "Armageddon It" style groove and chorus. "Nine Lives" is a little odd in that it heavily advertises the presence of Country singer Tim McGraw but then gives him about six lines to sing and then that's it. Other highpoints include the classic Leppard style rawk of "Hallucinate" and the four on the floor hard edged "Bad Actress". "C'mon C'mon" effectively Sweet-ens the template made from "Rocket" into a bit of glam rock fun.

The rest of the album is uniformly strong in performance, guitarists Vivan Campbell and Phil Collen cut loose with squalling solos at several turns particularly on the opener "Go". Joe Elliots voice is a little weaker than his prime but he works up enough power to bring a convincing performance. Rick Allen (drums) and Rick Savage (bass) remain a solid rhythm section.

The lone disappointment on the album is the Beatlesque "Love" which sounds great but doesn't quite past muster in the chorus. In the middle of the album are some nods to modern rock including "Tomorrow" which borrows a melody from Bowling For Soup's hit "1985". That's the only weak spot of the album, there's nothing as hooky as "Photograph" or "Pour Some Sugar On Me." Then again, you can strike gold only so many times. Def Leppard definitely shines on Songs From The Sparkle Lounge and have retained the pure rock fire gained from making Yeah! Songs is not a classic though it still answers that age old question: Do you wanna get Rocked?

Def Leppard featuring Tim McGraw "Nine Lives"

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Midnight Madness 5/18/08

Going One Step Beyond! It's Madness, pure madness.

I need a touch, I need a touch of Madness! The post that is, not the ska group. Though that song "Our House" was pretty good. I used to have the record though, the rest wasn't that good. Well, maybe if I liked ska more then it would be good. They were fun to watch live though. Ok, enough of this it's time to hit the list-

Don't Get Hysterical - but Def Leppard's new CD Songs From The Sparkle Lounge debuted in the Top 10 of the album chart on Billboard. While the band has made moves to increase their visibility in recent years this type of debut was totally unexpected. Totally Awesome.

They called him the Working Man - original Rush drummer John Rutsey passed away this week. Rutsey played drums on the trio's debut record including the classic "Working Man".

Get your Happy Feet out of here - The Producers of American Idol saddle Syesha Mercado with a ridiculous song choice to ensure a David vs David finale. It was probably going to happen anyway which made the manipulation all the worse. While AI will never own up to it, there's just no other reason to select a song about dancing penguins.

New Music Roundup - A lot of veteran bands are putting out new music which is making 2008 a great year for classic rock. Here's a little look at what's ahead:

Journey Revelations - the new album and the first to feature You Tube singer Arnel Pineda is to be sold exclusively through Wal Mart starting in June. The two tracks previewing at is in the classic Journey style as promised with Pineda bringing new life to the band. Have the Arena Rockers found Steve Perry's ultimate replacement? The answer is coming soon.

Metallica Untitled - The Bay Area Metalheads are finishing up their new disc and touting long form songs this time out (maybe like ....And Justice For All) but the real question is: do they allow guitar solos this time? If these songs are ten minutes long, I sure hope so.

AC / DC Untitled - For a few years there have been rumors that AC/DC has been recording an album for a farewell tour. Well, at least the album part is confirmed for this year. It is said this is their experimental jazz album with guest appearances by Diana Krall and Steve Smith (Vital Information). Naw, I made that up-this should sound like every other AC/DC album. They're still the greatest live band I have ever seen. For Those About To Rock!

Dave Matthews Band Untitled - The DMB is saying there will be more shared songwriting among the band this time out. In any case, anticipate loosey goosey grooves with instrumental breaks and indecipherable singing - I mean that in a good way!

Motley Crue Saints of Los Angeles - Said to be based on their autobiography The Dirt, the Crue returns with the original foursome: Vince "new face" Neil, Tommy "I start fights with other people for press" Lee, Nikki "I'm not dead" Sixx and Mick Mars who has been through too much to slag (I actually consider Mars one of the most underrated guitarists of the 80's). The first track is a good one and if Def Lep can get a Top 10 record then so can these guys.

Queen Untitled - Roger Taylor and Brian May have hit the studio with Paul Rodgers which will be interesting in itself, I can't recall hearing Rodger's voice being multitracked a hundred times over. This combo of musicians is kind of exciting, then I remember The Firm with Jimmy Page and think a wait and see attitude may be best.

Boston Untitled - Will be working more on the new album following a tour with new lead singer Michael Sweet (ex-Stryper). Is rumored to feature re-recordings of some songs from the Corporate America album. This is not going to help the general belief that Boston remakes the same album each time. I know Tom Scholz believes in recycling and may shave a few years off the recording time but reeks of either ego or laziness.

Los Lonely Boys Forgiven - The sophomore jinx hit the Boys hard last time out, hopefully they can get back on track and recapture a bit of "Heaven". I still like that first album.

Coldplay Vida La Viva - A darker sound permeates the lead single "Violet Hill" but still has the glowing keyboards and swoony vocals they're known for.

Pearl Jam Untitled - The grungemeisters are set to follow up their self titled 2006 disc with producer Brendan O'Brien who was at the helm of their Vs. (1993) album. I look forward to every PJ release and with O'Brien back they could really rock.

Foreigner No End In Sight - The long running Arena Rockers return with yet another greatest hits set (is this like ten of them now? I lost count) and will feature a new song with vocalist Kelly Hanson, the first recording with him at the mic.

And now I'll leave off with some Madness-

Madness "Our House"

Saturday, May 17, 2008

To Know Duffy Is To Be Ambivalent About Her

Have mercy on me Marketing Machine! Duffy's handlers makes her presence known.

It's probably no surprise that Mr Mike likes him some music and music videos and one of the "Next Big Things" in that field right now is Duffy. Duffy is a British Blue Eyed Soul singer (sound familiar?) who sings in a kind of retro R&B style (more familiar?) but doesn't look like a smack addicted alley cat. Instead, she looks like a pale lipped blonde whose idea of a wild time would be figuring out which upscale apartment in London she would like to live in (Piccadilly or Soho? Decisions, Decisions). To music execs who are looking for more Amy Winehouse money from someone not whacked out of their mind, Duffy is the answer to their prayers. Which would explain why she is being force fed down the media's throat. She's come out of nowhere to be the Artist of the Month and/or the You Oughta Know Artist at VH1 and has received rave review ratings (four stars at most places) for her CD Rockferry at most media outlets. This type of hype is a little off putting to me, she is so prepackaged it's hard to know how good of an artist she really is. Hopefully she'll be worth all the Ad money that's placing her music all over the internet and VH1.

In the tradition of the old Friday Night Videos show, I'm going to put Duffy up against another video, "The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room" by Flight of the Conchords. I'm a fan of the Conchords and always get a kick out of this song, particularly the line "You're so beautiful / You could be a part-time model". It's the Mass Marketed Marvel versus the 3rd Best Comedy-Folk Duo from New Zealand. Time to Choose or Lose!

Duffy "Mercy"

Flight of the Conchords "The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Artist Spotlight: Prince 1986-1990

Can't fake the funk - Prince rolls through the remainder of the 80's

Midway through the 80's the denizen of Paisley Park (trying to find other ways to say Prince) had scaled the mountain of success in his own extremely horny terms. And though Around The World In A Day had cooled his career a touch, Prince was still considered one of the premier artists of the decade. To add to his collection of hit singles and Platinum albums was his work with other performers, which was quite numerable.

Prince - The Auteur
Early on, Prince had taken to writing, producing and performing music for other artists such as The Time. Though The Time was an actual band, Prince created most of their music and just put the band members on the record jacket. This included pre-empting talented musicians like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who he later fired from that band before their ascension to Pop producer royalty. He also formed a girl group led by Vanity until the Purple Rain movie at which point she quit and was replaced by Apollonia. They were called Vanity / Apollonia 6. Prince gave songs to certain artists he liked including Sheena Easton and The Bangles who he handed "Sugar Walls" and "Manic Monday" respectively. And then other artists would take Prince songs and adapt them to a different sound for greater success, such as Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You" and Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." Prince could even sneak a few hits to himself through less obvious ways as "Erotic City" and "17 Days" became monster club jams. And that's just the stuff of note.

Great Lost B Side: "Irresistible B*tch" had a killer groove and wicked melodic hook.

Parade (1986)

In '86 the hype went into full gear because a new Prince movie was coming out bringing back the anticipation of the Purple wonder. It was called Under The Cherry Moon and was shot in stylish black and white plus the film would have a soundtrack. Cherry Moon sounded like a sure thing, then it actually came out. It was set in...I think France. It was amateurishly directed by Prince. It was horribly acted and played out like a 90 minute Obsession ad. It sucked big time.

The flop that was Under The Cherry Moon very nearly crushed any commercial hopes for the soundtrack. But Prince still had an ace up his sleeve, or maybe Dr. Fink's sleeve, called "Kiss". The minimalist funk and unforgettable chorus led "Kiss" to becoming one of the biggest smash hits of the Purple One's life. Parade, the film soundtrack, couldn't say the same as the stigma of failure sank the album quickly. Followup singles like "Mountain" and "Anotherloverlonelyholeinthehead" came and went in a flash. The challenging album sequencing packing several short songs onto the record didn't help. Too bad, Parade had a brightness and litheness that would not show up often afterwards (except Lovesexy).

Great Lost Track: The swanky "Girls and Boys" brought hedonistic pleasure to anyone who got the album.

Sign O' The Times (1987)

Originally planned as a triple album with the Revolution called Dream Factory but Prince ultimately felt he needed to go it alone and broke up the band (though I heard the really long version of "Crystal Ball" from the Revolution sessions and it sounded great). Sign O' The Times is my all time favorite Prince album and the one I consider the defining record of his career. Everything Prince does he put on this double album while still on the top of his game. The political reggae of the title track, the dance floor slam of "U Got The Look", the quiet storm ballads like "Slow Love", the religious folk rock of "The Cross", the psychosexual confusion of "If I Was Your Girlfriend", the straightforward pop rock of "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" and the jam band funk of "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" make up just part of the greatness that Sign O' The Times held. Even his psychedelia was rekindled on the Dr. Seuss-like "Starfish and Coffee." It is the ultimate Prince record, more definitive than any Greatest Hits set.

Great Lost Track: The spirit of James Brown is brought to rampaging thunder on "Housequake". Shut Up. Already. Damn! Housequake!!

The Black Album (1987)

One of the biggest bootlegs of all time, Prince was set to release this album until the last second when he pulled the plug on it shortly before the drop date. The Black Album was Prince's meanest record, a combo of nasty funk, violent imagery and brutal humor. I don't remember individual tracks as much as the whole of the record which was engaging and unique for PRN yet had a feeling of trying too hard to impress. It was as if Prince felt he had to keep up with Gangsta Rap and the burgeoning Hip Hop Scene. Although "Cindy C" and "Bob George" made some impact, it was probably a smart move to pull the record.
Great Lost Track: The only song I distinctly remember is the ballad "When 2 R In Love", but that may be because it shows up on Lovesexy as well.

Lovesexy (1988)

Either the dark tone of The Black Album or the rumored bad Ecstasy trip he had led to his most overtly spiritual record of the decade. Lovesexy was the universe according to Prince as he envisioned a world of brotherly and sisterly love in a sexified way. Musically it showed signs of treading water as no new ground was broken, but holding steady is still pretty awesome when you're Prince. The single "Alphabet St." was a fun Top 10 entry and though no other hits were spawned from this album it had memorable moments like the philosophic "I Wish U Heaven" or the closing track "Positivity". There were frustrating moments too, but that was mainly the packaging (a nude Prince may make some hot, but not me) and the sequencing (the whole CD was one track, so if you wanted to hear the 7th or 8th song for example then you had to fast forward past the others to get to it).

Great Lost Track: The hypnotic "Anna Stesia" is a triumph of blurred voices and chanting to mimic a drug like feeling of spiritual ecstasy (or in Prince's case maybe real Ecstasy). Really daring and worth the trip.

Batman (1989)

You would think an Artist with the integrity of Prince would reject working on spec-but no. He was quickly hired to churn out the Batman soundtrack and so Prince released his loosest and laziest record of the decade. There were good songs, such as the energetic rambunctiousness of "Partyman" or the terrific "Lemon Crush" but to get to them you had to wade through garbage like the Sheena Easton duet "The Arms of Orion". And the most infamous moment isn't on the disc but the CD Single for "Scandalous" where Prince and Kim Bassinger get all 9 1/2 weeks to the point Bassinger's family claimed The Artist brainwashed her. And it would seem Prince has all but disowned the #1 single, "Batdance".

Great Lost Track: Rockin' guitars and a hard slammin' beat backs "Electric Chair" which contains one of my favorite Prince melodies - "If a man is guilty / for what goes on inside his head / then give me the electric chair / for all my future crimes 'cause I'm guilty, yeah". Ever since I saw him play this on Saturday Night Live way back when, I was hooked on it.

Graffiti Bridge (1990)

All the hints that Prince was running out of new ideas came to a head with the Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge. Movie not withstanding (it was worse than Under The Cherry Moon, which is saying a lot) Graffiti Bridge showed Prince throwing all his eggs in one basket for a shot at glory. The Time are brought in for a few songs but never reclaim that "Jungle Love" magic (though I did like "Release It"). Elements of Hip Hop are mixed in to try to catch up with the changing pop scene to competent effect. "Thieves In The Temple" was a fair sized hit but the album quickly slid off the charts as even Tevin Campbell's hit single "Round and Round" couldn't stop the downhill momentum.

But there are redeeming musical moments like the gospelish ballad "Still Would Stand All Time" or the excellent Pop craft of "Joy In Repetition". Yet these moments were not enough to hold up Prince's status as the cutting edge Pop star, I remember even Time magazine doing an article on his commercial decline at this time.

Great Lost Track: The best song was set to a shuffling Hip Hop beat on "Tick Tick Bang" which was the one song to update classic Prince well. The sexual vulgarity and killer song hook made this one a showstopper.


My Name Is Prince?

After Grafitti Bridge, Prince reportedly took his drum machines out of Paisley Park and left them on the street to be taken for free. For what appears to be the last time, he retreated to pop classicism by forming a live band and recording more traditional (for Prince anyway) sounding Pop. Shortly after releasing the single "My Name Is Prince" he changed his name to an unpronounceable sign and went by "The Artist formerly known as Prince" leading to several jokes about his lack of sanity. In more recent years he returned to his original moniker/name and has made a comeback. Prince continues to be a notable and talented musician who despite a few ups and downs remains a certifiable Pop genius.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Artist Spotlight: Prince 1980-1985

Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Sly Stone and more all rolled up into one. No other artist was able to tie together the sexual and the spiritual to a dance beat like Prince.

When I mentioned Prince in an earlier post, it seemed there were some fans of the Minneapolis Funkmeister out there who liked him as much as I do. So, I thought it would be fun to write about the Purple One for a little bit, covering his 80's dominance of the Pop charts as one of the most creative, daring and inventive musicians of his generation. The thing is, Prince's output was so consistent that I have to break it into two segments to have it make any sense. Also, following Prince's war on You Tube there aren't any videos of him out there in cyberspace so we'll have to rely on our memories, CDs or used cassettes for this one.

Prince - Pre 80's
Prince started off a more traditional styled Funk / R&B styled performer and even scored a Disco hit with "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (though he snuck in that line at the end of the chorus "I wanna be the only one you come for"). That's not to say he wasn't Prince, as early tracks like "Soft & Wet" will attest to. But it was in 1980 that Prince released the album that would take him to the next level and got people talking about Mr. Nelson.
Dirty Mind (1980)

Prince recorded this as a demo and then decided to release it stripped down sound and all. The demos had the rough edge needed to distinguish Prince from the R&B pack while he tackled subject matter that no one else would touch (oral sex and incest to name two). An added bit of Rock on cuts like "When You Were Mine" showed Prince broadening his range. The title track was a mission statement with a fantastic cheesy synth sound and pulsing beat while Prince talked all about his "Dirty Mind". With Dirty Mind he established himself as an artistic sex fiend to reckon with. Maybe a little too much so.

Great Lost Track: "Head" is about exactly what you think it is and has the funk to back it up.

Controversy (1981)

Dirty Mind got tongues wagging about the nasty boy from the Twin Cities. Prince did a half step retreat starting with the album cover, a straight on shot of the man in a purple suit. A far cry from the underwear in front of a bed spring pose from a year before. Again the title track set forth the theme as Prince tackled the "Controversy" his previous record set off. At the same time, Prince unleashed his best bedroom ballad, "Do Me Baby" which remains the Gold standard of all Prince love songs. Controversy also featured Prince's most overt political song of his career, "Ronnie Talk To Russia", a little bit of pop rock filled with Nuclear fears of the 80's. At the end of the album, Prince finally puts his money down in a happy shot of sleaze with "Jack U Off." To this day, I can't believe there's an actual song with this title. Leave it to Prince to use it.

Great Lost Track: "Private Joy" plays the double entendre game to a cushy piece of slick R&B.

1999 (1982)

Prince had yet to "make it" on the Pop charts but that didn't stop him from insisting on a double album. The two record set turned out to be just enough space to hold all things Prince up to that point. His continued experiments with synthesizers and drum machines plus his melding of funk, R&B, pop and rock paid off with a sound that was all things to all people and while remaining distinctly Prince. The title track became one of Prince's biggest hits, a party to the apocalypse slab of steamin' funk. "Little Red Corvette" was a Top 10 hit retaining a classic pop rock sound. Dance floor jams ("D.M.S.R."), skittering beats ("Lady Cab Driver") and bedroom eye balladry ("International Lover") sit alongside techy experiments ("Something In The Water") to create a full persona for Prince Rogers Nelson. The fact that all of the songs kill doesn't hurt either. Prince got his way both artistically and commercially as all of his gambles reaped rewards.

Great Lost Track: "Free" is a stunning ballad about freedom for all people. "Be glad that you are free/there's many a man who's not".

Purple Rain (1984)

More like Purple Reign, Prince and the Revolution took over pop culture and held it hostage for a year with lacy puffy shirts, jerri curl and purple motorcycles. Having the movie solidify an accessable image of The Artist gave him the platform to launch his most radio-ready set of tunes ever. The album is a greatest hits set onto itself, "Let's Go Crazy", "When Doves Cry", "Take Me With U", "I Would Die 4 U" and the title cut are burned into the brains of anyone near a radio in '84. Sure, Prince had to water down his approach a bit (less overt sex but more licking of his guitar) but look what happened when he didn't. The cold grinding funk of "Darling Nikki" set off a whole music censorship committee, the PMRC. Wait Tipper Gore, that's not Lake Minnetonka!

Great Lost Track: None, because anyone who knows Prince knows this album inside out.

Around The World In A Day (1985)

I remember a lot of disappointment among Prince fans when this was released. Prince decided to follow up his monster smash Purple Rain by turning psychedelic and focusing on mid tempo beats. One guy in high school referred to this as "a whole album of 'Take Me With U'". Originally released without the intention of having a single or video, eventually the classic "Raspberry Beret" became the song of choice for radio. The second single "Pop Life" was a personal favorite because of it's bizarre cuts into crowd noises mid song. Sprituality seems to increase in concern for Prince on songs like "The Ladder". Around The World In A Day stands as a fine pop album and also a career trait Prince would exhibit later in his career: when confronted with an insurmountable obstacle (in this case attempting to follow up Purple Rain) he retreats to pop classicism.

Great Lost Track: "Tambourine" is a brief funk jam that is as idiosyncratic as it is lively.

Next post...Prince revolts against the Revolution to record the best music of his career before meeting his Waterloo at Graffiti Bridge. My IPOD is on random and Prince's song "All The Critics Love You In New York" from 1999 just came on. Now that's weird. Time to go.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Doomin' With Trent Reznor

Nine Inch Nails recalls busy afternoons of killing alien invaders.
Last week I got Nine Inch Nail's free downloadable album The Slip, an album NIN man Trent Reznor recorded to release to his fans. Reznor was on a major record label for years and reportedly hated it so now he is on his own and free to record and distribute music as he wishes. After hearing the first few songs on The Slip I was taken back to an era over a decade ago to a time when Reznor was considered "cutting edge" and recorded music for one of the Doom video games.

In the mid-90's I killed a lot of time playing Doom and its various sequels on my PC and eventually Super Nintendo. Doom was one of the most harrowing and violent games I've ever played (and pretty much went to the limit of what I could tolerate as I don't follow those Resident Evil games for example). Ugly creatures clawed and shot lasers or threw fleshy spikes at you from out of nowhere as you traveled through intestine shaped hallways and dark abandoned rooms of radioactive material looking for ammo or a teleporter. While it was the stuff of nightmares as in this first person shooter you could literaly be relaxing when a creature would pop up in your face and kill you, it was an addictively fun game that I played for a few years. I had a universe to save!

And that's what I think of when I hear Nine Inch Nails, or I also think of those movies set in a dystopic future where people gather in a dark laser lit nightclub to dance in futuristic clothes sweatin' it out on some form of Ecstasy to the beat of something like NIN. Like that movie Strange Days with Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett. I recommend Strange Days if only for the fun of seeing Fiennes slumming in a sci fi flick unable to shake the gravitas he carried in The English Patient.

But what about the album itself? The Slip is an odd album taken as a whole, the first half is classic NIN with it's jackhammer dance beats, grinding electronica grooves and blasts of monolithic guitars topped by anxious vocals. "Discipline" is reminscent of NIN's classic "Closer" and the other songs maintain the catchy angst that the group (group being Trent Reznor) is known for.

Then the album takes a sudden and abrupt turn. Most of the second half is made up of slow, atmospheric instrumentals. In this section, the lengthy "Corona Radiata"is a highlight as it builds a feeling of ominous dread and stifled fear slowly yet steadily. The change in sound kills the sense of continuity from the first half but remains listenable.

As a freebie, The Slip is worthwhile to any NIN fan. Even a casual fan like me can enjoy it as Reznor gives the songs memorable hooks on the first half to ensure this isn't a throwaway. I'll never be a hardcore fan, NIN is way to downbeat and repetitive for me to really dig into. But taken in deliberate doses, Nine Inch Nails still can kick a hardrive into gear.

Nine Inch Nails "Discipline"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

American Idol - My Way, Your Way, Anything Goes Tonight

We're getting close to the end of American Idol, the Top 3 played three different songs this week. The first was a judges pick, the second the contestants, the third by the producers. In terms of results...mostly dull with a few bits here or there to maintain interest. It's been a weird season for AI, they stacked the deck with professional singers and yielded a few magic moments early on (Ramiele Maluby's Dusty Springfield song, Jason Castro's "Hallelujah" and David Cook's "Hello") before nearly all the contestants ran out of gas mid season. The Top 3 are survivors more than winners, Archuleta's square consistency, Cook's alt ballads and Mercado's alternating between sexed up stage performances and hyperactive wailing.

Mommy's All Right, Daddy's All Right-David Archuleta reportedly couldn't have his "yes he is / no he's not" stage dad with him in rehearsals this week so little Davy was on his own. Paula chose the Billy Joel minor classic "And So It Goes" and Archuleta sang it well. Arch's own pick, Chris Brown's "With You", was another story as it was awkward and forced. The Producers chose Dan Fogelberg's Adult Contemporary classic "Longer" which was right up Arch's alley, though hearing Simon Cowell rip the late singer/songwriter's signature tune a new one was appalling.

She Wanna Sex You Up- Mercado said she loosened up this week but all I saw was overconfident smugness plastered on her pretty face. Randy Jackson gave her Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" (my favorite Keys song) and Mercado violated my basic rule of sad songs-do not smile your way through the song. Her choice was the jazzy staple "Fever" which allowed Mercado to do her shimmy across the stage like a performance at Smokey Joe's Casino in Reno. The Producers didn't do Mercado any favors either, saddling her with a lame piece from the cartoon Happy Feet. Mercado tried to bounce her way past and just fell short.

Dare You To Move - David Cook was a little more awake this week as Simon Cowell threw a curve ball with Roberta Flack's "First Time I Ever Saw Your Face". Cook came through with a good acoustic rock arrangement that started slow but built up to a good finish. His pick was Switchfoot's "Dare You To Move" but Cook botched the arrangement and got really shouty as Cowell likes to put it. For the third song, The Producers gave Cook Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing." Cook was good but the arrangement piled on an extended guitar solo at the end that collided with Cook and the chorus making the song overcrowded with instruments.

In terms of pure performance, it's hard to chose who will be eliminated tomorrow night because they were pretty equal. But for a while the public's expected a David vs David duel in the final and that seems likely. Even The Producers seem to want Mercado out, I mean Happy Feet? Why not give her the Sesame Street theme too while you're at it?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wish For A Revolution?

I spent a lot of time staring at this album cover as a boy. I think I found their appearance interesting because I hadn't known anyone who looked like this. All sloppy and dirty, as a kid you look at this picture and think "someday I won't have to take baths either."

Thought I would kick off the two new features in one post, choosing one song from the '60's and another from the '90's. First up: Groovy Times with The Beatles.

It always seems like a cliche' to associate 60's Rock with The Beatles just because they were the biggest band ever in history. Their music has achieved a societal status that ranks as high as Elvis, Sinatra and Duke Ellington. But the reason I'm choosing a Beatles song isn't because of it's historical status but for personal reasons. "Revolution" was one of the first songs I ever listened to out of choice. My Mom had a Beatles album that included "Revolution" and as a kid I was really facinated with it. The loud burst of guitar at the start, the loping beat, the thought of a Revolution which to me would have been something like not cleaning my room at the time. Of course I didn't think in these terms at 7 or 8 years old, I just liked it because I did. It started loud and then the song seemed to go around and around. I have nice memories of sitting on the living room floor, staring at these four shaggy dudes on the album cover. Ultimately, I think what attracted me to the song was the feeling of freedom that is imbued in it. A feeling so strong even an atrocious Thompson Twins cover in the mid-80's couldn't kill it (but it came close). I'm glad I watched the video for this today, all these years I thought Paul McCartney sang this song.

Beatles "Revolution"

And now...Whoomp! There it is!! Even now, I have a tough time thinking of songs I like from the 1990's. So again I'll start off with a band I'm listening a bit to right now, Nine Inch Nails. I can't claim to being the Nail's biggest fan, I'm a casual listener who can take their Industrial Noise Rock in doses but not in large quantities. But while listening to their new album The Slip, I remembered I didn't have my favorite NIN song "Wish". When this song came on MTV, I found them visually tough to watch but really liked the sound. "Wish" was a dark, angry song (as all Nine Inch Nails songs are) that came at a low point in my life. It was a time where I was unemployed and the job market was really bad, I even had friends claiming it was the end of Western Civilization. Thankfully I was able to find work eventually, but the song is still good anyway. When you're out of work and things aren't going well in life, a song that starts off "This is the first day / of my last day" followed by a barrage of guitar sounds pretty meaningful.
Sort of the yin to The Beatles yang, "Wish" was anarchic where "Revolution" said you could count them out of destruction. The peacenik 60's versus the backlash against political correctness in the 90's, a pretty decent summation of those eras. Now I'm going to do some work so I don't get all mad and throw a Revolution.

Nine Inch Nails "Wish"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Midnight Madness 5/11/08

The new symbol for the City of Vallejo
It's Sunday which means it's time for a little Midnight Madness-

My City Was Gone - Vallejo CA, is now bankrupt. The largest city in state history to do so. How did that happen with Jeff Gordon claiming he's from Vallejo, couldn't they get some Jeff Gordon money? DC madams, endless Mayoral vote recounts, now bankruptcy...Vallejo-my kind of town!

The Radiohead effect - A lot of free music came out this week. Coldplay offered up their first single "Violet Hill" from their upcoming album for free on their website, the tune showed the group moving in a slightly darker direction. '90's punkers The Offspring did the same for their song "Hammerhead" which revealed that band was going back to basics with their sound. But the real boon was Nine Inch Nails offering up a full album, The Slip, for free as a thank you to their fans.

Spider Man - A new species of spider has been named after classic rocker Neil Young. Young always did have a thing for Mary Jane.

Wino Royale - Amy Winehouse was busted for drugs again and either turned down or was turned down for the singing the next James Bond theme. I guess the title You Only Crank Twice is now out of the question. Though they sound nothing alike, her album is looking more and more like Nirvana-In Utero to me (still like it though). Maybe she should take her cues from her predecesors...

Network TV is the new Rehab - First Britney Spears started making appearances on the Tv show How I Met Your Mother and now Lindsey, I mean Lohan, is going to be on Ugly Betty. Next, Amy Winehouse will make an appearance on Cops - Las Vegas. You know what would be great? If they brought back Celebrity Boxing and had Winehouse fight Lohan over a vial of Coke. Winehouse said "I'll knock the freckles off your face!" while Lohan responded "I'll hit you so hard your weave will be back in style!" Two girls enter, one girl leave.

If You Love Your Bandmates, Set Them Free - The Police have announced their farewell show to be held in New York. Proceeds will go towards the Sting Will Save The Planet By Purchasing It After This Final Cash In foundation. No more destroying the rainforests, it's all Sting's now. Plus, with every tree you save you get a free CD single of "Desert Rose!" Sting...he is the man.

The New Kids On The Block are back- Ok, the first question I have is: Why?

Some New Features - I've felt I often neglect music not from the 70's or 80's because my listening habits tend to begin and end there but think I do want to represent a little variety in my posts so I'm going to add two features soon. So I thought I would occassionaly feature songs from the 60's and 90's just to mix things up. The 60's posts will be titled Groovy Times and the 90's will be titled Whoomp! There it is!!

To close out this post, here's a little Pretenders for you-

The Pretenders "My City Was Gone"

Space Junk

This weekend I watched two movies I had no intention of seeing but kind of thought "why not" and did. To paraphrase Stewie in Family Guy, I watched them because there was a lot of color, shapes and movement to hold my attention. Those two movies were blockbusters from last summer, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Transformers. Despite being made by different people and existing as two separate franchises, I felt as if I had seen the same movie twice when I was done. Let's check off the reasons why:
  • Both movies involve the end of the world as we know it
  • Both movies have a heavy military presence
  • Both movies hinge the fate of the world on the gumption of a young man
  • Both movies star actresses whose main contribution consists of heaving bosoms in super tight clothing while kicking ass
  • Both movies feature vehicles galore
  • Both movies involve an enemy from space
  • Both movies feature heavy damage to buildings, cities and vehicles
  • Both movies play up a big act of sacrifice
  • Both movies have missles, missles, missles!

So what differed between the two? Well, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer can make the dubious distinction of saying it was better than the first Fantastic Four movie. The only geek-tastic moment was the unveiling of the Fantasticar, which was great until I saw it had been product placed by Dodge. Great, the Fantastic Four is built ram tough and will need a trade in after 30,000 miles. Even the iconic Silver Surfer can't keep things going, though it did leave me with a need to play Joe Satriani more often.

For Transformers, it was directed by Michael Bay and you know what that means. It means if this was a sentence directed by Michael Bay, it (cut to next shot) would (cut to next shot) have (cut to next shot in slo mo with unnecessary camera movement) a (cut to oversaturated orange colored shot with more unnessary camera movement) lot (cut to shaky handheld point of view shot) of overdirection with the attention span of a five year old. But kudos to Shia LeBouf for running and yelling like the action hero in training he is (he'll appear in the new Indiana Jones movie next).

Whats sad is that both movies were junk and not even in a so-bad-it's-good way. I even enjoyed the cartoon Transformers movie more than these films, at least that one had the voices of Judd Nelson and Orson Welles plus the lame animation from the tv series to give a sense of continuity. As much money as was spent on making both these features, the end result was much less than meets the eye.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Top 100 Favorite CDs- Numbers 34 and 33

Toto - the only rock band to truly sport the High School Chess Club look. I think they're running because they've spotted a Rubik's Cube.

I'll actually knock out number 33 fairly quickly-

Asia - Asia (1982)

I've covered Asia enough over the past month or so that it's hard to think of something different to say, particularly since this was the debut album and it was played in it's entirety when I saw them live (and couldn't be happier about it). So what's left to say? It's one of those ultimate Mr Mike albums, I'm surprised I didn't rank this higher but I wrote this list out like 2 years ago when there wasn't much happening with this band. The only thing left to add is I consider this album to have Steve Howe's most aggressive guitar playing in his career, he really makes a statement here.

Number 34 I'll write a little more about-

Toto - Toto IV (1982)

Another classic from the same year, a brother from another mother if you will. This album made it the year of Toto, they had three Top 10 hits including a #1 smash single, won like a gagillion Grammy awards and for a brief moment made studio musicians seem cool. Toto was down in the dumps career wise before IV, their debut album was a big seller but the two albums that followed stiffed. For IV, Toto made a move towards the Adult Contemporary and AOR markets simultaneously by pooling their experience backing just about every L.A. solo musician and translating it into savvy arrangements.

"Rosanna" was the lead single and went all the way to #2 on Billboard and won the Grammy for Song of the Year. The bouncy bit of pop rock with swinging horns and an impressive multitracked synthesizer solo was a winner on Pop, Rock and Soft Rock radio. The second single, "Make Believe", is a personal favorite that should have been a shoo-in for Soft Rock radio but found resistance instead. The third single was "Africa" which became a huge #1 smash at the start of '83 and forever ingrained that hook "I bless the rains down in Africa" in the minds of anyone near my age. Fourth was the power ballad "I Won't Hold You Back" which followed the momentum of "Africa" into the Top 10.

These hits showed a Toto that was on top of their game, each song embedded with a monster hook, expert playing and a layered approach that rocked somewhat hard but still remained soft enough for mass consumption. Other great tracks include the R&Bish "Waiting For Your Love" and the straight up AOR of "Afraid Of Love". The band's hot streak bled over to their session work, as Michael Jackson's Top 10 hit "Human Nature" was written by a band member.

It would be obvious to include "Rosanna" and since I'm obvious it's here in it's entirety. The most well known trivia is that the song is about actress Rosanna Arquette who was dating a member of the band at the time. But the song wasn't written by the person dating Rosanna but a different band member. Can a guy stoop any lower than writing a love song to his friend's girl? I'm sure if there was any tension it was resolved with Platinum records and Grammys but that's still pretty weird. Additional trivia, the dancer in the video is Cynthia Rhodes who was a singer / actress who had a hit as the replacement singer in Animotion with "Room to Move", appeared in the films Dirty Dancing and Staying Alive and married pop rocker Richard Marx.

In addition to "Rosanna" is an amusing bit called Yacht Rock that I came across on another blog I can't recall right now. Anyway, it tells the fictional story of how "Rosanna" was written.

Toto "Rosanna" and Yacht Rock