Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daze of Thunder

Stiller and Downey Jr. look for laughs in the jungle during Tropic Thunder.

I finally saw the film that's been the #1 movie for a few weeks, Tropic Thunder, this afternoon at my local cineplex. A comedy sounded good and this movie had two top comedians in Co-writer / Director / Star Ben Stiller and Jack Black. Plus Iron Man himself Robert Downey Jr along for the ride. So we sat down for the yuk fest and waited for the movie to begin.

(Minor Spoiler Alert!) The movie starts off by seamlessly blending fake commercials and movie trailers in right after the real movie trailers end. It's actually the best part of the movie as you are suddenly confronted with a commercial about an energy drink called Bootie Sweat delivered with poker faced hype. Three movie trailers follow which introduce you to Ben Stiller's fading action star character Tugg Speedman, Jack Black's Eddie Murphyish fart comedy character and Robert Downey Jr.'s Oscar winning Australian "serious" actor Kirk Lazarus. All three trailers are played out with the appropriate spectacle and movie voice over of real trailers.

The set up of the movie is that these actors are in a Vietnam war movie called Tropic Thunder which is being directed by a rookie Englishman (Steve Coogan) and written by the man who "lived" the story portrayed by Nick Nolte. Elements of Apocalypse Now and Platoon are launching pads for the initial comedy as pyrotechnics and martyr acting poses all go awry. As acting egos collide, Nolte convinces Coogan to take the actors into the jungles of Vietnam to film them in staged but more realistic situations to make them more convincing in their performances. So they take the actors / soldiers out to the jungle and tell them they will encounter situations that seem real but are really fake to get the best acting they can. And then the Director suddenly dies.

But the actors are unsure if the Director faked his death and proceed as if its still a movie. I won't give away much more of the story in case anyone else hasn't seen this film yet, all this happens in the first 20 minutes or so. Tropic Thunder tackles the different "difficult" actor archetypes and has fun skewering them and the big money Producers and Agents that make them. Almost everyone is selfish and self involved to the point of obliviousness which is where most of the comedy comes from. A lot of action takes place, with guns blazing and stuff blowing up left and right (one of the main supporting characters is the Pyro guy from the set). Actually, Thunder comes across as an action film with occasional jokes than a full on comedy which was a bit of a let down to me. It tries to be knowing and wink at the audience about the ludicrous ass kicking that takes place yet there's too much of it to accept it as a joke.

The comedy that is there usually comes from the interactions between the dopey action hero Stiller and the deluded character actor Downey Jr. Both characters walk a fine line between humor and offensiveness and when it comes to comedy I'm not easily offended. Stiller's character is proudest of his performance in a box office bomb called Smiling Jack where he portrays a mentally disabled man so poorly it makes him the joke of the town. A series of jibes about mental retardation follows and it comes to haunt him later in the movie. At the same time, Downey Jr plays an Austrailian actor portraying an African American soldier in high tech blackface. In lesser hands this would be completely offensive, but Downey makes it clear he's mocking the actor impulse to live a character to the 9th degree (like a cross between Sean Penn and Russell Crowe) and plays his character as being blind to the implied racism of his performance (which is repeatedly pointed out to him by other characters). Meanwhile, Jack Black is surprisingly not given much to do other than act like a smack addicted maniac.

But there is one saving grace to Thunder, and that's Tom Cruise. Cruise as the smarmy balding and overweight movie producer Les Grossman takes relish in sending up studio execs and big money players in Hollywood. No matter who he addresses, Cruise unleashes a fantastic torrent of condescending wrath of God ridicule that it's hilarious. Even guest star Matthew McCaughnahey is taken aback by the Cruise missile. The more Cruise the better as it was the only points in the movie where I was rolling with laughter.

Even taken on its own terms, Tropic Thunder is a slight misfire. It's not quite a comedy though there are some truly funny bits in it. It's not quite an action film because it gets a little more silly towards the end. The humor is borderline offensive and will probably upset more than a few people (though I was OK with it as humor and that includes the hits Asians take in the movie as well). All in all, Thunder is a mild disappointment to me. I can't say I didn't like it but it really did not live up to my expectations at all. Fortunately, Tom Cruise steals the show and makes his scenes showstoppers. Wow, when was the last time anyone could say that?

Midnight Madness - Flight of the Conchords Edition

They act a little naive but very talented, The Flight of the Conchords make with the funny in their "Kiwi" act.

One of my favorite TV shows right now is Flight of the Conchords, while I was off work I watched the first season on DVD and got a kick out of their "Kiwi" humor. Gave me a lot of laughs. And now..

Perfect Crime - Blogger Kevin Cogill was arrested this week for leaking Guns N Roses songs from the long awaited Chinese Democracy album. Is he the new Shaun Fanning? My guess is no.

Promise of a New Day - A fourth judge, Kara Dioguardi, is being added to American Idol this season. If she's coherent and able to form complete sentences, Paula Abdul might be in trouble.

Whole Lotta Bleeding Love - Jimmy Page teamed up with "Bleeding Love" songbird Leona Lewis for an OK version of the Led Zep classic "Whole Lotta Love" at the Olympics finale. What I couldn't figure out is why they stuck Lewis on this hydraulic perch with a long dress. She looked like a bird hanging above Page's head.

Houses of the Holy? - In other possible Led Zep news, Jason Bonham is leaving Foreigner to work with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on some new music. No news on Robert Plant being involved yet. If Plant opts out, is it too late for Coverdale / Page part 2?

The Truth is out there - in someone's pants apparently, David Duchovney is being treated for sex addiction. You know, playing a sex fiend on tv (he stars in the cable series Californication) probably doesn't help with that.

Rock & Roll Train finally pulls in - The new AC/DC song is brings back the thunder.

Return to Starbase - The Star Trek Experience in Vegas is closing down on September 1st. I never got around to going, bummer.

Who's Bad? - Michael Jackson turns 50 years old. Another milestone to reflect on how far the Gloved one has fallen.

My Apocalypse- Metallica's second new song is old school thrash, really good stuff.

The Cosmos Rocks? - Queen with Paul Rodgers has set 10/28 as their release date for the new album The Cosmos Rocks. Really? Is that really the album title? kinda sucks. I mean, the album could have been called Whopper Jr. and it still would have been better. Oh well, I guess everyone's a critic.

Out of Touch - Just for fun, I thought I would look at Billboard's Top 5 singles to see what they look and sound like.

5. Jesse McCartney - Leavin': This experiment may be rougher than I thought. Okay, first song down and it looks like this McCartney kid is about 13 years old and spends the whole video having sex on a bare mattress or back seat of a car. When he's not having sex, we get shot after shot of him over emoting his vocal runs. I have no idea what he's singing most of the time and no one leaves for anywhere in the video. So the point of this is a pretty boy that likes to have sex almost as much as he likes to look at himself. But I'm sure there's lots of tween girls enjoying this to put it in the Top 5.

4. Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl: I commented on this song a little while ago so I have nothing new to add here.

3. Kardinall Offishal feat. Akon - Dangerous: Sounds like a club jam, the beat is catchy and I think it's Akon singing the chorus (I have a hard time recognizing him when he's not dropping people on their head). Akon's voice has some of that electronic distortion on it to modernize the track. The rapper, I assume Offishal, has a bit of a Jamaician sound to his speech which makes it catchy. The video sells an upbeat urban image of hot girls and flashy images. As far as rap goes, I find this song tolerable (I'm not a big rap fan).

2. Chris Brown - Forever: Has elements of the McCartney song and the "Dangerous" song. The main point here is to show off Brown's dancing skills and position him as a guy ladies can count on. The song itself is inoffensive and has more of that electronic distortion on the vocal. For the most part, the song itself is forgettable.

1. Rihanna - Disturbia: Straight up Pop from someone on a major career roll, Rihanna's song is actually pretty good. She's found strong material and has a distinct tone to her voice. The video cleverly employs that stop and start insect speed motion that is usually reserved for horror movies. I don't like it as much as "Umbrella", but this is as pleasant as Pop music gets for old folks.

Thank you Bunny! - The Bunny has taken good care of me while I recuperate.

To close this bad boy out here's a Flight of the Conchords bustin a funny rap "The Hiphopopotamus vs the Rhymenoceros".

Flight of the Conchords "The Hiphopopotamus vs The Rhymenoceros"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

John Wesley Harding Mellencamp

As the album title implies, a lot can happen when you're sitting next to a concrete wall staring off into space.

As part of my John Mellencamp recovery program, a few weeks back I downloaded his new album Life, Death, Love and Freedom. I've been playing it a lot to get a feel for this disc and found it to be a pretty enjoyable album. In a bit of a surprise, its a very folky album with a touch of acoustic blues as the Little Bastard (I remember my friend saying that's the nickname Mellencamp liked) explores the ideas as stated in the album title. So let's get down to it.

Life: For a lot of the album, Mellencamp views Life as a done deal. He's seen it's folk styled "Longest Days" and feels detached from other people in "John Cockers". At this stage, Life is about preparation for Death and bemoaning Freedom. With what Mellencamp seems to view his best days behind him, he prepares for the other three parts to the theme. The life he shows is a man who has some fight left in him but not enough to face the world head on until the end of the album where life and purpose are renewed.

Death: There is a major preoccupation with Death on the album. One of my favorite songs is in the middle of the album, "Don't Need This Body", finds Mellencamp in a sort of Robert Johnson hellhound blues mode as he explains he's ready for the next song. The next song is "A Ride Back Home" which is a second duet with the Little Big Town singer. "Ride" takes a soothing tone as he hopes for Death to come. A Death he hopes comes without warning in "If I Die Sudden".

Love: The lone happy song on the album is the rockabilly hit "My Sweet Love" which I like a lot. Elsewhere on the album, Love is the sweet part of Life that exists in the past. Mellencamp says he's loved people and they've loved him. A larger concern is the lack of Love he sees, "Troubled Land" is all about discontent among people while "Mean" people suck.

Freedom: Mellencamp is definitely disillusioned in this album. Having already made a splash with the earlier release of the protest song "Jena" in which he implores the town to "Take your nooses down", he places that same squinty eyed judgement on the rest of the country. American values become a dark and surreal place in "County Fair" as he eventually feels so compromised that we could be taken "Without A Shot". "Without A Shot" is another highlight on the album with its pensive mood and prickly mandolin.

Overall Life, Death, Love and Freedom holds together due to taut songwriting and a committed performance. Mellencamp ties up the loose ends with a message of hope in "For The Children" a third duet with Karen Fairchild (hey, I found her name!) of Little Big Town. He neatly sums up the album towards the end of the song "I hope you can be a child of life / With big dreams for everyone / And know that dying's as natural as birth / And our troubles here, they don't last long." I like this album and have a lot of respect for what it accomplishes. It's a strong set of songs with flashes of brilliance though the "heavy messenger" tone took some getting used to and it sounded eerily Dylanish in spots. Alright John Mellencamp, I have to admit you put out a good album. My name is Mr Mike and I am a recovering Mellencamp hater. And some where my old friend the Mellencamp fanatic is looking like the Emperor from Star Wars hissing "Exxceelent". Or is that Mr Burns from The Simpsons. I think it's Mr. Burns actually. D'oh!

John Mellencamp album EPK

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Lynyrd Skynyrd Nite

If not for the Allman Brothers, they would have been the definitive Southern Rock band.

Kid Rock is currently moving up the charts with his hit All Summer Long , basically a mash up of Warren Zevon's Warewolves of London and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama . I don't begrudge Rock his hit, but I do think it shows that to most people Skynyrd begins with Free Bird and ends with "Alabama". I was once in this club but eventually came to know a lot more of their music. My wife got me into Skynyrd a little later in life (she put "Free Bird" on a mix tape for me) and over the years I've become a fan of the band I previously just thought of as "that group with the guy that was related to 38 Special".

So, to emphasize some different Skynyrd out into cyberspace, I'm going to highlight two of my favorite songs of theirs. The first is the heavy strutter "Gimmie Back My Bullets", which sounds like its about guns but is really about Billboard chart placement. The second is "Call Me The Breeze" which sounds great blaring through car speakers as you drive thru the countryside. The triple guitar attack of Gary Rossington, Steve Gaines and Allen Collins is the stuff of legend and Ronnie Van Zant's songwriting is both personal and universal. One of the greatest rock bands ever.

Lynyrd Skynyrd "Gimmie Back My Bullets"

Lynyrd Skynyrd "Call Me The Breeze"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Yes - Big Generator (1987)

Yes looked to generate some heat after a lonnnggg lay off in 1987's Big Generator

This is a tale that begins in November of 1983. When I first started to listen to a lot of music in the early 80's, I had a neighbor next door (also named Mike) who was into rock and would lend me his records and tapes. When not trying to push Gary Moore on me (Mike was convinced Moore was the talent of the century) he would send other items of interest and one was Yes. I knew of Yes because my Aunt was a fan, though I didn't know any of their music at that time. My friend said "You like Asia, well Yes is better because they have two singers. Listen to this." He handed me Yes 90125 and it started a worship for this band that has never stopped.

I played 90125 to death, I knew it backwards and forwards. I saw Yes not once, but twice on tour in support of this great album. The catchy pop rock choruses, the psuedo intellectual lyrics, the whiz bang production and sterling musicianship made this a constant favorite. So after their tour ended in 1984 I anxiously waited for a follow up. In 1985, a new Yes record was coming! Uh...Yes! No! It's a crappy live album 9012Live: The Solos. '86. There's got to be a new Yes album in '86, look how long they have to record it. Well, then again, maybe not because no new album. And then, Big Generator was released in 1987.

When it was released, my College roommate and I were both big fans of Prog rock so I often think of that guy when I think about Big Generator. We even went to the Yes concert together in 1988 and played this CD often in the dorm room. So, Clive, this one's for you where ever you are buddy.

1. Rhythm of Love
This song had a lot to live up to, Yes West fans like me had waited for an eternity to hear new Yes and all we had been given was the toss off 9012Live (1985) record instead. The frilly opening was perfect and then the track lunged into an OK pop rocker about sex. Over time, the song would grow on me as it became a staple of Yes West performances. I love the guitar solo as it is great to hear guitarist Trevor Rabin cut loose while bassist Chris Squire lumbers about. This was the second single from the record and the biggest hit (I think it reached #30 on Billboard). There was a dance remix of this song that was pretty crazy and was used to open shows on this tour.

2. Big Generator

...or as I like to think of it, the Yes jumble. A sort of scrambled song with a slowed down "Owner of a Lonely Heart" guitar riff, heavily mixed vocals, cascading keyboards and a great part where drummer Alan White and guitarist Rabin race each other on their instruments. The song sort of represents the album which was alleged to take a long time to make due to the band's famous ego battles following the success of 90125. Once the dust had settled, 90125 producer Trevor Horn had left taking his art of noise with him. But my main memory of this song was live, where lead singer Jon Anderson decked out in all white with white eye makeup prancing from one end of the stage to the next for the audience sing along of the chorus. Ever the Astral Traveller, Anderson is a one of a kind performer and I mean that in the best way.

3. Shoot High Aim Low

Arguably the biggest hit on the album wasn't a single, "Shoot High Aim Low" dominated album rock radio for a few years and deservedly so. The song showed Yes West stretching out with juxtaposed lead vocals by Rabin and Anderson plus an ominous mood. Fine guitar work by Rabin textures the track and drummer Alan White shines as the song pairs down to a single beat. When cranked up over the Dorm PA system, that beat kicked ass! That and the jackhammer sound at the beginning and end of Rush's "Force Ten". At any rate, this track was the artistic pinaccle of Yes West.

4. Almost Like Love

So what song should follow one of the best on the album? One of the worst. "Almost Like Love" was almost like bad as a hippie trippy rocker with Blues Brothers style horns plastered on top. The lone redeeming feature was hearing Trevor Rabin cut loose in a way he usually reserved for live performance. There's many bands that benefit from dipping into their R&B roots. Yes ain't one of them.

5. Love Will Find A Way

The lead single that hit about #40 on Billboard, "Love Will Find A Way" has been pointed to by Yes fans as the deal breaker for the Classic Yes following. I guess there was a lot of backlash about the poppiness of the song, personally it's one of my favorites. From the fancy strings at the beginning to the vocal trade off between Rabin in the verses and Anderson in the chorus, its all magic to me. Even the harmonica solo couldn't bring me down. And keyboardist Tony Kaye even does a little something (many of the keyboards of Yes West were by Trevor Rabin though Kaye gets full performer credit). Originally intended for use by Stevie Nicks, Rabin took the song back after the other band members heard the tune and wanted to do it. Giving us another Yes song with a totally awesome dance mix.

6. Final Eyes

A sort of rewrite of "And You And I" for the 80's, its a great song with Rabin's pleasant strumming guitar and atmospheric synths. A nice vocal blend in the chorus and Anderson really shines with some of his best lyrics of the album.

7. I'm Running

One of the strangest songs in the Yes canon, combined with "Final Eyes" it showed some of the Classic Yes mentality starting to creep into Yes West. A song filled with Nuclear fear, "I'm Running" brings back some of the epic longform songwriting the band was once known for. But what makes it different is this inexplicable Latin feel. The song jumps from this dancing Latin beat to a sleek Arena Rock groove and then the Classic Yes style of revisiting the chorus with a slightly faster performance each time around. It's a really good song, even if it is the equivalent of chocolate in peanut butter. And Tony Kaye shines again with a great keyboard part.

8. Holy Lamb (Song for the Harmonic Convergence)

During my summer job, I had this foreman that was asking each employee if they knew what the Harmonic Convergence was when he was handing out pay checks. If they said they didn't know, he threw their pay check on the ground for them to pick up. So when my turn came up, I said Yes. He asked me what it was and I faked it and said it was when all became like one. So he handed my pay check. I had no flippin' clue what the Harmonic Convergence was, but thanks to the song title I had heard the words before and could get by. Even after hearing this song, I had no clue. I looked it up once, I still can't remember what it meant. So what this song means to me is I got handed my pay check instead of picking it up out of the dirt. Thanks Jon Anderson!

Big Generator was a commercial disappointment compared to the previous record. Hmmm...I wonder if the four year wait had something to do with that. Anderson was very unhappy at this point in the bands career, he had come in at the tail end of the 90125 recording sessions so he didn't have a lot of influence over the bands sound at that time. He asserted himself more during Big Generator leading to...what's the phrase? Too many leaders and not enough followers? Anyway, between Anderson, Yes West creative guru Trevor Rabin and super Producer Trevor Horn the ego battles tore down the band. After the tour, Anderson would jump ship to form Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe in an attempt to reboot Classic Yes. But that is another story.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

" is written that if the evil spirit arms the Tiger with Claws, Brahman provided Wings for the Dove..."

I miss 70's movie posters, back when there were a lot of drawn and painted images. It's almost as good as Breaker Breaker!

" The Police cars are getting closer - closer...Closer to our soul hero and his soul mobile. Yeah Baby! They're about to strike, they're about to get him. Smash! Rape! The last beautiful free soul on this planet."

Even though it's plainly referenced in the liner notes of G N R's Use Your Illusion II's "Breakdown" as coming from the movie Vanishing Point (1971), I never gave it much pause for cause. I just took it as part of the song, so it was a bit of a shock to be watching this classic car film and in the middle find this awesome speech by Cleavon Little playing blind radio DJ Super Soul. Little's performance is a tour de force of hippie spaciness and preacher man fire. And it's just one element of this great movie.

For year's I've read about Vanishing Point being referenced as one of the greatest car movies of all time. But I never bothered to check it out until now. The film has fuel pumping action as a man who is unnamed for half the movie drives a kick ass Dodge Challenger across Utah, Nevada and California for no apparent reason. He speeds and antagonizes Police to instigate chases in which he out manuevers them like Keystone Kops. Along the way, he meets competitors on the road, allies at the edge of nowhere and a friendly snake wrangler with a hippie singing cult in the desert as he is guided by the radio DJ.

Very much a product of its time, Vanishing Point is all about Freedom baby, yeah! Not just any freedom, but that special early 70's freedom where there was still slim hope that hippie ideals could co-exist with drugs and the Man. The freedom that has a naked blonde riding a motorcycle around her house just because she's a free spirit. The freedom to listen to the Police band and then announce it on the radio in a parable so its coded. The freedom to drive your Dodge Challenger as fast and far as you want just because you can. The Dodge car and driver draw media attention in the film as they come to represent both sticking it to the man and a mad dash away from whatever demons haunts him.

So tune out, drop in and head over to the Vanishing Point. But you might find the former members of Audioslave there, because they edited themselves into the movie for their 2004 video "Show Me How to Live". You know what's sad about this kind of freedom? It's pretty much gone due to modern jadedness, as I kept thinking "How can he afford to burn up so much gas in this gas guzzling Dodge? Can't you rebel and get better gas mileage at the same time?" Guess I won't be invited to the commune. Peace!

Audioslave "Show Me How to Live"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Interrogative: Sign O the Times?

The Marines get ready for action in Generation Kill

Last night I finished watching the HBO mini series Generation Kill. Kill is about a set of Marine recon teams riding Hum Vees through the desert during the Iraq War. A controversial topic for HBO to tackle, though less controversial than when Fox tried it a few years ago and was lambasted for cashing in on current events. Its been awhile since I've watched a series this closely, but I had time so I figured why not?

After watching the series of about seven installments, tracing this group of Marines from their pre-war camp in Kuwait to the eventual end of the official part of the war in Baghdad, I came away feeling sad. Which is how I think the creators of the show wanted me to feel. Wisely, the show avoids hitting people over the head with its messaging and mostly hints at the more extreme negative aspects of what followed (for example, there is an incident of prisoner abuse but its not graphic and the prisoner himself is not hurt in the end).

What Generation Kill does well is make you spend a lot of time with fictional troops on a ground level. In Kill, the troops are mainly depicted as a group of young kids who love the fact that they are trained to be killing machines and can't wait to exercise their training. At the same time, they are under stocked (they have to buy their own batteries and given incorrect gun oils for desert action), misdirected (they receive incorrect travel orders and are given green battle fatigues) and immature (rampant racism and sexism). Their commanding officers force the Marines into hazardous situations in more of an effort to get battle glory than win any strategic objective. With this setting, the Marines struggle to get their kill shots while addressing the dead with a mix of remorse and cruel humor. At the same time, they're asked to be ambassadors to the masses of Iraqi people though they have no diplomatic training. The Marines start the series as young guns begging for action and become steadily disillusioned as time goes on.

What Generation Kill doesn't do well is create truly memorable characters. It took me about four installments before I started to figure out who was who and I never really did care for any specific character. There's also some change in tone for characterizations as the ground troops are given rounded humanistic treatments but their commanding officers are depicted as either total lunkheads or Full Metal Jacket nut jobs. The acting is fine all the way around but no breakout performances. The Iraqi people are not portrayed very positively, they are either opponents to be killed, innocent victims or needy survivors. The Kill show does give a sympathetic eye to their plight but they are viewed with some detachment.

Even with the War now being unpopular, it takes some creative courage to tackle a current theme like this so HBO and their producers do deserve some credit. They have succeeded in creating a thought provoking and interesting piece of entertainment. But Generation Kill falls short of completely involving me in the characters, so ultimately I can only say it was pretty good. Like on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say a 6. Time for me to go Oscar Mike (they kept saying this before leaving some place in the show).

Generation Kill trailer

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Midnight Madness - Watchmen Edition

Someone is going after the Watchmen while engineering a secret plot involving huge it Rupert Murdoch?

Who Watches the Watchmen? - Maybe no one, if Fox has their way. Fox has a lawsuit against Warner Bros claiming only Fox had the right to distribute the movie legally. Being sick, I finally took the time to read the comic (it was released in the 80's) and thought it was a fine piece of work. Too much money has been spent for it not to come out in some way eventually, but it will still be a bummer if Warner Bros theatrical release gets blocked. It's enough to make a guy head out to Mars or something. The movie trailer looks awesome.

Saxophonist Leroi Moore of Dave Matthews Band - Passed away this week at age 46. I'm a casual fan of DMB and think they're excellent musicians, very sad news.

Harvester of Sorrow - James Hetfield of Metallica erected a barbed wire fence on his land, blocking access to a popular public trail in Marin county. It's just not Metallica if they don't make somebody mad.

"The Day I Tried To Live"," The Day The Earth Stood Still" - Metallica's new song (hold on, I'm going to look up the title now) "The Day That Never Comes" is on the Internet and now that I've heard it, I'm really optimistic about the upcoming record. Many classic pre-Black album traits ran throughout the track meaning we might really get an album along the lines of Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets. That's probably a little too optimistic, I thought the song was strong but not the greatest thing ever made by mankind. But definitely a step in the right direction.

Turn up the Power WalMart Shoppers! - Release dates are set for the new AC/DC album Black Ice (release 10/20) and the lead single "Rock & Roll Train" (release 8/28). I was surprised to see some reporters listening to the album in advance to report the new album sounds like classic AC/DC. Isn't that what every AC/DC album sounds like? That's why I buy it!

Watchmen Trailer

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Little Guitars - My Ten Favorite Guitarists

It's Alive!

Well, it's been a long week for me I've been under the weather almost the whole time and a trip to the doctor yesterday was of the mostly good news / some bad news variety. I started this post earlier this week but didn't get past the first sentence so I've decided to give it another go. I've always had one or two favorite guitar players but I haven't ranked a listing of them since about 9th Grade. And, being the mature person that I am, I'm doing it again! To my surprise, a lot of my picks aren't shredders and while I'll be explaining why I picked these people and logical reasoning for it and yada yada yada-it's really just based on my emotional reaction to their playing. Also, I'm not a guitar player so I can't get all technical with keys or what string was used so there won't be a lot of that here. Though it won't stop me from sounding like I do. Know stuff, that is. For some reason, I wanted to write this like they were criminals or outlaws from the 1930s, so I kinda did. Ooooh you dirty rat, look here see, disclaimer is done this is how it's goin' down now.

10. John Frusciante

In a Nutshell: That guy Dave Navarro tried to replace.

Known Affiliations: Red Hot Chili Peppers and Solo

The Rap Sheet: Frusciante can get down to scratch funk, rock out in that 90's Alterna way, strum acoustic guitar beautifully and adapt to a wide mix of beats with taste and energy.

The Skinny: When I first heard the Chili Peppers, the thing that stood out to me was the bass playing by Flea (a great bassist, I just recently found out he provided the bass line to Young MC's Bust A Move) and the guitar work seemed secondary (though I liked the guitar to Taste The Pain and later came to appreciate his work from the Mother's Milk (1989) album). When Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) came out, I was more impressed with the meaty funk (Give It Away) and acoustic riffs (Breaking the Girl) Frusciante provided. Then he left.

Frusciante released a series of solo albums I've never heard, in reviews there were lots of mentions of being too "atmospheric" or "making the sound of water dripping slowly". Having not heard these albums I can't say if those critics were accurate or not. In any case, it seemed Frusciante went the opposite direction of RHCP by working on textures and experimenting with his sound while he was replaced with a revolving door of people in the Chili Peppers.

Based on this, Frusciante would not have made my list-it's what happened next that got him here. He rejoined the Chili Peppers for their 1999 release Californication and quickly spurred the artistic growth lacking in his absence. Californication found RHCP delving more into pop and quiet, atmospheric songs while still keeping the beat up on their funk rock jams. Frusciante's ability to move from jumpy blasts of rock to lyrical near acoustic passages attributed to Californication's success. The follow up, By The Way (2002), continued in this path but a little too much so for my taste (though I love his playing on Cabron). But Stadium Arcadium (2006) is a showcase for Frusciante as he adds electrifying rock guitar solos and even touches of Pink Floyd into the mix. And if that's not enough, he does a killer version of the Bee Gees How Deep Is Your Love except for the ending.

Favorite Album Performance: Californication gave Frusciante space to do his thang, ranging from classic RHCP funk rock (Around The World ) to midtempo lyricism with an awesome slide guitar lick (Scar Tissue ).

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: Frusciante delivers a flurry of fuzzed out Hendrixian notes at the end of Dani California (also see Number 7)

9. Brad Gillis / Jeff Watson

In a Nutshell: The Bay Area rockers tap and shred their way to glory.

Known Affiliations: Ozzy Osbourne (Gillis), Night Ranger and Solo

The Rap Sheet: Brad Gillis has to be the whammy bar champion of all time. Jeff Watson can shred like a speed demon but also holds notes at irregular lengths to make it stand out more. Together they're pure adrenalin.

The Skinny: The recently split tag team of Gillis and Watson gave what was termed "laser licks" (it was the 80's, lasers are fast man!) and some of the best non-metal twin guitar fury not seen since...I don't know when. No really, I just can't think of an example right now. Anyway, following a stint as Randy Rhoads initial replacement in Ozzy Osbourne's band (Over The Mountain ) Brad Gillis rejoined his original band Ranger that was then changed to Night Ranger to avoid a clash with another band of the same name. Brad Gillis' squalling and dive bombing whammy bar runs gave the group a distinct sound like on Don't Tell Me You Love Me or soaring through the clouds on Sister Christian as demonstrated on these instructional videos. I could listen to Gillis play all day, I think in high school I pretty much did.

But I can't downplay Jeff Watson's contributions which is why they're listed as a tag team. Watson handled a lot of the pastoral guitar parts they were known for like on Let Him Run and Goodbye while cruising on Four in the Morning or blazing through tracks like Can't Find Me A Thrill . His quicksilver riffing and fiery solos gave the perfect counterpoint to Gillis' whammy. Together, they were my favorite tag team on guitar. And on stage they ran around like a football team in two minute offense.

Favorite Album Performance: Can you top Dawn Patrol (1982)? I don't think so!

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: All of the guitars in (you Can Still) Rock in America is air guitar thunder baby!! And I think I recall Jeff Watson getting upset at people saying he got the finger tapping from Eddie Van Halen.

8. Steve Lukather

In a Nutshell: If you record in L.A. and you need a guitar part done and if he's not already working for someone else then you can call in Steve Lukather.

Known affiliations: Toto and Solo. As a session player- Michael Jackson, Chicago, The Tubes, Boz Scaggs, Cheap Trick, Hall & Oates, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Cher, George Benson, America, Don Henley, Manhattan Transfer, Christopher Cross, Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, Quincy Jones and Alice Cooper just to name a few.

The Rap Sheet: Controlled and professional but definitely not lacking in emotion. As Toto's career went on, Lukather's playing seemed to take on a harder edge but let's face it - this guy can play anything he wants to and make it sound perfect.

The Skinny: In the days before Internet, I had a different image of Steve Lukather. Lukather was the balladeer of Toto, writing and singing sensitive hand wringing love songs like I Won't Hold You Back or How Does it Feel . So I had this idea that he was this sensitive dude that could play kick ass guitar. It was kind of a shock when the Internet hit and interviews like This became common place. It turns out Steve Lukather is a tough talkin' guy, nothing wrong with that, just a surprise compared to the image I had from his songs. But that's cool.

Lukather plays so many different styles that it's hard to categorize him (and musicians hate being categorized anyway) so I'll just run through some of his greatest riffs like the often sampled slide guitar lick from Toto's Georgy Porgy ( MC Lyte's Poor Georgie is the best example). When I saw them live, Lukather's rockin' solo on White Sister was amazing. And then he could turn all jazzy like on "These Chains" from The Seventh One (1988) album. The dude could do it all.

Favorite Album Performance: Toto's Isolation (1984) record was a model of perfect AOR guitar playing. One critic derisively called the record something like an advertisement for their 80's rock studio skills. If you like Toto and read rock critics, you always had to reverse the meaning of what was written to get to the point of view you agreed with.

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: The solo at the end of The Tubes Talk To Ya Later is an awesome piece of AOR craftsmanship. As a dorky teenager, I literally fell off a diving board air guitaring to this solo. And no, I didn't hit the water.

7. Prince

In a Nutshell: Yup, he's a nut alright. A nut but a singular and incredible talent.

Known Affiliations: Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Christopher, Jamie Starr, The Time, The Family, Vanity 6, Apollonia, Jill Jones and a continuing list of protege's. (except for the ladies everyone named is pretty much him under different identites)

The Rap Sheet: Funky, funky, funky. Lots of James Brown style funk in there where the guitar kinda rides above the bass groove. And then some Jimi Hendrix thrown in. Prince is able to play any style in his own estimable Purple way. And it's just one of about a bazillion instruments he plays.

The Skinny: When he's not offending people at Super Bowls with his guitar posturing, Prince is a formidable performer on the fretboard. The guitar is usually in the middle of the mix of your usual Prince song but is no less important because of it. Memorable guitar parts include that opening bit with the gnarled intro into a twang on "When Doves Cry", the long solo at the end of "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" and even the slinky "Cream". Still, when he's just backing up the groove like on many a Prince jam ("Alphabet St." comes to mind) his playing is on the money and funk-ay. I also like how he uses stray hanging notes to show something slightly unhinged is happening ("Cream" is a good example but I'm sure he did it in other songs, I just can't remember right now). And to many an 80's kid, the Hendrix styled "Purple Rain" with it's drawn out coda is a near religious experience. Though he can't make any claim to one of the best known solos of his hit "Little Red Corvette", that was Dez Dickerson.

Favorite Album Performance: Are you kidding? Purple Rain (1984) of course!

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: The Hendrix styled spectacle at the close of "Let's Go Crazy" saw Prince move away from his R&B tag by out rocking just about every other guitarist around. So good it actually crossed over to Rock radio back in the day. Where's my puffy shirt and spotlight?

6. Lindsey Buckingham

In a Nutshell: Picking a winner.

Known Affiliations: Buckingham / Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Fritz and solo

The Rap Sheet: Finger pickin' good. Buckingham's style is finger picked and light with an acoustic guitar feel. Very heavy on creating sound textures with his guitar. Though if he needs to rock hard, he can. Up to a mid 70's level, that is.

The Skinny: The first guitarist I ever really idolized, I thought all guitar players didn't use a pick and moved herky jerky on stage (some guitarists have referred to their playing as "making love to the audience", I bet they've never seen Buckingham in action during I'm So Afraid. With every note he gives a long pelvic thrust at the audience and then grimaces. So be afraid. Very afraid.) Known more for his skills as a Producer than a guitarist, I like his unique sound and his custom made sorta banjo guitar.

Guitar wise, he started off as a more traditional sounding Country rocker on cuts like Go Your Own Way, Blue Letter and Never Going Back Again. His finger picked style fit in well with the Country edge. But at the end of the 70's, Buckingham adapted to New Wave and that's when the herky jerky started on tracks like Not That Funny. His stiff, choppy sense of rhythm came to the fore while his solos got more spindly. For the 80's, the guitar work became more involved with creating textures like the raining sound on the live version of Everywhere. His playing eventually condensed down to both the Country rock and New Wave influences to make a unique sound.

Favorite Album Performance: His third solo album Out of the Cradle (1992) showed his distilled style of guitar work to its best effect. The light and bouncy Don't Look Down , the smooth Countdown and the riff heavy This is the Time are just some of the highlights here.

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: The 1982 live version of The Chain features one of the most dramatic arrangements of this well worn tune including a frantic guitar solo at the close. Yes I'm runnin, Yes I'm runnin'!

5. John Petrucci

In a Nutshell: The only thing better than a 30 second shred solo is a ten minute one.

Known Affiliations: Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, Solo

The Rap Sheet: A Prog Metal King, Petrucci can lay a heavy groove and then shred all over it. He's assimilated from the great ones (such as Steve Vai and Alex Lifeson) to come up with a sound that's distinct to him.

The Skinny: I haven't heard of any of his work except Dream Theater. Fast and precise doesn't begin to describe his playing which has adapted from the upbeat and fist pumping 80's riffage to the grinding nu metal modern era without missing a step. Of the first era check out the spellbinding solo on Under a Glass Moon and then chase it down with the escalating riff to Innocence Faded. For the modern era, take the mix a You Tuber put together combining multiple solos to Solo Medley. And then remember he's in a Prog band that plays ten to 40 minute epics with multiple movements.

Favorite Album Performance: Well, for me Images and Words (1992) is tough to top on any level. I think I've posted about this album a few times so I won't bother to elaborate further. .
Favorite Air Guitar Moment: The brilliant soaring solo to Another Day is dramatic, bombastic and moving. Even when unplugged, like it is in this version.

4. Eddie Van Halen

In a Nutshell: Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!

Known Affiliatons: Van Halen. He worked for Michael Jackson one time, too.

The Rap Sheet: The man who brought us finger tapping and made shredding an art form. He used to play with his back to the audience so people couldn't see his hands.

The Skinny: Often imitated but never truly duplicated, Van Halen added a new vocabulary to Rock music. I think he's the last guitarist to truly innovate the instrument (at least in Rock music) on a mass scale. What set him apart from his imitators was the sense of personality that came from his playing. Where many shred guitarists played in a tight and regimented style to show technical skill and dominance, EVH wove his guitar parts together so they flowed smoothly. The Roth era was more playful as reflected in songs like Bottoms Up or Panama where big riffs and charged solos added to the Party Hearty atmosphere. In the Hagar era, EVH dropped the "Brown" sound and some of the playfulness went away in favor of a more direct approach like Poundcake. But not all of it, as shown on Finish What Ya Started. And through it all, Eruption is often ranked as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. Although I have a soft spot for Cathedral. All done with enough running scissor kicks to wear a hip out.

Favorite Album Performance: Fair Warning (1981) was the only Original Van Halen album where Roth took a back seat. EVH emptied his bag of tricks all over the disc, making it less accessible but no less impressive. Just listen to the mammoth guitars on Mean Streets or Unchained and I think you'll see what I mean.

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: No one from the "I Want My MTV!" era could forget Eddie Van Halen strolling across library tables in black and white to the tribal rhythms of Hot For Teacher. Or how EVH casually unspools one of his best solos filled with excitement and humor as brother Alex punctuates some parts with his snare. And who can forget that shudder to a stop followed by a loop the loop and crash bang ending?

3. Neal Schon

In A Nutshell: Randy Jackson (American Idol) once called Schon "The Rock Dawg".

Known Affiliatons: Santana, Journey, HSAS, Schon & Hammer, Bad English, Hardline, Paul Rodgers, Abraxas, Planet Us and Solo.

The Rap Sheet: Extremely fast and accurate while only occasionally resorting to shredding, Schon is known for his slick riffs and soaring guitar solos from Journey.

The Skinny: Schon's also a sort of performance addict in that he's repeatedly said thru his career that he can't stand not performing for longer than a few weeks resulting in a huge discography. That smooth yet biting approach that ruled cuts like Stone in Love or adding to the stratospheric climb of power balladry for Faithfully wrote the book for Arena Rock guitar. As polished and technical as his playing can be, there's always a sort of primal feeling to his performances that give it edge. In other bands Schon has shown an inclination to rock harder with meatier riffs like Hardline's Takin Me Down. He never dropped his Santana associations and would play with other early Santana members to revive the sound of the first three Santana albums. And as a solo artist he's branched out into different rhythms, like the pleasantly new agey Beyond the Thunder (1994) album. In the 70's, Schon had like a foot of hair on his head. You've gotta respect that! But if not, I think Schon has said the solo he gets the most compliments for is at the end of Who's Cryin' Now

Favorite Album Performance: Is Hagar Schon Arronson and Shrieve's Through the Fire (1984). It captures Schon in his Journey prime on holiday from his day job. Working with raspy meat and potatoes rocker Sammy Hagar instead of smooth tenor Steve Perry, Schon revs up his guitar of killer rockers like My Hometown and He Will Understand. But if you think he forgot his Journey roots, just listen to the dramatic Missing You. And then pump your fists in the air for the anthemic Top of the Rock. Yeah! Stay in School! (HSAS was formed for a series of benefit concerts for Bay Area schools, which was interesting because both Hagar and Schon were high school drop outs)

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: On the Raised in Radio (1986) record, Schon saw his creative involvement reduced but was given some lengthy solos in return. The solo at the end of their Top 10 hit Be Good To Yourself is feel great AOR bombast at its best.

2. Steve Howe

In a Nutshell: Play on Maestro!

Known Affiliations: Bodast, Tomorrow, Yes, GTR, Asia and Solo

The Rap Sheet: Heavily structured patterns that move like data thru fiberoptic cable.

The Skinny: Determined to come up with a Rock guitar style that was not based on the Blues, Howe pretty much threw everything else together. With Yes, Howe became the deciding factor in moving the British band's music forward from being a musicianly vocal group to an instrumentally based group with voice as a fifth instrument. Classic Yes material like the multi movement Starship Trooper, the outer space slide guitar on And You And I and the point/counterpoint riffage of Heart of the Sunrise relied heavily on Howe's abilities. With the end of Classic Yes, Howe adapted to the 80's by shortening his game and punching catchier guitar parts like on Asia's Heat of the Moment or GTR's When the Heart Rules the Mind. Throughout, Howe developed a solo career for his intricate noodlings and by the 90's had regrouped with Yes.
A special mention needs to be made about Howe's stage presence. He's one of the most committed musicians you can hear live and long ago he stopped worrying about holding back for the audience. So if you're not used to seeing Howe live, his guitar faces, awkward movements and at times crab like manuevers can seem a little goofy. But it's just an honest display of the man gettin' down. I got so much crap from friends after the MTV show Asia in Asia over Howe's antics.

Favorite Album Performance: For my money, his solo album Not Necessarily Acoustic (1994) put Maestro's best pieces in one place in live performance. Howe classics like Clap , Mood For A Day, Sketches in the Sun and "Excerpts from Tales For Topographic Oceans" get first class renditions with the focus all on Howe. Nous Sommes Du Soliel!

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: My sentimental favorite Howe song is Masquerade so I'm picking it as my favorite air guitar song for Maestro.

1. Stevie Ray Vaughan

In a Nutshell: Born to be Blue

Known Affiliations: David Bowie and solo

The Rap Sheet: Six string sting with the Blues and Hendrix.

The Skinny: The first time I ever heard of Stevie Ray Vaughan was in the late 80's, I had a friend who said he wasn't a fan but had to admit Vaughan was born to play the guitar. I wasn't into Blues so I never bothered to check SRV out and mostly heard about him via his untimely death. A few years back, I had a different friend who loved Blues and Blues Rock thru which we would trade CDs and videos to see various artists. I think he lent me the Live at El Mocambo video and I finally saw what the big deal was about. Vaughan played guitar like it was as natural as breathing, his thought and action seemed simultaneous. And what he played was emotional, profoundly sharp and skilled. On top of that, Vaughan would use a bag of stage tricks that he performed with ease, such as playing the guitar behind his back for like half a song.

So I delved into the SRV catalog and found a career packed with amazing performances. That he could play that much guitar and not recycle riffs or solos was really impressive to me. Favorite SRV tunes include the rollicking House is a Rockin' , the awesome Crossfire and the unlikely boogie Mary Had a Little Lamb. The Hank Ballard penned Look at Little Sister also gets repeat plays on my IPOD. And I really liked his team up with Jeff Beck for a dynamite Goin' Down. I got into his music about a decade after his passing, it all held up as honest heartfelt music.

Favorite Album Performance: The debut Texas Flood (1983) heralded Vaughan's arrival to the mainstream with a set of great songs like Love Struck Baby , Rude Mood and of course the Title Cut.

Favorite Air Guitar Moment: I think anyone who has played Guitar Hero 3 knows how great Texas Flood is from start to finish. But that solo at the end has more twists and turns than an M Night Shamalyan movie. And no fake ending!

And that's the list. So many other guitarists came close to making this list, but I had to go with my gut in making choices. Meaning I had a lot to go on. Ha ha. Say goodnight Gracie. Goodnight Gracie.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Bunny!

Today is my wife's birthday, so I just wanted to say I love you Bunny! Have a great day!

Stevie Wonder "I Just Called To Say I Love You"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Midnight Madness - Undertaker Edition

Dead Man Walking - The Undertaker returns to his signature match at Summerslam...Hell in a Cell.
The One Where Rachel Gets Dumped Again - I feel bad for Jennifer Aniston, she split with playa soft rocker John Mayer and now everyone thinks she's damaged goods. Not to get all Star magazine, but remember when Aniston and Courtney Cox were all over that dreadlocked Counting Crows guy? What was up with that?

Jerry Wexler passes away - One of the reasons Atlantic Records is a music legend, Wexler was important in signing or developing acts like Aretha Franklin, J. Geils Band, Led Zeppelin and Ray Charles. Modern music wouldn't have been the same without him.

It's Britney, B*tch - Rumors are that Britney Spears may return to the scene of last years crime at the Video Music Awards. I have a feeling she won't perform so she won't crash and burn like last year, it sounds kinda boring.

Lawyers in Love - Long time Democrat Jackson Browne is suing John McCain for using his song "Running on Empty" in a campaign commercial. To which McCain replied "Sir, I knew Glenn Miller and YOU are no Glenn Miller!" He didn't really say that, it's just the best joke I can come up with right now.
It is not time for a Love Revolution - Despite rumors, Lenny Kravitz will not be joining Velvet Revolver. Sorry guys, Lenny can't fake the funk. At the rate they're going, pretty soon they can form a band out of people who didn't want to be in Velvet Revolver. Speaking of which...

More Chinese Democracy rumors - The latest word is the long brewing Axl Rose led Guns N Roses album is again close to release. Though I'm sure it will make money, I still think this disc is more interesting as a mystery than anything that was actually recorded. But I haven't heard the recently leaked tracks so who knows? Oh yeah, people who have heard the leaked tracks.

Private Sessions with Foreigner - Sounds nasty! But seriously, it's a program on A&E that the long running AOR band recorded some songs for. And Daughtry's super duper edition of his debut album is said to include a version of "Feels Like The First Time". Too bad he couldn't do that one on Idol.

Stop Cloning now? - I generally try to stay away from movie reviews of something I might see so I can have an open mind when I view it, but negative reviews of The Clone Wars is all over the media. I'm still going to try to keep an open mind. These aren't the droids I'm looking for. Move Along. Move Along.

Something in the water - Swimmer Michael Phelps set a record for most Gold medals won at an Olympics this week while 41 year old swimmer Dana Torres took a Silver medal. USA! USA! In Hd! In Hd!

Summerslammed - I watched the Summerslam PPV this evening, the WWE put on a good show with strong production values.

  • Jeff Hardy vs MVP - Two young and capable wrestlers have at it. Kind of so-so except for a whiplash belly to belly suplex where Hardy practically lands on his neck. Pretty physical matchup.
  • Mickie James and Kofi Kingston vs Beth Phoenix and Santino Marella - Despite two belts on the line (Womens and Intercontinental) there is a lack of star power on this one. The talent is there but the match lacks oomph. Phoenix and Marella win the belts.
  • Shawn Michaels and his wife vs. Chris Jericho - Following his recent eye injury HBK announces his retirement from wrestling. That is, until Jericho punches Michael's wife in the face! I have a feeling retirement is over.
  • Matt Hardy vs Mark Henry - The match was mostly an excuse to get Jeff Hardy to run out and see the Hardy Boyz take out the Worlds Strongest Man. It's always great to see the Hardys in action.
  • CM Punk vs JBL - A surprisingly good match, the wrestlers come from two different worlds (Punk is a high flyer, JBL is old school ground game). CM Punk and JBL literally knocked heads resulting in a bloodied Punk and a dazed JBL adding an extra edge to a fine match. CM Punk wins to retain the Championship title.
  • The Great Khali vs Triple HHH - Mostly a squash match with Khali squeezing, slapping and hammering Trips six ways til, um, Sunday. Easily Khali's best match because he was working with The Game who knows how to sell and pace a match. Trips wins at the end with a Pedigree to retain the Championship.
  • John Cena vs Batista - The clash of the babyface titans was a solid match with a lot of reversals. Batista wins with two Batista Bombs.
  • Undertaker vs Edge - Hell in a Cell is a match type with a strong legacy tied to the Deadman. Most famous for Taker tossing Mankind off the top of a steel cage into an announce table several feet below, Hell in a Cell is known for big hits and blood. Edge and Undertaker do an excellent job of executing the big bumps by flying through fencing, taking tackles on top of tables and throwing people through the ring itself. A strong match that was very worthwhile.
Ywgnie! - Malmsteen's name came up recently so I thought it would be fun to post my favorite song of his, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" when he was with Alcatrazz.

Alcatrazz - "Hiroshima Mon Amour"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Genius in Overdrive

The Genius points the way to a comeback on his new disc Venus in Overdrive

A few weeks ago I downloaded two new albums by two 80's artists that I followed closely in the Reagan era: Night Ranger and Rick Springfield. While I liked the Night Ranger album I'm finding that its wearing out its welcome almost as fast as Toto's Falling in Between disc which is a disappointment because I'm a huge fan of both California bands. Meanwhile, I'm finding the Genius' latest opus to be a little more addictive to listen to. Why is that?

It's because on his new disc Venus in Overdrive, Springfield does what he does best - meld personal songwriting to contemporary mainstream pop rock. Teaming up with Matt Bissonette on songwriting, they focus on the themes of aging with the wisdom gained and fear of loss that comes from the passage of time. Musically, The Genius manages to sound as urgent and modern as a Tween act, streamlined driving rockers with airy choruses and hooks that drop like a ten ton thesis statement. The arrangements are made super tight until it is a polished sheen of pop rock goodness.

Venus can be divided into halves, the first half is an overt attempt to get attention with some strong results. The lead single "What's Victoria's Secret?" has a touch of 80's rock flair to it and makes for fun listening. "Oblivious" is one of the best songs on the album, a midtempo piece with a tortured mood and memorable vocal twist. But the first half also has the albums weaker songs, such as the Maroon 5ish title track and the decent but over simplified "One Passenger". The songs aren't bad though, just a little less than I expect from the Genius. Yet the catchy "I'll Miss That Someday" with its tricky word play helps to keep the first half's momentum flowing.

The second half is where Springfield cuts loose a little more like on the dark vitrol of "3 Warning Shots" where he spits his rage at Mark David Chapman. He also pays homage to some of his influences with the Stonesy swagger of "God Blinked (Swing it Sister)" and the Beatlesque melody to "Nothing is Ever Lost". "Saint Sahara" borrows a bit from the Paul Simon songbook as well but not to distraction. On this half of Venus the Genius sounds more relaxed and adds depth to the disc as a whole.

In the middle of the album is "Time Stand Still", the centerpiece both thematically and in song order. Backed by a rushing arrangment and plaintive "Wait for Me" hook, the song catalogs how Springfield sees the markers of time going by ("MTV and shopping malls / Tell me that I'm growing old") while delivering a youthful vocal.

Genius that he is, the two sides of Springfield play together perfectly as the poppy first half draws you in to the more personable second half. But Springfield downplays any stray thoughts with an energetic and at times really upbeat performance. For some reason the marketing made comparisions to Working Class Dog (1981) album to which I see only a slight likeness to in that they both have clean, smooth arrangements and production. Springfield's comeback bid is well made and is paying off (he just had his highest debut in years on the album chart). It helps that he's made a strong album to go with it, it's not a classic and has some weak moments, but overall is a fine addition to his underrated musical career.

Rick Springfield "What's Victoria's Secret?" on General Hospital

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Night Videos - New Music Week

Paying the fare to Death Cab for Cutie, Zooey Deschanel expands her indie dominance from films to music.

The week is winding down so here's two more songs from this year, both of these bands generated a bit of buzz over the past few months.

First up is Death Cab For Cutie whose new disc Narrow Stairs had a buzz before it was even released. Stairs was going to be the deal breaker for fairweather fans, maybe even their loyal following, it was going to be their most challenging effort yet. It was also going to be the best album of 2008 and was still given this title in some post release reviews. For me, I hopped on and off the Death Cab with Transatlanticism (I need you so much 'sniff' closer in 2003) which I enjoyed a lot but very little from their follow up Plans (2005) grabbed me. They defiantly released the epic length "I Will Possess Your Heart" as the lead single earlier this year which wasn't bad. It had a nice glowing feel and ditched their trademark winsomeness. Now their second single "Cath" has an echoey sound that reminds me of the early 90's Seattle bands like a lost tune from the Singles soundtrack. The video is pretty good too, it looks like Lukas Haas is the main actor though I didn't look it up so I could be wrong. This Death Cab may be worth catching.

The second vid is a duo buzzed about more for the singer's identity than the actual music. Actress Zooey Deschanel teamed up with M Ward to form the indie pair She & Him. Deschanel had a following as the 20 something thinking guy's dream girl for her roles in films like Almost Famous (2000), All the Real Girls (2003) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). Together with Ward they perform mild and pleasant Beatlesque pop. The music actually can stand on its own merits making the buzz they gathered worthwhile. And it helps to have an actress for the video!

Death Cab for Cutie "Cath"

She & Him "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Ting Ting Club

A high school with a library larger than most city libraries. A land where people actually dance to the music of E.G. Daily instead of laughing at it. A time when goths were nice, punks cared and preppies ruled. Where is this place?

A little new old style New Wave to celebrate Wednesday.

With TV commercials being the new radio, The Ting Tings recently had a choice spot when their song "Shut Up and Let Me Go" was featured in an Apple Ipod commercial. The flashy commercials and early 80's New Wave beat caught my attention so I downloaded the song from Amazon. Hearing the whole song was even better, the Naked Eyes style groove (reminds me a bit of Promises Promises) and bratty girl vocal added more to the hook to make three minutes of Pop pleasure.

You just don't hear innocent New Wave any more, even by 1987 you didn't hear it, so to hear the British duo of Jules De Martino and Katie White take me back to the days of when there were No More Words in Berlin and Missing Persons were Destination Unknown is a treat. If I could go back in time, I guess I would be a New Wave dandy for one day. I'd wear a shoulder padded blazer and pout in slow motion just like that dude in Simple Minds when he sang Don't You Forget About Me . Actually, I take that back - I wouldn't do that because it wasn't my style and seemed really trendy at the time. Besides, if it's one thing I've learned its that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basketcase, a princess and a criminal. No, you can't go back. But you can listen to new music that similates going back and that's "Shut Up and Let Me Go". A New Song that Rules!

The Ting Tings "Shut Up and Let Me Go"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From Zero to Hero - the Force is with you

See those colored dots? Think about 50 more dots moving at you in warp speed while you try to press the matching colored dot on your double AA battery guitar. You've got Dragonforce fever!

Continuing with a focus on new music this week, here's a band so unreal it's real:

This past Christmas when I got Guitar Hero 3 as a present, it was the first time I had played any game in the Guitar Hero series. My wife and I had a great time rockin' to classic tunes like "Mississippi Queen" and burying Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) in a guitar challenge. When we got to the end of the game, we felt satisfied that we had beaten Slash, Morello and Satan-conquering the world for rock and roll.

So the credits rolled and music played like they do at the end of a lot of video games. But while I watched the credits, I realized something: the game wasn't over. It was a trick, the little multicolored circles that represented notes were still flowing in a pattern that matched the music! I tried to play along but the song was moving too fast for this old man and my awesome plastic hero guitar made those squonk and gurgling noises that happen when you miss the note by a mile. Notes flew through the screen like I was strapped in a jet plane zipping over Skittles colored mountains. There was an insane amount of shredding going on and I had to stop because it was just crazy to try and keep up. I was convinced that this song was made up for this game just to mess with people. Dragonforce? What kind of made up name is that?

While I was reading Jeb's blog a while ago I found out that it was actually a real band that did this song and they really were called Dragonforce. He mentioned they have a new song and album coming with the unfortunate title Ultra Beatdown. So I downloaded the song Through the Fire and Flames from Guitar Hero 3 and have found it's a great song to exercise to (I still can't play it on GH3 though, I'm just too slow). And the video for their new song "Heroes of our Time" gives a second helping of speed-of-light shredding, Viking vocals and pummeling rhythms. Sometimes they riff so fast it sounds like a Pochinko game. Which reminds me, is there a Guitar Hero setting easier than Easy? I still need to finish that song!

Dragonforce "Heroes of Our Time"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Second Chance Johnny?

It's not his fault - The American Fool outlasts his biggest fan to make an impact.
I've decided to focus on recently released music this week and I decided to start with my arch enemy - John Mellencamp. But the sad thing is, it's really nothing that Mellencamp has done that's caused me to despise him. He writes good songs, performs them with a direct approach and lived-in feel, he takes on charitable causes for farmers and speaks his mind on what he considers American rights and values. So what's the hubbub Bub?

I had a friend that for years idolized John Cougar Mellencamp to the point that anyone who had extended contact with him ended up hating Johnny Cougar. Every successful (and even somewhat unsuccessful) artist attracts fans like this (my friend and I obsessed on Survivor for a while to the point my wife can stand them) and like they say the word fan is short for fanatic. He would talk about John Mellencamp as if he knew the guy personally (he would say things like "John is planning a world tour and is thinking of having another child") and force you to listen to either Mellencamp or the Beastie Boys at every turn. If my friend couldn't play one of those artists, he would shout the lyrics to their songs loudly over whatever you were playing or try to make a catchphrase out of it (like the Beastie Boys had this line that said something about "let all the flies skimmer" that he repeated constantly at random for months). This friend I knew for about 10 years (I'm just mentioning this friend's negative points because it relates to the post, he isn't a bad person) so I had conditioned myself to really hate John Cougar whatever he wanted his name to be Mellencamp. Even if I did like "R.O.C.K. in the USA", "Hurts so Good" "Key West Intermezzo" or "Paper in Fire".

I haven't seen this friend in a long time so now I'm starting to get to the point that I can listen to a few Mellencamp songs in a row without wanting to ridicule it (but if you do want to ridicule him, always rip on the song he had his Grandma sing. I had another friend whose favorite Mellencamp joke was to imitate this song in the Grandma voice with they lyrics "It was a dark stormy night / John sat on my face". Not the most mature joke, but we were teenagers). And again, these jokes and insults weren't really John Mellencamp's fault. He didn't ask for obsessive fans that would annoy the hell out of other people by putting up a Mellencamp standee (an in-store standee from the Whenever We Wanted album) in the middle of the room or punch you and anyone else in the arm that wasn't looking whenever "Authority Song" was on.

So Johnny John Cougar The Kid Inside Mellencamp, if that is your real name, I'm going to let bygones be bygones. I heard the new song "My Sweet Love" with its garage band beat and Bob Dylanish video treatment and really enjoyed it. And after two plus decades of quality rock and roll, I guess the guy deserves a second chance. Like the vaudevillian performers from Family Guy would say, Play me out Johnny! You've got a New Song that Rules!

John Mellencamp "My Sweet Love"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Midnight Madness - John Edwards edition

The poster boy of boring sex scandals, even the mistress is saying the illegitimate baby isn't his.
Calling this post "The John Edwards Edition" may seem like a cheap shot (because it is) and in no way is meant to be for or against Edwards politically, just display my annoyance with this story being flooded on every media outlet imaginable. I guess by posting this I've made myself part of the problem instead of the solution. But I assure you, you cannot beat me up more than I've beaten myself up. Now on with the Midnight Madness!

"Listen Up America" - Comedian Bernie Mac passed away at age 50. I caught his show every once in a while and enjoyed his humor, a sad loss.

Easy Reader Blues - It was a rough week for actor Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight, Wanted), he had a car accident and divorced his wife. But I bet he narrated the hell out of that accident for the Police report.

What's a Jonas Brother and do I want to know? - There is a full scale assault on the media that insists we all must know about the Jonas Brothers. I have no idea who these teens are, they look like a dark haired Hanson or the kids that take my order at Burger King. And now I feel really old.

The Other Way of Stopping - The Police played their final show at Madison Square Garden wrapping up their reunion with a nice little package. At least they're saying it's over this time instead of the slow fade out they did in the 80's.

I AM the band! - The stereotypical mantra of band leaders everywhere has come true for Andrew Stockdale as the two other members of Wolfmother quit.

Not So Sweet - Ex Sugarland member Kristen Hall is suing her former band mates saying she had a deal that she would continue to get a cut of the Country group's profits made following her departure in 2005. If this turns out to be true all I can say is- Wow, how do I get a deal like that? I wish my jobs would keep paying me after I left, that would rule.

Here Comes the Pain - Former WWE champion Brock Lesnar has migrated to mixed martial arts and recently won a match at an Ultimate Fighting Competition. I don't follow ultimate fighting, but still I'll say Go Brock Go! based on his Pro Wrestling past. I saw Lesnar at a WWE house show once, the man is built like a tank.

Finger Lickin' Good - Before the Olympics began, every media outlet dedicated massive media send reporters to the streets of Beijing to eat fried silkworms and scorpions. What news coverage I've seen has given me more details on people eating fried bugs on a stick than on any Olympic event. I can't name a single Olympian yet I've seen three different reporters eat Seahorses. Priorities people!

Update: Isaac Hayes passes away - The man who gave us some great funk jams and voiced Chef on South Park has passed away.

Making Plans for Nigel - Producer Nigel Lythgoe is leaving American Idol. Another job Ryan Seacrest can take over!

Mini Movie Reviews -

  • Crank - Stars Jason Stratham as a hit man who has ingested a poison that can only be delayed by maintaining a high level of adrenalin. This is just a plot device to excuse Stratham to go off Grand Theft Auto style with random violence, public sex and stolen vehicles. Even the visual style of a map detailing the city and different images scrolling on and off the screen recall GTA. But mission based plot lines are boring if you don't have a controller in your hand. Avoid this if you can.

  • Shoot 'Em Up - Sin City was a really good flick, so good you can make a movie out of it's left overs. High caliber actors Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti and Monica Belluci ramble through this mess of a movie that could only be complimented if I called it "cartoonish". There was one good moment though, I liked where Giamatti says "F*ck me Sideways", a clever reference to his breakthru film.

  • Dan in Real Life - The story of a widowed newspaper columnist raising three daughters and meeting the girl of his dreams at a family reunion has a bit of Lifetime channel written on it but a strong cast and warm direction elevate the material. Steve Carrell proves he can dial down his Idiot Savant act to give a grounded performance. And Juliette Binoche is as flightily enchanting as always (when she plays that type of role, that is). Plus, a bearable version of Dane Cook! Everyone's a winner here, a pleasant movie.
Long Train Runnin' - My wife and I had a fun couple of days in Lake County. We brought some Doobie Brothers Cds to listen to in the car so we could hear "Ukiah" but we managed to bring the wrong disc. I found the song on You Tube, so here's the song for you honey!

Doobie Brothers "Ukiah"