Friday, October 31, 2008

Top 10 Favorite Horror Related Videos

Hmm...doesn't look so scary with just Milla Jovovovich (is that how it's spelled? That's probably wrong) standing there.

It's Halloween which means its time for trick or treat. I'm not big on horror. Never been my thing. Today is Halloween though, so it seems fitting to have a salute to horror! I'll start by talking about the scariest movie I ever saw - Resident Evil. The weird thing is, watching it wasn't that scary. There was action and gore and monsters and such but what was scary was after the movie was over. I pondered death and mortality for a while after seeing that movie, you would think seeing The Seventh Seal would do this, but it was Resident Evil. Go figure. Anyway, here's my Top 10 favorite horror music videos:

10. Michael Sembello - Maniac (1983)

Flashdance! Be afraid. Be very afraid. Just joking, I don't mind Flashdance. This song by Michael Sembello was originally written with slasher film lyrics that were changed for the Jennifer Beals classic. I'd love to hear those original lyrics. Unrelated to this subject, in high school I wore a grey long sleeve shirt to a pickup game of football in the park. A tackler grabbed the collar of my shirt and ripped the shirt down to the arm leaving it my bare shoulder hanging open. On the walk home, I had to hear people say "Hey Flashdance!" The horror...the horror.

9. Talking Heads -Psycho Killer (1977)

Going to get a little brainy and throw out some Talking Heads and not the Reanimator type either. Everything sounds better to a Talking Heads beat, even as David Byrne quavers out "Psycho Killer / Ba Ba BA Ba Ba BA Ba BA Ba" to a steady but relentless thumping beat.

8. Dokken - Dream Warriors (1987)

The Freddy Krueger series was starting to get a little toothless by the time Dokken recorded "Dream Warriors" for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3. The first movie I considered to be one of the best fright flicks of the decade. By the third go around, the sleep killer needed a little boost and Dokken was there to rock out in the church set where the finale takes place. One, two Dokken's after you. Three, four better shut the door. Guitarist George Lynch gets like the best entrance in the video. Cool Skull and Bones guitar too.

7. Nine Inch Nails - Closer (1994)

Disturbing, grainy, scratchy - and then there's the video. The clip opens with a heart strapped to a chair pulsing out steam and then proceeds to throw mechanized pig heads, Saw like torture chambers and hints at S&M. There's an edited for TV version linked here because I thought that would be enough for this post. Bugs, raw meat and reptiles - oh my!

6. Ozzy Osbourne - Bark at the Moon (1983)

Ozzy played up the more cartoonish aspects of his "occult" image after leaving Black Sabbath. In '83 he went whole hog by turning into a sort of werewolf for the album cover and video of Bark at the Moon. There's a little Jeckyl and Hyde thrown in too. Backed by new guitarist Jake E Lee, Ozzy alternates between his most cleancut look and the hairy monster. But the thing I really take away from this video - Extreme Closeup! BwaHaHa!!
5. Rihanna - Disturbia (2008)

The Pop sensation went spooky with her recent smash hit, the director utilizing all of those modern horror effects of insect like body movements and a parade of freaks surrounding her. She even does those pupil-less contact lenses to give her eyes a blank white look. Like when Captain Kirk had to face off against Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell who had achieved God like powers in Star Trek. The rest has elements of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and that movie Jacob's Ladder where peoples heads would move in a big blur.

4. Metallica - One (1988)

The Metal warriors had cred galore when they issued this all time classic video taking scenes from the film Johnny Got His Gun and whittling it down to a few minutes that may make it more powerful than the whole film. The thought of being entirely cut off from contact or communications with others but still conscious and alive - that's scary.

3. Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People (1996)

Flagrantly shoving the grotesque in people's faces is what Marilyn Manson specialized in. This song I associate more with Wrestling than horror (it was the theme song to WWE's Smackdown for a while). The video has troubling wraith like visuals delivered in an almost dreamlike trance. It would probably be scarier but I'm watching Smackdown at the same time so it's making me think of the Undertaker's Casket Match more than anything else.

2. Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982)

How could this not make the list? It just seems wrong not to name it, a milestone in Pop culture. Though I think recent history has shown the Gloved One is scarier in real life than on film.

1. Level 42 - "Something About You" (1986)

Is there anything more frightening than an ugly clown that suddenly confronts you to mess with your life? If you're me, then the answer is No and so the video for this mid-80's mellow classic is the most haunting thing I've seen in music. The image of the lead singer in stark white visual effect laughing in the hallway as the camera runs away is burned in my brain. Yeah dude, there's something about you that scares the hell out of me.

Level 42 "Something About You"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Artist Spotlight: Def Leppard 1980 - 1992

Union Jack shorts and shirts. MTV. Snotty kids spouting arrogant nonsense. The first impressions of Def Leppard resonated with me, they had great songs, rock n roll attitude and flash to boot. In 1983, who didn't like Def Leppard? They made Metal more mainstream with naggingly catchy songs that mixed guitar crunch with synthesizer cush. They came from Sheffield, England-five guys that rode with the British New Wave of Heavy Metal crowd while varnishing an "American" sound. Joe Elliott (vocals), Steve Clark (guitars), Pete Willis (guitars), Rick Savage (bass) and Rick Allen (drums) embarked on what would be one of the most successful and tragic careers in Rock history. Their debut EP got the ball rolling leading up to their debut album...

On Through The Night (1980)

I should probably cut this album some slack because it's the debut and it does what a lot of 1st albums do: display the core of their talent. The basic elements of the band's sound - airy harmonies, slick guitar riffs and thunderous drums - run through the whole record. But it lacks the needed focus particularly in the songwriting, perfectly normal for a rookie album. Still, I could never get into this record. Songs like Wasted or Hello America were pretty good but I can't remember anything else from this album. It has youthful aggression on its side though.
High N Dry (1981)

The focus was brought in the form of Producer Mutt Lange, the "Sixth Leppard". Lange ushered in a fuller sound alongside sharpened songwriting skills and a touch of muscle that comes from recently producing AC/DC. The first side is an instant classic featuring some of my early favorites like the blitz of Let it Go (Joe Elliott later revealed this song really is about "letting go"), and the drunken fun of High N Dry (Saturday Night). The unforgettable extended Steve Clark driven instrumental Switch 625 follows their ultimate power ballad Bringin On The Heartbreak. It's just too bad the second side falls off so quickly, the songs becoming less memorable by the second. On the old tape, I used to skip to the end for the bonus tracks of remixed Bringin on the Heartbreak with special added sound effects and one of the band's trashiest rockers Me and My Wine. Oh, by the way. One of the worst album covers I've ever seen. And Def Leps first Platinum record.

Pyromania (1983)

The promise of the first two albums comes together in a big way on Pyromania. Def Lep had their first lineup change since the debut record with the firing of Pete Willis. Guitarist Phil Collen was recruited to replace Willis and he quickly served up a series of outstanding shred solos. Armed with classic Metal lyrical themes (Love gone wrong, Rock show frenzy and being a general outlaw) and a more refined twin guitar attack, the Lep pounced on opportunity. Photograph opened the door with a spectacular Marilyn Monroe inspired video. Barb wire and overworked smoke machines collide to make Def Leppard the "it" band of the moment. They get biblical on the hard rock chant of Rock of Ages. And the amazing F-F-F-Foolin'. Even album cuts like Rock Rock Til You Drop and Too Late 4 Love hit hard with Elliot's screaming vocals leading the charge. I played the tape on the way to L.A. that year, a relative pulled over the car when the helicopter sounds of Die Hard the Hunter (this video is shot from the actual concert I attended in 1988) started up because she thought it was the Police (we had a decent car stereo). Lange's continued emphasis on work ethic in the studio shined up their sound to diamond sharpness. One of my all time favorite albums, Pyromania is the perfect model of Pop Metal. It sold about six million copies in its first run eventually climbing to ten million.
Hysteria (1987)

After shooting to the top of the rock heap Def Leppard fumbled around for a follow up. Mutt Lange wasn't available for production leaving the group to attempt to record with Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf). After failing to find paradise by the dashboard light, the band produced themselves. In the midst of this, drummer Rick Allen was in a serious car accident that resulted in the loss of his left arm. To his credit, Allen used modern technology to relearn the drums using his feet more than his arm. Rumor had it that the Lep recorded a whole album only to scrap it for sounding too much like Pyromania (I like to think my favorite B sides to Hysteria came from this period, like my favorite Def Lep song Tear it Down). Finally, Mutt Lange became available to produce and he again took Def Lep to the next level.

Hysteria had the most interesting shelf life of any album I've ever witnessed. When released in the Summer of '87, the lead single Women led me to believe this was another great round of Pyromania. It was one of the first CDs I ever bought (I didn't even have a CD player at the time, I just knew people who had them), after the opening with "Women" the album went into "Rocket". And I left that song confused. It was long with a weird mix section in the middle and had a bouncy beat. It sounded like nothing I had heard them do before. Much of the rest of the album was like that, except for the straightforward stomper Run Riot. A lot of mid tempo songs, odd sound effects, Boston-ish overlapping of endless guitar tracks, less Rock thrills and more melody- it was a strange album. The turning point where the band chose to emphasize their Glam Rock roots. Eventually, I got used to it and played it a lot by the time I returned to College. Gods of War sounded great in the dorm room, all political and what not (nuclear fear!). They scored their first #1 hit with the power ballad Love Bites and made Top 10 with the Title Song. Animal (another guy in the dorms had to explain to me that this song was about women. I just didn't get that) also gained traction with rock fans. After the standard 4 single releases most Platinum albums got in the 80's, a year had passed and it looked like that was it for Hysteria.

In the Summer of '88 a fifth single was issued. A fifth single was usually for albums that were blockbusters, not albums whose push had played out. So it was a shock when Pour Some Sugar On Me became the monster hit of that Summer. One of the first rap rock songs to get on the radio after "Walk This Way", "Sugar" was hooky as hell and had something for everybody. It pushed the Hysteria record back up the charts and put Def Leppard back at the top of the mountain. The renewed push made hits out of Armaggedon It and Rocket. They had to consciously stop issuing singles as Exciteable started to make radio play when the band pulled the marketing plug. By the time it was all over, Hysteria had sold over ten million records. An all time classic album, though I had a friend stop liking them at this point because "this was when everyone and their Moms started liking them."

One last note to the Hysteria story, my wife knows these songs really well. I always like to hear her sing Def Leppard.

Adrenalize (1992)

Four year gaps between albums were becoming the norm for the Lep including all the tragedies in between. Guitarist Steve Clark died in 1991 from a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol after years of slow deterioration due to alcoholism. It was a bit of a shock to me because I was a fan and he was one of the first from my generation of rockers to die. At least one of the first to really matter to me beyond general sadness for passing of another person. Clark's impressive guitarwork, particularly on the High N Dry album, will always remind me of him.

Clark's passing came during the recording of Adrenalize, the remaining group finished the album as a quartet. Produced by Mike Shipley with some involvement from Mutt Lange, Def Leppard peeled back the experimental excesses of Hysteria while retaining that album's focus on melody over guitar roar. My favorite Def Leppard video Let's Get Rocked was the lead single and best remembered track from Adrenalize, even recently being used in TV ads. Make Love Like a Man got flak for being dumb which did not stop me from getting hooked on that tune too (more cowbell please!). The power ballad Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad (look at the length of that song title, guess they did learn something from Steinman) was effective. More gems were found with the B-52's influenced Personal Property or the AOR heaven of, uh, Heaven Is. Though there were some weak moments as well, Tonight sounded like what it was, "Love Bites" jr. And the remake of Tear it Down couldn't compare to the rough n ready B side.

Adrenalize gets a little mercy due to the circumstances it was made in, though it doesn't really need it. It's able to stand on its own merits as a good album with some really worthy tracks. Thanks to their career momentum they were able to initially withstand the onslaught of Grunge and still hit Triple Platinum. A well deserved victory lap for one of the best selling bands of the 80's.

Vivian Campbell (Dio, Whitesnake) joined the band in 1992 for the Adrenalize tour starting the second half of the group's career. To close part one, here's a nice online tribute to Steve Clark from You Tube!

Steve Clark tribute to "Switch 625"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pretty Fly for a Dork Guy

The Partridge Family of the 80's hit the runway ready for take off. Now I'm out of Jets metaphors, doesn't this picture remind you of the opening credits to Family Ties? Mallory!

For no apparent reason, this song has been stuck in my head for the past few days. Maybe it's the time of year, I still live in the city I grew up in and around now I suppose is the time of high school dances. The weather is right, it's dark and a bit cold at night. Perfect temperature to walk into an overheated gymnasium and wobble about in a way that mimics dancing. And this song along with their other dance single "Curiosity" was played often at the dances I went to.

I haven't heard The Jet's "Crush on You" recently, so I can't figure out why I keep humming it. The song was a stone cold 80's dance classic, well, not at the time but since then. A fantastic pop song, endlessly hooky with its busy body keyboards and whooshing beat. Shortly after graduation I saw The Jets as part of a package tour that included New Edition and Morris Day and they put on a good show. A few years later, their career had disintegrated leaving a dwindling supply of Jets (there were about four people left out of what seemed like an original eight people and only two of them came from their popular phase) to play the local county fair. Even family loyalty couldn't keep them together (the original unit were said to be all related).

So here's the latest trip to the past, when girls wore bright colored clothes, leg warmers and big hair. What would we do baby, without us? Sha la la la. Sit Ubu sit. Good dog.

The Jets "Crush on You"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Republic Credits will do fine

Anakin Skywalker and his High School Musical ready padawan apprentice take on your TV set in The Clone Wars.

While doing more channel surfing, I stumbled across the new Star Wars animated tv series The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network (Fridays at 8pm). Although I skipped the theatrical Clone Wars animated movie, I thought for free I'll check the new Star Wars series out. And all I can say is, there is something to be said for lowered expectations.

That's not necessarily bad, it actually works in Star Wars favor this time. On the big movie screen, there is an expectation that you are seeing a singular event. It has to be something distinct and of some quality because at the very least you probably paid money to see it. With Star Wars movies in particular, that expectation built on the first two films (Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) is extremely high. As a viewer, you want to feel the same thrills of blowing up the Death Star or lengthy lightsaber fights in the sequels as you did in the originals because otherwise what's the point? Since returning to the Star Wars brand in 1999, creator George Lucas failed to meet those heady heights repeatedly with the exception of Revenge of the Sith which got within striking distance of greatness (and then Amidala died of a broken heart. Couldn't she of died of a damaged larynx? Was that soooo much of a stretch?). With television, that expectation isn't quite as high. If what you're watching is better than reruns of Wings, you're halfway there.

Also, the switch from film to tv works to Luca's artistic advantage as well. The visuals don't have to be as mind blowing because it's on a smaller scale. In that category, Luca's team actually comes up with some pretty good stuff with the ships flying and fighting coming off very well. They actually exceed a lot of other TV shows in this category in my book. The computer animated people are just OK, their movements are a bit stiff and it feels a lot like the Starship Troopers computer animated tv series a few years back. So visually The Clone Wars is acceptable, though if this is what they did for the movie I'm glad I'm waiting 'til video.

But what ultimately hurt the prequel trilogy was mostly the storytelling know, 80% of what makes a movie watchable. And here, The Clone Wars has both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones beat. The action and plotlines are more thought out, providing more detail in the Star Wars universe. The characters interact better and are more believable than their live action counterparts. Even the hidden romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amadala works here, no hold-me-like-you-did-at-the-lake-at-Naboo here. And the voice actors have more chemistry than Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman ever did. While the tone is decidedly tweenish in terms of characterizations (all characters act like they're 12) the first two prequels were like this too, but somehow seeing animated people do it works where real actors failed.

After watching two and a half episodes, I can say The Clone Wars tv series is a worthwhile thing to catch if you're a fan (and there are millions of people who are). It's not the greatest thing ever yet it does elevate the quality of the Attack of the Clones movie by at least continuing that storyline in more detail (the war after, that is). I find it interesting that Luca's vision is more fully realized here than in those prequels, for better or worse. Every once in a while during these episodes, I get a twinge of that old "Holy Crap it's Star Wars!" feeling that was missing from the adventures of Jar Jar Binks. At this point in time, I think much of the general public probably feels they've drunk enough of George Luca's Kool Aid but for me Republic Credits will do fine. Roger Roger.

Star Wars The Clone Wars Tv series trailer

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No Turntables and a Microphone

The ever evolving Beck goes for the Amish look this time out.

I'm a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to Beck, the alt rock troubadour that started his career in the early 90's. To be exact, I started liking Beck about four months ago. While I was doing one of my favorite things, sifting through a $3.00 stack of CDs including endless copies of Michael Bolton and Britney Spears discs to find those rare gems found in between, the record store blasted Beck on the stereo. I don't even know what album it was, all I knew is that it sounded lively, unique and fun. So I decided to go on a little Beck kick and part of it was nabbing his new disc, Modern Guilt.

Hyped as his collaboration with the Producer named Danger Mouse, Beck defies all of my expectations with the new album. That's not necessarily a good thing since I just started listening to him, but I'll play along. Modern Guilt is a somber disc with much of the bouncy wit I was getting into removed. The hallmarks of Beck's sound are intact, things sound a bit askew as dance beats and electronic blips merge with oddball pop instincts and folky guitar. And always adding something new, Beck has a touch of 60's pop in the feel of this one which softens things a touch. In spite of this, Beck sounds remote and distanced-often singing in hushed tones as if he's mumbling into a microphone 30 yards away.

That's not to say the tranquilized version of Beck can't come up with good songs. Gamma Ray has the most life to it with a pleasant surf rock groove to bounce along to. The title song also has some signs of playfulness with its jaunty beat and Atari sound effects. Replica combines a tolling keyboard bell sound with a rapidly shuffling rhythm and swoony voices to make you feel like you're trapped in a Macy's elevator. You feel subjected to mass media advertising and consumerism to a degree that is as anxiety inducing as it is soothing and comforting. That's a bit of a stretch, but that's what I got out of it.

Beck has followed his muse to create new music that is challenging and distinctive. Taking modern dance beats and stripping them down to fit fairly melancholy sounding songs and a subdued persona has created music that seems filled with a dissociative sense of dread. The album title Modern Guilt is very fitting because that's pretty much how I felt when hearing this disc. It's not quite the Beck album I thought it would be, I found this to be mildly enjoyable with some good parts and respect the artist's drive to push forward in an uncompromising fashion.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Focus On ...The Many Faces of John Cafferty

The pictures of John Cafferty online are pretty small (how small was it?!) , so I had to use Michael Pare'. Even in his own post, John Cafferty has to look like Pare'.

In the recent movie Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. said "I'm a dude pretending to be a dude pretending to be another dude." While I sat and watched Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (he does dammit!) I was reminded of this quote as I watched Michael Pare' lip sync mightily to the Springsteenish growl of John Cafferty. And it made me wonder who is John Cafferty? I've bought his records, I've even seen him live, but I know almost nothing about him. And what's more, I've never bothered to find out anything regarding Cafferty. That's actually part of what I liked about him, Cafferty served up fist pumping heartland rock in an uncomplicated way. You felt grounded and blue collar listening to John Cafferty, but you didn't have to think as hard as when you heard Springsteen. Instead of being The Boss, John Cafferty was the Assistant Manager. But a good one who would slash prices and throw in an extra item to make the sale.

So let's take a look at the man behind the music (please wait one moment while I process your request...) John Cafferty comes from Narragansett, Rhode Island. He had local success in New England before his "big break". That's it, that's all the info I could find. Well, that definitely filled in the blanks. John Cafferty led an E Street style unit, they were known as John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. That may sound like an X rated movie from the 70's but it really was their name. Despite the catchy moniker they were never able to truly stand on their own. Johnny had to rely on others to get his music out to the public. So it goes, John Cafferty - man in the shadows!
Eddie Wilson/Joe West

Between this and Streets of Fire, Michael Pare' had a serious jones for rock and roll musicals. But to me, he'll always be that kid from The Greatest American Hero. Which reminds me, Streets of Fire was a Bruce Springsteen song. The plot thickens!

Cafferty hit the national spotlight in one of the most roundabout ways imaginable. He provided the voice and soundtrack for the film Eddie and the Cruisers (1983). The film starred Michael Pare' as Eddie Wilson, a cross between Jim Morrison's tortured brooding and Springsteen's bar band warrior plus a little Dylan thrown in, trolling through the 60's looking for success. When Eddie got the big stardom using the Dark Side, he recorded his ultimate musical statement Season in Hell and then became embittered by the record company resistance to its lack of commerciality. Mysteriously, Eddie Wilson drove his car off a bridge and disappeared. Initially none of this mattered because the movie bombed at the box office. But the next summer it was heavily featured on the pay channel HBO which spurred the song "On the Dark Side" into the Top 10. "Dark Side" with it's poetic piano, stomping groove, wild sax and angsty heroism put the best features of The Boss behind a movie star face. Cafferty/Pare'/Wilson was born. The soundtrack featured decent bar band rock, rounding up the usual suspects ("Runaround Sue", "Runaway") and a minor hit ballad, Tender Years.

The triple threat returned for the 1989 sequel Eddie II and Cafferty had his "Hungry Heart" intact, handing Pare' some choice rock material like the chanting "Run Through The Fire" and my personal favorite-the straight ahead rock of Pride and Passion. This time out Pare' was Joe West, the flimsy cover Eddie Wilson devised for himself while hiding out. If you ever wondered if that construction worker you saw on the street really was Jim Morrison, your question is answered here. The movie tanked and pay cable couldn't save them this time out, but the movie permanently linked Cafferty to Pare's muscle T shirted visage.

John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band - "On The Dark Side"

Sylvester Stallone

You take that Flavor Flav joke back or you'll get this gun rammed down your throat! Yo!

While Sly never pretended to sing like John Cafferty, he used Cafferty almost as much as his signature band Survivor (must be a Scotti Brothers thing). For his craptacular classic Cobra (1986), Stallone used the group's patriotic anthem Voice of America's Son as the theme song. But if the thought of Stallone throwin' down with baddies in his big sunglasses, hanging toothpick and silver handled guns to get some Bridgette Nielsen isn't enough to evoke John Cafferty fever, the Beaver Browner did one better. For the awe inspiring Rocky IV ("I must break you") Cafferty voiced the ultimate in 80's training montage music - "Hearts On Fire". Now do some sit ups and go climb a hill.

John Cafferty "Heart's On Fire"

The Assistant Manager

Say what you will (or what I will), the man is into his fourth decade of rockin'. He's doing something right.

My personal nickname for JC, The Assistant Manager actually got a little glory for himself in 1985 with the Tough All Over album. Two singles, Tough All Over and "C-I-T-Y" made it into the Top 40. Personally, I liked the Tough All Over tape with it's wanna be Born in the USAisms right down to the shiny steely synths and thumping backbeat. The title song was another favorite and used to get played often on Friday Night Videos. Though the video is nowhere to be found so the best I could do was find someone's home movies set to the tune of that song. And "C-I-T-Y"? It was the "Y-M-C-A" of 80's midrange midwestern rock. When I saw the band open for Foreigner in 1985, the Beaver Brown laid out an energetic set that culminated in the group leading the audience in big hand signals to go with the chorus. Unfortunately, the good times couldn't last and eventually reissues of this album would have Michael Pare' / Eddie Wilson on the cover.

John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band "C-I-T-Y"

So who are you, John Cafferty? I don't think I've found my answer. Maybe he's a talented East coast bar band dude that got lucky. It may not sound like much, but it's more success in the music business than most. Though I poke fun at the guy, the reason I know all this stuff about John Cafferty is because I really do like his music. So here's to you John Cafferty. Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie Lives folks. To make this post complete, a little Eddie and the Cruisers rounds this one off. Skip to about 1:30 into the clip to see Michael go into full Pare' mode jammin' to the sound of Mr. Cafferty. As Peter Griffin would say, Yeah!

Eddie and the Cruisers clip includes "Wild Summer Nights"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is it Prom Night for Molly Ringwald?

The Killers go crazy for Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald.

The Killers have released their new single "Human" from their forthcoming release Day & Age. A few years ago, The Killers hit the scene with a wave of other bands reviving the Big 80's New Wave sound for a generation of kids who saw The Breakfast Club every weekend on TV. Singles like "All These Things That I've Done" and "Mr. Brightside" made a huge impact on the music listening public. But ego and...more ego led to the bloated and self important follow up "When We Were Young" which was OK but caused me to lose interest quickly. Now they're back to the funner, poppier sound of their debut record on this single. "Human" (not to be confused with the Human League "Human") would have fit perfectly running over the credits of a John Hughes movie, flame haired Molly Ringwald beaming at the camera in her homemade clothes as she beats the "richies" or whatever the supposed class warfare she was engaged in during those flicks. While I can't say this is the best Killers song I've heard, I like the heavy synths, percolating beat and O.M.D. worthy vocal. It's pretty good and I deem it Farmer Ted worthy. I'm only Human, of flesh and blood, I'm made.

The Killers "Human"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In The Blink of an Eye

Mathieu Americ as the paralyzed Jean Dominique Bauby and Marie Jose'e-Croze as Speech Therapist Henriette Roi.

When done right, movies have the ability to sort of place the viewer in the moment of a character. Not literally, but at least in empathetical terms. Last weekend, I saw a movie that did this well, it was the French film The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007). Butterfly tells the true story of Jean Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle magazine who at the age of 43 suffered a massive stroke. The stroke left Bauby almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak. Bauby's speech therapist devised a way for Bauby to communicate with the one muscle he had full control of, his left eye lid. By blinking when the correct letter was read to him, Bauby was able to communicate and even dictated the book that this film would be based on shortly before his death.

Directed by Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, Before Night Falls), Butterfly places you in the "mind" of Bauby. From his point of view, you see Doctors hover over his face, friends cry or comfort, flights of fancy through his imagination and cherished memories flooding through. The anguished feeling of loss, the loss of communication, mobility and many of the things people take for granted in life come to the fore. Through a mix of first person perspective shots, voice over monologues and stream of consciousness scene changes that insular, trapped feeling of "locked-in" syndrome (the diagnosis given to Bauby) is palpable.

Forgetting the tragedy that fell Bauby for a moment, this type of movie can be very tricky to pull off. Done wrong, it can be dull and self indulgent. Particularly when showing memories of Bauby before the stroke, as a slightly selfish European playboy of sorts and caring father/son, there could be an instinct to sentimentalize the character. Schnabel keeps the focus on Bauby's intellectual cynicism and force of will to survive and retain a sense of humanity. Actor Mathieu Amalric shares the vision and turns in a masterful performance. To their credit, they show both the positive and negative side of the Bauby character to reveal a definite sense of personality.

Not having heard of Bauby before this film, I couldn't say how accurate or inaccurate the depiction of Bauby or his plight is. What I can say is that on film, Bauby is a full blooded character and very human. At turns petulant, kind, curious and adventurous it feels like a real person on film. By the end of the movie I felt both saddened for Bauby, impressed by him and grateful to be alive (which sounds horrible, I don't mean that cruelly). The Diving Bell and The Butterfly displays the beauty and variety of life by depicting the viewpoint of a person who had the world at his feet suddenly placed at arms length from it. While the film falls a little short of being a classic, I found The Diving Bell and The Butterfly to be genuinely moving and artistically fascinating.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Midnight Madness - Ultraman Edition

I'll have to have my wife translate the writing on top. I bet Ultraman never had a problem finding a night light.

While visiting San Francisco's Japantown recently, there were a bunch of plastic dolls of fictional Japanese heroes including one of my childhood champions, Ultraman. Ultraman, the giant guy in the silver rubber body suit and a stoic finned head fighting Godzilla rejects crashing all over Japan. The guy that shoots lasers by crossing his arms. The dude that is summoned by a big pen light held by Hyata of the Science Police. What is a Science Police anyway? And why did they have to wear helmets?

Oops, got side tracked. All of these things seemed mystical as a kid, but a day later while drinking a beer at Chevy's and talking to my wife we came to an interesting conclusion. Ultraman was an early ecological role model. He received his power from the Sun and if he spent too much time on Earth he ran out of power. His chest light would start flashing like a low cell phone battery. So Ultraman had to leave the planet to get some pure sunlight, even if he was in the middle of a fight he had to take off for a little bit to get some Sun.

Ultraman was the original solar panel. He was a walking alternative energy source. His only flaw was low battery life, but it was the 1960s so maybe the fictional technology wasn't there yet. Saving the planet isn't easy. Ultraman brought us one step closer. Not really, but it was fun to say that. Now to the real madness!

Justify My Love - Madonna and Guy Ritchie are divorcing after seven years of marriage. Too bad, they seemed happy for a little while.

Peace and Love is time consuming - Beatles drummer Ringo Starr gave a drop dead date of October 20th for anyone wanting his autograph because he was too busy with "Peace and Love". I imagine being a retired rock star must be incredibly hectic, you have to decide which of multiple estates to stay at, which of however many cars you own you should take to the estate, think about what parties to attend. Yeah, with a life like that who has time for fans?

The Best Things in Life are Free - Radiohead's In Rainbows album, initially offered for any price you want including no price, made the band more money than their last major label release Hail to the Thief. Will other established bands go the same route?

Set Phasers to Stun - Star Trek XI's release date has been delayed to May of 2009. Dammit Jim, you need to get here sooner!

Faith in the Heartland - Journey's recent release Revelation has moved 500,000 copies which normally means a Gold record but because it's a double disc set it counts as Platinum. It's their first post-Perry Platinum disc. Another Wal Mart success story!

Passings - Composer Neal Hefti passed away age 85, he composed the famous Batman theme of the 60's tv series. Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops also passed on age 72, he sang lead on many of that group's classic hits. Both had created music that had an impact on my life.

Sunshine Day - Brady Bunch Actress Maureen McCormick reveals (or confirmed) the stories of sex and drugs from her past are true. I wonder if Chris Knight will include this info on his Trivial Pursuit game show?

Hustle and Flow - Actor Terrance Howard has been removed from Iron Man 2 for financial reasons. A real bummer because he seemed a perfect fit for the Jim Rhodes character. He's been replaced by Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors because of his versatility. But Cheadle isn't who I think of when it comes to action, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Now It Makes Sense - Before the concept of music videos got old, many of them told stories that were a little abstract compared to the lyrics. Lately, there's someone rerecording these songs to have lyrics match the video. I found out about these videos from other websites including Rolling Stone so it probably means its at viral status. Below are the two videos released so far.

A- Ha "Take On Me" Literal Video Version

Tears for Fears "Head Over Heels" Literal Video Version

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Rainbow - Bent Out of Shape (1983)

Hard rockin at the Renaissance Faire: Rainbow provides protection for polka dotted guitarist Richie Blackmore.

One of the first records I ever bought was Rainbow's Bent Out of Shape record because I liked the video for "Street of Dreams" with its mysterious conspirational mood. I was just starting to buy music and would catch videos at my friends houses to see this exciting new art form called MTV. Because of the amount of synthesizer in the song, I thought Rainbow was a new wave band so it was pretty shocking to throw the needle on the disc and get blasted out with hard rock. But once I adapted to it, I found this record to be an early favorite and really liked lead singer Joe Lynn Turner (or JoLT to you pal!) vocals. Later I would come to appreciate bandleader Richie Blackmore's guitarwork, since at the time my knowledge of Deep Purple began and ended with "Smoke on the Water".

So going in, I had no idea about the legacy of this band. That Ronnie James Dio once fronted the group or Graham Bonnet were unknown to me even though I was listening to Dio and Alcatrazz at the time. I would learn about that later, after experiencing Bent Out of Shape.

1. Stranded

Yup, I put the needle down on the record groove and expected to hear tinkling and boinking synths to an electronic drum beat. Instead, I was assaulted with a rampaging guitar riff and wailing about a guy being stranded. I didn't know where he was stranded at, but definitely had the feeling he was screaming from the middle of nowhere. It was perfectly in line with the Journey / Foreigner sounds I usually listened to anyway so Rainbow ended up being a pleasant surprise.

2. Can't Let You Go

In the dawning of the music video age, it was considered the new break thru art form, a mini movie where two styles (music and film) collided to bring the most modern product of culture to being. With that in mind, early videos could get a little lavish in their production and the two videos Rainbow had fit in that mold. Drawing from the film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", Rainbow plays out the video as half band performance and other half telling the story of a murderous zombie make out machine. JoLT delivers an outstanding vocal, emphasizing a rough lower range while keyboardist Dave Rozenthal provides a fantastic Gothic interlude at the beginning. It's been a favorite song of mine for years.

3. Fool For The Night

In this era of rock music, every band had to have an "I'm cuttin' loose 'cause I rock" kind of song and Rainbow deigned track three with that honor. The band rips it up with authority here.

4. Fire Dance

Even more high speed rock with as Rozenthal's keyboards give zip to this tune with the sinister organs and squiggly synths. Not to be outdone, Blackmore cranks up the juice with some equally impressive soloing. Drummer Chuck Burgi and ex-Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover give a strong anchor for the rest. More or less a "band" song with just enough singing to not call it an instrumental.

5. Anybody There

...and now we pause for an instrumental. In case anyone was confused over who owned this band, Richie Blackmore takes a solo spot here with some soaring grandeur. There's always a brittle sharpness to Blackmore's guitar playing that comes across strong yet graceful.

6. Desperate Heart

Why does the beginning of this song remind me of the Stonehenge moment in This is Spinal Tap? Anyway, another old school favorite of mine, I really liked JoLT's singing here (I just noticed I wrote that a lot in this post, what a great singer!). A lot of drama packed into this midtempo rock number. The line about "Torn apart / I was left to bleed" pops in my mind at times. Wow, looks so masochistic in writing.

7. Street of Dreams

The song that started the whole deal for me. This was a featured video back in the early days of MTV or Empty-V, whichever your preference is. Bubbling watery synths and JoLT's haunted voice gave such a unique texture to this song. The vid clip was of that surreal nothing-makes-sense-but-maybe-it-does variety and is well done. I seem to remember this video eventually either being banned or edited because it included hypnotism (those evil rock n' rollers and their mind control tactics!). This video also reminds me, why does it always look cool when bands perform in the basement of some building? Is it the metal pipes, the idea of indoor chain link fences, what is it? I don't know, it just is. (An additional note, if you should be hypnotized by this video I command you to go to your local bus stop and breakdance for half an hour. No special reason for this command, there's a guy in town that does this and it's really cool. I heard the guy goes by the name of Skittles. Awesome).

8. Drinking With the Devil

I used to blast this song in my room early in the morning before heading off to school. The song just flat out rocked and had what I considered an anti authority attitude. TAKE I'm rebelling against you and not doing my Algebra homework. Mainly because I don't understand Algebra, but still...

9. Snowman

The second instrumental led by Blackmore. This time slow, cold and ominous is the approach. Sort of like the Miami Vice soundtrack stuff Jan Hammer used to come up with when you would have a montage of a drug deal going down, Don Johnson' gettin' laid and Phillip Michael Thomas observing with binoculars in plain sight of everyone because if he's hiding you can't see the cool threads he has on. Observing the drug deal, that is.

10 Make Your Move

The album closer cranks up the energy again as JoLT orders you to "make your move!" The Deep Purple experience pays off as the charging groove and Turner's wail reminds me a bit of "Highway Star".

After Bent Out of Shape, Richie Blackmore broke the band up to return to Deep Purple. JoLT went the solo route and recorded the album Rescue You which I liked a few songs off of. I saw Joe Lynn Turner open for Pat Benatar in '86 and he delivered a good show. The songs "Endlessly" and "Losing You" were favorite tracks and I'm going to close with the one official video I remember. Here's "Endlessly", a kickin' ballad.

Joe Lynn Turner "Endlessly"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Concrete Proof The Pretenders Still Have It

Chrissie Hynde digs into a new batch of songs with satisfying results.

Chrissie Hynde returns under The Pretenders banner again with yet another revamped lineup of musicians. She's often rotated sidemen following the passing of two original members in the early 80's, looking for the right people to fit her musical vision. In a career that's been filled with comebacks and setbacks, Hynde has persevered with her dark honeyed voice and sharp songwriting skills intact. But I pretty much lost interest in Hynde and The Pretenders after 1986's single "Don't Get Me Wrong" so I wondered if she still had something to interest me in 2008?

By adding a Country music influence and simultaneously stripping the sound back to a rawness often associated with their earliest work, Hynde comes across as invigorated and inspired. Up beat cuts like the charged first single "Boots of Chinese Plastic" or the Bo Diddleyish title track hit hard with ramshackle energy. On slower cuts, Hynde's yearning vocals such as on "Don't Lose Faith In Me" or the mature excellence of "The Nothing Maker" shine.

Famed drummer Jim Keltner anchors the band as they surround Hynde with road worn Americana. The grooves jump as creamy pedal steel guitar licks paint beer stained longing and breezy passages enhancing the best set of songs I've heard from Hynde since their hey day. Though founding drummer Martin Chambers is still with the band he is not included on this album.

Thanks to an interesting marketing campaign where a new song was released a week for a free download from various vendors, I gave this album a chance where if I had to pay for the whole thing I wouldn't of (the last two songs weren't free). I haven't listened to a full Pretenders album since Learning to Crawl (1983) and while Break Up the Concrete doesn't match the quality of the first three albums, it is a strong effort able to pass on its own merits.

The Pretenders "Boots of Chinese Plastic"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Long Road to Where?

If you talk about doom n' gloom long enough you'll eventually be right: Don Henley and co. describe the end of the good times. In detail. For ten freakin' minutes.

I was driving my car to work when The Eagles CD I loaded up played the title track from last year's album Long Road out of Eden. The song, a downbeat and wary ten minute epic, fit my mood perfectly as I made my way through traffic. I try not to dwell on depressing topics, it's not my usual style (I think anyway) and as much as I enjoy Don Henley's music he writes 20 cynical songs for every happy one. The last time I got into a Don Henley song was "They're Not Here, They're Not Coming" from the Inside Job album which was a while ago. But 2008 has had some setbacks for us and watching the economic crisis unfold doesn't help. And I can't deny the mood of the track with it's slow, pensively building verse and stark, piercing guitarwork from Joe Walsh describes how I feel. While I believe our fortunes will turn around eventually I think I'll wallow in some Don Henley soup. That actually sounds gross, what I mean to say is that while things will get better here's a song for right now. Okay, self pity party is over-time to get back on track! I'll commemorate this moment with this song, an unexpected treat from a year old album.

The Eagles "Long Road out of Eden"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Top Ten Favorite Video Games - Part Two

Cruisin the Miami-like Vice City for thrills, and chills without ever leaving your home.
Going in to round two of my favorite video games for more fun, madness and mayhem. Time to plug and play!

5. Mortal Kombat (Super Nintendo game) 1990s

Finish Him! Shocking when it came out, Mortal Kombat was the most violent game going when it showed up in arcades during the early 90's. And when it moved to home video games, they didn't really tone it down much. While I wasn't particularly good at this game, I got a kick out of Ice guy shooting an ice patch to make people slip around so I tended to pick him the most. I think his name was Sub Zero, he was really weak, but the most fun. The character I had the most success with was Scorpion, I could teleport back and forth to rain fists on my adversary until they figured it out and uppercutted me into a Toasty. Raiden and Kano were other phases I went through, Mortal Kombat was the start for what I consider "hyperviolence" (completely stole that term from A Clockwork Orange). There were a lot of sequels and motion picture films that followed that left me bored, but the original is good stuff.

4. Doom 3 (Windows PC) 1990s

The one game I played obsessively on a PC, hammering arrow buttons and space bars until the keyboard stops responding quickly. Doom 3 is the ultimate first person shooter for me, ya just run around with a huge armament of weapons and kill everything that doesn't kill you first. Red energy ball throwing demons, bull like creatures, fleshy walls and radioactive muck threaten you constantly. This was the most intense game I had played fully (I tried Resident Evil, just wasn't for me) but loads of fun. I played Doom one and two afterwards and had a blast. Running around scrounging for Gatling gun ammo to shoot a bunch of aliens up made my day. There was an odd bit to this game that became the most memorable to me over time. When the brown naked demon looking things appeared, if you shot it with a shotgun the creature would fly backward and land on its back and slide on the ground. When it stopped sliding, you could see a big butthole between it's legs. That's Doomin'!

3. Super Sprint (Atari Arcade) 1980s

My first semester of college was spent hanging out, playing pool and racing on this video game at the bowling alley. Super Sprint was freewheeling in its pursuit of high speed thrills with little cars darting over winding tracks. Obstacles like oil slicks could send you flying into a wall where you would crash and burn. Jumps added a Dukes-of-Hazzard element while risky short cuts could make or break your standings at the finish line. My favorite element of the gameplay was these hairpin turns where you could build up a bunch of speed and then spin the wheel like it's the lottery. That little car would skid around almost sideways through the turn, probably would never happen in real life but it was great on screen. Best of all, it was a game that three people could play with the losers pumping quarters and the winner continuing on for free. I tended to take turns really hard and skid into other cars so not everyone was happy to play with me, but they would get me back and ram me into a wall so it was all fair in the end. Lots of nice memories of that first year of college.

2. No Mercy (N64 Game) 1990s

Doo doo doo do - uh! Doo doo doo Do do Do do Do. The little music that plays while you create a wrestler is yet another video game tune stuck in my head forever. All those hours spent making the perfect Chris Kanyon (Who better?) just so I could reenact a midcard match from Sunday Night Heat. What was I thinking? Well, I was having a good time.

No Mercy was the reason we bought a Nintendo 64. And it was totally worth it. Made during the WWF (not WWE) Attitude era, the game featured all my favorites: Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple HHH, The Dudley Boyz, Team Extreme, Mankind...the list goes on. And the playability of the game was unbelievable, simple controls allowed a full range of moves and matches. You could do a ladder match, hardcore match or tag match. Almost all the WWF/WWE video games that followed modeled themselves after No Mercy. And you could finally feel the thrill of delivering a Stone Cold Stunner at the last second to win the match. The only thing missing was Jim Ross yelling "The Rattlesnake! Stone Cold!! Stone Cold!!!"

1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Playstation 2 game) 2000s

It's number one so it's obvious I think this is the greatest game ever. The first three weeks I played the game I was just in awe of it. I've never seen a game create as fully realized a self contained world as GTA. And 80's retro to boot. A game where mission objectives are optional, you could take on tasks to move your criminal career forward or just walk around town to steal and hit people at random. Great times stemmed from jumping a motorcycle over a bridge, running over drug dealers or upsetting the police to the point both ground officers and choppers rain a hail of bullets all over you. You could swipe the equivalent of a MR2 and cruise through shopping malls and golf courses as The Fixx's "One Thing Leads To Another" blares on the radio. I must have spent half a year playing this game basking in its neon lit nights and sun splashed days. A guy at work told me some people knew the streets of GTA better than their place of residence. That was me all over.

So many great games, so little time. There were a lot of games that came close to making the list but these were the ten with the biggest effect on my life. Or is it affect. I could never get that down.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Top 10 Favorite Video Games - Part One

During my lifetime, there has been many achievements in the evolution of human history. The Berlin Wall fell as the Cold War ended, Cal Ripken Jr. played 2, 632 consecutive baseball games and someone invented video games. Video games have steadily evolved since the time of my childhood when my cousin's had Pong, a large black box dedicated to playing a single game. After the Pong fad ended Atari developed a game console that could play multiple games and like many kids I spent the first night firing tank shots into walls trying in vain to hit my opponent. The early 80's kicked in with everyone pumping quarters into machines to fight off Space Invaders, intercept nuclear missiles and get Pac Man Fever. Video games had become a pervasive influence on my life and the lives of others.

So here's a post for those hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours spent in my life vigorously mashing buttons and slapping joysticks (that sounded wrong) to make glowing dots on a screen do what I want them to do.

10. Pitfall (Activision game played on Atari 2600) 1980s

In the early 80's there was such a thing as a perfect Indiana Jones movie. It was a thing so perfect that it spawned many imitators including this video game, where a guy in a green shirt jumps over scorpions, big holes and swings on ropes to avoid alligators just to pick up some gold bars. This side scrolling classic had an above ground and under ground level and provided many hours of entertainment as I would leap across gator heads to grab some glory. And the setting made me feel Indiana Jonesish. There have been sequels to this game that are technically better, but none last in my memory like the original.

9. Guitar Hero 3 (Play Station 2 game) 2000s

For years I tried to play guitar, for years I failed. But some genius figured out that with technology you can play guitar with five color coded buttons and history was made. Now I can rock out, make guitar faces and flail around like an expert guitar player. Well, not quite expert I get lost when you get to the level that includes the fourth button. But anyway, air guitaring has been made obsolete. Guitar Hero gives you the powerful feeling of rock stardom without spending years learning an instrument. You know when you jump in the air and land on the ground to the beat. It really is better holding an instrument, even if it is a fake one. Gotta love it. Even if lining up the colored circles and making them glow with a press of a button reminds me of that game Will Riker had on Star Trek: The Next Generation. You know, the episode with Ashley Judd in it. You've gotta play the game Wes.

8. Goldeneye 007 (N64 game) 1990s

James Bond games are usually horrible marketing experiences and that's if they are worth playing at all(I got a Licence to Kill Pc game in 1989, I never got past the first stage). So when Goldeneye amped up the first person shooter genre, a genre I like a lot, it was as slick as an Aston Martin Db5. While there wasn't a lot of actual James Bonding (no hanging with babes or drinking martinis that I can remember, it could have happened in the cut scenes though), you got to run around enemy bases and shoot the hell out of anything and everything. Though I found Playstation 2's Everything or Nothing at All a more Bond like venture, Goldeneye was tough to beat for pure shoot 'em up action.

7. Super Mario World (Super Ninetendo game) 1990s

When we got a Super Nintendo, this video game came with the machine. My wife and I had played Super Mario before, so we had a blast as Mario jumped around avoiding big flowers and spinning on turtle shells. The new feature of flying with a cape was a blast as well as his ability to spin and crunch stuff. Sort of the spiritual son to Pitfall, Mario gave side scrolling action with greater speed and better developed obstacles. Silly simple fun. This game is a pleasant reminder of the dating and first year of marriage to my wife. We spent a lot of time in our first apartment playing this game. And you got to pal around with Yoshi!

6. Defender (Atari 2600 game) 1980s

Defender started as an arcade game, an awesome game that I paid a lot of money to play just to blow up within one minute. The arcade game had more buttons than I could handle, I never got the hang of moving the stick, hitting the propulsion button and the fire button at the same time. My uncoordinated shots would go wide of the target and the next thing I knew I had a mutant buzzing on my butt. Then I would get mad and kill all the humans which made the planet blow up and things would get worse.

So I was really happy when Atari dumbed down the game to play on a single joystick. And I kicked that game's ass on the 2600, I could hit what I was shooting at and evade enemy shots. I hyperspaced when I wanted to, not by accident. It was an awesome game. But my main memory of this game was that I would get really mad while playing and cuss a lot. My brother would get upset about the swearing and go bust on me to my Mom. What's funny about this is when my brother plays video games now, he swears all over the place. I'll have to remember to bust on him next time.

Well, I'm out of time tonight so I'll have to finish the list later. Part 2 will include the last five games on the list to go all the way to number one.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Midnight Madness - Lethal Weapon 2 Edition

Riggs and Murtaugh go after the bad guys in Lethal Weapon 2

The first two Lethal Weapon movies are among my favorites of all time, the mix of action and humor enhanced by Richard Donner's splashy direction are film making benchmarks to me. Lethal Weapon 2 had more jokes so I tended to like it a little more than the first film. The combo of Mel Gibson's tortured yet amused killing machine cop and Danny Glover's retiring old school family man cop had great chemistry, enough to carry them through two more sequels. I'll have to expand on this more some other time, but for now I just want to give a shout out to the Lethal Weapon movies, back when L.A. cops were considered cool, Mel Gibson was fun instead of demeaning and action was done with actual stunt people instead of CGI. Am I getting too old for this sh*t? Nope, just wanted to throw in a movie quote.

I've got two weeks to catch up on for media news, so here it goes -

Phish Food - The 90's jam band Phish are reuniting for live dates. I'm too lazy to come up with a good joke so here's the words "granola", "hacky sack", "porta potties", "hemp" - use as needed to have a laugh.

Get the Led Out - Robert Plant confirmed he's not involved with any Led Zep reunion, which is probably the right thing for Plant to do for himself but bums out millions of people. We should try to convince Plant to do it as part of an economic rebuilding plan for America and Europe. Because if they reunited they could charge just about any price they wanted to, why not pay off some national debt with it? C'mon Robert, the world needs you!

Apple of my Itunes - Catastrophe was averted a week ago when ITunes successfully beat back a rate hike from the record companies this week. If the hike had gone through, ITunes was threatening closure from loss of profitability. Sure ITunes has lower bit rates and lousy DRM in their downloads compared to say Amazon, but it's still hecka convenient. And I'm still lazy!

Living in the Future - Bruce Springsteen is set to play the halftime show to this season's Super Bowl. Please-no wardrobe malfunctions or phallic guitar stances, Boss. That would be scary.

The Magic is Back - There's talk of a Lethal Weapon 5 going around which would be great, except it sounds like the whole thing is going to be recast. That means no Mel Gibson, who has been away for awhile following his bad press and could probably use a comeback vehicle. Bring Gibson back I say, all he has to do is be nice to people of other races, sexes and sexual orientation. On second thought, maybe they should recast. Mel Gibson, dude, what happened to you?

Dr Bombay, come right away - Both Janet Jackson and Meat Loaf recently spent time in the hospital for undisclosed illnesses. Hopefully both performers will recover soon.

Ain't It Fun - The latest word all over the media is that Axl N' Rose's, er, Guns N' Roses long gestating album Chinese Democracy is set for a November release. And once it hits shelves, if it sells well I'm betting on a flurry of lawsuits over writing and performance credits because so many people have come and gone from these sessions over the years.

Romeo's Delight - After a very public divorce from Valerie Bertinelli, guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen is engaged to be married a second time. I wonder if EVH plays at his own weddings? It's not like he can find someone else that's better, plus I bet he gets really good rates on the wedding band.

Tempus Fugit - Yes is continuing with tour plans sans Jon Anderson, who bassist Chris Squire claims now supports the newly configured band. Hopefully if Anderson doesn't return to Yes, he'll be able to form another band out of ex-Yes members. It's happened before, why not again? Anderson, Bruford, Moraz and Rabin??

"I'm a smart person, what the hell was I thinking?" - is the sound byte in the making from the early word on Spears upcoming MTV special. Britney Spears continues on her carefully paced comeback trail with the release of the new single "Womanizer" complete with "Toxic" style video. Later there will be the aforementioned special coming where she allegedly explains some of her recent behavior. Personally, I've never been that into Spears music beyond "Toxic" (a good pop song, regardless of who sings it in my opinion) and have found her meltdown mildly entertaining but it's probably best for her own health to get sane again. But what you say about her company is what you say about society, I think Spear's recent career has said a lot about the pressure on young performers, the invasiveness on celebrities lives by media and the public's need for provocative dancing girls. If I was still in college, she would be a thesis paper onto herself.

Lethal Weapon 2 Trailer

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Buck Starts Here

For any of Fleetwood Mac's fans from the 70's who have wished Buckingham would get back to his long haired and bearded Rock phase, this one's for you!

Mac Daddy Lindsey Buckingham is back, in a relatively short period of time, with his new CD Gift of Screws. Buckingham hasn't been known for being prolific since the 70's so it's cool to see a new disc this year following his strong Under The Skin release of 2006 (though I first heard him wanting to use this album title as far back as the mid-90's. During the 1997 Dance tour with Fleetwood Mac I received a free sampler from Best Buy that included the song "Steal Your Heart Away" billed as belonging to the Gift of Screws album. The song later showed up on Fleetwood Mac's Say You Will release.) . Skin was a quiet, more personal take on the man's style of classic pop elements mixed with 70's So Cal rock. This time out, Buckingham takes the opposite tact leading to his loosest and in spots hardest rocking selection of tunes since 1979's Tusk.

And that's how this album has been billed, "Lindsey Buckingham's return to Rock." There is some truth to that statement, Buckingham drops some of the herky jerky rhythms and egg head production sheen to focus on tougher guitar riffs and intense soloing. The best of the bunch is the "Go Your Own Way"ish song "Love Runs Deeper" with it's quiet/loud song structure and runaway chorus. "Did You Miss Me" has a swoony melody and some of Buckingham's smooth dream-like sonics to convey longing. On the Title Track, the Mac master gets a little silly by altering his voice to cartoonish levels to accompany the guitar work. It's his most playful track since "My Little Demon". "The Right Place to Fade" even recaptures some of his mid 70's Country Rock swagger with voices mixed to mimic the Buckingham/Nicks style harmonies.

Alternately, some of the mellow stripped down sonics from Skin show up as well. His fast paced finger picked style still soothes as it creates a lively tapestry. "Bel Air Rain" and "Time Precious Time" both are mostly just him and his voice. "Treason" infuses some of Buckingham's 1950's vocal group influence to a slow beat.

Gift of Screws is an excellent display of Lindsey Buckingham's talents. Sometimes his albums sound so planned and heavily produced that it looses some flavor (particularly in the 80's where the synthesizers and bouncing vocal tracks got really thick) so it's refreshing to hear some immediacy to Screws. Being a long time fan of the Buckingham / Nicks version of Fleetwood Mac, Gift of Screws is a real treat. It's both a look back and a look ahead from an Artist that continues to challenge himself.

Lindsey Buckingham "Did You Miss Me"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Spy Vs. Spy

Spies Like Us

One of the best parts of reading MAD Magazine was the last page, where you could catch up on the latest shenanigans of Spy vs Spy. I enjoyed reading these magazines with its low brow humor, bad movie parodies and back cover that took an innocuous picture and folded into a nasty one. Spy vs. Spy featured two needle nosed spies constantly trying to outsmart each other no matter what the cost. This sort of one-upmanship is on display in the present with the political season rumbling through the air like a sonic boom. It's sort of like Sean Connery's "Chicago Way" speech in the Untouchables (1987) brought to life, he brings a knife, you bring a gun. That's the Chicago Way.

This leads up to the big spy showdown. The first video is the theme song to the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Apparently neither the words "Quantum" or "Solace" make for a good song title, because the theme tune by Alicia Keys and Jack White is called "Another Way to Die." The song kicks off with a very Bondian guitar riff followed by 60's styled horns punctuating the riff which is pretty exciting. But then the song drifts a little bit as it searches for something to do. Keys and White do their best to out-cool each other but without a catchy hook, the song sinks fast. It's as if they're planning to be distracted by the slo-mo silhouetted nude girls during the title credits too. I'm hoping the song sticks after awhile because I'm really looking forward to Daniel Craig's second film as James Bond.

Which reminds me, I had a friend in college who made a good point about James Bond. He said James Bond was the worlds worst spy because a spy is supposed to be inconspicuous, blend in. All of the bad guys know who James Bond is on sight and if they don't, Bond usually tells the bad guys who he is or blows something up. This makes him a terrible spy, he rarely picks up information through surveillance or subterfuge. Instead he walks up to the bad guy, announces himself, gets captured, escapes and then destroys the bad guy base. That's exciting, but not espionage. James Bond always blew his cover-particularly in the Brosnan era, one time he took a car ride where his boss tells him people worked hard to set up a cover and then Brosnan Bond blew it inside 5 minutes (see Tomorrow Never Dies when he walks into a party, he just uses his normal name and chats up his ex girl in a heavily micro phoned/videoed room like he's daring the enemy to ID him.). That's the real reason Bond needs a license to kill, he has to shoot every person who figures out his identity.

So what do you do when James Bond, or his soundtrack, lets you down? You call Double O Rock, that's what. In between beach parties and beer bashes the Red Rocker moonlights as a secret agent fighting the enemies of freedom. You may ask, what qualifies Sammy Hagar to be a spy? His qualification is a canary yellow sleeveless jumpsuit and as Howard Stern puts it-the best teeth in Rock, my friends. If you're man enough to wear that jumpsuit with the red stripes on it, you're man enough to take on the world. The second video is a true Sammy classic, he takes his party hearty 'tude to battle Russians and the Middle East in the name of American Patriotism. Uzi's, tarantulas, White House board meetings...nothing can stop him. Not even Eddie Van Halen could keep Hagar from rockin'. So here's "V.O.A.", the voice of America. America, F*ck Yeah!

Alicia Keys and Jack White "Another Way to Die"

Sammy Hagar "V.O.A."

Spy vs. Spy

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Numbers 25, 24 and 23

Rock On Gold Dust Woman: Stevie Nicks warns people about the Sister of the Moon. Yeah, you read that right, the moon has sisters. Is that weird or what?
Time to add three more to my 100 Favorite CD list and shake it like a Polaroid picture (sorry, Outkast is playing on the IPOD). On this round we have Bay Area Punks, Beantown Blues Rockers and a Gypsy Woman to throw on the CD player.

Number 25: Green Day American Idiot (2004)

When Green Day exploded on the rock scene with Dookie (1994) they were revered as the return of Punk. Then when they couldn't match Dookie, they were dismissed as one hit wonders. It didn't seem likely that a Pop Punk band writing a concept album would make a comeback vehicle, but the Berkeley trio bucked the odds when they returned with a vengeance on American Idiot. The story of a disaffected suburban teen who gets lost in his outsider world of drugs ("Give Me Novocaine") and infatuation ("Extraordinary Girl") connects as the music pounds out a feeling of unfocused rage. A slew of hits spawned from this disc, the sardonic punk of the title track, the up-in-arms Holiday and the depressed Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It's all topped off with the poignant ballad Wake Me When September Ends complete with a topical video of young love and war. A real challenge and accomplishment artistically, Green Day even puts the Punk ethos of short-fast-loud on its head with two ten minute multi segment tracks ("Jesus of Suburbia" and "Homecoming"). A complete and cohesive album from a Punk band.

Number 24: Aerosmith - Toys In The Attic (1975)

When music critics hail the best this Boston based band has to offer, they almost universally cite Rocks (1976). That is a great album, no doubt, but my preference is the slightly goofier Toys in the Attic. In any case Aerosmith was in full swing by the mid 70's and Attic contained 9 cuts of limber blues rock. The classic rock staples Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way groove and shake providing an anchor for the rest of the album. The band shows range between the rampaging Title Cut and the retro blues of Big Ten Inch Record. For me, the highlight is the straight ahead Arena Rock of No More No More. Yes, Aerosmith would rock harder and sell more records after Attic but this album has the right mix of indelible riffs and sleazy fun for me.

Number 23: Stevie Nicks - Bella Donna (1981)

I think I've mentioned before I was so into Stevie Nicks as a teenager that my parents referred to her as "my girlfriend". Back in the day I was hot for Ms. Nicks with her warbly voice, low cut lace tops and witchy woman ways. I even followed her through her late 80's slump of illegal drug addiction followed by her early 90's slump of prescription drug addiction. It's funny, but in 1990 I had a sort of epiphany as I played this tape in my car - I really liked her singing and songwriting separate from her looks. Now this is probably not the most macho thing I can write, Nicks writes in all these metaphors about snow covered mountains, white winged doves and maybe even little ponies that ride on candy colored rainbows for what my memory is worth. And one of the best put downs of her famous voice I've heard included the phrase "Black and Decker Vibrator". Yet in her best work (meaning Fleetwood Mac and her first two solo albums) at the center of her mystique is real emotion and artistic originality.

Bella Donna is one of the best examples of what Nicks is capable of, hooking up with Tom Petty Producer and future Interscope Records guru Jimmy Iovine (both figuratively and literally) Nicks rock sound toughens up and has a little more twang than her Fleetwood Mac work. The jittery guitar of Edge of Seventeen launches Nicks into a fanciful eulogy of death and remembrance of youth. To ensure some chart action, Nicks stacked the deck by having two duets: the first being the Tom Petty penned Stop Draggin My Heart Around performed with the man himself. The second is the ballad inspired by Waylon Jennings and his wife, Leather and Lace, trading lead vocals with the slightly less raspy Don Henley. Other album tracks hold up well, like the countryish "After the Glitter Fades" and the slow trance like "Kind of Woman". The extended length Title Song serves as a mission statement even if I can't make literal sense out of the lyrics. Stevie Nicks channels both sensitivity and fury with a touch of bittersweet resignation. And she looked great on the album cover too.

To close I think I will write out one of those Stevie Nicks sentences...that have a...lot