Monday, June 30, 2008

Bloke Bond Is Back

The new trailer for Quantum of Solace has me geared up for another round of Daniel Craig's toughened up 007. Looks like we're in store for more torture, acrobatic shooting, planes, trains and automobiles action. Well, maybe not trains. If it's as good as Casino Royale it could be awesome.

No Superbad Country For Old Men

Here for the party: Javier Bardem is scarily brilliant in No Country For Old Men.

I've decided to tie together reviews of two movies I saw on DVD recently that really have nothing to do with each other. The first film is the raunchy teen comedy Superbad. The second film is the winner of Best Picture for 2007 No Country For Old Men. Now, you may think that Tommy Lee Jones and young kids trying to get laid have nothing in common whatsoever and for the most part you'd be right. But both films carry a message that is universal between the two: the passage of time.

Superbad is set in the modern day and follows a trio of nerds - the pudgy comic guy (played by Jonah Hill in a performance continuing his loud vulgar style from Knocked Up), the sensitive guy (played by Michael Cera in a winning, awkward way) and uber nerd McLovin (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse with a dead on portrayal of an ambitious loser with cunning). The three friends are looking to party hard on Graduation night and score beer to help their odds of hooking up with girls.

The film is pretty standard teen movie fare. Oddball cops (one of which is played by screenwriter Seth Rogan who starred in Knocked Up) lighten the mood considerably even as they detract from any sense of realism. Jonah Hill powers most of the scenes he's in with a stream of consciousness raunchiness that's funny and juvenile. The friends race all over town, dodging bar brawls, house party fights, dancing girls on their period and getting hit by cars to make it to the party with beer. And draw some real interesting pictures.

Other than a willingness to get nastier than, say, Porky's, there isn't a lot to distinguish this movie from other teen comedies. But Superbad does contribute McLovin', the ultimate nerd loser turned geek badass by fate and verve. Despite these traits, Superbad mainly made me feel Superold because I couldn't relate to these kids that much. It was only when the cops and McLovin' start doing donuts in the parking lot while blasting Van Halen's "Panama" that I really felt something from the movie.

Ultimately the movie is about the passage of time from freewheeling youth to young adulthood and writing boring sentences like the one I just wrote. It's enough to make an old guy feel ancient, but then I watched No Country For Old Men.

Set in 1980, No Country For Old Men mark the latest entry in the Coen Brother's distinguished career. The Coens love to take trips through sparsely populated sections of America and revel in exposing the dark underbelly lying beneath the facade of "pure" values and structures. It's done in a reverential and sometimes humorous way (It's not David Lynch like in other words) so it's thought provoking and fascinating. Here, the story of three men and a drug deal gone wrong intersect.

An out of work hunter (played by a Nick Nolte-ish Josh Brolin) stumbles across a drug deal gone bad with dead bodies, bricks of drugs and a bag full of money left in its wake. Brolin takes the money and goes on the run, being tracked by both the Mexican Mob and a twisted hit man (portrayed with frightening malevolence by Javier Bardem). The local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) investigates and bemoans the loss of traditional American values to drugs, greed and jadedness.

Ostensibly a Western in format, No Country For Old Men brings all of the characters into focus in this brutal morality play. The rugged hunter on the lam, the angel of death killer and a weathered law man who's seen enough depravity in his life face the future with uncertainty and an instinct for survival. As always, the Coens' work is beautiful in it's simplicity and deceptive in its layered approach to storytelling. If you look closely, there are underlying themes at work that carry the intense mood from one shot to the next. A film geeks paradise and a terrific film for anyone else who sees it, this rivals Fargo in terms of career highlights.

And, oddly, watching these old guys lament an era passing them by made me feel young. That and being scared as hell of Javier Bardem. I bet that guy gets his way everywhere he goes now. He's the real SuperBad.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Midnight Madness - McGraw 3:16 Edition

Don't make them get up from this chair! Tag team champions Tim McGraw and Faith Hill will lay the smackdown on their fans anytime anyplace anywhere. And then sing pretty songs about it.

Let the Madness begin! Aha!

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares - The Hell's Kitchen is down to two contestants now, the student chef Christina vs the Catering manager Petrozza. Both come across as mediocre at best meaning whoever wins is going to need a lot of tutelage from Ramsay. No matter who wins, Ramsay loses! Hell indeed.

Harder To Breathe - Fires across the state have made California hazy and ashy. There is now something in the sky we Californians can differentiate smog from. Scary!

Mr. Big taken out by Brundlefly - Straight for Entertainment Weekly news, Chris Noth is leaving Law & Order: Criminal Intent and is being replaced by Jeff Goldblum.

Wino's Return - Amy Winehouse took a break between crack pipes, racist rants and emphysema treatments to give a performance at Nelson Mandela's Birthday Concert that reportedly won people over. She then celebrated by attempting to punch a fan at a following show. I am surprised she doesn't have her own E! reality show by now. Gettin' Mental with Amy has a nice ring to it.

The Velvet Teddy Bear - got married, congrats to Ruuubbeeennn Studdard. I wonder if he got Ryan Seacrest to say that at the ceremony. Ruben, no longer sorry for 2004.

Mini Me, you complete me - There is a sex tape running around of Verne Troyer aka Mini Me from the Austin Powers movies. Who's the real Love Guru now, Mike Myers?

Who is Kate Nash? - I was watching MTV Hits this morning to wake up and this video came on with a British girl singing in a real strong I think Cockney accent to a steady beat. It was hypnotic, I don't have a clue what she was singing about but I didn't want it to stop. Bollocks!

McGraw's last straw- Tim McGraw physically ejected a fan who got out of control at a recent concert. If reports of the drunken fan's actions are true I think McGraw did the right thing, but I'm surprised at how much positive spin this is getting in the media. If violence happens in other Popular music genres the performer is usually grilled for their actions even when they're not directly involved (at the very least the performer gets held responsible by the court of public opinion for the venue's lack of security even if the venue controls it), but in Country music it seems O.K. - I personally think it's the hat. When a person wearing a cowboy hat takes action, it just seems like the right thing to do. Even if the other guy is wearing a hat too.

Heel Turn - Speaking of public grappling, it was a rough week in the WWE. On Raw, Melina fractured her heel taking a bump from the top of the ring post. On Smackdown, Domino gave the ref the "injured" signal after taking a hit to the chest in mid air. See, it's not all fake. The rest of the programs were fake (like the stage collapsing on Mr McMahon) but those two things, not fake.

I'll probably get sick of this song quickly, but until then I'll O.D. on a little Kate Nash and that cool accent. Oy!

Kate Nash "Foundations"

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mr Mike's Top 10 Favorite TV Show Theme Songs

Reminiscing about old tv show theme songs back in the day. Well, maybe not this far back.
.
To start vacation I wanted to make a post that was a little different. Time off means time for reflection, new ideas and lists about Tv show theme songs. So get ready! One O'Clock, Two O'Clock, Three O'Clock rock for a chance to Swing on a Star 'cause you'll never guess My Secret Identity. The Top 10 (and a half) favorite Tv Show Theme songs as determined by...well...me. If you disagree, all I can say is - don't taze me bro! Don't taze me!

Number 10 1/2: Speed Racer

I think I've already established that I like the original Speed Racer, part of the reason is that killer theme song. Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he's a demon on wheels! Driving that fast and furious Mach 5. I was recently reminded I had a toy Mach 5 as a kid, great memories.


Number 10: The A Team

"If you've got a problem, if no one else can help and if you can find them, maybe you can hire...The A Team." Well f*ck yeah! I don't think any one can hear this song and not want to shoot people and blow stuff up in a consequence free environment where no one dies. I pity the fool who doesn't enjoy this theme song.


Number 9: Petticoat Junction

Hey, who wouldn't like to stop at the Shady Rest with beautiful women bathing in water towers (but don't they drink that water?) and Uncle Joe? Particularly with this great chugging theme song. My favorite part is "There's Uncle Joe, he's movin' kinda slow at the Junction." I can really relate to that.


Number 8: That 70's Show

The forgotten Big Star classic got a rocked up remix courtesy of fellow 70's power poppers Cheap Trick. The Tricksters pumped up the guitar and threw in a touch of their own "Surrender" at the end for a brief flash of 70's rawk nirvana. Great stuff.


Number 7: China Beach

The 80's drama was one of the most visually symbolic shows I've ever seen and the usage of The Supremes "Reflections" fits it perfectly. It's a great song anyway, but the poignancy of the lyrics and mood come across stronger in this context. Because they're so deep and things.


Number 6: The Fall Guy
.
...And it begins as Stewie from Family Guy would say. Lee Majors is second only to Chuck Norris in Godhood (you know it's true) and it's tough to beat the weathered actor warbling his ode to Stuntmen. He's the unknown stuntman as sure as Heather Thomas is high on coke, you better believe it!


Number 5: Mr Belvedere

Belve buddy got me through College, what else was there to watch at 10am on weekdays? Mr Belvedere's theme song had such an offhand attitude (I think it was that guy with the white hat and glasses that sang it but I can't recall the name) with a little English stuffiness at the end. Wesley!

Number 4: Mad About You

I think this is called "The Final Frontier" though it has nothing to do with Star Trek. This bit of coffeehouse jazz is fun, one of the reasons is (TMI Approaching) I can play the beat on my stomach. If I eat a lot, I get really good acoustics going. Now that just sounds gross, I'll take that one back. Very pleasant show.

Number 3: Spider Man (animated)

The song has become a Pop Culture classic, it's so fondly remembered it fades the memory that the animation on the actual cartoon was pretty cheap. The same five shots used over and over on each show. Spidey's theme is catchy as hell and deserves a place in Pop Culture history.

Number 2: Beverly Hills 90210

So what was it about a bunch of teen kids with silver spoons in their mouths portrayed by thirty year olds that got everyone's attention? For me, it was the jammin' theme song. Now, I know the song is forever linked to this teen drama queen fest but there's no denying the melodic power of that guitar. It's been copied by legit guitarists since then (like Van Halen in "Can't Stop Lovin' You") and is probably being revived for the new edition of this show. So, Dylan has to be what, 50 now?

Number 1: Space 1999

From the opening drum roll and orchestration to the super futuristic disco beat topped with some twangy guitar, it's hard to top the intro to the Martin Landau classic. Science Fiction never seemed so...overblown and unrealistic yet fascinatingly irresistible. That's how life should be, Space ships and disco. Season 2's theme was more direct but no less bombastic.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Vacation Time!

Vacation! I've gone to the birds.

Well, I'm on vacation for a little while so it's time to celebrate. Because of my age, the word Vacation immediately calls to mind the Go-Go's song. It has for years, it's forever ingrained in me. I like the Go-Go's, but I thought it would be to obvious a pick to be any fun. Another song I thought about was "Couple Days Off" by Huey Lewis, my favorite Huey Lewis song. And then I thought of "I Disappear" by Metallica, because I wanted a modern song.

But then I realized what I really wanted was to celebrate with a funky chicken dance, so I wanted to go back to the Swingin' 70's. First up, Earth Wind and Fire bust out the Funk for "Get Away". Then, to make 70's Horn Band night complete I threw in Chicago (early Chicago when they actually had, ahem, street cred) with "Free". So get up and dance. Or just not but say you did. Or...just not. Either way, I'm on Vacation. Woo Hoo!

Earth, Wind and Fire "Get Away"

Chicago "Free"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Playing the Field

All the love in the world couldn't keep The Outfield from striking out.

After the little used CD shopping spree one of the discs I picked up was The Outfield - Super Hits. The Outfield were a British power trio that played American Arena Rock with a reggae-less Police approach. It's been fun listening to the old hits, particularly "Since You've Been Gone". I've liked that song ever since I've heard it when the band played it live before recording their second album. The band announced it was a song for their next album and then played it, "Since You've Been Gone" was one of those rare electrifying moments in a show where you know you're hearing the next big smash.

Well, despite a ton of momentum going into their second album and making "Gone" their lead single both the song and new record stiffed. Guess I was wrong about it being their next big smash hit. It seemed after the Play Deep (1985) debut everyone was tired of hearing The Outfield and didn't give Bangin' (1987) a chance. Their career never recovered and The Outfield soon found themselves on the record industry bench. But for one brief shining moment, they were in the starting lineup.

The Outfield "Since You've Been Gone"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

WE ARE COLDPLAY. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

Coldplay moves towards the future with new tunes and a fresh attitude. Oh, that's The Borg not Coldplay pictured. Would be cool if it was Coldplay though.
.
It's a fine line between having a musical influence and copying someone else's stuff. Every musician has influences, but the question is can the artist make their influences their own? Or will they come off as a pale imitation of the original? For Coldplay, that question comes up with their fourth album Viva La Vida or Death and all his Friends. Having recorded what will probably be considered their definitive album the second time out (A Rush of Blood to the Head in 2002) and delivering their bigger and bloatier follow up (X & Y in 2005) the fourth album becomes the deal breaker for the alt rock balladeers. Is the ride over or can the band renew interest in them after such a heady commercial peak?

The quartet saw the ante upped by the fact that in the wake of their popularity a number of other bands adopted their sound. It's gotten to the point that other bands accuse Coldplay of literally stealing their songs. Damn that Chris Martin, he's taking the music from my mind again! Stop that Chris, I'm on to you.

But maybe the claim that Martin is a musical hamburgler isn't too far off. Vida la Viva shows the group opening up their sound to a new range of tones and instrumentations. The classic Coldplay thang of swoony singing, classy keyboards and a subtlety sweeping groove is still intact. And thankfully, the over production of the prior album has been stripped away to bring back the lightness of the rest of their canon. But to liven things up, they've amped up on heavier beats and jingly percussion. Plus, they've taken on new influences to add texture to the album.

A big example is "Yes" which tackles Eastern musical themes and a droning chorus to an almost Dave Matthews Band Before These Crowded Streets degree. Their smash hit title track shows a strong Verve "Bittersweet Symphony" feel (accented by Coldplay's performance of that 90's classic with the Verve's lead singer at Live 8). "42" manages to mash up a ballad similar to their own "In My Place" with a bit of Arcade Fire in the midsection. Yup, it's a fine line between influence and thievery-Martin and Co. dance all over it.

In spite of the impulse to put down mega rich movie star marrying rock stars, I have to admit that Coldplay is successful in assimilating these influences to their sound. Viva La Vida expands their sonic palate without sacrificing the core of their free trade lovin' hearts. Viva's the step forward that the band needed to make and while it is not quite as good as A Rush of Blood to the Head (that disc had a certain purity to it) it is an addictive listen. Like The Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation Coldplay becomes one with their outer resources. And the move has paid off with a number one album.

And now the lead single from Coldplay, their pounding anti war statement "Violet Hill". With this post done I can now troll around the internet to see how far off I am! Remember, Resistance is Futile.

Coldplay "Violet Hill"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Van's Still Da Man

Van Morrison looks to return to his roots on Keep It Simple. Either that, or he's spotted someone with a cooler hat than him. No way!

A while back I bought Van Morrision's CD Keep It Simple for my wife, who is a Van Morrision fan. She's followed Van through his various phases in recent years, his muse has taken him through a variety of sounds including Country and Jazz. For me, I tend to stick to his "radio friendly" sound of Classic Rock mixed with R&B and Folk (and a touch of Irish Celtic sounds) so when I heard my wife play the new disc I became a little interested.

That's because Keep It Simple is a return to that trademark sound of his. Van's voice is as supple and smooth as ever and has an unwavering sincerity. While most "back to basics" albums tend to be self conscious, I don't detect any of that here. Simplicity is the theme as Van goes through the "School Of Hard Knocks" and "Don't Go To Nightclubs Anymore" (extrapolating the famous "Don't Get Around Much Anymore") to arrive at the "End of the Land" with the "Song of Home".

Musically and thematically, Van returns to his home. The bluesy opener "How Can A Poor Boy?" starts his journey. The journey leads to my favorite track on the album, "Soul", about how the soul of the person isn't based on outer appearance. It's a simple, overstated point to make but it is made so well with Van's relaxed, confident vocal and old style R&B backing that it seems brand new.

While Keep It Simple won't eclipse Van Morrison's famous hit generating period (meaning classics like "Brown Eyed Girl", "Moondance", "Crazy Love" or "Domino") it is a welcome throw back done with warmth and feeling instead of desperation. Taken on its own terms, Simple is like riding through the countryside to visit the house of an old friend.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin Passes Away

Comedy great George Carlin passed away at age 71 due to heart failure after a lifetime of blunt, intellectual humor. As a kid growing up in the 70's, Carlin's "Seven dirty words" bit was the Holy Grail of comedy (and is featured at BMH67WA blog at http://it-thoughts-observations-bmh67wa.blogspot.com/ ). It openly discussed all of my favorite words as an eight or ten year old in detail. My Dad even says we saw Carlin perform in the 70's at my insistence, which seemed vaguely familiar after he mentioned it. That one comic skit has stayed with me even up to now, the rebelliousness and controversy that I picked up on as a kid now more comprehensible as an adult.

After the Me decade I didn't think about Carlin as much, though he would appear in various TV shows and movies as the too-cool-for-school aging hipster. Most memorably, he was the guide in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure which solidified his position as elder statesman of liberal ethos while ironically playing a relatively conservative role.

George Carlin seemed to disappear after that or maybe I wasn't paying attention. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to see Carlin perform for a HBO special in Santa Rosa CA. Having not seen him in over a decade, Carlin had aged considerably and much of his opening monologue revolved around Death. It was a fun show and Carlin was in fine form with his raging intellect and no nonsense delivery intact.

George Carlin along with Richard Pryor defined stand up comedy in the 70's. They used the microphone as a platform to break down barriers and taboos of what could be publicly discussed about race, politics and censorship. Both also served as examples of the excesses of their time period with raging drug habits. Nonetheless, George Carlin will be remembered for his humor and freedom he represented. A very sad passing of a great comedian.

Below are links to the opening segments to his recent HBO special where he riffs on the premise of Death and people's reaction to it. Warning: like much of George Carlin's humor, there is a lot of profanity and irreverence for authority and religion / God. While I think most people who are familiar with George Carlin knows this, just thought I'd mention it to play it safe. There are seven parts in total on You Tube, here's the first two if you would like to check it out.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

6/21 Midnight Madness McLovin edition

McLovin the Midnight Madness!

I am McLovin! Time to start the Midnight Madness-

Death Proof?- Metallica have named their upcoming album Death Magnetic. The Bay Area Bashers are being produced by Rick Rubin and are talking this up as a return to speed metal. If this is true, prepare to ride the lightning!

Not Wanted?- This dumbass movie starring Angelina Joile and Morgan Freeman keeps advertising every 5 minutes. It seems to involve people shooting guns that fire bullets that can curve around instead of going straight. Like a really bad version of ping pong, you can put english on bullets to spin their direction or even block one bullet with another. The rest of the time, Angelina Joile takes off her clothes and lays on her back at a drop of the hat (she can do it on top of subway cars, out of car windows while in traffic, etc). I'm sure Brad Pitt likes that! I wonder if Morgan Freeman narrates their life in his spare time too. Wouldn't that be cool? He can make taking out the trash sound noble and grand, he's that good. As for the rest of us who have to endure this ridiculous commercial, please stop the pain.

The Rainbow Flag?- Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore is infamous for his temperament and ability to hire and fire people faster than The Donald. It's gotten to the point that there are so many ex-members to Deep Purple and Rainbow that they've decided to form their own band-Purple Rainbow. And I bet the title of this paragraph made you think I was going to comment on Gay Marriage. Psych!

Cold Plagerism?-There is some guy in an indie band claiming Coldplay copied his song for their hit "Viva la Vida". He even supplies a You Tube clip comparing the songs. I'm glad he did, because its convinced me that while Chris Martin copies a lot of people this indie band isn't one of them. There are similarities, but at the same time there are so many people working this Coldplay/Radiohead sound these days that it all mashes up into one song anyways. This indie band comes off as making a desperate ploy for attention.

Cut Out Bin Euphoria?-My wife took me to a nearby Used CD store and let me go crazy. I picked up classics like John Waite Rover's Return and Steel Breeze's first album (I didn't know it was ever printed on CD). Thanks honey!

The Saints Come Marching In?-You know it's a Motley Crue comeback when the manager's been fired and they're trying to get out of contracts (with MTV film division) and the album isn't even out yet. It is streaming at http://www.iheartmusic.com/main.html and from the few tracks I heard it sounds promising.

Where's Men At Work?- Journey's new disc is in the Top 10 on Billboard for a second week in a row! The last time this happened, I think Men At Work had two albums in the Top 10. What ever happened to Men At Work?

RIP Stan Winston - The special effects legend passed away this week. His work on Sci Fi classics like Terminator and Alien is the stuff dreams are made of, he will be missed by millions of movie fans.

Happy Tan Jobi Mom! - Happy Tan Jobi Mom!

To close, because I like to share, here's the advertisement for the movie Wanted. I know, I know, you can thank me later.

Wanted Trailer

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Honeymoon Suite - The Big Prize (1985)

Freakin Suite! I think this is a modern picture of the band, it's hard to tell because the dude on the left looks like he's still in the 80's. Maybe it's like that Somewhere In Time movie where he time travelled.

A recent post by Frontrow reminded me of this great album that I literally listened to in High School. Before this record, I had never heard of Honeymoon Suite (though they had a hit with "New Girl Now" before then) and was floored by the amazing dynamics of the song "Feel It Again". Based on the strength of that song, I went out to my local Rainbow Records and bought the cassette.

The cassette cover did not give me much hope (a picture of some weirdos standing in front of Niagra Falls). But after playing it, the tape became a favorite that I listened to for months. Produced by Bruce Fairbairn (Loverboy, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Yes, Bon Jovi), I often think of this record as the prototype for the sound he broke Bon Jovi with. Smooth vocals with a touch of grit, polished guitars and keyboards plus a bass line that moves. While The Big Prize wasn't a multi-million seller the album remains a mid 80's pop rock legend (no basis in fact with that statement, it just sounded good). To cement my fandom, I saw the band play as opening act for Journey in 1986 and was impressed with their professionalism and sound.

The Canadian quintet was led by singer Johnny Dee and guitarist Danny Grehan. This record was the pinncacle of their career, the next album the band wrote less engaging songs and didn't sell. Even though it was produced by Ted Templeman.

1. Bad Attitude - The first single from the album was meant to follow up on the success of "New Girl Now". It was pretty much a rewrite of that hit, but hey, there are worse grooves for a band to get stuck in. Nice N' Crunchy guitars and a great anthemic chorus. "Bad Attitude" was featured in the final episode of Miami Vice (that's even more 80's than ever!). It just doesn't get better than this. At least until the next song.

2. Feel It Again - That's because "Feel It Again" is an all time favorite song of mine. The way the song shifts from moody verses to surging chorus is way rad (I'm running out of adjectives). I've written about this song before so I won't go on too long about it, just that it's a great great tune. This clip below looks like it came from Solid Gold. I wonder what happened to Rex Smith and Marilyn McCoo? They were the dream team!

3. Lost and Found - The tape picks up a little more speed with one of the synth heavy tracks. I really liked the synthesizer sound on this album courtesy of keyboardist Ray Coburn. Very glisteny and light.

4. What Does It Take - That keyboard sound I was talking about is used to even better effect on this classic power ballad. It shifts from a Piano sound to an Orchestra String Section sound to everything else in between to raise the drama. Great bracing chorus, I was surprised this song did not become a bigger hit. Grehan delivers a Neal Schon worthy soaring guitar solo here too. I remember this song playing over the credits of a John Cusack and Demi Moore movie. Remember when Demi Moore used to play rock singers all the time, she was a horrible lip sync-er and the singing voices never matched her real raspy sandpaper like speaking tone. Anyway, it was a dull movie but at least the end credits picked up because I heard this song.

5. One x One - Pretty good midtempo rock, at least the way I remember it. But that's about all I remember on this one, I think I fast forwarded it a lot.

6. Wounded - This one I do remember, I liked the hook. "Wounded / Shot-Down-Agaaiiiin!". Good midtempo rocker that builds up to a satisfying chorus.

7. Words In The Wind - I do not remember this song. At all. I am tempted to deny it's existence.

8. All Along You Knew - The fourth single was this gem with a guest appearance by Jethro Tull Floutist (is that right? He plays the Flute) Ian Anderson. Poor boy Johnny Dee fesses up to cheating on his girl. After a half hour of pleading for love, getting shot down and dumped on, puttin' up with bad attitudes-the tables have finally turned! Aha! This live version does not include Ian Anderson, I'm not sure from what time period it came from.

9. Once The Feeling - This was the song I often skipped to on the second side of the tape. It has classic Mr Mike written all over it, an upbeat anthemic rocker with charged guitars and swirling synths. And a little corny. Mr. Mike likes his anthems a touch overblown, thank you.

10. Take My Hand - I think this was a really slow song with a lot of synths again. You know, those hazy kind of synthesizers that say "Hey, I'm being deep because everything sounds like I'm talking in a fog." Could be wrong on this one though.

The Big Prize was pretty much it for the band in the US, they still exist and play shows but I think they're mainly in their homeland of Canada now. Sometimes they go by HMS like a boat or something. Much of their catalog is out of print, so I'll have to patiently wait until this disc shows up somewhere so I can Feel It Again one more time!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Finest Worksong Edition

Show me the Bunny!

This is my second take on this post, the first go-round I had a bit of writers block because I don't think much about the 1990s in terms of entertainment. But, I've walked the dog and had a little late night air and now I think I can rewrite this a little better. So these two songs are about the feeling of getting up in the morning to go to work on days in the 90's when I didn't really feel like going. I still went in and gave 100% but sometimes wished I was somewhere else.

First is "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" by The Smashing Pumpkins. Led by dictator/band leader Billy Corgan, the Pumpkins fired off hard riffing alternative rock with braying vocals and strong melodies. For anyone who has been stuck in traffic on the way to work or trapped in an office desk or cubicle, this is a must have song.

Second is "Self Esteem" by The Offspring. Every morning, some guy in a Jeep would drive by our place blasting this song. The guy was obviously an arrogant jerk that insisted we all hear his one song. I imagined he was some kind of coffee achiever who tells co-workers how one song pumps him up every morning for work. The fact that his happiness was at the expense of the rest of the trailer park who may not have wanted to hear that song at 8 or 7:30 in the morning probably never occurred to him. Or maybe it did.

It occurred to me that this was the theme that I had but couldn't quite get at while writing the first version of this post. Everyone has days they would prefer not to work, that's just human nature. But most of the time I enjoyed working and when I didn't, I just listened to a little music to get me by. So, let's remember-be good to each other. And that's Springer's final thought.

Smashing Pumpkins "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"

The Offspring "Self Esteem"

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Irish Indie Love


Tonight I watched the movie Once, an independent film from last year made in Ireland by writer / director John Carney. The film was shot documentary style and follows the relationship of an Irish street musician and a Czech immigrant. The two meet on the street as the girl (the Czech immigrant) takes an interest in the local busker who plays original songs with a strong emo voice. Sort of like Gordon Lightfoot but with an Irish accent.

The orange haired musician (played by Glen Hansard) strikes up a friendship with the girl (played by Marketa Irglova) as her piano playing, angelic voice and moxie inspires him. The guy writes several songs about his broken heart but begins a musical partnership with the girl that brings out the best in both of them.

Once does a good job of capturing a sense of realism not only with the documentary hand held shot style but with seemingly ad-libbed dialogue. The characters come across natural and the duo have good chemistry (look at me, I can spell!) together. The songs are like a soundtrack to your last visit to Starbucks, acoustic instruments alternating between relaxing passages and emo quivering. It's a modern musical of sorts, heavy on realism until some of the music kicks in and the songs push the story forward.

By the end of the film, I found myself caring about these unnamed characters and their relationship that is both playful and tuneful. The song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar for Best Song. Once has the right balance of independent film dreams and cinematic musical ambitions to entertain and move in a subtle way. A nice movie for a quiet night.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova "Falling Slowly"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Web Slingin' Trifecta

Duplicity in the big city: Spider Man 3 is either half good or half bad, depending on how you look at it.

Last weekend, I finally finally saw Spider Man 3. The film marks trilogy status for New York's favorite wall crawler. I really liked the first Spider Man and thought the second film was one of the best ever of its genre. When it came to thrilling super hero action, character development, human feeling, splashy direction and sly humor Spider Man 2 was tough to beat. In fact, it was so good that I really wasn't in a rush to see a third movie. I just thought Spidey 2 couldn't be topped. And now that I've seen Spider Man 3, I can honestly say it can't be.

Spider Man 3 picks up where the second film left off. Peter Parker / Spider Man is on top of the world. His girlfriend Mary Jane is starring on Broadway, he's acing his courses in school and New York loves Spider Man. Naturally, this build up is to prepare for the great fall. And fall he does. Three different baddies want Spider blood, a love triangle forms with Harry Osbourn, MJ and Petey plus Venom invades Parker's system to pull him towards his darker nature.

I won't go too much further into plot detail in case anyone other than me hasn't seen it. Spider Man 3 isn't bad, there's a lot to be happy about. All of the actors in the series returns including Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker / Spider Man. Maguire captures the innocent gawkiness of Peter Parker well. Kirsten Dunst also returns as Mary Jane and remains believeable as the actress / model of Parker's dreams. New characters like Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy and Topher Grace (That 70's Show) as Eddie Brock add to the Spidey universe. Even characters that were dead in the first movie return for new scenes this go around. Sam Raimi's direction is still packed with quick movement and comic book dynamics. With all these great things going for it, what could go wrong?

Well, the plot for one thing has huge holes that no amount of webbing could fill. The villians this time out (the vengeful Hobgoblin, tragic Sandman and venomous Venom) are impressive in terms of special effects but don't make much impact. With three bad guys, the story becomes overloaded to the point that the villians only make a sketchy impression and a ton of only-in-the-movies coincidences to string them all together. Even Peter Parker's fall to the dark side via Venom doesn't fully register because there's barely enough room for that either. A story this size really needs to be a mini series to make it all work, one movie can't hold this much stuff!

After sitting through it, the only things I took away were: 1. Venom in CGI is way cool and 2. Topher Grace is pretty good in that smirky know it all kind of way. Spider Man 3 isn't the worst movie you can see, it just isn't the best either. With the series running out of creative juice, I hope Spider Man 4 isn't a total bomb because we still haven't seen The Lizard or that old man of the sky, The Vulture. If they can't make it work a fourth time, maybe Sam Raimi's spider sense will tingle and he'll stop the series. Or maybe he'll quit and be replaced by a cheaper director for one last cash in. All I can say is...Excelsior!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Don't Even Try It, Full Force Don't Buy It

Things are pretty busy around here lately so I thought I would continue to make quick posts. This post was initially inspired by the radio when my wife and I came home the other night. The radio was blasting the mid-80's classic "I Wonder If I Take You Home" by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force (that's a mouthful). My wife really enjoyed hearing that Old School Jam again so I thought I would seek it out. But while looking I got curious about a sort of lost 80's dance classic by Full Force itself called "Unfaithful".

I had the 45 way back when and thought it was a great song with the busy vocals and syncopated synth riff but haven't been able to find it anywhere for years. In those great 80's nights, I'd hear this song at the clubs and it sounded killer as it boomed all over the dance floor. Tonight I got lucky and finally found the song and video, which I've never seen.

And all I can say is WOW. What a video! It looks like one of those do it yourself videos you used to make in the Mall for $15.00. Cheap high school picture grey background, dudes with fringy jackets and huge earrings, plus shoulder pads and jerri curl for days. If that's not enough you get those great special effects like the every-other-frame-missing choppy movement, that never gets old! And classic dance steps in unison, I'm pretty sure I saw the Electric Slide in there. My memory is fading, but the Bobby Brown style crotch thrusts have me thinking this was after "My Prerogative".

Even back then, this would have been considered a pretty lame but time has actually been kind in that this is campy now. Campy, trapped in an 80's time warp, but undeniably catchy and awesome. And it's not like I can even come close to pulling off any of the dance moves shown here, particularly the leap frog into a spin. I'm lucky if I can skip a step going downstairs, let alone jump over someone. I've gotta say, rediscovering this song has been a pleasant surprise. And it's so funky fresh fly that its Tha Bomb. Like usual I'm about 20 years behind the trend. Word!

Full Force "Unfaithful"

Monday, June 16, 2008

Insomnia Pays Off

I was having trouble sleeping last night so I watched some MTV2 aka "the MTV channel that plays videos" and came across a most excellent clip from every Grad students favorite band, Radiohead. The Head have put together a video for one of the strongest tracks on the In Rainbows album called "All I Need". The song itself I took for personal needs when hearing it on the disc but in this context it lends its warm, trobbing yet wistful pulse to a tale of two kids who live entirely different existences but are linked together. That's Radiohead, always deep and making you think...in a good way.

Radiohead "All I Need"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Midnight Madness - Father's Day Edition

Don't make him angry, you wouldn't want to see him when he's angry: The Hulk returns to the big screen for another round of Gamma Rays

It's Father's Day!

Chain Reaction - Journey's recent moves (hiring a Filipino singer, making a deal with Wal Mart) have paid off, the band's new disc Revelation is in the Top 5 of the album chart. Their first time in the Top 10 without Steve Perry. Who's Cryin' Now Perry! Sorry, couldn't resist a cheap shot, even to my teenage idol.

Money Talks - AC/DC is planning a similar tactic, their new disc will be a Wal Mart exclusive too. I find that interesting considering Wal Mart has been known to not allow "dirty" versions of media in their stores. I wonder if they'll make AC/DC rerecord a little to create "clean"versions of CDs. "Dirty Deeds...Not Done Here / Dirty Deeds...Not Done Here!"

Cold Played - For some reason, Coldplay singer Chris Martin became huffy over a seemingly simple question about their new album. Martin left mid-question and didn't return until the end of the interview. Isn't this the band with the song that says "let's talk"? What happened to that?

Who Will Save Your Soul - Jewel continues her quest for a new audience, this time trying Country music out.

Hulkamania pt 1 - The new Incredible Hulk movie is out, but for some reason I just couldn't get excited over it. I guess an all CGI Hulk doesn't quite do it for me, I had the same opinion of the Ang Lee Hulk as well. That and Hulk was never one of my fave super heroes anyway (except the Tv show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, that was great) but I am intrigued by the presence of Edward Norton. Very good word of mouth on this one though.

Hulkamania pt 2 - Hulk Hogan had to go on Larry King Live to defend his son, himself and not discuss his ex-wife dating a 19 year old dude. It's a bummer to see the Hulkster have a hard time, seems like his life is falling apart. Whatcha gonna do, Brother?

Stuck in the Vasoline - Stone Temple Pilots are being sued by Atlantic Records to deliver one more album. These guys can barely make it through their reunion tour in one piece and Atlantic wants an album? I smell desperation. Or in Scott Weiland's case, heroin. Do not bring drug sniffing dogs to an STP meeting, they'll O.D.

Measure of a Man - This happened over a week ago, but after Clay Aiken impregnated a woman via medical science he then went out and attacked a paparazzi for asking what the baby's name will be. Look out world, Aiken's growin' some. And then he'll play a dancing and singing Knight on Broadway. Who's your daddy!

Tim Russert passes away - The respected newsman died this week. I didn't follow his career closely, but when he was reporting he had something many newspeople lack: credibility. He always seemed on top of the story.

Father's Day - I thought I would close with something my Dad would like, so I looked through You Tube to find the perfect Golf shot. This one with Tiger Woods was pretty amazing, I was impressed by it and I don't even like Golf. So here it is, Happy Father's Day, Pop.


Tiger Woods' Amazing Golf Shot

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Triumph - Thunder Seven (1984)

Mike Levine, Gil Moore and Rik Emmett (l-r). Is it me or does the guy in front look like he just farted?

It's time for another stroll down memory lane with the time-themed release, Triumph's Thunder Seven. Most people considered Triumph to be the poor man's Rush and with good reason. Both were power trios from Canada, both had a blonde guitarist and both would pack heady intellectual themes with a slight prog brio into hard rock. Where they differed was in their intent: Rush strived to break new artistic ground and take the high road with their high falutin' ideas while Triumph always fell back to a more generic hard rock sound. Put simply, Rush would feed your head while Triumph would rather knee you in the nuts.

Though they never escaped their Canadian brother's shadow, Triumph were able to carve out a sturdy audience among 80's rockers. A few Gold records and some decent tours made them a band for those "in the know". Guitarist Rik Emmett was undoubtedly the star of the band, his flash fingered guitar assaults and wailing high pitched voice was immediately identifiable. Drummer Gil Moore brought more of the Spinal Tap edge to the band while bassist Mike Levine silently gave a strong performance with a lot of musicality.

Thunder Seven caught the band at a time when they were trying to move away from the heavier rock sound to more of an arena rock...um, arena. The songs were a little more commercial than prior albums but not to the point they lost their identity. And so here it is, Triumph - Thunder Seven (1984).

1. Spellbound - The opening song and single from the album. A classic slice of standard hard rock amped up by Rik Emmetts amazing high range hook ("Sppeelllll-bbounnd!") as Gil Moore's raspier voice plays up the rock n roll lust. An awesome rockin' song.

2. Rock Out, Roll On - Remember that thing about falling back on a generic rock sound? Here's exhibit A, but even with that the chorus is memorable and sticks with me after all these years. Emmett takes the lead vocal and brings the drama wailing home.

3. Cool Down - A bit of Zeppelin influences this strutting rocker. One of the least memorable cuts on the album.

4. Follow Your Heart - The other single from the album, a terrific bit of Arena Rock glory with a gang shouted chorus and great vocal interplay between Emmett and Moore. One of many common themes in between Rush and Triumph is the power of the individual, that theme gets addressed here.

5. Time Goes By - One of my all time favorite songs, a little similar in structure to other Triumph classics "Never Surrender" or "Fight The Good Fight". A big chunky riff dominates the verse while the solo speeds off into overdrive. This song also marks the beginning of the Time theme of the rest of the record.

6. Midsummer's Daydream (instrumental) - Once an album Rik Emmett would play a beautiful acoustic solo amazing for it's mood and technical skill. Emmett doesn't disappoint with this skilled piece. He may be the only Metal guitarist to show a little Steve Howe influence.

7. Time Canon - A brief interlude of mixed a capella voices saying "Time" or "Time Again" in an almost drone like manner.

8. Killing Time - Emmett and Moore trade vocals on this one, a fine pop rocker about the pain of not following your heart (see, should have listened to their advice earlier on!). Another fave from back in the day.

9. Stranger In A Strange Land - Triumph would occasionally dip into a little reggae and on Thunder Seven that happened on the ninth song. Not terribly memorable for me, I played a song sample of this online and still can't remember it.

10. Little Boy Blues - Rik Emmett was the star of the band, there was no doubt of that to anyone except maybe the other two band members. There were few guitarists who could seamlessly mesh the finger tapping firepower of metal with the intricate guitar patterns of prog like Emmett. And then even fewer who could do that and still punch out a ripping blues guitar like Emmett does on "Little Boy Blues".

As usual with Triumph, the big overarching themes come down to simple messages: follow your dreams, make the most of your time in life and girls are hot. Artistically, the bands 1980 release Allied Forces was their peak, but in memories it's Thunder Seven I remember best. Recently, the band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (see below). Rock Out, Roll On!

Triumph at the Canadian Music Hall of Fame

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Night Videos - The Road Warrior Edition

Would you believe this is when Mel Gibson was considered tolerant of other people?

It is the future. Mankind is dwindling to a primitive state where civilization tries to hold on in the face of anarchy. Mohawked motor bike riding leather chap wearing anarchy. And the most precious resource in the future? Gasoline...Petrol...Fuel!

That was the premise of the first two Mad Max movies, back then after surviving the gas shortages of the 70's this type of dystopian (ooh, big word) future seemed far far away. Now, living in an age of road rage and outrageous gasoline prices those movies seem prescient (I'm in a dictionary mood tonight). So, for all my homies who are paying at least $40.00 a tank (about $100.00 if you have a truck or SUV) this Friday Night Videos is for you.

You know, if this type of gas pricing continues pretty soon we'll all be riding bicycles. That would be interesting, you'll probably see these teenage girls on MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen get tricked out 10 speeds with DVD players and surround sound instead of Escalades. They'll make those spinning rims that keep going after the wheel stops for bikes. And they'll remake CHiPs with those bicycle riding cops, we'll see bicycle crashes in slow motion to a disco beat. Won't that be cool?

So I've got a triple play of videos for this one. First up, Metallica. "Fuel" is one of the best Metallica songs of the late 90's when they decided they weren't metal heads as much as Artists. The best song on the Reload (1997) album, slash and burn vocals meet bone crunching riffs for a smashing good time. Second is Moving Pictures (1980) era Rush with "Red Barchetta", tellin' the tale of a boy taking a joyride in a car during a future where combustion engines are outlawed. Last is Sheryl Crow with "Gasoline" from this year's Detours record, spinning a fanciful tune about a near future of social unrest over...you guessed it, Gasoline. Love that chorus "Gasoline / will be free / will be free /yeah yeah" - Yeah, I wish.

So, celebrate 2008 style fill up your gas tank, drive home and don't go anywhere. You can Pimp Your Ride all day long because like Bob Dylan says, you ain't goin' nowhere.

Metallica "Fuel"

Rush "Red Barchetta"

Sheryl Crow "Gasoline / Gimmie Shelter"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Livin' The Life

A brief post, you know that commercial that's on all the time for ITunes featuring Coldplay? The one with the band members silhouetted against a purple backdrop and swirling graphics. You know, the one that looks like you may have stared directly into the sun and damaged your eyesight? Yeah, that one! I freakin' love that commercial. And I like the song too, it's Coldplay but with enough tweaks to make it seem fresh. I just found out Brian Eno is involved with Coldplay's new album somehow. Consider me floored. Anyway, here's that song and video I was talking about. "...that was when I ruled the world..." That poignancy brought about by lyrics I can't follow just blows me away. Really awesome.

Coldplay "Vida La Vida" ITunes commercial

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

...And Your Little Dog Too

There's only two reasons to pose in front of a map. The first is you are a Geography teacher. The second is your band is dorky. I think you can guess which one this is.

Last week Steve Lukather, guitarist and one of the founding members of the band Toto called it quits for the AOR giants. With that statement, I'm sure fans from Europe and Japan took pause but here in the United States it was met with resounding indifference. Most people in the US don't realize (or care) that Toto did anything past Toto IV. Actually, to most people Toto IV is the band's only record. So why is that? What do thousands of people from other cultures see in a band of fussy studio musicians playing their slick "yacht rock" with antiseptic precision that Americans cant? Why can they sell out Arenas in some countries but can barely cover a club tour here? To uncover this not so amazing mystery, I've made a list. And as my wife will tell you, I love lists. I have lists of my lists. In alphabetical order.

Reason #1: Studio musicians are not cool

The first reason is that a bunch of guys who look like they got lost on the way to Lab class are not cool, unless they really are cool and are posing that way to make an ironic point. Toto looked like a bunch of dudes who spent hours upon hours mastering their craft. Although I'm sure they all did drugs, dated actresses and what not, their image said "I read books about Macro Economics and Trigonometry". Outside of the after school library crowd, Toto was not cool.

Reason #2: Their music was generic

The main criticism leveled at the band is that their music was generic. As a fan, naturally I disagree, but part of what I liked about Toto was their professionalism. Until their last album, Falling In Between, Toto did not mix and match their genres. When they played soft rock, they played it perfectly, when they rocked out, it was well arranged to highlight the melody and solos, when they got their R&B groove on, it swung. There is a distinct Toto flava to the tunes, but in the end you knew their playing would be tight, clean and on the money. In American Rock N Roll, that's a crime.

Reason #3: They were inconsistent

That's actually my criticism in terms of their career, they were wildly inconsistent. It's ironic that a band known for a "bland" sound switched it up on every album. They've had a prog album, a stripped down Rock album, an Arena Rock album, a Soft Rock album and everything else too. Often these changes happened from one record to the next which caused a lot of churn in their audience, gain one set of fans and lose another.

Reason #4: No backing from their label except for Toto (first album) and Toto IV

Columbia often seemed confounded by what to do with Toto for reasons 1 thru 3. How do you sell a band that can't stick to one sound and gets no respect? The answer is, push the ballad and then stop. Wait for the contract to run out and in the meantime who knows, maybe they'll get lucky.

Reason #5: They lacked charisma

Well, yeah, they did. Toto was a band in the sense that they were all dependant on each other to make the sound happen, even though there were band leaders and David Paich wrote most of the songs there wasn't anyone who stood out from the rest of the group. They were equally talented musicians who performed as a unit. No Mick Jaggers or James Hetfields here.

And that was all she wrote for Toto here in the States. I'm just happy I got to see them perform live in 1999, that was a dream come true for me. Toto isn't the definitive band of anything, but I'll always enjoy their strong musicianship and great songs for years to come. Toto was awesome in their dogged commitment to "smooth music that rocks" and will be missed...by me anyway. To close, here's a few less famous but favorite tracks from the Grammy winning band. The last track, "Angel Don't Cry", is one of my all time favorite songs by anyone anywhere. Bye Bye Toto, it's been nice seeing ya!

Toto "Lea"


Toto "I'll Supply The Love"


Toto "Mad About You"




Toto "Angel Don't Cry"

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Midnight Madness 6/8

The WWE is giving away ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

Kind of a bummer week in entertainment news...

The Million Dollar Man - WWE honcho Vince McMahon has started a promotion to give away a Million dollars on episodes of RAW to fans in order to boost ratings. Everyone's got a price! Ha Ha Ha.

You're a Wonder, Wonder Woman - Lynda Carter takes her crime fighting skills to real life, she found a body in the Potomac.

To Be Over - Yes cancelled their summer tour due to respirory problems for lead singer Jon Anderson. Get well soon Jon!

Till The End - Steve Lukather has announced the end of Toto. Lukather felt that with David Paich and The Porcaros gone it was no longer the same band. A sad day in Melodic Rock.

Take Me Down - A rough week for Country music. First, my second favorite Country band Alabama are all suing their drummer for $202,000. Now, that's a lot of money to you and me but for Alabama (the group, not the state) it's not which means they're really mad at that guy. And then...

Sign of the Apocalypse? - To make things worse for the Grand Ole Opry, Jessica Simpson has released a Country single. The New England Patriots say be afraid, be very afraid...

From This Moment On- Shania Twain divorced her husband / producer Mutt Lange. It will be interesting to see if they still work together, Twain is one of the best selling Country music artists around.

So This Is Love? - Van Halen has managed to complete a full tour with David Lee Roth for their highest grossing run ever. That's great and i'm glad that I saw finally got to see them with Roth, because now that the tour is over I'm sure he's going to be fired. And rehired. And fired. That's just the way it goes with Van Halen.

Going to a Journey concert - We're going to see a concert in September with Journey, Heart and Cheap Trick. I've seen Journey a few times, but I've only seen Heart once and never seen Cheap Trick before so it should be great! Thank you Honey!

To close out, here's a little Toto. And yes, it is Paula Abdul in her presumably sane days as a dancer.

Toto "Till The End"

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Any Way You Want It

Still They Ride: Arnel Pineda resurrects the impassioned vocals and melismatic high notes that made Journey great.

After the end of Journey's last tour, there were many fans excited about the prospect of Jeff Scott Soto being the new lead singer of the band. Soto had credibility as an Arena Rocker (he had worked with Ygnwie Malmsteen!) and was a known quantity. I was mixed on Soto as lead singer, not that he couldn't sing but in performance I found him kind of Fame-ish. You know, like on the old TV show where high school students suddenly jump up during lunchtime and break into song while doing piorettes because they found out their sandwich was liverwurst instead of balogna. That whole "look at me, I'm talented" thing? Soto had that live. Sounded fine vocally, just did not care for his performance. I think I'm in the minority in this opinion about Soto, much of the fanbase was crushed by his sudden release from the band.

Journey found themselves singerless when The Sopranos use of "Don't Stop Believin" put the band at the forefront of pop culture again. Steve Perry was able to reap some press because, well, he's Steve Perry. But the rest of the band found themselves on the outside, unable to capitalize on the unexpected rush of publicity.

So Neal Schon turned to the internet to find a singer. I mean, people find spouses and cars and houses on the internet so why not a lead singer? Schon's persistence paid off and he was able to locate a singer from the Phillipines with a powerful Perryish voice - Arnel Pineda.

Pineda's introduction led to some backlash and "third world labor" jokes but to their credit, the band soldiered on with their choice. They recorded a new disc of music and have gone full throttle for trying to get that big comeback. Journey wrote in their classic Escape era style, signed a distribution deal similar to The Eagles with Wal Mart and have pressed hard to make their presence felt all over TV.

Now Journey's new CD, Revelation, is out and I've had the week to play it to death and check it out. And with that, lets tackle the first obvious question. Is Arnel Pineda the second coming of Steve Perry?

Well, the answer is sort of. In terms of his performance, Pineda definitely has powerful pipes and sings with more energy and swagger than Steve Augeri did (though I liked Steve Augeri as well). The band gives Pineda room not only to sing but to show some personality, the most they've allowed since the Perry era. And Arnel Pineda does show some star power vocally, but I think it does fall just short of superstar. But being discovered on You Tube and having a sad sack backstory has helped make up some of the difference in that department. He's gotten the band the most press it's received in years and people are talking about them on their own terms for the first time since...ever? And his perfomance is unquestionably committed and is able to overcome much of the obvious comparisons.

With that out of the way, what about the actual music on Revelation? Done with the experimentation of Red 13 and the hide-the-singer- tactics of Generations, Journey offers up their most straightforward offering since 2001's Arrival. In other words, it's Journey the way you remembered them when you were in high school or junior high watching The Greatest American Hero on tv and drawing funny faces on your Pee Chee folder during History class. Or maybe doing more exciting things than that. Hopefully.

Jon Cain and Neal Schon wrote almost all the music this time out, very little use of outside songwriters and none of the write by committee approach of the last album. The melodic rock rush of "Never Walk Away" or "Change For The Better" stick and move like their classic sound (think "Be Good To Yourself") with wailing vocals, hooky melodies and blistering guitars. With Journey, the money has been in the ballads and the group serves up some winners with "After All These Years" and especially on the quieter "Turn Down The World Tonight". Midtempo rock a la "Ask The Lonely" is there as well with the excellent "Where Did I Lose Your Love" even with it's curious drum bit taken from Prince's "Take Me With U". Journey even manages to make something new out of an older song, as "Faith In The Heartland" from the Generations album gets remade with a slower beat which thankfully strips a lot of the U2 out of it. Best of all, Pineda's vocal style allows the group to reintroduce some much needed R&B on "Like A Sunshower".

The only song that gets close to a misstep is "What It Takes To Win", just because the title and beat was more remiscent of Survivor than Journey. But no matter. While I didn't hear any song that would likely capture the public's imagination the way prior hits did, Revelation is a strong album that I like more and more every time I play it.

To give the most bang for the buck, Journey also re-recorded a lot of their classic hits known as "The Dirty Dozen" with Pineda. While Pineda is convincing in his vocal, nothing really new happens musically so I get bored with it after two songs. I still haven't played the whole thing, this disc only has value if you're not one of the 10 million people who bought Journey's Greatest Hits.

Another add on is a DVD shot of the band's show in Las Vegas, I think it was Pineda's first public performance with the band in the US. This was a treat, Pineda really can sing and Schon seems the most focused he's been in ages. I still get distracted when Deen Castronovo sings, even when he sings really well like on "Mother Father" here. The hits rerecordings and DVD are obviously meant to establish Pineda as the new Main Man and the DVD does succeed at that level.

Arnel Pineda has turned out to be exactly what the band needs and does show more of his own personality than I thought he would (or be allowed to). He allows Journey to deliver what their fans want short of an actual Perry reunion. With a little luck, fans will start believin' again even without "The Voice". And finally, after all these years, Neal Schon has someone in the band he can refer to as "the little guy". Journey is back and they're ready to play their music Any Way You Want It. Exclusive only at Wal Mart.

Journey "Never Walk Away" and "After All These Years"

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Living In Perry-dise

Remember before computers when people used to draw stuff? Amazing...the times we live in.

Journey week is almost over and we're up to Friday and Friday Night Videos. As ex-Journey member Randy Jackson would say, we've got a hot one tonight dawg. After 1986, when it comes to Journey members and Steve Perry you basically get two choices: you can sing without him or can sing with someone who sounds just like him (with the exception of Trial By Fire). Tonight, you get both. First up, Steve Perry gets ducked by a little Schon and a mighty Hammer.

Neal Schon kicked off the whole "solo project" thing for Journey by teaming up twice with synth wiz Jan (pronounced "Yawn") Hammer. A few years before Hammer became Crockett and Tubbs keyboard player, he and Neal Schon kicked out a red hot rocker called "No More Lies". Neal Schon spits out the verses on one of his hardest rocking cuts as Jan Hammer gets all Phil Collins on us and plays every other instrument while dressing like the band's accountant. Journey used to play this song on the Frontiers tour, it kicks ass every time.

But sooner or later, Journey members have to deal with Steve Perry. The problem is they don't like Steve Perry, so they often search out the next best thing. In 1991, that was Kevin Chalfant as ex Journey members Gregg Rolie, Ross Valory and Steve Smith (the fired ones) formed a band called The Storm. Chalfant had made his name with AOR also-rans 707 and Shooting Star with a very Perry like tenor. The Storm's cloning machine didn't stop there, as Josh Ramos was hired on to be Neal Schon's stand in soaring guitar parts and all. Still, cynical as it all is, I really liked The Storm and Chalfant's voice so they're representin' here with "Show Me The Way"

And as a little added Friday Night Video bonus, here's a clip of Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain hosting NBC's Friday Night Videos in 1983.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

My Top 10 Favorite Steve Perry Vocal Performances

Steve Perry sings in the desert...so that's where he's been all this time!

Now, how can I have Journey Week and not have a post about "The Voice". Steve Perry's soulful, soaring tenor was the key to transforming Journey from an unknown Prog Rock band to Multi-Platinum Arena Rock Megastars. His ability to take even the most generalized sentiments and personalize them with power and emotion is unrivaled. He exuded sincerity and honesty, inspired World Champions and made every guy in a Karaoke bar whose had five or more beers think that they could wail like Sam Cooke too. And as much as I've enjoyed all of Perry's replacements, his legacy is so great that the rotating lead singer position has almost become like a Broadway role. "And now portraying Steve Perry is..." Having drummer Deen Castronovo sing lead doesn't help this, though Castronovo does a mean Steve Perry himself. Having said that Arnel Pineda has continued to impress over the past few weeks. But this post isn't about Pineda, this one's for "The Voice"!

10. I Believe from the Steve Perry album Street Talk (1984)

Perry's roots are in Rhythm & Blues and this album track from Perry's first solo album rides a Motown beat all the way to Detroit. It's slightly remiscent of The Temptations and has one of Steve Perry's most natural sounding performances. What's great about this vocal is that Perry has the sound of a man coming home after a long Journey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fE6K9GgZ2aM

9. Stay Awhile from the Journey album Greatest Hits Live (1982)

One of the minor hit singles off the Departure album (1980), on the live recordings from the Escape tour Perry rearranged his vocal pattern slightly to give more of a soulful kick to the second verse. It's a stunt so amazing and affecting it's like watching a diving baseball catch or a winning basket at the game ending buzzer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWRMEY0IaZg


8. Any Way You Want It from the Journey album Captured (1981)

This is one of Journey's most memorable songs and one of their most simple. It's all about the performance on this track. Perry's part is to wail as long and fast as possible, a stunt many of his successors would struggle with on this song. It sounds so effortless when Perry does it, which makes the live album version on Captured all the more impressive.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCTh8tjOx0A

7. Don't Be Down On Me Baby from the Journey album Trial By Fire (1996)

Latter day Perry, when his voice got lower and raspier. This old soul style scorcher with the slightly classical sounding piano gave The Voice room to dig in with one of his most emotional vocals. The 60's soul influence comes to the fore again with almost a Stax/Volt quality to it.

6. Ask The Lonely from the movie soundtrack Two Of A Kind (1983)

One of my all time favorite Journey songs because it allows the full band to show their strengths. Steve Perry gets caught up in the melodrama delivering a tense verse section to lead to a soaring chorus. One of Journey's problems when selecting replacement singers have been choosing people more rock influenced than R&B influenced. Tracks like "Ask The Lonely" illustrates that while the band rocks, Perry's soulfulness made them move.

5. I'll Be Alright Without You from the Journey album Raised On Radio (1986)

The Raised On Radio album was often like a Steve Perry solo album and nowhere was that more evident than this R&B flavored pop tune. A Hammond Organ sound similar to his solo hit "Foolish Heart" gives Perry the foundation to sing his tale of woe. One of Perry's best "I'm so haunted by you, girl" performances. Reportedly the song is at least partially inspired by the breakup with ex-girlfriend Sherrie Swafford ("Oh Sherrie").

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qazTmdusPfQ

4. You Better Wait from the Steve Perry album For The Love Of Strange Medicine (1994)

After a seven year absence from the music scene, Steve Perry came crashing back with this Journeyish rocker. The best of Perry's rock form, it starts with a rush of "ahhh"ing Perry overdubs before kicking into the midtempo rock groove. Perry's voice distorts a little bit (intentionally) to add drama before he unleashes one of his famous sustained notes in the chorus. A masters class in Arena Rock singing.

3. Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' from Journey's Raised On Radio tour (1986)

"Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" came from the 1979 album Evolution and was Journey's first Top 20 hit. The thumping bass line and "Na Na Na Na Na" ending was all Perry. But the best version was never commercially released, when I saw Journey perform in '86 the song had been revamped. The first half was Perry singing in an almost gospel style backed on the piano by Jon Cain. After the first verse ended the full band would kick in. It was one of The Voice's most stirring vocal performances, the soul in it was of the hair-standing-on-your-forearms variety.

2. Don't Stop Believin' from the Journey album Escape (1982)

The song has evolved from being Journey's signature hit to pop culture classic over the years. Steve Perry's inspirational voice insisting that we don't stop believin' and hold on to that feelin' has struck a chord with generations of fans. When Perry hits the climax of the chorus with "in the niiigggghhhtttt!!!" everyone in hearing range feels the emotion. Simply amazing.

1. Sweet and Simple from the Journey album Evolution (1979)

It's said that Steve Perry wrote this song about Lake Tahoe. If that's the case, it's easy to imagine Perry's searing vocal echoing across the lake and mountains. R&B singers like En Vogue and Mariah Carey have pointed to Steve Perry as a respected contemporary (Carey even covered "Open Arms") and here he throws out his most melismatic vocal to date. But he's not rangy or showing off without any point, his bold vocal is stirring and staggering in it's ability. When I want to hear ultimate Steve Perry, I always throw this one on.

Steve Perry has been quiet following his ouster from Journey but he has mentioned an interest in recording music again which has fans like me anxiously awaiting his next move. He and Journey may never get along again, but the history and careers they've built has stood the test of time.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pat Benatar On A Horse?

On the back album cover, she's on a horse which would have made the title of this post make more sense.

Continuing Journey Week, I thought I would continue to chart their career through the backwoods of their legacy before going for the obvious stuff. One of the fun curios of Journey's peak period was the album Tane' Cain, an album featuring Jonathan Cain's then-wife released in 1982. The record stands out in my memory because my older cousin had it back then (he was a huge Pat Benatar fan) and he liked the record cover.
.
In an interview with Journey manager Herbie Herbert, Herbert claimed that shortly after Cain joined Journey that Cain refused to follow through on his commitment to the band unless Herbert helped get his wife signed. Tane' Cain had been a professional singer since the 70's and is the daughter of actor Doug McClure. Producer Keith Olsen said the music industry was hot for anything Journey following the Escape album, either way Tane' Cain was signed to RCA records.
.
Jon Cain wrote much of the music for his wife's album and Neal Schon contributed some guitar. Tane' Cain's voice had a very Pat Benatar sound to it (dramatic and kind of Operatic), though she resisted that comparison. The music is state of the art (for 1982) pop rock, a solid mix of catchy pop tunes with mild guitars and busy bass lines. She was able to score one Top 40 hit, the single "Holdin' On" reached #37 on the charts. The other singles "My Time To Fly", "Danger Zone" and "Temptation" failed to make an impact. Jonathan Cain puts everything he has into this album, writng, co-producing, even singing on the duet "Almost Any Night". Despite the Cain's best efforts, the album was only a fair success and Tane' Cain's recording career was over.
.
Jon Cain wrote "Faithfully" to Tane', the song would become one of Journey's biggest hits. Tane' would continue to try her hand at music and acting, forming the band Trianglz and appearing in the film Terminator (it's Tane' and the band playing in the night club when Ah-nold faces Linda Hamilton for the first time). The Cains divorced in 1984 and Tane' would revert to her maiden name McClure. Eventually, she would become a prolific B movie actress and occasionally appear in Hollywood films like Legally Blonde.
.
Rock stardom can bring a lot of things in the music business: video games named after the band, bumper stickers, movie roles...but nothing says success like a vanity recording. And while it may seem unfair to lump Tane' Cain/McClure in that category because she actually can sing a little, that's essentially what this is. What seals the deal is the preening self infatuated performance given by Tane' in the music video, it's wrecks any credibility she may have had going in.
.
It took some time, but I was able to dig up the actual video. Here it is, Tane' Cain in "Temptation"-the new Flashback!

Temptation - Tane Cain