Monday, November 30, 2009

The Design Of A Decade pt deux: Post Flannel Fury!

All that you can't leave behind is how to dismantle an atomic bomb because there is no line on the horizon.

The Grunge and Alterna Rock boom of the early 90's was the last significant movement in Rock music that would hit on a mass scale in my book. When the 2000's rolled around many of those flannel wearing acts had broken up or gone back to the underground. At the same time there were artists who did persevere, gliding into the second stage of their career proving they still had some potency left past their 20s. Of those that survived, here are my favorites:

All That You Can't Leave Behind...Luggage!

U2's 2000 release All That You Can't Leave Behind is my top pick from this genre, though technically they were an 80's band. Top flight songs (the hits "Beautiful Day", "Stuck In A Moment", "Elevation" and "Walk On" all stem from this disc) broadcasting a weary, melancholy sense of hope became my soundtrack to the feeling after 9/11. It also brought guitars back to the band's sound after spending the 90's tinkering with electronic noise. A great album.

With The Lights Out, It's Less Dangerous

The Smashing Pumpkins kicked off the new millennium with what was supposed to be their swan song, Machina/The Machines Of God (2000). While the album is a little abstract (it was the remnants of a planned concept disc that didn't go through) there is some good stuff here. Not the greatest Pumpkins disc, but not an embarrassment either. Anyway, it was Pearl Jam's return to anthemic songwriting that pushed their self titled Pearl Jam (2006) to the top of the ex flannel heap. Scorchers like "Life Wasted" or "Big Wave" exploded on impact. Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl led his Foo Fighters through Echoes Silence Patience Grace (2007), a decent disc highlighted by two outstanding jams "The Pretender" and "Long Road To Ruin". Coming in at the end of the Grunge era was Weezer, who sat out the last part of the 90's only to return armed with an inspired set of compelling nerd rock on 2001's Weezer (the green album). "Island In The Sun" still gets my head bopping.

It Is The Distant Future, The Year 2000

Like the album cover, Green Day caught everyone off guard with a masterstroke pop punk concept album American Idiot (2004) going off like a grenade. An artistic triumph, Green Day spoke to the disaffected with a strong set of songs that hung together thematically. American Idiot was one of the discs I played the most within the last couple of years. And no one saw it coming from a trio that was written off as lightweight has beens.

Radiohead has been the barometer for everything considered great about rock music following The Bends in 1995. Many Best Of The Decade lists I've seen rate Kid A (2000) near the top, an album I could not get into. Electronic doodling in rock music is nice as an additional extra, like buying an accent piece of furniture, but I hate when rock bands remove guitars completely in favor of blips and bloops (lookin' at you U2 and Radiohead!). The Radiohead album I did get into was the famous freebee In Rainbows (2007). A sturdy bunch of songs packed with that whiny croony thing Thom Yorke does so well. Along similar lines, Coldplay became one of the few new stadium bands of the 21st Century thanks to a string of polished, glossy U2/Radiohead style balladry. A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002) was a compelling listen evoking a sort of post modern yearning for something more. It's a mellow ride through a mildly tortured soul. The lone downside is that "Clocks" threatened to become as ubiquitous in montages as Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" was five years before it. Once I heard "Clocks" used in a scene from ER I saw there was no getting away from that song. Ever.

Not to be left in the past, alternative techno rock icon Trent Reznor served up the pretty good With Teeth (2005) for his Nine Inch Nails. It wasn't as inspired as his best work, instead it was consistently good with "Only" becoming my favorite NIN song.

Shiny Happy People Marching

R.E.M. spent most of the time making mediocre albums to a fanbase that kept wondering - when was R.E.M. going to be great again? What happened to those sublime post punk songs with the riddle filled lyrics? In 2008, R.E.M. took a shot at regaining their own title back as jangle rock kings on Accelerate and came damn close to succeeding. On its own terms, Accelerate powers forward by embracing the bands past but not copying it.

R.E.M. had their roots in college rock or what's now called Indie rock which will be the next genre on my list here. Because that's me in the corner, that's me in the spot. light.

December 8th Add On

There were two CDs that I went back and forth on including and ultimately I decided to tack them on. The first is Pearl Jam's latest Backspacer (2009). I didn't think much of this disc when I first got it but since then it has grown and resonated with me strongly so I am adding it on. Also, power pop ace Matthew Sweet generated Kimi Ga Suki (2003) should have been included for its pure chimy catchiness.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Make Me Smile

Some humorous music videos floating around cyberspace good enough to make a double shot of the funny. The first is from the Jimmy Fallon show doing a perfect imitation of Neil Young singing...The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air theme song. Second up is the viral video of The Muppets performing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Both brought a smile on my face and if you haven't seen these before, enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Design Of A Decade Pt 1: Devil Horns To The Sky!

The future is the past. The past is the future. Chickenfoot keeps arena rock alive in 2009!

The first decade of the 21st Century is almost over, makes me feel like I'm Buck Rogers living in this space age of microwave ovens and high definition sunglasses. And with any landmark of time there must be Best Of lists because hell, if you can't list things you like in an arbitrary order then why have an internet? So this is my list, in order of genre, of my favorite CDs of the past ten years. I wish I could say every album on my list is a flawless gem but I'm old, most new music (even by old artists) don't hit me like that. This is part 1 of a series that I'm naming after a Janet Jackson album because as she would say, what have you done for me lately?

We're at the stage of life for 70's / 80's rock bands to discover that sadly rock and roll does not come with a pension plan. As a result these groups keep chugging along on the road to make dough for their IRA. Or maybe they just plain love what they're doing and meant it all those years ago when they gave interviews saying "I'll play live til I die whether it's to 20,000 people or just one guy in the room." In any case, these road warriors hit the stage to rock out annually and occasionally release new material to keep things fresh. Here's my favorite Arena rock releases of recent past.

Rock The Half Sold Out Arena!

My favorite of all music genres headed up by my favorite band, Journey. The 21st Century era of this group will forever be in dispute because for some Journey begins and ends with Steve Perry. Though Perry is my all time favorite singer, I was a fan of the band as a whole which included Jon Cain, Neal Schon and Ross Valory and was happy to see them continue. Arrival (2001) is the best of the bunch with Steve Augeri on the mic, Journey rocked hard on cuts like "Higher Place", "To Be Alive Again" or the strutting "I Got A Reason". Naturally this had to be offset by soft soaring ballads such as "Lifetime Of Dreams" or "Signs Of Life". Only the "When You Love A Woman" rewrite "All The Way" feels like a misstep although it isn't bad. Augeri allowed the group to rock its hardest since the Escape / Frontiers era. After drafting Arnel Pineda a year ago, the bay area band recorded Revelations (2008) which brought back some needed soulfulness to the vocals (Augeri was a better rock belter, Pineda a better crooner). The strong mix of rockers and ballads continued with the high flying "Change For The Better" offset by the soft "Turn Down The World Tonight".

Recent Journey tour mates Heart and Cheap Trick both had good albums to back up their noise. Heart delivered Jupiter's Darling (2004) that found middle ground between their Zepified 70's persona and slick 80's model. Meanwhile, the Tricksters have spent decades trying to recapture their early magic with hit and miss results. On 2006's Rockford they hit the right balance of catchy power pop brilliance and power chord thunder.

Other early 80's survivor Loverboy strapped on the head bandanna one more time for Just Getting Started (2007). One of the few successful attempts to meld modern sensibility into an established 80's rock sound. The fired up title track has plenty of Loverboy's famous freewheeling fun, the bluesy "One Of Them Days" swings and the power ballad "The One That Got Away" is first class.


The Hair Metal bands of the 80's have some renewed interest thanks to the Guitar Hero / Rock Band phenomenon. Still, no one is willing to reproduce their classic spandex pants with wall of hair look. Instead they opt for leather pants and a shaggy shoulder length hair cut that says "Hey, I'm old and won't look out of place shopping at Wal Mart but still know how to rawk!"

It took a band not from that era to hand down the truest (and at same time mocking) expression of this maligned art form: The Darkness. They came out of nowhere to throw down "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" establishing a heady mix of Queen and hair band euphoria. Their album Permission To Land (2003) backs up their hit tune with other material that is silly and playful in its excess. Too bad drugs and a delayed follow up caused them to crash and burn.

Whitesnake proved David Coverdale could still howl in the still of the night with the excellent Good To Be Bad (2008). Copying your own hits over again usually seems lame, in the hands of a master like Coverdale remakes of "Slow and Easy" or "Is This Love" (titled "Good To Be Bad" and "All I Want All I Need" respectively) are downright inspired. I got to see them live just before Coverdale's voice gave out, he rawked!

Marketing king Jon Bon Jovi spent much of this decade serving up streamlined pop rock to the masses with success. Although I liked the hit songs he's had lately, as a full album statement the disc I liked the most was the hitless Bounce (2002). I wish I could say this was a great album, it's just pretty good, yet as an album it blends the faster and slower material evenly and cleanly. Plus I love that title song.

It's A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock And Roll

Two bands that were virtual outlaws in their hey day compared to where they landed now are AC/DC and Metallica. AC/DC were shunned as being "Satanic" and represented all that was "evil" in rock music during the late 70's and early 80's. Raunchy sexism hammered down with a heavy guitar riff and a jolt of humor made them easy targets for God fearing parents wrath. How weird is it now, nearly 30 years later, you can buy AC/DC memorabilia at department stores and see little kids decked out in the Aussie band's branded merchandise? Times have changed making AC/DC classics like "Let Me Put My Love Into You" or "Let's Get It Up" tame by comparison.

AC/DC didn't do a whole lot the last ten years to necessarily earn this boon, though they did turn in the enjoyable Black Ice (2008). Black Ice had some catchy stuff such as the slick "Wheels" or the menacing title tune. I'd like to say 2000's Stiff Upper Lip was great as that was the disc that got me into the band beyond a casual interest. Just can't say that because too much of the CD has songs stuck in the same groove making it repetitive.

Metallica is another band that rocked so hard they couldn't get any recognition from mainstream media for the first third of their career. They managed to hit it big on their own terms initially, since the mid 90's they have continuously watered down their image to ensure lasting popularity. Even if it reeked of career move-itis, last year's Death Magnetic was the bay area thrashers throwback to basics CD. Lengthy songs, pummeling rhythms, spiraling solos and dog bark vocals came back with a vengeance. Admittedly some of Death Magnetic rings hollow, still I'll take this over most of what the band has done the last fifteen years any day. I have no favorite individual songs from this disc, I like it as a whole.

Oh Yeah!

The last CD I have under this style is 2009's Chickenfoot. The supergroup made up of half of Van Hagar (Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar), guitar god Joe Satriani and funky drummer Chad Smith cranked out shameless hard rock. Playing to their strengths, straightforward AOR performed with inspiration produces an adrenaline fueled feeling of power. Would have been nice if the songs were a touch better, what is here is good enough anyway.

That's a wrap on part one of this series, think I'll tackle the 90's stars next. Until next time, same Bat time, same Bat channel!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Have a funky turkey day, peace!
I'm stumped on what to say this Holiday other than Happy Thanksgiving! So my song for the day is from V Town's own Sly Stone "Thank You". Have a great turkey day and par-tay.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Midnight Madness - Glambert Edition

I haven't done one of these types of posts in a while, seems like there is a lot happening out there in entertainment that's sorta random so I need a touch, a touch of madness!

No Boundaries - Adam Lambert aka Glambert got lots of people upset with his American Music Award performance, vamping it up like Prince on an ecstasy fueled rave binge to the tune of his new song "For Your Entertainment". Lambert made out with guys, shoved another guy in his crotch face first (you know what that means) and dragged a girl on the floor like carry on luggage. Me, I just think its too bad that this was all that was memorable about the performance - his singing was off and the song just plain sucks. Lambert has a phenomenal voice, but with a clunker of a tune like "For Your Entertainment" the whole thing seemed like one of those "adults only" Vegas shows where the provcative parts are the whole point. Kid, if you're gonna pull a Prince you gotta have the funk to back that smack up.

It's The End Of The World As We Know It, And I Feel Fine - The film 2012 has made bank at the box office and has people believing its more a documentary than fiction. A week ago my water line broke, the guy sent out to fix it started talking to me about how the Mayan calendar says we're all gonna die at 2012, like this stuff is real! He was dead serious. Somehow I always knew John Cusack would be the harbringer of doom. Have you seen Serendipity?

Need Credits? - I'm digging the NBC show Community set in a community college somewhere. It's a funny show with clever writing and quirky characters. Good stuff!

Face Lift - The reoccuring rumors of a Faces reunion drags on with members of the group now suggesting they will reform without Rod Stewart. Seems Stewart won't commit to the union leaving the others restless and looking into possibilities with Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall. If Rod doesn't know them by now, he may never never know them.

Hello Cleveland! - The Boss recently experienced every major rock stars worst nightmare, he shouted out the wrong city name! During a concert he called out to his fans in Ohio although he was in Michigan.

Not Chucked - Tv advertisements for the new season of Chuck is finally starting, promising a January return to action. Just bring it!

The Big O - Oprah has announced an end to her long running daytime talk show, ending in about a year or so from now. No Oprah don't do it! I don't want to see the desperate attempts to capture your large existing audience with weak carbon copies of the original, daytime tv is crowded enough already. Meanwhile, Jenny Jones sits in a dark corner with her hands clasped together and hisses " begins..." followed by maniacal laughter.

Suck On This! - I can't get into the current Vampire fad, with its recasting of the ancient movie monsters into teenagers with teen angst problems. At least that's what I've gotten from the advertisements and the rip off tv shows that's arisen it Twilight's wake. I haven't watched any of these shows due to their perceived lack of bite. Oh that's bad. Somebody put a stake in this thing.

Overexposed Movie Of The Week - Ninja Assassin, a CGI Fu movie starring popular Asian actor Rain (well, popular in Asian countries and with my aunt but I digress) apparently being born to be a ninja and whipping out chains with blades on the end or some kinda thing to kill ninjas. 'Cause if you're named Ninja Assassin you damn well better have some ninjas to kill. My impression is your usual kid learns something against his will becomes the best in the world at it yet broods over it because it never made him happy. The tortured killer schtick, "Wah I behead my enemies with almost no thought but I coulda been an accountant or something if I wasn't raised with these frickin' Ninja reflexes." So he maims and kills thousands of martial artists then acts all sad over it. Am I wrong? Maybe, I don't care because I'm not seeing it anyway. CGI induced martial arts is lame (not counting the first Matrix movie.) :p

Lady You Bring Me Up - Country group Lady Antebellum surprised me by dishing out a first class AOR duet called "Need You Now" for their upcoming album. There is still some twang in the voice and steel guitar so it can be labeled Country, though at it's sappy core it's not far off from the pop rock of Starship's "Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now". Lady Antebellum's new song is better than anything I heard off their debut, nice tune.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Affirmative Action

Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel look to Mordor, wait wrong category, is it Hogsworth? For magic in Yes Man.


Last night watched the Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man and you know what, it wasn't bad. Jim Carrey is hit and miss with me, he can be funny and other times he goes overboard. Carrey has undeniable comic timing, an elastic body and a willingness to do any type of joke regardless of taste level. These traits made him a favorite when I used to watch In Living Color way back when (classic characters like Fire Marshall Bill or the female body builder were great). After hitting it big with his freak on a leash routine in those Ace Ventura movies, Carrey has tried for legitimacy (he wants to be taken seriously) which has simultaenously reined in his talking out of his butt impulses and homogenized him somewhat. For me, I like the slightly restrained Carrey that breaks out in spurts like in my favorite Carrey movie Liar Liar. Thankfully (for me), that's the Carrey we get in Yes Man.

Yes Man is about bank loan officer Carl who is depressed because his girl left him three years earlier. Carl wanders through work and then goes home to watch Blockbuster videos, avoiding any chance of talking to people or meeting with friends. An old friend runs into Carl and talks him into going to a seminar for a program where Terrance Stamp implores people to say "Yes!" to everything. He commands Carl to say "Yes!" to anything or there will be cosmic retribution. Carl grudgingly buys into it and finds by saying "Yes!" to everything presented to him that his life opens up both professionally and personally.

That's the gist of it, Yes Man is not original but for a comedy is directed with some polish by Peyton Reed. Reed does a good job, the jokes flow evenly, predictable story doesn't drag, he gets good performances from the cast as even minor characters get a sense of identity plus inobtrusive realism in the settings. Carrey is in a more mature version of his Liar Liar mode, acting somberly until the "Yes" command drives him into cortortionistic discomfort. He does look more aged, too old looking for his romantic opposite indie queen Zooey Deschanel. Deschanel gets to present a groomed version of her quirky indie appeal (her songs with the imaginary group Muschachen By Proxy are highlights) yet has no chemestry with Carrey. They kiss chastely and seem like two people more content to shake hands than make out. Rhys Darby (Flight Of The Conchords) gets to do his clueless well meaning office dork routine and naturally nails it.

Yes Man delivers the goods, a slight inoffensive high concept rom com that lets Carrey be goofy. It's Hollywood product, but it's well made product. The only item to take me out of the movie was unintentional, when loan officer Carl starts saying "Yes!" to every loan presented to him it's hard not to think of how banks sank the economy with this type of approval system. Still, Yes Man is a good enough time if you see it cheaply like a rental. If you want to have a nice comedy to pleasantly pass the time, I say Yes!

Below is a song from Muschachen By Proxy (have no idea if I'm spelling this right) called "Uh-Huh", one of about four songs for this movie. It's funny and catchy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

...The Quick And Easy Way...

...leads to the Dark Side of The Force. I wanted to make a quick post so I'm just gonna go on about whatever comes up in shuffle mode on my IPOD. It's a popular blog gimmick and I love it so here it goes!

1. Aerosmith "Rag Doll" (live)

My Ipod has been Aerosmith crazy lately, almost like it could sense a tremor in The Force. How has this year gone for the Beantown boys? Guitarist Brad Whitford got hurt, then I think drummer Joey Kramer got hurt, then I think bassist Tom Hamilton had an operation, then Steven Tyler fell off a stage-and all that before the recent drama. Tyler's revolving door answers to if he's in or out of Aerosmith gives me a headache. I'm so glad I got to see them live a few years ago, even with them playing a truncated set and Hamilton being absent (I believe he was battling Cancer at the time) they were great. "Seasons Of Wither" was awesome in that show.

2. White Stripes "Conquest"

One of my favorite White Stripes songs, unique with that Spanish sound added to the heavy drums / guitar combo that is their trademark. Jack White's vocal has a playful absurd tone to it which is very funny. I often skipped to this song on the CD during my commute to work a few years back, it got me pumped up like I was bull fighting or something.

3. Arcade Fire "Intervention"

Not since the glory days of Rick Wakeman can I recall this much church organ in a song. Off the excellent Neon Bible album, I like the downtrodden mood and cynicism balanced with longing for a way out in this track.

4. Led Zeppelin "Stairway To Heaven"

And she's buy-yuy-ying a he-avennn. Well, I'm going to have some time to do some typing now won't I? For the first five years or so of my buying and listening to rock music, I did not hear this song. Heard it about it, yes, but actually heard it, no. Once I did hear it, I thought "Is that it?". Years later in college I had a tv production class where the assignment was to create a production about a poem. I asked if song lyrics counted (because I don't know poetry from jack) and was told yes, so my production was me reading the lyrics to this song while we did slow camera movements on pics taken from a Best Photos From Life Magazine issue. After reading the lyrics over and over from this assignment I came to appreciate the song more. While they didn't invent the soft to loud song pace, their influence is unmistakable on other rock bands that copy this structure. The best rip off? Whitesnake's "Sailing Ships" from the Slip Of The Tongue disc. Guitarist Steve Vai tears it up while Coverdale wails, blasphemous as it is I like "Sailing Ships" better than "Stairway".

5. Courtney Jaye "I Need Love"

This is off one of the Paste Magazine samplers, this is my first listen of it. Hmmm...pleasant Country rock with a sort of George Harrison slide guitar lick and clip cloppy percussion. A sort of updated 70's feel. Stuff like this is what I like about Paste samplers, it gives me exposure to new music that fits my style. Twangy female vocal is good. Nice song, it's growing on me.

6. Jake Shimabukuro "3rd Stream"

Another Paste Magazine track, very intricate acoustic guitar here. Sort of Hawaiian mixed with some Spanish guitar it sounds like. I like acoustic guitar solos where it's very complex with all these neato nimble finger moves you can hear. This is even better than the last song, good stuff. Makes me want to go to Starbucks and order a Mocha Latte. I think the free Itunes download I got from Starbucks for Roberto Y Gabriela is in the same vein. Impressive...most impressive. (An update, now that I've looked this up on You Tube dude is playing a ukelale. Wow)

7. The Beatles "Here Comes The Sun"

In my book, George Harrison is the best Beatle. For me, that is. Lennon's avant garde touches could get a little too "out there" for me, while McCartney's melodicism could get a bit wimpy. Harrison had a direct approach that balanced melody and guitars in a way that appealed to me...that is except for hippy trippy stuff like "Within You Without You" of course. When Harrison died, this song was featured in just about every televised tribute to the man and with good reason, its a great song. So breezy and hopeful without being slight. Awesome.

8. Boston "What's Your Name"

I have a ton of Boston on my Ipod, which would mean something except they only have like five albums. This came from the Walk On Cd aka the one where they started using synthesizers. Seemed totally wrong for Boston, who proudly advertised on their record jackets that they didn't use synthesizers, would turn around and use them. It's not like it saved them time in recording, the gap between Walk On in 1994 and the prior album Third Stage in 1986 was eight freakin' years. Oh, back to the song. I love the guitar solo part of "What's Your Name", where the multitracked guitars solo in unison while another guitar in the background makes this descending sound like a spaceship landing.

9. Tommy TuTone "867-5309 Jenny"

A classic of arena sized power pop, it instantly takes me back to 1982. All those news stories of people dialing this phone number, a number that belonged to real people, was funny or what we in '82 liked to call "gnarly". Too bad Tommy TuTone couldn't come up with another humdinger of a pop hit like "Jenny". This song still fires me up and has me dreaming of the numerous county fairs this song must be played at annually. I want me some corn dogs!

10. Mary J Blige "Real Love"

Mary Mary, why you buggin? Sorry, couldn't resist that. You know, as big a hit as this song was in the early 90's it was some tv commercial a year back that got me into this song. Was it a phone commercial? Probably. I like the occasional R&B song and Blige has come up with a winner on occasion, she had some song that sampled part of a soap opera theme (Young and the Restless?) for an aptly titled tune "No More Drama" that I liked too. Didn't care as much for her duet with U2 on "One" though, a little over the top on that one. Anyway, I like the groove here with the slow heavy bass and antsy piano figure on top while Mary soulfully wails away.

All right, that was painless - for me that is. Not as painful as being cut off at the legs with a light saber or anything. And now Lord Vader...rise!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Duran Duran - Seven And The Ragged Tiger (1984)

I guess I'm never going to get around to writing about Emerson, Lake and Powell because I keep thinking of other albums to write about. While in a Barnes and Noble bookstore today viewing the plethora of Twilight New Moon books, games, picture books, etc it struck me that no one has remade Duran Duran's "New Moon On Monday". With all the 80's songs getting remade by newer acts to tie in with a movie or tv show, this seemed an obvious choice. It appears to not be though, leaving me with my memories of the Duranie's third album. The British quintet were at the height of their popularity, regularly appearing on MTV and teen girls walls all over the Western world. This was one of the last records I taped off my buddy Mike, who was really into Duran Duran for a week and then turned completely Metal the next. No longer interested in the musical qualifications of Duran squared, he derisively (and very un Pc by todays standards) declared this album Seven and the F*ggot Tiger. And I would point out to him that it was he who bought this record. And he would claim that was before he realized they sucked. Proving that teenagers can't argue with other teenager's logic, because there is none.

1. The Reflex

I don't know if it happens as much now, back in the day it was common for singles to be remixed for radio - which meant if you spent your $7.99 for the record by the time the tune hit the airwaves it didn't match what you had bought. Instead, it sounded better leaving me wondering what the hell I just spent my money on. Though I didn't spend money on this one, still I felt ripped off. And so it goes with "The Reflex", one of Duran Duran's greatest hits. On record "The Reflex" dragged a little though that lumbering bass line, prancing keyboards and Le Bon's riddle filled lyrics were intact. It was OK but once the 45 came out with the remixed "Sha la la la"s and tightened song length "The Reflex" became audio awesomeness. The breakdown with Roger Taylor's fancy drumwork and John Taylor's bass shone brighter in the remix adding more dynamics to this jam. Still one of their most enduring hits, a segment of one of the American Pie sequels had its funniest bit with the jock dude dancing to this. Oh, the video clip for this song was one of the best live footage style promos I've seen, great editing and camera work. Because Simon Le Bon's lyrics are obtuse, I wondered: Is "The Reflex" him singing about, er, "Turning Japanese"? If you know the rumored story behind that song you know what I mean. It's the same subject matter that was tackled in Def Leppard's "Let It Go" and Foo Fighters "All My Life" for those in need of a bigger hint.

You have frosted moussed hair, guyliner, pouty expressions...c'mon say it: Duran Duran. Before Vampires were cool, before the Wall was torn down, five English pretty boy musicians railed for an abstract rebellion in the super cool video for "New Moon On Monday". Because if you're going to rebel, why not base it on a lunar calendar? In a case where a video overtakes the song its for, the meaning of "New Moon" for me is that video so I didn't bother to try deciphering the lyrics. I wanted to join a vague European underground movement so I could send coded messages with matchboxes and wave burning torches at people. Saw this video often after coming home from school and tuning into the California Music Channel. Still floored that no one has remade this song. Please please tell me now if it ever does get remade. (A note, the link with the song title is the original video and below is an alternate version)

A filler track for sure, it wasn't their best by a long shot. Just mediocre pop, quite a comedown after a strong debut and the near faultless Rio records. They were the shizzle, the bees knees, the living end in '84 due to good music and their photogenic looks. Thanks to the increased demand the group was a little "ragged" at this point and I think choked a touch trying to follow up on their massive success. Duran Duran would never be as strong musically as the first two records, what would follow would be decent albums with a few highpoints each time out. At least guitarist Andy Taylor gets to cut loose a little here on the solo, something he would later leave the group to get more of. A few years later I saw Taylor perform live at a concert, he tried hard but was bor-ing! I would fast forward this song when I would play back this album on my trusty Maxell 90 minute tape.

Duran took the dice because they owned the game at this point. Girls on the bus would go on and on loudly about how hot they thought John or Roger Taylor was and trade teen mags about the group. At the time this seemed obnoxious, but looking back when was the last time a boy band played their own instruments or wrote their own distinct style of music? We had it pretty good to have a teen pop group with some musical talent that extends beyond choreography. Now, is it me or does Simon Le Bon's voice could get kinda whiny? Remember when he was in that boat race and his boat flipped over? Did you know he nearly drowned filming the video for "Wild Boys"? Why am I spouting random Simon Le Bon trivia?? I have no freakin' clue.

Ending side one is this fast paced ditty, it doesn't go very far though. The beat is quick, Nick Rhodes' shiny keyboards provide a decent fanfare and the chorus has that exclamatory "look here" or "look away" that Le Bon loves. It reminds me that I really liked the song at the end of side one of Rio called "Hold Back The Rain". There was this girl on the school bus who loved Duran Duran that I thought was kinda attractive, it was a cloudy day so getting off the bus I sarcastically said to her "Hold Back The Rain". When the bus doors shut behind me, I looked back to see her stand up and mouth "F*ck you!" at me through the bus window. Ah, teen romance. So mature of me to provoke her like that.

Okay, if "The Reflex" isn't about sex then surely "Union Of The Snake" is? Nick Rhodes serves up a killer keyboard riff and the appropriately slinky groove works. One of my favorite song hooks, "The Union (Bam!) Of The Snake is on the clliiimmmbbbb" is forever stuck in my head. This video was huge news and played nonstop on all video programs when this was released. The fact that this promo clip made no sense was all the better, I mean what is going on in this video? Something about being like Indiana Jones and elevators or some crap? Man, I miss ridiculously expensive high concept videos where it only makes sense halfway, honestly I do. I dunno, more random trivia did you know Nick Rhodes produced Kajagoogoo? Yeah, he had a hand in "Too Shy". Small world. Although I don't think Rhodes had anything to do with that group shooting themselves in the foot by firing Limahl and shortening their moniker to Kaja. And regarding the world, below is the band's appearance at Live Aid performing this song!

Duran Duran was all about faux sophistication, capturing that feeling of getting all gussied up for a school dance. You know that feeling, you got your pleated pants, Izod shirt and Members Only jacket on to impress the ladies with your bad self. Because when you put on a Members Only jacket, something happens. I wish, nothing ever happened to me wearing that dumb jacket! Alright, maybe that was just me. In any event, this song is fast and forgettable yet makes me feel like James Bond listening to it. Which is a good fit, since their theme song was the best part of A View To A Kill.

Speaking of James Bond, there was this character in You Only Live Twice named Tiger Tanaka that was pretty cool. And Mary Jane calls Peter Parker "Tiger". But Duran Duran, making a thing out of repeating a word twice twice, have this pleasant instrumental called "Tiger Tiger". This is one of the most listenable tracks on the record, full of cool atmospherics. Produced by Alex Sadkin, a guy that had a firm grasp on echoey sound effects who would later turn in outstanding work on Foreigner's Agent Provacateur album.

When they were on, Duran Duran could get a bit exotic and mysterious. While I guess I could compare this style to Roxy Music, they could be a little haunting. They nail that mood here, the closing track. Any vampire would be happy to stalk his prey listening to this dark, slow tune. This would be the last album the original lineup (Le Bon, Rhodes and the three Taylors) would record together until the 21st Century. After the side projects of Arcadia and The Power Station, Duran Duran would be cut down to a three piece of Le Bon, Rhodes and John Taylor for many years to come.

Duran Duran, the last of the teeny bopper bands to have any musical cred (though I guess Hanson comes close for playing their own instruments as well). They rode the New Romantic vibe and flashy music videos to success creating a sound that succeeded in putting style over substance.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Welcome To The Occupation


I finished watching a BBC miniseries called Occupation, a daring drama looking at three fictional British soldiers who fight in the second Iraq war. After the war, the soldiers find themselves returning to Iraq during the reconstruction for both mercenary and personal reasons. It's a sobering look at the Iraq war and its aftermath.
Shot in a documentary style with handheld cameras complete with the jittery closeups and swish pans that go with it, Occupation has an undeniable tension and edge throughout. The viewpoint of the piece that I got out of it was of how greed under the guise of emancipation has led to the West mucking about in an area it can never understand, only exploit at a high body count. And it illustrates its points with some strong storytelling.
The storylines follow three guys, the first being a sargeant who makes headlines for his rescue of a young Iraqi girl during combat. Sgt. Mike becomes a national hero, but he falls in love with the Iraqi doctor who worked on the girl which leads to personal and cultural turmoil for everyone involved. Meanwhile, the more brutish Danny hooks up with an American ex-soldier after the war to become fly by night "security contractors" raking in big bucks with no credentials other than a brief case and guns. The third guy "Hibbsy" starts out as an innocent idealist wanting to build a better Iraq who becomes increasingly disillusioned as the series progresses.
Since this is a British program, Americans are presented as more cold hearted cynics than the heavy hearted Englishmen shown which is interesting to see when you're used to American television like me. Ironically, the real stand out performance in Occupation to me was the main American character Lester played by British actor Nonso Anozie. Anozie is so convincing as the pragmatic profit minded American that I didn't think he was British until I looked it up online. A very impressive and commanding presence with great skill.
That isn't to say Occupation is perfect, like anything in tv or film that shoots for realism but still wants to moralize by stringing together running characters by "coincidence" (like the "coincidence" crazy Academy Award winning Crash from a few years ago) it reminds you that you are watching a piece of fiction. Ditto a love scene between the British Sargeant and the Iraqi doctor that seemed to shoot for some unneeded shock value, or at least unsubtle symbolism. These little things took me out of the story at key moments in the second half of the series.
Occupation is a good miniseries packed with drama and some thought provoking moments. In a sad way, it's actually a bit haunting as well. It may not be easy to find here (I found it on the BBC America channel by accident) but well worth seeking out.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Isn't It Bromantic?

Rudd and Segal get all By Tor and the Snow Dog in I Love You Man.


I did a brief review of the movie I Love You Man and thought it was worth expanding on just a little bit more. The movie starts with a real estate seller named Paul Rudd (40 Year Old Virgin) proposing to his cute girlfriend played by Rashida Jones (The Office). Peter something is the name of Rudd's character, he had high hopes of selling off Lou Ferrigno's property and parlaying the commission to bigger and better things.

But problems arise when the fiancee' worries about Peter's lack of male friends. On top of that, he has trouble selling Lou Ferrigno's property so Peter has to fend off competition from his flashy loud mouth co-worker trying to horn in on the action. So with help from his gay gym trainer brother (performed by SNL's Andy Sandberg with his usual clueless hyper confidence) and his mom, Peter goes on a series of "man dates" that end in confusion of all types.

This is the first 30 minutes or so, it's mildly amusing but without any heavy yuks making things start to drag. The likeable persona of Rudd's uptight Peter keeps it moving just enough to get to Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother). Segel's character is a free spirit type living in a sort of arrested development where the things that matter are brewskis, free food and Rush. Segel and Rudd meet at an open house for Lou Ferrigno's estate and they hit it off, launching the bromance. Finally the humor kicks in as they bond over "guy" things that causes an increase in confidence in Rudd and leaves Jones wondering where she fits in between the two guys. Most of the humor comes from Rudd and Segal running around like best buds with endless disposable income.

I Love You Man is not the greatest comedy of all time or anything close, it's more like a tv movie with some R rated humor. All of the characters are sympathetic in some way and not terribly original. Segal makes the most of getting to be the unpredictable "live wire" while Rudd does a decent job of being the straight man (and Segal is on a roll following a good performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). The pacing and direction is clean and unobtrusive, going in for the jokes and wisely dodging social commentary. And as I wrote yesterday, Rashida Jones gives depth to an empty role that doesn't even come with any funny lines.

When it's all said and done, I Love You Man gives enough of a good time to recommend it. Because today's Tom Sawyer gets high on you and the space he invades he gets by on you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This Is It

I haven't posted much lately as I have been busy preparing for today, the big day, the day I join the ranks of the unemployed. This will be the first time I haven't had a job since 1993. I can't say I'm alone as I have co-workers that are being laid off today as well and anyone who has looked around cyberspace or seen the news knows I am not in a unique situation. Even with the economy beginning to turn around, there are plenty of people that have been or will be let go from their employment due to their company's financial desires or fortunes. But rather than dwell on what a major bummer this is for me, this post will be about what entertainment got me through the past few weeks. And thank you to my wife for all her support!


Didn't I just review Pearl Jam's Backspacer CD? Funnily enough, even though I rated the music a 7.5 out of 10 for being lyrically vague it's that generalness that made it resonate with me more in the past two weeks. Going to work knowing the end is coming was like crashing "Against The Waves", trying to put a fix on the situation of looming unemployment a la "The Fixer" and reminding myself to "Just Breathe" because fittingly, "The End" was coming. Pearl Jam's unquestionable energy and integrity helped drive me (literally, I played it a lot in the car) to get past these final days. Backspacer developed more for me due to the circumstances of the timing of when I heard it, I bought it the day I was given notice my job would be ending and it has been the soundtrack to this period of my life.

I also have been playing some Styx as I hadn't realized how much Tommy Shaw writes about unemployment until now. "Blue Collar Man" and "Too Much Time On My Hands"? You're singing my song, Mr. Shaw.


My wife and I took comfort in watching my DVD set of T.J. Hooker, the early 80's classic cop show starring the legendary William Shatner. The Shat kicks ass as the tough veteran blue suit who pontificates on the crime of the week with authority. He has so much authority that even his ex-wife calls him "Hooker" instead of T.J., or Thomas, or Tom or any other variation of (my wife pointed this out). All of the "maggots", "punks" and "scum" can't stand up to the power of the Shatner 2000. No criminal could outrun the girdled one as Shatner breaks every rule to bring the bad guys down. And whatever happened to Adrian Zmed?


Last night I watched I Love You Man, a fun bromance comedy starring that guy from the Jennifer Aniston movie involving a baby I think and the dude that's not the star but co-star that's not Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother. It starts off a little slow but once the HIMYM guy shows up it picks up considerably. Gotta respect any film that gives Rush as much props as they get here. And Rashida Jones (Quincy Jones' daughter) plays the unassuming girlfriend to perfection, giving depth to a sketchy role.

One last song that keeps going through my head is Sinead O'Connor's "The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance". Okay, okay, okay - I guess one sad song makes it through on this post. But as they say, this is also an opportunity for a new beginning. So I'll pile on Chicago's "Beginnings" on the flip side. Oh yeah!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cheap Shots

One trend I liked in the early 90's was Beavis and Butthead, the crudely animated teenage metalheads who passed judgement on whatever music videos played. A nostalgic throwback to when MTV played actual music videos instead of junk like I Wanna Be In A Pretend Band or My Ridiculously Expensive Birthday whatever those shows are called. Yes, there was a time when MTV would play music videos and people would sit and watch it, Beavis and Butthead captured that moment. They also captured making sarcastic or excited remarks at the tv when videos appeared on screen that got a reaction.

It was like someone had put on tv the stuff we did in real life. When I met some new friends around '83 one of the first things they included me in was miming the Def Leppard "Photograph" video with them towards their living room mirror when the clip came on (I know, dorky, just keepin' it real). Or arguing with others as to whether or not Duran Duran's "The Reflex" or Hall & Oates "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid" were filmed in the Bay Area. Watching my friend get excited because Van Halen's "Dreams" came on and hurt himself attempting to tackle another guy as a result (teenage adrenalin = hard hittin' football!) was pretty funny. Even funnier, after he missed the tackle and slammed into his dresser his glasses came off and we had to listen to him complain like it was our fault he bent his glasses.

Beavis and Butthead kicked off that whole "bad animation" thing that South Park followed up on, because then like now we were in a recession and could relate to doing things cheaply. The more low budget the better in the early 90's, grunge, gangsta rap, indie movies, animation that looked like colorforms, it spoke to a generation that saw the Big 80's economy crash and burn. B&B also launched the career of Mike Judge (Office Space, King Of The Hill) who has become an enduring talent. But the real beauty of B&B was that it was fodder for cheap shot artists like me :)
Oh, below is a clip of the Beavis and Butthead episode that includes T'Pau's "Heart And Soul" which is how this whole post got started. Huh huh, huh huh...I started my "post". Yeah, yeah...I'm showing my "post" on my "log". Huh huh, my log stinks...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ponyo The Good Version

A little while ago I wrote about how I didn't like the movie Ponyo, now there's a version online that mashes it up with a comic rap song by The Lonely Island called "I'm On A Boat". It's pretty funny and much better than seeing the actual film. I found this on the website for Paste magazine.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Music That Scares Me

After yesterdays post I came to the conclusion that there are some songs that scare me - scare me because I like them even though my brain tells me I really shouldn't. It's funny this should even happen to me because I generally like music that critics and snobs would label relentlessly cheesy (like Slaughter's "Up All Night"), but there are tunes that even I am ashamed to admit liking. And now, the day after Halloween, get ready for those things that go bump in the night...because I wouldn't want to be caught listening to them in the day time.

10. Chicago "25 Or 6 To 4 '86"

I've written about this song before, Chicago's forgotten cover of their own early '70's hit. Where the original was all about speed - speedy bass line, Peter Cetera's high whine, horns darting in and out while Terry Kath burns the hell out of his guitar, the remake was slow and clunky. The bass line moves at a crawl while an endlessly repeating drum pattern that sounds like it was done on trash cans churns on. Add a ridiculous 1984 inspired music clip that tries to disguise the band (because Peter Cetera had just been replaced by Jason Scheff) and you have a monumental piece of trash...that I love. Tonight I could only find the live version, it does not reduce it's greatness.

9. T' Pau "Heart And Soul"

The pon farr, it boils the blood! And so does this, the half spoken half sung 80's tech rocker performed by British band T'Pau (named after the Vulcan leader in Star Trek) fittingly led by Carol Decker (fascinating...not Decker unit?). Beavis and Butthead nailed this one commenting something like "Dial 1-800-sex me. Huh Huh" over this vid clip. Yet at random I find this going through my head, the rhythm pattern is irresistible for me. Agh!

8. Starland Vocal Band "Afternoon Delight"

Rock and roll rebellion couched in soft rock fluffiness? Going to a Catholic High School in the 80's, it was funny to listen to the Principal (a Catholic Brother) go on and on about the evils of the song "Afternoon Delight". Most of the class had no clue what this song even was at that point. Thankfully, the song got a revival a few years back due to a Will Farrell movie called Anchorman. The pure empty headed bliss that goes into the singing of lyrics like "Rubbin sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite / And the thought of rubbin you is getting so exciting" is like the ultimate key party soundtrack from the 70's. Sky rockets in flight indeed.

7. Nelly "Hot In Herre"

It's getting hot in herre, so take off all your clothes!

6. Spandau Ballet "True"

I absolutely hated this song when it came out, it was as extremely wimpy as music got in that moment. Spandau Ballet, dressed up in suits like a bad 1920's nightclub act, singing how they know this much is...wait for it...TRUE! For decades I made fun of this song and would sing it with Shattnereque emphasis. Then the song went and snuck up on me, all that time singing it made me appreciate it. That "True" was barely remixed and made into the P.M. Dawn hit "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss" helped me like it even more, now I have to say I like the song as a whole. This much is true.

5. Rihanna "Umbrella"

Before being famous for her unfortunate private life, Rihanna hit it big serving up this slice of sleek James Bondish pop. A nice sense of mystery and of course that nagging hook "-ella-ella-ella-ella" that you can apply to the end of any sentence -tence -tence -tence makes it fun.

4. The Cardigans "Lovefool"

It seems like the theme to many of the songs I'm ashamed to like it that they're, well, wussy. Multiply the wuss factor times ten now, because this disco grooving girly whisper of a tune from a Leonardo Dicaprio movie is number 4 on this countdown. My wife made fun of me the other day for singing along with this, a sure sign of shame! I guess I could do a Dicaprio double play and include the Growing Pains theme in here. Or worse mash them up. Love me, Love me, show me that smile again. Speaking of mash up, here's ex-American Idol contestant Chris Daughtry and comedian Dane Cook jamming on Growing Pains together. Who'da thought of that?

Growing up in the Northern California Bay Area, I heard tons of hip hop and rap in the 80's and early 90's just hanging out with friends (it's the most popular style of music out here). So whether I liked it or not (I generally am not a rap fan), I would often hear hip hop / rap acts before they became national hits and NWA was one of them. There are many reasons for me not to like this, from the reprehensible name of the group (everyone knows the "N" in the name is not politically correct) to the fact that it gave birth to Gangsta rap changing the character of the entire genre from fun and lightness to misogyny and lethal violence. Plus more uses of the N word than anyone would have thought possible. And really, as a middle class kid who gained most of his street gang knowledge from an episode of Quincy M.E. (because no one is more down than Jack Klugman. No one!) there wasn't a lot I could directly relate to. But it's got a good beat and the energy of the trade offs between the different rappers comes across with palpable fury. No wonder the gang mentality seems so attractive to people. I don't own this song, but if I did I probably would look like Michael Bolton in the movie Office Space.

2. Britney Spears "Toxic"

With songs often better suited for comic punchlines than actual listening pleasure, teen queen Britney Spears had one truly great jam before plunging into an abyss of over indulgent madness. Spear's "Toxic" with its wacky wavy fake strings synth lines and breathless vocals was a pop atom bomb obliterating the competition. Yet what guy could admit to anyone their love for this dance floor ditty? A co-worker once noticed this song on my IPOD and called me on it which left me mortified, as Gomer Pyle would say surprise, surprise,surprise!

1. William Shatner "Mr Tambourine Man" or "Rocket Man" (tie)

The greatest singer / actor of any generation, Bill Shatner has brought his Shakespeare stylings to many a great tune over the years. Two stand out in particular, the first being his take on the Bob Dylan classic "Mr Tambourine Man" containing the famous sudden ending of Shatner screaming ""MR TAMBOURINE MAANNNNN!!!". Loved this song so much I played it for a college audio lab class I was TA for to demonstrate excellence in sound recording. Later I would find out about his version of Elton John's famous 70's hit, arguably the definitive version (at least I'll argue it). Because I'm a Rock-Et-Ma-N. You can throw in "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and those Priceline commercials while you're at it, any chance to hear the great one sing.

So if I'm around and one of these songs come on be afraid, be very afraid. Because I will enjoy them. Oh yes I will. Because as Shatner says in the above clip, everything I do I do it...for you.