Thursday, August 31, 2006

Deliver Us From Free Will

Song: Deliver Us From Free Will
Artist: The Ark
Album: State of the Ark

You know music is a funny thing. Often there will be music that hits me right away, that I love off the bat, and other times it's a slow process of multiple listens before I get to like something. One band for me that consistently every new record I got was a very slow process of getting to like was 10,000 Maniacs. I was late to the game (so late in fact that "Our Time In Eden" the first record I got of theirs turned out to be their last... with Natalie Merchant anyhow.) I really liked that record and worked my way backward through their catalog from there. From "Blind Man's Zoo" to "In My Tribe" the first couple listens got a big "Ugh, this is boring" the first few times but then the melodies slowly creeped out and I ended up liking them all quite a bit.

When I first hear Radiohead's "O.K. Computer" I remember also thinking it was so slow and boring. I listen to that record now and honestly can't understand what I was thinking. That is a rock record through and through and at this point if someone told me they thought it was boring I would take it as sacrilege.

Nirvana's "In Utero" was an out of the box delight to me. I listened to it non-stop and just really thought it was great from the first listen. I can't say that I listen to it much now, and if I am going to listen to Nirvana I'll put on "Nevermind." I still think it's a good record, but I never feel like listening to it.

Anyhow, I thought I'd go back to some of the stuff that I had posted and let you know what has really stuck with me and what hasn't so much.

First off is The Ark. I decided for this I would post another of their songs from the album "State of the Ark" as it has become an absolute favorite of mine. "One of Us is Gonna Die Young" has become one of my favorite new songs in a long long time. According to my iTunes I have listened to it over seventy times which is pretty wild and sort of a lot scary. But it made its way onto my walk-to-work playlist every morning since I got it basically and slowly the album has really grown on me. It's pretty diverse but a complete whole and I honestly like the entire thing. I will admit that nothing has the spark and oomph of "Die Young" but it has a lot of gems. So I give to you "Deliver Us From Free Will," another great song with very funny lyrics. I highly recommend this record. It's great.

I can't think of two albums I am looking more forward to that the sophomore albums from the Scissor Sisters and The Killers. The Scissor Sisters was pretty much a given as I have been eager for music for a while and I really just was looking forward to ANYTHING new. I did like "I Don't Feel Like Dancing," their latest single first couple of times I heard it live and did like the studio version when I first got it. I don't know if my expectations were just out of control or what, but only within the last two weeks or so it occurred to me that it was not only good but great. They can officially do no wrong for me.

The Killers were a bit different because as much as I liked their debut, I sort of wrote them off as a little fluffy. Some of the lyrics on "Hot Fuss" were down right embarrassing but the killer tune in which they lived elevated everything to an INXS level of pop anthem quality. Based on the exploding ego of lead singer Brandon Flowers, part of me wanted to call their new single "When You Were Young" a failure. At this point, it's not only the best song I have yet to hear from them, but one of the best songs I've heard this year. It is SO Springsteen and has that leave you in the dust cross-country idealism in which young lovers leave hurt behind on a quest for a great positive future. It's a 100% anthem and I venture to say that in twenty years could be considered a rock classic.

Of the songs from artist I didn't really know but have really enjoyed their records since posting, Lily Allen and Under The Influence of Giants really take the prize. Lily's CD is a fun mix of London girl sass, not in a Spice Girl kind of way though, it's a bit more perverse than that. But here is a record where you don't expect the songs to be as diverse and good as they are. I also realized that what I fist heard and sent was a demo of the song "LDN." The album version has a few more bells and whistles.

Under The Influence of Giants self titled debut has been a big surprise. I called them the next Maroon 5 (snore)but they are in fact way more interesting. There are a ton of great fun songs on the record. It is still growing on me but I can say that I have at least four songs on heavy rotation that I really think are great. "Mama's Room" is finally getting more airplay, so this may in fact be a break out band. And funny, here is a case where the single is by far not the best thing on there. Check it out.

ultimately, but probably not surprisingly, the Christina Aguilera Record has left me cold. Like I though, it would have much much been better as a single disc. The thin concept doesn't really hold up and those that get tired of her runs and over singing will want to climb the walls by the time it's ready for disc two. There are some songs that have grown on me but ultimately I have been skipping over it.

I've been surprised at how little I feel toward the new Beck song. I've listened to it several times but it just isn't grabbing me. I do not doubt that Mr. Hanson has some tricks up his sleeves so I am still eagerly awaiting his record come October as I have will all of his past releases since the debut.

I also think I jumped the gun and was way too harsh with Pete Yorn. I have been listening to it a lot and have been enjoying it more and more. There are currently about three or four songs that I am listening to repeatedly and I'm finding more rock in there than I had previously heard. Very much like the 10,000 Maniac's thing.

It's still a bit early but I must say that I am enjoying the Timberlake CD. It's not the outrageous absolutely new sounding record that had been rumored, but it is still pretty good for a pop star of his caliber. He's gone very Prince with this album and while lyrically it's not really groundbreaking, it proves that he is an artist to watch. Might just be here for the long haul.

So there you go, sometimes things need to sit for you a while!

RESULTS: Love It or Hate It: The Levee's Gonna Break by Bob Dylan

In the end, after the votes were tallied, Bob Dylan got a HATE IT from all the readers! Sorry Bob, the majority isn't feeling it. It was close though and I wanted to post some of the comments I received because they were so good:

"Dylan is like Shakespeare - a sacred cow that nobody is allowed to say they don't like and / or don't get. I think he's a great songwriter, and love his songs when sung by other people. But other than "Like A Rolling Stone," I think he's a joke as a performer. The emperor has no clothes on."

"No brainer. Absolutely love it. Dylan is a genius and at the young age of 65 his genius continues to shine. This song is great but there are even better songs on the record. By far the best album of the year and a safe bet that little if anything else released the rest of the year will come close."

"I like it! I like how it's very bluesy and raspy. Put me down for "love it" (Though it's not my favorite song by any means!)"

"He's boring, so I'm indifferent on the song, which I guess means I'm leaning towards hate it? Who am I to put down Bob Dylan seems sacrilegious to do so."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Song: Screwed
Artist: Paris Hilton
Album: Paris

I walked around Tower records, I had the CD in my left hand, the cover facing toward my body which for the most part stayed snug to my side in the hopes nobody could see what I had. I was pretty much walking and looking aimlessly for something, ANYTHING, else to buy. It was new release Tuesday but I already had the new Pete Yorn, and the new Dylan. But I knew I needed something else... Unfortunately I already had the latest Q Magazine, I stood there cursing myself for being so up to date with EVERYTHING. Fortunately I came across the latest Keane record, which wasn't new, but I didn't have it and had heard nothing but good things about. It was on sale too... great.

So like adding on shaving creame, a candy bar, a magazine or three at the supermarket check out when all I needed was a pack of condoms... I was determined to at least be buying SOMETHING else other than the Paris Hilton CD. So for the first time since, well... I think since I bought the New Kids on the Block Christmas record on cassette (which I did with money I won at a dance talent show no less) I was actually embarrassed to be buying a piece of music. But I was like twelve when I was secretly enjoy my first (and really last) boy band... I'm thirty now.

So what is it about this Paris thing? Why on earth should I be embarrassed? Maybe I'm not over my hipster bullshit after all... am I thinking once again that obscurity somehow equals quality? Or is it because this girl is so publicly hated? (At least by the people I hang out with.) I'd been playing this game for a while, lowering my work speakers just a little when her "Stars Are Blind" came up on my iTunes. Walking down the street while it blast through the iPod earphones looking to see if anyone can hear it... this is absolutely ridiculous.

So I bought the Paris Hilton CD. So did over 75,000 other people last week. I could be ashamed about a lot of other things, but not this. Why this?

I've been listening to this record and slowly a few things have dawned on me. First, it is a fun dance pop record, the songs are a good variety... reggae-lite, club bangers, pop-rock, hip-pop, something to please everyone. She looks great in all the packaging, if a little Playboy-spreadish. There's a mini catalogue of all things Paris Hilton, the bags, the perfume, and whatever else, which made me laugh in its absolutely shameless glory. But the biggest thing that crossed my mind as I listened to each track and thought, "yeah Beyonce could do this one, that one is more Britney, there's a littlee Ashlee there," etc. etc. I realized what this CD really is...

This CD represents the best commentary on the state of music, technology, and entertainment culture and how warped it all is right now. And I have a theory... that's it's totally intentional. Yes ladies and gentleman... Paris is our new Andy Kaufman.

Let's imagine that you're Paris Hilton. You and your sister grow up and your father happens to have started and owns one of the largest hotel chains in the world. You, from the start, have never had to worry about money and upon your eighteenth birthday inherited probably more than an entire family will make... for its next thirty five generations. You turn twenty one and have five parties in five different continents... what is there to do with life?

You don't create the Hilton Hotel dynasty without being smart, ambitious, and ruthless. Mr. Hilton no doubt discussed life, money, what it means to succeed in life, etc. with his daughters. (Actually I think there is a brother too, I don't know forgive me, I don't really follow this 100% I did meet Mrs. Hilton though, briefly a couple years ago. She came into my old office where she was having a meeting to discuss a possible TV show called "Dress To The Hilt," and no I am not kidding. I was to escort her from the main lobby to the conference room. She was lovely, beautiful, confident... for some reason I opened the door and liked her right away. We talked about the weather (It was hot... really) and fake handbags (she buys them too!) ANYHOW... what I am getting at is that you don't grow up a Hilton without learning what it means to be successful either by osmosis or just by understanding through living... the glamorous life.

So does little Paris take over part of her fathers business? Well, I assume Paris looked at the situation like I would have, that looks like a lot of work, I'll never have time for friends... you know what I'm pretty, I'm going to be a model. Now if any of you have watched an episode of "America's Top Model" you know that modeling is much much harder than it looks. Well she was successful. Then she decided to create handbags, and she was successful. Clothing line, successful. Perfume, successful. Television show? Hit. And before you start in with "Well, I'm sure with all her money and connections it was easier for her to get these things off the ground..." You're absolutely right. And instead of sitting there and whining about it why don't you get off you ass and actually do something. We don't choose who we're born from, Paris just happens to be bor a millionaire heiress. All she know is how to be Paris. And I love her.

My mini-Paris obsession I believe started when I saw her on Jay Leno. I was late to hearing about who she was, didn't know all this party girl stuff, the modeling, and outrageous jet-set parties. Nothing. But I was, through cultural osmosis, getting piece by piece. I watched two episodes of The Simple Life in shocked disbelief that it was actually a hit. But seeing her on Leno, as she was promoting her book (!!) "How to Be An Heiress" (or something like that, I don't know) I noticed something. This girl, this "Paris Hilton" with her one-to-two word answers, girly voice delivery, features too perfect... I kind of though to myself, this girl looks like she's acting. She has publicly admitted that her persona on the "The Simple Life" is a character but I don't think the con ends there. And can we pause for a moment to think about that... it's amazing how that show can be presented as a reality show yet its star says she is playing a character. And I would guess that of the people that watch the show roughly um... 90% of them think this is actually who this girl is. Why wouldn't you hate her? But this is the new way people accept things. We can be lied to, mislead, you name it... told so and yet, still go along with it and go... "um, okay."

I got to love Paris because I would watch her and watch people's reaction to her and see the anger and hatred they had for her and she would just giggle, say "that's hot" and go onto the next adventure. But for me I saw through all of it. I think the entire Paris Hilton thing is a massive con. And I love her for it! Everyone hates her because she doesn't "do" anything. Well no actually as I've illustrated she does a lot. And I am not one of those people that thinks she is just the public figure for some nameless entity from within her father's dynasty that just does all the public stuff while people behind her do all the work. There is a cohesiveness to everything that she has done that she embodies perfectly. From the clothes to the perfume, hell... down to the sex tape this is all too perfect. Rich people don't raise morons and I would not be surprised if Paris spoke multiple languages and was well versed in art, literature, you name it. Now, you'll never see this side of her because that would not work for this colossal joke we're all part of.

Now Paris is aiming to be a pop star. The cynic might say that she just paid for the hottest producers (she did) who crafted a pitch-perfect album of genre crossing pop gems (they did) that bended her weak as rice paper voice into something listenable (check) and involved enough street cred to make it credible. (Scott Storch, what's up kid!) Yes, yes, this is all true. And that is exactly why this record might be one of the most import releases of the year. With "Paris" Paris Hilton has basically said to the world that with enough money, the right amount of ambition... you too can be an international pop star. And what is so great about her is that she doesn't hide any of this.

Britney has a weak voice, couldn't write a quality song if she tried, and is one of the most successful young woman on the planet. "Bands" like N*SYNC, The Spice Girls, and the Backstreet Boys were created by jury, and are about as authentic as a unit as a hand-picked barrel of apples. Most bands find each other by accident either by growing up together, answering an ad in a paper, etc. Most fail because at least one person sucks or can't really perform or doesn't look good in the publicity pictures. So is it not any wonder that these groups become successful when each member is picked from hundreds who tried out? Ashlee Simpson can't sing, was caught lip syncing on live television, and yet was able to throw out a lame answer and continue on with her career. We are continuously lied to by these people that want to entertain us and we take it with a smile. Yet we hate Paris Hilton.

But this type of non-organic pre-fabricated product as music is not something that just happens in pop music. The Sex Pistols were just as created as The Spice Girls and were much less successful. Yet, they played the rock and roll side "invented" punk and go down in music history as a band that meant something. They couldn't sing, they couldn't play, and yet it didn't matter. The Great Rock & Roll Swindle indeed! When I hear some recently hair-dyed-black fourteen year old talk about listening to "music that really matters" and mentions the Pistols I really have to stop and laugh. Aside from the different type of music, there is no difference between the Sex Pistols and any recent created pop band. Sucka!

Paris already has a top ten album and a hit song. From a couple listens to the album I can honestly say that any one of these songs could be hits. They could have been given to anyone and they could be on the radio non-stop. That is what is amazing about this whole thing. With this album artistic integrity has been made completely irrelevant. But this is not new... it's been happening for quite some time AND is not just regulated to the world of teen dance pop. Wit the onset of new technology literally anyone can be a music producer and or an "artist." I speak from experience. With Apple's unbelievably easy to use GarageBand I have been able, without ANY musical ability, to craft about a half dozen totally listenable songs. I can't sing worth anything... no worries, use the automatic pitch correction. I can't play an instrument... no biggie, just use a keyboard to play either guitar, drums, trumpet, you name it. There are literally thousands of new "bands" on MySpace putting up home crafted music that actually sounds good. And the only difference between the next Riannah and some art-pop band from Brooklyn are different outfits. Pop will, and has, eaten itself.

The fact that this Paris Hilton album is actually pretty good is the entire joke. For over two decades the world of music has been completely altered and in a way this album is a representation of everything that is ridiculous about it. And I give Paris Hilton the credit for all of this. She made this happen, she created the package. You can not tell me that this girl has had success after success without knowing what she is doing. Life just doesn't work that way. People that don't know what they are doing fail. It is important to note that on the back of the album it reads; "Executive Producer: Paris Hilton." Executive Producer? For an album? An Executive Producer for a movie is usually the money man who has minimal hands-on work involvement but everyone listens to and shapes the project. The fact that she uses that title for herself is absolutely hysterical to me.

The music isn't really worth talking about because I think most of you have made up your mind about it before you have listened to it. But I will tell you that it is a solid piece of work from a pop perspective. And if you let yourself hear this song a few times you will start to sing along to it and like it in spite of yourself. And it's called "Screwed" for heaven's sake!

Paris Hilton could in fact be playing the biggest joke on pop culture we've seen to date, and when she's grown tired of the pop star/media whore thing and blows the entire ship out of the water with a giggle, a smirk, and a "later." I'm going to stand up, start clapping, and say; "That's hot."


Cheated Hearts

Song: Cheated Hearts
Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeah's
Album: Show Your Bones

Sometimes it is impossible to live up to your own hype, and sometimes there are bands and artists that step up to the proverbial plate and do something honestly great. The Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Brooklyn art rockers, had so much hype surrounding them as they came up it was a wonder how they could live up to it all. Their first live gig was opening for The White Stripes (ah... what?) and pretty soon they had "Next Big Thing" status even though they hadn't like, recorded anything.

Their self titled debut EP was released and came with so much riding on it you would expect the band to self implode before they even started. It got a so-so reception and it was pretty clear that the band did not live up to the hype of their live shows. As it was only an EP, they still had another chance to prove that the word of mouth wildfire that was spreading by anyone who had seen them live was concrete. "Fever to Tell" came out in 2003 and the band truly delivered. Manic, insane, catchy, it was a recorded version of what their already famed live shows were all about with lead singer Karen O coming across as Chrissy Hyde meets Sybil. It felt very new, very now. (At least then.)

I really really liked that record, but hands down the shining gem on the album was "Maps," an obtuse rock ballad that raged with just as much emotion as fury. The song and video became an MTV2 hit thanks to Karen O's intense performance. The line "They don't love you like I love you" was that type of simple yet profound line that anyone could take, apply it to their own lives, and make their own.

Over time, some of the more wild and outrageous cuts on "Fever" wore thin to me. I imagine they would still blister live, but songs like "Pin" and "Tick" were just too lyrically simple and didn't have the hooks that really garnered multiple listens. But because it had enough great songs that as an album, and representation of who the band were,"Fever to Tell" was a success. With the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, you could honestly believe the hype.

I highly anticipated their follow up, and my hope was that they would expand themselves and take the promise of "Maps" and make an emotional hurricane of a record, reigning in their more out-there tendencies and put together an entire record of solid pop-garage rock. Talk about high expectations, can anyone deliver in such a way?

I was so pleased then, when I first heard "Show Your Bones" and my excitement only grew because the band was able to give me exactly what I wanted. Emotional yet keeping with the half-insane rock aesthetic they created with "Fever to Tell," "Show Your Bones" has everything the band brought with "Maps" and moreso. First single "Gold Lion" is about as strange a song as they come (with a whacked out video to match)and while I still have no idea what on earth she is singing about, it takes only about four listens and you are singing along with the crazy "Oh-ohh! Oh-ohh's and "gold lion gunna tell me where the light is!" Haunting ballads, rock songs that seem to take influence from funk-rock and hip hop at the same time, the record has it all. And lyrically it is light years from their first album. Sometimes obtuse and sometimes downright scary in their pointed emotional intensity, "Bones" is many things, but never simple.

Unfortunately, the album has sold less than half of "Fever's" take and it while it opened big, hasn't really caught on. I have a feeling that it will once again just take one of these excellent songs to catch on the way "Maps" did and the Yeah Yeah Yeah's will be riding high again. (Although all the break-up rumors that were actually part of the press for the record have me fearing the worse.) I don't know if "Cheated Hearts" is the song that will save the record, but this second single is just a downright killer song. Again, I am not 100% sure what Karen means when she says "Sometimes I think that I'm bigger than the sound," but the build up is so intense and she rides Nick Zinner's guitar work so well I personally have no choice but to bob my head and think, "yeah, sometimes I think that I'm bigger than the sound too." (Part of the appeal of Karen's songs is that the listener not only feels like she is singing to you and/or about your life, but that you are singing along with her... metephorically of course.)

I really love this record and urge you to go out and get it. You will not be disappointed.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Love It or Hate It: The Levee's Gonna Break

Song: The Levee's Gonna Break
Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: Modern Times

The first Love It or Hate It I posted was the latest Jessica Simpson song "Public Affair." Jessica, like most pop stars is judged more for personality and style than her actual music, Bob Dylan on the other hand has the opposite, he is revered based on his history and the music he has made, his style is probably the last thing you think of. But this does not mean that he does not polarize people. So therefore, once again, I would like to put up for critique a new Dylan song, "The Levee's Gonna Break" from his new album "Modern Times," which is being released today.

Bob Dylan's career is older than I am, and because my parents were children of the fifties and grew up in the sixties, I have grown up with Mr. Dylan's music my whole life. "Modern Times," his thirty first album (!!!) comes after recent critical smashes "Time Out of Mind" (1997) and "Love & Theft" (2001.) "Modern Times" is now added to these three as some of the most critically praised and well regarded records of his career. The few reviews I have read of this new record are nothing short of glowing. (five stars in Rolling Stone) You can read a few of these here:

"I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really," Dylan recently said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. "You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them," he added. "There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like ... static."

Well, I obviously disagree with this, but this clearly makes Dylan's latest perfect for Love It or Hate It...

It's hard to argue with the career and influence Bob Dylan has had over music throughout the past five decades. His songs have been covered by just about every major artist in music today and many have built their careers around these covers. In the late fifties and early sixties, Dylan was at the forefront fo the folk/rock movement and did much to change the music business as it is today. This is why these comments are both troublesome and ridiculous, although right in line with how human nature and generation wars are.

Music has, since it's birth, defined the generation that embraces it. New types of music rise up and challenge what was there previous. Rock & Roll did so in the 50's, was considered "devil music" by the generation on the way out and really helped solidify the people to embark on the social change that continued with the flower power/psychedelic era of the 60's. It is no surprise that hip hop, the most important new music genre in the last two decades, is not popular with these former hippies as it is part of the new social landscape of music and culture. But again, this just follows with the cyclical nature of popular culture.

So while Dylan's comments are not surprising, but in a way expected, this does not discount what he is doing as an artist. I've been listening to this new record a lot and while it's probably not something I will listen to a ton, these are some really killer songs that may sound old in form and approach, they reflect our well... modern times. He even spends a song searching the mountains for Alicia Keys!

I can't tell if "The Levee's Gonna Break" has anything, even metaphorically to do with New Orleans. But I chose this song because I liked it, and given the one year anniversary footage we are seeing now of the devastation and social collapse that Hurricane Katrina caused, it seems fitting. There is hope within the lyrics and hope is all I have right now for this country as it stands. Without going too overboard I must just say that given Dylan's comments, the times that he came up in, and where we are at now, this just seems all too appropriate. The levee's did break, and I wonder to myself... did we learn anything?

The times they are changin' yes... they always do, but some things don't, for better or worse. Thank Bob Dylan for still creating music that is both timeless and yet reflecting exactly how out of step you can be to what is "now." It's okay, it's alright, but let us also not rest on the shoulders of those that came before and mourn for past times and days gone by. We have to make new times, new generations, and new music. Because when the levee breaks again, no matter where or when it is, we'll all have to survive together.

So let me know reader, do you Love It or do you Hate It? I will tally the votes by the end of the week.


Monday, August 28, 2006


Song: Alive
Artist: Pete Yorn
Album: Nightcrawler

Tomorrow marks the release of Pete Yorn's third full length album, "Nightcrawler." Pete's debut "Musicforthemorningafter" which was released in 2002, should be considered a modern masterpiece. He was correctly compared to Bruce Springsteen and poised to be one of the more important singer/songwriters that had emerged in the new millennium. The follow up, 2003's "Day I Forgot" was spotty, but still contained his trademark anthemic choruses and pretty ruminations about love and it's consequences.

I was HUGE into "Musicforthemorningafter" and do consider it one of the best albums of the last five years. It's hard to follow up something so profoundly great and while I enjoyed "Day I Forgot," it wasn't nearly as consistent as the prior album and contained his first truly awful song ("Burrito.") Unfortunately, after a couple spins of "Nightcrawler" I am worried that dear old Pete has released his first bad full album. It sounds like Pete, but this time it lacks hooks or anything that draws you in. To be fair, it took several listens of "Day I Forgot" to like it at all so I am still listening. But truly, the fire that his debut was built from is definitely fading.

Almost at random I have selected to highlight "Alive" as it's one of the more hooky songs on the record. If you love it, you just might like the breezy/slow vibe that runs throughout the album. A much better start is to pick up "Musicforthemorningafter" which has a great mix of uptempo rockers as well as slow songs that are truly memorable.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Precious Box

Song: Precious Box
Artist: George Michael
Album: Patience

After listening to Mr. Timberlake for the majority of yesterday I got thinking about Mr. George Michael, got thinking about his current problems, and also about how criminally overlooked his last full album, "Patience" was. The album is now two years old, came out in 2004 and it had been a full eight years since he had released an album full of new material, 1998's "Older."

George has had a pretty interesting pop career, from co-fronting Wham!, to the highs of going solo (1987's "Faith,")and now his in and out of the tabloids public mess thing. Poor George. I am actually a pretty big fan of George's music, was huge into "Faith" back in '87 (and actually played that cassette so much I had to buy another copy)followed him through his solo stuff and have been a huge supporter of his last record. George, in a way, is the gay-pop version of Courtney Love... kind of a mess, underrated as a songwriter, but absolutely willing to live their private life, and all their issues right in front of the public, as a way to connect with an audience that is as much of a mess as they are. I am also a huge Courtney fan, despite all these public shenanigans, because in the end I think she is a great songwriter. In her case, the public doesn't really like to see outspoken woman get much credit for anything so she is constantly accused of getting male songwriters to help her out or, more hatefully, flat out accuse her of taking credit for someone else's writing. (Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan.) I'll interject briefly to just say that it is impossible to know how much of "Live Through This" was written or helped by Kurt, but it is an amazing album and one of the most important of the 80's. And if Billy Corgan is only responsible for "Celebrity Skin," why is it better than any Smashing Pumkins record to date? (Discuss.)

Anyhow, back to George. One of the major things that George has gone through is of course being caught soliciting sex from an undercover cop in a public bathroom which subsequently lead to his very public outing. I feel, from the little I know about George through interviews and press, that he is a very driven individual and through the 80's was not actually HIDING his sexuality, just not dealing with it. It's hard to grow up and be discovering yourself in your 20's and 30's in the public eye as well as trying to maintain a career as a pop star. And to be outed by being arrested soliciting sex in a BATHROOM is about as embarrassing thing as anyone can go through, let alone someone who has to see it splashed across the international press.

I must at this point briefly talk about this instance, because it's something that really bothers me and gets me pretty fired up. Think what you will about people who engage in public sex, but how on earth is it fair for a cop to go undercover, flirt and offer up sexual activity, and then to instead slap on the cuffs when someone recipricates. How on earth does two consenting adults getting involved in some sexual activity became something we need to create undercover stings for? Like our issues with prostitution and the ridiculous weight/burden we give to being an "erotic dancer," it is obvious that here in America, we are as sexually repressed as it comes. Can't we all relax a little?

I don't know how long it was, but it can be inferred that there was a period of a few years where George finally realized he was gay and that he had to live his life in the public as a lie... a straight man. I can't imagine what this must be like, with cameras following you at every step. And like every flesh and blood human on this planet, once George found out what he wanted and how to get it, I'm sure he WANTED it. Duh. And all of this confusion and early sexual fumblings were headline news. I can honestly say it is a wonder that we didn't lose this guy to full on drug abuse or worse, suicide. I can imagine Georgie pretty much felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and given that he's a gay man... look out drama!

Okay, enough about the personal lives of pop stars, let's talk about the music...

Take a look at this list of songs that George has written:

-Careless Whisper
-Kissing A Fool
-Father Figure
-One More Try
-I Want Your Sex
-Too Funky
-Cowboys And Angels
-Freedom 90
-Fast Love

The list does go on, but truthfully, he is a gifted talented guy. "Patience" is a great album that I highly recommend. It has a few too many ballads, but that is as much part of George's stock and trade as is upbeat dance songs. I almost highlighted "Cars & Trains" a great loungy-dance tune on the record but instead decided to go with the big gun. "Precious Box" is a very strange, melancholy piece of epic dance pop. It has a build that really takes you for the ride, and while I am not 100% sure of what he is talking about lyrically, it's obvious that this song is about emotional pain, both felt, overwhelming, and yet with a still solid grasp on hope. Like the majority of his songs, it's about human frailty, being confused about the world and people's motives, and yet still holding onto that hope... "don't you know that the moment will come."

George actually has a brand new single, "A Easier Affair" which sounds just like George and would easily fit onto "Patience." It's good, and I suggest you seek it out.

I worry about George a little, but in the end he has persevered through things I wouldn't wish on enemies. And while he might take everything a bit too much to heart, I hope that he will be able to look back on all of his accomplishments with pride, and free his songwriting from regret and the crippling effects of constant haters.

George, like you so eloquently said in "careless Whisper," "Guilty feet have got no rhythm." Live your life without worry and what people think of you, I think your already impressive songwriting will benefit from it.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Song: FutureSex/LoveSounds
Artist: Justin Timberlake
Album: FutureSex/LoveSounds

It's impossible to resist the Timberlake.

Can we just sit back for a second and marvel at the career, thus far, of Mr. Justin Timberlake? He was probably making more money a year at eleven than you do now, he was the unofficial lead of the most successful boy band in the United States, and then, just when he was supposed to be a public joke (A-la Danny Pintaro, Tito Jackson, and well... every other boyband member like ever) he releases an album called "Justified" (C'mon!) and it becomes like a monster hit. How did he do it?

We're going to have to go back a little to try to sort this all out. The Beatles, it has been argued, were the first boy band. I know, from what we know now this seems pretty ridiculous... but when you look at their audience at the time they broke, it pretty much consisted of what made up N*SYNC's fans... teenage girls. Remember the footage of girls screaming, crying, passing out when they played classics like "Love Me Do," "Hard Days Night," etc? Well... it's really not much different than what the audience looked like during the boy-band hey-day of the early millennium.

Okay all you purist haters... this is where you damn me for comparing N*SUCK to THE BEST BAND IN THE PLANET LIKE EVER. But let’s really compare them. Here are the lyrics to The Beatles "She Loves You" a HUGE hit for them when they started out:

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah

You think you've lost your love
Well, I saw her yesterday-yi-yay
It's you she's thinking of
And she told me what to say-yi-yay

She says she loves you
and you know that can't be bad
Yes, she loves you
and you know you should be glad

She said you hurt her so
She almost lost her mind
And now she says she knows
You're not the hurting kind

She says she loves you
and you know that can't be bad
Yes, she loves you
and you know you should be glad

Oo, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
And with a love like that
You know you should be glad

You know it's up to you
I think it's only fair
Pride can hurt you too
Apologize to her

Because she loves you
and you know that can't be bad
Yes, she loves you
and you know you should be glad

Oo, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
And with a love like that
You know you should be glad
And with a love like that
you know you should be glad

So it's not exactly Springsteen, heck it's not even Leo Sayer... and "Yesterday" and the likes of "Across The Universe" were a ways off. The Beatles were a pop band... and through the filter of time we've taken silly little pop songs like "Love Me Do," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," and "Eight Days A Week" as bonafied classics. But are they any better than say... "Bye Bye Bye?" And before you start to argue with me regarding the fact that the boy band boys didn't actually write their hits, remember that the majority of the Beatles first records were all covers.

The Beatles changed pretty quickly though. With a few years they grew up, discovered The Velvet Underground and well... drugs, and then became The Beatles that rock historians like to remember. The Revolver Beatles, the White Album Beatles, etc. I absolutely love The Beatles, and wouldn't argue with you if you told me they were the best band to ever have existed, and yet with all of their cultural significance... they have a handful of albums which span roughly six years from start to finish. Six years!

Now... I don't think that Timberlake is the new Lennon or McCartney or Harrison... he might be a Ringo (I'm kidding) but you have to give it up for this kid. He's navigated the pop culture landscape in a way that many can not. Pop music, from the girl groups of the 50's and 60's to the disco Kings & Queens of the 70's and then onto the New Wave groups of the 80's, were pretty much about quick cheap thrills. Thanks to VH1, these one hit or maybe two hit wonders remain in our collective consciousness, but there have been so many casualties. I was born in the 70's, and became aware of music in the early 80's and when you think back... who has a lasting career? For every U2 there are about a THOUSAND Duran Duran's, Tina Turner's, Whitney's... and those are the ones that are WORTHY of at least a single disc greatest hits. If you can name another song by Kajagoogoo other than "Too Shy," or another hit by Dexy's Midnight Runners aside from "Come On Eileen" well... you're a bigger music dork than I am.

So with the release of "FutureSex/LoveSound" Justin once again puts himself up to the pop gauntlet and for (honestly) the first time... I am seriously interested. See, Backstreet, N*SYNC, Christina, Britney... they all blew up, sold a ton of records, and then it was OVER. Backstreet had two pretty big flops and probably are flat lined now, while Britney hasn't had an out and out failure, her current media persona is pretty... uh, trashy. (And if this doesn't do it, the inevitable K-Fed duet will 100% put the nail in the coffin.) Nobody survives this... what happened to New Kids On The Block? Some have had mild success by acting, and mild solo careers but for the most part... these boys are a public joke. (La Pintaro)

I liked N*SYNC songs like I like a piece of hard candy... it's really good for a while, but you never want to spend the time and energy to really FINISH it, and you sure as heck aren't going to go back to it. I never actually bought any of the boy band's CD's. Sure I downloaded a few of the hits... when I use to DJ Frat parties in college I NEEDED some of that stuff, it's what people wanted to hear. But I honestly haven't listened to any of those pop songs in quite some time. They already sound pretty dated, and I would really need the right kind of audience to spin something like that, even ironically.

"Justified" came out in 2002, FOUR years ago... which might as well be a decade and a half when it comes to pop. But a few quick spins of "Rock Your Body," "Like I Love You" and "Cry Me A River" and you realize how little they have aged. "Rock Your Body" is a killer dance song, "like I Love You" out Michael Jackson's Michael Jackson, and "Cry Me A River" is honestly pretty haunting, and a little scary in its barely hinged anger. I had the whole album, and a lot of it was made up of awful insipid slow ballads. But teenage girls eat that stuff up (as do a lot of people... given the popularity of insipid ballad giants like Celine Dion, Faith Hill, and heck... most of pop country.) So "Justified" was as much a transition from the boy band boy as it was a declaration/pop manifesto of a new Timberlake. Justin as the artist.

The problem with pop performers is that in essence... they are just performers. It is very very rare for one human being to be able to be electric onstage, as well as skilled at dancing, singing, and then be able to write music? It's just a lot to ask for. And from the Spice Girls to Backstreet, these kids were assembled to be singing dancing shells. Don't get me wrong, this takes a high level of skill and talent to do so... but faulting them for not being able to write their own music is like faulting Bill Gates for not being able to pop and lock. Sometimes you just can't do it all okay?

But here's the thing... Timberlake co-wrote all of the songs on "Justified," and for FutureSex/LoveSounds, he is also producing/co-producing. Could his actual talent have anything to do with his staying in the game?

I must say, after hearing "Sexy Back," the first single and now this, the first track on the album, I am really intrigued with where he is going. While it sounds like pop music, it is very very different from the standard pop-hip-hop that is currently about 85% of pop radio right now. And if "Justified" was his Michael Jackson record, "FutureSex/LoveSounds" might be his George Michael record. The song has a very sexy future-funk sound, that I must admit sounds very new to me. I think it is just as fresh as what indie dance pop acts like Le Tigre and Bloc Party are doing. He is working with Timberland again (Who produced "Cry Me A River" as well as the new Nelly Furtado album) and I can hear a trace of Nelly's new "Promiscuous Girl" in this track.

I really do like what I hear so far and may go as far as buying my first Timberlake CD when this is released in September. This is interesting stuff, and if there is anyone that has a chance at changing the pop landscape, golden boy Justin is the kid to do it. I must also give props to him for actually trying to be sexy in his image. Sure Ricky Martin and Enrique do so with their brand of pop but they are Latin, so the rules are a little different, and they just come across gay to me.

Justin really is harking back to a time when guys could sing falsetto, dance their hearts out, and smolder for the ladies unlike someone has since Elvis.

Sexy back indeed.


Who Needs Love?

Song: Who Needs Love?
Artist: Razorlight
Album: Razorlight

Razorlight released their self titled sophomore album a month ago and I have really really been enjoying it. The lead singer, like Brandon Flowers of The Killers, is their number one fan. He described himself as "genius" and said very very high things about this album before it was released. I laughed him off as another daft Brit wanting press, but Q Magazine (The UK's Rolling Stone) gave the record it's highest five star rating. I don't know if it's THAT good... but I am really enjoying it.

I have no idea what the single is, but this has been my favorite as I spin the whole record.