Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On a Clear Day

Song: On a Clear Day
Artist: P.M. Dawn
Album: Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience

It was in the 90’s that Hip-Hop became a major commercial force in pop music and set the stage for it’s overpowering the top 40 into the new millennium. Unfortunately, the majority of this was of the MC Hammer variety, or one-off hit singles like “Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect or “Gotta Man” by Positive K. But in the early 90’s there were pop hits from truly innovative and creative groups within hip hop. Arrested Development managed to take their Afro-centric throw-back soul to the top of the charts with “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendel” and P.M. Dawn managed to have several hits with their more spiritual minded brand of hip hop.

P.M. Dawn was comprised of brothers (as in siblings) Prince Be (Attrell Cordes) and DJ Minute Mix (Jarrett Cordes.) Their debut record, “Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience” was an instant hit thanks to the Spandau Ballet sampling smash “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” They also scored several hits from their follow up; “The Bliss Album?” Unfortunately, though critically triumphed, their next two records; 1995’s “Jesus Wept,” and 1998’s “Dear Christian, I’m So Very Sorry For Bringing You Here. Love, Dad” failed to hold any hits for the group. This no doubt was due to the rise of Gangster Rap which began to saturate the pop market as the decade closed out. Which is very unfortunate… not just for P.M. Dawn, but for the state of hip hop in general. Thankfully groups like Outkast and now Kanye West are bringing a different aspect and view to the genre.

I am not sure why but I didn’t get any of P.M. Dawn’s subsequent records… crazy because I absolutely LOVE “Of the Heart…” it was one of my favorite records while I was in high school and as I listened to it today I was pleasantly surprised by how current it sounds. Most hip-hop (and disco, techno, electro, etc.) ages pretty quickly, and while a good pop song is a good pop song, dated songs lapse over into a certain kitschy enjoyability and lose their rawness. But, P.M. Dawn certainly created a master work that brought 70’s soul into a new millennium and painted a portrait of a spiritual, poetic pulse within African-American culture that has rarely been seen before or since.

While I am still a fan of “Set Adrift” I want to highlight an album track, “On a Clear Day” which is my favorite on the record. The entire album is just one great song after another and highly recommended. I actually see myself getting on Amazon and looking for some used copies of their subsequent records soon as re-listening to this after so many years was so unexpectedly enjoyable.


The video for the song you all know, Set Adrift on Memory Bliss:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Your Woman

Song: Your Woman
Artist: White Town
Album: Woman In Technology

White Town’s “Your Woman” is one of those songs, now almost ten years old, that you might have no idea what it is based on the title or artist, but about three seconds in you go… “Oh yeah, THAT song! I love that song!” A delightful slice of pre-millennium pop-techno, this one-off hit was created by Jyoti Mishra who writes and records every note as “White Town. Mishra was born in India in 1966 but his family soon moved to England just three years later. He began playing the piano at twelve and formed a band in high school. After a very unsuccessful debut album in 1994, it was “Your Woman,” originally released on an EP that got him a major deal with EMI to release “Woman in Technology.”

Despite “Your Woman” being an international hit, he did not have another big single off the record (as musically it is pretty different than the single) nor did anything off the follow up, 2000’s “Peek and Poke.” “Woman in Technology” is actually a pretty great mood record, a bit odd but a good listen.

“Your Woman” is written about a lesbian, in case you have always been confused why a guy would sing “I guess what they say is true, I could never be the right kind of girl for you.”

Word up.


The video for Your Woman:

Monday, January 29, 2007


Song: Hippychick
Artist: Soho
Album: Goddess

The 90’s Weren’t That Bad

If you remove the “alternative” music boom away from the 90’s, you have a pretty icky mix of ridiculous pop songs, quirky one hit wonders, and the beginning of the worst of commercial hip hop.

Just take a look at this list of songs from the time period, which should only be enjoyed ironically:

95 South – Woot There it Is
Ace of Base – Sign
Aqua – Barbie Girl
Lou Bega – Mambo No. 5
Bell Biv Devoe – Do Me

Actually… I am going to stop right there because this list could really go on forever, and despite only getting to “B,” already feel I’m missing a lot.

This week I am going to highlight songs, many unfortunate one hit wonders, of good pop songs from the time. You may disagree, but I think, despite being from the dreaded 90’s, these songs hold up.

First up is Soho’s “Hippychick,” the song that every time it starts you think it’s The Smiths “How Soon is Now” as it opens with Johnny Marr’s distinct guitar riff. It’s amazing that when I do here this randomly, and first think it’s the Smiths, that I don’t get pissed off it’s not… because “Hippychick” is actually totally fun.

Soho was formed in the early 90’s in London comprised of singers (and twin sisters) Jackie & Pauline Cuff, along with guitarist Timothy London. They did not manage to get another hit out of their debut record “Goddess” or even a second album, despite “Hippychick” being a hit around the world. (I mean… even Sisqo got a follow up album after “The Thong Song.”) The album isn’t GREAT, but it’s one I put in every once in a while and enjoy. “Hippychick” on the other hand is good anytime.

Leave me a comment below and let me know which is your LEAST favorite song of the 90’s and your favorite.


The video for Hippychick:

Friday, January 26, 2007

I Believe

Song: I Believe
Artist: Chris Isaak
Album: Forever Blue

I, like most of the world, didn’t get to know Chris Isaak until “Wicked Game,” the single from his third album “Heart Shape World” became a smash, thanks to being highlighted in David Lynch’s film “Wild At Heart.” “Heart Shape World” was a great album, a mix of rockabilly and semi-country, and Chris was by gosh the cutest crooning singer we’d seen since Dean Martin. I haven’t followed every release he’s done, but by far my favorite is his 1995 album “Forever Blue.” It was apparently written after the end of a long term relationship (even includes a letter to his former lady CD bed) and this event seemed to focus Chris toward writing an actual album. All subsequent records have had a bunch of solid songs but no theme that could be found running through the album.

“Forever Blue” starts with the bluesy, killer “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing” which you may remember was heavily used in the trailer to Stanley Kubrick’s last film, “Eyes Wide Shut.” There are up-beat songs with heartbreaking lyrics; “Somebody’s Crying,” “Goin’ Nowhere,” and “There She Goes” as well as down-tempo ballads with heartbreaking lyrics; “Forever Blue,” “Things Go Wrong.” But for me, I can’t wallow in sadness to long, and need a shot of happy, and/or hope. Thankfully, he (almost) ends the album on a high note with “I Believe,” an upbeat, sunny, “everything-is-gonna-be-okay” jam. I love this song and it does, as I assume it was meant to, lift my spirits every time I hear it.

While not necessarily thematically connected, his follow up, the covers album “Baja Sessions” (with most of the “covers” his own tunes) is a great mood record with a mostly acoustic breezy tone. It’s a perfect relaxing on the beach record, and contains a good mix of songs from his back catalog, and mostly album tracks. 1998’s “Speak of the Devil” was a disappointment for me, as was, for the most part, 2002’s “Always Got Tonight” which included the theme to Chris’ short lived show on Showtime, “American Boy.” A fun, kind of silly song, that none-the-less puts a smile on my face.

Last year saw the release of “Best of Chris Isaak” which may be the best starting point for a casual fan, but if you want the record that will get you through some tough times, with someone who’s songs will get to the essence of heartbreak, get “Forever Blue,” you won’t be disappointed.


The now iconic video for Wicked Game

Thursday, January 25, 2007

That's What I Think

Song: That's What I Think
Artist: Cyndi Lauper
Album: Hat Full of Stars

The one thing that is a constant in the music business is how much it changes, and fast. An artist can be riding the fame train for a good long while and suddenly may find themselves having a hard time selling records, even when the quality of the music is actually pretty high. Nobody knows this more than Cyndi Lauper who has tried to keep herself relevant since her break out debut “She’s So Unusual.” That album, which included the smash anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” as well as hits “Time After Time,” “She Bop,” and “All Through The Night” went platinum five times. It remains the biggest part of her career, and it was the beginning.

What endears me to Cyndi is that she has continued to keep her career going, despite the mild success, and has released some pretty good records past the 80’s. I am fond of “Hat Full of Stars,” which oddly, was produced by DJ Junior Vasquez. It contains stabs at greatest including the lead single that went nowhere, “That’s What I Think.” The song is so infectious, so bouncy, so CYNDI, that it is the song that should have been on the follow up to “Unusual.” But Cyndi is obviously a woman who follows her muse and while she hasn’t has a monster hit since the 80’s, she’s been able to keep her career afloat through extensive touring and projects that suit who she is now.

Most recently, Cyndi released “At Last” an album of standards that I quite liked, and last year “the Body Acoustic,” re-interpretations of her hits acoustically with guests such as Shaggy and Sarah McLachlan. It’s a nice record and a great companion to her greatest hits record “Twelve Deadly Cyns,” which should be your starting point if you don’t own any Cyndi. Unfortunately, her theme song to the 80’s kids classic “Goonies” is nowhere to be found… but most likely because of the more A/C leanings of her post “She’s So Unusual” work. Also, the name of the bloody song is “The Goonie ‘R’ Good Enough.”


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Black Magic

Song: Black Magic
Artist: Jarvis Cocker
Album: Jarvis

Jarvis Cocker formed his influential band Pulp when he was fifteen in 1978. Since it’s inception it has changed members, musical styles, and degrees of success many times over. It wasn’t until 1995’s smash success “Different Class” that saw them at the forefront of the Brit-pop music scene. Lead single “Common People” is considered a classic in the UK, a song I flipped for, along with “Disco 2000” also from “Different Class.” I can’t say I loved the entire record, or the subsequent releases yet I must admit that I honestly feel I haven’t given them proper listens as most music critics (and hipster fans) wet the bed talking about the band.

This year Jarvis has released his first solo record and I really have been enjoying it. It sounds very much like Pulp, but a little less disco. To me it sounds like he wanted to write a great Elvis Costello record. First single “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” sounds almost like Springsteen, and controversial hidden bonus track “Ruling the World” made a great end credits song for “Children of Men.” Probably because of the “Crimson and Clover” steal, “Black Magic” has been the one making me smile every time it comes on.


Running the World:

Don't Let Him Waste Your Time:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hang Down Your Head

Song: Hang Down Your Head
Artist: Tom Waits
Album: Rain Dog

My introduction to Tom Waits came through his work as an actor in such films as “Short Cuts,” “Down By Law,” & “Bram Stokers Dracula.” I knew that he was also a singer but didn’t quite understand or know the vastness of his career. Because of some ridiculous sale through a CD by Mail club I was in I got 1992’s “Bone Machine” for like $2, and it quickly became one of my favorite records. “Bone Machine” won Waits a Grammy for “Best Alternative Album” and it truly is an “alternative album.” It’s ugly, free-wheeling, and definitely not for everyone’s tastes. As a matter of fact, a good friend of mine referred to Tom as “that singer you like with throat cancer.” Nice.

Waits started his career in the early 70’s releasing the brilliant debut “Closing Time” in 1973. “Closing Time” featured the beautiful ballad “Ol’55” which the Eagles covered and made a moderate hit. He quickly released album after album through the 70’s and built a very strong cult following for his off-kilter singing, poetic lyrics, and most likely for just being like nobody else out there. He took a creative turn with 1983’s “Swordfishtrombone” an absolute mess of an album in the best ways possible. This continued with my favorite, 1985’s “Raindogs.” This is an album filled with one great song after another including the title track, “Time,” “Jockey Full of Bourbon,” and “Downtown Train,” which Rod Stewart covered and became one of his bigger hits of the 80’s. “Hang Down Your Head” is my absolute favorite Tom Waits song, fragile and beautiful, it is also the one song on the album co-written by his long time wife and frequent collaborator, Kathleen Brennan. Brennan has gone on to produce many of his subsequent albums.

I can’t recommend “Rain Dogs” enough, and if you can get past the gruff vocals and sporadic arrangements, you will find much to love. He’s never been as hailed as say a Bob Dylan, but I have a feeling that in time he will get his complete due of respect from the public once his music is properly discovered. Late last year Tom released the three disc “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards” which was a career spanning collection of unreleased material. Not typical of these types of collections as they are usually meant for hard-core fans, “Orphans” garnered him some of the best reviews of his career with come critics claming it stands with the best of his entire catalog. I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet, but it is certainly on my list.


Here is the video for Tom’s version of Downtown Train:

Monday, January 22, 2007

Is it Like Today?

Song: Is it Like Today?
Artist: World Party
Album: Bang!

I know very little about World Party beyond that lead (and main) member Karl Wallinger used to be in 80’s rock band The Waterboys. He left in 1985 to form World Party and got to see their first single “Ship of Fools” from the debut album “Private Revolution” become a top forty hit. But it was debut single “Is It Like Today?” from 1993’s “Bang!” that got me interested in the band. I believe I saw the video on MTV’s lone Alternative show “Alternative Nation” and immediately thought it was one of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard.

The rest of the album doesn’t really hold a candle to that particular song but is worth a listen or two. I have not heard any follow up albums, but Robbie Williams had a pretty sizable hit (In the rest of the world of course) with a cover of Wallinger’s “She’s The One” which can be found on 1997’s “Egyptology.”

This is one of my favorite songs, I think you’ll really like it. It reminds me of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream it’s Over,” yet doesn’t really sound like it… I don’t know why I make that connection actually.


The video for Is It Like Today?

Ship of Fools

Friday, January 19, 2007


Song: Alive
Artist: VHS or Beta
Album: Night on Fire

I first heard of VHS or Beta when they happened to be opening for the Scissor Sisters back in 2005. I immediately liked their dance-rock vibe and had the last song they played, the title track to their latest record “Night on Fire,” in my head long after they, and the Scissor Sisters played. Based on this performance I got some of their singles, including “Night on Fire” and immediately was in love. I bought the album and while I didn’t think it was a home run, thought it had at least five killer songs on it, which is more than good for fleeting bands in the disco-rock genre.

Upon further investigation I found that the band was heavily influenced by Daft Punk and that their debut album, 2002’s “Le Funk” was basically a Daft Punk homage, comprised entirely of instrumentals. This put the instrumentals on their vastly superior sophomore album, 2004’s “Night on Fire” in a different context. It seems they were growing, and it makes me very excited to hear new material. (Their official website simply says they are recording new demos “soon.”)

Of all the songs on the latest record the one I really connected with most was “Alive” which surprisingly, was never made a single. This song is very poetic and while I don’t quite understand everything that is being said here, at times I feel it’s just about healing, and the fact that there is so much in life to drives us apart… yet we are helped along by “angels shooting stars” and that’s what makes us “alive.”

It’s a great song, and one that I think can really connect with people. It belongs in the end credits of a great movie about what makes us human. Or at least one that I have running in my head…

This one will take you through the weekend, to “feel alive in the move from Sundays.”


Here’s the video (which isn't very good) for the ‘should have been massive’ first single and title track:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

By Your Side

Song: By Your Side
Artist: Sade
Album: Lovers Rock

When I was younger the modern jazz of Sade was a bit too… well, boring for me. Sure “Smooth Operator” was okay, but her sexy music was lost on me as a kid. I suppose for good reason. I caught up, in a big way, with the release of Sade’s last album, 2000’s “Lovers Rock.” For this record she incorporated more modern electronic flourishes to her music and I fell hard. This is one of the sexiest records I own and is great from start to finish and both as mood music and if you listen to each song separately.

Sade was born in a tiny village miles from Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. Her father was African and mother was English. Sade moved with her mother to London where she grew up listening to classic soul records and formed her musical influences. “Smooth Operator” was one of the first songs she wrote, and has consistently had at least one solid hit off each album she’s released. Most notably, “The Sweetest Taboo” from 1985’s “Promise” and “No Ordinary Love” from 1992’s “Love Deluxe.”

I don’t have any of these older albums so can’t speak on them, but I without a doubt think “Lovers Rock’ is essential for any modern music fan. While the entire album is filled with great songs, the touchstone still remains the first track, “By Your Side.” Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl” did an amazing piano based dance mix of the song that I highly recommend. My cousin used the original as the song for her wedding and I am hard pressed to think of a more perfect song or moment. I cried like a baby.

Thank you Sade!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Drowners

Song: The Drowners
Artist: Suede
Album: Suede

Suede formed in England in 1989 and really spearheaded the Britpop revolution of the 90’s. Through a stroke of luck and pure ambition, the band was making waves in the British music press before they had a record deal, and were being called “The Best New Band in Britain.” Their self-titled debut album was an instant hit and they were often called “The new Smiths.” (Incidentally, their name comes from the Morrissey song “Suedehead.”)

Marked by outrageous statements and poly-sexuality, Suede were the toast of Britain until in-fighting mixed up the bands line up and while sophomore album “Dog Man Star” sold as much as their debut, the British press labeled them “over.” Soon, poppier and less darkly sexual Britpop bands like Oasis and Blur took the scene from them.

They had a surprise resurgence in 1996 with the release of their third album (minus founding lead guitarist Bernard Butler) and scored five top ten singles in the UK. Unfortunately, the album wasn’t released in the U.S. until a year later due to some legal struggle between an obscure American lounge singer who also performed under the name Suede. They officially had to change their name to “London Suede” for all future releases.

I personally only have the amazing self titled debut, containing the top rate singles “The Downers,” “Metal Mickey,” and “Animal Nitrate” and the double disc b-sides collection “Sci-Fi Lullabies.” While it is a little hit or miss (what b-sides, and for that matter double disc album isn’t?) it really contained some killer songs, so I feel like I need to play a little catch up with their other full length albums. Their last album came out in 2002, no word as to what they are up to now.


The video for Metal Mickey:

The video for The Drowners:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Song: Portia
Artist: Throwing Muses
Album: Throwing Muses

I first heard of the Throwing Muses through my love of Belly, Tanya Donnelly’s old band form the 90’s. Tanya was in Throwing Muses briefly, and lead Muse Kristen Hersh is her step-sister. They rose out of the Boston alt-rock scene in Boston in the early 80’s and melded post-punk guitar riffs with obtuse poetry-like lyrics and Kristen’s distinctive wail. They have broken up and reunited a few times and Kristen has had a pretty prolific solo career. In fact, I am unable to keep up with it.

My favorite two records are their two least liked critically, 1992’s “Red Heaven” (the first album I bought of theirs) and 1996’s “Limbo.” “The Real Ramona” is the fan favorite and one of their more pop records. I am also a big fan of “University” which was released in 1995 and was a comeback album after disbanding. Their latest, (and last) record was the self titled album from 2003 which saw them embrace grunge (a bit late no?) and remains their heaviest set to date. I didn’t love this record, but found certain songs I did, including “Portia.”

Hard to say where to start with the Muses as their music is all over the place. Kristin is no doubt a poet and I also highly recommend her debut solo album, the all acoustic “Hips & Makers.” Just saw that she has released yet ANOTHER solo record this year… she is absolutely too prolific for me.


Friday, January 12, 2007

We Float

Song: We Float
Artist: PJ Harvey
Album: Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

PJ Harvey’s “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea” is one of those if you don’t have it… rush out and get it now albums. In a career that started in the early 90’s it is her hands down crowning achievement, in a career of consistently great albums. I say that, yet I was HUGELY disappointed with her last record, 2004’s “Uh Huh Her.” I recommend her early work but with “Stories,” all the pieces came together. It’s probably the most “pop” thing she’s done, or at least the most polished… but that is not what makes it great. It’s simply a collection of unbelievable songs, from start to finish.

There were several great singles, but I choose “We Float,” the album closer because it is just bewitching to me. The album starts off with the scary “Big Exit,” where PJ sings “give me a gun!” yet ends with this bittersweet send off. “We float… take life as it comes.” Listen carefully. This is the song you need to listen to when life feels like it is about to swallow you like the ocean.


Videos from singles off the album:

Good Fortune

A Place Called Home

And from her second record, the "Is she crazy?" Man-Sized video

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Writing to Reach You

Song: Writing to Reach You
Artist: Travis
Album: The Man Who

Back in the Summer of 2004 I was vacationing in Provincetown, MA and was with some friends getting lunch at a place right on the water. As we sat there waiting for our food a song came on over the mediocre sound system and it immediately sounded familiar. After listening for a while I thought to myself “Oh… someone is covering Travis, who is it?” I had been a Travis fan for a while and while I was a tad disappointed with their latest album, thought they deserved more exposure in this country… and thought this other artist covering them might raise their profile a bit.

Well, that song I heard was in fact a pretty big hit, but it wasn’t a cover… it turned out to be an original by that band… Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.” Once I got a hold of the song I was shocked by just how much they sounded like Travis, and shocked again to hear how big they were getting in their native England. Now, arguably, Travis was a bit of a copy-cat band as they sounded a lot like Oasis’ more mellow hits, but they wrote great songs, had two albums I consider essential listening, and were just all around harmlessly likable.

The band started out a bit more rocky, hailing from Glasgow, Scotland while at University, and moving to London when they became more serious about being a band. They released an EP and then their very well received debut album “Good Feeling.” But it wasn’t until the release of “The Man Who” in 1999 that the band blew up in Europe, spawned several hit singles, and toped many critic’s year-end best-of lists. Their third album, “The Invisible Band” continued in the same mellow breezy vein of “The Man Who,” and was arguably just as good. As mentioned, their last LP, 2003’s “12 Memories” was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the last two records. It has some nice moments, but is inconsistent.

Unfortunately, it seems Keane came in right at the right time and took Travis’ crown in 2004 seeing their debut “Hopes and Fears,” becoming the second best selling album of the year. (Just behind the Scissor Sisters debut.) They were able to find moderate success here in the states and released a well received follow up last year. While Keane’s lead singer Tom Chaplin may have found himself in rehab late last year, it seemed they did the right thing and returned with a bolder sound on their sophomore record “Under the Iron Sea.” Travis did not, continuing to make the sort of dreamy mid-tempo Brit-rock that possibly just got a bit old.

In my opinion, Travis is the better band and wrote better records that Keane does. I like them alright, and really did like last years lead single “Is It Any Wonder?” (even thought it was a bit of a U2 knock off) and maybe that is the problem. Keane have taken other bands sound and in a way re-wrote them for their own purposes. But who’s having the last laugh?

Instead of highlighting one of their newer songs, I chose the first track off of “The Man Who” which sort of holds my basis for the Keane comparison. It’s a great song from a great album. If you dig it, and know nothing else of Travis, it might be best to pick up their best of “Singles” collection which came out in 2004. It’s a good career retrospective and includes all their hits. Sure you’ll miss some of the important album tracks found on their two best records, but for a passing fan, it’s a great way to get into them. I hope they return and blow Keane away! ;)


Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Song: Irreplaceable
Artist: Beyonce
Album: B-Day

Third time seems to be a charm for Beyonce who is finding the THIRD single from her sophomore solo album “B-Day” to be the first out and out hit.

It’s been infiltrating the airwaves for a while now but I only recently became obsessed with this song. This is possibly because of “Dreamgirls,” which I recently saw, as I’ve been thinking about Beyonce a lot. The woman, the music, the actress, the commodity, etc. All of this has lead me to think… who is the real Beyonce?

As you all probably know, Beyonce was breed to be a superstar. Coached by her father with a gaggle of other girls, Beyonce and crew dubbed Destiny’s Child finally hit the big-big time with their second album, “The Writings on the Wall” with the major hits “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Bug-A-Boo,” “Jumpin, Jumpin,” and of course their signature, “Say My Name.” They loss two members, gained one, released another album “Survivor” with another slew of top ten urban-pop hits, and all this time, Beyonce was being groomed for super-mega stardom. The group released one more limp record and Beyonce hit the ceiling with her first solo record “Dangerously in Love.” “Crazy in Love” will no doubt go down as one of the best pop songs of our age, she hooked up with Jay-Z and cemented her street cred, and took small roles in big movies to get her feet wet for her big coming out.

So the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 was supposed to be the moment where Beyonce went from successful singer to multi-platform brand. Her highly anticipated second record was coming out as well as a “starring” performance in the Broadway-to-film adaptation of “Dreamgirls” where she was to play the Diana Ross-ish member of a 60’s girl-group that was pushed to lead the group and become the real star while the chubby but better singer (Jennifer Hudson) was pushed out of the spotlight. Since Destiny’s Child sort of had the same history, and Beyonce was in fact BEYONCE, this was truly going to be her moment.

But things didn’t go to plan exactly.

First single from “B-Day” “Déjà vu” made little dent at radio despite the expectation that it was going to be a surefire hit. It had Jay-Z, it had the horn sample a-la “Crazy in Love,” and she wore less clothes than ever in the video. The problem was… it was TOO “Crazy in Love” and despite really calling itself out by being named “Déjà vu” literally, audiences didn’t bite. Possibly because half didn’t know what “Déjà vu” actually meant. Then, almost too quickly, the second single, “Ring the Alarm” came out accompanied with a video that made Beyonce, for the first time, looked like… well crazy. She was dressed like Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct,” her hair was all over the place, and in her eyes it was possible she was on the verge of jumping through the camera and eating the watcher. Not even a rumor that the song was directed at Little-Beyonce Rihanna for alledgedly sleeping with Jay-Z couldn’t make the song into a hit. (I on the other hand rather liked it and liked the Beyonce-as-crazy-ho thing.)

Then came the media blitz that was “Dreamgirls.” And early interview with Rolling Stone painted the film as the launch pad for the world domination of this lady, there was Oscar talk, but when people actually got to see the film all they could talk about was Jennifer Hudson, an American Idol cast-off that didn’t have a single song on the radio. Even when the Golden Globe nominations were announced and Beyonce was put as Best Actress and Jennifer as Best-Supporting, people did not embrace it, calling it politics that lead to her character’s raised status when many believed it to be Jennifer’s show as her character is the heart of the film.

And then, just as “Dreamgirls” is about to be released wide, “Irreplaceable,” “B-Day’s” third single actually becomes a hit and Beyonce is once again on top… of at least something. The song is pretty great and plays into some of the same things that made some of Destiny’s Child songs hits… the woman done wrong by a man who is about to get hers. Say my name indeed. “Irreplaceable” is an infectious, “get your ass out of my house” mid-tempo jam that shows Beyonce with teeth, but not freak-out “Ring the Alarm” crazy-bitchness. While thematically it’s a bit been there done that, the song itself is crazy catchy and actually MEANS something. Between album hit “Check On It” was sublime in it’s hooks despite being vaguely about well… nothing. “Irreplaceable” is a home run on all bases.

But who is Beyonce? I suppose that these are personas that she is trying on in these songs, which many artists from Bowie to Madonna, to Diana Ross herself have taken on but in the end I think we KNEW who those people are, who is Beyonce?!?!

“Dreamgirls” is another problem because while she is not bad by any means she is just a blank slate. The biggest problem is that she is given absolutely nothing to do. I think it’s unfair to compare her performance with Hudson’s as Jennifer gets all the great lines and songs as Effie. Beyonce has very little to do but look just like Diana Ross. She looks absolutely stunning, the camera loves her, but she never connects with the character. And I refuse to jump on the Jennifer Hudson gush-train. The girl can sing, she knows how to pop her hip, swing her head, and give the attitude but that’s not acting. And some of her lines do drop dead. But then again, these girls aren’t actors. (On a side note, the movie is worth seeing for Eddie Murphy alone as he gives one of the best performances in his career making great strides with a secondary character.)

The Golden Globes, the Oscars, and final box office will cement what Beyonce will take out of this whole project… but she should sleep better, despite the up and down drama of these projects that her backlash just proves that she HAS in fact made it. Like Madonna, the public decided for a change that she had gotten a little too big and needed to be cut down a bit. A sure sign of super-stardom! But there is always another record or another film to possibly re-imagine herself and make it happen once again.

“To the left to the left…”


The video:

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Love is Stronger Than Death

Song: Love is Stronger Than Death
Artist: The The
Album: Dusk

The The formed back in 1979 and basically consist of one consistent member, lead Matt Johnson. Born and raised in London, Johnson formed his first band at fifteen and was introduced to a variety of styles in the nightclubs and dance venues owned by his uncle. The The began as a dance outfit with heavy use of synthesizers and drum loops. “Dusk” was my first introduction to the band; saw the video for first single “Dogs of Lust” on “120 Minutes” along with an interview by Johnson who was strange but very intriguing. A local radio station I loved was playing “Dogs” quite a bit and was raving about the record so I bought it and fell in love.

“Dusk” is a poetic rock record about love, death, and the basics of the human condition. Johnson’s vocals are dark, almost Goth in a way, something you respond to or feel little for. After falling for “Dusk” (which is great from start to finish) I went back and got the more dance oriented “Infected” which included the fun title track as well as a song with Neneh Cherry. I didn’t connect with it as much and didn’t pursue any future or past releases from the band, though 1989’s “Mind Bomb” and the debut; “Soul Mining” are well regarded among rock critics.

I hadn’t dug the CD out in a while, having imported the key tracks onto my iPod ages ago, and was floored to find out that none other than The Smiths’ Johnny Marr had joined the band for this record and has his distinct guitar work on almost every track. Listening to “Dogs of Lust” again I can’t believe I didn’t realize this before as it echoes “How Soon is Now” quite a bit. Marr did not return on future albums, but his mark is certainly a key ingredient to “Dusk’s” success.

In 2004 singer Angela McCluskey released her hit-or-miss album “the Things We Do” which featured an excellent, if too faithful, cover of “Love is Stronger Than Death.” This is a song that is so amazing I fully feel it deserves to be a classic and yet from my knowledge, it was never released as a single. I can see torch singers or really vocalists of all kinds covering this song with great effect. Wouldn’t it be something to hear a song like this performed on American Idol? I think it is not out of the realm of possibility. This is a great song and “Dusk” is a lost treasure form the 90’s.


The “hot” video for “Dogs of Lust”:

Monday, January 08, 2007

Beef Jerky

Song: Beef Jerky
Artist: Cibo Matto
Album: Viva! La Woman

A few months ago I posted about the great Richard Thompson whom I discovered while falling in love with the production of Mitchell Froom whom had at the time worked with (and later married and had a child) with Suzanne Vega. Another new band that was getting buzz at the time was Cibo Matto and their debut album “Viva! La Woman,” also produced by Mr. Froom.

Formed in New York in 2004, Cibo Matto was comprised of vocalist Miho Hatori and keyboardist/sampler Yuka Honda. Both came independently from Japan getting different gigs in other bands before forming Leitoh Lychee. After that band disbanded, they formed Cibo Matto (Italian for “food madness”) and recorded “Viva! La Woman” in 1996. The album was about their love of food or food as metaphor. It’s fun, funky, brilliant, and was one of my absolute favorite records in college. They had alternative rock hits with “Know Your Chicken” and “Sugar Water” following up the album with the “Super Relax EP” which included remixes, and early version of “Spoon,” and a cover of the Rolling Stones “Sing This All Together.”

In 1999 they released the follow up, “Stereotype A” which included new full-time members Sean Lennon, Duma Love, and Timo Ellis. The album is not without its highlights but it is a mess compared to their debut. They wisely chose not to repeat the food analogies for the sophomore album, but forgot to incorporate the memorable songs. Again it is not a bad album, just doesn’t come close to the highs and brilliance of “La Woman.”

Cibo Matto broke up shortly afterward. Miho has recently released a solo album here which I have not heard, but also contributed vocals to the first Gorillaz record, as well as the Beastie Boys’ “Hello Nasty.”

It’s hard for me to pick a song to highlight as the album is so good. “Beef Jerky” has a great title, a great beat, and shows their off-the-wall musical palette rather well. To hear more from the album, here are two videos:


“Know Your Chicken”

“Sugar Water”

This video is directed by Michel Gondry of “Eternal Sunshine” and “Science of Sleep” fame.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Spiritual High (State of Independence) Part II

Song: Spiritual High (State of Independence) Part II
Artist: Moodswings
Album: Moodfood

One of my absolute favorite things is discovering new music at the movies. Usually, a filmmaker will match a piece of music to an image they create that fits so perfectly, you think it was MADE for that scene. (And sometimes, it is.) You might think of Rocky climbing those steps to that film’s iconic score or Lloyd Dobler holding up the boom box while Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” played through in “Say Anything.” Or sometimes you’ll just hear a song in a movie while a character is walking through a scene, or heard in the end credits that grabs you. This is the case with Moodswings “Spiritual High (State of Independence) Part II” which played over the end credits to Barbet Schroeder’s 1992 thriller “Single White Female.”

When the credits of the film came up and this song began to play I immediately had to know… who was this? I recognized lead Pretender Chrissie Hynde’s distinct vocals right away but the beat and mood of the song didn’t seem like anything that her band would have done. It turned out to be by a band called Moodswings, and I bought their album at the mall record store as soon as I exited the theater. Unfortunately, the entire album wasn’t all that great. They were sort of like Enigma and admittedly, this track sounds a bit dated already. (Dig that piano over early 90’s dance beat? So retro!) But I do love this song, and it turned into a mid-level alternative rock hit for the band who released a follow up, “Psychedelicatessen” in 1997 and then the double disc “Horizontal” in 2002. I haven’t heard either of these, as I didn’t really care for the rest of “Moodfood” but have since read some positive reviews, so they might be worth checking out. Lead Moodswing James Hood also worked with Hynde on the Pretenders hit “I’ll Stand By You” which, come to think of it… wasn’t that used in the dramatic head-shaving scene from “G.I. Jane?” (Poor Demi.)

In any event, “Spiritual High” is a great track, and actually split into three parts on the album, one of which samples Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech. It’s a bit heavy handed in the end, but the intent is positive. But Part II belongs to the amazing Chrissie Hynde, one of the best female rock vocalists of all time.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fairytale in the Supermarket

Song: Fairytale in the Supermarket
Artist: The Raincoats
Album: The Raincoats

Back in college one of my good friends gave me as either a birthday present or Christmas gift the “SPIN Alternative Record Guide.” It was a pretty sizable book that listed all the notable “Alternative” bands of the past and present, listed their albums with a 1 – 10 rating, and also a write up about their career and cultural significance. Over the next three years or so this book became my bible, I devoured every page, and bought many of the albums they listed as significant and in some cases without hearing a note of music from these artists. Looking back at this, I find it a little silly… yet I must say with a few exceptions, I was rarely disappointed with the albums that they fell head over heels for.

The Raincoats were one of my favorite discoveries from this time. Formed in London in 1978, the Raincoats were an all female post punk act with a sound like no other. Their vocals were shrill and their use of a screaming violin even more so. Their self titled debut is one of my favorite records of all time and almost universally loathed by just about anyone I played it for. I can’t really call them an acquired taste… you either dig their out-of-left-field sound, or run for the hills claiming it’s not really music. I love them, and they were the perfect soundtrack to my college years studying feminist theory.

It is very important to note that we can all thank Kurt Cobain for the re-release of their three major albums. It has been noted that Kurt’s discomfort with fame was what lead to his suicide, which angers many, but The Raincoats career was completely resurrected simply because he mentioned them in the liner notes to “Incesticide.” Their albums were re-issued by his label Geffen, they toured with Nirvana, and soon were able to record and release another album, 1994’s “Looking in the Shadows.” I don’t know how comfortable I would be with that kind of power, Kurt obviously wasn’t.

“Fairytale in the Supermarket” opens their self titled debut and is a good indication of their sound. Odd, loud, screechy… it is like nothing that came before it. The entire record is very female centric, and Sleater Kinney, The Breeders, and countless female-fronted post punk bands no doubt hold a debt to their sound and pioneering all-female lineup. They certainly are not for everyone, but if you like the sound and attitude, I highly recommend their debut album. And it contains a monotone ironic cover of the Kinks “Lola!” How can you argue with that?


Here is some footage of the band from a BBC documentary. This proves you can literally find ANYTHING on YouTube:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How Can You Be Sure

Song: How Can You Be Sure
Artist: Radiohead
Album: Music From the Gregg Araki Movie: Nowhere

We are expecting to hear new music from Radiohead this year and I am one of the many eagerly awaiting this. They are a bit of a love’em or hate’em band, but the people that do love them are pretty passionate about them.

I first saw Radiohead open for R.E.M. on their “Monster” tour and it was the first (and only) time that I was completely enthralled by a band that I knew very little about. (Well… I guess I knew “Creep.”) I immediately bought their second album “The Bends,” which they were supporting at the time. A modern classic of post-punk guitar pop, it was the record that helped them build the buzz and set the stage for their crowning achievement, “OK Computer” which, many will argue is the best record of the last twenty years or like… ever. (discuss)

They followed “Computer” with the supremely odd but beautiful “Kid A” and “Amnesiac.” “Kid A” is their “Dark Side of the Moon” and a recent listen reminded me just how good the thing is. It’s catchy, arty, and while totally strange, very accessible. It was also the start of the band not giving fans what they wanted… another “Bends.”

I highlight the excellent track “How Could You Be Sure” which was recorded during the “Bends” sessions and for some reason was not included on the album. It’s an amazing song that holds a place alongside their best material. It’s more straightforward Radiohead, yet Thom Yorke’s obtuse lyrics always seem to shake things up, no matter how pretty the melodies. The song was released on the soundtrack to the 1997 Gregg Araki film “Nowhere.” The movie is a bit all over the place, as is the soundtrack… but it has some great remixes and odds and ends by late-millennium alternative bands such as Hole, Elastica, Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, and James.

While I am eager about hearing new music form the band, I am also a bit hesitant as I was so disappointed with their last record, “Hail to the Thief.” It was the first time I wasn’t totally blown away by a record of theirs and never listen to it. Furthering the damage, Yorke’s solo album “The Eraser,” which was released last year, didn’t really grab me as I wanted it to. It was weird (of course) but also a little boring, which is the worst thing you can say about a record in my opinion. Maybe my expectations are out of whack… but when a band is great, shouldn’t they always be great?


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Space Maker

Song: Space Maker
Artist: Air
Album: Pocket Symphony

Happy New Year!

While I had said to myself that I would shift my focus on so much new music and reach back to songs and artists that meant something to me way back when in the beginning of this new year, I got something new that I thought I should talk about.

On March 1st, Air will release their new LP “Pocket Symphony.” I’ve been a huge fan of theirs since the 1998 debut breakthrough “Moon Safari,” and absolutely loved their last record “Talkie Walkie.” Upon several spins of “Symphony” I am sorry to say that it is rather boring. I enjoyed Jean-Benoît Dunckel’s (one half of the band) solo side project “Darkel” which came out last year more, though even that seemed a little limp to me. To be fair, Air’s music isn’t attention grabbing, but they make some of the best chill out music around, and while the songs are soothing, light, and downtempo, I would never call them boring. That said, this new record reminds me of their soundtrack for “The Virgin Suicides” in that the collection seems less composed of songs but more just an entire “vibe” that sweeps over the entire record.

I am still listening, but if you are interested in Air I would highly recommend you start with “Moon Safari” or “Talkie Walkie.”