Friday, September 28, 2007


Song: Valerie
Artist: Mark Ronson (f/Amy Winehouse)
Album: Version

I seriously have not been able to get enough of Mark Ronson’s album “Version” which takes recent pop songs and “reinterprets” them as 60’s soul numbers. It sounds like a so-so gimmick that could have gone horribly wrong, but Ronson is on top of his game with this genre, AND has the smarts to keep the songs varied both in approach and more or less recognizable. It’s a hipster record that is not better if you’re a hipster, or worse if you’re not. You don’t need to know that “Toxic” is a Britney Spears song, or that “Stop Me” is from the Smiths… this is a record all could put on at their next party and bring the cool factor up a few clicks. It just hands-down WORKS.

Like any great record, my favorite song has changed quite a bit over the course of absorbing the record. While I love the Britney and Smiths takes (most likely, initially, because I was familiar with the originals), my current favorites are the Maximo Park cover of “Apply Some Pressure” and Amy Winehouse’s take on the Zuton’s “Valerie.” I specifically wanted to highlight “Valerie” because Winehouse is getting a ton of press (for various reasons) and is selling a ton of records here in the States. (Something I must admit is actually pretty shocking to me.) Her recent album “Back to Black” is amazing, and was produced by Ronson. This is so apparent that I am urging anyone who has flipped for the Winehouse record to go out and get “Version.” To me, it sounds like a true companion piece. “Valerie” could fit nicely onto her record, and you’ll find the tempo and vibe to both to be similar. Ronson’s imprint is all over “Black,” and it only becomes apparent when you hear “Version.”

I have not heard Ronson’s first record, 2003’s “Here Comes the Fuzz,” but am interested in what it sounds like. Apparently it is more hip hop influenced vs. straight up soul. “Valerie” is the latest single, no doubt in the hopes to ride on the Winehouse train a bit, but as he should… he helped create her sound. There was recently a rumored rift between the two caused by Amy deciding to fly off to Puerto Rico with her husband to continue their international bender vs. appearing in the “Valerie” video with Ronson. (see below) I have confirmed that this was not true and actually Ronson himself never planned to be in the video either, so Amy was never a consideration.


Valerie – Mark Ronson version

Valerie – Zutons original

And just when you think you wanna give up on the Amy’s and Britney’s of the world that seem hell-bent on career suicide you see something like this, and realize… damn, there is a reason… she is just GOOD.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Livin' in the Future

Song: Livin' in the Future
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: Magic

Thank goodness for Bruce Springsteen. Once again ‘The Boss’ returns with the E Street Band to rock out once again (after the subdued “Devils & Dust” and “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”) as they did for the amazing post 9/11 album “The Rising.” Once again he brings the furor, and while “Magic” doesn’t have the thematic weight that brought “The Rising” together in the end, it’s just another collection of sing-a-long E Street rave-ups that you can imagine being sung by thousands of fans in an arena. Or you in your car.

I have not totally followed Bruce’s career and discography, but I must say… I love all that I own. “Born in the U.S.A.” is an album that might get lost in 80’s pro-U.S.A. nostalgia, but it is way better than that. And absolutely holds up today. I loved “The Rising” as well, and specifically the song “You’re Missing” which in five minutes sums up the shock, horror, and aftermath of what took place at the Twin Towers. Despite being drawn to his more upbeat work, that song is an absolute winner, and while equally great, I think “My City in Ruins” got more attention. (On a recent pass-bye of a 9/11 memorial at Seventh Avenue and Greenwich Street, I noticed a painted tile that simply had an image of the towers and the title to the song below; “You’re Missing.” Pretty powerful.)

“Livin’ in the Future” is another great Springsteen track, and “Magic” is filled with them. Bruce is currently playing a handful of warm-up shows in NJ to prepare for his upcoming tour to apparently rave reviews. I need to see this guy live before he stops touring!


First Single from Magic: Radio Nowhere

A favorite from The Rising: “Waiting on a Sunny Day” (live)

And “You’re Missing” on SNL

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Never, Never Gonna Give You Up

Song: Never, Never Gonna Give You Up
Artist: Cake
Album: B-Sides & Rarities

I reluctantly got into Cake in college. I don’t really know why at first… when “The Distance” was getting popular I just was turned off, a little too goofy and self-knowing. I don’t know… I felt this way about Weezer at first, and like Weezer, with Cake I got over my hipster bullshit and began to like the band. It helped that my reasonably cool step-brother-in-law (does that exist?) and his wife gave me their third album “Prolonging the Magic” and raved about it. I still think it’s their best, and made me become a fan.

The follow up to “Magic,” 2001’s “Comfort Eagle” is pretty good in retrospect. Hard to love at first because it’s not as song-for-song good at “Magic” but has a lot of great moments, and a few key Cake tracks. I was disappointed with 2004’s “Pressure Chief,” maybe my least favorite of their records I know straight through, but it’s not a total disaster, and they have built up the good will in me to let them slide.

They continue to slide… maybe ‘coast’ is the more correct word with the release of “B-Sides & Rarities” next month. It’s a collection of… b-sides and rarities, mostly covers, and a fun nugget for big fans. It’s far from essential, as most are just Cake-variations on a group of songs, which they already did their best with “I Will Survive,” found on the sophomore album (and breakthrough) “Fashion Nugget.” Don’t get me wrong; this is a great collection for fans, and not without its merits.

My favorites on the record include their covers of Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” and Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” They sound like they come from the soundtrack of some out-of-nowhere lounge… their fun in a knowing wink-wink way. Which can be, depending on who you are, incredibly annoying as well.

I believe their cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is the first single.


Here are some random Cake videos:

I Will Survive

Never There

Short Skirt/Long Jacket

(One of my favorite videos, great concept)

No Phone

And here they rip off themselves. Disappointment follows.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Just One Look

Song: Just One Look
Artist: Linda Ronstadt
Album: Living in the U.S.A.

My Mother, when discussing my love for music, often tells a story about the time that she and her best friend at the time were discussing female singer Linda Ronstadt, and were arguing about which album a particular song was on. As they continued to argue, I had made my way to the record shelf, pulled out the correct album, and handed it to them. I was just shy of two years old. (True story.)

I grew up with Linda Ronstadt. My other two smaller anecdotes of her music involve me singing “Blue Bayou” at a wedding my parents were at with the band at five years old, and then often being misidentified as a beaten child because I often, and repeatedly, sang “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” as simply “Poop, poor, me me… poor poor me” over and over. Kids will sing the darnedest things! While Linda was my world for my early formative years, she was sort of like… EVERYONE’S world for the 70’s and beyond. I was recently recalling my early years, and Linda, and thought about just how far she’d fallen out of the cultural consciousness. While she has continued to tour and record new material, she hasn’t had anything close to a major hit since 1989’s “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind” which scored the AC radio sensations “Don’t Know Much” and “All My Life.” But Linda has had a full career with many different incarnations. She founded her career doing country-rock, and has also done pop albums, Mexican influenced records, and a trio of albums full of standards.

While I knew that Linda Ronstadt was big in the 70’s and into the 80’s, I just didn’t know HOW big. Her Wikipedia page is in interesting read and I recommend it, but her career highlights are worth noting:

• As of the end of 2006, Ronstadt's albums have earned her three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, four No. 1 albums on Billboard's Country Album chart, 10 Top 10 pop albums and 27 Top 100 pop albums.
• As of the end of 2006, Ronstadt's singles have earned her a No. 1 single and three No. 2 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, 10 Top 10 pop singles, 21 Top 40 pop singles, two No. 1 hits on the Billboard Country Single chart, two No. 1 hits and 37 Top 40 hits on Billboard's Adult Contemporary charts
• She has recorded over 30 studio albums and has made guest appearances on over 100 other albums.[100] Some notable guest appearances included the classical minimalist Philip Glass's album Songs from Liquid Days, a hit Classical record with other major Pop stars either singing or writing lyrics, she also appeared on Glass's follow up recording; 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, an appearance on Paul Simon's Graceland, she voiced herself in The Simpsons episode "Mr. Plow" and sang a duet "Funny How Time Slips Away" with Homer Simpson on The Simpsons: The Yellow Album. Ronstadt has also recorded on albums with artists as diverse as: Emmylou Harris,Dolly Parton,Neil Young, J. D. Souther, Gram Parsons, Bette Midler, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs, The Eagles, Andrew Gold, Hoyt Axton, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Mark Goldenberg, Ann Savoy, Karla Bonoff, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Maria Muldaur, Randy Newman, Nicolette Larson, the Seldom Scene, Rosemary Clooney, and Aaron Neville.
• Some of her biggest-selling studio albums to date are her 1977 release Simple Dreams, 1983's What's New, and her 1989 release Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, each one certified by the Recording Industry Association of America for over 3 million copies sold. Her highest-selling album to date is the 1976 compilation, Greatest Hits, certified for over 7 million units sold as of 2001.[101]
• Cash Box named her the top-selling female pop singer of the 1970s.[102]
• Her RIAA certification (audits paid for by record companies or artist for promotion) tally as of 2001, now totals 19 Gold, 14 Platinum and 8 Multi-Platinum albums.[103] as well as 3 Gold and even 1 Platinum single release. In all, Ronstadt has been certified by the RIAA for sales in excess of 50 million albums worldwide and 30 million albums sold in the U.S. alone, as of 2001. However, Ronstadt's Real Sales (statistics used to pay the artist their royalties) information indicate that several more certifications are currently in effect and being upgraded. Since there is a wide difference between real sales and certifications, Ronstadt shows real sales of 48 million album units moved in the US and nearly 70 millions album units sold worldwide. [104]
• She was the first female in music history to score 3 consecutive platinum albums and ultimately racked up a total of 8 consecutive platinum albums.[105]
• Her album Living In The USA is notable for being the first album by any singer, in music history, to ship double platinum (over 2 million advanced copies).[106]
• At the time of its release, Canciones de mi Padre became the best-selling non-English-language album in American history.
• Ronstadt has served as record producer on various albums from musicians David Lindley and Aaron Neville to singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb.[107] She produced Cristal — Glass Music Through the Ages, an album of classical music using glass instruments with Dennis James, and Ronstadt singing on several of the arrangements.[108] In 1999, Linda also produced the Grammy Award winning Trio 2.
• She has received a total of 27 Grammy Award nominations in various fields from Rock,Country, and Pop, to Tropical Latin.
• She has won 11 Grammy Awards in fields including Pop, Country, Tropical Latin, Musical Album for Children, and Mexican-American.
• Linda Ronstadt was the first female solo artist to have two Top 40 singles simultaneously on Billboard magazine's Hot 100: "Blue Bayou" and "It's So Easy" (October 1977). By December, both "Blue Bayou" and "It's So Easy" had climbed into Billboard's Top 5 and remained there for the entire month. Linda Ronstadt's run on the Billboard charts includes one single or album charted every year from 1970 to 2000.
• As a singer-songwriter Ronstadt has also written songs covered by several artists, such as "Winter Light" covered by Sarah Brightman, and "Try Me Again" covered by Trisha Yearwood.
• Ronstadt's songwriting choices have come from artists as notable as: Lowell George, Zevon, Costello, Souther, Newman, the Rolling Stones, Patty Griffin. Sinéad O'Connor, Julie Miller, Bob Dylan. Mel Tillis, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Brian Wilson, John Hiatt, the Everly Brothers, Seldom Scene, Bruce Springsteen, George Jones, Tracy Nelson, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Little Feat, Neil Young, the Miracles, Roy Orbison with Joe Melson and Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

“Just One Look” may not even be my favorite Linda Ronstadt song, but I do just love it. Initially best known in the Hollies version, “Just One Look” can be found on Linda’s “Living in the U.S.A.” from 1978, one of my favorite records of hers. It is so hard to pick a favorite when I look through her career’s worth of music and it is for this reason that I rank “Linda Rondstadt’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2” as a MUST have record. It not only has one great song after another, but it also defines the 70’s and the change of direction music took during that time. Rhino recently released a single disc compilation of these two Greatest Hit packages together. Get it now.


Here are a few killer songs and performances:

Different Drum

You’re No Good

It’s So Easy

Living in the U.S.A.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Song: Amazing
Artist: Seal
Album: System

I can’t say that I am a huge Seal fan, don’t own any of his albums, and have found the ones I have been able to listen to to be inconsistent if not out-right boring at times. And while I love early singles “Crazy” and “Killer,” if I never hear “Kiss From A Rose” again in my life I will surely be better off. Since that monster single his artistic output has had its issues commercially, and again while I am not a huge fan I thought the dance-pop oddity from London deserved more. I was immediately interested when I heard not only would he be returning to the dance sound of his debut, but that he was working with non-other than Stuart Price for the entire album, the man behind Madonna’s “Confessions on a Dancefloor.”

First single “Amazing” is a euphoric, dancefloor-ready builder that I actually quite like after a few listens. I do love Seal’s voice, and I suppose my only complaint is that it’s so sunny-sounding. What made Seal so intriguing when he debuted were a) his image, and b) the dark tones of his music… which just fit with everything about him. This is a small, and admittedly silly gripe, so I will be looking forward to when “System” his fifth proper studio record (and only second not entitled “Seal”) comes out in November.


Love’s Divine, his last semi-hit

Friday, September 21, 2007

When Under Ether

Song: When Under Ether
Artist: PJ Harvey
Album: White Chalk

I’ve been a fan of PJ Harvey since her debut album “Dry” came out in 1993. Her brash and semi off-the-wall blend of punk rock and grand balladry was a perfect counterpart to Hole’s brand of female (and American) wail and rock. Harvey’s eighth studio album, “White Chalk” is scheduled for release next week and comes after 2004’s “Uh Huh Her.”

I really disliked “Uh Huh Her,” especially after the career peak that was 2000’s “Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea.” While “Uh Huh Her,” like most of her work, was pretty universally praised, I thought it was a mess… especially after the concise and punchy “Stories.” But an artist like Harvey needs to do her thing, and she has specifically said she never has NO plans to release the same album twice, which I respect. True to that, “White Chalk” is another departure… with the songs totally piano based, vs. the guitar lead rock she’s been doing since she started. Because of this, and the fact that it is Harvey, “Chalk” is a very moody and very strange record, with deliberately off-key moan-singing that if nothing but, sets a mood.

First single “When Under Ether” is a good example of what you get from the album, though this is one of the more catchy of the album tracks. While this is once again different from what she’s done in the past I immediately liked it better than “Uh Huh Her.” It is more pointed and cleaner, and while a departure, it is vintage Harvey. This isn’t the type of record that is going to get her new fans, as I think it is way too strange… even for her. But as a mood piece it is ace, and her songwriting abilities are evident here… she’s back to form even with this shift in approach.


Here she is performing album closer “The Mountain” in 2006:

The “her in a studio” video for “When Under Ether”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reggae Merengue

Song: Reggae Merengue
Artist: Tommy McCook & the Supersonics
Album: Trojan Calypso Box Set

I must admit, this disappointed me a little…

I found this great blog called Palms Out Sounds that specializes in remixes and various underground dance music. On Sunday they post MP3’s of remixes of all kinds of music, and every once in a while on Wednesdays (which they call “Sample Wednesdays”) they post songs that were sampled by a particular artist. They have highlighted Missy Elliot, Daft Punk, and M.I.A. The first I looked into was for Lily Allen, whose debut “Alright Still” was one of my favorite records from early this year.

Unfortunately, a listen to the “samples” Lily used for what I thought was her wildly original debut prove that basically… she found a great beat and stole it. This isn’t new, and a lot of bigger artists have done the same, and more so. But I’ve been such a Lily fan and supporter, it made the whole affair just a little LESS to me. Take a look at the post and listen to her samples, you’ll be pretty surprised, if you are familiar with her record, how much the samples are used pretty straight-forwardly. This isn’t the case of a sample that is cut up and fooled with to sound different… this is a complete lifting of the hook.

One of my favorite cuts off “Alright Still” is the calypso bounce of “LDN.” That song, which relies on a Caribbean horn hook, was taken from the song “Reggae Merengue” by Tommy McCook & the Supersonics. If you are familiar with the song (“LDN”) you’ll be pretty shocked. While the hooks from her hits were jacked from the Soul Brothers, Professor Longhair, and Pierre Bachelet & Herve Roy, take a listen to Sandie Shaw’s “Puppet On A String” which is basically “Alfie” with different words. When is stealing not stealing when you just pay the rights?

Also a disappointment were two of my favorite beat makers, Daft Punk and M.I.A. Their samples (link provided) were also shocking because they have positioned themselves as true originals. M.I.A.’s “Kala” is getting some of the best reviews of the year and yet it seems like she just went shopping for killer hooks and kooky sounds. Same with Daft.

Don’t get me wrong… the things that M.I.A. and Lily did with these samples, putting their original thought and spin on these is not “easy,” but it does mar them a tad. I love both records and agree that “Kala” is one of the more important records of the year… but when I hear the open of “Paper Planes” (one of the best tracks on the record) and realize it’s really just the open of the Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” you begin to seriously think… has it all been done?


A little Tommy McCook live:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blind Alley

Song: Blind Alley
Artist: The Emotions
Album: So I Can Love You / Untouched

Here is a song I recently discovered that I have not been able to stop listening to. “Blind Alley” is by Chicago based soul act The Emotions who started their career in the 70’s and were a leading female vocal act of the time. Their biggest hit was of course “Best of My Love” which was used to great strength in the opening of the film “Boogie Nights.” They also did a great duet with Earth, Wind, and Fire called “Boogie Wonderland,” a disco favorite.

“Blind Alley” is from their dual packaged albums “So I Can Love You / Untouched.” It has been sampled by Das EFX and Gangstarr. I recommend this song to be played when you want to add some vintage cool to your next swingin’ party. While I was unfamiliar with the song (it does not seem to be added to any of their greatest hits packages) it’s one that you groove to on first listen. And I have yet to grow tired of it.


Here are the girls "performing" "Best of My Love" on Soul Train:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ce Jeu

Song: Ce Jeu
Artist: Yelle
Album: Pop-Up

I always get a strange satisfaction from discovering something completely outside any marketing plan or advertising budget. Most music marketing is developed, thought out, and then targeted to the market and/or customer they think it would best fit (to be lucrative.) It may come from radio, print, TV, etc. but artists are presented to us so we want to buy their stuff. It’s natural, for art.

Sometimes, because I can’t seem to shake some of my hipster “too cool’ tendencies, I will dislike a band or artist simply because of the way they are presented to me and/or if they become popular in a way I don’t really care for, regardless of the music. This is, of course, ridiculous.

So when I “discover” something that is different that I dig that I wasn’t pummeled over the head with there is a certain amount of satisfaction. But this is totally arbitrary because there is a good chance that I have just missed some of the advertising and/or am just getting to the boat late somehow. Because the truth is, if it exists, it is being marketed.

Thanks to the internet, discoveries like this are both more common, and then less satisfying. Mainly because there is just so MUCH on the internet and finding an artist or band that seems underground via MySpace or the like is like shooting fish in a barrel. But when you do a Google search on your latest “nobody knows about this” discovery, you see that they have thousands of MySpace friends, fan sites, and a couple spoof videos created by fans on YouTube already. With the internet… is it even possible to be underground anymore?

Long story short I randomly discovered a French electro-pop artist by the name of Yelle, whos debut album “Pop-Up” came out early this month in Europe. It’s an infectious mix of girly vocals and catchy synth pop all completely done in French. I have no idea what she’s singing, but apparently it’s naughty… the French Peaches. I have done zero research about this woman until now so for me it’s been a little hidden pleasure I feel like I own myself. (A link to her music was posted on a message board I happened upon looking for something else.) Patently ridiculous!

Not much is said on her Wikipedia page, though I am intrigued by this:

“With her producer/guy friend Grand Marnier, who she met at a party while eating a plateful of marshmallows…”

Umm… what?

Well, if you have been feeling a French language electro-pop void in your life, be sure to fill it up with Yelle. The secret is out.


These videos are bananas.
Je Veux Te Voir

A Cause Des Garcons

Ce Jeu (Live)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Suck a Mofo

Song: Suck a Mofo
Artist: Northern State
Album: Can I Keep This Pen?

If you have ever said to yourself, man… I wish the Beastie Boys were really three girls from Long Island that basically keep releasing versions of “License to Ill” over and over then Northern State is the band for you! Sprout, Spero, and “Hesta Prynn” are high school friends that formed Northern State in the 90’s and have just released their third record; “Can I Keep This Pen?” last month.

I am being a bit unfair to the ladies of Northern State… they have varied their sound a bit over their three records and I do really like their clever wordplay, it’s just that… while “Pen?” is another fun song cycle of silly disses and witty verbal sparing, it is in fact just more of the same. They have yet to make their “Paul’s Boutique” or “Check Your Head.” Heck… they haven’t even got a “Hello Nasty” in their canon. But I suppose that it is unfair to truly hold them up to the Beasties and take them for what they are.

To wit, “Suck a Mofo” is another fun slice of goofy boasts and requests for the Demcrats to “come correct in 2008.” My favorite line… “Shit startin,’ Olive Garden, all that you can eat. You got the bread sticks and salad but the fine wine is for free.” They then break out into a very catchy chorus that is best later in the song when the beat really kicks in heavy.

While you may not get innovation from the ladies at Northern State, you’ll still feel glad you know them.


Better Already

Girl For All Seasons

“Suck a Mofo” live at SXSW

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Song: Lover
Artist: Devendra Banhart
Album: Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

One semi-underground music movement that has gotten a bit of press recently is “freak folk,” also known as indie folk, psych folk, Naturalismo, and New Weird America. (You’re interested already right?) Almost unquestionably, the lead “star” of this movement is Devendra Banhart, a twenty six year old Texan who lends catchy folk-based music over strange obtuse poetry. Later this month the prolific Banhart will release his 9th album “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.”

This is the first full album I’ve been able to listen to of Banhart’s, and while my initial impulse is to relegate him as just a weirdo, there is a certain twinge of charm to his music, and I am just digging the record. I’ve also liked a couple songs I’ve heard on past albums, such as “Little Yellow Spider” and “At the Hop” from “Nino Rojo” and the single “I Feel Just Like a Child” from 2005’s “Cripple Crow.” That album also had the very strange “Little Boys” that is catchy, but lyrically demands a lot of questions with me.
Like most underground music movements, all the players seem to hate the genre name “freak folk” as they claim it is a lazy journalists tool to put everything in categories. Well it seems that I am no different, though I will admit to not knowing any other bands or artists within this genre. After listening to “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon,” the frustration of the label makes more sense… or at least partly given that the record is so varied. He sings in four different languages and musically takes cues from not only folk, but classic rock, country, Motown, you name it… every song is a little strange gem. “Lover” grabbed me immediately, and again defies definition. Just a weird little tune.

I think you should check out Banhart, he’s worth the ride.


More Banhart:

I Feel Just Like a Child

At The Hop

Little Yellow Spider

“Little Boys” Live

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chelsea Rodgers

Song: Chelsea Rodgers
Artist: Prince
Album: Planet Earth

While I would say I am a Prince fan, I am not a super-fan. Meaning, I have not gotten ever single album of his, poured over his b-sides, or followed the numerous protégés that have been guided by Prince. The man is certainly prolific, but that’s part of the problem… his albums are usually wildly uneven, but contain a track or two that prove that Prince still has it.

Prince’s latest, “Planet Earth” is also wildly uneven and sounds a lot like his last record “3121.” It might just be me, but slow jam after slow jam has me fighting off sleep, and it’s a lot of work to keep up with Prince because the albums seem to come about once a month. I am exaggerating of course, but because this is Prince I feel it my musical duty to try to keep up a little and find the gold within. Last record had the should-have-been-a-hit “Black Sweat” which was one of the funkiest, minimalist cool tracks the dude has put out in a while. The video was sexy… but it didn’t register with the public. Why?

On “Planet Earth” I have found salvation in what I have found out is the second single (after the so-so “Guitar.) The funk-party that is “Chelsea Rodgers.” The song starts off with the ridiculous statement “A model… used to be a role model.” (Umm… when? Is this before or after they were super?) But then Prince schools you no matter, telling the tale of kick-ass model who was/is (?) basically the hottest thing around. She’s at every party, but is apparently very well read. I suppose I am not getting the full picture here, but enjoyed these lines:

“Chelsea don’t eat meat, still got butt like a leather seat.”

And “The day that we stop counting, we live as long as a tree.”

Not to mention his repeated demand toward the end to “Shake it like a juicy juice.” Yes Sir!

While I have often said that there should be someone keeping track of all the Prince stuff so you could know what the good songs were. (As I certainly still do not have time to wade through the three disc “Emancipation” or four disc “Crystal Ball”) But I understand that this is patently ridiculous. Because Prince is many things to many people… I couldn’t get into “Musicology” but many loved it. So unfortunately we have to do all of our Prince work. And is that so bad?


Friday, September 07, 2007

Gimme More

Song: Gimme More
Artist: Britney Spears
Album: Currently Untitled

“It’s Britney bitch.”

And with that we have the return, err… “comeback” of Britney Spears, the eighth best selling female artist in American music history. Yes… that is correct. (She’s sold over 31 million records.) “Gimme More” is the official first single from Spears yet to be titled fifth studio album set to be released in November. Speculation is high as the album comes a full four years after her last record “In the Zone” was released in 2003. (Not counting a greatest hits and a remix album.) What will Britney be giving us? Will she pull it off? And more importantly… will anyone care?

Ms. Spears has been one of the most talked about young woman in the history of pop music with every move she’s made since her debut almost ten years ago both criticized and herald… to the point of over-exposure. I have spent WAY too much time defending Britney in the past mostly from sexism, the results of over exposure (that she arguably did not or DID ask for,) and even her music. Despite the emptiness of much of what Ms. Spears does I have always been a bit fascinated by her… for reasons that are not totally clear to me. The last time I defended Brit JUST after the hair cutting incident I wrote what I thought was a pretty concise state of affairs for the singer… once again defending her. (you can read it here.) Days later she attacked a car with an umbrella and went into rehab. Oh Britney… how you disappoint thee.

But again I am reminded at how much the media has played into how I feel about Britney. Nine years ago we were told (and shown) just how big this girl was going to be, and then once she was, and had the money and record sales to back up the claims, it was time to tear the girl down. No matter that she was in her early twenties. She was asking for it. (And yes, I allude to, and connect the media attacks on her, and other female media magnets, as a form of rape.)

I honestly don’t want to get TOO into Britney and guess, ad nauseam, about what her life is really like, what she’ll do next, etc. “Gimme More” is a pretty good club song. I’ve been listening to it all week and think she may have another hit on her hands. But I also thought this about “Me Against the Music,” which didn’t do so well in the U.S. (but did like, everywhere else, including number 1 on the world charts.) It’s more of what we expect from Britney at this point… sexy breathing vocals, hard beats, basically something you can whip your hair and pose to. And while I will wait for her album to come out to completely judge her new work, I am still waiting for Britney to give ME more. And at this point I am not sure this is going to happen.

I have now resided to the fact that Britney, while an amazing performer and personality, isn’t that bright or artistic. While Christina has gotten a bit more control of her career and been writing and developing her records (to mixed results) Britney has simply gotten either the hottest or up and coming producer and writers to create her material. And when she DOES write (see “Everytime” from “In the Zone”) the results are disastrously embarrassing. Since the pretty straight forward dance-pop and ballads of her first two records (which you couldn’t really call ALBUMS) she’s had a hard time balancing her new sexuality and making a coherent anything. While “In the Zone,” her last, is her best in my opinion… it’s really just a random collection of songs. She hired the best people and got a bunch of songs with singles potential. It sounded like a greatest hits records. But empty, and disjointed.

Madonna is really the touchstone that all female pop stars should look to. Despite what you think of her… the woman is the unquestionable queen of pop music. She has reinvented herself countless times and when she “fails” those failures often beat in both sales and dollar values lesser artists totals that are considered hits. (“American Life” her last true disappointment sold 5 million records, Gwen Stefani’s “Love, Angel, Music, Baby” sold 3.5 million.) She’s a lot like Britney… not a great singer, not a great dancer, and lyrically she’s been all over the place. BUT what Madonna has always done is write ALBUMS. Each new record, especially post her artistic breakthrough that was “Like a Prayer” has been its own thing with a different sound, theme, and concept. With each new record (or “period”) she has come up with a new look and feel to everything that is connected with that record. Videos, tour, etc. You can question her artistic abilities, but you can not question how smart she is… she simply makes good albums. The reason I will always be a fan.

With Britney Spears, “Gimme More” sounds like it could have been on her last two records… there is nothing connecting anything with her work. And I have always questioned why someone as successful as Britney doesn’t have SOMEONE to make this happen. What Britney does have is her record label, that wants hit songs. They don’t care if her records are critically maligned… as long as she has the hit singles. Which she has… EVERY step of her career. Madonna, Gwen Stefani, and most recently Nelly Furtado, Fergie, (and yes, Paris Hilton,) have worked with multiple producers to create ALBUMS that have a cohesive vibe to them. There are exceptions within them of course, but none have done this as well as Madonna, and Britney has NEVER done it. But Gwen had with No Doubt, and Nelly, despite the shift in sound had before with her two previous records. (Paris is, and will continue to be, an enigma.)

Well forgive me… I have already gone on too long. There is just something about Britney that gets the words flowing from me. Is she the best example of everything that is now flawed about the American Dream? Could be. And while for now I have resided to the fact that I will never get what I truly want from Britney, I’ll enjoy “Gimme More” for the dumb slice of fun it is, and wait for the next media sponsored breakdown and/or public hanging.

For now… enjoy. And rest assured I will do my best to resist going on any more about Ms. Spears.

Until the next time…

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Song: Foundations
Artist: Kate Nash
Album: Made of Bricks

Kate Nash has been described as “the next Lily Allen” due to her U.K. based perspective, straight forward yet witty lyrics, and for her coming into prominence via MySpace. Even Lily herself has called Kate “the next big thing.” Her music is a bit more piano based, (she’s a big fan of Regina Spektor) but also has the electronic beats and percussion of Allen’s work, without the ska and reggae influences.

Kate has an interesting story. She grew up in a burrow of London and focused her schooling on being an actress. She was rejected from Bristol Old Vic Theater School and soon after fell down a flight of stairs and broke her foot. While she was laid up with the leg she began to write songs and soon got a gig together for herself at a local bar. After a few successful shows that had her doing some cheeky covers she uploaded her music to MySpace and quickly got a record deal. Easy! Her debut, “Made of Bricks” came out in Europe last month.

After just a few listens to the album I have not found her mind-blowing, or (to keep up the comparison) as immediately likeable as Lily Allen, but some of it is very good. In fact, upon hearing “Foundations,” the albums first single, it is rumored that Prince himself decided he just had to meet Nash. That is impressive, but what it makes me think about more is how much I’d like to be Prince for a day. Can you imagine? I would guess you could just walk into places, say; “I am Prince,” and watch things happen for you. Awesome.



Mouthwash (live)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Song: Timebomb
Artist: Beck
Album: Timebomb - Single

Beck has recently released the single “Timebomb” on iTunes. He describes it as “a song for bonfires, blackouts, and the last hurrah of summer." It’s got a killer backbeat, and works for just as Beck describes. It sounds much like his work from his last album “The Information” continuing the theme of the negative aspects of technology and the current state of the world. In a way, “Timebomb” would work best for a party for the end of the world. It has just that feel. Beck has always been a fan of the irony, and making an upbeat dance track that is ultimately a warning for all of us on the brink of disaster. Bring on the fun Mr. Hanson!

I’m just a huge Beck fan, and find that he can do no wrong in my book. I dig this song, and look forward to a new album, though I really did feel that “The Information” was a bit overlooked and should have gotten more exposure. Though I also felt that “Guero” was his best record yet (and still do) and should have gotten the attention “Odelay” got when it was released. But I suppose that once you have that type of universal hype you can’t really get it again. “Consistency” isn’t good for the media as they tend to like the crash and burn, and then the resurrection.

Jeez, I’m sounding as cynical as this single! ;)


A few videos from "The Information:

Cellphones Dead


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No One

Song: No One
Artist: Alicia Keys
Album: As I Am

I was never much of an Alicia Keys fans in the beginning, got quickly tired of “Fallin’” and the Grammy onslaught at the time. (I don’t know why but it seems when everyone is raving about someone I tend to immediately not want to like them. Odd? Yes.) My thoughts were changed about Keys since hearing the unbelievably beautiful “Ain’t Got You” from her sophomore album “The Diary of Alicia Keys.” That song is one of the most beautiful I have heard from the neo-soul movement, and one that proved Alicia’s got more up her sleeve. While I haven’t spent enough time with either of her records, it seems she should have more songs become popular, vs. just one mega hit per record. (I know she has released other singles from her records, they just don’t seem to make the same impact.)

Alicia will be releasing her third album, “As I Am” in early November, “No One” is the first single from the record. At first listen it seems like standard Keys… piano based emotional ballad with street-cred maintaining beats underneath. After a couple listens I realize two things… this in fact is a pretty great song, and second… that “standard” is not the appropriate way to describe what Keys does. She fills her songs with poetry and such emotion that I can see why her music speaks to so many. She really has “soul-ache” down.

While I am really liking this song, and its very odd keyboard work (not typically found in Top 40-reaching R&B) I am not sure how much of a single it makes. It very much sounds like the closing or end of something. It would be perfect album ender to me, both emotional, ballad-y, etc. Though since it is the first single I doubt it’s the last track. Not that she hasn’t had hits with songs of this tempo, on the contrary she’s sort of made her career from songs like this… but it just doesn’t sound like a single, despite how good it is.

I look forward to hearing more from the album and want to give the full thing a proper listen when it is released.


Ain’t Got You