Two bands, opposite directions.
Paramore – Paramore
In a publicized dispute December 2010, Josh and Zac Farro left Paramore and didn’t go quietly. From their viewpoint, the entity that is “Paramore” is a crooked mess. Summing up Josh’s post, it’s Hayley Williams – and those guiding her – using the band as a mere vessel for her own solo project. Which is odd, because I’d argue that the band has been to her detriment, at least musically.
With a handful of exceptions, Paramore suffers from “Lady Gaga syndrome”: addictive choruses (“YOU TREAT ME JUST LIKE…”) and dull verses that make dryer lint seem thrilling. This is because Williams, who has a shimmering set of pipes, and the band’s style of music doesn’t always fit. Remember “Airplanes”? That’s some good stuff. She needs to be more of a singer, not a rocker, so that our eardrums have time to recover from that incessant piercing. Despite the band showing some growth on each album, the same conundrums persist: Is Paramore a synthetic product of the industry who’s sole purpose is to promote Hayley? And, how can Hayley’s voice exist in the confines of a “rock” band?
We have one answer. The self-titled Paramore was named as such because the band felt born-anew after the recording process and this is their “reintroduction.” Yeah right. We all know that this is the ultimate slap in the face to the Farro brothers. This is the first album without them, and they were the ones who founded the band in the first place. You may call it a coincidence, I call it irony. But even with all this squabbling, we don’t really know the truth. All we know is Hayley took some time to herself in LA and got a new producer for this album. But it’s not like you care about that anyway. Music is music. As long as a record gets put out, why bother with the semantics of its creation? So, as painful as it might be to hear, this is Paramore’s best album.
Paramore speaks to angsty young-adults coming of age in a tumultuous world (there’s a song called “Grow Up” and an interlude titled “I’m Not Angry Anymore”). They are on every Twilight soundtrack for a reason. But there are 17 tracks here that add up to more than an hour of ambitious songwriting, so we’ll focus on the new Paramore rather than the handful of throwbacks.
When the first interlude came on, I about lost my mind. THIS is what Hayley Williams should be doing all the time. Strip the instruments around her to bare essentials and let her voice carry those songs to the moon. Use Ingrid Michaelson as a template for how heavenly that could sound. Luckily, we get more than that little sample in the three short-but-sweet interludes.
“Ain’t it Fun.” Listen to it, seriously. It’s not a “Paramore” sound by any means, but that song exemplifies how far they can deviate from the cookie-cutter sound of their past. I can’t imagine how much Chaka Khan listening it took to inspire this. Oh, that gospel chorus. “Part II” bridges this new sound and the former sound: catchy chorus and enthralling verses, keeping the skip button at bay. The ballads smell a lot less cheesy this time around, too. “Last Hope” and “Hate to See Your Heart Break” show an emotional maturity anyone can tolerate.
And that is sort of how this album breaks down. Chances are, unless you are a true Paramore fan, you won’t like the entire album but there will be something playlist-worthy for your music taste. Evolving bands can alienate fans in the process, but this one seems to do more of the opposite. Hayley Williams can thrive in this band when they step out of that punk-rock quagmire and when the need for screaming is at a minimum. Even so, whether the industry is pulling the strings or not, this album retains what Paramore has always been about: Hayley.
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
Pete Wentz said that he and Patrick Stump started writing songs just for the heck of it and one of them gave him chills. That just about says it all. They reunited the band and started recording this album in secret. No song in recent memory has made me want to run head-first into a brick wall more than Fall Out Boy’s comeback single, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.” But there is a whole album to account for now. Please, please, don’t be a one-track wonder. When the group disbanded in 2009, who mourned? By that time, Fall Out Boy had eroded into an odd semi-hit pop-rock concoction. And though their music evolved, it was kind of bleh. I listened to Folie à Deux in preparation for this album, thinking my ear-buds had changed and there would be a hint of what was to come. Wrong on both accounts.
The Save Rock and Roll claim is a bit of a stretch, but this record may have saved the band. That “secret” album Stump and the boys created is full of SICK BEATZ and arena-caliber explosives. Big Sean, Courtney Love, Foxes and, yes, Elton John all make appearances but they are merely afterthoughts. From the get-go, “The Phoenix” reintroduces the band by knocking you flat on your rear. “Just One Yesterday” and “Death Valley” all have that “MSKWYDITD” ferocity, which is perfect. The album can’t be all crazy, but you can’t leave us hanging after that first single either. Old school fans can find vintage FOB in “Young Volcanoes,” an anthem for the adolescents, just like the good ol’ days.
The hiatus and side projects have seemed to do wonders, but perhaps the best change for Fall Out Boy was creating an album solely on its own accord. They had fun making this album and it shows. We might not have missed them when they left the first time, but it’s feels good that they’re back.
The evolution of Snoop Dogg from hip-hop to wannabe Rasta is hands down the most frustrating musical development of 2013 thus far. There’s nothing about this music which isn’t both over-calculated and under-inspired. It isn’t surprising that Snoop would gravitate toward the American idea of Rasta culture, being that he’s made a career out of loving all aspects of weed society, but crossing that over into his music means we’re inundated with every faux-reggae cliche.
“No Guns Allowed” fails in every aspect, drawing on cliches at every corner, decrying gun violence and a society where “money makes the man,” while mixing the message. “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” is the implicaton, but there’s also the idea that if we were all rich, we’d spend more time with our children and keep them from choosing violence. That, and “the District Attorney could use a conviction … they can’t wait to get you in the system.” So which trope should we latch onto?
At least “Lighters Up” and “Cali’ Livin’” play to Snoop’s strength, trying to get us all to unite, “east side, west side, north side, south side unified” — nothing can divide us if we just light up with Master Snoop. But the beats lack inspiration, drawing on a sound which brings weak UB40 Casio-reggae hooks together with weak iterations of early-90s Snoop gangsta, pleasing fans of neither in the end. It remains easier to unite behind bashing this material as a crass cash grab than to find any real musical impetus behind its reason for being.
Meanwhile, the less said about his collaboration with Miley Cyrus, “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks,” the better, as we al raise a glass to what used to be Snoop’s “career.”
At the very least, the most successful of these singles — “Cali’ Livin’” — makes me long to hear the Mamas and the Papas and perhaps “Nothin’ But A G Thang,” while I pretend I never heard any of this Snoop Lion nonsense. I suspect April 23 will prove I’m not the only one leaning in that direction when Reincarnation rightly bombs.
This week we’ve got new music to talk about, but first I need to get something off my chest. I attended my brother’s local rock music awards show last weekend and, through all the performances and drunken acceptance speeches, goodness gracious, the profanity.
Though I don’t frequently resort to cussing, I have a high tolerance for it. But this was outrageous. These young adults would interrupt their own set to give a soliloquy about how “effing cool” it was to play in front of us and how they couldn’t “effing hear us effers” when met with a smattering of applause. They forced it so much that when you broke down the parts of speech, it turned out to be a useless glob of babble.
It was awful. Subjects and predicates of the same sentence were some conjugation of “eff.” My family members were offended, and you should hear them watching KU basketball games.
To put it simply, something about being on “the stage” makes people strive to be cooler than they need to be.
My advice: “Do your show.”
You can work the crowd and use any word you want to, but let it flow like a normal human being. The mic isn’t a magic wand that takes your flurry of f-bombs and turns them into something daring or groundbreaking. [Editor's Note: "Unless you're the reincarnation of Lenny Bruce. Then work blue all you want."] As I was sober that night, perhaps I wasn’t the target audience. But I’m a civilized human being who enjoys good, clean fun. Treat me like one.
Back to business, though … here are your reviews, presented in full without the Parental Advisory sticker.
OneRepublic – Native
Despite being a mainstream pop band, One Republic remains vastly underrated despite the fact that lyrically gifted frontman Ryan Tedder has had his hand in the creation of so many gold-plated pop hits — everything from Beyonce to Backstreet Boys and Adele — it’s astounding. And within the confines of the soulfully beat-driven OneRepublic, we have a band who actually plays and writes their own music in such a way that listening seems guiltless no matter your musical preference.
Native, the band’s third album, is their most complete and definitive to date. Today’s pop music industry is saturated with the same equipment and same writers recording for the same dozens of artists, so it’s truly a spectacle to come out of it as “original.”
The first single, “Feel Again,” is infectious while retaining that “Good Life” vibe (Another track, “Burning Bridges,” though a mellower song, has the exact same beat as “Good Life”). There’s a Jason Mraz-like feel on Native, buzzing with about positive vibes (“Preacher”, “Something I Need”) and the affirmation anthem, “I Lived.” I want to post so many amazing one-liners, but the delivery wouldn’t do them justice. Let’s just make it clear; Their songs are more vibrant than ever, turning OneRepublic from an occasional hit into a feel-good band whose albums play like a greatest hits record from start to finish.
You can’t go wrong there.
The Strokes – Comedown Machine
Angles came out in 2011 and I still wasn’t ready for a new Strokes album. But it worked out because halfway through Comedown Machine, I had forgotten to whom I was listening. If you are a Strokes fan, you may still be trying to decipher what this is exactly. It’s not necessarily a “fun” album, which is kind of how this band has thrived over the years. It’s more outlandish and definitely experimental. A little too much of Julian Casablancas’ solo influence, maybe?
Nonetheless, let’s tackle Comedown Machine without any preconceived notions about what this band should sound like and determine it’s true musical merit. The album starts off with “Tap Out,” which is a groovy tune to dance to if you don’t like expending a ton of energy. Next is “All the Time,” which is as close to vintage Strokes we get. Let’s get back to that lack of energy. The rest of the album has some appealing pop beats but it’s like each song is masked in a sepia filter, void of true color. It’s really odd. Tracks such as “Welcome to Japan” and “Happy Ending” have the hook to deliver a serious butt-kicking, except you’re met with an inflated Socker Bopper to the face. The true value of this album comes in the droney riff-tracks, where the Strokes’ vast instrumental spectrum is explored in full. “Chances” is a winner.
Some people would prefer a pillow fight over a boxing match, and that’s perfectly OK. But this is a deviation from the Strokes’ usual throwback rock-and-roll style, so temper expectations accordingly. There’s an experience to be had here, but it’s going to be with headphones, not Phil Spector’s wall of speakers.
New Kids on the Block – 10
Imagine my bewilderment when I first saw this. It’s like a live-action Evil Dead, and be warned that Nick Lachey and the boys might be coming to your backyard, too. No disrespect, but the Backstreet Boys are the boy band supreme (with another album on the way!) and Justin Timberlake is doing his thing. I don’t even consider those One Direction tweeners part of the discussion.
My calendar says it’s 2013 and Joey McIntyre is 40 years old. But if you even think about calling NKOTB an “man band,” not so fast. This is a boy band in every sense of the term and even though they’ve been around for DECADES, they have transitioned seamlessly into today’s top-40 scene. If you enjoy streamlining pure pop music into your veins like myself, this album is pretty good stuff.
Hearing that “Remix (I Like The)” song for the first time felt like a caffeine rush. So exhilarating. Tragically, Donnie Wahlberg only waved his pen around during “Miss You More.” Listen long enough and you’ll get that sultry emo-rap. Luckily, Joey has a couple writing credits. ALWAYS look for a McIntyre credit. Those are usually gold. In this case, it’s album’s ultimate ballad “Back to Life,” and I expected nothing less. He helped write “Now or Never,” too? Not as good, but solid.
Bands like this should never die. With all the garbage we have to endure by a premeditated “next-best-thing,” it’s nice to have the presence of something that was the next-best-thing. NKOTB is lightyears away from the “Hangin’ Tough” boys from yesteryear (because, hey, the industry has different needs). I pray this reemergence puts an end to the tween poppers, but it might give rise to even more phonies. Hopefully, New “Kids” on the Block will continue to slay them.
Justin Timberlake filters his NSync past through hook-fueled “Mirrors,” proving “Suit and Tie” made a terrible first single
Skip to just shy of the four minute mark of this eight minute super-jam, and you’ll hear why “Mirrors” should have been the standard-bearer single for JT’s latest album The 20/20 Experience. This is the first track to meld his new soul leanings with the pop smarts of those boy band tracks which made his vocals ubiquitous in the first place. “Forget the old me, he’s already gone,” he sings, and though that won’t happen completely, “Mirrors” is an apt reflection of where he’s been and where he wants to go, even if at times he spends too much time standing in his own way. There’s no reason he needs to be such a perfectionist, waiting half a decade between albums. If he wants to be an actor, act. If he wants to be a musician, he needs to be willing to release things before they’re polished to death. That’s what made “Suit and Tie” come off as such an overplayed hand … all the talk of needing to hold these songs until he really felt they were ready was left meaningless when the song he did choose to be his comeback didn’t sizzle when we finally got past the “JT comeback” smokescreens.
That said, while I’m still not entirely convinced that Timberlake hasn’t set himself for a dramatic crash and burn, “Mirrors” is the next best thing he’s written since “What Goes Around Comes Around.” It’s the first thing to make me excited to hear the rest of the album, Is The 20/20 Experience going to leave Future/Sex/Love/Sounds in its dust? Unlikely. But it could wind up standing strong as a proper follow-up, even if it took too long to gestate. And though anything less than a global sales explosion will be seen as a failure, if Timberlake actually builds on this new expansion of his sound to build future albums, he could finally live up to the hype and prove he’s more than a jack of all trades and master of none.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Foals burst into Holy Fire vs. new music from the Virginmarys and Atoms for Peace
When “NOW 45″ is the third highest-selling album, you know it’s been a slow week for music. You’re telling me I can play “Die Young” more than once every half hour? SOLD.
I’m constantly looking at upcoming releases and the only ones that remotely pop out are Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” on March 19 then The Strokes’ new one a week later. It’s a torturous time for new-music fiends.
But hey, this is also a time for discovery. New band/listener alliances are formed everyday, so may you find one as we wait for the ol’ faithfuls to wrap up production. Recovering from the absurd snowstorm, here are select albums from the past few Tuesdays. There are some new bands here, so it’s been an adventure.
Foals – Holy Fire
This is the third album by Foals and I cannot speak on behalf of the first two. But after the first few tracks, Holy Fire left an impression. Apparently, those songs are now singles, but the clicky-groove in “Inhaler” and the infectious pop anthem “My Number” are the highlights of the album.
Because the first half of the album is so catchy, the rest of it just fades away. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it parties a little too hard, too fast. You might even be satisfied with playing “My Number” on repeat.
That said, there’s an energy throughout that is never in-your-face. The guitar is more plucky instead of grungy and it helps push tracks like “Out of the Woods” into more of a ballad category. It’s not a fair comparison, but I feel the same way listening to this as I do when I listen to the John Butler Trio. Some strange balance between rocking out and chilling out.
The Virginmarys – King of Conflict
Free downloads can be like digital pamphlets, destined for the closest trashcan. But sometimes, you get a gem that opens a gateway to spectacular musical avenues. Here’s such a case.
Sitting on my iPod since (scrolls through iTunes purchase history) 2010 (!) was “Bang Bang Bang,” a hard-hitting free download of the week that spewed out an unforgettable hook: “Take that gun, girl, and blow my mind.” Ooh man, this was a keeper. The band had nothing else out there, so their relevance was short lived. That single became buried and eventually forgotten.
Well now, three years later, The Virginmarys has surrounded that bombshell with an arsenal full of explosive tracks. These British rockers are not unlike the era of Jet and Wolfmother, Australians who sent music to the states to say, “This is how it’s done. Remember?” Mainstream rock music can get bogged down in the meaningless muck of sex, drugs and alcohol. It should be kicking down doors and pillaging all the awesome out of life. OK, maybe there is some mention of the three taboos of rock on this album, but it at least has meaning behind it. “Lost Weekend,” being the prime example, is more a cry for help: “And my body aches and my head it hurts. I’ve long found out that drugs don’t work. Will someone save me from myself tonight.”
“Just a Ride” barrels through the grieving process of a failed relationship while tracks like “Dressed to Kill” are almost the opposite, claiming “She’s my world.” Does King of Conflict bring anything new? Not quite. But sometimes the new can get so nauseating it takes nostalgia to cure it. This isn’t the dawning of another British rock invasion like we had in the early 2000s, but if it were, The Virginmarys would be at the forefront.
Atoms for Peace – Amok
So, this is Thom Yorke.
Atoms for Peace is merely an alternate label, but we can all assume that one Yorke incarnation sounds like the rest. Listen to Amok followed by The Eraser, his solo album, and for good measure, give The King of Limbs another whirl. The atmosphere is static. Compare that to a, let’s say, Tom DeLonge from Blink 182 and Angels and Airwaves. I never have to wonder what I’m listening to because those two bands are vastly different and serve different emotional purposes. Yorke, as unique as he is, is all under one bracket.
With the addition of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, drummer Joey Waronker, who has worked with everyone from REM to Norah Jones to Beck, and percussionist Mauro Refosco, this could have been something a “fun” album. It’s not as dark as Yorke’s other work, but you won’t be craving this on a sunny day.
“Unless” feels like a car revving up in snow and going nowhere. Just once I’d like to see Yorke vocally detonate in the middle of a song. It’s a fine track, but it would have pushed this song into elite territory if it had some sort of climax. It’s like Radiohead’s cerebral and experimental style. All brain, not enough brawn. Do you work out to a Radiohead song? Can you? If this qualifies as exercise, I’m all in:
“Before Your Very Eyes…” and “Stuck Together Pieces” have prevalent bass-lines and that Flea/RHCP funk is trying so hard to get out. This album sounds as if it were produced with the utmost care and precision, but with the weapons at his disposal, this was a perfect time for Yorke to let loose. When you focus on what the band does well – smooth synth with a multitude of unconventional layers on top of it – the album is exceptional. Like deep-meaning lyrics, there are sounds on this album that require multiple listens to discover, and that’s most of the fun. But the minimalist approach and lack of diversity kept Amok from being something truly special. Oddly, this album is yet to reach Spotify.
Fall Out Boy knows what we did in the dark but hasn’t figured out it’s been six years since their relevance expired
I wish Fall Out Boy could see just how far they’ve fallen since their career crashed and burned with the collapse of Folie a Deux. Unfortunately they think that a dash of Maroon 5 mock-swagger plus Bruno Mars-esque backdrop hooks equals a whole lot of Fun. And it’s not. Not by a long shot. “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” merely showcases a band whose career long ago went up in smoke attempting to create a pop juggernaut while playing by the old rules, figuring we’re all so desperate for a radio earworm we’ll gladly submit our brains for their control.
While once a powerful fixture in the world of top 40 hitmaking, Infinity On High marked their peak, and the five-year absence after “hits” like “America’s Suiteheart” failed to exceed trainwreck status suggests a total lack of direction. It’s been a long slow slide, and worse yet, they think they can Save Rock and Roll with their absurdly titled sixth studio album, due out in April. If this single is the best they can do, I think rock and roll would rather die a slow painful death than to submit to Patrick Stump and Co. as its savior. Sorry boys … the fall-out shall be swift: This critic knows what your songs did during the hiatus, and he’s not buying. Here’s hoping the rest of America follows suit.
If you’ve come into this late, just refresh the page every few minutes. I add all the new posts at the top! Enjoy …
- – - – -
10:27 p.m. – Awesome that they fit in “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” to really give Adam Yauch the send-off he deserved. Too bad they then cut it off with a commercial for the Grammy Foundation. Hopefully the whole performance goes online. I’ll post it on here tomorrow if it does. That’s it for the night, y’all! Feel free to sound off in the comments! It’s been fun, but I’m glad this is a once a year thing
10:25 p.m. – I hear you Grammys, saving all the hip-hop for last, but at least it was worth all the hype. Too bad they couldn’t give out the real great hip-hop awards on here, and give some credit to the new generation of artists. Instead, the best albums got their awards online, if at all.
10:22 p.m. – Gearing up for the final performance of the night, featuring LL Cool J, Chuck D, Tom Morello, Travis Barker and others … coming up! Whew. I’m ready for a nap!
10:16 p.m. – And the Grammy goes to … MUMFORD! WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT? Definitely didn’t see that coming for “Babel.”And our first big bleep of the night … always good.
10:15 p.m. – Adele can’t help but steal the show. She’s here to present Album of the Year. Great joke about getting “knocked up like last year’s winner.” Fun’s been dominating but I still think Frank Ocean could have this one.
10:11 p.m. – And now Frank Ocean’s much hyped “Grammy performance debut.” I love “Channel Orange,” and think he deserves all the praise he’s gotten for it, but this was a ragged out of key start. He must have been having a hard time hearing himself.
10:09 p.m. – A nice version of “Your Song,” by legendary artist Juanes, which isn’t exactly the greatest Elton John song, but it is the most played. Blending English and Spanish was a really really nice touch.
10:03 p.m. – We’ll miss you Levon.
10:02 p.m. – I really think Alabama Shakes was robbed … Fun is great, and maybe this performance has me enjoying everything a bit too much, but that woman’s voice … just let me listen to her and Mavis Staples the rest of the night. Elton can’t even hold a candle to it, and he’s working his damned ass off. THIS is the Grammy Moment LL’s been waiting for all night. And it won’t be topped.
10:00 p.m. – I enjoyed Mumford’s performance earlier, but they’re having way more fun on this cover of The Band … this is why I remain a fan. I’d love to see them twist more beyond the four-to-the-floor folk stomps they’ve been known for.
9:58 p.m. – I love Mavis Staples’ voice … can she sing more on shows like this? Daaaaamn!
9:57 p.m. – Commemorating the life of Levon Helm, Elton John also calls out the Sandy Hook families for our rememberance, then plays “The Weight” at long last — a great performance I’ve been waiting for all night! Talk about an all-star band up there playing one of the best songs EVER written.
9:55 p.m. – Those we lost this year starts with Dave Brubeck and Andy Williams, then Donna Summer. Robin Gibb gets a few seconds, love his voice … Patti Page (reminds me of Kelly Clarkson’s great performance). Davy Jones of the Monkees … Dick Clark gets the same time as anyone else. Andy Griffith gets a nod as an actor and singer. Kitty Wells … love that song “Honky Tonk Angels.” Doc Watson’s another great we’ll miss. But Ravi Shankar made a huge impact as well. Adam Yauch got a good Beastie Boys clip on there. I appreciate that they put producers and writers in this as well — they deserve their moment. It’s a shame when they put four or five on a screen, you can’t differentiate between them. But I thought it was a classy mix.
9:52 p.m. – Justin Timberlake’s back to talk with Ryan Seacrest about making noise for great performers we’ve seen tonight … suggesting it might be the Best Grammys Ever. Eh … but more he wants to thank the music teachers, unsung heroes that they are. The Grammy Foundation is now creating a music educator award for Grammys 2014. Let the whoring begin … it’s nice to have teachers get an award, but I suspect it’s just going to be more politics.
9:48 p.m. – Can’t go wrong with some Dave Brubeck! Digging this indeed … I just might “take five” and relax a bit …
9:44 p.m. – Classless Grammy Moment: Would it kill them to have let Kimbra talk for 30 seconds without playing her off? Douchey move.
9:43 p.m. – Love it even more that Gotye thanked Prince for inspiring him to make music. I hear more Phil Collins in much of his work, but it’s always great to be able to thank your inspirations. Great speech, Gotye!
9:42 p.m. – Record of the Year goes to Gotye! FINALLY I got one right! Too bad I’m still blocked on Twitter, or I’d boast the hell out of this one, by posting pictures of myself in Gotye inspired bodypaint. Now the world can never see them. Take that, Twitterlimits!
9:41 p.m. – Record of the Year presented by PRINCE … why not let him play his song? It’s better than 99% of this show so far!
9:36 p.m. – That glowing dress is definitely eye-catching, and this song is going to wind up stuck in my head the rest of the night. LL’s probably backstage loving his latest predicted “Grammy Moment,” but at least with this one I think he was right.
9:34 p.m. – Hunter Hayes sounds great. Too bad he hasn’t won anything. And now he gets to sing with Carrie Underwood, which is excellent if you like country. If you’re tired of all the country and wish they’d go back to the CMAs, I guess you need to mute the next few minutes.
9:26 p.m. – And the Grammy goes to …………. FUN! Wow … take that, folk rock revival AND new artists all at once … they’ve been at this TWELVE YEARS! But great speech: “I’ve got to pee so bad!”
9:25 p.m. – Katy Perry presents BEST NEW ARTIST … I called it for Alabama Shakes earlier, but can they turn back the Fun. tide?
9:23 p.m. – Leave it to Jack White to show us why, even when his album Blunderbuss wasn’t a flat-out classic, it’s still better than most stuff out there. “Freedom at 21″ definitely IS a stone cold classic, and it should win more kudos than it does. I love that solo!
9:22 p.m. – WTF? Apparently I’m over my limit for Tweets. They need to up that limit if they want to advertise “live tweeting” as a thing. Booo ….. but hey, there’s Jack White, I feel better now!
9:20 p.m. – The Lumineers need to get a deal with Hallmark to market this chorus, which I still say could sell a million Valentines. It’s really great to hear music like this getting big radio play. Should be a fun race in the soon-to-be-announced “Best New Artist” category!
9:11 p.m. – This has improved greatly now that they finally got done with the Bruno Mars song and let the real reggae shine. Damien Marley is killing it!
9:06 p.m. – The long awaited Marley tribute starts with Bruno Mars singing his own song, “Locked out of Heaven.” Not an auspicious beginning, though it’s a rousing version of his song.
9:02 p.m. – Entering hour three of this live blogging experience, so you don’t have to. I’d love to hear what you think, if you’ve been reading along — @Sanders_SSv is active on Twitter!
8:58 p.m. – Best Country Album goes to Zac Brown Band. Meh. I was rooting for Hunter Hayes, but man the Time Jumpers had a nice Lyle Lovett sound.
8:55 p.m. – That version of “Tennessee Waltz” is why I was so bored with Rihanna. Kelly had all the soul Rihanna lacked … and she’s continuing to kill it on “Natural Woman.” This is what Grammy performances are made of, people! Take note …
8:53 p.m. – Kelly Clarkson on lifetime achievement winners … waiting for her to really wail on some Carole King. This should be good!
8:52 p.m. – I think that’s gonna win as performance of the night unless someone really pulls a rabbit from their hat. Watched the Black Keys on Austin City Limits playing just the two of them. Comparitively, this is a total circus … and I still dig it!
8:49 p.m. – The Black Keys with Night Tripper, Dr. John and the Preservation Jazz Band … this better be GOOD! I’m really looking forward to this …
8:43 p.m. – Jay Z wins the night with his quote: “I’d like to thank the swap meet for his hat!”
8:41 p.m. – Best Rap Sung Collaboration goes to “No Church In The Wild” featuring Jay-Z’s entire posse!
8:39 p.m. – Mikky Ekko really elevated that song into a solid duet when all was finally said and done. I wouldn’t call it fantastic, but I enjoyed it.
8:36 p.m. - Around and around she goes, where she’ll stop no one knows. I don’t know how I feel about her insisting on playing her song about how she wants Chris Brown to stay in her life, But it’s a nice enough sounding song. Still, nothing I’d write home about.
8:28 p.m. – Wow, Kelly Clarkson wins Best Pop Vocal Album … thought Fun was gonna win that one, but she seemed glad to get it, and it’s a great album — even if it was written by committee.
8:25 p.m. – Not a big fan of this direction of Alicia Keys tuneage. “Girl On Fire” leaves me feeling like Fun getting rained on.
8:23 p.m. – The first WTF performance combo of the night goes to Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys. I’m played out on Adam Levine, and I’m not sure how this is going to lead properly into anything from Keys.
8:21 p.m. – Way to go Black Keys! I thought Alabama Shakes might win this earlier in the day, but as the Keys dominated the pre-Grammy awards, I figured the tide was turning in their direction.
8:11 p.m. – Urban Contemporary Album better go to Frank Ocean and not that asshole Chris Brown. Okay good, crisis averted! Thank you Grammys for rewarding a great album!
8:07 p.m. – This just in: the next JT song equates love with drugs and addiction. He’s the user, she’s the pusher. But it’s got a fat groove, and I’m liking it more than what he’d previously released from the “20/20 Experience.” I’m going to guess it’s called “Pusherlove.” We’ll see.
8:05 p.m. — Jay Z pumped it up after the average “Suit and Tie” performance. The sepia filter beat us over the head with the idea that JT wants us to see this as “retro inspired.
8:03 p.m. – Ellen and Beyonce introduce Justin Timberlake’s … triumphant? … return? We’ll see how it turns out.
7:58 p.m. – Justin Timberlake’s coming up along with a ton of other random performances, including a tribute to Bob Marley featuring Bruno Mars. Wow. Wonder if Taylor Swift’ll sing along with it like she was with Mumford out there in the crowd.
7:55 p.m. — Great song by Mumford. And these guys always look like they’re enjoying themselves, though they’re much more restrained here than on SNL earlier this season. THAT was a live performance!
7:51 p.m. – And the Grammy goes to … Fun.
7:50 p.m. – Song of the Year — should go to Carly Jepsen hands down!
7:41 p.m. – Weirdest segue into the Best Country Solo Performance award. I’m going to bet on Hunter Hayes here. (Edit: Oops, it went to Carrie Underwood. Go figure. I think I’m out of touch on what works in mainstream country, now that Americana’s gone pop.)
7:40 p.m. – I’m not hating this song from Miguel and Wiz Khalifa. Hadn’t heard it before, so it was a nice surprise as we near the end of hour one.
7:36 p.m. – Miranda really elevates this song, but it sounds like too many others before it to be really that memorable. I’m yawning and waiting for more awards.
7:32 p.m. – Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert get to play instead. Miranda Lambert sounds great as usual, though this isn’t my favorite song of hers. It’s a fairly typical tearjerker with the kind of chorus anyone from Kelly Clarkson to Carrie Underwood could pull off indiscriminately. Dierks, meanwhile, sounded bored out of his mind singing there — either that or he took too many pills backstage or something.
7:31 p.m. – Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer … ought to be good! Oh wait, they’re not singing … boooooo!
7:23 p.m. – Not a bad performance from Fun, though they have this song down to an art now. No real surprises here. Anyway, nothing’s gonna stop them except perhaps an onstage rainstorm …
7:20 p.m. – Solo Pop Performance should go to Carly Rae, but … Adele sucks up all the awards in the room.
7:10 p.m. – Enjoying this duet between Elton John and Ed Sheeran, and Sheeran gets to actually play his own song (“The A Team”) rather than suffering through someone else’s song as a “tribute.”
7:05 p.m. – That was a hot mess. But LL says it’s the greatest show on earth, and he’d never lie … and he thought Swifty was “spectacular.”
7:02 p.m. – Taylor Swift opens the Grammys, which means we can now get on to the real business of rocking once she sits back down. I like her album, but man this song got overplayed!
6:56 p.m. — The Black Keys won big online, but won’t get as much love during primetime, while I question how much we can expect from Timberlake’s big performance and again, with LL Cool J back to “host,” do the Grammy’s really need a host? Doesn’t all that music speak for itself?
6:49 p.m. — Drake’s win for Best Rap Album for Take Care has his fans in Canada excited, though in the end it seemed like a pretty weak field. Having a hard time remembering how rare it is for this category not to make the live telecast.
6:40 p.m. — Welcome to the 2013 Grammy Live Blog here at “Hear! Hear!” With no Adele around to dominate every single on-TV award like it seemed she did last year (with a few detours for the likes of Chris Brown … ugh!) I’m expecting some key surprises. Here are my picks in the “Big Four” categories:
Record of the Year: I think this one’s going to come down to Fun vs. Gotye, with Taylor Swift sitting on the sideline disappointed. I’m going out on a limb and predicting Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know” will win based on just how dominant that song was across pretty much every platform.
Album of the Year: Jack White fans can attack me now, but while the Grammys won’t give big awards to rap albums, they do love R&B, and Frank Ocean’s story is the kind that gets voters salivating. My bet’s on a surprise win for Ocean.
Song of the Year: “Call Me Maybe” may be annoying as all hell, but it is clearly a song which became ubiquitous because it was ultimately the most incredible earworm you’ll hear anywhere. If it doesn’t win, I’ll be stunned. Fun’s “We Are Young” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” don’t even come close.
Best New Artist: I think the tide’s turning in Alabama Shakes’ direction, based on all the pre-Grammy hype, Above all, though, this category is stacked deep with talent. Alabama Shakes will most likely be the winner — but if Frank Ocean or Hunter Hayes pull out a shocker, expect a Twitterbomb of vitriol. And with Grammy voters’ past moves, who’d put it past them?
Just like last year, “Hear! Hear!” will be live-blogging the 2013 Grammys, both here on this site and via Twitter (@Sanders_SSv) using hashtags #Grammys and #TheWorldIsListening. For more information about accounts you should follow to get the latest behind-the-scenes goodies from the official Grammy folks, read here, and then follow my critic friend and fellow PopMatters editor Evan Sawdey (@SawdEye) for even more Grammy night hijinks … his feed was insane last year!
Welcome to “No Tyme For Nowhere,” a column wherein DJ Frank Cardoza, of Olympia, Wash.’s KAOS 89.3, will introduce us to his world of music, featuring bands the rest of us may not otherwise ever be exposed to. This week he features Olympia-based hip-hop acts Afrok & the Movement and AKA & the Heart Hurt Goods.
As I travel through life, there has always been a soundtrack in my head. Songs that fit the road and the cities I visited and created an aural atmosphere for trips. Through punk rock, dirty garage rock and hyper-kinetic ska, I continued to devour music. Foreign balladeers and flirty U.K. chanteuse always tearing a piece of my ear away, with trip hop slow motion and languages that I would never speak but could still feel the emotional bleeding from the melodies. I love music with a passion that has never flickered.
I never had enough skill to stay in groups, I was the bass player who could keep a beat but wasn’t going to be able to hit the strings like Claypool or Jamerson. Yet I always could pick out a great song and frequently was among those people who loved introducing music to others via mix CDs (or for you older people, the ever meaningful mix-tape.) Always wondering where in the musical landscape I could fit in. One day it hit me that I had all the qualities of a great radio DJ. Yes the format is probably ten years past it’s prime as a outlet but in the area I resided in, there was a very well known community radio station that went by the iconic call sign KAOS.
So I ventured down and joined as a volunteer, took the DJ training course and was certified to be a on-air DJ on February 8th, 2012. I spent the first few months subbing on shows and holding down the Monday slot on the KAOS Block Party. All the while I was putting together the plans for my own radio show, No Tyme For Nowhere. A show that would encompass all the music that I’ve heard and felt throughout my 36 years and the newer music I’m still discovering. I finally found the perfect slot on May 26th, midnight, and ending when the time felt right. I’d had the idea of starting each show with a song from The Clash, a couple picks from the vinyl library in the KAOS studio and a 4 song set at the end I dubbed “The Last Call Set.”
As months passed, I came to love the process of putting together a set list that would be encompass new music, but would also keep some of the older music that may have never had much play into the ears of my late night listeners. With a chaotic playlist, I especially keyed in on some fantastic local hip-hop that is very prevalent in the Olympia area, a much maligned genre of music that in Olympia takes a lot of different forms.
Two of the unique groups that cover not only Hip-Hop but R & B, rock, funk and in some instances a vocal type of jazz.
Afrok & The Movement “Doin’ My Thang” Live at the Olympia Ballroom for Hip Hop 4 The Homeless
- – - – -
AKA & The Heart Hurt Goods “Falling off the End Of The Middle” Live at the Eastside Club
- – - – -
Just an introduction to the madness and the beginning of this madcap journey. Until next time I shall leave you with the immortal words of Joe Strummer “If I had five million pounds I’d start a radio station because something needs to be done. It would be nice to turn on the radio and hear something that didn’t make you feel like smashing up the kitchen and strangling the cat.”
Jesus-loving, flag-waving jingoistic country hits all-time low with Thomas Rhett’s crass single “Beer With Jesus”
I thought I’d heard it all, until I hit play on “Beer With Jesus,” the crass new “let’s get the bible-belt listener” single by Thomas Rhett. For all the strides country music has made into the mainstream to evolve into lowest common denominator pandering such as this leaves me shaking my head in disappointment:
If I could have a beer with Jesus
Heaven knows I’d sip it nice and slow
I’d try to pick a place that ain’t too crowded
I’d gladly go wherever he wants to go
You can bet I’d order up a couple tall ones
And tell the waitress to put ‘em on my tab
I’d be sure to let him do the talkin
And careful when I got the chance to ask
Tell me how’d you turn the other cheek?
To save a sorry soul like me?
Do you hear the prayers I send
And what happens when life ends
And when you think you’re coming back again?
I’d tell everyone but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus
The song says nothing of note except that Mr. Rhett wants to drink all night with Christ his savoir, making sure he buys plenty of good beer and plays all the best jukebox jams for the Lord while they have their private conversation — “and don’t forget, Jesus, to tell your daddy God I said hi!”
I thought it would take years to top the lame pandering of the chorus to “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band, which manages to proudly give shout-outs to God, the stars and stripes, freedom, soldiers, chicken-fried steak, beer, tight-fitting jeans, radio love, sunrises, children and his woman all in about forty seconds. But I think “Beer With Jesus” now safely takes the cake.
You’ve been warned …
Tori Amos’ out-of-print masterclass performance from Sessions at West 54th proves the incendiary power of live rock
There are times words fail, and many of them occur during the viewing of these seven incredible live videos taken from Tori Amos’ performance on the oft-missed program Sessions at West 54th. Amos and her backing band set these songs afire in a series of performances which rival the Sessions release by Ben Folds (one of the few remaining in print). This is rock music the way it’s meant to be experienced, so powerful and raw in its depth you can only absorb it more completely with an ear pressed suicidally against the side-stage speakers. I’ll let the songs do the talking, thanks to the wonder that is YouTube.
Enjoy, and feel free to post in the comments some live performances which inspire you as a listener. The more the better!
Guitar: Steve Caton
Bass: Jon Evans
Drums: Matt Chamberlain
- – - – -
SONG #1 — “Precious Things”
SONG #2 — “iiieee”
SONG #3 — “Past the Mission”
SONG #4 — “Caught a Nice Sneeze”
SONG #5 — “Take to the Sky” (Solo)
SONG #6 — “Cooling” (Solo)
SONG #7 — “The Waitress”
Hyperbole Alert! Either Ben Ivory is a God on earth, or he’s merely the “average” of which his handlers speak.
In a world where most music is average or sub-par at best, one in which we’re constantly overwhelmed by mediocre music as we struggle to find the next great band, it’s easy to be swept up in hyperbole over some new band with a groundbreaking take on pop music. But what happens when the hype train derails? From Ben Ivory’s press material:
Ben Ivory is a walking contradiction of light and shadow, East and West, soul and intellect, melancholy and euphoria. It’s easy to forget Ben’s a human: he’s so easy to think of in abstract terms. But when he opens his mouth and the music comes out, his humanity overwhelms the moment. Ben’s singing is a powerful, passionate and blood-warm experience in a world that feels otherwise dominated by the sterile, the cool, the pre-packaged and digital. A world dominated, most of all, by the merely average.
With this much smoke being blown up everyone’s ass in sight, I had visions of a singer with the voice of Freddie Mercury melded with the undeniable charisma of classic Bowie — or at least something worthy of viral attention. Instead I was greeted by a dismal four-to-the-floor bass drum Eurosynth track, complete with cheesy synth stabs and out-of-focus chants a-la anything by Enigma in the early 90s. Worse, however, were the lyrics, which began: “It was good / it was sad / it was the best we ever had / before we live / before we die / there must be something worthwhile.”
The first commandment of “Hear! Hear!” — if you’re going to trash the average among us, you damned well better make sure you’re better than average. This song is not.
Even the video itself remains so out of focus it’s impossible to get any idea of what Ben Ivory thinks he can do for pop music beyond the insular walls of contests like Eurovision, which pander to “here today, gone tomorrow” tripe which rarely successfully crosses the pond in America’s direction. Sometimes the truth hurts, but average is as average does, and Ben Ivory’s done nothing with “Better Love” to make me think he’s capable of anything worth hearing.
Excerpted from PJ Lifestyle — to read the entire article, click here– I highlight the best of new album and DVD / Blu-Ray releases, as well as interesting tech finds. It’s my weekly column, “Tuesday New Releases,” every week at PJ Lifestyle.
- – - – -
As if one needed further proof of a downward-trending music industry, Adele’s 21 became the first album of the Soundscan era to lead all album sales two years running. In other words, nothing released during all of 2012 could unseat an album released in the first month of 2011. All that with Adele sidelined by vocal-chord issues and her pending pregnancy.
Taylor Swift tried and failed to block that path, with Red falling 1.3 million from 21 despite having four top ten hits, none of which ranked inside the year’s top ten overall. The year’s big winners — Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Fun — dominated single sales with their first Hot 100 releases. No one knew their names when the year began, and it remains questionable whether either can follow it up.
With the fresh start a new year brings, we need to face facts: LPs no longer draw long-term interest from fans, who prefer the instant gratification of a viral hit single. And no matter how many singles get parceled out to radio stations month after month, an artist lives or dies by the success of the last one.
Singles don’t drive album sales — they simply drive demand for more singles.
Having sacrificed the long-term stability inherent in developing artists over the long term, labels must now watch as newcomers either instantly dominate or free-fall. Veteran acts, meanwhile, either find ways to continually churn out successful singles to dying radio while courting fickle audiences online or they cling to the hope that their next album will prove different. Just ask Aerosmith how that worked for them.
Welcome to the new industry normal. Observing which bands find ways to use these trends to their advantage will provide the real fun of chart-watching in 2013.
If you’re among those who only know Randy Newman for his work on Pixar’s soundtracks, you might be excused for writing him off as a one-note hack long past his prime. The rest of us, however, know he’s hands down the most brilliant songwriter and satirist of the last century, well deserving of his chance to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the 2013 class.
I hadn’t heard much of his music prior to taking Andy Hollinden’s Rock and Roll History course at Indiana University back in 2002, but hearing the brilliance of “Sail Away” led directly to my infatuation with that entire album, and then its successor Good Old Boys, which did more to explain the whole “duality of the Southern thing” than anything Drive-By Truckers ever concocted. From his deft dissection of the mock American dream spread through the slave trade on “Sail Away” to the stark honesty of “God’s Song,” distilling the plight of Job through a modern examination of why believers still follow such a vengeful God, nothing tops the audacity and wit of a Randy Newman original.
A few of his greatest songs, described in his own words, below.
It was fast. I think I got into a character, this sort of jingoistic type of fellow. You know, it isn’t the type of song I wanted to write much of. Not that I didn’t love Tom Lehrer, but I don’t want to be, like Don Henley says, “What’s this, another novelty song” (laughs). And I do write a lot of those, songs that are meant to be funny in a form that listeners take the people in it more seriously than literature. (1)
That was actually one of the rare events where I actually saw the character. I saw Lester Maddox on The Dick Cavett show. They sat him next to Jim Brown, the audience hooted at him, and he didn’t say a word. Maddox didn’t get a chance to be bad on that show. And I thought, “Now, I hate everything that he stands for, but they didn’t give him a chance to be an idiot.” And here he is, governor of a state—these people elected him in Georgia, however many million people voted for him—and I thought that if I were a Georgian, I would be angry. I would be angry anyway, even if I were a nice, liberal, editor of the journal in Atlanta. And so I wrote that. And there are some mistakes in it, like, that guy wouldn’t know the names of all those ghettos, but, so what. (1)
I think if I had more success it might have pressured me out of writing just whatever I wanted to write– I don’t have that strong a character. But when I did Born Again, that was after I did “Short People”, which was a hit but a novelty hit. And Born Again, just looking at the cover, seems like a reaction to that, presuming that people would know I’m not just some asshole with makeup on. They’ll know who I am. Which was a mistake– they don’t know who I am. That’s the weirdest album I ever made. But “Short People” was the worst kind of hit to have. If you can have a bad hit, that would be one of them. (2)
I’m Dreaming of a White President
I have some concern that kids will hear this and think, “What is he talking about?” If you have a kid and you try irony out on them, they don’t get it at 7, 8 years old. “What do you mean, you’re dreaming of a white president?” It’s a problem. You can’t really hide the Internet from kids. It worries me some particularly because I’ve done Disney and Pixar stuff. In Toy Story, there’s my voice saying, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” And then here’s my voice singing that I want “A real live white man / Who knows the score.” I’d like it to be clearer which side I’m on. Of course, it comes a little late. (3)
I Miss You
I think as an exercise I’m going to write just some straight love songs to see if I can do it. I know I can, actually. So I will. But “Marie” has an idea. With “Marie” a guy’s drunk and he’s able to tell her these things, and he recognizes that. It’s a simple, kind of humble thing but, you know, honest. Things he’d never say. “Losing You” has an idea that at a certain age you reach a point where you don’t get over stuff that happens. You don’t live long enough to do it. And “Miss You” is about giving up on a first wife, and it’s about writing. It’s about saying, ‘I know all the harm this is doing, but I’d sell my soul, your soul and my soul, for a song.’ And I would. Almost. That’s kind of writerly bravura. You know, I’d dig up my mother for a song. I believe that it’s true of me, that it’s important enough to me that I would sacrifice quite a bit for it. (4)
1. Hutchison, Lydia. “Randy Newman: A Character Study” Performing Songwriter — http://performingsongwriter.com/randy-newman-songs/
2. Klein, Joshua. “Interviews; Randy Newman” Pitchfork — http://pitchfork.com/features/interviews/7535-randy-newman/
3. Yagoda, Ben. “‘I’m Dreaming of a White President’: Randy Newman on His New Song” Slate — http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/09/18/_i_m_dreaming_of_a_white_president_randy_newman_talks_about_his_new_song_.html
4. Trucks, Rob. “Interview: Randy Newman on ‘Harps and Angels” and Hurricane Katrina” Village Voice – http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2008/09/randy_newman.php?page=2
Ravi Shankar once said pop changes constantly, but great music is like literature. We’ll miss his immensely.
Confirmed by CNN, Ravi Shankar died Tuesday evening at age 92. From his influence on George Harrison to his modern compositions harmonizing sitar work with orchestral instrumentation, Shankar took Eastern-inspired music into the mainstream. I’ll let his music speak for itself, but lovers of great music lost a legend today.
I don’t like using the “reblog” function on WordPress — it’s so impersonal, allowing bloggers to simply take the work of others and regurgitate it, assuming no role in the creative process. But I stumbled on this post from commenter Mister STAP‘s Blog Stand There And Play and it got me thinking about the role of album covers and poster art in fueling our collective obsessions with rock music in general. His post is well worth the visit even if only to gape at the astounding collection of posters he’s able to stare out at every time he writes. But I have to wonder as well, which art reaches out to you, my readers? I have long been attracted to the work of Wes Freed, whose creations for the band Drive-By Truckers are unmistakeable in their immediate visual hook.
Have any artists in particular inspired you as listeners with their distinctive album or poster art? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
I don’t usually comment too much about the goings-on of reality television, but a recent interview Vino Alan gave to Yahoo’s Reality Rocks just cried out for commentary. Poor Mr. Alan, who allowed X-Factor’s producers to change his song at the last minute, despite his disapproval, says the show simply does not take its older artists seriously (emphasis is mine):
Yeah, I thought it would have been cool for Simon and the show to make a statement that for older artists, who might have gotten lost in the industry, there’s still an open door for them … It definitely was not set up to be an inspiring atmosphere, and I’ve told them that they have to work on that in the future, if they want it to be more artist-friendly. It did seem to lean more towards every other show that’s been out there that’s tried to create something that’s packaged and marketed, but maybe doesn’t move the soul. I mean, if Jimi Hendrix came out today, what show would he be able to go on? What the hell, what would they do? Is he not pretty enough? Now I think these true great artists out there will be gun-shy [about auditioning for 'The X Factor'], because they’ll see maybe what happened to me or how people treated me. I think Simon had a chance to create a different monster of a show, and that is really the only thing I find disappointing.
Seriously … “what show would Jimi be able to go on?” Now that Alan no longer has X-Factor duties holding him back, he should give Jimi’s music another listen and ask himself why Hendrix would waste his time on a “get rich quick” reality scheme when he already had the skills and talent to back his career on his own.
Get back with me, Vino, when you can do this:
Today James Blunt comes out of nowhere to let the world know he’s retiring from music, needing to “have time to himself” despite his actions generally speaking for themselves: no album since 2010, no touring since 2011. I can’t help but think of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” where she sings:
I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying: “This is it, I’ve had enough.”
We hadn’t seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space.
Message to James Blunt — no one’s waiting for your new album. As Bob Lefsetz outlines in his email column today, in the modern music industry you either release new material or you die. This ties into rules 3 and 4 as he relays it: “Make new music” and “keep improving your music.” If you need space, we’re perfectly happy to remember the beautiful relationship while it lasted. But let’s be blunt: We’ve moved on.
When all is said and done, I’ve got a great deal of respect for how classy the finale of House was tonight. It’s not every show which gets the opportunity to go out on terms which stay true to the characters, and then actually seizes that opportunity and runs for it. And to cap the show with Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart For A While” was inspired. The show certainly hit its highs and lows over the course of eight seasons … which quality show doesn’t? But in the end David Shore brought the house lights down with a quiet dignity few shows have managed in their swan song.
Head to PJ Media to check out my latest column, this time extolling the virtues of punk rock music! I normally reprint these in their entirety, but I think you’ll get more out of it by joining the discussion already raging there … more than 100 comments already!
My thesis is that if you’re looking for an entry-point as a listener to discover punk rock music and what set it apart from other genres, while proving to be such an inspiration to music from Nirvana to the Pixies, you’ll find plenty to like if you get past the stereotypes. If you think the genre’s all about noise and self-destruction, you’re missing a great deal of the depth of what burned quickly as a truly global phenomenon.
In turn, I chose to feature five seminal bands, including Australia’s groundbreaking band Radio Birdman, England’s contributions the Damned, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, as well as America’s Ramones. I’d love to hear what you think … for those who have been afraid to give punk rock a chance, I think this is a good start. And if there are bands you think make better entry points, I’d love to hear your opinions as well.
This article is reprinted with permission from Pajamas Media, where I write a weekly column on music and culture.
Late in the film Moneyball, Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane sits for an interview with the owner of the Boston Red Sox, and he’s told that it’s always the first through the wall who suffers the bloody defeat. Baseball’s elite weren’t angry with him over fear he’d destroy the game, a laughably impossible thought. They were afraid that he was going to eliminate their livelihood, as they’d put decades into winning the game a certain way. Get in the way of that set-in-stone attitude, as Beane had done with the Oakland A’s in 2002, and you were asking for trouble.
As I watched that scene unfold, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the way the music industry has treated nearly every technological evolution in the last forty years. Any change in the way people chose to partake in music affected the way the industry executives who sat atop the mountain were able to secure their paychecks. Whether it was the advent of cassette recordings — which many feared would destroy the vinyl record once fans realized they could tape albums and share them with their friends — to the creation of mp3 recordings and the genie-less bottle which is the Internet, the industry has forever been behind the curve, fighting to sustain soon-to-be-dead sales models.
It’s a process as old as time: new products come along which challenge profitable products which have provided job security across the spectrum of an industry. Those who already have achieved success don’t want change; they want profits to continue to pour in with as little outside interference as possible. New ideas involve risk, risk involves potential loss, and potential loss means failure. And few industries are as risk-failure averse as the world of music executives.
Myth #1: “Thanks to iTunes, we’ll never have another “Dark Side of the Moon”!”
I hear it every day that the mp3 player and eventually the advent of the iTunes Store are responsible for killing off the album as an art form. Supposedly, thanks to the inventors of the mp3 codec back in the late ’80s, illegal downloaders in the ’90s and ’00s, and Steve Jobs in 2004, we’re now back to 1964 and the era of early Beatlemania, when singles ruled the roost and albums were an afterthought.
The problem with this false reasoning is that though singles are certainly alive and well, so are albums. We’re just not purchasing them on CDs. Just because casual listeners can go and buy random tracks off the latest Arcade Fire album doesn’t mean that anyone at iTunes is telling such bands not to record full-length albums. Rather, fans simply are being given a choice. Rather than having to shell out for a full album prior to hearing any of the music, we now have the opportunity to graze first, discover if an artist is producing music in which we’d like to further invest. If we like what we hear, we can buy the full album — and many do.
Furthermore, bands on the cutting edge are able to use campaigns through sites like Kickstarter, which go directly to fans to help fund the production of albums in a setting akin to the idea of commissioning a work as a patron of the arts. If a band wants to work on a concept album akin to “Dark Side of the Moon” and they fear there’s perhaps not as wide an audience for it as there could have been in the past, the band can recruit like-minded listeners to help fund the release. If successful, the album can then go on to the wider audience as a whole, allowing such a concept album to flourish.
In other words, comparing CD sales to full-album sales on iTunes and then saying that the sales of singles are cannibalizing the album as an art form is delusional. You’re comparing apples to oranges and perpetuating the idea that the only way an album can be an album is if it’s produced in hard-copy and sold for $18.95 MSRP.
Myth #2: “The music industry is in crisis solely because of illegal downloads, so we must stop piracy at all costs!”
The idea goes that as mp3 downloading became prevalent, CD sales dropped, therefore albums must be dying because piracy of music online is destroying the industry. Some variants of this argument suggest that the scourge of mp3 downloading illegally through various means is depriving artists of their livelihood, refusing to take into account the benefits of the distribution of any music via untethered digital files.
Yes, artists lose some money due to downloading. That’s a given. But what’s also worth noting is how much time the industry spent going after individual downloaders, attempting to label them as criminals when many were downloading music they’d never heard, spreading the word, and then going out to buy the music from artists they’d discovered and others of that ilk. The RIAA spent millions suing downloaders for outrageous sums, and when that didn’t work they attempted to copy-protect CDs people were buying legally, preventing listeners from being able to make copies, for personal use, of music they’d paid for, under the guise of preventing theft.
In the process they labeled an entire generation of potential customers as thieves, criminals, and degenerates, while providing few outlets for the fans to purchase the music in formats they were clamoring for. Buy these albums on CD, the industry shouted, because that’s the format which we feel is safer to protect our interests. We don’t trust mp3s because they can be stolen, and we don’t want you copying the music you already bought because it prevents us from hitting you up for another copy of the album when you wear this one out. If you feel you have the right to copy music you already own, you’re just like all the thieves.
Myth #3: “Decentralizing music distribution is killing record labels!”
In the 1990s, there were bidding wars aplenty for bands deemed “alternative” in the industry. Labels would fight and spend millions of dollars to lure in the latest band of the moment, even bands which hadn’t proven to be capable of sustaining long-term success or even recording an album. They’d ink contracts worth hundreds of thousands in upfront cash for artists, and then set to work trying to craft the next number one with radio.
Problem was, the stream of cash thrown at bands never seemed to end and the only people hurt by it were the artists themselves. A band given a $100,000 advance for an album rarely realized that this was essentially a long-term loan. You had to pay it all back with album sales. Album production costs would be the first thing billed to your account, from the recording of the album to the production and distribution of such. All expenses would also be added to the tab, as would touring expenses, bribes to radio execs to play your songs in the first place, and then if a music video opportunity came up, you’d pay the tab too.
The tab, it turned out in many cases, would be virtually endless. And many artists had multi-platinum albums the first time out, only to make a few thousand dollars themselves. And when the artist couldn’t repeat the success on album number two, they’d hit you with the remaining tab and drop you from the label.
What decentralized distribution means is now bands don’t have to sign with a major label. If I want to put out an album, I can book studio time for a couple thousand bucks or record it on my own time on a home computer. I can then upload the album to sites like Bandcamp, set my pricing for single or album downloads, and then tour like crazy to promote my work. Lower overhead means it is far less difficult to recoup any early losses, and the profits go directly to the creators of the music fans are buying.
Record labels don’t want you to know that you don’t need them to have a hit record. They don’t want you to know that you don’t need them to pick up the tab and then hold you to recording servitude. But there’s nothing to say that what the record companies want in this instance has anything to do with what either the fans or the bands have vested interests in.
Myth #4: “You need us as the gatekeeper!”
This is my favorite myth, the idea that our generation’s ability to bypass the industry gatekeepers means that, for whatever reason, good music is dead. It’s important for the major labels to believe that they know good music from bad and without them we in the record-buying masses are helpless to know what’s good. The argument goes that our generation lacks superstar acts to vie with those juggernauts of the past, the Michael Jacksons, the Rolling Stones. Radio stations tend to prop up the idea that “classic rock” lives on because modern rock is — for whatever reason — terrible and that today’s pop music is ephemeral compared to the classics of the Beatles.
Much of this could be true, and is rightfully up to debate among those of us listening to music. But the idea that record companies inherently know great music from crap is a fallacy. And there are many reasons why our generation may not have matched the superstar act successes of the past. Perhaps having a deeper pool from which to draw our musical choices means we’re never going to have those few juggernauts to lead the way. Instead we get a variety of artists who are successful, but not at “King of Pop” levels.
Think TV for a moment. We’re no longer in an era when three TV networks control the airwaves, so people don’t watch new network shows in groups of 50 million at a time. We can now go to cable channels and see a wider variety of programs, choosing how to spread our viewing time in whatever way we choose. Same goes for music. Fewer options in prior generations to achieve wide distribution for albums meant that those acts on major labels were pushed to a wider audience right out of the gate, and therefore were also more likely to have mainstream success. But there was always a “long tail” of artists outside the top few percent, which provided the bulk of the music industry’s album sales.
Today’s generation sees a much longer tail from which to choose what we listen to. The top few percent of artists don’t draw the same immediate and long-term sales as they might have forty, twenty, or even ten years ago. And if a band isn’t willing to get out there and work hard for the success they feel they deserve, they won’t find it. In today’s democratic world of “anyone can produce music and market it,” there’s no guarantee of success. You have to be good enough to get my attention, and then you have to keep it.
In the end, however, I at least get to be the one to decide what I want to hear. I don’t have to go to a record company big-wig to have it spoon-fed to me. The industry is free to follow where our generation is going, to seek out and discover new means of reaching audiences now that we have such a world of choice. But they’ll never get the old world back. It’s not our responsibility to prop up their dying system just because it worked in the past.
Neil Young may have said it’s better to burn out than to fade away, but in the case of Amy Winehouse, the burnout and the long slow fade were simultaneous.
Now, dead at 27, she’ll be primarily remembered for her work with Mark Ronson as a 60s R&B, soul and jazz revivalist. Back To Black had moments of sheer raw power one wouldn’t have expected from something so many people either loved or hated. “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” let us read between the lines as she dragged funky jazz-infused beats into the new millennium headfirst – “I cheated myself like I knew I would,” she sings, and now those words are more than painful. “I told you I was trouble. You know that I’m no good.”
But did she believe that? Did she believe she couldn’t survive without the sheen of alcohol between her and her audience? Was rehab truly worse than death?
Read the rest of this article at Stereo Subversion.