Monday, August 31, 2009

Killah Priest - View From Masada (2xLP, 2000)

The word on the street was that Killah Priest and the Wu had beef in the period between the release of his debut and this record, and apparently that's supposed to account for why this record isn't nearly as good as his first one.

I'll admit that the beats aren't up to snuff (which can almost be explained by breaking ties with the Wu camp), but it's more than that. Priest himself is responsible for the blandness that runs throughout this one; specifically, he seems to have devolved into what we all thought he despised: a typical rapper. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but given the high bar he set for himself with Heavy Mental, the subject matter here seems all the more low-brow. All of a sudden he's talking about thugs, bitches, and all the stuff that was wonderfully absent from his previous effort.

But that shit doesn't really kick in initially. The first few songs show promise, with the title track and "Hard Times" sounding like solid, but slightly watered-down versions of his usual jams. Things start to fall apart with "Maccabean Revolt," a two-part song that features some lackluster guest spots that completely miss the mark. "Gotta Eat" tries to pick it back up, but the beat is thin and Priest's lyrics aren't there. Never thought I'd hear him talking about "chicks in the club," but there it is.

Ras Kass shows up and so does Canibus, and they both just sound out of place, and Priest sounds out of place next to them, busting more raps about what a real thug he is. There are a few more decent tracks on this one, but it's tough to get the momentum back once the taste's been soured.

"Ladies in the spot looking hot"? Why, Priest, why?

"Whut Part of the Game?"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Went to a Show: Busdriver at Rotture (August 29, 2009)

Two Saturday shows in a row. Big time stuff for an aging music snob like me.

The wife and I went to Rotture (in Portland's historic meat packing district) solely to see Busdriver, who has quickly become one of my favorite rappers on the planet. We knew there would be two opening acts, but because it's a hip hop show in Portland (maybe they're like this everywhere) there were actually five opening acts, if you count the DJ. I've been burned by padded bills like this before by shows being dragged out, but this time around it all ran smoothly.

First to hit the stage was Travis Wiggins, a Portlander who I was unfamiliar with. I'm glad we caught his set. It was just him and a female vocalist, and they did some fun electro-psych-pop stuff. Tope was second, another local. He sounded quite sincere slinking through a song about all the classic soul music he grew up on, though it was slightly marred by the fact that he's translucent white and looks about 23. But apparently Curtis Mayfield was his inspiration for copping an accent and dropping recycled hooks about twisting blunts. He did have some nice Air Trainers on though–I'll give him that.

(On a side note: he was one of those rappers–and if you've ever been to a hip hop show, you might know what I'm talking about–who kept urging people to come up to the front of the stage, and then badgering people when they didn't. I've never understood why it's my obligation to act like I'm interested in something that I'm only in the same room with by pure coincidence. Why someone on stage would want to draw attention to the fact that nobody is watching them is beyond me. This is such a huge pet peeve of mine.)

For what it's worth, I'm not trying to sound like a dick. It just wasn't my thing.

So that concluded the part of the show I didn't realize I was going to see. (Which is, by the way, probably my fault. I didn't really scope the listings too hard.) The touring acts were next, the first of which was Open Mike Eagle. Dude was fantastic. He had smart lyrics, a potent flow, and a solid attitude. But he clinched it for me when he sang a hook that was based on Frank Black's song "Thalassocracy." Such a bizarre moment, and one that had never even occurred to me. I approached Open Mike at the merch booth after his set and asked him about it, and he was so shocked that I knew what it was from that he gave me a copy of his CD. Seriously: a very cool guy. I'm going to keep an eye on him and see if he comes back to town.

Abstract Rude was next, and though he's a little too irie for me, he put together a fun set. The definite highlight for me was his full-on cover of Geto Boys' "Mind Playing Tricks On Me," complete with a decent Bushwick Bill impression. If I was into bong hits, like really into bong hits, Abstract Rude would probably be more up my alley.

Busdriver finally hit the stage around midnight, accompanied by Antimc, who was set up with a drum machine, a guitar, and some sampling gear. Busdriver also had a sampler and some other knob-twiddling goodies. He wasted no time, and went nuts from the first beat.
Because I'm a sad fanboy (and because it wasn't very crowded), I was front-row center. The Driver played a wide mix of old and new, and did some great fuckery with his sampler and sweet vocal manipulations with this foot pedal thingy he had rigged to one of his mics. He made my wife happy by playing "Casting Agents and Cowgirls" (that's her favorite song of his) and made me happy by playing "Unemployed Black Astronaut." He also knocked out "Sun Shower" somewhere in there and "Scoliosis Jones."

He played a bunch of songs, and went full bore on all of them. He was flicking sweat on us by about the third song, and when at one point he put his hand on my head, it was what I would consider "mad damp." He was working for it. He was cool enough to do an encore after the blistering performance of "Me-Time (With the Pulmonary Palimpsest)" and I was cool enough to buy a t-shirt from him.

So we're all winners.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Killah Priest - Heavy Mental (2xLP, 1998)

Arms too short to box with God. Indeed.

I hadn't listened to this record in a long time, but I've been rocking it fairly hard for the past few days and I gotta tell you: it's awesome. Killah Priest was one of the first Wu-Affiliates to release a solo record (maybe the first–this came out two weeks before Cappadonna's The Pillage), and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Priest managed to take the (by this time) well-known Wu philosophies and dig even deeper, shooting off some of the densest rhymes anyone had probably ever heard. While a lot of MCs claim to drop knowledge, KP was bringing shit that was so over everyone's head that you almost had to take his word that it all meant something. The thing was, it all fit together too well for it to be random bullshit.

Priest is clearly a scholar of both African history and religion, and the themes on this record reflect that. Like I said, the rhymes are dense as all get-out. But here's the thing: they're not bogged-down or boring. I have never understood how this record could be so serious and so filled with brutal truths that shouldn't make for casual listening, and so fucking good all at the same time. I've been bumping this (cassette style) in my car for the last half-week, and it makes for some great driving music. I've also been listening to it while dicking around on the computer, and it works for that, too. It's that sort of great.

The key here is the quality of the beats and Priest's knack for writing compelling hooks. Right off the bat with "One Step," he locks in on a solid chorus and uses it brilliantly to bridge the gaps between his streams of wordplay. He uses the same approach on the majority of the remaining tracks, but doesn't fall into a pattern with this approaches.

This is made abundantly clear on the abstractly awesome title track, on which KP drills out line after line over a backing track that isn't much more than swirling loops of buzzy distortion. It really shouldn't work. But it does. His team-up with ODB on "If You Don't Know" shouldn't work either, but it does. And in the end, this whole thing works, front to back. It's not a party record, but if you're looking for some intelligent hip hop with tinges of the glory days of the Wu, it's tough to beat this one.

'98: a good year to be a hip hop fan. What happened?

"Cross My Heart"

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Kids of Widney High - Let's Get Busy (CD, 1999)

When Mike Patton started the Ipecac label in 1999, I was excited. So excited, in fact, that I decided to collect every album the label released. Of course, I didn't count on their prolific output or their tendency to put out records by bands I couldn't care less about. So, I got through IPC-6, at which time they released a Kid606 record as IPC-7 and I promptly gave up. I'm usually not defeated so easy, but I had looked ahead to their scheduled releases and it wasn't going to get any better.

This is relevant to the album at hand because this CD is IPC-5, sandwiched neatly between the final two parts of the Melvins Trilogy that was released around the same time. If you're not familiar with The Kids of Widney High, you can read about them here. The condensed version for the lazy amongst you: they're a group of mentally challenged students from a special education school in L.A. who write and record songs they have written, with assistance from their educators, who are well-trained musicians.

Mike Patton has long been a fan of the group; in fact, I remember him mentioning them in the late 80's, in a year-end list he put together for Spin (I think) magazine. It's worth mentioning that his adoration for the group appeared devoid of irony - lest you be thinking he's poking fun at them in some way. So, anyone familiar with Patton wasn't too surprised when this was slated as being one of the early Ipecac releases.

The album is, of course, a bit of a novelty, but it makes for a fun listen. Songs like "Pretty Girls" and "Every Girl's My Girlfriend" are the highlights, with their brutally honest assessment of love from afar. There's also some dance-y synth numbers, and even a Christmas track.

Ultimately, I will always remember The Kids of Widney High as the people my brother and I rung in the new millennium with. We had taken a trip to San Francisco to celebrate New Year's Eve 1999 at a show featuring Fantômas, NoMeansNo, the Melvins, and Mr. Bungle. The Kids opened the show, and it was fantastic to watch. Most of the crowd didn't know what to make of it, and the group really had their performance down. It elicited an odd response from the crowd, but nothing rude, thankfully.

After they were done, The Kids ended up out in the audience, milling about as a large group. When Mr. Bungle took the stage as the clock approached midnight, The Kids and their band were all grouped right around my brother and I. The lights went down, we counted in the new year, balloons descended from the rafters, and we spent the first moments of the year 2000 in downtown San Francisco watching The Kids of Widney High blowing on noisemakers and hollering in celebration.

I could have never predicted it in a million years, but it was a great way to usher in the 2000s.

"Pretty Girls"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kid 'N Play - 2 Hype (CD, 1988)

Sometimes you find a CD in the dollar section at the local store, and there's no point in passing it up. It's a measly buck, and you know you're going to rock it at least three times. That's getting your money's worth, right there.

I might actually argue that this CD was a steal for a dollar. I don't remember if I actually had any Kid 'N Play albums when I was a kid (I would have been 12 when this was released), but I know I had some of their tracks on my notorious K-Tel mixtapes. And I dug the shit. Their back-and-forths are fun, the beats are by Hurby Luv Bug (so you know they just scream '88 style in the best way), and the songs usually aren't about much more than how they dope they are, which is the way to do it.

When they stray from the self-aggrandizing, shit gets a bit spotty. "Last Night" is full of forced story raps, and "Soul Man" is majorly embarrassing. As is "Undercover," the slow jam-ish cut with The Real Roxanne. Luckily they make up for it with the fast-dancing-ready "Do the Kid 'N Play Kick Step" and "Do This My Way."

Yeah, none of it's aged particularly well, but it's an interesting reminder that shit like this doesn't exist anymore. And maybe that's why I always get a kick out of listening to these guys try to start a party for 45 minutes straight. If nothing else, their persistence is legendary.

"2 Hype"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

K-Solo - Time's Up (CD, 1992)

K to the Solo. I have been meaning to buy his debut album for years, but that shit is hard to come up on. Actually, I just looked on eBay and apparently it's not as rare as I thought. Still, I've never seen it in a store. This one, on the other hand, I found for a buck a few years ago. And it was (and still is) well worth it.

K-Solo is what great early-90's hip hop was all about: mad skills laced with intelligence. Does anyone remember when it was cool to be smart in hip hop? That's a whole 'nother discussion, so I won't start on that tangent. But while I'm sitting here listening to lyrically dense and vocally gymnastic "Letterman," it's making me, as I often do, yearn for the glory days. Luckily records like this are still around (even if you have to dig a little to find 'em).

K-Solo doesn't have the most distinct voice, but his flow is rock solid and his intentions are always crystal clear. Dude doesn't waste words, and while he's not over-the-top thuggish, he's got a stiff upper lip that makes it clear he's not to be fucked with. He also holds true the 90's tradition of social commentary in tracks like "Who's Killin' Who?" and "Premonition of a Black Prisoner."

Damn, the more I listen to this record, the more I release how dope it is. Time to scope out that debut.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

k-os - Joyful Rebellion (CD, 2004)

Man, I haven't listened to this one since it came out.

I remember what happened: My brother got me this CD on promo from the record store he was working at. I was already a bit shaky on the whole k-os thing because of the R&B tracks on his first record. But, this disc was free, so I couldn't pass it up. The first song heads in the right direction: some easy-flowing hip hop with an uncharacteristically raw title ("Emcee Murdah," surely a bit ironic). Then "Crucial" kicks in, and it's so rastafied that I couldn't take it. Just full on reggae. Well, there went the option of me listening to this when there's anyone else around.

Of course, the rest of the record contains some solid hip hop tracks. But, there's some more R&B bullshit. One thing is becoming clear: I need to feed these discs into iTunes, filter out the crap, and a make a solid mix of just the rap songs.

Maybe I'll do that sometime.


Monday, August 24, 2009

k-os - Exit (CD, 2002)

I randomly caught the video for "Superstarr Pt. Zero" from this disc one day (on MTV2?) in 2002 and was intrigued by the rattling jazz samples and oddball drum thumping. Dude also seemed to be a fairly dope rapper, so I remembered the name.

I don't remember picking up the album, but I think I must have found it used shortly thereafter. I haven't listened to it in years, but going back and checking it out now, I remember why I didn't love it as much as I hoped to. It's about half rap (most of which is good) and half neo-soul-ish R&B (most of which is rambly). I don't mind diversity, but when it's juxtaposed so tightly, it can be confusing.

Maybe I needed to be more stoned. k-os has a bit of an irie, otherworldly, and spiritual vibe to his music that just won't click with my ever-present pragmatism. (Case in point: the guy's name is Kevin and he spells it "Kheaven." Ugh.) But I dig his raps for the most part. In a way, he's like but better. Not that that's hard to do, but if you've heard his (k-os's) music, you probably know what I mean. The flows are sort of nasally, a bit off-the-cuff sounding, but it's all very precise when you take a step back.

I totally respect the guy's vision; I'm just not sure it's mine.

"Superstarr Pt. Zero"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stallion Alert Book Review: 33⅓: Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique by Dan LeRoy (2006)

I think this may be the only book in the 33⅓ series I've read so far, and that's a damn shame. I'll get to some others soon enough. If you're not familiar with them, they're short looks at the making of well-known records, usually giving insight into the recording/creative process. I've heard mixed reviews of some of them, but if you're a Beastie Boys fan, this is a solid read.

Paul's Boutique is the most interesting Beasties album for a bunch of reasons, but a lot of it comes back to two things: The G-Spot and The Dust Brothers. This book tells the tale of how the Boys ended up in the house that would become known as the G-Spot, and actually dispels a lot of the myths about what went on there. Worry not: they had some rowdy times. But apparently they were also very respectful of the house because, you know, it was a rental.

The story of how the Beasties hooked up with The Dust Brothers is fairly interesting (and very random), but the story of how the record got made once they joined forces is the real kicker. All that sampling and no computer program to keep track of it, sequence it, nothing. It's amazing that they pulled off those beats with just some samplers and some tape splicing.

Anyway, there's a lot more to it, and this book does a great job of getting to the bottom of this infamous record, even doing a track-by-track analysis of the entire album and all of its b-sides. Required reading for anyone who loves this slept-on (initially) classic.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Went to a Show: Eddie Spaghetti at the Sunset Tavern (August 22, 2009)

What strange timing. I just did my little blurb on The Junkyard Dogs, and then I go to see Eddie Spaghetti do his solo acoustic country-ish thing. Sometimes the universe aligns in such a way. Best not to question why.

The Supersuckers have been out of the States for a good portion of this year, so I haven't been able to see them aside from the first hour of 2009. So, when I heard that Eddie was doing an intimate acoustic gig at a bar in Seattle, I figured I'd drag the wife along for a little road trip. The 7PM starting time of the gig gave us time to drive home at a decent hour that night, so she couldn't complain too much. And I've successfully converted her into a Supersuckers/Eddie Spaghetti fan at this point anyway, so she didn't mind.

It was definitely worth the trip. Eddie's got a deep catalog of songs he can pull of with just him and his guitar: he does some Supersuckers stuff, some stuff off his two solo records, and plenty of covers. I had seen him once when he was billed solo previously, when he opened a Supersuckers show with Jordan Shapiro accompanying him. He started this gig out all by himself, but about four or five songs in he was joined by "Metal" Marty Chandler:
Marty's got some dexterity in his digits, and he did some great twangy solos. The duo played for about an hour and a half, running through probably 20 or 25 songs.

Some highlights included "Supersucker Drive-By Blues," Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind," and Ween's "Piss Up a Rope." (These were personal highlights for me, because they're either new to Eddie's repertoire or not performed often.) I walked into the show hoping to hear "Bottom Dollar," "Little Ol' Wine Drinker Me," and "Doublewide." The first two were the first two songs of the set, and "Doublewide" showed up near the end.

I was satisfied enough to purchase an Eddie Spaghetti hoodie on our way out. Yes, I'm a merch-loving fanboy. Who sat in the front row. And even sang along when Eddie asked us to. He's the only dude I'll do that for.

Worth the three-hour drive, and a good way to spend a Saturday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Junkyard Dogs - Good Livin' Platter (LP, 1993)

In the pre-internet days of the early 90's, it was tough to find out if your favorite semi-obscure band was putting a side project together. If The Rocket didn't report it, there was little chance of knowing it was going on unless you really had your ear to the streets. I was 17 in 1993, and though I was a huge fan of local (NW) music, I certainly wasn't juiced into the rumor mill.

As I've mentioned here and here, I'm a huge fan of the Supersuckers. By 1993, they had released a handful of 7"s, a CD compilation of those singles plus some bonus tracks, and their first proper full-length. I was always jonesin' for more, and as I said, info on album release dates from bands who weren't being written up in the major mags of the day were hard to come by. So, when you were at the record store, you just religiously checked the band's section.

I would often head to Portland (from Salem, where I grew up) to go record shopping once I had transportation. My girlfriend and I (looking back, she was a sport) would make a weekend day of it, hitting the Saturday Market and then record shopping for the rest of the afternoon. 2nd Avenue Records was always THE spot to go. It's still a great place, but for some reason, I remember their old location being heaven. It was tiny and just packed with everything I wanted. Money was tight, so I had to choose wisely. That's a whole 'nother story. Anyway, I was there one day, doing my routine check of the Supersuckers section (vinyl, of course), and there was a 10" record tucked in with the stuff I expected to see. It was The Junkyard Dogs, and it had a hand-written sticker on it that said something like "Members of the Supersuckers."

I was excited, but wary. I flipped it over, and there was a blurry photo of a dude with an acoustic strapped to his person. It looked like Eddie (Spaghetti, lead Supersuckers dude). The alias "Eddie Cheddar" wasn't too hard to decode, so I knew it was legit. I picked it up and couldn't wait to get it home and hear what this was all about.

At the time, the Supersuckers were an unbending rock band. They had dabbled with an acoustic on a random b-side, but it was a one-off goof. So when I put this on and heard harmonicas and slide guitars, I was taken aback. But, I was willing to go down any avenue the band would drag me, so I was more intrigued than anything. I learned to love this record real quick, and I still do. I had no idea it would be the beginning of their (mostly) serious foray into "country" music, but it was clear they were enjoying showing this side of themselves.

I'm still not sure exactly who plays on this record. While Eddie's alias is fairly straightforward, the others aren't. "Marko Armani" is most likely Mark Arm, but other than that, I'm not sure who's doing what. There's nine players listed and a bunch of back-up singers, and they all have wacky names. I'd love to know for the record, but I've never dug too deep trying to figure it out.

The music is recorded roughly, but the songs are great. There are two originals and six covers, with the originals being tongue-in-cheek country fun and the covers being country versions of rock and metal songs. Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" is probably the most well-known of the bunch, and their slowed-down take on it is sweet. Other than the originals, the highlight is probably the Gories' "View From Here." Nice backup vocals and it's a super-catchy song.

They also take on the Dwarves ("Drug Store"), the Fall Outs ("Ambition"), Dion ("Born to Cry"), and Devo ("Gates of Steel"). In an odd move, they released a CD version of this with 4 extra tracks. Why they didn't just put it out on 12" vinyl I will never know. I actually finally ordered the CD version (don't ask me why I waited 15 years), and I'm waiting for it to show up. That is going to be sweet.

The Supersuckers still play "Good Livin" when they do their country set. I feel like I saw them do "Unwanted Man" (the other original on this) like 10 years ago, but I think I'm imagining that. Wow, I wrote way too much about this. Wait till we get to the actual Supersuckers records. It's going to be a tome.

"View From Here"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jungle Brothers - Done By the Forces of Nature (CD, 1989)

I was crazy into De La Soul in the late 80's, and when I found this disc in a cut-out bin around that time, I was more than ready to get down with the dudes who had dropped some solid verses on De La's "Buddy."

I don't know what it was, but I could never embrace this in the same way I had with 3 Feet High and Rising. It didn't immediately catch me in the same way that De La did, and for whatever reason, I never had the patience to let it sink in. I've been rocking it for the last few days, and I have to say: it still hasn't clicked with me. I've held onto it all these years because I keep telling myself it's going to reveal its brilliance to me at some point. It still may; we'll have to see.

The sounds are solid, but the beats are often too repetitive and the hooks aren't always there. Jungle Brothers were always in their own state of mind, but their old-school group vocals approach almost seems to negate their wackiness to an extent. And compared to De La Soul, it just seemed like more of the same.

I want to love this album; I always have. I'm just still waiting. I've kept it around for this long, so I doubt it's going anywhere.

"What U Waitin' 4?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stallion Alert Book Review: Nirvana: The Biography by Everett True (2007)

I'm certainly not the most obsessive Nirvana fan on the planet, but I'd say I love the band more than your average enthusiast. I turned 16 at the beginning of 1992, and being in the NW, we felt like we really knew where the band was coming from. I don't want to get into the degree to which the band affected me too much, because there'll be plenty of time for that when we get to their records. But just know this: they were a huge deal to me.

Surprisingly, I never got around to reading Come As You Are, Michael Azzerad's 1993 book about the band. It felt like it came out too soon, and I was wary of it. Whenever a book pops up about a band who's still at the height of their popularity, you can bet it's been thrown together pretty quickly. I've heard that book is good, but I still don't have much of a desire to read it. I did, however, read Heavier Than Heaven, the Kurt Cobain biography by Charles Cross a few years back, and loved it. I'd been eying Everett True's book since its release, but didn't pick it up until I found it dirt cheap at Powell's a couple months ago.

Everett True is an English journalist, and one of the early (like really early) proponents of the band. I think he may have been the first person to do a major magazine review of the "Love Buzz" 7", and he was down with Sub Pop from the get-go. (He's also the guy pushing Kurt in the wheelchair in this notorious photo.) The point is, the dude was there.

He had an on-again, off-again relationship with Kurt and the band, but when it was on, he was on small legs of their tours with them or hanging out with them and seeing shows, etc. So, his perspective is a unique one. While Cross's book was thoroughly researched and very well-documented, True's is less linear, more written from memory, and prone to tangential diatribes that are initially off-putting but ultimately hilarious. The guy's got an ax to grind with everybody, and once I settled into his pissy disposition and rambling writing style, I really enjoyed it. And I had plenty of time: the book is about 650 pages long (there are extensive footnotes throughout, but still).

It didn't feel long, though, and that's always a good sign. True's matter-of-factness makes his stories both easy to believe and somewhat suspect, especially when he directly calls out Cross and sections of his book that he disagrees with. I didn't really care for that, but it's a minor gripe. True doesn't pull any punches when it comes to Courtney Love, and if you need more of a reason to hate her, this book can fuel your fire.

More importantly, it can also give you some real insight into what the guys in the band were going through as their fame expanded by measures that none of them were prepared for. I know it's easy to play the "wah-wah, he's a miserable rock star and everyone loves him" card with Cobain when looking for ways to avoid drumming up sympathy for him, but this book gives a clearer window into the ways Kurt was getting it from all angles. True does a fine job of distilling the chaos of Cobain's pre-suicide months down into a scary reality that, even though it seems far removed now, is still discomforting to read about.

I wouldn't be surprised if some purists have gripes with this book, because it could be polarizing (most things involving Kurt Cobain are), but I thought it was well worth a read.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Billy Joel - The Bridge (LP, 1986)

Apparently I don't know when to say when.

I don't even remember buying this record, but there it is, sitting on my shelf–in the original shrink wrap with the promo sticker still on it, no less. Listening to it today, I realized I've never played this album. I only recognized the few radio-friendly songs, and even those were a little foggy.

"This is the Time" was probably the theme of your high school graduation/senior prom, so I bet you have fond memories of it playing behind a hastily produced montage of corny photographs. It's brutal. "A Matter of Trust" seems to be a leftover from An Innocent Man, though Billy tries to cover up its oldies-rock roots by sadly distorting the guitars. "Modern Woman" may not sound familiar by the title, but you know this song, too. It sounds like Billy Joel doing the Pointer Sisters.

There's also a couple of duets: one with Ray Charles ("Baby Grand," a love song about a piano), and one with Cyndi Lauper ("Code of Silence," which seems to be about the fear of coming out to your parents, but I could be wrong about that). They're both tedious and masturbatory.

The rest of the songs are equally embarrassing, with Joel doing his best Harry Connick Jr. before Connick even had a chance to do it. The whole thing makes me feel dirty.

"A Matter of Trust"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Billy Joel - An Innocent Man (LP, 1983)

When I get to a point where I own the majority of an artist's catalog, there's something in me that feels the need to complete the collection. This, coupled with the sheer affordability of the purchase, must have been what came over me when I decided to buy this LP. Nothing else could explain why I own this crapfest.

This is one of those records that I bought (I'm sure I paid no more than fifty cents), then upon bringing it home, looked at it and thought "Why in the fuck did I think this had any redeeming qualities?" From the opening tepid funk groove of "Easy Money," I knew I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.

Of course, it also bears mentioning that I would have made an incompetent music exec in the 80's. If Billy Joel would have come to me and asked my thoughts on him paying homage to a bunch of acts that inspired him 25 years earlier by attempting to replicate their sound, I wouldn't have hesitated to tell him that it was career suicide. Needless to say, this album spawned numerous hits and made Joel an even bigger star than he was.

But, it was all at the expense of him assing out in a series of cornball videos and making music that seemed far beneath him. Maybe he just had me fooled with the early shit. Who knows. But your parents loooove this record.

The lesson to be learned here (and I don't think this is my last Billy Joel LP, so clearly I had to learn the really hard way) is that when you're dealing with a artist that has a lengthy catalog, it's ok to only dig a certain era. And that way you can be the cool guy who says things like "Yeah, I like Billy Joel, but only the pre-'83 shit." Or "I only listen to pre-Graffiti Bridge Prince (a good rule of thumb, by the way).

Maybe it was Christie Brinkley that fucked everything up for Billy. He does sound way too happy on this record. And you know that's not good.

"Keeping the Faith"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Billy Joel - The Nylon Curtain (LP, 1982)

Before Billy Joel decided to egregiously ham it up for MTV and lose all his credibility, he released this, his last truly good record. The Nylon Curtain is arguably Billy at his most serious, with the working man's "Allentown" and the Vietnam epic "Goodnight Saigon" being two of the more notable tracks on this LP.

I've never really cared for either of those songs, but they're both admirable for their sincerity and production value. And everyone seems to like "Allentown" except for me, so that's my cross to bear. Also admirable: Joel's use of the word "fucking" (in a non-sexual context) on the bitter, Lennon-esque "Laura." Way to slip that in there, Bill.

"Pressure" seems to show early signs of "We Didn't Start the Fire" Joel, with its synth propulsions and over-the-top 'tude. Another Billy Joel song that seems to be trying too hard, but ends up equaling safe fun. If nothing else, the structure of the song is an odd one, and it's nice to hear him trying some new shit.

The second side is radio-hit-free, but the tracks are great. "She's Right on Time" is ostensibly a love song, but there seems to be some trouble brewing under the surface. If Billy had a hard-on for the Beatles at this point in his career, he sure didn't hide it very well. "A Room of Our Own" is the precursor to the 50's-rock road that Billy would travel on his next record, but here he sounds more like Beatles-era Lennon than anything else. Thankfully, none of that doo-wop bullshit. Yet.

"Surprises" also channels Lennon, and so does "Scandinavian Skies." What the hey, Billy? I actually think it works, though it's an odd and unexpected turn, especially on the psych-ish flowings of "Scandinavian Skies." One of the weirdest Billy Joel songs ever. "Where's the Orchestra" is Billy's "The Long and Winding Road," and a fitting end to the artistically respectable portion of his career.

It's amazing how different he would sound a year later. Meanwhile, this record remains his most underrated.

"Scandinavian Skies"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Billy Joel - Songs in the Attic (LP, 1981)

This record was one of the cooler moves of Billy Joel's career.

While a live album is notoriously used as a time-buying option for labels–affording their artist a break to work on a new album while still holding the public's interest–they're usually also packed to the gills with safe and easy songs, rendering it not much more than a greatest hits package in a live format. Billy threw 'em a curveball with this one. It's a live record featuring nothing but deep cuts from his previous records (including the semi-rare Cold Spring Harbor), and it's way better than a hastily-produced collection of his top-ten radio favorites would have been.

Apparently Billy was no longer stoked on some of the album versions of his earlier work, instead preferring the newer arrangements that he and his band had perfected during their constant touring. So, songs like "Streetlife Serenader," which had seemed thorough but timid on LP, rocks substantially more here. And "Captain Jack" makes a lot more sense in a live setting, with the crowd amping Billy up into a much more impassioned performance than the comparatively static one from Piano Man.

This record also contains "She's Got A Way," a song that hadn't been given a fair shot on Cold Spring Harbor, but gets a revival here, for better or for worse. It's a nice ballad, but eh.

The recording's great, and Billy seems lively (if not half in the bag) during the entire thing. Mostly, I just love the idea of this record. Most true fans of a band or musician would much prefer this to a rehashing of the songs that we've all heard too many times. Ah, the early 80's. You'd never see this now. You might see something like it, but you know they'd tack a 14-minute version of "Piano Man" onto the end, just to appease the casual (read: lazy) fans.

Also, I love that this cover (and title) are much more suited towards a b-sides/rarities compilation than a live record. The notes on the back clarify what's included in the LP, but still.

"Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Billy Joel - Glass Houses (LP, 1980)

I have a book called The Year In Music: 1979 (Goodwill impulse buy) and as I was leafing through it yesterday, I noticed that the summation of Billy Joel's year was categorized under the "Easy Listening" umbrella. Ouch. For a guy with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, this (which I'm sure wasn't an isolated incident) must have irked the shit outta the little guy.

His response? To get rockin'. Glass Houses is the closest Billy ever came to an all-out traditional (read: guitars!) rock 'n' roll record, and I have to admit, he did a good job. While I've grown tired of "You May Be Right" over the years, the rest of the album holds up. "Sometimes A Fantasy" is so over the top with emotional posturing that you can't help but respect the effort. "Don't Ask Me Why" is lilting but not cutesy, and I've always liked it. He was wise to cut it off at the three-minute mark.

"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" seems forced, but it is what it is. It's one of those tracks that I've heard so many times that I can't even tell if I love it or hate it. "All for Leyna" is cool, if only for using a name that he clearly made up.

Unlike his previous record, this one doesn't puss out on the second side. "I Don't Want To Be Alone" features Joel doing his best Elvis Costello which, whether it was a blatant attempt to gain credibility or not (a lot of this record reeks of that), was a gutsy move. The chorus pushes it, but the song isn't a throwaway. For some reason, "Sleeping With the Television On" is one of my favorite rockers on this LP. It's quick, wordy, and lyrically strange. I dig it.

"C'Était Toi (You Were the One)" slips back into the soft-rockery a little bit, but it's an OK transitional tune. "Close to the Borderline" is another one of my favorites, with Billy sounding like he's singing into a bathtub and affecting some weird new wave (or his approximation of new wave) accent that is loony.

You have to wonder if Billy was going through a McCartney phase, because between "Don't Ask Me Why" and "Through the Long Night," the closer on this record, he's really channeling some pre-Wings Paul. Not often you hear acoustic guitar on a Billy Joel record. Another bold move (by his standards), and another one that, in my opinion, works.

You should read Rolling Stone's review of this record. They do not care for it.

"All for Leyna"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Billy Joel - 52nd Street (LP, 1978)

Once Billy Joel hit the pop/rock jackpot with The Stranger, he must have acquired a taste for adulation. 52nd Street is peppier and poppier than his previous LP, and contained almost as many hits.

He wouldn't reach his blatantly-shooting-for-Top-40-hits peak until his next record, but here, he's laying it on pretty thick. He also started to rock a little bit harder. The drums on these tracks are thumping, and the progressions keep moving and don't look back. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it ain't. He's still got the requisite ballad ("Honesty"), but it's followed by "My Life," which wipes that sensitivity clean. "My Life" is a damn fine pop number, but it's no surprise that it ended up as the theme to a sitcom. It's trying to be backoff-ish and pissed, but it's just too gleeful a track.

"Zanzibar" is Billy in Steely Dan mode, and it somehow ends up working. The second side struggles a little bit, with "Rosalinda's Eyes" basically bringing things to a halt with its craptastic salsa swing. "Half a Mile Away" stacks the horns on top of each other and gets all too bouncy. It's a cute song, but in that forced falsetto sort of way. "Until the Night" feels gratuitous, going on about three minutes longer than it needs to. The title track closes things on a weird note, with Billy trying to recapture the smoky bars of his early career.

Not a bad record, but I always think I like this one more than I really do. Starts strong, but then it loses me on the second side.

And no, Billy Joel doesn't play trumpet on this record. But there sure are three separate photos of him holding one.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Billy Joel - The Stranger (LP, 1977)

After releasing two records with no major hit singles, Billy Joel went ahead and put out what would end up being a mini-greatest hits album. Say what you want about the The Stranger–it is radio-friendly rock in its purest form, I'll give you that–but these songs are solid.

You know 'em, you love 'em. "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" somehow manages to make its "ack-ack-ack" refrain un-annoying, which is impressive in its own right. The title track starts out eerie and ends up running through a groove that sounds more invigorated than anything he had done before. In fact, this whole record sounds more tight and aggressive, filling in holes that were apparently empty in some of his earlier songs.

"Just the Way You Are" is probably loved or loathed depending on who you are, but I've never minded it. I think I just really like the organ tone. "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" is Billy's "A Day in the Life," and when followed by the near-perfect "Vienna," it's gotta be the the best back-to-back coupling on any of his records. Again, Joel may never be remembered for his lyrics (by critics, at least), but on these two tracks he outdoes himself.

"She's Always a Woman" is a bit schmaltzy for me, but I can see why people get off on it. "Get it Right the First Time" probably gets sorely overlooked on this record because of all the hits that precede it, but it's held up well over the years. Conversely, "Everybody Has a Dream" is just as corny as the title would indicate, though the "Stranger" reprise that footnotes it wraps the album up nicely.

I've been going back and reading old Rolling Stone reviews of Billy Joel's records, and I guess I never realized how maligned he was by critics. They fucking hated him. Part of me gets that. If I would have been a young man when this stuff was being released I'm sure I would have hated it, too. Instead I seem to hold some weird place for ol' Billy in my musical tastes because I grew up not knowing any better and learned to love a lot of these songs before I realized it wasn't "cool." So fuck it. I'm not turning back.

"The Stranger"

Monday, August 10, 2009

Billy Joel - Turnstiles (LP, 1976)

This is the last album Billy Joel would release while still having the luxury of only being mildly famous. His next record would blow everything wide open and make him a household name, for better or for worse.

Speaking of, if I haven't already, let me explain why I enjoy Billy Joel so much. Obviously, his (pre-1983) music is undeniably fantastic. If you choose to be too cool for Billy Joel, that's your business, but you're missing out. He's an angry guy, prone to depression, and the way those aspects of his personality materialize in his music is brilliant. He may be accused of being a better songwriter than lyricist, but I don't think that's fair. As corny as it sounds, there's something to be said for writing from the heart (or the top of the head) and Billy Joel does that as well as anyone. It'll never be cool to like Billy Joel, but that makes it even more fun to like him.

Possibly most intriguing about Billy Joel: the fact that he tried to commit suicide by drinking furniture polish. Furniture fucking polish. And then he lived through it and became one of the most famous popular musicians in history. I think that's fantastic for a number of reasons.

Also fantastic for a number of reasons: this record. If his previous albums had pointed towards his potential and were allowing him to find his voice, this is the one where it all comes together. Turnstiles isn't as instantly mind-blowing as The Stranger, but it's equally compelling.

"Say Goodbye to Hollywood" is a 50's-ish sax-rocker that feigns sincerity but seems ultimately pissed. The strings are a bit much, but the song is rendered huge as a result of the arrangement. "Summer, Highland Falls" is an impressively intricate ballad, a song that has sadly been usurped in popularity by Joel's more radio-friendly slow-and-sensitive numbers. Great lyrics and a great song.

I'm not a huge fan of "All You Wanna Do Is Dance," but maybe that's because I don't care for the island rhythms it uses. "New York State of Mind" makes up for it though, starting small and ending up a giant of a song. "James" is one of many Billy Joel deep cuts that you'll probably never hear on the radio, but it wouldn't be out of place there. "Prelude/Angry Young Man" shows Billy getting gutsy with his songwriting, going nutso with the time signatures and really challenging his band. It's good stuff.

"I've Loved These Days" is a sarcastic ballad that seems like the second part of "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," driving the point (disgust with Hollywood culture) home even further. "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" is the most out-and-out rocking song on the record, a weird futuristic tale of New York meeting its demise. It's heavy compared to the rest of the record, and it makes a solid closer.

Mid-70's Billy Joel: don't act like you don't like it.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Billy Joel - Streetlife Serenade (LP, 1974)

While this is not technically Billy Joel's sophomore album, if you don't count Cold Spring Harbor (and I don't), then this is his second record. If nothing else it's his second major label release, and the one with which he had to attempt to follow up the success of Piano Man. Like any good artist, he was embittered by his fame and chose to test his new audience a bit.

This album's not off-the-wall weird by any means, but putting two instrumentals on the record (especially when one of them is the baffling "Root Beer Rag") is a gutsy move. "The Entertainer" lets us know exactly where Joel stands, with lyrics that don't even attempt to hide his anger at the music game. I love a good fed-up ballad, and this is a great one.

"Roberta" is a great song, a steady pop number that plays it straight and totally works. "Last of the Big Time Spenders" sounds like a song that was left off Piano Man, but the arrangement is much more filled out than anything on that record. "Weekend Song" is a weird working man's anthem that seems both completely fitting and completely uncharacteristic of Billy Joel. "Souvenir" is a fantastic two-minute ballad that's just Billy and his piano, and it's solid.

The best track here might be the opener. "Streetlife Serenader" rides a dark melody that is both angry and delicate, and then gets heavier when it needs to. A great song, and again, a glimpse of what Billy's building towards. Not his strongest record overall, but a solid one. It's always great to hear Billy Joel when he's a bit miffed.

Oh, and this song's a damn good one too:

"The Great Suburban Showdown"

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Billy Joel - Piano Man (LP, 1973)

Wow, 1973. I always forget how old this record (and the beginning of Billy Joel's streak of hit songs) is. It seems more '78 to me for some reason.

Anyway, this isn't one of my favorite Billy Joel albums for a few reasons. (First, let me state that a mediocre 70's-era Billy Joel record is still way better than most things, so it's all relative.) Aside from the plucky opener "Travelin' Prayer," the overall sound is very static from song to song, with the piano never really changing in vibe or sound. It's not a bad thing, it just gives the impression of a live show, which may have been the point. I know that Joel wasn't anybody at this point, so it's not like they were laying out huge production budgets for him.

Regardless of the production, songs like "Captain Jack" and the title track just feel too anthemic and hammy for me. Conversely, "Ain't No Crime" seems like the precursor to later gems like "Big Shot," and "You're My Home" is like a peppier "Just the Way You Are." Both cool songs.

Maybe I just hate the song "Piano Man" so much that I am blind to the deeper cuts on this record and don't give them a listen often enough. Could be.

"You're My Home"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Jane's Addiction - Strays (CD, 2003)

You could tell just by looking at the cover that this was going to be a stinker. So hacky.

I don't remember buying this album, but I'm sure it was the result of holding out some misplaced hope that it was somehow going to be good, or that it would at least manage to recapture a tiny bit of the magic the band had left behind in the studio some 13 years prior. No dice. Listening to this today reminded me why I haven't listened to this CD at all in the last five years: it doesn't sound like Jane's Addiction. I should have known.

The absence of original bassist (and underrated songwriter) Eric Avery was the first tip-off that this might not have much of a shot, but of course he hadn't participated in any of the reunions up to this point, so it wasn't shocking that he didn't step up for this. The slickness of "Just Because," the first single, didn't do much for me at first, but underneath the shit guitar tones were some great melodies. But those guitars...

I almost wonder if the producer is as much to blame for the ass-rockisity of this album as the band is. The guitars are embarrassingly cornball, even by then-current Dave Navarro standards. If they were setting out to make a slick modern rock record, they pulled it off. And maybe that is what they were setting out to do. I just don't know who they thought would like it. I tried, but it made me feel sad and dirty.

So I gave up. But I still have it for some reason. Must be the completist in me.

Rule of thumb: if Entourage wants to use one of your songs for the theme to their show, you've made a serious, serious mistake somewhere. But, it's probably one of Navarro's favorite programs.


"True Nature"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual (2xLP, 1990)

I've been listening to this record for the past few days, and I have to say: I forgot how good it is. I'm still not sure if it edges out Nothing's Shocking, but it's a close call. The band may have been in a drug-fueled netherworld of debauchery, but they managed to pull together some damn solid songs.

Again, the sequencing is dialed in. "Stop" had to be the opener, as it's just too frenetic not to be. A great song, with Farrell sounding as unhinged as ever. "Ain't No Right" is the other fantastic song from the first half of this record, with Stephen Perkins rumbling, tumbling, and never letting his spiral perm get in the way of all-out trap kit assault. "Obvious" and "No One's Leaving" are fine songs, but for some reason they never had much staying power with me. I had a great time listening to them today, but they're not the songs I think of when I think of this record.

The songs that immediately come to mind when I conjure up distant memories of this almost twenty-year-old (!) LP are "Three Days" and "Then She Did...," because I, like everyone else, am a sucker for Jane's at their self-indulgent and sprawling best. I've tried to convince myself that "Three Days" is a bloated wank-off, constructed by a band who was all too eager to believe their own hype, but I can't. It's the best song they ever wrote, and that's the reason why every Jane's fanboy has such a boner for it. It's three songs in one, features Navarro and Perkins going batshit awesome crazy, and also contains some of Farrel's best lyrics. The "All of us with wings" segment is unreal.

"Then She Did..." is just as good, but has the misfortune of coming right after "Three Days," so it seems more timid than it really is. And maybe it's not quite as epic as its predecessor, but it's a deceptively strong song with great lyrics. "Pulled from a headless shell/ That blinked on and off 'hotel'" is a brilliant couple of lines.

I always felt so spent after listening to these two songs in a row that "Of Course" and "Classic Girl" seemed like bonus tracks to me. "Then She Did..." has always struck me as the logical conclusion to this record, but that's probably because I never liked those songs as much and had a habit of skipping them. And they're not bad; they just don't have the same gut-wrenching effect as the two tracks before them.

Oh, and "Been Caught Stealing" is on this record, too. I don't even know what I think of that song anymore. I loved it in high school. And so did you. Don't deny it.

Can anyone pinpoint the exact moment when Dave Navarro went from being a stone cold badass to one of the hugest choads on the planet? It was sometime in between here and One Hot Minute...


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking (LP, 1988)

I used to get in fun-but-frustrating arguments with my friends about which Jane's Addiction album is the best. For me, it's between this one and their debut, but in the end, Nothing's Shocking probably takes it. This is Jane's at their peak, crashing in at a time when music like this wasn't being heard anywhere, let alone a major label. This record had to have been more popular two years after in came out than it was when it first hit shelves.

However, my first memory of it (and my first memory of the band) came from one of my friends showing me the cover to this CD (or it may have been the cassette) when I was at a party in 8th grade. That would have been '88 or '89, so I guess some people my age (though they probably had older brothers that hipped 'em to it) were down with this from the onset. I wasn't one of them. I bought this cassette used in 1990 and wore it out. I used to listen to "Summertime Rolls" over and over, because I found it mesmerizing and blissful in a way that only 14 year old can.

But, I also loved "Ted, Just Admit It..." (a harbinger of some of the more bloated tracks on their next LP) and the full-bore force of "Mountain Song" and "Ocean Size." "Standing in the Shower... Thinking" and "Idiots Rule" have, predictably, not aged too well, but "Had a Dad" still brings it. Again, the sequencing here is key. If "Up the Beach" would have been anywhere but first, it would have been a huge mistake. And "Summertime Rolls" does an incredible job of splitting the record in half. Listening to that track now, I remember why I liked it so much: it's the best song on the album, and some of the better lyrics Farrell ever wrote.

I just realized that my LP doesn't include "Pigs in Zen" on it. Guess I never knew that was a CD/cassette-only bonus track. But there you go. So, this one ends with "Thank You Boys...," which actually allows that song to serve its intended purpose in closing out the record. Makes sense.

A lot of Jane's Addiction fanboys will state with unbending fanaticism that "Ritual, bro" is the best album the group ever put together, and they could make a decent case for that argument, but really it's this one. Or at least that's the way I see it right now.

"Mountain Song"

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jane's Addiction - Jane's Addiction (LP, 1987)

Rarely has a band meant initially so much and eventually so little to me as Jane's Addiction.

Their first three albums are all fantastic, yet since they reunited 12 years ago, I've become completely soured on the whole idea, and especially Perry Farrell. Part of this is due to the fact that I went to see them on their first reunion tour, and it was terrible. They played for less than an hour, did no encore, and seemed to be going through the motions for most of the set. Considering what I paid for the ticket (I don't remember exactly how much, but around 30 bucks) and how far I traveled to see them (two hours), I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

I have utter disdain for the subsequent reunions for entirely different reasons, but I don't feel like spiraling downward into that diatribe. But I will say this: the Perry Farrel of the last 15 years or so strikes me as an egomaniac with nothing tangible to back up his own high opinion of himself, save the three great albums he made before the 90's even hit full swing. Hearing him say that the Jane's reunions are about anything other than money betrays the entirety of the characterization he's worked so hard to craft for himself: that of someone who gives a shit about, if nothing else, art. Check your ticket price the next time you go watch these guys lumber through songs that are way past their prime and ask yourself if you feel he's held himself true to any of that.

Wow, I got a little worked up there. But here's why: when you're a teenager and you hear a song like "Pigs In Zen" for the first time, it really gets into you. Jane's Addiction was a band like no other at the time. They dressed glammy/gothy, seemed both strung-out and ready to surf, and didn't sound like anything else that was around at the time. Their disparate influences certainly can account for most of their unlikely chemistry, but there was such an urgency to all of it that you never felt the need to pick it apart. It was just great. And indescribably exciting.

By releasing their first record as a (mostly) live album, they must have intended to replicate some of their rawer energy on wax. It works. This record is as good as the two that follow it, and at times, better. It bears mentioning that they did a fantastic job in sequencing this bad boy. Putting "Trip Away" anywhere else but first would have been a huge mistake, as would relegating "I Would for You" to anywhere but closing out the first side. Also, putting the two cover songs together might seem to be a dicey prospect on paper, but it works really well here for some reason. It almost seems like a momentary diversion; the section where they pay some tribute.

While "Whores" is a great song to follow the opener, it's "Pigs In Zen" that really breaks things wide open. This is better than the version that ended up on Nothing's Shocking, mostly because Farrell sounds more enthused and Dave Navarro's guitar feels terrifically ragged. One of the band's best songs. "1%" and "My Time" seem to be some of the more forgotten Jane's Addiction songs, but they fit into this collection nicely. "Jane Says" was great the first 2500 times I heard it, but I lost interest after that.

"Chip Away" is a clamoring mass of drums and reverb, and is the song I always think of when I see the cover of this record. Probably the weirdest song they ever did, and the "We both wore dirty faces" bit is brilliant. So are Navarro's butt-rawk wankings all over the end of it.

I don't know if this album has aged well or if it just provides me with fond memories of being young and stoned, but it still sounds great to me. It also probably helps that I haven't listened to it in about five years. Whatever works.

"Trip Away"

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jacksons - Victory (LP, 1984)

This will be the only Michael Jackson-related album I cover in this blog, as it's the only one I own at the moment. Like most people my age, I grew up with a copy of Thriller in the house, and oddly enough, I kept thinking a few months back that I should probably have one around. Now the prices are all jacked up (Everyday Music is selling used copies of the LP for 30 bucks, the assholes) and I'll just have to wait a year or two until the demand drops back to an acceptable level. Anyway.

The timing of this entry does strike me as a bit noteworthy. If I had knocked this one out before I took my break, I certainly wouldn't have had MJ on the brain in the same way that we've all been forced to since his death five weeks ago. More importantly, I wouldn't be able to mention that opportunists are trying to sell copies of this record for $1000 on eBay presently. (But, hey: free shipping!) I must have really lucked out when I paid a dollar for mine... Regardless, MJ's passing hasn't swayed my opinion of this record for better or for worse. I've always liked it, and I probably always will.

Without diving too deep into the discography of Michael Jackson, I do know that this was released between Thriller and Bad, and I recall it coinciding with a huge tour and a slew of Pepsi commercials. My parents bought this record because, like the rest of the world, they were jonesin' for some new Michael. What they got were a few tracks from MJ and some solo jams from the rest of the Jacksons. Calling this a group effort is slightly misleading, as a lot of the tracks come across as solo songs by one Jackson with the others adding backing tracks. However you want to look at it, this is a sweet pop album. Very 1984, very dated sounding now, and each song is a solid five minutes, which seems a bit much in a few cases. Who cares. It's the Jacksons for chrissake.

"Torture" is the first track, clearly the single, and it was written by Jackie but performed my Michael and Jermaine. This is really the only track on which you can distinctly hear Jermaine, though I think he does background vocals on a few others. A solid song that features some wild synth effects.

"Wait" is another Jackie-penned number, and this time he does the vocals. It's a bouncy pop number that is mad catchy and slick as all get-out. Michael ad-libbing at the end is awesome.

"One More Chance" is Randy's solo number, starting with a sweet synth groove that leads into some slightly standard soft rock. This one's for the ladies.

"Be Not Always" is pure Michael, and it's one of the most fragile and delicate songs in the history of the world. If you can stick with it and hold out while it builds, it pays off. This is the MJ I prefer to remember. No one ever questioned his singing ability, but if you need a reminder of his versatility, it's right here.

I still can't fathom why Michael and Mick Jagger didn't film a video for "State of Shock." The lyrics are flat-out terrible, but the song itself should have been a classic duet. Great guitar, great sound effects, it's all there. Apparently there's a version with Freddie Mercury floating around somewhere.

"We Can Change the World" is Tito's time to shine, and as usual, he blows it.

"The Hurt" was written by Randy & Michael and features Randy in falsetto mode, which mostly works. The verses aren't super strong, but the song builds nicely and gets shit going towards the end.

"Body" is a strange choice for the last song on the album, as it's one of the poppier cuts and stronger than the two songs that precede it. Not the most groundbreaking song in the world, but a guilty pleasure if there ever was one. Pure Marlon.

Another thing I came across while lazily researching this record: the original cover art features a white dove on Randy's shoulder, though it's removed from almost all of the covers that are out there. Wikipedia says that early copies feature the cover with the dove intact, but the only ones I can find that have it are the picture discs. Hmmm.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Rage: 20 Years of Punk Rock West Coast Style (2001)

I can't remember exactly what compelled me to stick this in my Netflix queue, but it made its way there, and when it arrived, I was excited to watch it.

I ended up wanting to like it a lot more than I did. It's very low-budget, which doesn't inherently bother me, but they obviously didn't even take the time to remix the audio so the sound was relatively static throughout the movie. This is one of those flicks where you have to keep your volume remote in your hand the entire time, because the levels jump dramatically from segment to segment. A big part of this: the apparent absence of lapel mics. Really? I'm no film director, but this seems fairly standard.

So what you get is an interview from the same dude holding the camera, whose voice is twice as loud as the guy he's interviewing. On top of this, the director who conducts the interviews is the type who insists on finishing the sentences of the people he's interviewing. It's like he's constantly trying to prove his punk cred to the guys he's talking to by letting them know he knows where they're going with their story. Or he'll start telling his own story about a show he saw one time, just (again) to let them know that he's no punk slouch. Extremely irksome and very often annoying.

The interviews with Jack Grisham (TSOL) and Keith Morris (Circle Jerks) are the highlights, but nothing in this film can really be considered linear enough to tell any sort of story. Interviews with Jello Biafra and Don Bolles (Germs) shed a little light into the starting points of the scene, but nothing is made concrete enough to matter. The fact that the movie's only an hour long doesn't help anything, either. Saying that they cover 20 years of punk is entirely misleading. There's barely time to tell the story of how the Germs got together.

So, if you're a big TSOL or Circle Jerks fan, this'll be worth your time because Jack Grisham is hilarious and Keith Morris is nuts as all get-out. Otherwise, it's hard for me to recommend it. The DVD menus are ass, the bumpers in between the segments are cornball, and the whole thing feels like an excuse to try and get some cool stories out of guys who can only vaguely remember what they did in 1979.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Joe Jackson - Body and Soul (LP, 1984)

For only being a few short years removed from Night and Day, this album is stylistically miles away from the synth poppiness of his previous album. This is Jackson in jazzy, saucy-salsa mode, and while the results are pleasant, it's not really my cup of tea.

"You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" reaches back to the pop well and goes from some radio-friendliness, but the horns and slap-bass sound terribly dated today. The song is catchy, but the lyrics go in circles and it seems like he's just trying too hard.

The other tracks aren't terrible, they just seem overcooked and over-thought. I actually find myself missing the synthesizers, which are replaced here by real instruments. That might be my problem. I've also only had this record for year or so, and I really haven't given it much of a chance. (I probably should have mentioned that in the beginning.) You can see what Jackson's going for, but you can't help but wonder if he saw this as his opportunity to indulge his studio fetishes.

His voice is still great, and when the grooves get going, they work. "Happy Ending" is a fun duet single, and it features some big harmonies. But the salsa swing of "Cha Cha Loco" and the drawn-out instrumental tinkering of "Loisaida" are hard for me to get with. But hey, the guy sounds like he's having a fine time, so that ain't a bad thing.

"Happy Ending"