12/31/2008

Roeper’s Best of the Worst

With so many year-end lists making the rounds, we thought we’d close out 2008 by going back 10 years to the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, evaluated thru the eyes of noted film critic Richard Roeper, specifically those he deemed not worth of their vaulted AFI status. In his 2003 book, 10 Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed & Other Surprising Movie Lists (Hyperion), Roeper picks "The Worst Best Movies of All Time", a collection of highly regarded films that, in his opinion, don’t deserve to be in the AFI’s Top 100. In true movie fashion we have included quotes from Roeper for each one. (AFI ranking comes right after the year of release.)

Here they are:

The Graduate (1967) #7
"...certainly isn't a bad movie; just not a great one."

Midnight Cowboy
(1969) #36
"...the story is contrived, hokey, and flat."

West Side Story (1961) #41
"...ethnically-incorrect casting...dubbed vocals...quaint gang-rivalry-by-way-of-Shakespeare storyline."

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) #59
"...over the top performances from just about everybody, including [James] Dean."

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) #60
"...is it really the sixtieth...or even the six hundreth best American movie ever made?"

Forrest Gump (1994) #71
"Tom Hanks...showed more depth in Cast Away."

Ben-Hur
(1959) #72
"...the acting is laughable and the story drags on forever."

My Fair Lady (1964) #91
"A perfectly adequate, mainstream, big-screen adaptation...that's all it is."

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) #99
"Preachy attempt to be socially significant hedges its bets."

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) #100
"...entertainig musical that has no business being ranked among the greatest 100 movies of all time."

By the way, Roeper also mentions 10 movies missing from AFI’s list and another six released post-1998 that deserve inclusion.

12/30/2008

Vinyl Revisited

Idolator's Maura Johnston has seemingly had enough of the many 'vinyl is back' pieces that popped up in various publications this year.

For 2009, let's have a moratorium on these sorts of stories until some enterprising band out there brings back the vinyl-embedded video game.

Actually, we should wait for "some enterprising band out there" to ditch CDs completely and release their music on vinyl only, catering to those unwilling to spend on downloads but readily eager to spend $20+ on the turntable-only format. (Wasn't that Elvis Costello's plan for his most recent release, anyway?)

One person's fetish is another person's funding.

Glorious Noise: Top Shelf 2008

The folks at GloNo have compiled their contributors' respective 'best of' lists for the year, calling it "Top Shelf 2008", and included that of yours truly. But you guys already read that one, so check out what the other folks had to say/like/hate in 2008.

12/29/2008

Why Christmas Must Return to Being a Religious Holiday

The Day the Music Died

Regular readers of this blog—and the e-mail newsletter that preceded it—know all too well how we feel about the current state of music vs commerce. But in a piece published last week, titled "Songs From the Heart of a Marketing Plan", the New York Times' resident music critic, Jon Pareles, makes a point worth repeating. Often.

Musicians have to eat and want to be heard, and if that means accompanying someone else’s sales pitch or videogame, well, it’s a living. Why wait for album royalties to trickle in, if they ever do, when licensing fees arrive upfront as a lump sum? It’s one part of the system of copyright regulations that hasn’t been ravaged by digital distribution, and there’s little resistance from any quarters; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss croon for J. C. Penney and the avant-rockers Battles are heard accompanying an Australian vodka ad.

The question is: What happens to the music itself when the way to build a career shifts from recording songs that ordinary listeners want to buy to making music that marketers can use? That creates pressure, subtle but genuine, for music to recede: to embrace the element of vacancy that makes a good soundtrack so unobtrusive, to edit a lyric to be less specific or private, to leave blanks for the image or message the music now serves. Perhaps the song will still make that essential, head-turning first impression, but it won’t be as memorable or independent.

Exactly.

VHS: RIP

After a 20+ year run, the VHS cassette is finally on its way out. (Until the great VHS fetish of 2017, that is.) This past October, the last major distributor of the product--a Florida-based company--made its final delivery to a Burbank, CA reseller, who was the last of his kind in the US.

The major movie-renting chains like Blockbuster started phasing out VHS tapes from their inventory about five years ago. 2006's A History of Violence was the last major Hollywood film released on the format.

The Boss and the Evil Empire

No, were not talking about George Steinbrenner and his New York Yankees, but in fact Bruce Springsteen, who will release a budget-priced Greatest Hits, exclusively via Wal-Mart. The collection's 12 tracks will focus only on E-Street material and will not contain any unreleased tracks.

Our first question is, when did Springsteen get the rights to his Columbia catalog? And, secondly, what's behind the decision to make the material available this particular way?

The comp is due on Jan. 13th.

A new album, the Brendan O'Brien-produced Working on a Dream sees the light of day--no pun intended--two weeks later on Jan. 27th.

The Day the Music Died (part 2)

[Conversation between Kiko Jones and a self-confessed computer nerd and music fan, over drinks at a neighborhood Brooklyn bar.]

CN/MF: Man, free downloading and file sharing are gonna be awesome for music.

KJ: Really, how so?

CN/MF: It’s gonna bring music back to minstrelsy. As a musician, you won’t be able to pay your rent or bills with it, but it’ll be great.

KJ: Hey, I know it’s a bad analogy, but you wouldn’t feel that way if the government, the marketplace or whomever, arbitrarily and greedily made, say, writing computer code a non-compensated skill, right?

Listen, I’ll pay you $100 bucks a head for every musician you bring me who honestly believes that the disappearance of revenue streams is a good thing for him or her.

CN/MF: Well, um, I guess, yeah...I hadn’t seen it that way.

[Lord, save us.]

Who Pulled the Plug?

Video giant YouTube has removed all Warner Bros-related content from their site. The label says it asked for the removal when talks over licensing agreements came to a halt. YouTube countered with claims that Warner's last minute demands exceeded the financial arrangements they were willing to meet and prompted them to take action on their own.

Regardless of who did what, the end result is the videos being gone from the site. And what does that exactly portend for the parties in question?

Well, there has been talk of the four major labels (Universal, Sony, EMI and Warner Music Group, parent company of the aforementioned Warner Bros) being interested in banding together and launching a video site of their own, and these recent Warner vs YouTube developments may be a first step in that direction.

Stay tuned.

Billboard's 2008 Critics' Top Ten

The king of the music biz trade magazines has compiled year-ending Top 10 lists from editors, contributors, and columnists, as well as the magazine’s German bureau chief, and one by known hair band apologist Chuck Eddy.

Hey, it might be an interesting read…

Quote of the Day

"So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."

Acid-tounged writer David Mamet commenting on actor Jeremy Piven's recent departure form the Mamet-penned, Broadway play Speed the Plow, due to alleged mercury poisoning.

What We're Listening To

RUSTY ANDERSON Undressing Underwater (Surf Dog/Warner Bros)
ALEX FERREIRA Serenata de Plastico (Warner Bros-Spain)
GENESIS
Duke (Atlantic)
GEORGE HARRISON All Things Must Pass (Apple)
OASIS Don't Believe The Truth (Big Brother/Epic)

What are YOU listening to?

12/28/2008

A Tale of Two Oceans


After enjoying 2001’s Steven Soderbergh-directed critical and box office success, Ocean’s Eleven—which spawned two less interesting sequels: Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)—we became interested in learning more about the original, a Rat Pack vehicle from 1960 which had been deemed inferior to the 21st century remake.



While we admittedly never made the effort to locate a copy of the older film, when the occasion to witness the exploits of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and company, and compare it to the George Clooney, Brad Pitt and pals version recently arrived in the wee hours—no pun intended—via one of the numerous cable TV channels at our disposal, we dove in.

The main selling point of a caper movie—this one involving a massive casino heist—is how believable the plotting, execution and outcome of the task at hand is to the viewer. Now granted, this being a Hollywood flick, suspension of disbelief is a necessary currency. But it seems so unlikely that a mission of this nature could be undertaken as easily and in such relatively vague detail as in the original. (Dean Martin’s character actually admits as much in the scene where the plan is outlined to all those involved.) Yes, Soderbergh’s remake has its goofs—the bags with the flyers; and like the original, how much weight and space millions of dollars actually occupy—but it makes an effort to give us a sense of yeah, I guess you could do that, whereas, in our opinion, the 1960 film does not. Thus giving the newbie an edge. (Or maybe it was just a simpler time back then.)

With that aside, we found the original to be quite entertaining, and possessing the right balance of levity and humor to go along with the robbery plot at hand. (Any time we get to enjoy Dino crooning his classic “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” is always a good time; and a then 26 year-old Shirley MacLaine is absolutely adorable in her cameo as the drunken cutie who kisses Dean while he tries to distract her from discovering one of his cohorts in flagrante delicto. Oh, and damn, Angie Dickinson was hot!)

There are a few significant differences between these two mainstream popcorn flicks made 40 years apart, but in our view the most notable one is the turn of events that lead to the lack of a happy ending in the original. (And no, we won’t give it away.)
While we have no qualms with the final outcome in Soderbergh’s remake, the older picture not having a Hollywood ending is a nice twist that ultimately underscored our enjoyment of it. If you liked the 2001 version, check out the Rat Pack’s with an open mind and you’ll be rewarded as well.

[Poster art courtesy of Wikipedia.]

12/22/2008

Oh, the Irony: Bon Iver Covers The Outfield

We don't have a problem with contemporary artists covering cheesy tunes from the '80s. Hey, if you were into it and you want to pay tribute to the song that was playing when you lost your virginity (or dreamed of touching someone for the first time) or whatever teenage milestone you want to relive, fine by us. But, the ironic cover has become soooooooooo old by now, it's just not amusing anymore (if indeed it ever was). Except to lame-ass hipsters, of course.

So, Bon Iver, current darling of the musically ADD set, has of late incorporated The Outfield's "Your Love" to the nightly repertoire, much to his followers' gleeful delight. Don't think so? The dead giveaway is in the laughs that greeted the opening lyrics in the clip below. This shit has got stop already. Ugh.

New U2 Album Now Set for Early '09 Release

No Line on the Horizon, the 12th album from U2--and the first with a title of manageable length in a while--will see the light of day via Interscope on March 3rd, 2009, after being pushed back from a December release. (It has been said both band and label were not completely happy with the album's flow and the extra allotted time would be used to write and/or add a few songs to it.) Credited as producers are Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite.

Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2008

Unless you're reading specific publications catering to "America's classical music", this is the kinda list you might not come across. Slate's Fred Kaplan has this year's picks. (And audio samples, too.)

'80s Remake Overload

While perusing through a list of '80s cult classics that should be remade (?!), we came across one bonafide exception: Wisdom, the 1986 flick written, directed and starring Emilio Estevez, about a couple of bank robbers--Demi Moore is Bonnie to Estevez's Clyde--who destroy all mortgage-related records in a bid to become modern day Robin Hoods. Yes, it's sorta ludicrous, but timely. (Truth be told we haven't seen it since it came out on cable, shortly after it opened.) And better Wisdom than Rappin' or Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Right?

Happy Birthday

Guitarist Rick Nielsen of the mighty Cheap Trick (61); Bee Gee Robin Gibb (59); Desorden Publico bassist Caplis (44), all on Dec 22nd.

12/20/2008

Our Drug Buddy

EVAN DANDO – Southpaw – Brooklyn, NY – 12/19/08
How ‘bout this for a concert moment: halfway through the second song of his set, technical problems hampered Evan Dando’s ability to continue. So, what does he do? Unplug his guitar and sans amplification serenades the now-hushed audience, who then proceed to sing along to his barely audible performance and create an instance of shared and joyous spontaneity. It was that kind of night.

Spanning his career as both chief Lemonhead and a solo artist, Dando touched upon favorites both his own (“It’s A Shame About Ray”, “My Drug Buddy” “The Outdoor Type”, “In The Grass All Wine Colored”) and not (his well-known version of Victoria Williams’ “Frying Pan”, Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum”, Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty", and The Frogs’ “Homos”, to name a few) during a lively hour-plus set that hovered around the two-dozen song mark, and featured a brief guest appearance by Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes.

Overhearing the complaints of a few faithful fans outside this particular venue on a snowy, sleepy Friday night—flubbed lyrics, abbreviated songs, signs of recurring drug use, etc—we found ourselves scratching our heads and wondering if they had come to the right show. For what we witnessed on stage was a loose, rambling acoustic set by a man not known to perform to the letter, but one that was undeniably entertaining and heartfelt, if not absolutely professional. But that’s what live music should be: fun and unpredictable, energetic and yes, not necessarily flawless. And in that regard, as far as the almost-capacity crowd was concerned, Dando delivered in spades.

5 of Mr. Jones’ Guilty Pleasures

[This was originally written for the 11/24/03 issue of "5", back in our e-mail newsletter days. We've decided to dig it up and share it with the larger readership we've acquired since. Feel free to submit your own. Enjoy! - KJ]

PUFF DADDY & THE FAMILY "It’s All About the Benjamins" [rock remix] (Bad Boy)
How the hell did The Artist Formerly Known as Puff Daddy ever get alt-rock icons such as Nirvana drummer/Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson to work with him?
Granted, aside from Grohl being a clown, he does in fact relish every opportunity to get behind the drums. But did Puffy even know who Stinson was? However it went down, the latter two were featured on this particular version, which is fueled by a great distorted guitar riff, thus giving it--in our humble opinion--the extra oomph the original lacked. The video’s pretty cool, too.


MOTLEY CRUE
Although we don’t own any of their discs, they are the only hair band we’ve ever seen live–-a friend had extra tickets and dragged us along--and for the most part, actually like. "Live Wire", "Looks That Kill", "Shout At The Devil", "Wild Side", "Girls, Girls, Girls" … the Crüe had better songs and truer rock and roll attitude than most (see Bon Jovi, Winger, Warrant, Poison, etc) and as far as hard rocking acts from the '80s go, they are second only to Guns ’N’ Roses in our book.


SPICE GIRLS "Say You'll Be There" (Virgin)

The second single from their debut album Spice, "Say You'll Be There" was never as ubiquitous as its annoyingly catchy predecessor "Wannabe". But it was a tasty ear candy morsel wrapped in a pop/soul package that was definitely above average and more than anyone had a right to ever expect from them. (It does sound suspiciously similar to Carl Carlton’s "She’s A Bad Mama Jama", however.) Although we won’t be partial to it, look out for the Girls' Abba-like rehabilitation to be in full swing by 2010. Or sooner.


SHANIA TWAIN "You’re Still The One" (Mercury)
Co-written by its intended object of affection, über-producer and Shanias’s husband Robert John "Mutt" Lange, this ode to romantic bliss–-and newly minted wedding reception staple-- has always been near and dear to us. And probably always will be. There, we said it.


VARIOUS ARTISTS Music For TV Dinners (Scamp)

Despite its title the music collected on this album is more reminiscent of supermarkets than supper. You know, the kind of tunes that made Muzak the evil purveyor of bland songcraft it has become known for.
Still, there’s a nostalgic charm attached to many of the tunes included herein. Quite a few did in fact make it to TV, but if you’re over thirty you’re more than likely to recognize them as the soundtrack to many a food shopping experience. We know we do.

12/18/2008

Happy Birthday


The one and only...

[Photo courtesy of allmusic.com]

12/17/2008

25 Years of John Cusack


While on the occasion of his 25th anniversary in films there have been a few tributes to Scientology's best-known follower, we've decided to instead shine the spotlight on a less famous, less tabloid-plagued but equally, if not more talented actor whose work we've enjoyed for the last quarter century.

John Cusack may be best remembered for his role as Lloyd Dobbler in the 1989 teen classic Say Anything--especially for the film's iconic boombox scene--but since he debuted in 1983's Class, the Chicago native has worked continuously, putting in noteworthy performances in Sixteen Candles (1984), Better Off Dead (1985), City Hall (1996) [alongside Al Pacino], the film adaptation of Nick Horby's music geek classic High Fidelity (2000), Max (2001), and Runaway Jury (2003), among many others. (Interestingly, he has appeared in 10 movies with both his sister Joan, and close friend Jeremy Piven, with all three appearing in the aforementioned Say Anything and 1997's Grosse Pointe Blank. Which begs the question, when will Cusack make an appearance on Entourage?)

So, here's to John Cusack for a solid body of work and for being able to stick around this long with a few classic roles, perhaps a few questionable choices on and off camera--hooking up with Pink, really?--but ultimately for his undeniable talent and not embarrasing himself in the process. (Unlike the supposed film student in the clip below. We would've smacked her upside the head.) Thanks for letting us go along for the ride so far. Cheers, sir.

[Oh, and sorry 'bout the Cubs this year, dude.]

12/16/2008

New Sex Pistols Studio Album Rumored

Talk of punk icons The Sex Pistols reconvening in the studio next year to record a followup to their legendary 1977 debut album, Never Mind the Bollocks, has been circulating heavily ever since bassist Glen Matlock recently left open the possibility of a new album in an interview with the UK press.

Seeing as the band has been hard at work tarnishing their legacy in the last few years, why the hell not, right?

Reissue of Pearl Jam Debut Album in March

Jumping ahead of the album's 20th anniversary Pearl Jam will release an expanded edition of their 1991 debut, Ten, on March 24th, 18 years to the day of its original bow. The Seattle band's website began accepting pre-orders last week.

According to Billboard, the set...

"...includes a digitally remastered version of the original album as well as a completely new remix of the set by longtime producer Brendan O'Brien, who did not work on Ten but produced Pearl Jam's subsequent four albums" as well as "six previously unreleased songs from the era: early versions of 'Breath' and 'State of Love and Trust,' 'Brother' (with vocals, not the instrumental version from the 2003 rarities collection Lost Dogs), 'Just a Girl,' 'Evil Little Goat' and '2,000 Mile Blues,' a Stevie Ray Vaughan-inspired jam with improvised vocals from frontman Eddie Vedder."

"The 'Legacy' edition of Ten adds a DVD of Pearl Jam's previously unreleased 1992 performance on MTV Unplugged, including a never-aired version of 'Oceans.' Fans can also opt for a double-vinyl version featuring the original "Ten" on one LP and O'Brien's remix on the other."

"But the package sure to send hardcore fans into a tizzy is the 'Super Deluxe Edition,' which features two CDs, a DVD and four vinyl records. It is housed in a linen-covered, slip-cased clamshell box with a replica of an item second to none in Pearl Jam lore."

The latter being the Jeff Ament/Stone Gossard-penned instrumental demos which they sent to prospective singer, then San Diego-based, Eddie Vedder. These later became "Alive," "Once" and "Footsteps". The songs in their original incarnation--w/Vedder's vocals--will be included in a pristine-sounding cassette. (!)

More 2008 Lists

Pitchfork, the hipster online oracle [/snark], has their yearly recap up and running for the irony-trafficking, She & Him lovers--and those of us who enjoy mocking their ilk--ready for mass Kool-Aid consumption. Bottoms up!

Oh, and PopMatters has theirs, too. Which, in its introductory essay, compares 1968 to 2008 on various cultural levels and includes this nuggett:

[W]hen it comes to music, at least, it’s easy to slip into comparison-contrast mode. If 2008 was like 1968 in any way, did we see another “White Album”? Was there a new Aretha? A Hendrix? A Van Morrison? And if there wasn’t, does that mean we’re lacking in creativity and self-expression now, or is it even possible to have these lightning rods anymore?

For those of you keeping score: that's no, no, no, no, yes, no. [sigh] At least that's how we feel 'round these parts.

New Releases

Debuting this week--which might be the last official release date of the year--are:

THE ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS When the World Comes Down (DGC)
GHOSTFACE KILLAH Ghost Deini the Great (Def Jam)

MARGOT AND THE NUCLEAR SO & SOS Animal! (Epic)
DAVE MATTHEWS
Live At The Mile High Music Festival (BamaRags/RCA/BMG)
BROTHER JACK McDUFF Gin and Orange [reissue] (Cadet/Dusty Groove)

Happy Birthday

Guitarists Tony Hicks (65) of The Hollies; Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top (59) and one-time Miles Davis sideman, blues-rocker Robben Ford (57), today December 16.

Here's Mr. Ford performing our favorite tune of his, "You Cut Me to the Bone", with his trio The Blue Line, live in 1993.

12/09/2008

2008: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

[Yeah, it's about that time...and here we go adding to the pollution. Ready? - KJ]

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
TV On The Radio Dear Science (Interscope)
The move to a major has not affected this adventurous quintet’s sense of experimentation and wonder on their third album and second for the big league imprint.

Runner up:
Death Cab For Cutie Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
Sun Kil Moon April (Caldo Verde)


FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR: None
Nothing did it for us this year, unfortunately. Well, maybe The Golden Age (Merge) by American Music Club. But not really.


WORST ALBUM: AC/DC Black Ice (Columbia)
Even after an almost decade-long recording hiatus all they could come up with was yet another installment in their 25-year saga of diminishing returns?

Runner up:
Todd Rundgren Arena (Hi-Fi)


FAVORITE TV SHOW: The Life and Times of Tim (HBO)
Despite crude animation that makes South Park look like a Michael Bay extravaganza, this animated half-hour is pure comedy gold. The “Latino Tim” / “The Priest is Drunk” episode is especially funny.


WORST TV SHOW: That Metal Show (VH1 Classic)
Eddie Trunk teams up with 2 unfunny comedians to interview the likes of Lita Ford and Yngwie Malmsteen; give out numerous copies of the Kiss box set as prizes; keep tabs on the touring prospects of Cinderella (!) while failing to even acknowledge current metal bands like Mastodon, The Sword, etc. What’s not to love?


BEST REISSUE: Led Zeppelin Limited Edition Definitive Collection Mini LP Replica Box Set (Atlantic)
The mighty Zep’s entire catalog on CD, including several alternate In Through the Out Door covers. Sweet.


MOST WELCOME COMEBACK: Guns ‘N’ Roses
The long-awaited Chinese Democracy was no masterpiece but it doesn’t suck. Fuck you.

Runner up:
My Bloody Valentine; The Pharcyde


MOST UNWELCOME COMEBACK: Madonna
Need way say more?


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Chris Cornell Scream (Interscope)
His second solo album was DEFINITELY NOT worth the wait; this one is just pathetic.

Runner up:
Matthew Sweet Sunshine Lies (Shout! Factory)


MOST UNDESERVED HYPE: The Noel Gallagher/Jay-Z feud.

Runner up:
Joe Satriani suing Coldplay for copyright infringement. Jeez, it’s bad enough that both artists put their names on their respective lame songs. [yawn]


BEST THING TO LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR: The implosion of blog rock
We can only hope.

Runner up:
XL Recordings goes under. (Sorry but Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah; Tapes 'n Tapes; Vampire Weekend? It's warranted.)

* * * * *

GOODBYE:

Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd honcho, Neil Aspinall; jazz guitarist Joe Beck; drummer for Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, Jimmy Carl Black; guitarist/producer Hiram Bullock; Cuban bassist and bandleader Israel "Cachao" Lopez; Brazilian legend Dorival Caymmi; influential comedian George Carlin; noted composer Alexander Courage, who wrote the original Star Trek series' theme music; the great Bo Diddley; long-time keyboardist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, Danny Federici; producer/engineer Jerry Finn; former Replacements drummer Steve Foley; Grammy and Academy Award-winner, Black Moses himself, Isaac Hayes; blues guitarist Jeff Healey; drummer Michael Lee (The Cult, Page and Plant); Sean LeVert of ‘80s R&B act LeVert; award-winning actor/comedian Bernie Mac; Miles Davis producer, saxophonist Teo Macero; South African vocalist Miriam Makeba; comedian Dick Martin, co-creator of '60s variety show Laugh-In; jazz organist Jimmy McGriff; Jimi Hendrix drummers Buddy Miles and Mitch Mitchell; saxophonist and founding member of The Dave Matthews Band, LeRoi Moore; original Descendents guitarist Frank Navetta; folk singer Odetta; ground-breaking session drummer Earl Palmer; noted director and occasional actor Sydney Pollack; saxophonist Jason Rae, husband of Grammy-nominated British singer Corinne Bailey Rae; country music's "Guitar Man", Jerry Reed; painter, jazz vocalist and actress Esthelle Reiner; political commentator Tim Russert; original Rush drummer John Rutsey; jam band icon Merle Saunders; Queens of the Stone Age/Chris Cornell/Eleven keyboardist and producer Natasha Shneider; Dave Clark Five vocalist Mike Smith; The Kingston Trio's John Stewart; vocalist for Motown's legendary Four Tops, Levi Stubbs; original Ten Minute Warning vocalist Steve Verwolf; visionary record producer Jerry Wexler; Motown songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield; longtime Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright; Classics IV vocalist Dennis Yost.

12/08/2008

Strawberry Fields Forever (for John Lennon)

Satch Sues Coldplay For Plagiarism

Alleging copyright infringement of his instrumental track "If I Could Fly" by their song "Viva La Vida" noted guitarist Joe Satriani is suing Coldplay. There's a clip on YouTube that compares the two, and frankly, they are very similar. But as any rookie entertainment lawyer will tell you, that's not enough to win this sort of case. If we're not mistaken, one must prove access by the alleged party to the creation of the song in question. Having heard the song broadcast, no matter how widespread its distribution or its popularity, does not constitute actual access in legal terms.

These cases are routinely fought between relatively unknown plaintiffs and well-known artists and are almost never won by the former. The odds don't fare much better for the plaintiff even if they are both famous, George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"/"He's So Fine" case being the rare exception. (Interestingly, according to music biz insider Moses Avalon, in his book Confessions of a Record Producer: How to Survive the Scams and Shams of the Music Business, Satriani's one-time boss, none other than Mick Jagger himself, was sued by Jamaican reggae artist Patrick Alley for allegedly ripping off "Just Another Night" which Alley had recorded in 1979 and released in 1982. Alley was able to prove access in the form of legendary session man Sly Dunbar who played on both Alley's and Jagger's versions of the track. Avalon states that while testifying on the stand the famed drummer stated he couldn't remember playing on the original version. Jagger was subsequently cleared.)

In any event, we doubt anyone in Coldplay has ever heard a Satriani song, let alone copy one. They were probably too busy aping Radiohead circa The Bends, anyway.

Here's the aforementioned clip:


Real World Turns 21 in Brooklyn

We were hoping it wouldn't happen: MTV's original lame-ass soap opera/reality show will celebrate its arrival to legal drinking age with The Real World: Brooklyn, airing on Jan. 7th. Featuring 8 cast members instead of the usual 7, these include "an Iraq war veteran, a former beauty queen, a hip hop dancing hippie, a punk rock Mormon, a dolphin trainer, a computer geek, an abs model and an advocate for victims," according to a press release by the former cable music channel, which bills itself these days as "the dynamic, vibrant experiment at the intersection of music, creativity and youth culture." Yes, and we're the heirs to William Shakespeare.

We're just dying for these knuckleheads to stroll into any of our nabe's watering holes and have some of the locals put the fear of God into 'em. Or at least some sense. (Nah, they'll probably just hook up with some low self-esteem, attention-starved posers. But one can dream, huh?)

Dark Knight To Be Re-Released in Theatres

On Jan. 23rd Warner Bros. will roll out The Dark Knight for the big screen one last time. Released on DVD this past week, the Batman film is the second largest domestic draw in history with a box office total of $530.3 million. (Its foreign take is $465.9 million, $4 million shy of the 1 billion mark overall.)

"We wanted to provide one more opportunity for moviegoers to experience it on the big screen as it was meant to be seen," Warner's president of domestic distribution, Dan Fellman, announced last week.

And indirectly giving the late Heath Ledger some added publicity vis-a-vis a possible Oscar nomination never came up, right?

Grammy Nominations Announced

Yeah, forgot about that: if you're interested, the complete list of nominees for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards can be found here. The award show will take place Feb. 8, 2009, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

New Releases

Here's a list of some of the discs that have seen the light of day in the last few weeks:

BELLE & SEBASTIAN
The BBC Sessions [Deluxe Edition] (Matador)
ISOBEL CAMPBELL/MARK LANEGAN Sunday at Devil Dirt (Fontana)
THE FIREMAN Electric Arguments (ATO)
DAVID HOLMES The Holy Pictures (Mercury)
THE KILLERS Day & Age (Island)
FEMI KUTI Day by Day (Mercer Street/Downtown)
MAGAZINE The Complete John Peel Sessions (EMI/Virgin)
PHISH At the Roxy [Atlanta '93] (Jemp)
R.E.M. Murmur [Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition] (IRS/Universal)
THE SWORD Age of Winters/Gods of the Earth (Kemado)
SCOTT WEILAND Happy in Galoshes (Soft Drive)
KANYE WEST 808s & Heartbreak (Roc-A-Fella)

12/02/2008

The Return of the Rocket King


[Album cover courtesy of allmusic.com]

GUNS 'N' ROSES

Chinese Democracy

(Geffen-2008)


It’s been over a week since the most talked about album of the decade finally saw the light of day and the reviews have been plentiful. Because of the nature of the circumstances surrounding this release—mainly, the inordinate length of time taken by the artist to complete it—we decided to take it slow and listen intently before rendering our verdict on the album that caused our wisecracking about its title to become obsolete with its arrival. (You know, the one about democracy coming to China before its release. Anyway...)

In any event, if you have yet to hear Chinese Democracy, here’s our take.

First the bad news: the most self-indulgent thing about this album is not how long it took to make but Axl Rose’s kitchen sink approach to arranging the material. There’s dilettante touches of latter day R&B and hip-hop (“Better”), nu-metal (“Shackler’s Revenge”), power ballads (“Sorry”), and nauseating Freddie Mercury-type piano pieces in search of some long-lost Phantom of The Opera musical-to-be (“This I Love”, “Street of Dreams”).

But…

If you ever loved GnR “I.R.S.” will remind you why you did and why this album deserves your attention. Oh, man! Nuanced, well-paced, rockin’ as hard as anything from their past, and with a chorus the size of a house, this tune alone is worth the trip to Best Buy (the album's exclusive retail outlet). “I.R.S.” single-handedly announces the return of Axl and co. in a big way. Yes, it’s that good.

‘Not so fast,’ say the goofy-titled “Riad N the Bedouins”; “Scraped”; and the title track, stomping rockers each and every one. This is the man’s forte: the aggro-rock swagger and attitude of his youth still suits him in the midst of middle age better than almost all of his contemporaries and some of his still-active forebearers. (We’re looking at you, AC/DC.)

Our verdict? Chinese Democracy expands on the panoramic scope and indulgences of Axl's last two albums of original material, Use Your Illusion I and II, while still bearing the stamp of Appetite for Destruction. But, was it worth the wait? Nope. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. And after this long of a delay nothing short of a magnum opus could make up for it. But it's a solid rock record and a lot better than anyone ever expected it to be. More importantly, this is the result of an uncompromising artist who, love him or hate him, chose to make Chinese Democracy his way or the highway and followed thru on his vision. In addition, with its release, like the seminal album that put GnR on the map two decades ago, Axl has shown impeccable timing.

You see, while Appetite showed up just in time to save hard rock from its then poofy-haired merchants and certain mainstream oblivion, Chinese Democracy is the last of the "event" albums. In a way, it's actually the last grandiose album of the 20th century. That's why in these times of overly self-conscious, pre-fab, researched-to-the-core, beer-commercial-soundtrack rock albums, the over-the-top Chinese Democracy is a reminder of a time when—however self-indulgent—artists had true ambition and were willing to take risks and follow their muse, no matter what. And for that, but not exclusively, Axl gets our $15.

As David Fricke states in his Rolling Stone review of the album,

"To [Axl], the long march to Chinese Democracy was not about paranoia and control. It was about saying 'I won't' when everyone else insisted, 'You must.' You may debate whether any rock record is worth that extreme self-indulgence. Actually, the most rock & roll thing about Chinese Democracy is he doesn't care if you do."

Amen.

Highlights: “I.R.S.”, “Riad N the Bedouins”, “Scraped”, "Catcher in the Rye", and the title track.