The Perils of a Music Subscription: Is the Deluxe “Yearbook Edition” of the New One Direction Album Worth It?

Yes, yes it is.

Haircuts. They all need haircuts.

Why do I know this? I have an Xbox Music Pass, and this causes conversations in my head such as “Even though I’m not a 13 year old girl, that new One Direction song on the radio is pretty catchy. I should probably use the subscription to download the entire album. What? There’s a deluxe version with four extra songs? OK. I wonder if it’s worth it if I were to have to buy it.”

Why is it worth it? The slower songs on the normal album aren’t that notable. The deluxe version adds four faster paced songs (which probably should’ve replaced those slower songs on the normal album…).

 Note: I’m only partially kidding about the entirety of the above. “Live While We’re Young,” “Kiss You,” and “Rock Me” are really good songs.

*** I’m not really the target market at all, but it’s perfectly fine.

The Muppets

The Muppets have always been a big inspiration to me. I grew up watching reruns of The Muppet Show, the 9 episodes of The Jim Henson Hour that aired before it was cancelled, the movies, Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street and countless other productions. Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite movies ever, and a yearly staple, as is the classic “A Christmas Together” album with John Denver.

This special that was made for The Jim Henson hour but didn’t air until much later on Nickelodeon was one of the first “behind-the-scenes” videos (now a ubiquitous DVD feature) of any kind I had ever seen, and I found it endlessly fascinating. I watched it every time that I came across it on TV. I might venture to say that it has had a profound impact on where my life has taken me.

I’ve taken puppeteering and puppet-building classes, walked around the Muppet Studio in L.A., briefly met some of the current puppeteers, and last year got to make a piece of puppet magic myself.

‘The Muppets’ seems to have stolen our puppet mount-cam idea without either us or them knowing it.

But enough about me. The reason that I’m throwing this out there is that there are other people out there like me. I would venture to say that I’m at the tail end of this multi-generational fascination with these characters. The last great piece of entertainment produced with Kermit, Fozzie, etc., was Chrismas Carol in 1992, nearly 20 years ago.

The Muppets have languished in the years since then, through various changes in ownership and stewardship. There have been two mediocre theatrical movies (the last one still a lengthy 12 years ago), a failed TV variety show, a Christmas special that had its moments, another horrific Christmas special, and the terrible Wizard of Oz adaptation.

This lengthy period of brand failure is exactly what the new movie is commenting on, and it does so in such a marvelous way that all cause for concern about how it treats the franchise’s history should be thrown out the window.

Briefly, the movie’s about a two superfans (Jason Segel and Walter, a new muppet performed fantastically by Peter Linz) who travel from Smalltown, USA to L.A. with Segel’s character’s girlfriend (Amy Adams) and visit the Muppet studios, finding it decrepit and more-or-less closed. Walter finds out that an evil corporation has taken control over the studio, theatre and Muppets name and plans to run all of them into the ground. It’s up to the three of them to get everyone back together to save the Muppets legacy. To say that this bears some resemblance to the current state of affairs with the company is quite the understatement.

I watched the original Muppet Movie the night before seeing this, and I’d recommend you do the same. In addition to being able to recognize a few callback references to the original movie, rewatching “The Muppet Movie” puts things in the new film in such an interesting mindset. Kermit was once an idealistic leader, inspiring friends to uproot their lives and travel to Hollywood to become “rich and famous”. Now though, all these years later, Kermit has become sort of an out-of-touch recluse, living in a mansion with only his 1980s robot butler to keep him company. Any object that could remind him of the past, and the never-detailed, but often inferred event that caused them all to split up, is draped off. (As a side note, I would love to see this dark chapter in the Muppets history. It would be the most depressing scene ever — even more than this and the [i’m not kidding] attempted suicide scene that came immediately before it, which I can’t find now — but it would be so compelling. Side side note: this is the world where Kermit was never born.) He’s not cynical or bitter — Kermit could never be that — but he’s deeply saddened by how much he believes he let everyone down, which is a burden he’s put on himself since the first movie. Now, years after the split, he views his life’s work as a failure and sees getting everyone together as a fool’s errand, but is talked into it.

The rest of the movie parallels the original’s structure, in the “getting the band back together” sense, but it’s almost a flipped perspective. Instead of it being about the hope of becoming entertainers and being able to make people happy, it’s about the notion of losing your friends to infighting, and your legacy to years of inactivity and a company bent on ruining your name and replacing you with other people/characters. While Walter brings new energy and hopeful naivety, the rest of the Muppets seem like old souls. They’ve aged in spirit and seem a little weary. Fozzy looks a little grey. Everyone else has moved on with their lives, and it’s quite the effectively sad portion of the movie.

But the movie is greatly funny. The music is mostly fantastic, especially if you like Flight of the Conchords, whose Bret McKenzie wrote four original songs (and a reprise), and served as Music Supervisor. I didn’t really care for the Amy Adams/Miss Piggy splitscreen duet, but the Jason Segel/Walter duet, “Man or Muppet” is both catchy and hilarious. The direction (by “Conchords” TV show co-creator and director) is great, with extremely minimal CG work and many, many “How’d they do that?” moments. Segel and Adams are cute and bring great likeable human energy, even if their story feels a bit too much in the forefront.

The Muppet performers don’t seem to miss a beat at all. Considering the only original performer still involved is Gonzo originator Dave Goelz, it’s amazing that all of these characters can still “live” and “breathe” when being performed by other people. It has taken me a number of years to get used to Steve Whitmire’s slightly higher-pitched Kermit, but the range of emotion he was able to wring out of that puppet was remarkable. Eric Jacobson (Fozzy, Piggy, Animal, Sam Eagle) and Bill Barretta (Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Bobo, Pepe, Swedish Chef) are incredible apers of the original Frank Oz and Henson voices and master puppeteers to boot. There is really no difference in the Muppet characters noticeable enough to be a distraction, as in some past productions.

The woman sitting in front of me at the screening and her hippie husband left the theatre complaining about the “Disneyfication” of the franchise. Granted, she was also complaining prior to the movie about bottled water being a scam, but she does have a valid point about the movie, to a limited extent. Yes, everything is slick, polished, and sanitized. There are overhead shots of the Muppet Theatre (Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard El Capitan Theatre repurposed for the exteriors) that show a “Cars 2” billboard prominently in the background. The three new principal roles (Segel’s “Gary”, Adams’ “Mary”, and Walter) do get a little bit too much focus.

But here is why all of those complaints are wrong. Every joke or type of joke in this movie that seemed out of place actually had a precedent set for it in some prior movie or project: breaking the fourth wall, presenting a popular song in a ridiculous way (the muppet show did this every week), the over-top bad guy bent on bringing them down (Chris Cooper, doing a great job in limited screentime), even the ridiculous method by which they travel long distances.

No matter what Frank Oz says, I don’t feel that the characters were ever disrespected, with one possible exception, which I’ll get to later. In fact, I’d say the opposite. The newer characters were either never used (Clifford, Johnny Fiama and Sal Manella were completely absent), or, like Pepe, were pushed to the background entirely. Even lesser-known, older characters like Uncle Deadly, and Wayne and Wanda make appearances.

Oz points to the ubiquitous “fart shoes” joke in the ads as something Fozzie would never do, but in the context of the movie, I think it works. The characters are out of touch and desperate to figure out what people want, and I don’t think Fozzie is below pandering for a laugh. I’d say this movie is truer to the characters than the “World Where Kermit was Never Born” business.

Gary, Mary, and Walter serve as an audience proxy for younger people unfamiliar with “The Muppet Show”. And without Segel’s Gary and Walter there is no real impetus for the characters to reconcile at all, in a not-so-subtle parallel to real-life. Walter and Gary’s storylines are also so simple that they work without being too off-putting, and they’ve found great ways to parallel other character’s stories (the two duets for example).

For me though, and this comes as a side-note, and probably just a personal gripe, but considering he’s the only original performer left, Dave Goelz didn’t have much for Gonzo to do.

I know the last movie, way back when, focused on him entirely, but in re-watching material recently, I’ve realized the hidden layer of soul and sadness that Gonzo can bring, that few others have. The emotion that comes across in this song…

… is something that Miss Piggy and Fozzy are never tasked with. Most of the other characters are just one dimensional, though Rowlf has on occasion brought the emotion in his Muppet Show performances. Because of this, Kermit is left to carry that burden, but his sadness comes from his failures to live up to his ridiculously high expectations of himself as the leader and guy who manages these ridiculous personalities. Gonzo’s pathos has always stemmed from not fitting in, being weird, and not knowing exactly what he is.

Since these characteristics are basically the entirety of Walter’s personality, and his character arc, this brooding side of Gonzo gets pushed to the backburner, and even his comical side does as well. I’d be interested to see his number of lines compared to other characters. I get that not everyone can be properly serviced, but as a member of what I consider to be the core four characters, he feels like an afterthought. You can sense the regret in Fozzie and Piggy, but Gonzo has just seemed to move on. And this overlooking of him is even sadder considering Goelz is the longest-tenured performer here.

I have some mixed feelings about the end, but I have to talk about it in vague ideas. Basically, I feel like it glosses over a majorly important plot point, but the way in which it does this seems to render it fairly unimportant in the overall scheme of things. It sort of takes their literal goal and says their figurative one is more important, which is a great idea, but leaves the main plot as almost a side story.

On the whole though, I felt every emotion I was supposed to, including my normal disinterest in Miss Piggy. I welled up a few times, laughed a lot, and left with a smile on my face, and no feelings of contempt in my heart. I never once thought that they ruined a good thing here, and that’s all I could ask for.

The crux of this movie is whether or not The Muppets are a viable entertainment in today’s pop culture landscape, and I’d say that with the right material (and this is great material… mostly fleece and foam… wocka, wocka), they can be. Let’s hope that the kids that are getting their first taste of these characters feel the same way.

****½

“Reimaginator” – Rock Sugar

What happens when Metallica and Journey get put in a blender, with a little Madonna for consistency? “Rock Sugar” happens.

You come across a lot of Mash-Ups on the internet. It seems like the cool, gimmicky musical viral video thing to do these days, and a lot of it is because the formula is so simple: take a well known song, find another seemlingly unrelated song that has a section or line in it with a similar chord progression and tempo (For instance, “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia and “Where’s the Love” by The Black Eyed Peas would be the first to come to my mind, as they’re so similar and should render the Black Eyed Peas guilty of plagiarism) and put them together. Usually the musical hybrid is just done with samples from pre-recorded songs by the original artists, but what I found this past week completely tore apart that notion and blew me away. Rock Sugar is a completely tongue-in-cheek but wholly talented 80s Hair-Metal/Pop mash-up cover band. You heard (read?) me correctly; they’re a band that plays 80s pop songs to the tunes of some of the most famous classic rock/hair metal bands ever. And they’re amazing at it. “Sharks don’t eat metal”. Left to their own extremely questionable survival skills, Rock Sugar managed to salvage several items from the sunken yacht. In addition to their instruments, they retrieved a hot pink battery powered boom box covered with stickers of Hello Kitty, a crate of batteries, 158 cases of schnapps and numerous articles of teenage girls’ clothing, most of which the band admit to trying on and several pieces of which apparently fit and looked “pretty frickin’ awesome”. But things got worse when the horrified rockers discovered that the only music available for them to listen to was little Lisa Rosenberg’s very pop, very 13 year-old girl’s, very ‘80’s CD collection.

And so, the hardcore degenerate heavy metal members of Rock Sugar spent the last two decades stuck on an island with nothing to do but drink schnapps, catch hard to digest wildlife, befriend monkeys and dream of their long LOST groupies while listening only to, and being slowly and systematically brainwashed by, every favorite pop song of a 1980’s preteen girl. Bored, full of schnapps and wasting away on a tropical oasis, they built a stage out of driftwood, bamboo shoots and tree sap and got to work. Against the odds, Rock Sugar was alive… and they were practicing.

But does a hilariously fictional backstory make for a good album? I think your level of interest in each song comes down to the following criteria. 1) How well does the band play each song? 2) Do you know/enjoy the songs they used? 3) How surprised are you when the songs come up? and 4) How well do the songs mesh together? We can tackle these questions individually.

1.) How well does the band play each song?
The musicians themselves are brilliant. Essentially, they’re a cover band with mostly great arrangements (see question 4), but they slip in and out of subgenres and vocal styles, flawlessly mimic and reinvent these classics, and can flat out play. Lead singer Jess Harnell (who, in the most bizarre part, is the voice actor behind Wakko Warner of the “Animaniacs”, and uses his chameleonic voice talent to mimic the vocal styles of a multitude of lead singers) is simply amazing. The band breaks out the “Journey” songs twice, and he manages to hold his own against (if not outdo) Steve Perry, one of the five greatest lead singers of all time.

In fact, the album’s second last track, “Round and Separated” (a mix of “Round and Round” by Ratt and “Separate Ways” by Journey) is an epic joy, almost entirely because of how talented the band is. The energy and technical proficiency here are high enough to elevate these two decent but not exceptional songs into something better than the sum of the two parts, into a cohesive whole that just might be better than either song ever was. Production level is solid. Every instrument can be heard cleanly, and the background vocal work is fantastic throughout.

2.) Do you know/enjoy the songs they used?
A large portion of enjoyment comes from whether you know these songs, but this knowledge isn’t completely necessary. “Voices in the Jungle” is a prime example. I’ve never heard “Voices Carry” and am only slightly familiar with “Welcome to the Jungle“. The song works though, because the source material is strong and appeals to me. Conversely, “We Will Kickstart Your Rhapsody” didn’t work for me, solely because I don’t think “Kickstart My Heart” is that great of a song. Other people I know have different opinions though. I just dont particularly like that style, I guess. But they can play it well, and sing the Bohemian Rhapsody harmonies. For the most part though, I enjoyed all the other songs. If you only know the pop (or relatively pop-py) songs, it works as an album of hard rock covers. You may miss the other musical references, but you won’t have any idea what you’re missing. Hard rock purists should find these songs funny at first, and then come to the realization that they aren’t bad, it was just the way that they were Hit Me Baby One More Time“) On the whole, the songs are extremely enjoyable and catchy, whether you knew them previously or not.

3. How surprised were you when the songs came up?
I suppose if you checked the track list before listening to each song, you’d be able to guess at least one of the songs used in each track, but I think a great amount of the album’s enjoyment comes from being thrown completely out of your element. You’re going along, listening to the opening chords of a song you’ve heard a thousand times, played nearly exactly how you’ve heard it all those times, and all of a sudden, something completely unexpected, but highly recognizable pops up. You can’t believe your ears! Why haven’t you ever thought of that?! These guys are geniuses, you think. These songs were made to be played together! Part of this goes to question four, though. If the songs don’t go well together, then this surprise aspect is just a gimmick, and a failed one. But when you’re surprised and shocked, I think this is the biggest impetus to share this band with your friends; to see the looks on their faces when “Don’t Stop Believing” comes in, instead of the “Enter Sandman” verse. The best example of this is the epic finale “Mashterpiece”, “Dreaming of a Whole Lotta Breakfast”. Again, you can probably guess what goes into it, judging by the title, but there are a lot of surprises in it, and they all fit perfectly. Whereas “Round and Separated” mostly works because of the band’s talent and charisma, this songs works because of the amazing arrangement and the element of surprise. Have a listen.

4. How well do the songs mesh together?
This is the most hit-or-miss question. “I Love Sugar on Me” works because very little had to be changed in each song for them to fit against each other. But when the first verse of “Workin’ for the Weekend” kicks in in “Prayin for a Sweet Weekend”, it sounds awkward. The playing of the “Sweet Child of Mine” riff under the “Weekend” chorus works well though. “Heaven and Heaven” works great, even if it’s more of a medley than a mash-up. “Here Comes the Fool You Wanted” is great, even if the “Nobody’s Fool” contribution is only a line from the chorus sung over and over (on top of two other vocal parts) at the end. I feel like the chords on the verses of “Shook Me Like a Prayer” aren’t the same as “Shook Me All Night Long”, but instead, just power chords, played AC/DC-style, that would normally fit under the Madonna verse. The same can be said about “Straight to Rock City”. Not to say that these tracks aren’t great, they just needed some re-arranging to “fit together”. The chorus part on “Straight to Rock City” while a brilliant melding of “Straight Up”, and “Detroit Rock City”, is a little strange, but it’s something I can’t put my finger on. Maybe something with accented syllables versus up/downbeats, but I have no idea. So in all, there are a bunch of songs where they took parts that work well, (a chorus section or something, where the two parts fit together) and built the rest of the song with the music from one element, and the style of another. This seems to be more of a style mash-up than a direct musical mash-up. Again, not that any of this is bad, but if you’re looking for straight mash-up goodness, some of these songs might not be what you’re looking for.

****½

Most of these songs are epically awesome. A few of them though either don’t work (“Prayin for A Sweet Weekend”), feel like filler (“Breakin’ The Love”), or just didn’t appeal to me (“We Will Kickstart Your Rhapsody”). Everything else is fantastic though. The musicianship is great, the songs are entertaining, and come with an already built-in knowledge that doesn’t require people to listen to them over and over to learn the words and music. “Here Comes the Fool You Wanted” and “Dreaming of a Whole Lotta Breakfeast” are triumphs of arranging, and the sheer power of “Heaven and Heaven” and especially, ESPECIALLY “Round and Separated”, elevate this to an album that I will keep in my music circulation for a long time. I can only imagine how great they’d be in concert. Also, props go to the pristine production quality of the album itself. Everything is audible and clean. And the concept itself is completely brilliant. They take the idea of being a cover band and elevate it to something wholly different, adding a level of creativity, and injecting new life into songs that have been stale from overplay on classic rock stations for a long time. Truly this is a rock-tastic piece of confection.

Z2K9 — The Day the Music Froze During the Loading Screen

Update 1/1/2009: All better. The thing “fixed” itself. I was this close to composing a strongly worded letter written under only natural light.

In the time between beginning this post and finishing it, it looks like Microsoft formally announced a solution to the issue, the always exciting “it’ll fix itself tomorrow.” Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I want to listen to my party mix now. Anyway, um, enjoy the increasingly less relevant post below.

I’ve stood by my MP3 player for more than one-and-a-half years. The 30GB Zune isn’t the prettiest, thinnest, or most useful MP3 player, but I like what it does and how it does it. I spent a lot of time getting the video compression settings “just right,” and I didn’t need to purchase wrist weights to “maximize” my runs. I’ve gotten used to people confusing it with a dumbbell but I have never had the “I think someone stole my mp3 player,” panic because I know my husky baby isn’t going anywhere, if only because it would be a real burden for a potential thief if he or she needed to scale a fence.

My previous MP3 player, the geek approved Rio Karma served me just fine (though a few minor repairs) from 2003-2007, at which point it started turning into “computer junk,” component by component, necessitating a new player. Microsoft’s been good about updating the original, 30GB, player even though it’s now one-and-a-half generations old. I can’t argue with that, and the free Zune Software/Music Player is actually a program I’d whole-heartedly recommend to anyone, whether he owns a Zune or not. Everything was going swimmingly – the only real issues I had were occasional freezes (which disappeared with the latest 3.1 firmware) and a totally buff right bicep. This morning, I saw that one of the “tech news” websites I visit was reporting “Hundreds of 30GB Zune Players Fail Across the Country.” I have one of those. Uh-oh.

zune crash
Probably not the sort of top 10 list for which they hoped.

Skimming the article, I saw that the problems started around midnight PST last night, and most users experienced the freeze as their greeting as they turned on the device this morning. Of course, I still hadn’t turned it on, but I was watching The Matrix last night, and needless to say, perhaps the computer gods were not happy at the ending (with Neo’s bring the physical virtual and verbal smackdown to computer program) and were taking their vengeance. Being that guy, I decided I wanted to see the crash myself so I could poke around at it. Well, I succeeded in seeing it crash/freeze, but that was about all she wrote. Apparently, one can disassemble the player, change the computer calendar to any date but 12/31/08, unplug and replug the battery, then reassemble and use it just fine with no issues, but I decided I was done losing tiny screws when I decided the Rio Karma wasn’t worth fixing.

For a device considered not very popular, the news certainly got around. CNN posted a front page link (below “the fold,” though) to a brief writeup. (Now, to the doubters’ credit, the time between Christmas and New Years is ridiculously slow for the news.)

In terms of why it crashed, December 31, 2008 is the 366th day of the year. Odds are it has something to do with something in the software planning on each year being 365 days. Not the most exciting bug, but an easy one to forget to check for. Of course it could be an ugly coincidence, but Occam’s Razor, people.

I was going to write here about how it could be a challenging bug to fix because the devices didn’t even get to the point where the firmware updates can be initiated and it could be a support disaster, but being that the darn thing will apparently fix itself, I’ll spare the words. (Note to Microsoft employees: I have no idea if that little spiel back there about “doesn’t even get to the point where the firmware updates can be initiated” is even remotely accurate. I’m just counting on all 7 of the readers of this site nodding their heads and saying, “that Dan. He knows about computers.”)

Star Rating is pending the results of tomorrow’s self-update, but let’s not jump to any conclusions.

**

Two stars – nice it sort of fixed itself, not so nice that I actually had to say, “well, I have that song on my MP3 player, but unfortunately, it’s not going to work until noon tomorrow.”

BUT, I have seen some pretty good overly dramatic names for the “situation”: Z2K, Z2K9, ZUNEPOCOLYPSE. I guess give credit for the “social” for making enough noise the problem to be seen in more places than just some isolated support forums.

Of course, none of the postings made any mention of Judgment Day or this being Skynet’s first move, so I’m not completely impressed. That said, in terms of a future where our ground up brains might be used to fuel Gregorian Calendar does help me sleep better at night.

Leaking a Fake Version of Your New Album on the Internet (with actual fake songs)

Ben Folds leaked a fake version of his new album “Way to Normal” on the internet, with six songs he recorded in eight hours, and three versions of songs that are actually going to appear on the album. Four stars.

Yet another Ben Folds-related review. I’m probably not going to write anything about his new album that’s coming out this fall, and since this is much more interesting, I’d rather substitute it anyway.

I found this article on RollingStone.com that discusses how this fake album came about, with bits about each song. Basically, he and his bassist and drummer got some studio time in Dublin and wrote six fake tracks, added three songs that are going to be on the album, and gave it to some guys to leak.

Obviously the songs aren’t all going to be great, but for a free download that’s basically been sanctioned it’s not a half bad idea. There’s the free media attention that you get from the music magazine, and the rest of the internet music community (google search for “fake album leaks” and you’ll almost exclusively get pages about this specific one), which is always good for someone who could possibly be deemed irrelevant and past his prime.

It gets his fan base excited and talking, though that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Not coming out immediately and saying that it’s fake leads to discussion about the new sound (judging from the Rolling Stone samples, he’s got yet another new sound he’s going for. Kudos for changing it up, but like the last time, it’s going to take some getting used to). The risk here is that while it does drum up interest in the new album, the fanbase is most unanimously going to be buying the new album anyway, and by putting out sub-par songs you can only hurt your chances that some of these people will be willing to pay for the album when they can just download it (of course, thereby missing the meaning of releasing a fake pirated version in the first place).

This isn’t to say that this fake album is all that bad, it’s just a little bit below full-album standards. It’s about on-par with the EPs that he put out between “Rockin the Suburbs” and “Songs for Silverman”. A few of these songs (Brainwascht, Dr. Yang) actually sound like they could be on that first Ben Folds Five album from way back when, which is probably the first time in ages that you could say something like that (whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the person I think).


“Bitch Went Nuts” will probably be a concert staple in the future.


“Cologne” is great, though it’s going to be on the album in a modified version.


“Way to Normal” is just strange, not that the bulk of it isn’t a perfectly normal song, but it’s three distinctly different sections. I especially love the “Flash Gordon”-inspired opening. The other ones besides “Hiroshima” are pretty much forgettable, but it was free so I’m not complaining.

Putting (at least similar versions of) three of the actual songs that are going to be on the album is a smart move as well, tempering the cries of “I downloaded this for nothing”, and serving as an actual preview of what’s coming. It’s basically the same as releasing a free three-song single…. with six bonus tracks.

****
Releasing a fake version of your album on the internet (with actual fake songs) gets four stars, as it can get you free media attention, the fan base, and maybe even some others, talking about the upcoming album, and serve as a preview of what the album is actually going to be like. The only negative is that since he didn’t come out right away and say it was fake, there may have been some negative early reviews. Providing full-disclosure, which he eventually did, mitigates this a bit though. In the end, I think that no matter how mediocre, fans appreciate what is basically a free EP.

ben folds show in Easton, PA, april 10th, 2008

Audio isn’t great, but it’s the best version of Free Coffee I could find. There’s an aluminum cake pan in the piano as well as a distortion pedal. He didn’t mess it up last night, like in the clip, thankfully.

Quick (hopefully) post about last night’s ben folds concert at lafayette college in easton, PA. I’ve been to six Ben Folds concerts now (since 2001 and most of them were relatively close to where i was at the time, but yes, it’s still a lot), and I’d probably rank this as the second best of them all, with last year’s Muhlenberg show taking the top spot. Reasoning for this is that the drumer and bassist add so much more to the sound, both instrumentally and vocally, and both of these past two shows didn’t require me to sit through rufus wainwright sucking the energy out of the crowd.

Granted, we had to sit through an equally ill-picked opening act (the same as muhlenberg), a solo guitar player/”singer” whose songs consisted of mostly playing the same chord over and over again arhythmically, droning on and on about there being “evil in the world” until the words had no meaning, all while basically looking like Sam Rockwell doing his best Crispin Glover impression. He also seemed to be drunk?

Mr. Folds (as the New York Times would say), put on his normal, energetic show for about an hour and forty five minutes, adding new bits to established songs, and going back to the beginning of the catalogue, including seven Ben Folds Five songs, and playing four new songs. Apparently, they just finished recording the new album; didn’t say anything about release dates. Overall, just a fast-paced, awesome show. Also of note, t-shirts being sold read “I [Heart]ed Ben Folds… before he sucked”.

Setlist (I felt like a nerd writing the song titles down, and I probably was right in feeling that way) below.

New Song– Didn’t hear the title or any of the words really. Possibly “Brainwashed”
Gone
Hiroshima– New song about falling off a stage in Japan and doing the show with a concussion.
Bastard– That vocal part in the middle (adjusted from the album to suit three people, still sounding like more) is ridiculous
Still Fighting It
Free Coffee– New song. Played with a cake pan inside the piano, and a distortion pedal on some of the keys. Really interesting sound.
You to Thank– Went to the 70s sounding keyboard to the side of the piano for part of the solo, and was actually playing tough parts on both at the same time, angled ninety degrees apart, for a bit.
Landed– Cameo by some tambourine player got major cheerage.
Annie Waits
B*tches aint Sh*t
Lullabye (rest of the band stepped down for this and luckiest)
Luckiest
Narcolepsy– Maybe the best version of this I’ve heard. Especially effective after the quiet sap-fest “Luckiest” (not that it’s bad, it’s just quiet and sappy). Narcolepsy was long, loud, and with a good bit of jamming in the middle.
Army– Didn’t teach the audience the horn parts, but just kinda pointed, expecting them.
Kate
Rockin’ The Suburbs– Claimed it was originally going to be about Bob Seger beating someone up with tire chains for robbing an old lady.
Underground
Zak and Sara
One Angry Dwarf– These last two are the normal, fast paced closers, amping up the energy until he throws the stool at the piano.

Encore
Effington– New Song. Nice three-part a cappella opening. Something about “If there’s a god, he’s laughing at us and our football team”. Kinda sounded like a school fight song. Tambourine player reappeared to applause.
Philosophy– with the normal stuff added at the end.
Not the Same– w/ audience vocals.

****½
Four and a half stars. Minus half for the draining opening act, the smallest crowd, and possibly least interested (though that’s not to say they didn’t bring the applause, maybe just didn’t feel like singing) I’ve seen for a show, and opening his set with a new song that nobody knew.

Cloverfield

Pirated video that shows clearly what the monster really is.

It’s been a while since we’ve posted… I know.

To put it simply, Cloverfield is effin’ scary. I would venture as far as to say that it was the most viscerally affecting movie I’ve seen since Children of Men. This isn’t just a monster movie; it’s a movie, that, like The Mist and I Am Legend before it, plays on our greatest unthought-of fear, that something so disastrous could happen that all manner of government protection would be rendered moot. Mass chaos with no way out, and nothing to keep you alive but your own strength of will in circumstances that you’d never imagine yourself in. Cloverfield is so effective at what it sets out to do, reminding us that our modern “civilized” society is one catastrophic event away from being reduced to nothing more than bickering people who’ve been taken over by primitive “fight or flight” survival instincts.

The way the reviewers have talked about it, I’m sure you’ve all heard complaints ad nauseum about the “lack of story”, the “unlikeablility” of characters, the illogical choices made by certain people, and that it didn’t make sense for someone to keep recording through the whole thing. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of those things at all, and it’s a testament to how involving the movie is that I only once stopped to think about the fact that a camera battery wouldn’t last as long it does, and only one other time to think about how long it would take them to walk in a subway tunnel the distance that they said they did. Despite the rich, hipster vibe that the characters exuded, I didn’t really find them all that grating, even though it was basically as if Godzilla interrupted an episode of Felicity (with good reason; both the executive producer and the director were co-creators of that show). If they indeed go ahead with a sequel to be shot in the same style, telling a different story from the same night, I would love to see people from the opposite end of the spectrum and how they managed, how different their priorities were, and just how they would differ in their actions in general.

More often than not though, I found myself sitting in my chair, with my mouth wide open, totally enraptured by what was going on. Would I too be able to climb across a roof of a forty-story building that was leaning at a sixty degree angle from the ground, only being held up by the building next to it? Would I have gone back to save someone from a giant killer spider-crab in a pitch black subway tunnel? Why was this monster movie the first one that ever made me question the lengths I would go to survive? As intense as it was, The Mist, never made me feel this way, despite the fact that the subject material was quite similar. In my opinion, it goes to media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s statement from his book “Understanding Media:Extensions of Man“, that “The Medium is the Message”. To put a very long and convoluted series of the oftentimes contradictory thoughts by a raving Canadian lunatic into a simplistic summary, the method by which a message is sent from one person to another is oftentimes more important to the delivery than the message itself. The best example of this is the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate where the majority of radio listeners seemed to think that Nixon had won, while the television viewers, able to see Nixon’s body language, sweating, and poor make-up job, were convinced that Kennedy won. On a side note, I always wondered if the people who did that study took into account the differences in politics between the people who listened and people who watched, and if that played into their answers to the question.

How this idea of medium applies to Cloverfield is that we’ve been programmed with the language of film over the past one-hundred years. Even if we aren’t aware of it, we’ve come to expect a certain syntax. We don’t notice it though, until a reverse angle of a shot doesn’t match, or an edit isn’t smooth. The Mist lives by these rules, and the whole time it tries to invoke this question of “what happens when the world goes to hell?”, while also playing it like a 1950s B-horror movie creature feature. Issues with the unfocused nature of the plot set aside, it’s the fact that the movie’s presented in the language of Film that makes you step back and realize how preposterous the story really is.

Ironically, it’s the movie inspired by the crude and incredibly repetitive Godzilla series that has effectively transcended this medium and broken out of the box, leaving genuine lasting emotion. The same way that we’ve been trained to understand that movies aren’t real and that we shouldn’t feel anguish when Jason Vorhees, “an unstoppable killing machine“, hacks someone up with a machete, we’ve been trained to recognize video as infallible. Which affects you more: watching an alien pop out of someone’s chest killing them in a movie, or watching a video of a skateboarder falling fifty feet to a hard wooden surface and seeing his shoes explode, but then being able to walk off, relatively unharmed? We haven’t yet learned to apply the same reality filters to video that we currently do to film, and this is what Cloverfield exploits.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself this movie isn’t real, the medium that the message is delivered in contradicts your thoughts and plays to your instincts. What would happen if you took this movie over to undeveloped parts of Africa (as McLuhan puts it, a place where people have not been “immunized” to this medium) or if someone years down the line saw this without the context to put it in? It’s very likely that they might think it actually happened, especially if they’ve seen the 2001 attack footage. Critics (used literally, not film critics) of the movie have been saying that it exploits September 11th imagery, but I would argue that it successfully uses those scenes we have committed to memory to scare us in a very real way, much more than any slasher flick or monster movie has done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been spending a large amount of time in the area that was directly affected in the movie. It’s more likely that I was less able to discern the difference between the two because when the twin towers fell I was watching it on a movie screen in a film auditorium. Watching Cloverfield, it was hard not to think back to this moment and relate the two, drawing all that emotion out.

One of the most harrowing scenes in the whole thing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve walked over a few times. It may very well be the most frightening destruction of a major landmark ever to be created in a movie, far scarier than anything in the modern classic Independence Day or its red-headed step-brother The Day After Tomorrow, completely because of its realism and the point of view of the person delivering the message.

Here’s where the debate rages though. Should a movie be judged on how effective it is at making you feel a certain way, or on the quality of story and characters? If it uses the story and characters as well as technically impressive work to achieve this emotional effect (such as in I Am Legend), then it’s obvious that it’s a good movie. What happens though, when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when character development and a tight story take second chair to exceptional method and incredibly well-realized scenes? Is it still a good movie? This isn’t to say that Cloverfield offered no cohesive story or successful characterizations (the realism in the actors’ portrayals ” not so much film acting, but moreso being in the situation with a natural intensity that you would expect of someone living out this unthinkable scenario””certainly drives the moments and carries the film as much as the technique), but it’s a chase movie in the most basic sense. Something’s attacking, nobody knows what it is, but we’re running from it. There’s really nothing more to it than that, and I would be hard-pressed to say the movie had an effective story to tell, instead opting to give you a few character dynamics and letting them provide the motivation for an hour’s worth of recorded events. I’ve heard completely mixed reviews from friends and film critics in regards to this movie, and it seems as though this question of how to judge is where the basic disagreement lies. For me, the movie was incredibly effective at what it set out to do, and was plenty enjoyable from start to finish (and I loved the epic “Cloverfield Theme” that scored the credits) and that’s all I can ask for in a threatrical experience.

One last thing. If in my diatribe about the presentation of the movie I left out the success of The Blair Witch Project, which this movie couldn’t have come about without, it was because that was not a successful movie. Where the difference between the two films lies is that while The Blair Witch created a very real found-footage aura, it was overly-long and for the most part, boring and whiny. Think about it. The bulk of the movie was about kids wandering around the woods and arguing with each other. It took on the found-footage medium and while it succeeded at creating a realistic portrayal of what one might look like (as in “normal people are generally boring and spend a lot of time fighting and talking about nothing at all”), it completely failed as entertainment for all but about 15 minutes. It had a few interesting story elements, but needed to pad out its runtime with lame characterizations and nothing really happening. It was also completely visually uninteresting, giving you nothing to fall back on when you got tired of all the complaining going on onscreen. Cloverfield takes a look at the mistakes of this film and basically imports action movie beats into the style in order to fix its problems, never stopping to let us take a breath or think about all the implausibilities. The people behind this movie have brilliantly created a hybrid “found-footage/blockbuster action movie” medium, and by doing this, it skews our perception of its events, leaving our common sense to duke it out with our basic media instincts, and that is why it truly succeeds.

****½

Cloverfield is not only a genre-redefining movie, but a medium redefining movie that uses the language of video and film together to confuse our perception of events. You know it isn’t real, but once it wraps you up in its swift pace, that notion leaves your mind, making the horror of the scenario all the more genuine. The entire group of people involved were committed to making you believe that this had really happened, and they succeeded admirably at doing it. Now next time, give us some better characters and a more plausible story arc for them.

While I’m at it….

The Mist
*½
I really wanted to love it, but it completely tears itself in two directions, trying to be a giant killer insect horror movie, and a bold statement on how far our civility falls when we’re presented with dire circumstances. Not only that but characters are either underused (Andre Braugher) or completely over-the-top crazy (Marcia Gay Harden), and though Tom Jane gives a strong performance (before he brings it on a little too strong at the end) he can’t keep down all my hatred for the main antagonist, the crazy religious nut-job who wants everyone to repent or die. If it’s supposed to be allegory, it takes a very ham-fisted approach that really turned me off. Subtlety isn’t this movie’s strong point. Visually, it’s spectacular, but unfortunately a great premise is undermined by story issues, probably stemming from the source material. Much like most of the movie, the end sort of rips off of “Night of the Living Dead” in its painful irony, though it may have one of the best “downer” endings I’ve seen in a long time.

I Am Legend
****
Visually, the most realistically drastic transformation of any actual location that I’ve ever seen put to film, I Am Legend decides to “show” us, and not “tell” us about the collapse of humanity, unlike The Mist . By that I mean that while the previous movie spends its time preaching to you about how everyone will turn on one another to survive, this movie shows the result of that, in a devastatingly real fashion. You are left to create your own account of how it all went down, only giving us brief glimpses into society’s fall in flashbacks that serve more to develop Will Smith’s character’s personal story. It was completely refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t give you every detail and leaves some things open to the imagination. Will Smith’s character and portrayal are perfectly subtle in the ways that his past, his loneliness, and his obsession with curing the sick have taken its toll on his sanity, but the critics are correct that unfortunately all of this strong set-up seems to devolve with about twenty-five minutes left into some more action-oriented, less suspenseful version of Signs, right down to the “oh, it all makes sense now, God has a plan for me” revelation. I Am Legend is a completely haunting vision of what life would be like if you were the last person on earth, Zombie storylines aside.

Best Song Ever? The 1812 Overture (Tchaikovsky)

Maybe the most in-depth “best song ever?” review…ever

Only in the US could a song written by a gay Russian guy to celebrate a Russian military victory become a cornerstone of its patriotic celebrations. Sure, the whole “1812” in the title makes it sound like it could’ve been written in relation to the little discussed War of 1812 (USA! USA! USA!). Sure the whole name, Festival Overture “The Year 1812” has exactly no ring to it, and the French Ouverture solennelle 1812 is, well, French, but had it been named something like “Glorious Song Celebrating Russian Victory,” maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be a staple of barbecues, Budweiser, and bottlerockets. In lieu of the anti-septic “yes, no, conclusion” form of previous “Best Song Ever?” reviews, I’m going to really tear this one up. Like most everything, Wikipedia has a detailed, thorough write-up of it, so here’s a quick background: 1) commissioned to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at Moscow in (wait for it) 1812 2) actually from the “Romantic” time period, what with the aggressive dynamic range and being written in a patriotic state of mind (see Finlandia, and the Moldau, both from about the same time period).

I’ll assume that everyone knows the end of the 1812 Overture (du-duh-du-duh-duh-duh-duh-du-duh-duh-CANNON EXPLOSION!! du-duh … [repeat]), so I’ll be focusing more on the rest of the ~15-17 minutes of wretched Slavic excess.

First things first, there are a number of orchestral variations that exist: some have a choir at the beginning singing the opening hymn, others have it played by the strings, some even have the choir sing at the end as well, some versions have cannon, some versions don’t. (I prefer sans cannon – the reverberations tend to lose the finer details of the conclusion, that being said, points are earned for incorporating firearms into music. I don’t think Creedence ever had the guts to do that.) Also, there are a number of sonically inferior recordings of the 1812 Overture. The blaring trumpets of the “best part” (see below) will overwhelm low-quality mixes, leaving it painful to listen to, much less “appreciate.” Likewise, in the interest of not clipping during recording, if the opening choir is included, they’re frequently gained way, way down, creating one of those wonderful experiences where your speakers (and ears) are left in pieces when the cannon shots start. After both of these almost technical aspects are taken care of, we’re left at the whims of the conductor – should the opening be minor key Christmas Carol slow or old lady playing the organ slow? (answer: minor key Christmas Carol slow) – should the high end of the orchestra bring it back a few notches when the low end completes the final run? (answer: absolutely) Should the ringing trumpets of “the good part” be included in the arrangement? (answer: yes, but Mr. Conductor had best keep them from blowing the notes out of tune).

Let’s call the “definitive” arrangement the recording by the Tchaikovsky Large Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev (1995).

From 0:00 – 01:08 we hear the opening hymn – sung in this version, frequently played by the string section in other recordings. The hymn is actually “God Save the Tsar,” not a new creation of Tchaikovsky’s. Let’s call this the first good part.

01:08 – 03:12 Lots of building – starting small, getting large at 02:50. Look out for the tubas to rock your world, speakers, and sense of decency at 2:32. Maybe some “mystery” with the forgotten member of the strings, the double bass being played with a bow, creating “uncertainty and dread.” Maybe.

03:12 – 03:40 Section played by the upper and middle brass (French horns, the upper range of the trombones). What with the whole “celebrating victory over the French” thing, this is actually a play on La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem. Finally, “musical allusions” I agree with. Remember this ditty for later.

03:41 – The strings rock out before the brass comes back in at 4:40 playing more variations on La Marseillaise as the strings add flourishes – notice that the flourishes aren’t all by the violins and violas, the cellos and double basses add just as much. The melody is thrown all around the brass department: french horns and trombones, then trumpets, back to trombones, then trumpets again as at 05:03 – the violins flourish with an upwards run, the cellos and basses match it, but in reverse (for you music people out there, that’s called “inversion” …. or “retrograde.”) At 5:07 the string section’s cat and mouse game ends as they’re given the melody for a time as the section begins to wind down at 05:40.

05:57 – The section begins – woodwinds and strings are left alone to introduce this middle theme. At 6:40 the oboe and English horn get a slight countermelody which at 7:00 is picked up by the flutes who begin their take on the theme at 07:06. Notice the continual tambourine and the bassoon player’s mom standing up during the concert and saying “THAT’S MY SON!!!” because he’s the featured instrument from 7:21 until 7:26. Heck, it might be only 5 seconds, but to a bassoon player, that’s like being TIME’s person of the year. The French national anthem continues to be played with like a cat with a gimpy mouse until the brass add exclamation marks at 08:05, with the tubas even getting in on the French-bashing at 08:45. Uh-oh, I smell segue (08:50 – 09:02).

Same file as above, to avoid excess scrolling.

09:02 – 10:17 – I think this is the part where pretentious war movies start and they talk about the “beauty of combat, the man on man, the country vs. country.” At 9:42 the double bass proves why it Le Stinks compared to the tuba, with it barely being able to be heard (9:48 specifically). 09:49 – French Horn Solo! Well, two measures at a time, at least. 10:05 building to what will be the second good part.

10:18 – 11:10 The second good part. Timpani is played in place of cannon (good move), the trumpets take guff from no man. I assume this is supposed to be the whole “cannonballs wrecking stuff” section as we get blaring, blaring, blaring, then it’s the long, long (long, long) run down the orchestra starting with violins, viola, cello, then double-bass, then (to the chagrin of double-bass players everywhere), the tubas join in around 10:58 and totally drown them out. As it should be.

11:10 – 12:23 The third good part – also called, “the best part” I’ll be honest, the conductor takes it a bit fast for more liking, but it’s made up for in the fact that this version includes the chorus. This section’s all top-quality; generally the structure is “choir and brass play the role of cannon” then the strings play the part of “stuff blown up and floating through the air after explosion.” Remember the opening hymn, well, this is it all over again. Notice the “ringing” trumpets accenting the melody 1 and 2 octaves up, playing in unison but a 5th above the melody in the low brass. Wait a minute…isn’t root-5th the same thing as a power chord? Indeed it is. Take that rock and roll. 11:42 rocks my world (and makes purple acceptable to wear), so turn your speakers up. Notice the tuba player almost duff the first note of his mini-feature at 11:49, then redeem himself until he takes a slightly too long breath at 11:53/11:54. The chorus and brass do their thing, as the strings begin to wrap up the section at 12:16. Oh yeah, and the bells that start at ~11:06 and don’t stop until the whole song’s over? Someone needs to tell them not to overdo it. Supposedly, the original score calls for “carillon,” but most versions use tubular bells in place of the carillon. Notice the MP3 compression have a major coronary as it tries to compress this section with the bells, the brass, chorus, cymbals, and the strings all playing at FF. What’s a carillon you may ask? Well, if you’ve been to Musikfest, this guy plays a carillon.

Same file as above, to avoid excess scrolling.

12:23 – END – You know it, you may love it, you may hate it, but no matter what you think of it, to most people, this is the 1812 Overture. It’s the fourth good part if only by popular vote. It’s actually kind of ho-hum when you listen to it: the drums go bum-bum over and over again, the cymbal player is phoning it in, the cannoneers are waiting for their cue, the violin players are developing carpal tunnel, Clarinet 2 is wondering to himself, “I spent how much money on a music degree, and all I’m doing is playing second Clarinet in this commercial waste of time?!,” but its one saving grace is that the brass is about to get back in and bring it home. This version even includes the closing chorus, so if you ever see it performed live or even on TV (almost never with the chorus), remember this, so you realize what you’re missing. 12:32 The tubas double the chorus, the trumpets assist the violins and woodwinds, the cannon do their thing, and the double-bass and bassoon are apparently in absentia (as it should be). On your second listen-through, notice the trumpet players triple-tonguing the opening of each phrase (listen at 12:36, that’s not one note, that’s 3 super-quick ones, in a row). 12:49 This is a tricky section for most recordings. Frequently, the chromatic run of triplets, which begins at the top of the orchestra’s range with the flutes and violins, gets lost in the soundfield when it gets handed to the low brass (at 12:52) but not in this version. In this one, the notes are even accented on the way down and the tempo is slowed ever so slightly, drawing it out. Making this version even more definitive is that (pay attention), normally, when the chorus sits this section out as the low brass is doing the triplet run, the higher instruments ascend the major scale on each downbeat two octaves above the low brass. In this version, the men’s chorus is singing one octave above the brass, drawing more tension between the simultaneous ascending and descending lines compared to having two whole octaves between each.

After that, it’s just bombast – nothing extraordinary, though there’s something to be said for throwing the final melody down each member of the brass section, the high trumpets at 13:04, the lower trumpets at 13:05, the french horns and baritone at 13:06 (listen for the sour note during their turn around 13:07), then finally the trombones and tuba bring up the rear. All that’s left now is to wait for the darn thing to end for the next 18 seconds. It’s kind of like watching a dog after it’s let out to go to the bathroom. It runs around the whole yard waiting for a nice spot to take care of its business. It takes a while, but it does eventually end.

An alternate version (USSR State Symphony Orchestra – Evgeny Svetlanov – 1974):
No choir (beginning, middle, or end)
The strings are played in place of the chorus – eh, it’s okay, but he takes them a bit too slowly. At this tempo, they come off more as “emotive” than “expressive.” I’m not sure what that means, but feel free to quote me. It does sound like the instruments are about to cry. Also, I think you can hear the musician’s breath between musical phrases. I’d assume this was someone’s artsy-fartsy idea to “make the instruments sound more like people.”
Listen (opening only – turn it up a bit):

More notably, this version includes an alternate ending. Apparently the change has to do with Soviet Russia not liking things praising the Tsar (for some reason). More here.
Listen:

At 0:12 – right when you expect the brass entrance, you get…whuh?! Actually, it’s another hymn, but at least you get back in time (0:35) for the epic final run (which is drawn out and even accented by the tubas).

Here’s the whole thing – it’s pretty much the typical performance. The sound quality is a bit lacking, but it’s certainly passable:
Listen:

Another Sample
Not sure the pedigree of this one, but it shows why that final run (0:04) needs to be recorded and mixed carefully. The bottom half gets completely lost in the explosions and strings.
Listen:

One Last Example
Finally, this is what happens when the end is played too fast. Not only are the trumpets out of sync, they’re blowing the notes out of tune. Also, one of the trumpet players seems to left the building from 0:23-0:27.
Listen:

I have a few more renditions if anyone’s interested, but I covered the good ones and the notable differences between variations….and, I’m sure most of you stopped reading after the title.

****½

The 1812 Overture gets four-and-half stars for longevity, effect, and who-cares-if-it’s-“popular” awesomeness. It makes fun of the French, incorporates military equipment, and has been co-opted by the US; really, what else is there? Half-a-star is deducted for that middle section. It’s good, but unfortunately doesn’t compare. It is not the best song ever, but it’s definitely breathing rarefied air.

Best Song Ever?: Everyone Gets a Star (Albert Hammond, Jr.)

Note for those using feedreaders: the song is embedded on this review’s entry so there’s a point-of-reference in the review; you might want to view this entry from the webpage instead of the feed.

Background
About six years ago during the throes of the boy-band era and Creed’s establishing themselves as the benchmark for “rock” for the next few years (face it, it’s true, unfortunate or not), “rock journalists” began hyping a new, unsigned band from New York who would supposedly save rock (and/or roll). Well, it’s been six years later, and The Strokes are still more-or-less “the who’s?.” Notably, they were pretty much the first of the “the” bands (the Hives, the Vines, the White Stripes) to get significant mainstream exposure. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that The Strokes didn’t really end up changing the world, but they do have three perfectly solid albums to their name (some publications weren’t too fond of First Impressions of Earth, but I digress). Long story short, Albert Hammond, Jr. is the lead guitar player in The Strokes, and his first solo CD, Yours to Keep, came out in late 2006. With one listen, his membership in The Strokes is obvious, but the music manages to be a bit less “garagey” sounding than a typical Strokes track, with slightly higher-gloss production and even some vocal harmonies throughout. Consider the album highly recommended.

For

  • The bass part is actually played by a guitar for most of the song. The rhythm part during the opening (up to 0:21) is being played on a guitar. Once the bass comes in at that point, the guitar stays with a bass-type part instead of playing chords (around 0:43 the second rhythm guitar comes in, with the rhythm guitar continuing its “bass line.”)
  • Deceptively complicated for such a simple-sounding song. At 2:04 listen to four separate rhythm parts (rhythm guitar 1, rhythm guitar 2, bass, drums), all of which are unique. (the parts aren’t doubling each other, in other words).
  • Incredibly catchy – I guess that’s that whole “intangible” of a “good song.”

Against

  • Relentlessly dull lyrics:

    These guys have all got problems. / These guys have all got their problems.

    He’s rhyming the word “problems” with…. “problems.”

    When will you stop and see me through / There’s something else I’d rather do

    “Do” is the first entry in any rhyming dictionary for “through.”

    Today, you’ve come now go away.

    Points for the internal rhyme, but points off for the faux-deep jumble of words.

  • The “breakdown” at 2:24 (in other words, when the unique aspects of the song get thrown out) should be a true bridge, not “well, I don’t have any more lyrics, and I don’t want to end the song by repeating the chorus over and over again, so I’ll have it ‘rock out!’ here.

***

Unfortunately, it’s not the best song ever. It had a darn good thing going, then all of a sudden…. well, it didn’t. Considering this is his first solo CD and I’ll say this one song is stronger than anything on Is This It? (except maybe “Someday.”), it doesn’t need to be the best song ever.

Pitchfork Media’s Review of “Shine On” and “Get Born” by Jet

My review of “Step One” by Steps. Wow, that was easy. I didn’t even have to sit through the CD!

When you read a review, you expect certain things. You want to hear some insightful positives and negatives regarding the thing being reviewed. You don’t want to be talked down to. You hope to have an overall idea of whether said object is worth seeing/listening to/buying/reading/visiting/eating/doing/throwing things at. And after you’ve done any of those things, you want to come back and read that review again to determine whether you agree or think the reviewer is out of his mind. Basically, you expect reviews like this and this. Then you go to a website whose supposed specialty is reviews, and you see something like this. This “review” only manages to fit one of those criteria, that being the last one” that this reviewer is totally out of his mind.

A long time ago, when the second Franklin movie was being planned, our discussion took a long detour, with us arguing over the definition of the phrase “cop out”. There were numerous e-mails sent back and forth trying to determine if an idea that I came up with was something that constituted this. You can read highlights here. This argument was never really solved, but I stand here today telling you once and for all, that this “review” is the definition of “cop out”.

I can gather by the video clip shown here that the “reviewer” doesn’t like Shine On, but I was interested in hearing some actual insight into what makes it good or bad. Granted, the CD wasn’t that great (there were three songs on it that I thought were really good, but the rest was kinda mediocre), but it doesn’t deserve to have its review have nothing interesting or meaningful to say at all. I don’t know how a high-fallutin’ website like pitchforkmedia decided that that was representative of their organization, but recently, they even put up a similar video, claiming it was a JET music video. Obviously, the pretentious music-lovers have a thing against the Aussies rockers, but I really can’t figure out what it is.

The review of their first album, Get Born, gives us a little more understanding, but I use the word “little” literally. It’s presented in the form of a discussion between the band and the owner of a venue where they’re supposed to be putting on a concert. Things go wrong at the concert and the fans turn on the band. Sure there are opinions presented about the band, but I’m sure they’re all completely over-the-top exaggerations from someone who’s never seen them live or met them. I can’t imagine a band (aside from the Flaming Lips or Ozzy Osbourne) actually demanding [thirty f%$&in’ angry alligators with top hats on, Iggy Pop shooting out of that cannon, and midway through sending in the kid from the iPod commercial.] It may work as a review of the band, but as a review of the album it fails miserably.

It only mentions three songs from the CD (very briefly) and it only has two points that I gleaned from the whole thing. The first is that all their songs sound like other bands (citing AC/DC, Iggy Pop, Wallflowers, Oasis, Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones). The second is that they have “insipid love songs that sound like wedding band covers” and “insipid lyrics, we say ‘Come On!’ and ‘Oh Yeah!’ every five seconds”. So basically the guy only knows one insulting adjective. You know, there’s a thesaurus feature in MS word, and I’d assume there’s also one on the trendy Mac you also probably use. Insipid: dull, bland, wishy-washy, characterless, colorless, trite, tame, unexciting, uninteresting, boring. Maybe none of those words sounded smart/insulting to readers enough, though I’m partial to the word “trite

Here’s the thing that the review is missing. The music is fun. It’s not meant to be high art. It’s not meant to be genre-pushing. It’s meant to be music with easy-to-learn lyrics and melodies that you can put in your car CD player, turn the volume way up on, roll down your windows and shout at the top of your lungs and have a good time. And it completely succeeds at that, something that this reviewer was competent enough to pick up on. There’s a good mix of fast and slow songs (so the whole CD doesn’t sound the same, a huge pet peeve of mine), and I like most of the slower songs. I understand that a lot of the faster songs sound similar, but they’re catchy enough that it doesn’t bother me (a problem that the second CD had), much like with critically lauded Franz Ferdinand. As far as the words go, I’m not expecting poetic lyrics, so why should I complain that they’re not there? Did people who went to see Pirates of the Caribbean complain that there wasn’t a deeper meaning in the dialogue, or that it wasn’t a British period piece about some queen from the 17th century? I would hope not. They should be expecting to have fun. That’s all I expect out of it. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t hold the band accountable for bad music, I just don’t think that criticizing lyrics for this kind of music is really the way to go. Do critics complain about the lyrics to “SHOUT” or “MONY MONY”? Some of the songs on that Fountains of Wayne CD, Welcome Interstate Managers had TERRIBLE lyrics, but critics dismissed them because of how fun the melodies were.

Now some of you who are familiar with Aaron Copland’s book, “What to Listen for in Music“, would say that I’m only listening to this album on a “sensuous”, or maybe an “expressive” level, and that to fully understand why music is good or bad, I have to be listening to it on a “sheerly musical” level as well, combining the three. Well, in response to that I would claim that there isn’t too much to it on a musical level, but my musical knowledge is limited. I’m learning to increase what I hear when I listen, but I want to understand what makes this a musically good or bad album. That’s why I went to a site where I knew I would find a harsh but intelligent criticism of the CD. But there was none of that there. Instead, all I got was a poorly-written, profanity-laced diatribe against the band for mimicking other bands. Personally, since there really isn’t any truly popular band playing right now that sounds like them, I don’t have too much of a problem with it, but I’m reviewing the review, and not the band or CD, so that doesn’t really matter.


Zero stars for the cop-out Shine On so-called review.

½
½ star for the creativity to write a review for Get Born as a dialogue. Minus four and a half for not having any substance to it at all, not talking about the songs, and basically complaining because Jet has songs that sound like bands that lots of people like.