Best Song Ever?: Magic (Ben Folds Five)

Another in the “Best Song Ever?” series. Simply, I give the background, a point, a counterpoint, then star rating for songs that I have on my list of “good songs” with the goal of deciding what’s the best song ever. 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
I was really never a fan of Ben Folds Five. I thought “Brick” was catchy in its own way, way back when (1995?). I never followed Ben Folds Five, but I knew the band ceased to exist sometime between 1995 and 2000, with Ben Folds going out on his own, making CD’s that sounded just like when he was in “Ben Folds Five.” (I had no problem with it, I just wasn’t into it.) I randomly (very randomly) heard the song, “Magic” sometime in the fall of 2005 on WMUH. I didn’t know what it was when I heard it (I had missed the DJ’s intro), so I scribbled down some of the lyrics to look up later on the internet. Turns out that this was the mystery song. +1 for college radio.

For

  • Shows that playing “around” chords and a pleasant melody can get you pretty far as a singer-songwriter. (yes, I’m aware that being that he had a backing band, this isn’t really a “singer-songwriter” type song). For what it’s worth, the song was actually written by the drummer, Darren Jessee, so it’s not necessarily a “Ben Folds” song.
  • The viola playing the bottom of the chords in a nice touch during the first verse.
  • It’s in 6/8. None of the pedestrian 4/4 stuff here, thank you very much.
  • The soft-loud-soft dynamic is used to good effect here. (see “against”)
  • 2:12 – At the risk of venturing into girliness, the line “You’re the magic that holds the sky up” really gets the point of that whole “love” thing. It’s not a metaphor, there’s nothing really figurative to it, I’m not sure it’s even symbolic, but it’s just a gentle exaggeration which gets the point across rather well.
  • Against

  • For the love of God, who thought it would be a good idea to have the timpani levels so loud. If you’ve turned up your head phones to hear the first verse, the timpani is seriously “damage your ears and headphones” loud. Why, why, why? Studio engineers:The enhanced dynamic range offered by CD’s is a privilege, not a right. Don’t abuse it.
  • Again, the timpani. If anyone has his or her bass turned up (most people usually do), the two timpani entrances (combined with the relative quiet of the first verse) will cause noticeable clipping because of their volume. Again, why?
  • The string section is a bit gratuitous. A single viola, violin, or cello would be ok, but with all of them, it gets a little heavy sounding.

    ****

    I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is louder timpani. No one would ever say that, even jokingly making reference to a Saturday Night Live sketch. The slightly over-the-top string section can be forgiven, but when the mixing of a song calls attention to itself, someone should be fired. Jarring dynamic changes are one thing; being unpleasant to listen to is another. It gets 4 out of 5, because of the quality of the song, but the mixing should really give it an “NA” for its rating.

Best Song Ever?: Ambulance (TV on the Radio)

Another in the “Best Song Ever?” series. Simply, I give the background, a point, a counterpoint, then star rating for songs that I have on my list of “good songs” with the goal of deciding what’s the best song ever. 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
TV on the Radio, creators of one of 2006’s best-reviewed albums, Return to Cookie Mountain were once “indie” in more than just genre. They’re now one of those “popular unpopular” bands, with an appearance on David Letterman and a video on rotation on MTV Hits. You’ll see music critics fawning over their doo-wop and soul influences, though at the end of the day, their “thing” is usually more of a noise/fuzz experiment (basically, it’s an entrant in the genre of “stoner rock”), in 2004, they released the album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes with the a cappella “retro-ish” track “Ambulance.” They’re the type of band that if you namedrop “TV on the Radio,” you’re guaranteed to impress your pretentious friends.

For

  • Who needs any stinkin’ instruments when you’ve got competant singers.
  • The “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” bass line won’t leave your head. Ever.
  • Relentlessly solid lyrics (and I’m not a lyrics person): I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance //
    And I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast // And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance.

Against

  • The “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” bass line won’t leave your head.
  • The music is so straight-forward that you can’t help but pay attention to the words, and some of those words, while usually solid, if not looked at in the context of the whole song give the feel of written-by-high-schoolers-literature. Heart’s colors changed like leaves sounds like one of those faux-deep expressions a 16 year old would think up. To be fair, the line does actually work because the rest of that verse mentions vines, gardens, seeds and other earthy, not entirely unmetamorphical terms. I’m not sure this should be held against the song, but I don’t feel like erasing it.
  • At 4:54, it’s a bit simple for a song with no “build” or swell.

***

This is a tough one. The song is timeless – if I hadn’t mentioned the dates in the first section, I’m not sure anyone would know that it was from 2004 instead of any decade preceding that. Timelessness would be a characteristic of “the best song ever,” but I think this one draws too much from the past. A more modern take of the song is offered when it’s played live (see video, below). A guitar plays some atmospheric texture, a bass plays the “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” part, and someone beatboxes a drum part. It’s wholly the same song, but provides an all-new direction for it. Note: the video is just a portion of the song, but it’ll get the point across.

Best Song Ever?: Superman (Goldfinger)

Another in the “Best Song Ever?” series. Simply, I give the background, a point, a counterpoint, then star rating for songs that I have on my list of “good songs” with the goal of deciding what’s the best song ever. 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
Goldfinger was one of the bigger bands (along with The Mighty Might Bosstones and Reel Big Fish) of the ska “boom” of 1996/1997. They’ve been churning out albums at the pace of about one every other year since 1996, and are known for doing hundreds of concerts each year. The album Hang-Ups is probably their best work. The preceding self-titled album was a bit rough around the edges and the later albums (3 as of today), while solid, didn’t quite have the creative edge presented with the whole of Hang-Ups. Basically, along with Blink 182, Goldfinger invented pop-punk, though for Goldfinger, the “pop” aspect never really came true. I heard the song “Superman” in 9th grade in 1997, and since then it’s been one of my favorites.

For

  • Incorporates the trumpets and trombones without it being gimmicky. They don’t sound out of place, and they used sparingly enough that the texture they add is not arbitrary.
  • Similar to the last song reviewed, the return from the bridge (the bridge starting at 1:57) happens at exactly the right time within the song (2:23 as the lead guitar plays 3 notes to lead into a recap of the first verse), and the stripped down arrangement of rhythm guitar, bass, cymbal ride, and vocals is the perfect contrast to the “throw everything at the fan” arrangement of the bridge.
  • Ambitious bass playing.

Against

  • Probably a bit too aggressive for most people.
  • Some people just don’t and won’t like the ska, guitar chord on the upbeat style.
  • No one’s going to be writing a treatise on the lyrics any time soon. (maybe Nate would be up it)

***

In terms of this being the best song ever, it gets only 3 stars. It puts up a good fight, but a real test here is whether one can listen to it beginning to end more than once in a row. This song? Can’t do it. I could listen to the recapitulation of the first verse after the bridge (starting at 2:23) all day long, but unfortunately that’s only part of the song, not the whole thing. And, well, the whole ska thing probably knocks it out of competition for good.

Best Song Ever?: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel)

The first in (maybe) a series of reviews. Simply, I give the background, a point, a counterpoint, then star rating for songs that I have on my list of “good songs” with the goal of deciding what’s the best song ever. Up first is one that definitely isn’t the best song ever, but lets me test my review format. 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
I came across Neutral Milk Hotel after reading that they had a 10.0 reviewed album with one of our nemeses, Pitchfork Media. (That’s darn near impossible). I checked out the album, and came across a song I had heard once before and had stuck with me reasonably well considering I had only heard it once. That brings us to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”

For

  • Note the singing saw and the who cares if it’s out of tune trumpet. It does the whole “using non-traditional instruments” in an artistic, non-self-conscious-way. (see Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys).
  • It’s in 6/8 (kind of rare for rock music [well, indie {the genre} music]).
  • Evocative-ish lyrics “When we meet on a cloud, I’ll be laughing out loud” [internal rhyme for the win!]
  • Everything seems right in the world as the verses begin after the controlled musical meanderings (0:40, 1:28). The return after the bridge (the bridge starting at 2:00) is especially epic. As a listener, you’re rooting for it to get to the “What beautiful face…” after the song seemingly deconstructs after the bridge. At 2:45, everything is where it needs to be.

Against

  • Neutral Cheese Who?
  • Odd instruments, intentionally sloppy singing and bass playing.
  • Lyrically, there are some nice little onesies (see above), but there’s not much going on beyond that.
  • Just plain too weird for most people.

*½

While not a one and a half star song on its own merits, in the scale of whether it’s the best song ever, it really isn’t even a contender. It’s one-of-a-kind, but the weirdness-to-most-people inherent in making a song “one-of-a-kind” seals its fate on the “not the best song ever” side of the dividing line.

The Cinemax Star Wars Promo

quick intro: Cinemax will be showing all six Star Wars movies in high definition starting in November. Being that this is the first time all six movies have been shown in HD, they’re making a big deal about it, and have a page setup with various promotional videos. The video in question is entitled, “Original Trilogy.” For lower quality, but faster viewing, watch it on YouTube. The video is also embedded in this page. As will become significant later in this review, the song in the video is Fix You by Coldplay. Note: the audio level is very, very low in this file, so turn your speakers up.

9 Bulleted Reasons Why This is Probably the Best Star Wars Promo Video Ever (and one reason why I say ‘probably’)

Turn your speakers up, this is a quiet one.
  • Slow-motion makes everyone a good actor. Star Wars movies (old and new) were never known for their quality of their acting, but in slow motion, these are all Oscar-worthy performances. Notice at 0:41 when Natalie Portman’s character is about to cry: when I saw this in the theatre, there was laughing. And this was the buy-tickets-in-advance very first in the zip code midnight showing of the movie – in other words, people that drink the George Lucas Kool-Aid. But in slow motion… it gets ya.
  • It doesn’t use the all-too familiar Star Wars music for once. We know the “Star Wars opening crawl song”, Darth Vader’s music, and those that truly believe can pick out Yoda’s and Leia’s themes as well as the sort of singles from the prequels. As long as I can remember, Star Wars promos have used this music – it’s common brand recognition, people. But these Cinemax folks, they did something blatantly obvious, yet something that no one had thought of. Just choose the most-overused trailer and commercial band ever, Coldplay!
  • Surprisingly, Coldplay is not a bad choice. I’ve long held that Coldplay is more about the “sound” than the “song.” Of their random recordings and three major albums, they have about five really good songs among an unremarkable but perfectly solid collection of songs. The Cinemax people picked a good one, maybe the best one. Sure, picking this particular song isn’t exactly cutting edge for setting to video, but when was the last time Coldplay was set to non-contemporary images? We see new movie trailers, commercials, wrestling hype videos, and sports highlight packages out the wazoo (it doesn’t seem like people archive these type of videos, so no links), but already familiar images set to the music? — it works because as familiar as Coldplay is, this is a new way to present their style.
  • The video takes advantage of the fact that everyone already knows what happens in the movies to focus on some of the smaller moments. For example: they show the targeting computer footage from the original movie (in slow motion, of course), then Luke is shown reacting immediately after he shoots the torpedoes into the Death Star (using the force as guidance instead of the computer). We all know what he did, what it looked like, and instead of focusing on the destruction, we see the moment of relief when he realized he just really did it. A quick, quiet moment in a movie seemingly lacking nuance like that. Then we see the real big explosion, but we don’t hear the sound effects.
  • Finally, a Star Wars commercial that doesn’t focus on fight scenes and “THEN IT GOES BOOM” moments. It’s nice to see other aspects and moments of the movies highlighted…even if it takes slow motion to make them resonate. (disclaimer: I think I remember some love-ish related commercials to try to get women-folk interested in episodes 2 and 3, but those were as subtle in their appeals for women’s attention as the explosion-heavy commercials went after guys)
  • Again, the scene selection is top quality. The fact that they show Luke coming across the dead bodies of his adoptive parents says a lot about the shot selection. Considering that their death is probably the second most forgotten plot point in all six movies (the first being all of episode 1), and it’s the reason that Luke left his home planet to inadvertently join the Rebellion, it’s nice to see it given proper treatment. And the slow motion certainly helps. Also, instead of showing Luke fighting Vader, or the more famous scene where Vader’s mask is removed, they’ve selected the shot of Luke struggling to drag a dying Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker at this point, I guess) to his shuttle to save him. This isn’t exactly what a beginner would pick from that sequence.
  • Attention to detail: To movie enthusiasts, the Star Wars movies are known for their attention to detail in sets, sound design, and art direction . The video showcases one of the finer details that’s wholly unnecessary in The Empire Strikes Back, but adds something to the “cold, hard, computers” motif seen on the Imperial warships. At 1:28, we see Darth Vader kneel down as he is about to begin his long-distance conversation with the Emperor (who, I’ll point out, is not seen at all in this video, prequels or original movies). It’s a significant moment in the original movies because, after seeing Darth Vader as the ultimate bad guy in the first movie, he’s shown bowing down to someone who really must be bad (as you can imagine, there’s more significance there if you’ve never seen the prequels). This plot point actually isn’t the detail in question though; it’s the fact that the set designer chose to progressively illuminate a four-segment ring of light on Vader’s platform after he knelt down. All of this a considerable amount of work for the carpenters what with the fact that the lit platform was shown in all of two shots. Now, whether the people that worked on this video read that much into it, I don’t know, but at the minimum, it’s an interesting shot from one of the less prominent sequences in any of the movies.
  • It makes the prequels look like movies that mesh with the originals. The fact that the old and new movies have almost completely different “looks” has been beaten to death, but the video merges the two styles into one organic universe (as it’s supposed to be between the trilogies). The Millenium Falcon taking off from the original movie followed by a ship from the prequels doing the same provides a connection to the big picture similarities between the movies. (Yes, I know the Millenium Falcon shot was from the Special Edition, but I’ve never heard of anyone complaining about that replacement.) Shots from the prequels are sparse, but well selected; there’s nothing there to remind you of the bad parts.
  • The music of the song really matches the video well [note: I’m talking about the music, not the lyrics (see below)]. To be honest, this isn’t a challenging song to mesh with images; it starts slow and simply with vocals and an organ, then builds as layers are added to the soundscape with guitars, bass, drums, echo, reverb and other studio magic. The key is that the song has energy, even with a slow vocal part. Simply, good trailer music is too slow to regular dance to, and too fast to slow dance to. Like many Coldplay songs, this sits at that neither-here-nor-there perfect-for-trailers tempo.
  • The lyrics are matched to shot selection too well. Someone at Cinemax said, “wouldn’t it be cute if when the lyrics say ‘I will fix you’, we show Chewbacca fixing C-3PO?” Unfortunately, no one said, “it would be, but that’s a stupid idea.” Though not exactly a metaphorical song, the lyrics can safely be called “evocative,” especially the “lights will guide you home” part. Pairing “when you try your best, but you don’t succeed” with Luke failing to lift his ship out of the swamp, again, is cute, but is ultimately an annoying choice. I’m not believer in the “power of lyrics,” but matching a video of someone trying and failing so literally with that phrase implies that the song is about a specific time when someone tried and failed, and without any sense of generality, that little phrase loses any poetic meaning. It would be like if a greeting card company began printing cards that said, “You’ll be my best friend until the end of time” because a gigantic meteor was on its way towards Earth in one week with a 100% chance of total destruction. The phrase loses any rhetorical weight it might have had because it’s addressing a very literal situation [I’ll pause here to let that one sink in…]. This also goes for “stuck in reverse” while showing R2-D2 rolling away with his back to the camera. BUT, the shot of Obi-Wan smiling (in slow motion) when he’s decided to sacrifice himself to Vader to allow Luke to escape during the first “lights will guide you home” line (1:07) works perfectly, as does the focus on the targeting computer as the song reaches that point a second time (2:09). *Special gross comment: Being that the song does include the “and ignite your bones” lyric, I’ll say that with the movies offering three four different instances of burned bones (the Owen and Beru Lars invitation-only BBQ of the original movie, Anakin totally forgetting that Obi-Wan had the high ground in Episode 3, and Luke getting his hand ginsu’d off in The Empire Strikes Back and Vader Flambee at the end of Return of the Jedi)), I’m surprised they didn’t have thrown a few frames of those shots in the video at the (overly) appropriate times.

*****
Too literal video to lyrics issues aside, this is the video which shows why people like these movies. Coincidentally, there’s no dialog, but there’s also very little action; it’s the characters and how they deal with their sneakers-too-large-for-their-feet problems and come out on top that pulls the people in, it’s the effortless attention to detail, it’s the entirely unreal yet very real world and characters created in the movies. Enough of my soapbox. It’s also really cool when the video shows the starfighter from the prequels (2:04) breaking off to blow stuff up, then immediately follows it with the point-of-view shot of the Luke entering the trench of the first Death Star with that same organic, rolling motion. Highest recommendation.

That new U2/Green Day Song

I guess I just don’t understand the point. U2 needed a single for their approximately fifth greatest hits collection. Rather than come up with a really good song themselves, they enlisted the help of a band that while good, just doesn’t seem like the right fit with U2: Green Day. Not that Green Day can’t play, but the two bands’ styles are just a little too different to mesh collectively, not unlike that time where about 16 different musicians got up onstage at the Grammys and butchered Lennon/McCartney’s “Across the Universe”. Paul’s probably rolling in his grave. “route involving thoughtful lyrics about the condition of the area, or people’s struggles, they decided that the second half of the song should consist of the phrase “The Saints are Coming”, repteated over and over and over again, in a musical phrase that has definitely been taken from somewhere that I can’t quite place. They chose to debut this song at the reopening of the Superdome, for the Saints-Falcons Monday night game a few weeks ago, and it works perfectly as an opening theme song for the football team during games. I can’t imagine, however, that this song is going to be remembered at all in even one year’s time, and that’s a shame considering that this is all that two of the most prolific bands of the last 15 years could come up with. It’s almost like they weren’t trying.

They could very well have been trying something new though. This could be the start of product placement within the music industry. Well, I guess that’s not new” but maybe actually using the songs on the radio to promote something. It would be like the Eagles writing a song about how great the Philadelphia Eagles are, to get them pumped up, or AC DC writing a song for the Chargers (HA!), or Bad Company writing a song called “Bad Company” and using it at Enron meetings (BA-ZING).

And isn’t Bono’s thing Africa , anyway? Why didn’t they use the power of song to put together a group to raise funds for Africa “. Oh waitI forgot” Well, why didn’t they do it again? A world-renowned, self-appointed ambassador to a far-off and underprivileged continent can’t be taking time away from that to help another cause, especially one that’s been nigh on forgotten by most of the world ( You know you’re lost in your own logic when you can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not). I mean, you don’t see Brangelina Polie out there helping America ‘s homeless people, or fighting drug abuse, or all the millions of issues people here face every day. And that’s because they have character. They know that if they multi-task, not only do run the risk of reducing the importance of their cause, but they also reduce the importance of other, more useless celebrities. By doing double duty (I said Doody!… I guess that doesn’t work as well when typed out) when it comes to activism, you’re the one putting Rob Scheider out of a job. It’s on your head Bono.

What was I talking about? Oh, this dumb song. Like I said, it may be good for the football team, but call me cold; I don’t really care about the Saints. It was nice to see them play well, but not nice enough for me to listen to an awful song that could’ve been better.

*

One star for trying to bring some attention back to New Orleans , and making a song that they’ll be playing forever at Saints games. Minus four stars for making the rest of us listen to it, and possibly starting a trend of individually-made rock songs for a specific sports team. The last thing we need is a re-made version of “Benny and the Jets” about New York’s lesser football squad. We already have to deal with that annoying J-E-T-S cheer. That should be enough.

Other People Stealing Your Ideas Without Ever Having Met You or Knowing that They Stole Something Part 2

Mini-Review (no exclamation mark)

Yet one more instance of the Bookshelf® being a step ahead of the mass media.

Last week, the latest “internet phenomenon movie,” 300 released its first official trailer. Without judging the movie, of which I only know a marginable amount, it looks like someone decided to make a bluescreen movie, but this time, turn up the dynamic range.

300
Just imagine how mad he’d be if someone unknowingly stole his idea…Without asking!

Anyway, take a look at the trailer here, and give it a nice listen. Yep, the music might sound a bit familiar for those of you that remember a semi-but-now-quickly-being-un-disowned movie trailer put together by your favorite group of (not so) local idiots. That’s “Just Like You Imagined” from Nine Inch Nails’ album, The Fragile. These “300” people stole my idea without even having met me or knowing that they stole something.

*

They get one star because they’re movie looks pretty darn cool, but they lose four because of the aforementioned idea-stealing, and the fact that they didn’t take advantage of the fact that the song already has the “quiet, loud, quiet” dynamic good for making movie trailers dramatic (or in our case, confusing) and just recycled the beginning of the song at the end. Bad form, Hollywood. Bad form.

*to be fair, the song was used in a trailer before we used it, but it was a trailer for a Nine Inch Nails concert DVD, so I think it’s safe to say that that doesn’t count. I’d send a link to that video, but it’s buried within the Flash in the “clips and trailers” section of the DVD’s website.

The Death of WKAP


WKAP failed in its bid to be the real version of WKRP. It was not based in Cincinatti.

Call me lame. I like oldies music. Not like the sleepy old easy listening fifties stuff that you’re used to thinking about when you think of AM radio. I’m talking about the British Invasion of 1965, the California surf sound, a little bit of Motown, some Doo-Wop, and the Four Seasons. The origins of rock and roll. I don’t really listen to that stuff anymore. That was sort’ve what we listened to growing up, and since then, I’ve moved on to “Album Oriented Rock“, which on most “Classic Rock” stations consists of the same 200 songs over and over again. Granted I know that top 40 radio has about the same amount of songs, but theirs vary over a period of time, and two years later the list has been completely revamped. With classic rock and oldies there’s really no room for growth, which can get a bit repetitive and redundant. The good thing about that though is that they allow for both quick learning of the songs, and once you move on, when you do choose to eventually come back to it, it’ll be there, the exact way you left it.

This was the case more than 2 years ago when I was driving back from California. On our way through Iowa, we hit what was probably the worst storm I’ve ever driven in. Huge hail and intense rain, and complete darkness, save for the tail-lights of the tractor-trailer I was following. Flipping through the radio furiously in an attempt to find something to ease my anxiety, I stopped at a radio show I hadn’t heard in years. “Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits” with Dick Bartley. I had listened to his show on weekend nights growing up, when I was going to bed or whatever. The show was exactly the way I remember it, and I hadn’t forgotten the songs; they were just pushed all the way to the back of my mind, like the names of all those kids in my third grade class picture.

A few months later I got a new cd player/radio for my car and to this day I still can’t figure out how to set the time or radio presets. I’ve worked around it by knowing that right now my clock is fifty-five minutes ahead, and having three FM channels saved and one AM. Unless you like talk radio, there’s no reason to have an AM station saved on there, but it’s a spot that needs to be filled, so I cycled through and to my surprise, one of the few stations was playing oldies. It was alright, but they played too much of a variety. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but I’m just not into all the really old easy-listening/a.m. gold-stuff. So being a station flipper, it’s good for an occasional song, but over an extended period of time, the songs are too erratic to keep listening. On the other hand, I found myself listening more and more as they broadcast Phillies games on the station, and started airing the Dick Bartley shows on the weekends as well.

The station really didn’t have a lot going for it, other than those stand-bys. Maybe the older people who would typically be listening to it would like the radio personalities, but I found them grating” although not as grating as local “Superstar”, Ken Matthews who will be retiring from his role as the Lehigh Valley’s most obnoxious, over-inflated media personality after 15 years. They had what was billed as the largest Elvis radio library in the country, which I guess for them could be a good thing, and they had a built-in audience from the just sold (in 2001, by clearchannel, due to FCC rules, prompting both stations to change format), “highest rated oldies station in the country”, WODE. I’m not sure how they’d mess it up, because if there’s one place outside of Florida that an oldies station could thrive, it would be in the home of the most listened to oldies station in the country. I guess though, if you don’t advertise yourself, and you’re on a radio band that nobody listens to, even to scroll through, unless you’re looking for right-wing pundits, news, or sports games, you might be able to fail.

But I’m assuming they did, because one day in August, I happened to hear a moderately saddening commercial. I’m going to paraphrase it, because I don’t remember the specifics (i.e. the names of the people). This is a dialogue. Keep in mind while reading it, that the people in the commercial were extremely energetic, and sounded like Jesus-camp counselors.

Donny: Coming soon, to the new WYHM, the Donny and Marie morning show [not their actual names]. Filled with family-oriented fun.

Marie: And our patented witty banter.

Donny: Some of our topics include the whole “

The Unfair Critical Treatment of Former Boy Band Members

Let’s see if I can get out some reviews for once…

I’m not being profound when I say that success is a great way to turn the less successful against you. In the burgeoning field of critical criticism, this fact is no more obvious than with music critics. Movie critics are relatively high profile (notably Roger Ebert), and there is a variety of widely known names in the field (Gene Shallit, Peter Travers, Leonard Maltin, etc.) and almost never write “I could make a better movie than this, I’m just choosing not to” types of reviews. If anything, for a really awful movie, they’ll just say, “Anyone can’t write (successful) music, but think that they can. This isn’t where every music critic comes from, but it’s a heckuva lot easier to say, “I’m going to tour the country, and sell my CDs to all the free-thinking Zydeco-Blues-Jamband-Trip Hop-New Wave-fans out there” and think you really have a chance than saying “I’m going to be a movie star,” and actually believing your own hype.

But the weird thing is that with music (well, like movies, too), one doesn’t necessarily need to be particularly talented to get really far with a career in it, for some amount of time, at least. Obviously, the poppy-est of pop music is the ultimate example of this. We’re sort of in a dry spell for “bubblegum” pop at the moment, but it’ll come back…it always does. Nsync sold (capital “M”) Millions of records, made lots of money, achieved a huge amount of fame, and those people with musical dreams in the previous paragraph? Not so much. See the part above about success and the unsuccessful.

band
In Soviet Russia, band boys you!

See, I have nothing against NSync (or any of those groups). First (and what should be the most obvious), I’m not and I never was their target market. It’s not my money spent on their CDs, merchandise, etc. If I’m that offended by their existence, I can change the channel, the radio station, whatever implement of the mass media on which I’d see them. And second, in interviews, they seemed like perfectly friendly guys who had a lot of fun and realized they were really a product of the current time, and they’d be “done” when they needed to be “done.” (to be fair to the “haters,” the Backstreet Boys didn’t seem to have quite as much perspective/insight into their fleetingness). Second-and-a-half-ly, there’s something to be said for making somewhat listenable music that gets played on Top 40 radio: I can’t stand most of their catalog, but “Bye, bye, bye” is a darn good song, you’re just afraid to admit it.

And third (where the music critic thing comes in), no matter how “unmusical” they might’ve been, it really doesn’t matter. Someone would laugh out loud if anyone in Nsync said he was “living his dream of being a musician,” but if he said, “I’m living my dream of being famous,” well, you really can’t argue with that. Toward the end of their popularity, you could tell that their “handlers” thought they could gain more fans if they were involved (in some nebulous capacity) in the writing of their music (as opposed just the performance of it), but the writing was already on the wall for their genre of “pop” as “real” signer-songwriters like Avril Leveigne took the torch and were equally not the type of music someone like me would in the market for.

But did these boy band members have any talent? Easy answer: of course not, they sold millions of records because of the people pulling their strings. Not-so-easy answer: they sold millions of more than one record, and no matter how smart the people behind the scenes were, there were five guys that needed to keep a rather limited “schtick” interesting.

Justin Timberlake, undoubtedly the most musically successful of the former members, gets the worst rap. He was probably the most popular among the ladies during his days with Nsync and let’s not forget his white-boy-fro: plenty of reasons to hate the guy. Basically, he managed to turn a boy band career into a “leading man in music” type of trajectory with one CD, and his upcoming CD will cement his role even further. Of course, he won’t be able to shake the “boy band” thing, but there’s something to be said for people always being interested in your next CD, if only so they can complain about it loudly, inadvertently helping to promote it.

Which brings us to the actual center of this review, a seemingly innocuous review of one of the new singles on Justin Timberlake’s new CD. Once again, let me call out pitchfork media. Now, I’ve not heard the song in question, but the review of “My Love” is the issue. But wait, you say, “Dan, but the review got five out of five stars, and pitchfork media doesn’t like anything.” I say, “Look more closely.” Sure, it got five big stars, but look to see why. It certainly doesn’t have much to do with Justin Timberlake according to the writer. Timbaland produced the song, which as we know, in hip-hop means he did either a whole lot or a whole little. It would appear that Timbaland, for this song, did “a whole lot.” In fact, according to the review, it’d look like he did the whole darn thing. As if there’s no way that someone who was, *gasp* in a boy band (much less one of the most successful ever) could accomplish anything after that on his own merits after this. Stereotyping and generalizing all people bitter at boy bands’ success to be like pitchfork media, it’s weird that they’d be so invested in seeing him fail, and if no one heeds their (the holier-than-thou’s) warnings, then they need to explain away how the guy got successful (Timbaland supposedly writing the perfect song, etc. without any help from a former boy bander). I’m still not the target market for Justin Timberlake’s music, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to fail.

**

The Unfair Critical Treatment of Former Boy Band Members gets two stars due to the fact that it seems like some people just can’t get past the fact that someone who became successful doing something unfathomable to them (doing a good job lipsynching while dancing, mainly) could go on to something larger and somehow respectable outside of the realm of middle-school girls. Like I said, a lack of success breeds a bitterness towards the successful. The two stars come from the fact that there is plenty of insignificant music churned out by former boy band members that even I (who’s half taking the role of Devil’s Advocate in this) couldn’t defend.

Rockstar: Season 2

This one may balloon to huge proportions again like the season 2 LOST review. That being said, I’m officially starting it on Friday August 18th… we’ll see how long it takes to finish.


One of the contestants on the show is named “Storm Large”. The one night after she performed, Tommy Lee said “I’d like to see more of you”, and she suggested an internet search. I did and this is what I got.

I’m not so much the fan of “reality TV”. Call me a TV snob, but I find the amount of manipulation in the genre to be completely too much. Manipulation of people to do certain things. Manipulation of actual events to make things look a certain way. Manipulation of audience emotions to make us feel empathetic or hateful. Certain people who are even more cynical than I am about such things might say that all of these manipulations are used in any sort of narrative/fiction work, and so therefore I shouldn’t be complaining, because nearly all of my favorite shows are fictional. The difference here is the illusion of reality that exists in the non-fiction genre. Shows like Laguna Beach, Survivor, Big Brother, and yes, even “The Real World”, all have producers influencing actions of characters, the editing of actions to portray people in a certain light, and of course the casting of people to fill certain roles on the show… because without an antagonist, there’s no drama, and without drama, there’s no point. And they manage it by making us believe that these are people without outside influence… as they really are.

Of course in competition reality shows, usually that antagonist comes in the form of a person who isn’t performing upto the standards set by the other competitors, but miraculously does not get voted off, with a much more solid competitor taking that bottom spot. Then there’s always a big “shock” when a popular contestant gets kicked off (once a year without fail), and somehow the one we all seem to hate stays on for another week, until finally they get shelved and we all rejoice.

Where am I going with this? I’m still gonna need another paragraph to get there. You see, I always hated American Idol. HATED it. Even when I was forced to live with it at work every single day of the week. That might’ve actually made me hate it more. The next January though, I was among a high concentration of people who wanted to watch the audition episodes. I knew where it was going to go. A slew of bad singers hoping to be the next William Hung were going to come on and be completely oblivious to their lack of talent and then be exploited to sell advertising space. AHH America! What I never realized though, was that these horrible singers were actually selling the remainder of the season. Sprinkled in with the talentless souls are a handful of people who are either gorgeous and good singers, or they’re unattractive but have overcome obstacles in order to be able to sing the way they do. And while you think they’re just telling you more about the person, they’re filling your head with sympathy or lust. And that’s where they hook you. The personalities. American Idol is a personality contest as much, if not more than it is a singing contest, with terribly bland arrangements, stiff contestants who are oftentimes “pitchy”, and don’t really know how to entertain a crowd for the most part. And product placement. Lots of product placement. Of course I fell into the trap, but I thought I was being anti-Idol by rooting for the completely awesome Bo Bice (still the best contestant they’ve ever had on the show). “The Man” still won though, because by being the provider of such “anti-Idol” material, they got me to watch it. CURSE THEM!

I realized that American Idol was like that terrible contestant who nobody seemed to dislike enough to get kicked off. It’s flashy, attractive and diverse/bland enough for EVERYBODY to like something about it. The problem is that it’s not good. But last year after Idol’s season ended I found a show on CBS that did everything that Idol did, nearly five times better, but nobody really knew about.

Rockstar: INXS was a talent competition to find a new lead singer for the band INXS, probably unknown to most people my age. The show had incredible production design, better camerawork, better direction, better judges, a much much better results show, a phenominal house band, better arrangements week after week, and at least six singers that probably could’ve won Idol. In fact, the top six contestants were so uniquely awesome that any one of them could’ve had a successful solo career had people actually watched the show. There was half-hour backstage episode every week that took a look at the personal interactions of the contestants, challenges and sort of rockstar-seminar things, and song selection/arrangement, which was a very interesting supplement, but got moved to VH1 because of bad ratings. Also, the show had Brooke Burke wearing conveniently revealing outfits. And it was all on during the summer, when nothing else is on. What more could you ask for?

Season 2 definitely has a different feel, and for good reason. The contestants are auditioning for a different band, a new band without any released material, and without a former lead singer. Called Supernova consists of Tommy Lee, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, and former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, who, like INXS in season one, serve as judge and executioner. I’m going to break this all down in good and bad as compared to last season.

First the good.
1. The judges are better than last year. Call me ignorant, but I never knew who INXS was, and I could never tell the band members apart when they were giving their comments to the singers. Not only does Supernova have members that stand out on their own, but are telegenic, and give really good advice much of the time. Of course Tommy Lee is gonna flirt with all the women, and there’s gonna be all sorts of innuendo, but there’s also genuinely constructive criticism.

2. The shows use of alternative media is staggering. They took the backstage show off the air, and put it where people who really would make the effort to watch it have the ability to watch it… the internet. The show’s website has a plethora of activites and information, including “mix-tape” tracklist of contestants, band members, and the houseband’s favorite songs, which you can then buy from MSN.com’s service. You also can vote for your favorite performer online, as well as by phone. During this week, viewers were actually able to vote which songs contestants would sing, from a list of four per singer.

3. No INXS songs. Even though it served all of its purposes in season 1, I couldn’t help but be a bit bored by performances of these songs, mostly because I didn’t know them. I understand that this was partially done so I could get to know them, and that people who once liked INXS would probably like them, but I didn’t. Because Supernova doesn’t have any previously recorded songs, the people in the bottom three pick which songs they’re going to sing for survival. I’m not exactly sure at what point they pick their songs or rehearse with the house band, but it always comes off great.

4. Zayra Alverez. This woman could easily go under the “Bad” column, but I’m gonna count her as “so bad it’s good”. She’s not bad in a William Hung way though. Zayra is what Bjork would be if she were a Latin music performer. She obviously never stood a chance of becoming the lead singer for this band, yet she somehow managed to escape elimination twice… I think because the band thought she’d make good TV, and they knew they’d kick her off eventually. Watch for yourself here. The best ones are Razorblade, and 8675-309. Trust me when I tell you that you have never seen anything on TV like it. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up in the air, but at the very least, it’s incredibly compelling TV.

5. The job to be won is a much more difficult one. Becoming the new lead singer for INXS is tough, no doubt. But you’ve already been given a blueprint and a catalogue of songs to work with. Here, not only will you be creating your own original sound and direction for the band, but the winner is also going to have to hold his own with these three incredibly charismatic musicians, something that INXS didn’t have. Thus the competition is harder and therefore makes for better TV.

The Bad
1. Brooke Burke. I really hate to say it, cause she’s freakin gorgeous, but she’s got no personality this year. Not that she was amazing last year, but she had some life to her. This year, it’s like she forgot how to read over the summer, then started learning again, just in time for the new season. Complete lack of energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity. Come back old Brooke.

2. “ROCKER”. I hate this word. I hate hate hate hate hate this word. I hate the fact that it supposedly stands for individuality and anti-authority, but has become both a stereotype and a tool of the man. When American Idol took it and used it as their own word…. exclusively using it to refer to two or three people, rather than calling them singers, it got to me. It reminds me of how the wrestler A.J. Styles in TNA has to be referred to at all times as “The Phenominal” A.J. styles. Or how wrestlers in WWE are ALWAYS referred to as “Superstars” and not wrestlers. Not only is it lumping all the singers into one stereotype, but they’re using the same word over and over again. I swear I heard the word “rocker” used 4 times in the first five minutes last week. Seriously, I know you’re trying to prove yourself as the anti-Idol, but get a damn thesaurus, and make the script sound a little more natural. Looking on the website, “Rockers” actually has a capital “R” because, obviously, it’s a proper noun.

3. The SAME songs. They have changed it up a bit, but for every “Zombie” by The Cranberries, there’s a “We are the Champions”. How many times must I hear “Creep”, or the four overplayed combined hits of Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. Does Nirvana really deserve to have had eight performances of their songs? And if i have to hear Interstate Love Song, Bring Me to Life, or Cult of Personality one more time, I’m totally going to illegally download the Supernova CD instead of buying it. And I’ll convince all my friends to download it instead of buying it as well. That’ll show them. It’s just like stealing from them, but I deserve it for having to sit through repeats. Please, more songs like “Starman”, “One Headlight”, and “Helter Skelter”.

4. Tommy Lee acting like a sleazebag. I guess it’s hard for him not to, but come on. Grow up.

5. Dave hasn’t played guitar yet. Granted, there still four weeks to go I think, but it’s about time we see him show off his guitar chops and see if the singers can keep up.

6. Enough with the voting info. I understand the need to make it clear to the audience, but it’s way too much to give me the info 15 times in an hourlong show.

As far as contestants go, I’d say that last years group was stronger, but I can’t really remember anyone other than the top six. We’re still at seven right now, so I’m sure that with two more weeks of showing off and getting better, the top five could probably match last years top five. After all, I wasn’t the biggest fan of last years top two, instead liking 3rd-6th place a lot more. This year’s group is a little more hard-edge with the obligatory tatoos and piercings than last years was and that’s for good reason, because the band and its music is more that style. While Mig had last year’s breakout performance with this song, so far there have been at least two really memorable performances this one and this one, both by Ryan Star. His “smoldering intensity” might just be enough to get him to the finals, and as he’s due to sing an original song this week, we’ll see how far his skill set goes. Even if the top six aren’t better than last year, whoever makes the top three has the potential to surpass the IXS top three. It’s all a matter of whoever has the better single, which, in my opinion is why J.D. Fortune won last year.

***½

What I’ve seen of this year’s Rockstar: Supernova show gets a 3.5 star rating by showing constant improvement, a willingness to be different, and the potential to give the band a really tough choice when it comes to the top three. If only Brooke Burke would be able to stop using the word “Rocker”.