Revisionist histories — EW’s “New Classics”, part 1

24 06 2008

It should come as no surprise that a pop culture-obsessed mind such as mine would drop some opinions on Entertainment Weekly’s recently published “New Classics” lists.

By some reasonable logic, the editors of the mag have submitted their picks for the best movies, albums, television shows, books, video games, plays/musicals, tech achievements and style moments of the past 25 years. They wind up batting about a .300. They get lots of hits…but still plenty of strikes.

The whole 25 years thing is arbitrary at best…I personally think it was done simply to keep Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” out of the top album spot — as it was released at the end of 1982.

So what takes that mammoth album’s place? Prince’s “Purple Rain” soundtrack from 1984. Now I happen to love Prince. I own “Purple Rain” on vinyl. It’s a solid record with no soft spots…definitely a top 10 record. But number one?!! Editors, you mean to tell us that “Purple Rain” was the greatest music put to tape over the past quarter century?

Is the album better than the mega-selling arena anthems of U2’s “The Joshua Tree” from 1987? Better than R.E.M.’s artful “Murmur” (1983), “Document” (1987) or “Automatic for the People” (1992)? Better than the crossover miracle of Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998)? Better than the coked-up hard rock of Guns N’ Roses’ “Appitite for Destruction” (1987)? Better than Nirvana’s uber-influential “Nevermind” (1991)? Better than the Dr. Dre’s suburb-conquering “The Chronic” (1993)?

It’s a tough sell, in case you can’t tell.

There are lots of holes in the album list:

One R.E.M. album on the whole list?!! And it’s “Life’s Rich Pageant?” I dig that record, but it doesn’t boast the influence or the quality of “Murmur,” “Document” or “Automatic for the People.” It has been very uncool to like or even respect R.E.M. of late. Their last 15 or so years of output doesn’t help matters any. Their first 10 years remain undeniable.

Public Enemy doesn’t pop up until #55? The Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” ranks only at #43? No NWA at all?

Radiohead’s “OK Computer” comes in at #62?

Two albums from 2007 in the top ten (Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”) seems excessive. There are five in the entire top 100…also excessive.

The list also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of country music. Now I’m no country fanatic. But no Garth Brooks? The guy sold more albums than any other solo artist in the 20th century! Plus he redefined the whole country genre. The editors really missed the boat on this one. They only included two mainstream country artists: The Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain. Predictably, four alt-countryish acts found their way onto the list: Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Ryan Adams. I’m a big believer that the best that country has offered the world over the past 25 years typically does come from outside the mainstream…but, c’mon

More on movies and tv soon.

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Arcade Fire + Obama + Nelsonville = Rock!

5 03 2008

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I’m still processing all of this. It was all thrown together so quickly.

After receiving word on Friday that Arcade Fire would be playing for a Barack Obama rally in Nelsonville, I jumped into action. I contacted the right people and secured a press pass for the show.

Sunday night my wife and I traveled to the show. It was incredible. The venue, Stuart’s Opera House, only seats a few hundred people, so the concert was intimate as heck. Then, needless to say, the band put on an amazing, energetic show. In addition to some of their own best songs, the band did some rad cover tunes: David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.”

Oh, and I tried to post all this on Sunday night, but my internet was down. Ugh.





The Chinese Democratic process

1 03 2008

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I’m not sure if I buy this or not. Supposedly, Axl Rose and his poor excuse for a GNR cover band have released the tracklisting for their years-in-the-making “Chinese Democracy” album.

Never mind the fact that the band’s last record of originals came out when Bush 41 was president. Never mind the fact that Slash, Izzy and Duff are nowhere to be found in the band’s current lineup. This is still Guns N’ Roses, and so I am excited. Cautiously excited.

Here it is:

“Better”
“Catcher in the Rye”
“Chinese Democracy”
“I.R.S.”
“If The World”
“Madagascar”
“Prostitute”
“Sorry”
“The Blues”
“There Was A Time”
“Rhiad and the Bedouins”
“Oh My God”
“Silk Worms”
“Ides of March”





Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa…

8 02 2008

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I’ll call it right now: 2008 is the year of the Michael Jackson comeback.

Here are a just a few reasons…

A special 25th anniversary edition of Michael’s “Thriller” record is due out soon. “Thriller” is about as close to perfect as an album gets. Every stinkin’ song could have been a single. Quincy Jones in the production booth. Michael at the top of his songwriting game. “P.Y.T.,” “Beat It,” “Thriller,” ” Billie Jean,” “The Girl is Mine.” The chant at the end of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is reason enough to own the album. ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa, indeed.

Uber-collaborator Akon has a cover of the classic, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” that’s pretty inescapable right now.

Kanye West cohort Rhymefest recently recorded an entire Michael Jackson cover/tribute mixtape. This thing is amazing in its detail. He and producer Mark Ronson have taken old MJ interviews and created “conversations” between Rhymefest and MJ on the album. Some are funny, some are suprisingly touching. The tunes are generally killer as well. The record mashes up and remixes old Jackson Five and MJ tracks…the imaginary collaboration honestly makes for MJ’s best album in quite a while. The best thing is that the mixtape is available free for download on the rapper’s web site at http://rhymefeststore.com (Look around, it’s there).

Michael has a new record in the works (featuring real-life collaborators like Kanye West) that should be out before the end of the year.

Let’s just say the momentum is there.

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Synchronicity of thought

5 02 2008

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I really like the band Vampire Weekend. I’m just not sure I like how popular they are becoming.

OK, this is not going to be one of those “I was in to them before they even existed” posts. All I’m saying is this: After I hearing (and loving) a tune by Vampire Weekend in early December, suddenly the band is everywhere. I’ve been waiting on the full-length. Apparently, so has everyone else.

At first it was just the usual suspects: Pitchfork. Paste Magazine. NPR. Indie music blogs. But now, after mere weeks, the buzz has turned decidedly mainstream. Vampire Weekend was spotted on Letterman last week. Entertainment Weekly hyped the new record up. They’ve got the number two spot on the iTunes bestsellers chart. Even the NY Times is praising the band.

It’s all so fast. Can any band, no matter how good, stand up to the hype machine?

Well, here’s how the debut album from these Ivy League-educated lads, formally released last week, holds up.

1. “Mansard Roof”

Who knows what the *%#@ a Mansard roof is? (It’s actually a type of steep-sloped roof) It doesn’t really matter. This near-tropical delight is a lo-fi masterpiece. Plus, any song with the line “The Argentines collapse in defeat/The admiralty surveys the remnants of the fleet” is pure gold.

2. “Oxford Comma”

Another pretentious title?! Yep. An oxford comma is that annoyingly optional one that comes before “and” in a series — as in “red, white, and blue” as opposed to “red, white and blue. Either way works. Luckily, the song isn’t nearly as annoying. In fact, it ends up as another great track. With its ticking rhythms and almost spoken lyrics, the song is fun enough to carry us to…

3. “A-Punk”

This rave-up of a track displays everything that is great about VW. Cool keyboard parts. Afro-pop-influenced guitars. Lo-fi production. A new wave/punk ethic. I already named this tune one of the top five songs of 2007, if that tells you anything.

4. “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”

No where on the disc is the bands love of Afro-pop (ala Paul Simon’s Graceland) more evident than it is on “Cape Cod.” The snakey bass lines and poly-rhythmic hand percussion could have been lifted from the streets of Soweto. Vocalist Ezra Koenig treats us to some neat falsetto. All that goes down before the awesomeness is taken up a notch with the addition of harpsichord at the end of the tune.

5. “M79”

The harpsichord of the last track was a mere hint of the baroque intro that beautifully starts “M79.” Koenig does a pretty darn Paul Simon impression on the verses. Somehow this song manages to get by without a proper chorus. It’s just another testament to the band’s skills.

6. “Campus”

Track six is the sort of song that sounds a bit like electronic music played on live instruments. It’s a let down after the stunning first half of the record but still quite good.

7. “Bryn”

This deep track is dominated by a neat guitar part that imitates violin.

8. “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”

After “Cape Cod,” this is probably the most “African” sounding song on the album. That being said, the background vocals will sound fairly foreign to Western ears. Interesting, though not as well thought out as the former track.

9. “I Stand Corrected”

Easily the weakest song on the record. More of the earlier mentioned “live electronic music.” It just sort of sits there.

10. “Walcott”

A refreshing return to form, “Walcott” is about vampires taking over Cape Cod. (More Cape Cod?) The chant-like lyrics are set to an almost surf-meets-Spector’s-Wall-of-Sound backdrop. Very nice. I also loved the line “Hyannisport is a ghetto.” You won’t hear that anywhere else.

11. “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”

A dub-inspired track broadens the already diverse offerings on the disc. Throw in a string and harpsichord arrangement and you’re pretty much set.

All-in-all, the record is darn amazing — and deserving of the hype it’s receiving. The only thing that worries me is that the media (both indie and mainstream) is buying into the potential gimmicks of the band. The fact that all four members graduated from Columbia in NYC. Or the whole “Graceland” throwback angle. Or the band’s unabashedly preppy look (aside from the Cape Cod fixation, they reference United Colors of Benetton in a song!).

Never mind the fact that I’ve more or less contributed to the hype in my own small way by publishing this post. Make of it what you will. Just enjoy the music.