Monthly Archives: February 2012

Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: Dynamic-Duos

In honor of the new Sleigh Bells album, REIGN OF TERROR, I took a Facebook poll asking fans of Defending Axl Rose to vote for their favorite 2-member rock band.  I’ve always had a soft spot for 2-member rock bands that are able to sound like regular full-sized bands.

Anyway, below are the results which are SHOCKING and as always…highly unscientific.

5, 6, & 7. (3-way Tie):  The Ting Tings, Japandroids, and Tegan & Sara: This one bums me out the most, because I think Tegan & Sara are amazing.  They’ve put out more records than the Ting Tings and should not have tied with them.  I never got around to hearing the second Ting Tings album (did it ever come out? I’m too lazy to Google this) but their first record was catchy enough.  I saw ‘em live and they were okay.  Kinda the reverse of The White Stripes with the dude on drums.  Actually, the drummer for The Ting Tings was pretty badass, playing both a guitar and the drums at the same time.  Still, Tegan & Sara should have been ranked higher.

Canadian indie rockers Japandroids also tied for last place, which is a little less-surprising as they were the most low-profile band in the poll.  I really dig their crunchy garage rock sound and I gotta agree with the person who voted for them: “Heart Sweats” of POST-NOTHING is about as awesome as awesome gets.

 

4. & 3. (2-way Tie): The Black Keys and Death From Above 1979: I’m super-biased here because I actually voted for Death From Above 1979.  I am surprised to see that The Black Keys didn’t do better as they’ve got a lot of heat right now.  I dig their down-and-dirty blues rock swagger—but I think that personally they’re assholes (go read any interview the band has ever given).

While Death From Above 1979 only put out one album (well, they also released a second album that was a remix of the first one, but who counts that shit?) but they made a big impression on me.  DFA1979 sounds like way more than two dudes.  They’re noise-rock at it’s finest and super-underrated.  Go listen to “Romantic Rights” or “Black History Month” it’ll knock your socks off. Two people? Woah.

 

2. The White Stripes:  What the hell happened here?  I pretty much came up with this question with Jack and Meg in mind.  When I think of 2-piece rock bands, The White Stripes are THE first band I think of.  What’s worse about this is the band they lost to (more on that later) not to mention that one of my friends (who voted for Tegan & Sara) went out of her way to inform me that The White Stripes are just as crappy as “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith.  That’s just disappointing.

Even if you ignore the fact that Jack White is this generation’s greatest songwriter (and a helluva guitar player), The White Stripes should still be #1 for their ability to sound like an entire 7 Nation Army when they play.

 

1. Tenacious D:  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that The “D” came out on top in this poll.  After all, all my friends are stoners…just kidding. Tenacious D is a pretty sweet band, although they get a LOT of help from really famous rock/metal musicians, so I’m not sure if it’s 100% fair to give them the crown in the “Best 2-Piece Rock Band” category.  That said, Jack and Kyle have done a lot of good for rock music, acting as metal-ambassadors to the world.

We fucking win!!!

Do you disagree with these findings? Then head on over to Facebook and “Like” Defending Axl Rose, then the next time I have a Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll you can add your two-cents.

 

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NO LINE ON THE HORIZON Revisited: Part II The Review

For such a mega-successful band, U2 has had a shockingly uneven quality in their albums.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that of all the mainstream rock acts of the last 25 years, their release record is the most checkered. When U2 is good, they’re fantastic.  But when U2 goes off the deep-end, they crash and burn spectacularly.  Bono has said in interviews that had 2000’s ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND not been a commercial success, the plan was for U2 to break-up.  Feeling a little starved for success after spending the 1990’s experimenting, U2 stripped down their sound and went back to basics.  The move paid off big time, but it came at a price.  The band’s ATYCLB follow up, HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB, was a pretty much a rehash of what they’d done before.  So much so that I’d say that the album should have been called ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND Part II.

But a confident U2 is an experimental U2, and as such, NO LINE ON THE HORIZON finds the band sliding back into something a bit more interesting. 

The album opens with “No Line on the Horizon,” which flirts between being spacey and down-to-earth.  Bono’s voice seems to be getting better with age; it’s as vibrant and strong as it was back in the 80’s.   One of my favorite tracks, “Magnificent,” blends early 90’s electronica-U2 with the more restrained rock elements that made U2 famous.  The song’s main guitar riff is memorable but not overwhelming.  I think that behind George Harrison, The Edge is probably one of the most understated guitarists off all time.  The Edge’s riffs can be bombastic but on NO LINE ON THE HORIZON he seems content to hang back and noodle on the peripherals of the songs, taking center stage only a few times. When he does it’s incredible (see the end of “Breathe”).

Like all modern mainstream rock records, NO LINE ON THE HORIZON opens strong and reaches it’s peak at the mid-point with the twin singles “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and “Get On Your Boots.”  The later being the freakiest thing on record, as well as the catchiest.  “I’ll Go Crazy” is a decent song but of the two singles, “Get On Your Boots” is the more interesting.  To be honest, “I’ll Go Crazy” seems like a leftover from ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not very memorable.

The last half of the album is a more subdue affair, but it’s also where the best tracks are hidden.  In fact, I would say that the last two tracks “Breathe” and “Cedars of Lebanon” are probably my favorites on the entire album.  “Breathe” especially evokes the fire and spirit of the classics found on THE JOSHUA TREE.  Near the end there’s a fantastic cello-solo that leads right into the best Edge guitar solo I’ve ever heard, it’s so warm and lovely that you can almost hear the cracking as the ice finally melts off his guitar.  The song almost seems like an answer to the critics who say The Edge is all technique and no heart.

NO LINE ON THE HORIZON does have a few duds, the worst being “Unknown Caller.” The song uses modern technology as a metaphor and listening to Bono croon about “ATM Machines,” “rebooting,” and “having no signal” (as in cellphone signal) is pretty cringe-worthy.  It’s almost like hearing your grandparent talk about “The Facebook,” it comes off as forced and makes U2 seems shockingly un-hip (even the song title is ridiculous in today’s world of caller-ID).   I found “White As Snow” to be dull and overly sentimental, while “Fez-Being Born” was just downright boring to sit thorough, coming in just a little over five minutes in length.

Overall though, NO LINE ON THE HORZION is a good album and I’m glad I made the effort to dust it off and give it another chance.  I don’t think it’s strong enough to convert anyone who’s not already a fan, but I think it’s got enough strong tracks to merit a listen.  I’m going to chalk up my initial reaction to this record to my health issues I was dealing with back in 2009.  There’s been a couple times I’ve gone back and listened to something that had underwhelmed me initially and been pleasantly surprised. I think we bring more of our baggage to art than we realize. Obviously hearing problems are going to affect one’s opinion of a new CD, but there was more than that going on.  NO LINE ON THE HORIZON didn’t change, I did.  My life has completely changed since 2009: my relationships, my job, where I live.   I don’t think NO LINE ON THE HORIZON is a landmark record in terms of the “musical world” but I do think it’s important in my life.  I think revisiting albums at different points in life are key to understanding both them and ourselves.

NO LINE ON THE HORIZON gets a (belated) “B+”

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NO LINE ON THE HORIZON Revisited: Part I The Back Story

This is story about inexplicably losing something very precious and then inexplicably getting it back.  The year was 2009 and my life wasn’t really going the way I’d wanted it to go.  I was stuck in a really bad job, the kind of job that was soul crushing and hazardous to your health.  I was working in a really dirty environment—there was a lot of dirt, dust, and wood particulate in the air I was breathing and I developed allergies.  One morning I woke up and discovered, to my horror, that I had diminished hearing in my right ear. 

Before jumping to any conclusions, I decided to try cleaning my ear out.  So I used an over-the-counter-ear-douche-thingy and proceeded to mindlessly clean my ear.  In the meantime, I lived a strange sort of half-life.  I wasn’t able to enjoy many of the things I normally loved.  Not only was it frustrating to not be able to hear songs, television, and phone calls—but having trouble hearing these things also served as an unpleasant reminder that something was wrong with me.

When the problem didn’t sort itself out and go away, like I’d hoped it would, I decided to break down and see a doctor.  After a quick check of my ear, which I was told were immaculately clean after my many ear-douchings, I was told that it was probably just my clogged sinuses.  I was given some medicine and within a few weeks I was mostly all better.  I still occasionally have hearing issues in my right ear, especially during “allergy season” which is pretty much all the time in my part of the country.   But it could be worse; my flirtation with deafness could have been permanent.  As a music nerd and rock geek, I can’t imagine a life without music.

When my ear was really bad,  U2’s album NO LINE ON THE HORIZON came out.  Despite my diminished hearing, I went out and bought the album.  I popped it into the CD player of my car and struggled to get into the songs, but I wasn’t in the mood and I couldn’t really enjoy it.  Later on, when my hearing problems pretty much went away, I heard a few of the songs—mostly used in advertising.  I didn’t think they were horrible, but I didn’t have much enthusiasm for listening to the album.  I tossed NO LINE ON THE HORIZION aside and life moved on.

I got to thinking about all of this because I bought a new computer at the end of last year and I’m in the process of putting all my music into my new computer’s library.  I’ve been doing it slowly, piece-by-piece.  At first I thought I wasn’t going to try and replicate my old iTunes library, but I’m pretty moody when it comes to music.  Albums and songs I didn’t miss or need last week are suddenly giant, embarrassing holes in my computer’s collection.   So I said “the hell with it” and have started piling it all onto my hard drive—and during the project I happened upon NO LINE ON THE HORIZON.  I still have it, because years ago I forever gave up on the notion of selling my CD’s.

Once, during a very dark period of my life, I was unemployed and forced to liquidate a rather substantial portion of my CD collection.  I only sold things that I was certain I would never miss, but alas, I’ve spent the better part of a decade re-buying many classic, essential albums. Of course, I didn’t re-purchase that Shaggy album and a few other dodgy musical choices I’d made in my youth.

Between the years of 2001 and 2007 U2 was a very big influence on me.  Prior to that time I’d had THE JOSHUA TREE for many years but was otherwise a pretty casual fan.   But their surprising return-to-form on 2000’s ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND really made me a U2 fan.  That album and those songs were everywhere in late 2000 and early 2001.  I saw the band perform in November of 2001, and to this day it’s one of the best large-arena rock shows I’ve ever attended.  Bono and the band were a soothing, positive influence during a really scary time.  The 9/11 attacks in New York and my newly acquired draft card weighed heavily on my mind, and U2’s music helped calm me down and put things into the proper perspective.

I was so inspired by the band, and Bono’s philanthropy, that I joined Amnesty International after spotting the organization’s name in the liner notes for ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND.  I also dove back into U2’s back catalogue and became an even greater admirer.  Of course, doing this put the band’s next album, HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB, into greater perspective.  Still, though the band’s previous output might have put their new music to shame, it was better than most what was being played on the radio.

My super-fandom of U2 ended around the time I moved out of my parent’s house and went to college.  U2 was replaced by newer bands, most of whom I will admit have very little to say.  Or have very little they’re willing to do to help make the world a better place, which is one thing U2 can never be faulted for doing.  I think we grew apart, like high school sweethearts who mature in opposite directions.  I quit Amnesty International after I heard one of their mouthpieces say some foolish things on CNN.  I rejected a lot of classic rocks bands I’d loved when I was growing up.

I was willing to give U2 my time and money when NO LINE ON THE HORIZON was released, however I think the purchase was mostly made to honor a band I’d once loved very dearly.  The bottom line is that I’m not sure I’d have given it much consideration if my hearing had been perfect.  Sometimes things fall through the cracks, and NO LINE ON THE HORIZON definitely fell through the cracks.

I’ve decided that tomorrow I’m going to get up, put on headphones, and listen to NO LINE ON THE HORIZON in its entirety.   I’m not sure if this is a worthy exercise, but I do feel like I owe it myself and to U2.  I’m curious to see how I’ll react to it.  The last time I thought about or listened to U2 was back in the autumn of 2009 when I saw the fantastic documentary, IT MIGHT GET LOUD, which featured The Edge.   After seeing that film I immediately had a hankering for classic, 1980’s U2—a hankering I satiated with the astoundingly dense OCTOBER record.

What will I find, and how will I feel when NO LINE ON THE HORIZON ends?  I will report back in Part II The Review.

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Classic Albums Revisited: SOME GIRLS

There are two kinds of Stones fans–ones that think 1972’s EXILE ON MAINSTREET is the band’s greatest album…and those who differ to 1978’s SOME GIRLS. I fall into the latter category. I think EXILE is a fine album, but SOME GIRLS is more fun. The album came out in a very strange time for music, both punk and disco were in full-swing–and rock acts from the 1960’s were beginning to be pegged as “dinosaurs.”

Yes, that’s right–the Stones were being branded dinosaurs all the way back in 1978. Were those boys ever NOT teased in this manner? But I digress. Mick Jagger and company put out a hell of a record in response to the growing criticism that rock’n roll was dead. SOME GIRLS takes what was best about the era (the dance-ablity of disco, and the raw/primal aggression of early punk) and merges it with the Stones classic blues-rock sensibilities.

Some girls look like boys with wigs on...

The band recorded the album over a period of several tense months in 1977. While most of the world was enjoying STAR WARS, guitarist Keith Richards was sweating a possession of heroin charge (he was busted up in Canada). Suddenly, with the prospect of losing their lead guitarist for several YEARS–the Stones got serious and recorded 50+ songs. It was during this time that Jagger, with Richards distracted, took up the bulk of the song writing duties. SOME GIRLS was a product of his frantic writing/recording period.

The album opens with “Miss You,” a bluesy-disco tinged song that became the band’s final #1 song in the USA. Unlike a lot of music from this era, the song remains catchy and cool as hell–despite the disco influences. I think the reason for this is simply, the Stones didn’t do a full disco song. The rest of SOME GIRLS is an interesting mix of punk and country (believe it or not). “Far Away Eyes” being an extreme, almost country parody and on the other end “Lies” tips closer to blind aggression of the early punk scene. Somewhere in the middle falls the rest of the album. It’s this middle where the magic is.

I have three favorite songs on this record, which in itself says a lot about its overall greatness. They are as follows (in no particular order):

1. “Beast of Burden”
2. “Before They Make Me Run”
3. “Shattered”

“Beast of Burden” with its crazy-ass falsetto and rolling guitar licks is a masterpiece. I’ve read that some of the lyrics were improvised by Jagger on the fly…I’m not sure I buy that, but part of the song’s greatness is how laid-back/casual it seems to flow. On the other end of the spectrum, is the precision and edginess of “Shattered.” Jagger’s practically spitting the verses at you, while the guitar chugs along in the backroom…before BAM! Awesome fucking solo (with hand-claps, which is always important).

There’s a theory that the reason this record sounds so good is because the band finally got a third guitarist–SOME GIRLS marks the first appearance of Jagger the guitar player. Not sure how much water that theory holds, but the music side of things does seem more complex than earlier Stones records.

And while he’s not the world’s greatest singer, I do love the Keith Richards “Before They Make Me Run.” Of course it has an amazing, holy-grail-like guitar lick. The song, though not sung my Jagger, is probably (in my opinion) the best example of a “Rolling Stones Song.” All the elements are there: killer guitar, hooky-but simple lyrics, a bluesy-country feel…it’s awesome. It makes me wish Richards had given up smoking cigarettes (his voice sounds like crap now, way too raspy). He might have even turned into a hell of a vocalist–we’ll never know. I think its funny how confident Richards playing is, but how almost quiet the vocals are. You can tell he knew he wasn’t a very good singer–I’ve noticed this on a lot of the early Clapton solo records, too. I took Clapton a long time to get the nerve to belt out “Layla.”

SOME GIRLS is a classic album, and arguably the last great record from one of the world’s greatest rock bands. Most people have actually heard 65-70% of this record via classic rock radio (which plays damn near everything on it). The damn thing is practically a GREATEST HITS for their 70’s period. This one is definitely on my “Desert Island” List of great records. Go check it out–or if you have it (like me) go give it a re-listen.

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New podcast is Available!

EDIT: Sorry for the horrible audio quality.  I think I need to drink less when I do these shows…

There’s a new episode of the Rock ‘n Roll Jolly Roger available for your listening pleasure.  I bitch about Valentines Day, play some new music, and offer…well you’ll have to listen to find out.

Go to iTunes and search “Rock n Roll Jolly Roger” to download.

Click here to stream/listen.

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Over-thinking Taylor Swift’s “Mean”

So that wacky country music has been getting under my skin again.  I’m still hearing “Red Solo Cup” about three times too many during my work-day, but that’s not what I’m going to complain about today.  Today I’m picking on Taylor Swift.  I don’t know why I like picking on country music, it’s like kicking a puppy–it’s easy to do but only psychopaths really get any pleasure out of it.

I guess I’m a psychopath.

I’ve heard “Mean” a few times (and seen the video) but it wasn’t until last week that I’d figured out why I loath this song.  You see, this song is pretty much the epitome of everything that is wrong with modern country music.  The song is Swift’s response to her critics (uh, like…who is that? Who is picking on Taylor Swift so much that she needs to write a song about it? Other than fat, nerdy bloggers, I mean).  Does she call them heartless bastards? Does she use an elaborate metaphor to cut them like a knife, while at the same time show them what a class act she is?

If only...

No. She calls them “mean.”  And even though that’s really stupid and childish, that’s not the problem that I have with this song*. No, my problem with this song is the line that says: “Someday I’ll be living in a big old city/And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”  I cringe every single time she says that.  I sit, hunched over my desk at work and GRIND my teeth to dust with rage.  What a moron.  Does she understand what the hell she’s doing?  This song is a complete and utter slap to the face of all that is country.

Country music isn’t about how great the fucking city is.  It’s about horses, beer, wide-open spaces, and outlaws. It’s about lovin’ your woman and standing by your man.  People from the city are lost souls, lonely and out of touch with themselves and each other. The city is not a shining oasis, it’s a place to be despised.  At best, city dwellers should be pitied.  This, my friends, is what is wrong with country music today. Country music today is being made by city people.  For Taylor Swift, the city represents a way to escape some unnamed bully (who can’t “hit” her anymore) but that’s not how I see it.  I see it as yet another chapter in the war for the very soul of America.

It’s the Federalists vs. the Jeffersonians.  It’s agrarian vs. industrial.  It’s trees vs. paper money.  Country music used to be about THE country, it used to present an idealized version of rural America that appealed to people in both the city and the country**.  But today country music is nothing more than shitty rock with a twang.  It doesn’t speak to anyone or have anything unique to say.  Good country music, like good rap music, should seem to only speak to both a very specific segment of the population WHILE at the same time appeal to a wider audience because of it’s universal themes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think all country musicians should stay neatly packed into a box or preconceptions and cliches.  I think it’s fine to rebel and say “screw the country I’m gonna hit it big and move to the city,” but that’s not what Swift’s song is saying.  If you really listen, the message of “Mean” is “you are a mean asshole so all you’re ever going to do is live out in the country.”

But I ask you: what the hell is wrong with living in the country?  It pisses me off that a popular country audience has had so much success with a song that’s essential a big middle finger to a large portion of her audience.  I’m not really mad at Taylor Swift, I’m mad at her fans who are too stupid to see what a sham this song is.  It bums me out to think of little kids–living the country AND the city–listening to rich phonies like Taylor Swift.  What about the people being abused (or whatever the song is a bit vague) in the city? Is there a special ghetto in the cities for urban meanies? The message is confusing.

Ultimately when I hear this song at work it’s the words of the late, great poet Freddie Mercury that I turn to: “Now they say your folks are telling you/Be a super star/But I tell you just be satisfied/To stay right where you are.”

*Though I can’t imagine a 60 year-old Taylor Swift singing this song, it’s barely appropriate for a 20-something woman.
**which is actually a really dirty, bleak place with just as many problems as the cities.
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A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH

It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong:  I have been wrong.  I thought this new Van Halen album was going to be another run-of-the-mill, Dinosaurs of Rock Ca$h grab.  I thought Van Halen were leveraging the last bit of goodwill the band had in order to pay for second (or third, or fourth) wives and grand babies (!).  In my defense, the band’s choice of “Tattoo” as the lead single was pretty bonehead (unless you think putting your worst foot-first is a good idea).

How's this for a different kind of truth: this band's new album isn't a horrendous mistake.

So I downloaded A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH on Friday, mostly because I have deep psychological problems/I hate myself.  To my shock, once you get past the floating turd that is “Tattoo,” the album is pretty damn good.  A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH is not so different from classic, late 1970s-era Van Halen.  The reason for this is because all these songs were written 30+ years ago by the band.  Yes, the “new” Van Halen album is full of cast-offs and throw aways (the B-sides, “b-sides” if you will) and while that might sound like a bad thing, it turns out it’s not.

Think about it terms of money: back in the day the young, kickass Van Halen wrote some songs and put them into a rock ‘n roll savings account.  You know, for when they were older and wanted to retire.  This “song savings plan” has paid Van Halen Corp. huge dividends in form of modern songs with a classic feel.  

But enough bullshit, let’s talk about the songs.

So like I said, the boys put their worst foot-forward with “Tattoo.”  It’s not only the lead single, but it’s also the first track of the record.  I’m not sure who it is in the Van Halen camp that has the massive hardon for this song, but I’m pretty sure it’s that fat-fuck Wolfgang.  Just kidding, I know Wolfgang’s opinons don’t matter (except to this daddy), I’m sure the whole organization thinks “Tattoo” is a “hip” modern-taken on Van Halen. But it sucks.

The rest of the album, however, is solid as a rock. The second track, “She’s A Woman” is, for me, the album’s true opener.  The lyrics are a bit much, with David Lee Roth howling about how normal he is….you know, he drives a Chevy and…lives in his car (?).  While I’m usually annoyed when millionaires wail about how blue collar they are, I decided to not bitch because the guitar work on this song is phenomenal.  In fact, Eddie Van Halen is on fire the whole record.  It’s pretty awesome to see that the dude can still shred.  And beyond that,  the playing isn’t contrived or robotic–nor is it a parody of his younger-self.  Diamond Dave’s voice is lower and rougher, but Eddie’s guitar playing is exactly as awesome as it was back in the day.

“You and Your Blues” should have been the first single, in my opinion.  It’s more understated than the dunderheaded “Tattoo,” but that’s why I like it.  The song has a great, chuggy-sounding guitar tone and a really awesome Rolling Stones reference in the lyrical hook.

My favorite track on A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH is “Blood and Fire.”  This was, you might recall, one of the tracks the band released partially leading up to the album’s release. It’s a great song and the lyrics fit an older, more mature Van Halen.  The band has “come through blood and fire” so to speak and the fact that they’re still standing should be a source of pride for them.  The car/racing metaphors are classic Van Halen and reminded me of “Panama.”  This is definitely one that they’re going to be playing live on the new tour.

Other standouts on the album include  the super-heavy “As Is” and the cheeky-as-hell “Stay Frosty.”  The latter being a spiritual sequel to “Ice Cream Man” off of Van Halen’s first record.  It’s worth noting that “Stay Frosty” with it’s acoustic guiar opening, is probably the only track to not come kicking and screaming out of the gate.  This is a hard-charing Van Halen record (which is probably why the album art is an old train, get it?  Old train).

Are there problems other than “Tattoo”? Of course.  David Lee Roth’s voice is rougher and his “raps” aren’t as funny as they used to be. There’s a particularly embarrassing one in the middle of “The Trouble With Never.”  The songs themselves are pretty good, but let’s face it–nothing on A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH is going to become a classic Van Halen song.  They aren’t going to play “Outta Space” or “Big River” at a ballgame.  These are leftover tracks and the only reason we’re accepting them is because we’ve lowered our collective expectations for Van Halen.

On the other hand, this album does not tarnish the Van Halen brand in any way.  I can crank it up in the summer time and not be embarrassed when I hit a stop light, which is nice. I think all parties involved have lucked out.  Having a backlog of songs to pull from has probably spared us all from a truly awful, gut-wrenching experience.  Our heroes didn’t fall, and for me that’s good enough. 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH gets a “B.”

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Super Bowl Music: 45 Years of Suck-a-tude

Today is a very special day, it’s SUPER BOWL SUNDAY.  We sure do love our football in this country, but if you’re like me and could care less about sports there’s not much of interest unless you like entertaining advertisements…and the spectacle that is the half-time show.

It wasn’t until Super Bowl 6,  way back in 1972, that popular music took center stage at the nation’s number one sporting event (it was Ella Fitzgerald, by the way, who was there as part of a salute to Louis Armstrong).  Prior to that game the halftime show was just a bunch of marching bands, which is probably what it should be.  Once the Super Bowl became a larger, more popular spectacle, the halftime shows got bigger and more commercial.Turns out the Walt Disney company used to produce a bunch of these half-time shows, which is why many of the early Super Bowls had Disney-lite themes (like “It’s a Small World”).  Which begs the question, did you realize that every half-time has a theme? 

This year’s theme is old whores. Just kidding, it’s actually W.E. which is a film that Madonna’s out promoting.  I guess that’s better than Snow White (?).  I find it ironic that getting Madonna is now the best way to “play it safe.”  Once upon a time, the Material Girl would have been a risky, polarizing choice–but these days? Not so much.  Fifteen years ago we might have all collectively prayed for another “wardrobe malfunction” but honestly, I have no desire to see Madonna aged, sinewy flesh.

Anyway, what I know about the Super Bowl halftime shows are this: the past few years have been awesome artists phoning-in some horrendous performances.  I’m not sure if it’s the hastily assembled stage/sound system or if these artists are literally not practicing/warming up….regardless, I feel like I haven’t seen a good halftime performance since Michael Jackson’s back in the mid-1990s.

The most disappointing for me were The Who in 2010 and The Rolling Stones in 2006.  Both were, and arguably still are, great bands–and they both delivered terrible, lackluster sets.  American sports and ancient British rock bands just shouldn’t mix, I guess. Check out The Who’s awesome-looking, but terrible-sounding halftime show, if you dare:

One of the worst parts of the Super Bowl halftime shows of the past few years is also the “special guests” the producers throw in.  These are usually rap/hip-hop stars that are designed to appeal to the younger demographic.  This has led to some shall we say…interesting musical parings.  Last year’s team-up of The Black Eyed Peas and Slash was probably the most horrendous thing I’ve ever witnessed. I think that if you want Madonna, get Madonna. Why have MIA, Cee Lo Green, LAMFO (whoever the fuck that is) and a bunch of other unrelated acts hop up on stage as well.

This is like Jesus and Hitler meeting. Why did this have to happen?

This year’s setlist promises to take halftime suck-a-tude to a whole new level.  The setlist was revealed and Madonna is apparently capping her performance off with a duet of “Like A Prayer” with Cee Lo Green. Gag me with a spoon, or more accurately: wake me when this whole nightmare is over. 

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Brand-Spanking NEW Darkness Song!

So remember The “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” Darkness? They put out two albums and then went kaput due to drugs (?) and in-fighting.  Well they’re back.  They’re on tour and have a new album coming out.  Their new song is called “Nothings Gonna Stop Us” and it’s…a thing.  The last Darkness album ONE WAY TICKET TO HELL…AND BACK was a balls-out rock album that bordered the insane (hint: I loved it).  The band has always been that perfect mix of classic rock and classic rock parody…and even though it seemed like a longshot, I always kept a candle burning for them deep inside my little boy heart.

Nothings gonna stop me...from hating this song...

Well today I heard their new song and was…a bit underwhelmed.  Maybe I expect too much from people these days.  Maybe I’m a bitter old fuck who just needs to die. Or maybe this song’s highly irreverent/kitschy video is better than the song it’s promoting (and it ain’t that good).  I mean, what exactly is this song about? Something about hair and “not stopping”? Where are the killer hooks, super-high falsettos, and wailing guitar solos? I ask you, does this rock? No, no it does not.  Maybe the boys are coming down from a “sugar” high and the next song we hear from The Darkness will better. Right now, this ain’t doing it for me.

Am I crazy? Listen for yourself:

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Classic Album’s Revisited: ALADDIN SANE

Maybe he's born with it, Maybe it's Maybelline.

In 1972, David Bowie toured the United States as Ziggy Stardust (his alien alter-ego). Both America and Bowie were never the same again. Bowie’s previous record THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS proved to be a smash hit–but the weirdness was only beginning.

God only knows what Bowie thought of mid-seventies America…his sixth album ALADDIN SANE (which is a play on “A Lad Insane”) is supposed to be/rumored to be Bowie’s take on the US…but Bowie is an enigma wrapped in a mystery–so to be quite honest, I don’t “get” it. I’ve never been real big on concept albums or story albums…or whatever. Some songs go together, they make an album–great.

But don’t try to tell some over-reaching narrative. It just doesn’ t work.

And neither should ALADDIN SANE. This thing is very much a “kitchen-sink” recording, meaning they threw in everything BUT the kitchen sink when they were recording it. So say that there is excess on this record would be the understatement of the decade…but hey, this is glam rock at it’s finest (meaning it’s supposed to be vampy and over-the-top). ALADDIN SANE has a surprisingly harder edge than I remembered. But I’ll get to that part in a minute.

More than about America, ALADDIN SANE seems to be about The Rolling Stones. Mick and the boys loom large over Bowie’s sixth record, no more so than on the record’s opening track “Watch That Man.” This song sounds EXACTLY like a Rolling Stones song. In fact, prior to researching the album for this blog post, I thought this was a cover. It’s not. The Chuck Berry-eque guitar licks, the frantic/half-muttered lyrics, the horns, the female backing-vocals…it’s all very Stones-ish. Apparently audiophiles (people waaay to into recorded sound) are split very heavily when it comes to this songs final mix. When you listen to “Watch That Man” on the radio you don’t notice it as much, but the instruments are pushed “up front” with Bowie’s vocals (rather than being on a separate channel, “pushed back” like in a lot of pop recordings). This means that for large portions of the song, Bowie cannot be heard as clearly as if he’d been bummed up a little “higher” than the music.

Bowie defended this (to his record label that wanted him to change it) by saying some crap about his voice being just “another instrument” (or some such nonsense). I think he really just liked it because it made the recording sound rougher, more crappy–like a Stones song.

Anyway, the Stones pop-up again a few more times on the record–once in “Drive-In Saturday” when he mentions Jagger by name, and again towards the end of the record when Bowie legitimately covers the Stones on “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” It was the latter that first attracted me to this album. There’s something about a good cover, I just can’t resist it. Most times covers blow–but there’s something special about Bowie’s unique take on “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Bowie’s version is spacier, but it’s more than just a few electronic whizzing sounds…Bowie’s attitude is softer, sexier than Jagger’s. Then there’s the little verse that he adds toward the end:

They said we were too young Our kind of love was no fun But our love comes from above Let’s make… love

Followed by an awesome guitar outro, this little bit of himself carries an otherwise awesome cover into legendary status and–in my book, is better than the original. A feat that almost never happens.

ALADDIN SANE is packed with interesting songs, with vastly divergent influences. There’s the blues-R&B stomper “The Jean Genie” that sounds like a Cream or Yardbirds songs. Bowie dabbles in doo-woop on “Drive-In Saturday,” which is about as far from the Yardbirds as humanly possible. This song, about a post-apocalyptic future-world where people watch porn at the drive-in to re-learn sex, gets the “Craziest song on this album” award. Because it’s really, really freaky man. Also freaky (but not nearly as freaky) is the cabaret/vaudevillian “Time.” Whenever I hear “Time” I think of Queen, the song’s sheer pomposity makes me think of Freddy Mercury. It’s that kind of song. It’s very long and strange, words really don’t do this song justice. I love it, and yet if I met it in a dark alley I’d probably run the other way.

“We should be home by now” indeed.

But the jewels in ALADDIN SANE’s crown are “Cracked Actor” and “Lady Grinning Soul.” Written in Los Angeles, “Cracked Actor” is a ballsy rocker–the hardest song on the album. It’s about an aging Hollywood actor getting serviced by a prostitute. With some drugs thrown in there. The song has fucking amazing guitar work and Bowie playing harmonica (of all things, I can’t imagine Bowie doing THAT). The lyrics are full of all sorts of loaded phrases and double entendres.

“Lady Grinning Soul” has been described as Bowie’s best attempt at a Bond Theme song. As in “Bond, James Bond.” It certainly is very cinematic and strange. This song is all about the lush piano and acoustic guitar. It’s very surreal but at the same time romantic–just like David Bowie. “Lady Grinning Soul” also has features the awesome “she will be your living end”-lyric. It’s about as far from traditional rock ‘n roll as music can get, and yet it’s on the same record as “Cracked Actor” and “Watch That Man.” It takes a big set of balls to pull something like ALADDIN SANE off.

I bet there are a lot of people that haven’t heard this record, if you fall into this sad category I urge to you go out and track down a copy of ALADDIN SANE. It’s a fantastic record that belongs in your collection.

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