Tag Archives: QUEEN Reference

ROCK ‘N READ: Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story

One of the most influential pop bands of the last thirty years, Jellyfish is one of those bands that barely registered a blip but has a massive cult following. I’ve been saying for years that someone should write a book about them, well now someone has! Craig Dorfman’s book Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story is a slim, but not unsubstantial, volume that records the band’s history. From the humble childhood beginnings of Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. and Andy Sturmer to the dizzying production of the band’s seminal album SPILT MILK all the way to the present with a “where are they now?” segment that ties up the narrative of this legendary pop band.

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The band only recorded two albums, 1990’s BELLYBUTTON, and 1993’s SPILT MILK, but the band’s legacy lives on. When I started Dorfman’s book, I was looking forward to finally discovering three things: 1. What happened/why did they break up? 2. What are the band members doing today? And 3. How did an overlooked 90’s act wind up being so influential? Dorfman, who interviewed all the major players in the Jellyfish story, does a good job answering my first two questions (mostly, I’ll get that my beef with #2 in a moment). But as I finished Brighter Day I found myself still unable wrap my mind around their lasting legacy. By all rights, Jellyfish should be household names and expect for a few bright spots on the Internet; they aren’t. Dorfman’s book doesn’t shed any light onto how Jellyfish ended up influencing so many fantastic pop bands that came after them. I thought perhaps that it was music critics who kept the band’s memory alive, but Dorfman’s book details the numerous brutal reviews of contemporary publications for the band. While there were some positive reviews, my take away from Brighter Day was that critical reception to the band during their active years was mixed at best.

I often sit and wonder about what happens to members of bands I love after the band calls it quits. I had hoped to get a nice accounting of what the members of Jellyfish had been up to. I’ve done research over the years (and have all the solo albums that there are) but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how these Gods of pop music had, for the most part, just quietly slipped into obscurity. I knew that a band like Jellyfish hadn’t made millionaires out of them, so how were they supporting themselves? Dorfman’s book provides answers to this question: they work behind-the-scenes in the music industry or as hired guns for more popular artists. Brighter Day gives the answers I was seeking, but I wished more details were given about the post-Jellyfish careers of the various band members. Only because I know we’re never going to get a Jason Falkner book (sadly).

Brighter Day is written in a way that presents many pivotal moments and conversations like a novel would. Dorfman acknowledges at the beginning of the book that these conversations are not to to be taken literally and that some creative license was taken. This bothered me a bit at first, and I found myself wishing that Dorfman’s book was an oral history like The Beatles Anthology, but when I reached the end and read the acknowledgments page, I realized that getting all the parties involved in Jellyfish to talk must have been a massive undertaking. The idea of recording them and then parsing out a narrative would have been too great an undertaking. Still, the book’s central conceit, which Jellyfish was a vehicle for Sturmer and Manning’s songs and that meant the contributions of the other band members was very limited, thus creating a great source of tension, is somewhat underplayed. Dorfman repeats over and over that Manning refused to stick up for the various guitarists the band went through because he didn’t want to betray Sturmer as he had by writing commercial jingles when they were just starting out. This idea is tirelessly repeated throughout the book, and while I’m sure it’s not an incorrect assertion, I find it hard to believe that Manning’s motives were so simple. Andy Sturmer’s personality quirks are also mentioned, but it feels as though there’s more to the story than what Dorfman presents. Sturmer sounds like a bit of an asshole and perhaps on the spectrum maybe? None of this is explored. I suppose that is the price one has to pay to get official input from the band.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great book, and I’m so glad that it exists. Dorfman should be praised for doing what so many of us thought about and recognized should be done but did not have the will to do ourselves. Dorfman should be forever blessed for getting this story written before any of the principal players died. And considering how short the life of Jellyfish was, it’s amazing that Brighter Day has so much content. This book has got me seriously thinking about Jellyfish again, which in a way is like having Jellyfish back. I’m also re-listening to the last few Jason Falkner albums and trying to hunt up my copy of Manning’s CATNIP DYNAMITE. Sturmer’s lack of solo material isn’t explained in the book either, which is disappointing (though he hints that the singer does record at home and that perhaps some of this material will see the light of day). Brighter Day is a book for hardcore “Jellyheads” who’ve listened to every outtake and b-side, who’ve bought the boxset and the live albums, the ones who’ve listened to the arty solo albums and studied the music videos for decades. Everyone else should seek out the band’s seminal dual albums to join the rest of us in pop nirvana.

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New Album Round-UP #1: HOT CAKES by The Darkness

I feel like I’ve really dropped the ball lately concerning all the new albums that have come out over the last month/month and a half.  I wish I could say I’ve fallen behind because I live such a fast-paced, exciting existence.  The truth is: I’m a fat, lazy, music blogger.  To be fair, there has been an unusual glut of awesome, noteworthy album releases these last few weeks, but is that an excuse? My backlog started innocently enough: one awesome release (the new Darkness album) came out last month and before I knew it another had come out…then this week Bob Dylan and ZZ Top both put out new albums.

So in order for me to clear my dockett of album reviews, I’m going to knock ’em all out at once!  Presenting the Great New Album Round-Up!

The Darkness are hoping this record will sell like…their first album, PERMISSION TO LAND. What did you think I was going to say?

HOT CAKES by The Darkness:  For many people, The Darkness are a bit of a joke band.  And while they most certainly do not take themselves seriously (at all), The Darkness are a seriously awesome rock band.  The music and lyrics are always 100% solid.  After the band’s second album the band broke up…well sorta.  Lead singer Justin Hawkins left the band and formed a new band, Hot Leg.  The rest of The Darkness tried to soldier on without Justin, but it didn’t work-out.  When I heard the band had gotten back together and recorded a new record (and that Justin had cleaned up his act) I got both excited and worried.  Excited because a new Darkness album would be fantastic, but worried because so much time had passed since the last album.  Would the band be able to deliver the grand-rock hooks and cheeky shenanigans?

Turns out The Darkness still got it! HOT CAKES is a fantastic and FUN rock record.  Remember having fun?  It seems like everyone wants to be so serious lately, which is fine…I guess…but sometimes all I want to do is rock.  And smile.  The Darkness have delivered an awesomely upbeat album for these gloomy days of late 2012. The album opens with “Every Inch of You.”  The song is about Justin’s desire to give his audience…everything.  Despite the (semi-gross) goofy-entendre,  I really feel like Justin & Company are sincere in wanting to give us fans as much bang for our buck as possible.

The song begins with Justin singing:

“Baby I was a loser 
Several years on the dole
An English man with a very high voice 
Doing rock and roll 

There are seas of sleeveless T-shirts 
And cues around the block 
And every man wanting so 
Wants to do 
Suck my cock”

That pretty much sets the tone for the record: cartoonishly over-the-top and loaded with falsetto.  No Darkness album would be complete without a few obligatory Queen-references, and HOT CAKES as a few very Queen-like songs.  The super-catchy, sing-a-long “Keep Me Hangin’ On” and the quieter ballad of hope “Living Each Day Blind”  both recall Freddie Mercury’s famous band.    More blatantly, however is “Forbidden Love” which, unlike the other two songs, actually sounds exactly like something Queen recorded.  I think you could actually play “Forbidden Love” to a causal rock fan and they might not realize it isn’t Queen.

So is this a rip-off, homage, or tribute?  I guess that’s for you to decide.  Me, I see them as a little of all three.  Does it bother me that The Darkness owe so much to Queen?  No.  The Darkness aren’t pretending they’ve invented the wheel with these songs, they know their place in the history of music.  That respect makes it ok (unlike say, Brandon Flowers from The Killers who refuses to accept that his band has become a Springstein-lite band since their second record…and insists that each new Killers record is the second coming).

Worth mentioning is the awesome Radiohead cover at the end of the album. The Darkness have really outdid themselves with this one.  The band has taken the somber “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” off of THE BENDS and reworked it into a hard-charing rocker.  I strongly urge you to check out Radiohead’s version if you aren’t super-familiar with it and then give the Darkness cover a listen.  It’s hilariously awesome and the epitome of everything I love about this funny, brash, rocking band.

Basically, if you were a fan of the last two Darkness records you will love HOT CAKES.  Unfortunately, I feel this record isn’t going to win them very many new fans.  Sure, the songs are just as good as they were before–but I feel like a band like The Darkness has a very limited amount of appeal.   I don’t agree with the people who dismiss them, but I can see where they are coming from.  HOT CAKES is a great release from an awesome band.  If you dug them before get HOT CAKES.

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The Defending Axl Rose 100th Post Spectacular!

This is my 100th post here at DEFENDING AXL ROSE. I’ve been vaguely aware that the 100th post was looming on the horizon, and as such I’ve been trying to figure out what to do to commemorate this (small) milestone. In the end, I decided to go back to the very beginning. Not to December of 2011 when I saw an interview with Axl Rose on VH1 Classics (the impetus for this blog), but rather ALL the way back.

It’s embarrassing, but my earliest memories of music are of The Thompson Twins. My mother was a Thompson Twins fan and in the early 1980’s that was what was playing in our house. “King For A Day” and “Don’t Mess With Dr. Dream” were the soundtrack to my early, brain-forming years. I guess that explains why I am so hopelessly, utterly fucked-up. Luckily, it wasn’t all bad 80’s synth music in my house, I was also exposed to The Beatles very early in life. I have many fond memories of jumping on couches with my little sister listening to REVOLVER. That more than makes up for having the Thompson Twins forced upon me.

Right after I saw WAYNE’S WORLD (with it’s awesome “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene) I went to the mall and bought my very first music-purchase: a cassette copy of CLASSIC QUEEN. I still have the cassette:

From there it was a steady decline into to the seedy world of CD’s, vinyl records, turn tables, MP3 players, foreign music magazines, and did I mention CD’s? I own a modest 500+, but only because my wife has made me feel a bit self-conscious about my collection. There was a time (pre-Spotify to be sure) where I’d buy six or seven CD’s a week. Some of my favorite memories involve record stores. I’ll still never forget the time I went to the Virgin Record store in Nashville, it was like a dream come true…to this day I’m convinced they had every single album I wanted/would ever want (even stuff that hadn’t been recorded yet!). I know I’m supposed to hate big-chain stores, and I do, but that Virgin Record store was my idea of heaven. That’s all gone now, which is probably just as well. If heaven existed on Earth, what would mankind strive for?

Speaking of striving and working, I have pledged to continue to work on DEFENDING AXL ROSE until the end of 2012. I can’t say what will happen after that, but if people remain interested (and there’s still awesome music to write about) I’ll keep going. I want to thank everyone who’s ever commented on one of my posts, it really does mean a lot. Since starting this blog I’ve discovered a really cool online community of music nerds that have made me feel super-welcomed. So big thanks to them as well. I’ve added a Blog-Roll to the side-bar, anyone reading this should go visit all of those websites (they’re all awesome).

I guess that’s it for now. One hundred down.

Rock On.

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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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