Not to mention the "heckleing!"

May 31, 2007

Look, I know typos happen sometimes, and that pluralizing words that end in “O” is pretty tricky, but come on:

Just remember Fox: Heroes picking potatoes and tomatoes cause echoes. Those are the ones that need the “E” in them.

You can thank Mrs. Poe, my sixth grade reading teacher, for the one, Roger Ailes.

Oblivious Living Part 1.8 – "Homicide" by 999

May 30, 2007

MP3 – “Homicide” by 999
Lyrics – “Homicide” by 999 (and here as well…see below)

You could count on one hand the number of bands on the first two discs of the Living In Oblivion collection that are still performing live in 2007, and 999 would be one of them. This sounds unusual – twenty-odd years is a long time for any band to play together – but not unthinkable. Until you place it a modern-day context, that is.

Imagine that you find a time machine and travel into the future – specifically the year 2031 – and after getting your hands on a sports almanac, Back To The Future-style so you can make a few well-placed bets later on, you start paging through the A&E section of your Chicago Tribune Personal KeyPadd Edition touchscreen, to discover that Sum 41 is still touring and recording the occasional album every couple of years. How shocked would you be? Despite the strength of “Homicide,” 999 were the Sum 41 of their day, neither the best or the worst of the UK punk movement, but certainly not the band most likely to succeed.

“Homicide” is off 999’s 2nd album, Separates, and was followed by an album replete with covers, so this could fairly be called the band’s artistic peak. From the outset, it sounds a bit like a slowed-down version of Generation X’s “Dancing With Myself” then transmogrifies into a kind of Stiff Records pub rock crossed with AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”

Even with this meager C.V., 999 still tours regularly in the U.K. and if their website is to be believed, they’ll be releasing their first album of original material later this summer. I suppose if Iggy can do it, so can they.

Depending on the lyric sheet you read, the song is either a prima facie uber-anarchist call to arms, or a dark, foreboding cautionary tale. I’d be more inclined to believe the latter if the band’s website wasn’t otherwise riddled with typos, leading me to wonder if they’d bollixed up their own lyrics. But since “I believe in homicide/I rest my case” is like saying “Your honor, that man is a murderer, and the state calls no further witnesses,” I’m going to side with 999 on this matter.

Plus, this video puts to rest any questions of whether the band had cum for your children. Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Vocalist Nick Cash is wearing a brown vest AND a red bow tie* over a yellow shirt and yellow pants. It’s as if he is dressed up for Halloween as the first accountant made entirely of banana pudding. Also: if you are the costumer designer for this video, and the band is being filmed against a stark white background, what color pants would you put on the bassist? If you said “white,” then congrats, you will have a job in show business if that time machine of yours can make it back to 1978, while millions of children scream in horror at the disembodied torso fiddling around on the Fender.

“Homicide” also reveals that while Living in Oblivion may have a lot more charm to the modern ear than your average Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation, the motives for both are the same. See, “Homicide” came out in 1978, and as a result, it sounds very out of place here. But no matter. It’s making someone some money. It won’t be the last track here to play fast and loose with the subtitle (“The 80s Greatest Hits”), but you could argue that most of the tracks here don’t live up to that boast. And frankly, slotting it here – right before Combo Audio’s “Romanticide,” is a sly move, and a nice palette cleanser after the mush that preceded it.

* By the way, is that thing made of tissue paper? It sure looks like it.

Closed for Memorial Day

May 29, 2007

No Living in Oblivion post today, since I spent the whole day…well, selling ice cream actually. But more on that later.

New piece

May 24, 2007

My first feature story in TOC was published this week (I’ve written a couple reviews and sidebars for them in the past). It’s about The Police, and you can find it in the Summer Music Preview issue on newsstands now, or online here (note: it stretches across five pages).

Lots of people have been asking me about the tree frog story. I swear that’s true. I remember when that was announced, so I thought it was something that a lot of people knew. I mentioned in during a features meeting, and no one had any idea. So clearly I’m a huge geek.

Seriously, am I the only one who heard that story?

One man's sexy is another man's poorly written trend piece

May 24, 2007

This story on CNN is nothing new, and it’s almost insulting that it’s treated as such. There are a whole mess of problems with this article, starting with the difficulty in defining sexy. It seems to be substituting for “conventionally attractive” But for the sake of argument, let’s stick with sexy and all the connotations therein.

I don’t find Avril Lavigne “sexy” at all, and I doubt anyone over the age of 13 would use that word to describe her. Lumping her in with Shakira or Beyonce is some lazy fucking writing, and the only evidence for such a claim is the litany of promotional appearances she’s made for this album wherein she gets glammed up.

And since we’re talking about pop music here, that’s really what we’re talking about: image, and how it’s used to sell pop music. Avril Lavigne is no more “sexy” now than she was a “skate punk” earlier in her career. She’s switched images, but that’s all it is. The image of Avril might be sexy, but Avril sure ain’t. Sexy is confidence in who you are, not trying on big sister’s clothes.

So to say that you need to be sexy to be a successful pop singer, and to use Avril as your leading example, is to completely ignore her prior success, which wasn’t built on a “sexy” image at all. In fact, she was sold as the antithesis of sexy in some respects (note that the article mentions she used to rail on female singers who would pose in the way she is now).

The headline is also misleading, as the word “female” should be changed to “pop.” Go look at the Billboard top 40 albums that the author uses to make his/her case. Gosh, that Michael Buble in the #1 spot sure is handsome. One might even say…sexy. As are Tim McGraw, Akon, Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, Trent Reznor from NIN, and Timbaland, all of whom are sitting pretty (pun intended) in the top 40.

And not for nothing, but Barbra Streisand, who the author mentions as being an example of pop music’s oh-so-enlightened past when substance mattered more than style, is on the top 40 albums list this week, too. By the way, AP writer, this is how Barbra used to market herself. I’m sorry, strike that “used to.” She’s got ‘em out on the new album, too. Why? Because she’s a pop singer. And that’s how it’s done.

But having said all that, pop stardom isn’t given only to the sexy. You might just chalk this up to the difference between when the author looked at the charts and when I did this evening but those top 40 albums also include Bjork and Martina McBride. Bjork is either unconventionally attractive, adorable or weird-looking, depending on your perspective, and Martina McBride, while certainly good-looking, doesn’t fit into the conventional definition of sexy. Nor does Daughtry or anyone in Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

But I’ll tell you what: I’d get down on my knees and pray every night if sexiness were a prerequisite for pop stardom if it meant those ugly cusses in Nickelback had to go back from whence they came.

Thoughts on the 24 season finale

May 23, 2007

Actually, that ought to read “Thoughts on 24‘s next season premiere” because this post is all about the future.

Almost every season since the first one, 24 fans have grumbled that this season wasn’t as good as some of the others, and inevitably the show turns around after the usual slow setup.

This season didn’t.

There was a definite build in the first half of the season, but things went off the rails a bit in episode 12 when Jack raided the Russian consulate. After that, things became too rote. You can only threaten the country with nuclear attacks or bombings or germs so many times before that happens. Or invade a sovereign nation’s consulate. Or cut off body parts, or…well, you get the idea.

Spoilers ahead, so you’ve been warned.

The last 15 minutes of tonight’s episode were better than most of the last half of this season. The great thing about Sec. Heller’s character is that he had an ability to strip things to the bone. So when Jack started the pissing contest, Sec. Heller whipped out a mirror, instead of a ruled. Jack knew his presence near Audrey would only bring her pain, and his goodbye speech to her – while not the emotional gut punch that his speech to Kim was while in the plane over the California desert in Season 2 – gave the show a weight it lacked (kudos to the writers for not having her wake up with a teary “Oh Jack…”).

The problem with this season is that the character of Jack Bauer has to have something to lose in order for there to be any dramatic tension. If he doesn’t then it’s all gun-pointing and “I’m commandeering your helicopter so get out or I’ll shoot you” any time he’s taken into custody. Throughout the show, the question that’s always lingered is whether Jack will lose his humanity. In earlier seasons, his humanity was symbolized by Terri, Kim, Blonde Girl Whose Sister Was A Terrorist, David Palmer and then Audrey. He formed loyalties with his co-workers and this kept him grouded, too, but in the past two seasons (since Tony and Michelle died), the scenes of Jack interacting with CTU have rang false since he’s now lost that as well (I’m not sure what happened to the Jack/Chloe dynamic, but I think it got lost somewhere in the love pentagon between Chloe, Morris, Milo, Nadia and Doyle).

The last scene felt tense because there was a sense that Jack had something left to lose. Now, he doesn’t. In other shows, the next season could utilize this as a device and say “Watch what happens when the gloves are off,” but 24′s all about the gloves being off. It is a gloveless universe.

So better to put the gloves back on. Remove Jack Bauer from the 24 universe, so the writers don’t have any crutches to lean on when things get boring (cough*PresidentLogan*cough). Take CTU out of the equation, and construct a new world around him. Sec. Heller said it: Jack will always find a way back into the game. He’s a man who lives for crisis, but the series has exploited the macro-level crises to their breaking points. Better to create micro-crises again that aren’t shoehorned in. (Exactly what was his prior relationship with Marilyn, and was I supposed to care?)

Also, why was it always “Ricky Schroeder” in the opening credits? Aren’t we supposed to call him “Rick” now? I couldn’t ever figure that out.

Oblivious Living Part 1.7 "19" by Paul Hardcastle

May 22, 2007

MP3 – “19″ by Paul Hardcastle
Lyrics – “19″ by Paul Hardcastle

I remember when this song came out. It blew my fucking mind.

It’s 1985, and I am in my suburban Chicago bedroom listening to B96 on my stereo. Though I have a few years of pre-Zinn, grade school history behind me, I am not yet politically aware*, but I have seen quite a few episodes of Family Ties, so I have some sense of the Vietnam War having occurred, and there being some controversy over it. And apparently there were hippies involved.

Anyway, I am minding my own business, waiting for Huey Lewis and The News’ “The Power of Love” to come on the radio so I can unpause the tape that’s sitting in the recorder so I can continue my quest to fill an entire Side 1 with 30 minutes of the song on repeat, when this really weird news report, with a beat that sounds like something I heard in Breakin’ comes on the radio. Or maybe it’s a dance song with lyrics that don’t seem to…exist. In any case, there’s some dude who sounds like Max Headroom telling me over and over that the average age of those serving “I-I-I-I-in Vietnam” was 19, and is sounding very funky fresh about it.

And I’m thinking, “Wow, this is the most serious, amazing thing I have ever heard in my life.”

Obviously, I was 10.

I’m sure at some point someone thought this was a pretty revolutionary record to make: a rap song combining break beats with political commentary about a war not ten years removed from history, released only a year after Reagan’s re-election.

That person was an idiot.

First of all, there’s nothing groundbreaking about a white rap song (let’s face it, that’s what this is) on pop radio in 1985, since “Rapture” came out five years earlier. Also, did I mention Breakin’ came out before this? It’s clear that the music here is as fresh as those TV commercials that would tell you about exciting careers in data processing. Worst moment: where there’s a weird scream that’s followed soon after by the cut-rate backup singers rapping about “De-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-destruction.”

Plus, the…what? Creator? Co-conspirator? In any case, the composer of this song, Paul Hardcastle, was later forced to share writing credit with Mike Oldfield, as “19” bore a resemblance to the climactic layered melody of his “Tubular Bells” opus.

And all of the commentary in this song was lifted directly from a ABC documentary that turned out to be inaccurate in some respects, but particularly regarding the average of a Vietnam solider (it was more like 23, not 19). Interestingly, the lyrics above mention some additional lyrics that sound even darker than what precedes it, but I’m pretty sure in context that they suck green eggs, too.

So basically, everything about this song is unoriginal or false, which is why it’s not a surprise that Ol’ Cosby Sweater over there went on to produce some lousy smooth/electronic jazz records. What is a surprise is that this song was #1 in the UK for five (!!!) weeks, sold 4 million copies around the world, and won the Ivor Novello award for best song of 1985. Of course, this prestigious award was also given to the Spice Girls. Hardcastle’s bio says “his early recordings sound as fresh today as they did when he recorded them” and he’ll get no argument from me on that point.

After this and the limpness of “The Politics of Dancing,” I’m looking forward to the string of New Romantic and pop-punk songs ahead.

* This would occur shortly thereafter, due to the Iran-Contra scandal. It’s also possible that this song somehow contributed to my political awakening. This kind of scares me.