Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tonight's American Idol thought

I frankly think they've given up this season.

I've seen maybe one singer tonight who deserved to go through, and they were cheating when they sent him up -- he used to be in some sort of boy band.

They've sent through several people who had no clue. The last one took an interesting approach -- add a bunch of notes to the melody, and you increase your chances that at least a couple of them must be right.

And now they've got someone who just screeched all over a classic Aretha standard. Simon's just sitting there with a look of resignation. He doesn't care any more. They just seem like they don't want to fight with relatively nice people, and the people coming up are at least nice. Or cute.

If you watch beyond the audition rounds, you might want to adjust your sound settings so the higher frequencies don't come through. Be warned.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Song du semaine: Pretenders, "Brass in Pocket"

Chrissie Hynde has said on more than one occasion that she didn't like this song. She's allowed to be wrong on occasion. This is a rock and roll standard, deservedly so.

Brass in Pocket was an atypical early Pretenders song in many respects. For one thing, Chrissie didn't let any naughty words or single entendres fly. This one's a little mellower than Precious, Up the Neck or Tattooed Love Boys. Sure, Stop Your Sobbing was an unabashed pop song, but Hynde's then-boyfriend Ray Davies is responsible for that one. Kid (interesting version with Michelle Branch trying way too hard to match Hynde's voice here) was a brilliant ballad from a kinder, gentler vein of punk emotion, but James Honeyman-Scott's evocative guitar shone through on whatever Hynde was writing. If you listen to that Branch clip, note that the guitar solo is a note-perfect rendition of Honeyman-Scott's original. It's too perfect to change.

This one is a little different. The guitar jangles but is more subdued -- in a couple of live versions I've seen, Hynde isn't even playing, letting Honeyman-Scott (or Robbie McIntosh, or anyone else who followed) handle things solo. It's built on a bass groove, two words you don't often find together in a genre of music that unleashed Sid Vicious upon the world. OK, sure, we'll give you Greg Norton on Husker Du's Powerline, but as one review put it long ago, the Huskers long ago seceded from the Mohawk nation.

It's timeless. Like Amy Winehouse's Rehab, you might think you've stumbled into the oldies station. (If you still have an oldies station -- we in the D.C. area do not.)

The video, which Wikipedia says was the seventh ever played on MTV, is one of those great low-budget, low-concept takes. Judging by the car, the gang must have hopped across the pond to Hynde's home country. The rest of the budget probably went toward propping up Hynde's decidedly un-punk hair. I'm not sure drummer Martin Chambers really bought into the concept, but bassist Pete Farndon has fun playing "the cool one," and Honeyman-Scott has a goofy good time smiling and making out with his girlfriend.

It's just enough of a concept to make the viewer pay attention and let the groove sink in. And that's all this song needs. Enjoy.

How did Chrissie not realize how wonderful this song really was? Hard to say. But she and the original group went on to produce two mostly spectacular albums before drugs took down Farndon and Honeyman-Scott, robbing us of a versatile bassist and a uniquely excellent guitarist. Hynde and Chambers did a couple of sessions with a group including future Big Country bassist Tony Butler, who provided the groove on My City Was Gone, then regrouped with McIntosh and Malcolm Foster to produce another classic, Learning to Crawl. After that, Hynde ran through band members as if she'd shifted to prog-rock, effectively killing the band's momentum.

She brought Chambers back for the 1994 comeback Last of the Independents, featuring the driving rock of Night in My Veins and sappy balladry of I'll Stand By You. Guitarist Adam Seymour joined up then and has lasted a remarkable 15 years in the band, third behind Chambers' two stints and Hynde herself.

There's no perfect introduction to the Pretenders. Hynde was always equal parts foul-mouthed vixen, fiery feminist and sensitive nurturer. Brass in Pocket is particularly interesting because it showed Hynde's mastery of older rock motifs even as she subverted them. No matter what style of music you're playing, a classic groove goes a long, long way.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Great Simpsons episode

He who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

And while you're arranging the sodas, let me share a story from this time in Germany ...

If you haven't checked out The Smoking Gun's collection of touring musicians' requirements in a while, now is a good time.

Ladies and gentlemen, Iggy and the Stooges.

It's a little long because they apparently don't cart a lot of their own gear with them (I'm imagining the Rush rider is something like "a bunch of water and some oil for Neil's motorcycle"), but the roadie writing it goes to great lengths to make it entertaining. I wish people did that with all official documents.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Song du semaine: Simple Minds, "Alive and Kicking"

Inspired by 94.7's theme of positivity for MLK Day today, this week's selection is an inspirational masterpiece ...

A handful of '80s songs had the perfect sonic mix of synthesizer and guitar, propelled by a non-mechanical beat. This is one of them. Jim Kerr does a terrific job with the vocals here, selling the drama (to borrow a phrase from another great rock vocalist) without histrionics. He sounds like someone you wouldn't mind hanging out with as well as taking inspiration from, along with other prepositions you shouldn't end a sentence with.

But the star here, along with Don't You (Forget Any of These Riffs, Ever), is drummer Mel Gaynor.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Giant snowflakes

Forget the hat -- I want a helmet!
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But you can't tuna fish ...

Gibson has a "robot guitar" that tunes itself. Neat stuff.

Hat tip to AllMusic Blog.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

American Idol question

Is it just me and Mrs. MMM, or have we seen one woman in each city with erratic behavior who bears an uncanny, even suspicious, resemblance to Amanda Plummer?

Chris Wylde pranked AI a couple of years ago, and morning radio shows always have some wind-up frat boy to give it a whirl. Amanda Plummer wouldn't do that. Right? She was in two great films of the '90s. Right? Right?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

American Gladiators vs. American Idol

I watched my share of American Gladiators in college. It was good campy entertainment, perfect for those early weekend afternoons before we either flipped to basketball or did something constructive with our time.

The revamped and regally hyped remake is interesting ... for five minutes or so.

The problem is pacing. For a show that thrives on action, there's entirely too much waiting around while people with nothing interesting to say attempt to convince you that the next bit of action is going to be really intense. Then you wait some more while the referee checks to make sure the contestants and gladiators are ready.

He does this before every ... single ... event.

I guess it's supposed to build tension, but it just sounds like a pilot going over a preflight checklist. Perhaps I shouldn't give the Gladiator gang any ideas, lest we hear this: "Helmet ... check ... armpads ... check ... shoelaces ... check ..."

They've also kept some of the most boring games. Once you've seen a gladiator firing tennis balls at a hapless contestant trying to fire back with some unwieldy contraptions, you really don't need to see it again.

The "Pyramid" is pretty good -- contestants climbing a big stack of gym pads with gladiators chasing them, and it's perfectly legal to fling the gladiator back down to the floor. The final "Eliminator" obstacle course is disturbingly hard now that contestants have to swim under an island of fire. Didn't the Village People sing something about that? Or Johnny Cash?

Anyway -- Gladiator just isn't prime-time fare. It's good cheesy Saturday afternoon fun if you don't have anything to do at the moment. Nothing more.

American Idol, on the other hand, continues to serve a valuable and necessary role in our public discourse. The early rounds of the show are an important reminder of the perils of self-delusion. Mrs. MMM reminded me of the one word that sums up the auditions -- entitlement. These people honestly think they deserve to be the next Kelly Clarkson just because they want it to be so.

Sure, MMM Jr. thinks the same thing, but he's 4. These people are old enough to vote.

In every drama I see, I demand to see comeuppance for the idiots and jerkwads. That carries over to Idol, and that's why it's the only reality show I'll watch.

Besides, tonight's episode made me break into a Howard Jones parody ...

Don't try to wax your chest in one day / Don't go yank your hair away ...

Howard Jones, incidentally, is on an acoustic tour. This is the guy who was so reliant on synths and sequencers that a reviewer once wondered if the show would go on if he keeled over mid-song. Nice to see him sticking around and shaking up the old image.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Star Wars: Behind the blasters

VH1 interviews the gang:

C3PO: "Well, we started to have our doubts about Kenobi when we investigated the Jawa transport. He said the blast marks were too precise for the local sand people and could only have been made by Imperial stormtroopers. Excuse me? Imperial stormtroopers? Those guys couldn't hit the Jawa transport if it were just on the other side of the Death Star's thermal exhaust port. I walked right through a firefight before we landed on this dump, and I'm not known for my bravery, sir."

SAND PEOPLE: "Yeah, we actually attacked the Jawa transport. Instead of riding single-file to hide our numbers, we rode side-by-side to make them think Imperial stormtroopers did it. Can't believe Kenobi bought it."

SCANNER CREW, DEATH STAR: "Wait a minute. You mean we can scan a escape pod that took off from Leia's ship and determine instantly that it has no life forms, but a ship winds up in our tractor beam bay, and we actually have to go into the freaking thing to see if anyone's there? And we're not even wearing body armor. What if someone's in there? Good thing they forgot about me and I was able to stow away on the ship and join the rebellion. I'm on Hoth now -- I just signed up as a rear gunner on Luke's speeder."

TIE FIGHTER DISPATCHER: "When the Millennium Falcon took off from the Death Star, I radioed four fighters to intercept. Well, no one told ME Lord Vader had put a freaking tracking device on the ship. If those guys could shoot worth squat, rest their souls, we'd STILL be looking for the rebel fortress. So they canned me, tossed me on a Tie fighter and told me to take off for the nearest planet. Turned out to be a big break for me, since the Death Star got blown up and all, but I'm still a little pissed. You think they could've used four more Tie fighters in that battle? I bet the guy who forgot to tell me about the tracking device feels pretty stupid right now."

X-WING FIGHTER DESIGNER: "You know, I wanted to install a rear-facing blaster on that ship, but noooo. They all laughed. 'As if a Tie fighter is ever going to be chasing us down a trench in which we can't maneuver,' they said. Dumbasses."

PORKINS (appearing as hologram from the netherworld): "In retrospect, do you think maybe the second team of X-Wings should've flown into the trench behind the Tie fighters and shot 'em down from behind rather than just flying around and watching us get blown up here?"

HAN: "So we show up at the medal ceremony, and I'm thinking it's just going to be four or five of us since no one came back from the battle except me, Luke and that Wedge guy. But then they have hundreds of pilots in formation. Why were they giving me such a hard time about attacking the Death Star? Did these guys have notes from their doctor? What are they going to do back at base, fling themselves in front of a planet-destroying beam from the Death Star?"

LEIA: "Well, as it turned out, we couldn't pay Han much of a reward. We checked my father's will, and all he left me was a bunch of real estate on Alderaan, so ..."

WEDGE: "Not to complain or anything, but when did R2D2 and 3PO become Luke's droids. 3PO clearly said he belonged to Captain Wedge Antilles. They were a gift to my father from Senator Organa when he was taking one of these two twins to Alderaan while Obi-Wan Kenobi was going to Tatooine with the other ... hey, wait a minute ..."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Song du semaine: 1990s, "See You At the Lights"

So I'm debating whether to keep my XM subscription, given the effective counterprogramming on a couple of our local stations (quick aside to 94.7 The Globe: Love you guys, but do you have to play so much 1980s Bowie?) and my iPod and my Launch player. And the lack of satellite reception now that we've installed windows that aren't paper-thin.

I perused one of the newer music channels and found an indie-pop gem that so effectively leaped into my head that I immediately downloaded it. It's so catchy that I find myself singing it whenever I'm not listening to it.

The video doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the lyrics range from cheeky ("Put on that dress tonight / the one your mom don't like") to nonsensical ("Get out like a blonde gets out of a car"? Huh?).

This one won't get any deep analysis. It's a fun, catchy pop song. Enjoy.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Paraphrasing my Tai Chi teacher at our first class today:

"The goal of Tai Chi is to focus mind and body through slow movement, so that we concentrate and develop mental discipline and ... um ... sorry, lost my train of thought ..."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Media criticism worth watching

"That what wrong with the media today. All they have is questions, questions, questions. They never have cookies!"

Popdose is here

The "supergroup" model never worked out too well in prog rock. Asia had a couple of good moments -- the sheer musicianship of the former Yes, Crimson and ELP guys involved had to shine through at some point -- but the songwriting was generally an afterthought. GTR quickly imploded. The eight-man version of Yes was never going to last.

But in blogging, the "supergroup" model is perfect. It's working well for AOL's FanHouse. And now we've got something even better.

Welcome Popdose. Everyone stop by and say hello.