Wednesday, August 31, 2005

On Keith Richards...

Thinking more about Keith Richards... and this time, not before I fall asleep, or when I'm thinking about my own mortality...

Here's a theory about why Keith's songs rock so much. Keith is a screw-up; the relationships, the alcohol, the drugs, the permanent residence on death's door. But he's the king of the screw-ups. He does it right, with aplomb and style. His best songs fall into one of two categories: I'm a screw-up and I'm sorry, but hey, you knew what you were getting into ("I said, from the first/ that I/ I am the worst..."), or I'm a screw-up and I'm looking for salvation ("I need a love that'll make me happy..."). They yearn for something. While you can plot the basic theme of his songs along the same line of the graph, the songs are at least introspective. Mick's songs, on the other hand, lack any sort of introspection. And that may have served him well in his younger days, when he had attitude and youth to back up his posturing, it doesn't fly in his 60s. Now he's just old, and he doesn't have the requisite sense of that we require of older artists (see: Dylan, Bob). Now it's just empty.

So that's my $.02. And that and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee. In the 1950s.

You're driving too fast/ gonna run out of gas...

The new Stones album? Well, Jann Wenner will give it five stars, but it's pretty bad. I have to sort it out track by track:

"Rough Justice" comes out of the gates with firearms and almost rises above Mick's gasping attempt to set up a pun revolving around "cock", which seems to take him a whole verse to get out. Damn, back in the day, it would take him half the time to set up that pun, and on his best day, he could do it in the space of a drum fill. It's sad, like when Steve Carlton was pitching for the Twins, and he lost his cutter. Mick's lost a step. It's tough to watch. But the song sounds big and intimate at once, which is really something. So I never thought I'd say this, but... hats off to you, Don Was.

"Let Me Down Slow" isn't bad either. Two for two.

Around the third song, "It Won't Take Long", things start getting to the point where you're checking your watch. I mean, 16 songs? Really? No, it is going to take long, and I have other places to be. Where? Uh... OK, I'm a bad liar. I was just planning on reading Harry Potter and drinking Pucker from the bottle.

In real time: Oh God, "Rain Fall Down" is horrible. Like "Harlem Shuffle" bad. Oh God... "and we maaaade sweet love..." Keep it in your diary, Mick. Alright, now he's fucking rapping or something. Here's where Don Was earns his paycheck as the shittiest producer alive. Wow. No, this is bad. I could write a whole book on how bad this is. How many times does Charlie Watts grimace in an 8 hour day? I mean, this is a train wreck. It's like watching a dumb person trying to operate machinery or a midget trying to reach something on a high shelf. It makes a comment on the human condition, and it makes me uncomfortable. If I were ever to come in possession of this album, I would pinpoint the physical part of the disc where this song is stored and scratch it out of existence. And it would be a mercy killing. Not to overstate how bad this song is or anything...

"Streets of Love" is so bad, it turned the corner at awful, snuck up on me from behind, kidnapped me, and made me fall in love with it. It's like the Symbionese Liberation Army and I've got me some Stockholm Syndrome. We're getting married in the spring.

Oh thank God, "Back of My Hand" is some deep down in the delta blues. Keepin' it real.

"She Saw Me Coming": At this point I realize the Stones aren't a good band anymore. It's also the point I realized I'm only 7 songs in and the feeling is close to the one you get when you're raking leaves and you realize you still have the whole back yard to do. That's not a good feeling.

"Biggest Mistake": I think this album is so bad, it changed my DNA, and now I think this is a great song. Fantastic. I wouldn't have before, but at this point, I'll take what I can. It sounds like it'll be the second single. It reminds me, across the board, or R.E.M.'s "Aftermath" from Around the Sun. It kind of stoops down to meet you halfway, and you appreciate it, but you sense some condescension and a little lowest-common-denominatorness.

Now comes the first Keith song, "This Place is Empty" and it's odd. It's all over the place, musically. It feels like he just started playing and everyone else tried to get into the groove. But can you ever deny Keith?

Then it's back to the kick-out-the-jams rock with "Oh No, Not You Again". And it's fine. You know when you hear "Rock and Hard Place" off Steel Wheels and think how it kind of rocks? But then once the song's over it's not like you're aching to hear it agin? Yeah, it's the same thing here. Can you imagine the marketing for this album: "A return to the glory days... of Steel Wheels!" But "I'm like jello/ staring down your tits?" It's like Mick doesn't even try. It's not even proper English; I'm confused how you stare down one's tits. Is it like staring down one's dress, or are you engaged in some sort of macho staring contest with a pair of nipples? Because you won't win that one; nipples, as a rule, do not back down. Anyway, at this point I wouldn't put it past Mick to sing "Can't wait for my penis to enter your vagina" if he could find the proper line to rhyme it with.

"Dangerous Beauty" wasn't good when it was a Foreigner b-side and it's no better now.

Don Was craps up "Laugh, I Nearly Died" with 80s-era productions. What the hell is going on with those guitar effects? Mick's torch singing his ass off, but it just doesn't matter.

I'm losing steam. It's like my 32nd day on a lifeboat, and the head of guy at the other end of the boat keeps turning into a cheeseburger.

Uh oh, time for "Sweet Neo Con", which was demoed under the name "Publicity Grab". Mick has the rhetorical skills of an overnight talk radio host: "You call yourself a patriot/ I think you are full of shit." Wasn't that an Oscar Wilde line? "There's bombers in my bedroom/ and it's giving me the shits"? Mick, you do know that there's shitting your pants, and then there's having the shits. And I don't know how it is in England, where a loo is a toilet and the first floor is on the second floor, but over on this side of the pond, those are completely different things. And what you're saying, Mr. Jagger, is that terrorists give you diarrhea.

"Look What the Cat Dragged In" features Mick thinking he's breaking news by using the phrase "walk of shame" and Keith steals guitar parts from, honest to God, INXS.
This sounds like "Listen Like Thieves".

"Driving Too Fast": I'm just happy I'm almost done. This isn't horrible. Once again, my standards are real low right now. Actually, screw that; this is pretty bad.

And so we come to the last song, Keith's second, "Infamy". The rescue ship's in the distance and I think they've seen my flare. It's sad that the most positive reaction I've had to this album is when I realized I'm thisclose to being done with it. "Infamy" floats on this wierd burbling processed repitition, like a robot playing a mouth harp. (I'm right in assuming we can't call it a Jew's harp anymore, right? Anyone?) But you know, the thing about Keith's songs is at least they have a bit of dignity and subtlety. At worst this makes me look forward to an Expenisive Winos album.

And with that, I need to sleep. And listen to Twilight Singers.

A Bigger Bang

I think that even if this turned out to be the greatest record the Stones ever made, I'd be most surprised that they're actually giving something away for free.

Now I'm falling asleep/ and she's calling a cab...

Overheard in New York, again:
Hipster chick: You like the Killers? Of all the British bands--
Hipster boy: I think they're from Vegas, actually.
Hipster chick: Well, I just assumed they're British because they suck.

This ain't no foolin' around...

'Thanks for the shirt. I look forward to giving this to my maid's son.'
Courtesy of Sienna Miller Fan. At the same moment this picture was taken, David Byrne was wearing a shirt that said "Bring the Filtration Plant to the Bronx's Van Courtlandt Park!" Now that is kismet, though really, they need to work on finding a catchier slogan, because as it stands, Byrne's shirt would be too hard to read when he's walking. And that bastard walks fast. You'd be like "Bring the Filtra... Hold up! Damn it, that bastard walks fast!" Also, word is Guiliani will roll out Joey Ramone's rotting corpse at a press conference. Very Weekend at Bernie's, and the press will just eat it up. Hey, the man's a hero, a golden god in mortal form, and he can do whatever he wants.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

And now I want to hurt you/ real bad/ real slow...

Two more songs from the new Twilight Singers album are streaming at And really, can anything else turn a shitty week all rainbow bright with such precision and speed? This album can't come out soon enough, and I'm already placing Amber Headlights as the de facto third best album of the year, and it may creep into the top two (top two currently being Gimme Fiction and Twin Cinema). I wouldn't bet against it. God bless you, Greg Dulli.

Goddamn, "Early Today" is some sexy snuff in a can. Firearms.

These songs make me want to drink wine and smoke cigarettes in mhy kitchen. And that's a high compliment for me.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I know they're stolen, but I don't feel bad/ I take that money, buy you things you never had...

What are you doing to me, Patti Smith? Do I need a re-release of Horses? No, I already have it. Am I going to get it anyway? There's a really good chance. Because, I've made clear, I'm a sucker for these goddamn reissues. I'm like an alcoholic, but for reissued albums. And I'm pretty weak in the knees for peppermint schnapps too.

All this digital technology at our disposal, and all these albums getting double-disc treatment, and yet I am still waiting for Icky Mettle to get reissued.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Although you try to sidestep/ the merchants of soul don't let...

When Boston gets a free show, they get Spoon. And all I get is a little sad inside.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Disturbance at the Heron House/ a stampede at the monument...

Being in D.C., I thought I'd see more free shows. Especially shows attached to a cause, like R.E.M. playing on the capitol steps (the actual steps, not that goofy improv/musical troupe) after the Tibetan Freedom Concert. But the only thing close to that I'd seen was the NFL Kickoff Concert 2003, where Britney Spears' cause seemed to be the elimination of live vocals at concerts.

But now comes Operation Ceasefire, with Le Tigre, Thievery Corporation, Bouncing Souls, and Ted Leo, on September 24 on the National Mall. There's some other stuff going on with it, like workshops on how to not get consumed by your righteous anger, but the show's what counts.

Make sure you choose what you wear carefully, because the government's probably going to take you picture from a satellite. You don't want to be looking through your FBI file years from now and think "I popped my collar and wore oversize sunglasses? I guess I really was a douche."

I got a hand on the wheel/ the other on my fire...

Two new Twilight Singers songs are streaming over at, and good God, these songs show you how it's done. They sound more like the Whigs than anything the Singers have done previously. This is the next evolutionary step after 1965; in fact, the chorus of "So Tight" sounds slightly like one of the songs off that album, but I can't put my finger on it. But it just rolls dirty. With firearms. "Golden Boy" is more in the "Crazy" vein: kind of poppy, wistful with its chiming chords and spacious rhythm section, but still big and possibly high on coke.

Dulli's ability to write primal, dirty music so easily and play the pervert so charismatically is probably one of the top five underappreciated things in music. It's really something to marvel at. He knows all the formulas, knows what buttons to press; he's like a pornographic mathematician. Hear those drums at the beginning of "So Tight"? That's what philosophers call a 12-inch dick, and Dulli has it and he's swinging it around. He'll put it on your table and flirt with your girlfriend, too. Every piece of that song is just huge and the man flaunts it. Even the title is something that Jagger would have tried in his younger years, but wouldn't be ballsy enough to try now or pull off so effectively. From what I hear of these two songs, I think we have a record of the year contender.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I wish the world was flat like the old days...

Death Cab album is followed by tour. And so goes the circle of life, just like the Bible said. I announce this not for myself, but for others, for Death Cab for Cutie doesn't pick me up at the curb, if you know what I mean. Oh, you don't? Eat it.

Old news, but they're streaming "Soul Meets Body" on their website. It doesn't do anything for me, but it continues in the '80s-tinged direction set by the Cure-like "The New Year". Now that song I loved, although I can't hear it without thinking about my mom's running commentary when she saw the overwrought video a few months ago: "Oh, so sad! I'm dressed so pretty, but I am so sad. I need to look off into space, I'm just so sad."

I guess you had to be there.

Put the needle on the record...

From Dischord:
The Dischord catalog is available now from the microsoft website as well as from iTunes and http:// The latter two sites are in the process of posting singles by Fidelity Jones, Jawbox, Shudder to Think and Q and Not U, previously available only on 7".
I'm excited about the Jawbox and Shudder to Think rarities, but Fidelity Jones? Am I missing something for not having any clue who they are?

It's good to hear your voice/ you know it's been so long/ if I don't get your call then everything goes wrong... takes on the case of the missing iTunes customer service number, which I don't think is unique to iTunes or Apple. All companies would rather have you navigate their homepages for hours on end than hire some outsourced hillbilly with a slurry mumble at minimum wage. I think the thing we have to learn from all companies is this: they don't want us to call. They're checking their caller ID, seeing "paying customer", and turning the ringer off. We're like bad dates, looking to see what Corporate America is doing this weekend, and you know what? They'll lie and say they have plans with friends, or maybe they're going out of town. But they don't and they're not. We just can't take the hint They don't like our squeeky voices, they don't like the long silences between words, the stumbling, or the way we keep using "basically" to start every other sentence. Corporate America just came out of a long-term relationship and really just wants to be friends, so send the occasional e-mail, but don't worry about calling.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My sweet neo-con...

Looks like I've been punk'd and the Rolling Stones really are grasping at cultural significance, recording a song about Bush called "Sweet Neo-Con" that will appear on their forthcoming album. So now they're cooking with gas, but I don't know if this is just controversy for the sake of publicity or what. Let's just hope Mick doesn't try and rap the lyrics. And trust me, if Don Was thought it would be a good idea, it would have happened (after Mick did some market research, seeing if the kids enjoyed the rap stuff). And if Don Was thinks it's a good idea, it's not.
Jagger said of the track: “It is direct. Keith said: ‘It's not really metaphorical.’... ”I think he’s a bit worried because he lives in the US. But I don’t.”
Since when does Keith worry about retribution? The man's a ninja. He's firearms. And I don't know who got it wrong, Drudge or this blog which quotes from him, but... Keith Roberts?

Monday, August 08, 2005

I don't like knowing people/ don't like people knowing about me...

Black Cat, Black Cat! It's been too long, my friend. Or maybe it hasn't, because I forgot what I always hated about going to shows, or to any public event in general: douchebags. The world's filthy with them. And so was the Black Cat, Saturday night, at the Weird War show.

It didn't even enter my mind until I moved from my seat at the bar close to the stage to the soundboard during the second act on Saturday night, at which point I was hit by, to quote R.E.M., the waves of conversation. And I forgot: indie kids don't really care about music. It's like the show isn't about the bands, but them. The music just serves as a backdrop, like in some cheap dive bar. For instance, it's a well established fact that indie kids don't dance. But this is only partly true; they do dance, but they only do it when it's ironic. It's not "Wow, this music's great, I gotta shake some tail"; it's "Hey, look at me! I'm dancing! Isn't this fucking outrageous!? Dancing! Ha!" And they'll do it anytime they feel the attention isn't theirs to own. Watch them: they don't watch the bands, but watch the eyes watching them, the tiny dancer. Or then there's the kid throwing the devil sign and pounding his head. It's all irony, it's all showmanship. Here's the thing: if you want to be part of the show, go see the Blue Man Group or something. This isn't about audience participation, at least not this brand of it. I'm not saying not to shake that ass or sing along or cheer excessively. Just don't be a douchebag about it.

And the second band, Sitali, was actually great. Soulful, loud, passionate. I had never heard a lick of them before, but I'd like to see more. There were some overwrought moments, but I think there was enough pure emotion for it to be real. I think if they had been white emo kids with t-shirts that said something like "My Goose is Cooked!" or some crap, the audience may have responded with more love. There was just a constant hum of conversation during their set. I don't think it has to be church in there, but goddamn, there wasn't a $9 cover for Stupid Haircut's Amazing Theory of Atonal Scales.

And it's official, there's only so much of Ian Svenonius' shit I can take. A little less than 45 minutes worth, as it turns out. I like a singer who can bullshit between songs just fine (hell, I would pay to listen to Greg Dulli talk for two hours) but Svenonius' schtick just wears me out. OK, I get it, garage rock is a commodity and this song is about real estate and Alan Greenspan is the king of garage rock. Fantastic. It's not so much the message as the way it's delivered. In... halting tones... like this... like... William Shatner... with a bedroom voice... so fragile... and asthmatic... But I will say that when Weird War got down to brass tacks (i.e., the rock), they had a groove that should have made the room dance, even unironically.

Friday, August 05, 2005

I'm Oprah bound/ you can tell he a star from the ultrasound...

Pitchfork has a review of what sounds like a super goddamn creepy Nick Cannon song, where he takes a stand against abortion, singing from the fetus' perspective. This has to be a joke, right? I mean, this is a guy with a movie coming out where he plays an undercover cop at a private school and previously remade Patrick Dempsey's Can't Buy Me Love. Nick, just because you don't have the ability to choose a good script doesn't mean a woman can't choose whether or not to have an abortion. Some people actually make informed, adult decisions that don't involve whether to play a scene with shirtless or not.

Stay tuned for Lindsey Lohan's take on gay marriage: "But Who Will Do the Dishes?"

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

We're armed to the teeth/ born a little breach...

Finally, after 9 months, I bought Around the Sun; in the 15 years I've been into R.E.M., this has been the longest I've waited since the release. This is a record, and calls for celebration. I say Denny's, and Moons Over My Hammy shall be had. But first...

This album's just so inert. It's not bad, just boring. It's like a cat. Cats are nice, and they can be pretty, but after a while of them sitting there staring out you, making plans, you want to go out and throw a ball to a dog. You want something active. As a whole, this album is closest to Automatic, but that album moved. That album was a dog (in the context of this metaphor). That was a sad, quiet album, but it always had a forward drive. (And it had no laser gun sounds.) Around the Sun just sits there. Think of the organ and strings on "Sweetness Follows" and how that propelled the song. Or "Drive", when the electric guitar came in. "Final Straw" might have the most forward momentum on Sun, but it's probably my least favorite song.

Also, in the past, their work never felt joyless. Serious, yes; but never joyless. There's a moment in "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", towards the end, where you can hear Stipe laugh. He laughs a bit as he sings the line about Dr. Seuss, because supposedly he'd been pronouncing it "Zeus" and Mike Mills kept throwing him dirty looks. I mean, throughout it all, they managed to keep that bit of light in there. There were happy about what they were creating. These days it feels like they're more joyless construction workers than giddy architects.

It just feels as though they're going through the motions. Not only is there little joy, but very little emotion. The only song that comes close to greatness on the new album is "Boy in the Well", which actually has a sense of emotion, both musically and lyrically. There's just this dread infused throughout the song. It feels like a dye has been cast, and it's not good. If anything, this might be one of the "politial" songs they were talking about when they were recording. Plus, it actually shakes a tiny bit of ass in the chorus. I think I may like "I Wanted to be Wrong" second most on the album (another political song), and I think on a stronger overall album it would have been better. As it is, it's a great hitter with no one to protect it in the line up. And on its own, it would be better if they didn't use what sound like fake strings. Remember the stuff on Automatic? That was effing fantastic. "The Ascent of Man" has a chance to be soulful, in a prom theme sort of way, but again, doesn't add up in the end. It's so close though, it's almost heartbreaking. In fact, a lot of the album is so close it hurts.

"Aftermath", which is a pretty great song, probably exposes the band's greatest weakness at this point: it used to be that songs like this would show up as b-sides and on comps (I'm thinking about "Photograph" on the Born to Choose comp). And that's what made R.E.M. so great; they could write a toss-off pop song and it wouldn't even make the album. Now it's the second single. But the way they write songs now, you take what you can get.

"Wanderlust" sounds like it wants to go somewhere, but feels disjointed, like they had an idea in their head and couldn't get it on tape. And instead of throwing it out, they got as far as they could and put it on the album. The boppy-bop rhythm doesn't fit the vocal melody at all. Which is a shame, because this is the one song Stipe seems to have fun singing. It's always the dumb pop songs where Stipe is most willing to stretch his voice, and to me, when his voice is about to crack, that's when the magic happens, you know? It's so close, he's taking a risk.

It's not that it's a horrible album; it has its moments. It's just that so much more should be expected, and so much more should be delivered. I'll continually go for bat for Up and say it's fascinating, but Around the Sun isn't fascinating in the same sort of way. Up was successful because you got the feeling they were throwing a lot of stuff at the wall, and succeeding more times than not. They pushed forward after Bill left, they tried new things. It ended up having some really original songs, like "Sad Professor" (one of the better R.E.M. songs when the dust settles, and definitely one of the most underrated), "Why Not Smile" (listen to how the music slowly builds, layer by layer, contrasting with the dispassionate vocals), and "Hope" (if you're going to rip off Pulp and Leonard Cohen, at least this is the way to do it). But here, it's like they're not trying, or not being pushed. They are close, but the difference is at once small and incredibly big. So bring back Scott Litt! And Bill! And please, for the love of God, stop it with the fucking blip-bloop laser gun sounds and electronic grinds.

Down the basement/ lock the cellar door/ and baby, talk dirty to me...

Glam metal karaoke exists, and but mere steps from my front door at that. Bonus points: cheap Miller High Life. Top five glam metal songs that I want to belt out, off key:

1) Poison, "Talk Dirty to Me"
2) Def Leppard, "Photograph"
3) Skid Row, "I Remember You"
4) Europe, "Final Countdown"
5) Winger, "Seventeen"

Honorable Mention: Enuff Z'Nuff, "Fly High Michelle"

Sweet and modest and unassuming/ as the tableware in your vegetarian restaurant...

Toby Keith's opening a second restaurant? The man's in danger of stretching himself too thin. He's turning into just another Todd English, more obsessed with his celebrity and growing empire of restaurants then about the food. One day, someone's going to bite into his fried bologna sandwich, shake their head disappointedly, and say, "This was not made with love."

You can't just churn out restaurants, Toby. Would you just churn out song after song about America kicking ass? Of course not. You really have to feel like America is going to kick ass, then you put that feeling to music. If you just directed a laser culinary focus towards one restaurant, it could be, and I don't think I'm overstating it, the French Laundry of Oklahoma City. My only hope is that Kenny Rogers gets to you in time and warns you about the siren song of franchising and the rocky shores to which their sweet melodies lead.

Get Up, Stand Up

Here's something to look out for next month: a PBS documentary on protest songs. Michael Stipe, Springsteen, Chuck D, and Bono are involved, which is a good line up. Bob Geldof is going to give his two cents as well, but you gotta take the bitter with the sweet.

This documentary comes at an interesting time, since a lot of critics have talked about the lack of contemporary protest songs, especially with things being, as the talking heads say "totally effed up." (I guess they're not counting Rob Thomas' "Lonely No More" and its protest against good songwriting.) Maybe protest songs are a thing of the past; the future is all about protest ring tones.

Speaking of protest songs, where's that Paris Hilton album we were promised? There's a big irony-shaped hole in my heart that demands it. Maybe Lil' Jon passed it along to Nigel Goodrich for some last minute bleeps and bloops.

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