King Sunny Adé: Rhapsody Artist Sampler

I always get this guy mixed up with Sun Ra.  Probably because I learned about both of them in the same world music class in high school.  His Wikipedia page begins:

King Sunny Adé (Sunday Adeniyi, born September 22, 1946) is a popular performer of Yoruba Nigerian Jùjú music and a pioneer of modern world music. He has been classed as one of the most influential musicians of all time.

Also according to Wikipedia, his discography consists of 123(!) items.  So obviously these seven tracks taken from two albums (E Dide (Get Up) and Juju Music) can’t really do justice to his output, but I really like what I hear.  It’s guitar- and synth-driven dance-pop, and it’s light on the bass and crunch we are familiar with in our music.  He actually covers a lot of stylistic ground, even kind of going Sun Ra with weird spacey tripped out sections sometimes.  At other times, though, he stays in a groove a little too long, rendering it moldy.

If anybody knows where else to attack this discography from, let me know.  It’s awfully daunting as it is.

  1. E Dide E Mujo – Cool.  Faster, kinda quiet.  “Let your feelings show/Let your body move/Juju music is so nice/…”  A fun dancey tune.  Totally loveable.  Keep.
  2. Eje Nio Gba Ara Mi – Has some cool spacey effects.  Slow, very chill.  Seems like it might get bogged down in the middle.  Even a little bit funky in parts.  Just a really interesting track.  Keep.
  3. Ose, Ose – Really like this.  The beginning is awesome with a great riff and some seemingly added beats that kind of knock you off of what you’re expecting.  The middle’s meh enough not to mix, so keep.
  4. Yoruba – Very sweet arpeggiated guitar melody to start.  Then fairly meh throughout.  Like.
  5. Ja Funmi – Another great start, but a bit too long and static to keep.  Like.
  6. Alashe L’Aiye – Starts off kinda hyper.  This is my least favorite of the bunch.  I’m not sure the freneticism works here.  Or it may just be the tune that’s not pulling me in.  Like.
  7. 365 Is My Number / The Message – Pretty cool.  Another long one with all kinds of spacey effects in “The Message.”  “Call me Danny(?) That’s my number.”  Is that the Jùjú version of “Rikki don’t you lose that number?”  Keep.

Rick Springfield: Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance

In 2002 My Baby and I took a trip to Las Vegas.  When we were there we saw the show Rick Springfield was starring in at MGM Grand.  “It won’t be like a Rick Springfield concert,” My Baby warned me when we were still deciding what show to see.  As if I cared.  Tt was awesome, and he even played a few of his songs throughout the night.  Often this was in the form of just a few lines sprinkled in here and there, but for the benefit of those sitting around us I would keep singing the rest of the song.

I was giddy for the whole show.  At one point during the performance, I leaned in and asked My Baby, “Do you think he knows I’m here?”

“Why do you think he’s rocking it so hard?,” she replied.

As it turns out, he may not have been rocking it so hard just because I was there; he may have been falling in love.  According to Springfield’s biography (fair warning, I’m working from memory here), it was during this time, in a fragile “recovery” from depression and the resulting sexual addiction, that Springfield was seduced into betraying his wife yet again.  I say “seduced” because, according to Springfield, this woman led him to believe it wasn’t just groupie sex, that it was a deeper connection.  Anyway, the abrupt end of this relationship inspired this 2004 album.

And boy did the ordeal do a number on him: he’s pissed as hell here.  The album is the most aggressive thing he’s ever done, with distorted, loud guitars and bitter, spiteful lyrics.  Oh, the lyrics.  Try “everything you gave to me you went and gave away to anybody else with a dick” from “Idon’twantanythingfromyou” or “Jesus saves white trash/Baby, like you” from “Jesus saves.”

However, there’s more than just pissed here.  In fact, the swirl of emotional material, with its sudden swings from love and devotion to venom, reads like a several-page letter from a young, jilted man just suffering his first real breakup to the object of his emotional turmoil.  “Wasted” covers this well with “You had the power to save my soul/I had the power to make you whole/We had the power and we had control, but we blew it.”

Still, it’s mostly angry.  And the angry songs work the best, for the most part.  The more mild-mannered tracks feel like they could have come off of his prior album, the good but mostly passionless Karma.  There’s also a weird detour with “Angels Of The Disappeared,” a song about missing children that is reminiscent of and about as good as probably the most famous song in that micro-genre, Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train.”

On the whole, this album may be a touch too long with a bit of a quality valley just past halfway through.  However, that dip still doesn’t descend below “like” quality, leaving this a solid front-to-back disc.  The hooks and tunes aren’t as good as his best stuff, but that’s an awfully high bar.  And there are a few songs that I’d definitely want to hear in concert, making this a worthy addition to the man’s oeuvre.  This completes my collection of his main albums.  (What I don’t have now is just tracks here and there as well as a few out-of-print albums.)  So I’m glad it was a strong finish.  And it’s good to know Springfield and I have at least one more thing in common: we handle break ups really, really poorly.

Song Notes:

  1. Perfect – Wow sounds terrible at end. There’s a line or two that almost makes this like, but I’ll keep it.
  2. I’ll make you happy – Ends with some applause and like a TV show ending. This is pretty awesome. Despite Wikipedia saying this is album is entirely composed by Springfield, Allmusic says it’s a cover of the Easybeat’s “I’ll Make You Happy.”  And it is.  (Thank you, Rhapsody.)
  3. Will I? – “Will I ever see you again”. Demerits for “It is what it is”. Ends with an orchestra and some radio talk. Pretty good.
  4. God Gave You to Everyone – So angry. Solos and keys elevate to keep.
  5. Idontwantanythingfromyou – So angry. Ends with about 25 seconds of radio talk and staticy stuff that probably keeps it from being mixed. Punky.
  6. Jesus saves – Very heavy start. “Jesus saves white trash/Baby, like you.” Yeah, he’s angry here.
  7. Beautiful you – Feel like I recognize this from somewhere.  Ends with a solo guitar and some footsteps. If the guitar tone weren’t so harsh this could be off Karma.
  8. Wasted – “Her e-mails read just like a porno site.”
  9. Shoot Your Guru – Short, classical guitar. Is the title a John Lennon reference? Only like a minute long. Nice transition but not much else.
  10. Alien Virus – Slow.
  11. Angels Of The Disappeared – Seems to veer off from the concept.
  12. Eden – This and the next one seem to be coming back to his wife Barbara. Big strings part. Also a Karma vibe.
  13. The Invisible Girl – Another one that fits the Karma vibe. Lounge style and atmosphere.
  14. My Depression – Another version of this made it onto that one he did with Jeff Silverman, I think.
  15. Your Psychopathic mother – So angry. Great chorus gets it kept
  16. Every night I wake up screaming –
  17. Open my eyes – Minor key. Short, simple, “Open my eyes to you.” Kinda dumb.

Rating:
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Mix:
“Wasted” “Every night I wake up screaming”
Keep:
“Perfect,” “I’ll make you happy,” “Will I?,” “God Gave you to everyone,” “Idon’twantanythingfromyou,” “Jesus saves,” “Beautiful you,” “Angels Of The Disappeared,” “My Depression,” “Your Psychopathic mother”
Like:
“Shoot Your Guru,” “Alien Virus,” “Eden,” “The invisible girl,” “Open my eyes”

James Blake: James Blake

Why don’t you call me what we both know I am
– “Why Don’t You Call Me?”

An album that was on seemingly every best-of-2011 list, something on it once caught my ear on shuffle, so it ended up in my to-review queue.  I didn’t get much more out of it than that; it’s still just kind of ear-catchy, not something I really want to spend a lot of time with. That’s not, however, due to a lack of depth.  Quite the contrary, this is an exceptionally rich album in terms of timbre, rhythms, and bloopy-bleepy song construction.

This album is simultaneously really good at setting a mood as background music and being really interesting to listen to attentively.  It’s just that it’s not really something to listen to when you’re doing the things I do when I listen to music, which right now is basically walking, driving, and working.  Rather, this is more coming-down-from-a-rave-at-6 AM music, where your head is able to simultaneously be in the place of paying super close attention but also only being able to treat everything as a background event.  You need to kind of sneak up on this music, and I think chemicals might be able to help with that.  This would also really work as a movie score.

Before I’d heard this album I don’t think I could have imagined music that sounded quite like this: so layered, dense, unconventional, tricky, and complex yet at the same time immediately accessible and super laid back.  And then beyond that, it’s also executed perfectly.  And for all that, I really want to rate it highly.  But as far as being enjoyable, it’s more of an intellectual and curiosity-piquing enjoyment rather than a visceral or pleasant feeling.  My gut says this is three clowns, but my inner critic’s inner critic says at least four.  I can’t find a rating I don’t have reservations about, so let’s just go with 3.5 clowns and move on to the next thing to review.

Rating:
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Keep: “Unluck,” “The Wilhelm Scream,” “To Care (Like You),” “Why Don’t You Call Me?,” “I Mind”
Like:
“I Never Learnt To Share,” “Lindisfarne II,” “Limit To Your Love,” “Give Me My Month,” “Measurements”

Track Notes:

  1. Unluck – quiet, with some muffled explosion sounds.
  2. The Wilhelm Scream – the hit.
  3. I Never Learnt To Share – “My brother and my sister/Don’t speak to me/But I don’t blame them.”  This is so compelling at first, but it really doesn’t stand up to repeat listenings, it really gets annoying.  The climax with about 70-80 seconds left is amazing.  This song is so maddening because the last half, or at least the last 90 seconds, is flipping incredible.  But it’s torture to get through the “brother and sister” part at the beginning.  Like.
  4. Lindisfarne I -incredibly sparse.
  5. Lindisfarne II – Flows right into this out of last one.
  6. Limit To Your Love – This may have been the one that caught my ear that has me listening to this now.
  7. Give Me My Month –
  8. To Care (Like You) – Has some great parts, but the title part is filthy disturbing.  Takes a while to get going, but once it does it’s pretty sweet.
  9. Why Don’t You Call Me? – Really like this.  At least the start.  It’s only like 90 seconds, though.
  10. I Mind – Very dense.
  11. Measurements – Kinda languid, you really have to be in the right mood for this.  Like is a stretch here, but okay.  Also bizarre in that it doesn’t resolve, ends on the dominant or something, just ends, very unsettling.

Van Halen: Van Halen

Nothing says 1978 debut album like that cover, does it?

It is impossible to review this album as if you don’t know what happened afterwards.  And I’m not even talking about this lineup releasing five more albums worth of hits then doing the Sammy Hagar thing and all that.  What I’m saying is that it’s impossible to review this album without acknowledging the next 12 or 13 years of hard rock guitar bands. I mean, it’s all here, the arena-ready choruses, the pillaging of the blues and classic rock (in this case mostly the latter) pumped up to new speeds and volumes, the oversexed, fun-loving flashpottiness, and, of course, the wanky guitar solo.  This album was 10 years ahead of its time.  Either that or 1988 was 10 years behind its time.

The other aspect of this album that makes it impossible to review normally is that it’s like listening to classic rock radio.  Because so many of these songs are still played ad nauseum on classic rock radio.  I had no idea how many standards they put on this album alone: “Runnin’ With The Devil,” “You Really Got Me,” “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love,” “Jamie’s Cryin’,” and “Feel Your Love Tonight.”  That’s five out of eleven tracks.  (And note that there’s three explicitly dropped G’s in that list.  Three!  These guys really wanted the orthography of their song titles to match their pronunciation.)  So, while I think the album sounds more like a collection of singles than a cohesive whole, that may be due to the fact that, for me, born in 1974, this is a collection of singles.

So I can’t really say a whole lot about what this album is because it would be like classic rock radio itself.  And it’s really hard to untangle my feelings about classic rock radio from this album.  So many of these songs are catchy but have been overplayed so much that they drive me crazy in parts.  Does “Jamie’s Cryin'” get kept for its bridge or knocked down to like for its whiny chorus?  How about the triple-apostrophed “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love?”  Can I get past the fist-banging chorus enough to keep it?  Or does “I’m The One” get credit for its spastic insertion of doo-wop and the successive climax, or is its more dominant characteristic the way everything before that part is a too-fast throwaway quasi-punk misfire?

That list goes on, and all the answers are revealed below (he writes before knowing the answers himself).  But I can also point out a few surprises from this album.  First, the deep cuts are the best.  “Atomic Punk” is the perfect prototype of a hard rock/punk fusion that should have taken a country of mes by storm, but never came to fruition because I’m kind of like the most musically sophisticated person ever.  “Little Dreamer” is, I believe, one of the band’s most popular songs among devoted fans, and for good reason…it should dominate rock radio the way so much of this album does.  Rounding out the pleasant surprises, I didn’t realize just how ridiculously acrobatic David Lee Roth’s voice was.  From opener “Runnin’ With The Devil” through closer “On Fire,” Roth jumps octaves, bellows, and howls, setting a prototype for 80’s metal vocalists like Ronnie James Dio and Geoff Tate.  Turns out, though, that the style’s way more fun when tossed off with a semblance of effortlessness and a flirty, ironic wink than it is when done sincerely singing about orcs and wizards.

There were some less positive surprises, too.  I didn’t know the band did so many covers.  That’s not particular to this album, but rather something I picked up yesterday on Wikipedia.  But even here you’ve got The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” of course, and then an old blues tune “Ice Cream Man,” that lit the way for the less honestly attributed blues-plundering of the likes of Aerosmith, Cinderella, Great White, and more of the 80’s hard rock ilk.

The covers thing is neutral, but there was at least one really negative surprise, too.  I never really realized just how wanky Eddie Van Halen could be on guitar.  I guess I’d always just compared him to people like Steve Vai (who I kind of like) and Yngwie Malmsteen (who I definitely don’t), and in that light Van Halen is the master of songful integation…but good God, there are times when you wonder if he’s listening to anybody but himself.  The most obvious of these is, of course, “Eruption,” one of the most famous guitar solos in all of rock.  It gets a like for its first 50 and last 25 seconds, but that start of the second half of the track is insufferable.

It’s really kind of amazing the partnership between the effervescent Roth and the showy Van Halen lasted as long as it did.  Based on their styles, I can’t believe they ever could have liked each other enough to have a beer together.  And maybe they didn’t.  But I guess if you want to be a rock star bad enough, you can align yourself with a talented prick partner and grit your teeth long enough to make it.  (I think) I’m (mostly) glad they did.  This album seems to give itself away right away, but I keep finding more in it with additional listens.  If I could separate it from being sandwiched between Kansas and Journey and creating Yngwie Malmsteen, or if I could pretend I was a 14-year-old in 1978 whose older brother got him this album for Chrstmas, I may be able to pop this up to four clowns even.  I want to, I just can’t.

Rating:
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Mix:
“Atomic Punk”
Keep:
“Runnin’ With The Devil,” “You Really Got Me,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Little Dreamer,” “On Fire”
Like:
“Eruption,” “I’m The One,” “Jamie’s Cryin’,” “Feel Your Love Tonight,” “Ice Cream Man

Track Notes:

  1. Runnin’ With The Devil – His vocals are just a parody of themselves.  But I love them. Not sure hi-hat hits ever sounded so huge.
  2. Eruption – This is well done and all that, but there’s no song here.  It’s just pyrotechnics.  And it’s to blame for all the tuneless guitar wanking I’ve ever had to sit through at rock shows.  Maybe I’d have liked it back in the day, but it’s just impossible to separate from its legacy now.
  3. You Really Got Me – The Kinks cover, natch.  I love how it always seems like they’re about to veer out of control.  Rock and roll on the edge.  This is really probably more of a like but I have to keep it because what is this album without this song?
  4. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love – Again, it’s amazing how many of these I know.  Is he saying “you’re semi-good looking”?  This is quite a strut.  And at such a good clip…probably the fastest strut song ever.  Take out the shouted title part and this might be mix.  It’s a tough thing to overlook, but it’s quite a well-crafted gem.
  5. I’m The One – Throwaway?  More wanky guitar stuff at the top.  But the song is also growing on me quite a bit.
  6. Jamie’s Cryin’ – I love the classic rock harmonies at “one night stands.”
  7. Atomic Punk – Not expected at all, but it totally works.  This would go on to influence a completely different type of band than you normally think of as being influenced by Van Halen.  I like how they go all Stooges “Search & Destroy” and Springsteen “Backstreets” in the lyrics while still having such a good time with it.  It’s just so different from so much of what they’ve done.
  8. Feel Your Love Tonight – It’s amazing how many songs on this album I know.
  9. Little Dreamer – Like it on first listen, but I don’t think I know this one.
  10. Ice Cream Man – “All my flavors are guaranteed to satisfy.”  Yep, I even know this one, a cover of a track by an old bluesman.  (Is there any other type of bluesman?)  This might be the definition of like.
  11. On Fire – God who does that scream remind me of?  Is it Geoff Tate?  Ronnie James Dio?  I never realized how much metal vocalists owed to DLR’s upper range theatrics.  Not even like so much, but has parts I like.  Eh, it’s growing on me.  I might even keep this.  And if I do then the album as a whole has a real chance to go up to 3.5 clowns.

Alice In Chains: Black Gives Way To Blue

Alice In Chains last released a studio album in 1995.  They released live albums in 1996 and 2000.  Lead vocalist Layne Staley died in 2002.  Yet here they are in 2009 with a new album and a new vocalist William DuVall.  The obvious move for Jerry Cantrell, of course, would have been to have started a new band with a new name.  Not doing that opens him up to criticisms of exploitation.  But, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, this feels like a continuation…and kind of even the right continuation of the band.

As a whole, this album is more in line with their weakest prior album, their 1995 self-titled release, with a more mellow, less hard-hitting vibe.  The angst-sharpened edge from Dirt is still gone.  And, despite Dirt being what the band will forever be known for, that’s not a bad thing.  I mean, you can’t keep making an excessively angry record.  It’s exhausting for the band and for the fans.  Everybody experiences anger, and for some of us it’s even kind of a default reaction to even slight setbacks, but to endlessly dwell in it is something that should best be generally avoided.

While this, at first blush, seems more like Alice In Chains than anything else, when dissected you hear references, quotes almost, to Dirt and Jar Of Flies.  “Your Decision” would have fit right in on Jar Of Flies, as would have “Lesson Learned,” though in the latter case it would have been far and away the best track on that EP.  Dirt‘s “Down In A Hole” re-appears on “Private Hell,” which also seems to hint at that album’s “Rooster.”

Staley’s death was remarkable for being so simultaneously tragic and predictable.  Found dead in his apartment from an overdose after having been dead for days, one of the world’s biggest rock stars, who sung endlessly about the wonders and horrors of heroin, died alone in the University District of Seattle, his last several human contacts undoubtedly with his dealers.  It felt as empty and pointless as his lyrics told us it would be.  How it couldn’t be helped is mind-numbingly depressing.

Anyway…sigh…this all seems to be referenced on “Your Decision” and “Black Gives Way To Blue,” the album closer that doesn’t close because it doesn’t resolve, just leaving you to float away into silence.  The album opener, “All Secrets Known,” chuggily builds in pure Alice In Chains style and seems to directly reference the public perception predicament the band has created for themselves.  DuVall sounds quite a bit like Staley on the first two tracks before going to a a cleaner vocal style on the next two.  I’m not sure newcomers to the band would want to start here, but for fans who have been along for the ride since Facelift, it all works as an honest melding of past, present, and potential.

I’ve had more trouble settling on a rating for this album than I have in a long time.  A 3.5-clown rating usually means there’s some very strong points that are held back by some failures.  But a three-clown rating usually signifies a positive-but-muted reaction.  This is different.  Sure, there are a few weak points, most notably “When The Sun Rose Again,” and there are times when good songs go on too long (“Private Hell,” “Acid Bubble”).  But for the most part this is just plain solid.  Good songwriting, good performances, good soloing.  At times very good, at times a bit weak, but the standard deviation on quality is remarkably narrow.  So maybe I’m giving them a low-expectations and/or your-lead-singer-did handicap here, or maybe I’m just finding it hard to keep ragging on the heroes of my adolescence.  But this is significantly better than anything they’ve done since Dirt and it’s pretty darned good.

So there you go, 3.5 clowns.  It seems Layne Staley’s purpose was to make Facelift, Sap, and Dirt, but Jerry Cantrell has more to do.  This is one snapshot of him working on that.

Rating:
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Keep: “All Secrets Known,” “Check My Brain,” “Last Of My Kind,” “Lesson Learned,” “Take Her Out”
Like:
“Your Decision,” “A Looking In View,” “When The Sun Rose Again,” “Acid Bubble,” “Private Hell,” “Black Gives Way To Blue”

Notes:

  • Given that the Loudness Wars are referenced on this album’s Wikipedia page, I’d be remiss not to mention it.  Even without seeing that reference, I’d thought, “Now this is the way to fight the loudness wars.”  Yes, everything is way too compressed, and  yes, all nuance is lost.  When I listen to this on shuffle with the rest of their discography, I have to turn down the volume at least two notches for these songs.  But at least there’s no digital distortion.  At least they didn’t commit any Loudness War Crimes.  I can live with this.
  • I suppose there’s a bit of a same-key-same-tempo problem here, but what is Alice In Chains if not a key and a tempo?

Track Notes:

  1. All Secrets Known – Sounds like a really cool way to start this off.
  2. Check My Brain – Kind of like a low-end siren going in the background of the verses.  Cool choruses of “Ca-a-lifornia.”
  3. Last Of My Kind – The first track that popped up on shuffle.  I knew there would be a different vocalist, but I was still shocked when he started singing and it sounded so different.  “I’m the last of my kind still standing.”  Think i’m digging this.
  4. Your Decision – Very Jar Of Flies-ish
  5. A Looking In View – Dirt-era riff.  Tres grunge.  I like it.
  6. When The Sun Rose Again –
  7. Acid Bubble – Switches songs about 2:45 in.  At that point goes to “It’s an obsolescence/Built into the system.”
  8. Lesson Learned –
  9. Take Her Out – That’s a disturbing title…at least read one way.  Good tune, though.  One of the better ones.
  10. Private Hell – Could have come right off of Dirt.  It’s more “Down In A Hole,” but I can hear some of “The Rooster” in there, too.
  11. Black Gives Way To Blue – Slower and quieter.  Piano. Okay.

Lady Gaga: Rhapsody Artist Sampler

I felt like Lady Gaga was an artist I needed to know more about musically.  I’d hear enough about her celebrity persona, but I knew very few of her songs.  “Bad Romance” was pretty much it, and I remembered liking that the one or two times I’d heard it.  But I didn’t want to explore her catalog the way I’ve done with other artists like Adele.  Lady Gaga just seemed like more of a singles artist.  So I was really happy to find this Rhapsody artist sampler…just what I was looking for.  The notes below are not meant to be a review of the sampler itself, because that would just be silly.  They’re just song-by-song notes.

Track Notes:

  1. Just Dance featuring Colby O’Donis – From The Fame.  This kicks hard.  Is it about getting falling down drunk?  “How’d I turn my shirt inside out?/…/I love this record baby/But I can’t see straight anymore.”  Gets bogged down in the bridge and nearly drops to keep, but the way the vocal track is doubled but super delayed is pretty cool.  Mix.
  2. Judas – from Born This Way.  Meh.  Boring, repetitive, annoying.  I love the rhythms of that opening riff, but that’s about it.  Ditch.
  3. Poker Face – from The Fame.  This is all right, but I’m kind of surprised it’s considered one of her biggest hits.  The monopitch verses are meh.  The choruses (or is it the bridge?) are the best part.  And the poker metaphor in the lyrics seem like they could be from an SNL parody.  “And baby when it’s love/If it’s not rough it isn’t fun.”  Love the start of the chorus (“Can’t read my…”), but like overall.
  4. Born This Way – from duh.  Despite the lyrical pander to the modern American Christian, and despite (or, more likely, because of) the blatant, extended lyrical, musical, and stylistic quotes of Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” this is one of her best, most infectious cuts.  Doesn’t get mixed due to the ridiculous spoken intro, but a strong, strong keep.  Even with its loudness wars issues…it’s just that good.
  5. Bad Romance – from The Fame Monster.  The first song I ever heard of hers and a big part of the reason I’ve always wanted to hear more.  Very good.  “I want your ugly/I want your disease.”  Mix.
  6. Alejandro – from The Fame Monster.  Yet another similarity to Madonna in a completely obvious pander to the Hispanic market (“La Isla Bonita”).  Somebody decided they needed to expose her to Hispanics, so they just put out a Latin-flavored song.  Is she singing to two boys, Roberto and Alejandro?  Not bad, but ditch.
  7. Paparazzi – from The Fame.  Dig it.  Very sweet, seductive vocals.  But creepy when combined with lyrics.  The bridge is kinda stupid, but the rest of this is crazy strong, very rich.  “You’re my rock star.”  Mix.
  8. Hair – from Born This Way.  Good bridges, but the choruses, dragged down by lyrics that remind me of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” are pretty stupid, pandering to 14-year-old girls.  “When I’m dressed up cool my parents put up a fight.”  This is the other Clarence Clemons track.  Like.
  9. Telephone featuring Beyoncé – Loves this so much.  Fantastic lyrics.  Best song in the playlist.  Best use of auto-tune ever?  She uses it to imitate the sound of a call dropping in and out.  Great lyrics, beats, melody…everything.  Mix.
  10. LoveGame – from The Fame Monster.  The “disco stick” song.  Mostly stupid.  Spesh the lyrics.  Except for “Got my ass squeezed by sexy Cupid.”  Has its moments, notably the chorus, but most of it, spesh the bridge, is so stupid that I have to ditch it.
  11. The Fame – from The Fame.  Good.  Thematically it’s her “Material Girl.”  “Give me something I wanna be,” that’s brilliant.  Like.
  12. Marry The Night – from Born This Way.  Good.  “I’ll hold my whiskey up high/Kiss the bartender twice/I’m a loser.”  Keep.
  13. Beautiful, Dirty, Rich – from The Fame.  I don’t like this.   Too thrown off.  Ditch.
  14. The Edge Of Glory – from Born This Way.  Famously has one of Clarence Clemons’ last performances in it.  Pretty awesome.  Obvious, but awesome.  “There ain’t a reason we should be alone tonight/…/I got a reason that you’re who should take me home tonight.”  Do we ever get that reason, or is that just words filling space?  Great keys line, reminiscent of “Maniac.”  Loudness wars issues.  As obvious as it is, it can kinda pump you up, so I’ll potentially mix this.
  15. Money Honey – from The Fame.  Kinda sexy.  Essentially a second shot on the “Material Girl” theme.  Double use of “money.”  “When you kiss me/That’s money, honey.”  Like.
  16. Dance In The Dark – from The Fame Monster.  It means sex.  But from the woman’s pov.  Explaining why in the dark.  Kind of.  Something about plastic surgery, body image, s**tty boyfriends, etc.  Not a great intro.  Also a bit annoyed by the descending chimey keys of the chorus.  But it’s pretty good.  Like.

Rick Springfield: Christmas With You

I have a hypothesis that Christmas music is one of the few areas of the music industry that’s ridiculously profitable now–no royalties, almost straight up profit–and that that’s why it seems every artist’s mother has their own Christmas album.  We don’t need any of them, and we certainly don’t need this one: a Christmas album of Rick Springfield doing 14 standards, almost all of them straight, and one of his own compositions, natch.

Maybe I’m wrong, but you tell me.  Was your Christmas incomplete because you didn’t have Springfield doing “Away In A Manager” the same way it’s always been done?  Or “The First Noel?”  Or “Silent Night,” for crying out loud?  To top it all off, Springfield sings almost every note in his breathy voice he pulls out to sound sincerely affected, and it is so cheesy.  It’s not your voice we love, Rick, it’s your compositions.

Speaking of which, even that fails us on this album.  Springfield’s composition here, “Christmas With You,” is dedicated to all the fallen troops in Iraq, and begins “This night, Christmas seems so far away/Somewhere, are you missing me?/I’m wishing and watching/A star and I pray/To live in a world where we all can be free.”  Just imagine it was done by a modern country star and you’ve pretty much got it.

Like I said, just about all of the standards here are done straight, but there are a few exceptions.  The strings on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” particularly the breakdown going from chorus to verse, are pretty sweet, as is the backing choir.  “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” has a doo-wop feel, to bad effect.  “I Saw Three Ships” is incredibly upbeat, and an instrumental “Deck The Halls (With Boughs Of Longboards)” is done as a surf rendition.  If more of the album had been like the last track, this might have been enjoyable.  As it is, though, it’s almost entirely drivel.

In the interest of full disclosure, I hate Christmas.  I hate pretty much everything about it.  Honestly, the best thing about it is that it does a pretty good job of growing the economy.  As far as I can tell, Christmas is about two things: 1) showering kids with things, and 2) trying to rekindle in adults the feelings of closeness they felt with their family in the moments around getting showered with things when they were kids.  I’m a Scrooge who basically just bites his tongue for a week so as not to ruin everybody else’s delusions of cheer.  However, something about listening to this in the dark, driving home on the interstate with my family asleep in the back seat and the car straining under the weight of new toys…I felt some connection to sleepy, exhausted Boxing Days spent traversing the Midwest with my spoils in my youth.  And it was nice.  (But only for that moment.  I resent Madison Avenue giving all of us the same memories and then advertising to those created memories.)  So between that and the few tracks with any redeeming qualities, this disc gets one-half clown higher than my lowest rating.  (Though, in truth, that bonus half-clown is probably because I hate giving anything a rating of just one more than any other reason I can manufacture.)

Rating:
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Like:
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

Notes:

  • This album was hampered by issues where the first notes of a song were often on the prior track, so there was a gap of silence where the song abruptly stopped near the beginning of each song.  It was very annoying, but I don’t think the review would have been much better without that.

Track Notes:

  1. Christmas With You – Awful tripe.  And some crap about wishing everybody could be free.  “My spirit is aching/I want to come home.”  Jesus Christ.  Oh wait, this makes a little more sense since it’s dedicated to all the fallen troops in Iraq.  Still, ditch.
  2. The First Noel – Why?  Why do another version of this song?  Especially one so straight? Ditch.
  3. Hark The Herald Angels Sing – See previous track.  Ditch.
  4. What Child Is This? – See previous track.  Plus, this is such an amazing song, how could you suck all the wonderfulness out of this song?  Ditch.
  5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Okay, this one seems to be right in your wheelhouse.  Maybe a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day.  The strings are done well.  Like.
  6. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – Ugh.  Ditch.
  7. Away In A Manger – Kill me.  Ditch.
  8. O Come All Ye Faithful – Stupid.  Ditch.
  9. Carol Of The Bells – There are hardly even any bells.  It’s like trying to be that Trans-Siberian Orchestra version, but…there’s just so much wrong with that.  Ditch.
  10. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Man, he just picked so many of the worst songs.  Ditch.
  11. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – What’s with the cheese Harry Connick, Jr./Frank Sinatra, Jr. shoo-doo-wop stuff?  Man, even when you don’t play it straight you screw it up.  Ditch.
  12. Silent Night – Wow, really?  Another version of this? Ditch.
  13. Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem – Ditch.
  14. I Saw Three Ships – A very upbeat version with some interesting backing vocals.  I still don’t really like it. Ditch.
  15. Deck The Halls (With Boughs Of Longboards) – A surf version.  I’m not crazy about this, but doing something like this with the whole album would have been welcome.  Almost like, but ditch.