Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Are you telling me there's someone out there who sexualizes me?!"

Kevin Smith on Letterman, talking about his appearance on the cover of A Bear's Life magazine. I am not making this up. The pertinent stuff starts at 3:15, with Letterman opining, "[Here's] the cover of a magazine I am not familiar with." (If you just want the Bear's Life clip, in higher quality, it can be found here.)

Added content: Smith from one of his many lecture tours, talking more explicitly about bears'n'cubs'n'otters, oh my! "You go to a fuckin' bear bar, you'd be Marilyn Monroe." Start at about 2:05.

I like-don't-love Smith as a filmmaker (some gems, some duds), but as a person, he really does seem to rock hard.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music - Street Life: 20 Great Hits (EG/Reprise 1989)

Has ever a more perfect single-disc hits record (-slash-compilation) ever been released?

Sure, you can argue for songs not included (my vote goes to "The Space Between"), but this is an honest-to-God definitive collection, the crucial 20 singles by Roxy and Ferry. You want to be blown away? Check out tracks 2-6, each of them originally from 1973 - which means that in the course of 12 months you got Ferry doing "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "These Foolish Things," along with Roxy's "Pyjamarama," "Do the Strand" (the essence of glam, and arguably the DNA for Pulp) and "Street Life" (which, appropriately, I was listening to on my commute this morning while reading John Rechy's City of Night). That's the true definition of awe-inspiring.

From "Virginia Plain" to "Slave to Love," and not a bum note to be found, this is pure aural Kobe beef. I dearly love 2004's triple-disc Platinum Collection (more album tracks and a third disc that's all post-"Slave to Love"), but for the essence of Ferry and Roxy Music, this is all you truly need. Roxy was a band like no other before or since, a genius collision of sophistication and dirty sexy rock, as capable of supper-club-ness (specifically in their later years, cf. Avalon) as skonking proto-DOR (such as "Virginia Plain" - for better and worse, an entire generation of NYC dance-rockers can be blamed on Roxy [and Talking Heads - by the way, it occurred to me recently that nearly the entire output of DFA has its genesis in the Heads' "Making Flippy Floppy"]). For his part, Ferry's tastes have generally been fascinating (though recent moves say otherwise); as well-documented by Scott Woods, his early cover albums in particular are nothing if not interesting - and are often rather shockingly brilliant.

Another reason to go with Street Life as the Ferry/Roxy comp of choice: if you're turned off by the smoothie Ferry of "Avalon" and "Slave to Love," you're in luck: the latter is the (chronologically) last song here. The years covered by this album, '72-'87, are Ferry's shall-we-say much more lively ones (cf. Jerry Hall). When lively especially, Roxy was damned near unbeatable. They represent everything I love about rock'n'roll (apart from, say, volume - see G'N'R), at times even including pretension. Roxy Music - and Bryan Ferry, at his finest - inherently understood what's so wonderful about music, and were actually able to translate that into their recordings. They're fucking GODS, and if you've not yet bowed down, it's time to get on your knees.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reba comes alive!

Photo credit: Robert Deutsch, USA Today

I had not one, but two (linked) dreams last night in which the major plot point, as it were, was hearing a "pop" mix of Reba's "Because of You" duet with Kelly Clarkson on KIIS-FM.

Here's a good, albeit too short, USA Today piece from last week regarding Clarkson's relationship with Reba, Queen of Country. It now looks like Reba's going to notch the first #1 pop album of her career, on tomorrow's new Billboard 200, as Reba Duets sold right around 300,000 in its first week. I'm thrilled; Reba's really a legend, so multi-talented, and Reba Duets is pretty damned great, to boot. (Full review coming soon for Stylus.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Current listening

Rolling Stones, Jump Back: The Best of the Rolling Stones '71-'93: For my money, the best Stones comp. I don't need most of their '60s; that's already engraved in my DNA. As opposed to the overlong 40 Licks, this includes "Harlem Shuffle" (wherein they make like a good bar band) and "Rock and a Hard Place" (one of their most unfairly forgotten singles, from a fairly forgotten album made for the excuse of a major tour). The likes of "She's So Cold," "She Was Hot" and "Hang Fire" have yet to be anthologized, but I've given up hope. (That's why the original albums are still available.) The best of their '70s - and good God Mick'n'Keef were excellent producers who's never gotten the credit they deserve as behind-the-boarders - plus the most of their '80s ("Waiting on a Friend" can still be chill-inducing) equals the Stones' definitive single-disc (barring their '60s, which really are another matter entirely anyway). A

5 Years Get Physical: What's by some accounts the king of German tech-house labels celebrates a birthday with the obligatory double-disc comp: one of remixes, one of exclusive new tracks. While I'm getting (back) into electro-tech-house-whatever these days, I won't claim to get all of it; Booka Shade, in particular, tend to bore me to tears (their forthcoming DJ Kicks is deadly). But much of this is marvelously glitchy, techy stuff, especially on the remix disc - check Fakesch's mix of Booka Shade's (ha!) "Mandarine Girl," or the Rapture take on Williams' "Piccadilly Circuits" (very back-to-'87 Detroit to my ears, and c'mon - that's a great title). You also get rockish reworks, such as Lopazz's "Migracion" given a new look for Fujiya & Miyagi (almost like icy-cool J-indiepop!) and earl Zinger's remix of Elektrochemie, which for all the world reminds me of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The exclusives disc isn't quite as inspiring, but I'm intrigued enough by a few tracks as to investigate further Get Physical releases. Surprisingly refreshing. B+

Cream Classics Vol. 2: A triple serving of honest-to-goodness classics - for once the word's not being used idly. First two discs in particular are full of late-'80s-to-mid-'90s housey sublimeness: Juliet Roberts, CeCe Peniston, Brand New Heavies, Sounds of Blackness, Kings of Tomorrow, River Ocean, Inner City, and I could go on. Third disc is more tech-heavy, with '90s landmarks like Robert Miles' "Children" (birthed an entire gen of trance, for good & bad), Orbital's "Chime," and Moby's "Go." Not much in the way of duds at all here. A

Lil' Wayne, Da Drought Vol. 3: Two discs of exclusives (a track w/Juelz Santana from I Can't Feel My Face!) and jaw-dropping freestyles (see below). Not everything here is brilliant, but what is - and there's plenty of it - will tell you again that's he's the Greatest Rapper Alive right now. This is a serious contender for my year-end top 10, if not top 5. A

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rhetorical question

Is it wrong that I can identify the Spice Girls' "Stop" (by the way, the only one of their 10 UK singles not to hit the top - it peaked at #2) within 5 seconds? (Blame my Launchcast, which sandwiched it in between (I swear this is true) Peter Murphy's "All Night Long" and Joe Henderson's "Y Ya La Quiero.")

Friday, September 14, 2007

Weezy F. Baby: Greatest Rapper Alive

That's Lil' Wayne if y'all don't know. Apparently this clip has been floating around since last fall, but I just discovered it, and it is the epitome of SICK. Did he really reference Vonage?!?! Weezy freestyling over Jay-Z's "Show Me What You Got":

Something else: first single from Luda's new boys, Playaz Circle. "Duffle Bag Boy" is notable for a couple of reasons, being that it's got chimes mixed into the beat (also love the old school organ), and Lil' Wayne does the hook! Weezy as a hookster - the mind boggles, etc.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I can't really say it any better than Kathy Griffin does:

MTV should be ashamed of the show. That show used to be really exciting and done well in the days of the Mariah and Whitney coming out in matching dresses and Marilyn Manson bringing the house down and Kid Rock singing "Walk With Me" [sic] with Run-DMC and Aerosmith. Really, like, great performances. But now I felt like Kanye West couldn't get a very nice room and so he had to perform in somebody's double room, and I felt like the Foo Fighters couldn't get a suite, so they had to perform in some closet somewhere in the hotel. It was a disaster.

I thoroughly, utterly, unequivocably hated this year's show. I won't watch again. Ever.

Up, up, and away: Kanye West's Graduation (Roc-A-Fella 2007)

There's no one like Kanye West in the game right now. NO ONE.

He's a bit of a megalomaniac, he'll apparently never be a great rapper (though he's certainly capable of great turns of phrase), but he's also the most creative mofo making hip-hop these days. His highs are damned near higher than anyone else's. He hears differently.

That said, Graduation is an imperfect album, and that's alright with me. Track by track:

1. The Elton-sampling opener "Good Morning" is a terrible start, pedantic like 'Ye tends to be at his worst. And dull.
2. "Champion" will shock you the first time you hear it, as I can say with complete certainty that you've never heard Steely Dan sampled like this. Oh, and did I mention the sample is from "Kid Charlemagne"? Are you wet yet? I thought so. This is a perfect example of Kanye's ears, and how - there's no way to not overstate this a little - they're a little more advanced. The way this track is crafted is hands-down brilliant, and really a little avant-garde to boot.
3. "Stronger" doesn't seem to have any burn factor at all. I love the Daft Punk, I love Kanye's rhymes on this, I love how synth-heavy it is (even if you took out the sample). One of the singles of '07.
4. On first listen, I thought "I Wonder" was sampling Nina Simone, but it's actually Brit singer Labi Siffre. It's also a rather moving song. 'Ye overlays the Siffre voice/piano sample with heavy synth action and a boom-bap beat, and makes it work: at his best, there's no producer better than Kanye these days, and yes I'm including Timbo in that assessment.
5. If you're gonna sample a Michael Jackson song, let alone "P.Y.T.," do something good with it, y'know? Fortunately, that's not a problem on the T-Pain-blessed "Good Life," a perfectly breezy cut that's going to be a HUGE hit. One of my favorites.
6. "Can't Tell Me Nothing" is a decent placemarker, but it's definitely filler. How it's a single, let alone becoming a hit at R&B, is completely beyond me. And Lord knows that hearing Kanye say "you can't tell me nothing" is the ultimate in obviousness.
7. How weird that Lil' Wayne gives one of his weakest guest shots of the year on (arguably, in pop terms at least) the biggest stage. He really is the best rapper alive right now, but you wouldn't know it from "Barry Bonds." (The title's a stupid pun, too.) Add in some nothing music and you get the album's biggest disappointment.
8. "Drunk and Hot Girls": yes, Kanye, we get that you're apparently a fan of Girls Gone Wild, but did you have to waste a weird Can sample on an odd ode to it/them? And 16 bars from Mos Def, too? Not bad, just kinda there.
9. Dwele shows up the sing the title, there's a lovely string section, and some weird, almost early-Trax-sounding jerky keyboards (yay), but that doesn't mean I can necessarily tell you what the hell "Flashing Lights" is about. Or how, exactly, I feel about it.
10. Double-yay for DJ Premier scratching up Chuck D on "Everything I Am"! An effective old-soul sample complements Kanye's thoughtfulness finely. This is precisely the kind of cut that puts him so far ahead of the rest of the field...
11. ...just like his use of a Laura Nyro sample, which becomes something thrilling and honest-to-God exciting, as a chorus including Mos Def and John Legend sings along with it on "The Glory." A highlight deserving of every "WOW!" it gets, 'cause it earns 'em.
12. Chris Martin adds piano and a chorus to "Homecoming," which is - fine, but nothing terribly exciting. Though having grown up just 2 hours from the Chi, there's something fun about hearing Mr. Coldplay singing about fireworks over Lake Michigan.
13. "Big Brother" closes the album perfectly. This tale of Kanye's complicated relationship with his boss, Jay-Z, actually put a lump in my throat on first listen - which is especially shocking since it's about a multimillionaire superstar detailing how he feels about a multimillionaire superstar CEO. Here's the thing: if you love hip-hop, have loved it for years, this one'll get you.

Graduation's flaws probably drag it down to an A- overall, but it's the best damned A- you'll hear this year - maybe this decade. I don't want to call it a flwaed masterpiece, exactly, but I'm thinking it. A must-hear and a must-have, on Graduation Kanye proves yet again that when he's at his peak, he is untouchable. Even with its weak tracks, I love this album.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The return of Celine

Saw this on Amazon today, and it spurred the following thoughts.
1. How much are Columbia/Sony execs (not named Rick Rubin division) wetting themselves with joy right now? "Our 4th quarter is SAVED!" 'Cause no matter how long she's been out of the recording game, you'd best believe that this will be one of the holiday season's biggest albums - take that to the bank.
2. Was honestly hoping Dion might take a chance or two (no pun intended, I swear), but the title track, which you can hear/watch here, is utterly dull and uninspiring, Dion at her laziest. There's no question that she's got an amazing voice, one which she can choose to use for good rather than evil. Examples, you ask?
Uptempo: '94's superb "Misled," produced (here's the key) by Ric Wake, who you most likely know for helming much of Taylor Dayne's catalog. This is also the one with the jaw-dropping couplet "But when I've been dissed/I don't spend much time on what might have been." It's the only Celine single I've ever purchased.
Midtempo: "That's the Way Love Is," the most common-sensical song she's ever recorded, with a friendly, shuffling tempo and a fresh-faced vocal.
Ballad: "A New Day Has Come" (simply/pretty, nothing earth-shaking or particularly deep, but solidly fine).
3. Okay, let's talk about that album cover. Like WHOA. The jacket: love the styling. The jacket over a bare torso: OHMYGOD. (It's probably photoshopped, but STILL! It's Celine selling some sex!) The lips, glossed and pursed just so, as if she might break out in riotous laughter but might instead rip you a new one. Only she knows. The simple, single rope chain adorning her creamy neck. The dark, dark eyes. And most of all, that insanely blown-out, gargantuan HAIR! I don't really need to hear this album, but on its cover, Ms. Dion is clearly some sort of goddess.
4. Yes, I am fully aware that this may actually be the single gayest post in the 5+ years of this blog.

UPDATE: A "hard-driving cover of Heart's 'Alone'"?! Consider my mind officially boggled.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Current listening

Luther Vandross, "Love Won't Let Me Wait": It's written-in-stone known that the late LV was a consummate song stylist with a mixed track record when it came to picking songs but a near-perfect one when it came to the pure singing, right? To these ears, one of LV's most perfect covers is his 1988 take on Major Harris's 1975 smash. Where Harris went straight for the bedroom, all painful eroticism, Vandross took a more restrained, romantic approach. The tempo is glacial, the an-ti-ci-PA-tion delicious, the arrangement understated, and Luther's vocal of course is one of glossy perfection. Stupidly left off The Essential, this is best found on The Best of Luther Vandross... The Best of Love. (Because of what's there/what's missing on each set, you really need to own both.) A

M.I.A., Kala: Every bit as good as you've heard it is. Truly world music - and worldly - M.I.A. spans the globe like Wide World of Sports to bring da noise, da funk, da flava, and that certain something that only she's got (start with her Sri Lankan heritage and go from there). A natural progression from Arular it's also better. Christgau's right to compare it to Late Registration - but in terms of consistency especially, Kala might actually be better. Marinate on that. A

The World's Heaviest Dubstep, Grime & Bass: This is one hot-shit triple-disc UK comp of just what it promises. The "Bass" disc in particular is some fascinatin' rhythms, ranging from booty-revival to d'n'b/reggae jax and good ol' fashioned circa-'98 breaks, all of it bass-heavy as you'd expect. Both the dubstep and grime discs have their share of scene heavy-hitters (Burial and Skream on the former, Lady Sov, Sway and Roll Deep on the latter - at least, those are the names the more neophyte among us are likely/ier to know), but it's all pretty solid. If you like this kind of thing, you'll love this particular thing. A-

Cream Collect: Techno: UK superclub/brand Cream got 3 volumes into this series before it ended in 2002, and while this isn't the finest of them (that would be Cream Collect: Balearic, which is rather stunning in its breadth), it's pretty damned good nonetheless - and also impressive in its breadth. If you like classics by the likes of Underworld, Hardfloor, Speedy J, Laurent Garnier, and Dave Clarke, then this is for you. If you don't know if you do, give this a try, as it makes for a fine "Techno 101" primer. Pick hit: Layo & Bushwacka!'s "Love Story," which just never gets old. A-

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