Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Songs of Questionable Merit on My iPod - or why you can't trust me

Just to prove that my critical acumen cannot be trusted, I give you four unfortunate lapses of musical taste - which is different than songs of questionable content - currently in my iPod.

The Firm - Radioactive. The problems start with the name. Who the hell names a group The Firm? Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers, that's who. They may as well as named it The Corporation, or Inc., but since they lasted only two albums, they should have gone with Ltd. It's a match you suspect was engineered in a boardroom, but as a member of Bad Company - what is it with these corporate names? - Paul was signed to Swan Song a label owned by Zep. So you figure they knew each other, even if Jimmy was just co-signing checks. Speaking of check-signing, the album this cut's from was perfunctory when it wasn't tragic. So why do I have this song on the iPod? Maybe it's the bass, which pumps out big brown beats like a tuba pounds out oompahs. I've always been a sucker for bass. Jimmy tosses off a solo that approximates a fly buzzin' in your ear. And Paul Rodgers' voice is as slick as a car salesman's forehead. It's not for the lyrics. "Don't stand too close/you might catch it" sings Paul, whose understanding of radioactivity suggests he skipped out on a science or physics class or two. And if he were radioactive, I doubt he'd be up for staying and playing with the ladies. Maybe he meant that he was radio active, as in top 40 fodder. Nice try guys. It's as dumb as a box of hammers and it's over in less than three minutes. And I enjoy it. Go figure.

Asia- Heat of the Moment. Ahh super groups. They always had super egos which proved to be their Achilles heel, or Kryptonite. They'd come together, make a killing and go supernova. Like The Firm, Asia managed only two albums, or at least its original line up did. Much like the art rock groups from which this band was spawned - ELP, King Crimson, Yes - the revolving door of musicians resembled a pinwheel in a hurricane. And they had the cute idea of giving their albums names that started and ended with the letter A. Too bad they never got around to Anathema. Look, I was young when this one hit the airwaves with a vengeance, I was hopped up on art rock. And those power chords that open the song. Wow. It's discombobulating to hear Steve Howe, John Wetton and Carl Palmer attempt an approximation of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound only to come up against Geoff Downes' wall of new wave disco synths. Almost as discombobulating as hearing Wetton singing about dancing, being a cad, discos, 1982. The chorus is a hot mess of heated tempos where you fear the guys are going to have a collective heart attack. Listening to it all these years later, it's amazing how the heat of their moment dissipated so fast. I still enjoy it, but when it's done, it leaves me with a feeling akin to mild heartburn.

Tubes - She's a Beauty. Call it reverse Kafkaism. A band that thought it was a new wave/alternative band wakes up one day to discover that it was a pop band all along. I never thought they were all that good at either, so how'd I get duped by this steaming hunk of sleaze cheese? Aided and abetted by David Foster and members of Toto, they turned out this misogynistic cock rock where pimpin' ain't easy, it's a circus. If you listen closely, you'll note that its melody is very similar to Chicago's Stay The Night, which Foster would produce the following year. Not that it probably matters much to you but this one is the better bit of snake oil. Audiences seemed to agree. Following Fee Waybill's instructions, thousands stepped up and paid their money like chumps for this highly processed piece of exploitation, but they heeded the chorus 'Don't fall in love/if you do, you'll find out she don't love you,' and helped make the next Tubes album, Love Bomb, live up to half of its title. Oh, and Steve Lukather, whose name is on this as a co-composer, probably provided the electric plank spanking that graces this wankery too. Speaking of wankery...

Osmonds - My Drum. Now this is one I don't apologize for. No less an expert than former Village Voice music editor Chuck Eddy hipped me to this in his book about the 500 best heavy metal albums. And while he uses his critiques in the book to perfect a hipster be-pop argot that approximates speaking in tongue, he was on to something. After trying to be the white-bread Jackson 5, the apple-cheeked Osmonds decided they were going to be the white-bread Led Zep. The fact they were taking their cues from a band that - cool as they were - shamelessly ripped off a lot of blues artists, shows just how tenuous their connection to rock was. They aped the apes, as Peter Gabriel might have put it. Being Mormons, they kept things pretty clean lyrically - the Immigrant Song cop Hold Her Tight demonstrates the polite bunts they made to sidle up to first base - but by the time they cut My Drum, they'd stumbled onto some sludge crunge of their own. It's about how, when they get their dander up, they pick up their sticks and give the drums a proper drubbing. I say it's code for wanking, and the song is a pretty nifty bit of wankery too, with nah nahs and grunted 'oh yeah, come ons' and drums, drums drums. Nothing that would give Sandy Nelson, Bonham or Moon a run for their money, mind you, but they were young, dumb and politely Mormon, so you have to cut them some slack. Eddy compared it to Funkadelic, pretty generous on his part, but if that will convince most of you to open your ears and actually hear this one, then I'll settle.

By way of introduction

There are probably better ways for me to launch into a music blog than to engage in the blasphemy and effrontery that I am about to articulate, but I think there are some things you should know about my musical tastes. They will help the one or two of you who decide to read this blog understand where I'm coming from.

For the most part, I will be focusing on music that means the world to me. But to do that, I need to get something off my chest: unpopular music opinions I have. I haven't actually tested that in a crowd, but based upon music books and reviewers I've read, I think I am in the minority on some of the following items. So at the risk of offending every music fan who lives, here we go:

> With very few exceptions, but without naming names, the freak folk movement of recent years produced a lot of hippy-dippy infantile shite.

> Joni Mitchell hasn't made an album worth a damn since the mid-70s.

> I am not a Bruce Springsteen fan. For me, the Rising was his worst album.

> Early Beatles up to Revolver > Later Beatles starting with Pepper.

> Apart from Lennon's solo debut, neither Paul nor John made much very much essential music as individual composers. And Ringo's greatest hits album is more fun than either Paul's or John's.

> When I want to hear a Beatles song, I generally cue up Fats Domino doing Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me & My Monkey. Or Don Ellis doing Hey Jude.

> Rush isn't that bad. Nor is Toto. Or the first Chicago LP. Or Jim Steinman's songs.

> Today's punk is little more than third-rate, power pop Tommy Tutone wannabes that can't even manage to come up with one song half as enjoyable as 867-5309/Jenny.

> Cut the Crap is crap, but This is England is one of the best songs ever released under The Clash' name.

> David Gilmour's About Face > Roger Waters' solo albums/The Final Cut.

> Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports solo album > Roger Waters' solo albums.

> Syd Barrett and/or Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd > all other forms of Floyd/solo Floyd.

> Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd > Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.

> Led Zeppelin never made a five-star bona-fide classic album.

> Stairway to Heaven is the worst song Led Zeppelin ever recorded. No Quarter is a close second.

> The Doors have nothing to offer me and represent the 60s at its worst. Though I like The Mosquito as wrong headed fun.

> Nelly Furtado only caught my ear when Timbaland hooked her up with some beats.

> Timbaland-produced artists > Timbaland's albums.

> Bjork was more fun on the Sugarcubes' first album. Most of her ballads are as gooey as Celine Dion's; they're just afforded more respect because they are less catchy. And I'm saying that as someone who owns all of them.

> You wish you could have written a pop song half as wonderful as Debbie Gibson's Only in My Dreams.

> I have no use for Sammy Hagar, yet I have a copy of 5150, mainly because it is so impeccably produced.

> I have no use for David Lee Roth, but I have fond memories of Eat 'em and Smile. And 1984.

> My Drum by the Osmonds is awesome.

> Off the Wall > Thriller.

> Some of Prince's failures - Parade, Around the World in a Day, Chaos & Disorder - are more interesting than his successes.

> Christine McVie > Stevie Nicks, and not just musically.

> Tusk would have been phenomenal if it had been Lindsey's solo album. And everyone would be comparing it to Modest Mouse.

> I listen to Friends of Distinction and the 5th D, and not ironically. Same for Herb Alpert. And Glenn Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy.

> Philly Soul is perhaps the music that warms my heart the most, even if it did contribute to the decline of R&B.

> The pop producer who best knew how to use strings 'n things to angelic effect was Thom Bell.

> Emo left me cold.

> Compilations generally suck, but they help me to appreciate overrated talents like The Police by distilling their work down to the singles, some of which weren't even that great.

> Thanks to Bono, I can barely stomach U2, who were never that great to begin with.

> Though some of Andre 3000's contributions rankled me (particularly those toward the end of the album) Idlewild is a great album, thanks to Big Boi.

> .38 Special and Foreigner have both put out great anthologies. In fact, Urgent is one of the best singles ever recorded, and I file it under funk in my iPod.

> Though I live in Canada, I can say I never need to hear another Blue Rodeo or Tragically Hip song.

> Apart from Isolation Drills, Guided By Voices never made a front-to-back great album, and even their anthology is a hard slog at times.

> Sonic Youth never did much for me. Even less so when Kim took the mike.

> Diana Ross was probably the worst singer on the Motown label.

> Lou Reed's best solo album is New Sensations. New York is the most overrated.

> I dislike Bob Dylan's first album, don't think he was truly great till he went electric and I rate Blood on the Tracks over and above all of his work.

> Though I have little use for him, Elvis' late sixties Memphis recordings are damn near essential, and his best, and even they are compromised by poor judgment in tunes (In the Ghetto?).

> Charlie Rich (up till 1972) > Elvis.

> I don't listen to R.E.M. any more.

> Who's Next is the only Who album I own. And I don't even like it all the way through.

> R&B means more to me than Rock & Roll.

> Though I've found a lot of great music thanks to them, I don't like Dave Marsh or Robert Christgau at all. I especially dislike Christgau rating albums as bombs, but without a rationale. That's lazy.

Ta da!