I'm probably not alone in thinking that any week that brings us a new Clay Aiken album is a likely candidate for Best Week Of The Year!
In fact, I really had no idea that any such album was due until I heard--with maximum joy, I must add--the opening bars of his version of '60s classic "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" being played in the office from a desk mere inches away from own!
For a brief second, I shut my eyes and imagined a world where Clay himself had the original hit--forget Frankie Valli and his talentless 4 Seasons!--and the entire mythology of pop music was rewritten, with Aiken's name, bold as love, emblazoned at its very peak!
Then I imagined myself being able to fly! And to become invisible at my very whim, able to enter girls' locker rooms at my leisure if I so desired--or to turn all the guns in the entire world into rubber to force mandatory gun control upon a world unwilling to accept it, even for its own self-preservation!
Then I realized that I had, of course, fallen deeply asleep! Because Clay's album may have been the very worst thing I'd ever heard!
But tomorrow was another day!
Jack Johnson: To The Sea (Brushfire) There is something peculiarly addictive about Jack Johnson's music! Perhaps because it is so simple, almost too simple--strangely alluring, each chord logically following the other, his lyrics smooth, unobtrusive, painting a picture that is so appealing correct, emotionally right, without a shred of excess anywhere! And so it is that his new album sounds exactly right, just perfect--the right music at the right time, the proper songs that connect with me emotionally, politically, but sadly not physically, as they are sound waves and not material objects! I liken it to layers of parentheses--where each set of parentheses implies irony/not irony until, as the layers accumulate, actual intent means little and effect means everything! Then I have a bowl of ice cream, watch that weird Jimmy Kimmel show with the Lost cast, and turn in for the night!
Clay Aiken: Tried & True (Decca) What can be said about Clay Aiken that hasn't said before? At least a few paragraphs ago? Well, I will mention that when I heard his version of "It's Impossible"--at least for the first minute or so--I fantasized for perhaps 30 seconds or so that Aiken had replaced cult singer Scott Walker in pop mythology as an unsung genius whose legend would live on for decades to come! It was great! Then I imagined that he'd actually penned the song as a result of the years he'd spent trying to fold a piece of paper more than 12 times, which of course is patently impossible! Then I went outside and had a Diet Coke!
Television Personalities: A Memory Is Better Than Nothing (Rocket Girl) Writing about artists who are actually interesting is something of a twist, I must say, and this latest effort by British cult hero Dan Treacy is a sheer pleasure--because it is very solid, very good, and ranks among his best work ever! Treacy's name has been thrown around conspicuously of late--MGMT's wacky new album namechecks him in a song title--but what's interesting here is that the man, who's been recording under the TVP name for decades, still manages to make compelling music, even when singing "Fly Me To The Moon" as part of a song introduction! Nothing yet has beaten his spectacular Privilege album of 1989, but this album suggests he may still have the potential to do precisely that! Buy this and see!
Lamb Of God: Hourglass: the Anthology (Epic) I feel an unusual affinity for Virginia's long-lived metal band Lamb Of God, not least because they have, for the first time in my life, given me reason to enter the words agnus dei, que tollis pecatta mundi, miserere nobis into a word-processing device--this is not small, fellow altar boys--and also because they are Grammy-nominated dudes who have stuck to their guns, played the music they like best, and now offer us a deluxe 3-CD set showcasing their best work and much, much, more! Furthermore, the compelling cover artwork the package boasts (Is it a clock or a telephone dial? The Lamb Of God font suggests metal, the HourGlass font suggests the Allman Brothers!) is enough to make me rush to the nearest record store, lay down my hard-earned dollars, and buy one for every member of my family! That said, the nearest record store only stocks two rows of CDs but has one hell of a yogurt selection!
Hawthorne Heights: Skeletons (Wind-up) Is it just me or do you find the sudden rise to fame enjoyed by many half-baked and bland emo bands of a few years ago almost laughable in retrospect? I'd mention some names, but why bother pointing fingers? All I can say is: All kudos due to Hawthorne Heights, who escaped the horrendous emo trap and are now wholeheartedly embracing their new career as avant-garde literalists! Great tracks such as "Nervous Breakdown" and "Broken Man" clearly lay their new lyrical direction on the line: "Five foot seven, six foot one, four inches, 130 feet," they sing, bravely taking on their namesake town of Hawthorne, California block by block, measuring each person, pet, and telephone pole, tape measure in hand, protractors in pocket! What can they do for an encore? Lawndale, California, sits nearby...beckoning!
Gemma Ray: It's A Shame About Gemma Ray (Bronzerat) It was a good sign when half-way through listening to this thing, and liking it quite a bit, I thought--wow, this song sounds sort of familiar! Only then did I pick up the case, look at the writing credits, and realize that this UK babe was singing cover versions left and right and I didn't realize it! Cool! Only Alex Harvey's "Swamp Snake" clued me in! The Brit singer has been called a Spector/Blue Velvet/retro-revivalist, but putting a unique twist on Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick," as she does here, isn't exactly Ronettes territory by my count! An interesting, understated record, It's A Shame About Gemma Ray weighs more than a feather and less than a bowling ball--yet significantly, in a perfect vacuum, that would make no difference at all!
Paul Weller: Wake Up The Nation (Yep Roc) He's been making records for years, whether as a member of the Jam, the Style Council, or on his own, and he's had his ups and downs, but Paul Weller's hard to beat when it comes to sheer consistency: He's got an ear for a good pop hook, great musical taste, and is a conspicuous individualist. His latest album is strong--not overbearingly so--and will likely appeal to sentimentalists who'll happily note the reappearance of the Jam's Bruce Foxton on a couple of tracks here. Had he been born 20 years earlier he might've been a member of, say, the Keef Hartley Band, and his scattered recordings noted with glee by anal-retentive record collectors; had he been born 20 years later, he might've stopped listening to music in his teens and become a massive fan of Japanese animation! Interestingly, though, he was born exactly when he was!
Tift Merritt: See You On The Moon (Fantasy) This is a fine new album by singer Merritt, who engaged producer Tucker Martine--who's worked with the Decemberists, Bill Frisell and Spoon, among others--to come onboard and make things even more sonically interesting than usual! Excellent songs, wonderfully expressive singing and fine, understated musicianship make this an album to treasure--especially now that Merritt, of course, has left the business, joined NASA, and seems intent on space travel! Word is that her band may continue to make records, but all agree they'll likely be without Merritt!
Elisa Randazzo: Bruises And Butterflies (Drag City) Sometimes an album just finds you whether you want it to or not! When I dutifully scanned the bio accompanying this disc, I was warned, "If you've worn Elisa's Dusty of California or Cameo clothing lines (or admired them from across the party) you may have a bit of an idea about her music"! Hey, sounds like women's clothes to me, dude! Still, I plopped it on, liked what I heard, discovered the presence of distinguished Brit folkie Bridget St. John on a couple of tracks, wondered if Elisa was related to the guy who wrote "Goin' Out Of My Head" (her dad!), and played it again and again! Hey, do you like my shirt?
Sleigh Bells: Treats (Mom + Pop) According to Prefixmag.com, "Sleigh Bells' formula is so simple it's hard to believe no one tried this before. They take megaton riffs and drums that sound like imploding stadiums, push them into the red to an uncomfortable degree, and have lead singer Alexis Krauss chant like a cheerleader having an embarrassingly public meltdown on top." Hey, how 'bout that Guns N' Roses lawsuit?