If you're like me, and have spent some portion of your life completely enraptured with popular music, you may have noticed that at one particular instant--one brief, memorable moment--your perception of what was good and what was not suddenly veered from what some would call "common consensus."
Maybe you liked Limp Bizkit too much. Maybe you couldn't understand the appeal of rap music. Maybe you wish grunge had never died. Maybe you spent six months writing a 250-page graduate school thesis on the merits of Seven Mary Three, and one of your professors looked at it and said, "Hey, man--they suck!"
In my case, however, I would pinpoint the exact moment I went off the rails to the release of what I still maintain was one of the finest songs of the past few decades--Aqua's awe-inspiring "Barbie Girl"--and yesterday's stunning news that the readers of Rolling Stone have declared it to be not one of but absolutely the worst song of the '90s!
It gives one pause. I've thus decided to carefully study each issue of Rolling Stone that has accumulated around my house that I've never gotten around to reading--starting with their now-classic 1993 Spin Doctors cover story--and figure out where it all went wrong! I mean, for me! Personally!
Frankly, I always thought driving around Van Nuys wearing nothing but a pair of sunglasses and a beret was the start of all my troubles--but that Spin Doctors story came out weeks earlier!
Lindsey Buckingham: Seeds We Sow (Buckingham) I don't really think this album is going to sell very many copies--I mean, on purely commercial terms, "Fleetwood Mac" has a lot more going for it, and here's that band's major artistic draw out on his own again--but I do think it's very good. With virtually nothing left to prove artistically, former Mac mainstay Buckingham can pretty much do what he wants to, and here, on his follow-up to 2008's Gift Of Screws, he's back with a commercial set of mostly stripped-down songs that are well-played, well-sung, and fairly interestingly arranged. And it's that last point that's bothersome: Buckingham's flair as an arranger, of producing a soundscape that's fascinating and alluring in and of itself, seems to have taken a backseat to the actual songs here--which, considering the songs themselves, could be worse--but if, say, I were a Phil Spector fan, I'm not sure I'd be that enthused about a Spector album featuring the producer banging on a tambourine and chanting to a bass drum beat. The latter half of the album here is a step in the right direction, but frankly, if I were Buckingham, I'd start thinking that excess--rather than tasteful minimalism--might be the way to go from now on. Then I'd buy a Maybach and blow it up! Next: a manicure! Who can say?
Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk (Warner Bros.) It's a very peculiar world when a world-famous television star with not a dazzling--but not a minimal--amount of talent can rope in a distinguished and tasteful producer (Joe Henry), world-class guest stars like Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, and guests like Irma Thomas and Tom Jones, and produce a completely credible, highly listenable tribute album focusing on New Orleans' startlingly singular blues heritage! Similarly, it's even more peculiar that a music blogger might be invited to join the same television star for a guest stint on the much-loved House series, become the object of rave reviews, ultimately be cast in a 2112 movie featuring Angelina Jolie, marry and divorce her, win an Oscar, and then give it all up so he can go back to working at Yahoo! Incidentally, I'm quite good at basketball!
George Strait: Here For A Good Time (MCA Nashville) In many ways the King of Country Music--he lives in a castle, wears a crown, floats around in his moat on a rubber sea serpent and occasionally issues proclamations that his subjects must put their clothes on backwards and speak in Pig Latin--George Strait is simply the best there is! And here with his 39th album, appropriately entitled Here For A Good Time, the royal hat-wearin' dude brings us a carriage-load of tunes co-composed with his son Bubba and songwriter Dean Dillon, all of which are immensely groovy, country-like, tuneful, and not to be confused with similar compositions one might have heard on his 34th, 28th, 25th, 23rd, 17th and 12th albums! His versions of "Panic In Detroit," "Search And Destroy," "Ebony And Ivory" and "Umbrella" would likely be fascinating, were he ever to record them! I'm completely into the name-in-lights effect!
The Rapture: In The Grace Of Your Love (DFA) Now reduced to a single band member who likes to surf a lot and is especially into black and white photography, rock's exciting the Rapture are now back with DFA Records and here--on their momentous third album--have returned, in the words of this album's product description, "with a voice as clear as they ever had." I love stuff like that! Maybe one day I'll be described as "a writer who as likely as not could well ascend into heaven in front of an astonished Los Angeles crowd, throwing a seemingly limitless supply of dictionaries into the crowd below him, then pull out a bucket of KFC fried chicken, grin, and brazenly eat it as he disappeared, a diminishing speck, into the cosmos! Don't forget, we said as likely as not, clownheads!" Commercially speaking, I'd go for the Rapture rather than the Rupture any day of the week!
John Coltrane: The Impulse! Albums: Volume Four (Hip-O/Verve Select) As classic jazz repackagings go, this fine set--collecting the first five albums to be released following tenor sax legend Coltrane's death in 1967--makes some degree of sense: They all capture the titan jazzman as he was exploring music's outer boundaries, they're all quite good, and they're sonically diverse. In their original form, they were titled Expression, Live At The Village Vanguard Again!, Om, Cosmic Music (recorded with his wife Alice Coltrane) and Selflessness; I'd probably single out the last disc, with its 17-minute version of "My Favorite Things," as the single best starting place for newcomers interested in hearing his work. That it was recorded in 1963 and is less "out there" than the version of Village Vanguard Again! is key; the latter version (which, oddly enough, is the version I first heard, long ago), when contrasted with the former, is a great indicator of the how Coltrane's sound would evolve to unparalleled, often mind-blowing levels. Details here.
Various Artists: Listen To Me: Buddy Holly (Verve Forecast) Few would deny that Buddy Holly's immense contribution to all that is rock 'n' roll is among pop music's most vast; even fewer, who regularly check out each week's new album releases, would dispute that this is the second frickin' Holly tribute to hit stores recently, all to commemorate his 75th birthday, were he still around to be enjoying it. So what have we got? The usual collections of familiar classics--"Peggy Sue," "Not Fade Away," "That'll Be The Day," "It's So Easy"--and a musical cast by which this whole album should probably be judged: Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, Jeff Lynne, Ringo Starr, Linda Ronstadt, and many, many others. Might I suggest you instead spend your money on several of the more-than-decent original Holly collections out there, maybe pick up a few groovy discs by Brian Wilson, Jeff Lynne and Jackson Browne themselves, and consider taking a bus when travelling is called for?
AM And Shawn Lee: Celestial Electric (EsL Music) I've been repeatedly playing this album in the office, mostly because the songs are catchy, the arrangements are interesting, and "A" comes up on my computer first! I like it a lot, and groove on the "irony" of their cover of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' "Jackie Blue," and would like to know more about both characters! AM and Shawn Lee, that is! Unfortunately, just seconds ago, I read a review of the album that stated that several of these songs simply "don't offer much variation on the same brand of indie-pop writing or construction that have been overplayed since the soundtrack to Garden State." Heck! So I guess it sucks! Maybe I'll forget about ever hearing this and liking it! Next step: Getting into Pitchfork!
Roger Glover: If Life Was Easy (Eagle) Speaking of Pitchfork, longtime critical fave Roger Glover, once of Brit rockers Deep Purple and now a hard-rock producer of some repute, returns here with a album recorded in 2007 but only now--as if by magic!--released, boasting such guests as Randall Bramblett and Nazareth's Dan McCafferty and Pete Agnew and chockfull of plentiful tunes, workable riffing, and a fascinating case study of a professional rock 'n' roll musician well past the commercial peak of his life continuing to make music purely because he wants to, he's quite good at it, and he can! It's his fifth solo album! If you were like me, you'd be writing this while listening to the 2009 remaster of Jon Lord's Gemini Suite--which also features Glover--and be digging the continuity of it all! Then you'd open up a can of Diet Coke, light up a cigarette, and say, "Hey--only two more to go!"
Grace Jones: Hurricane (PIAS America) Her first album in years, featuring people like Brian Eno, Tricky and good ol' Sly & Robbie, this new set--highly listenable, bold, daring, and sonically as cool as anything else she's ever recorded--is finally released here in the States, and the verdict: I think that given a choice between this album cover and one featuring a similar portrait of fast food icon Big Boy, I'd prefer Grace any day of the week! You too?
Hank 3: Ghost To A Ghost/Gutter Town (Red General) Have to admit I haven't heard this, but wanted to make note of its release this week! Especially after reading a review by an Amazon customer who "thought the dog noises were a little over used"! You and me both, Beppo!