Had an enjoyable Sunday evening recently here in Los Angeles--where I was one of the fortunate few to witness MTV's Video Music Awards ceremony, live and in person, in all its meaty glory!
And while this is not the time or place to offer up a critique of the entire affair--in fact, I did exactly that hours later, staring at my shoes while propped up against a wall in a darkened alleyway--it did drive home exactly how much the music business has changed in the last few months or so!
For starters, apparently all rock 'n' roll featuring guitars, bass and drums has now been consigned to the outdoors, where its offensive blare can bother a minimum of music fans!
Additionally, the charismatic cast of Jersey Shore strikes me as exactly the sort of people I'd love to spend the rest of my life hanging out with!
Finally, though I've occasionally had my doubts about rapper Kanye West's personal integrity, his gracious offering of a toast to, as he put it, "douchebags," "a**holes" and "scumbags," was well-taken, surprisingly polite, and, at least in my case, entirely reciprocal! Plus, I loved his jacket!
In short? The most entertaining night in music history to ever be televised! Yet!
Linkin Park: A Thousand Suns (Warner Bros.) Speaking of rock 'n' roll bands officially consigned to playing live at Stonehenge, rockers Linkin Park--who though I've met and interviewed before, I must admit I didn't recognize as they were performing at the VMAs--are an interesting lot, I think, in the precision and the economy of the music they play! Unlike too many of their contemporaries, they rarely waste a single note, offer up an appealing melodic hook now and then, and ultimately are hard to get annoyed with when their label insists if you want to hear an advance of their music you must first walk through an airport metal detector to ensure that you are not carrying any unauthorized recording devices on your person! My only reservation: If they feel compelled to boast about their manliness and virility via their new album's title, they'd best learn to spell properly!
Robert Plant: Band Of Joy (Es Paranza/Rounder) How enviable it must be to actually be Robert Plant! Worldwide fame and adulation since the 1960s, an inarguable classic body of work with Led Zeppelin, a solo career opting for art rather than commerce and peaking with an unexpectedly huge collaboration with Alison Krauss, a well-established hankering for the music of less popular icons like Arthur Lee, Skip Spence and Tim Buckley, and the ability to singlehandedly stop a potential Led Zeppelin reunion tour purely because he doesn't feel like having one! Largely filled with covers and co-produced by Buddy Miller, Band Of Joy--named after Plant's pre-Led Zep band--is well played, ever tasteful, and with the inclusion of "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down," heard here without the benefit of backward masking, entirely consistent with Plant's long-heralded pact with Lucifer!
Weezer: Hurley (Epitath) Wisely opting to go with the "Hurley" album title rather than runners up "Buzzi" or "Maude"--perhaps the cover art ramifications were too grim--the ironically non-ironic Weezer dudes are back, earnest, rocking and melodic, and perhaps unaware that when nausea strikes--as it often may--one person can officially be classified as the Hurler, and the other the Hurlee! Available in both "regular" and "deluxe" versions--and I suggest opting for the latter, because the bonus "All My Friends Are Insects" is the sort of track one likes to have around the house--Hurley boasts an attractive cover and measures 4 7/8" x 5 1/2" x 3/8"!
Brandon Flowers: Flamingo (Island) It's rare that an album's major selling point is that it doesn't have a single Killer track, but so it goes for the lead singer of Las Vegas rockers the Killers--who in a moment of surprising personal candor is depicted on his album cover mere seconds after being told by the photographer that with a first name like "Brandon" and words like "flowers" and "flamingo" so prominent, his very masculinity might be in question! But the moment passed! And so does this album! Loaded with great tracks like "Swallow It," "Hard Enough" and "Right Behind You," Flamingo lends much credence to Flowers' recent candid admission to Rolling Stone: "I seem to be at the age where you peak, and it freaks me out. I don't want to miss my chance." Oh come on, dude--with a record this great, you've got at least 18 more months!
Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song (Mercury/Nashville) One of the year's best albums--and a double CD at that--this set by much acclaimed country star Johnson is about as musical and cliché-free as anyone could hope for. Divided into two themes--a so-called Black Album and White Album--the package features sturdy playing, a bit of genre hopping, a guest appearance by Bill Anderson, and a few dark songs that really do sound dark. Classy, and not exactly put together for maximum radio impact, the album showcases a fascinating, highly skilled country star who is getting more interesting by the minute.
Junip: Fields (Mute) A very nice album by a Swedish group fronted by José González--who's made a significant name for himself as a solo artist but here reunites with two pals with whom he's played since the late '90s. Sonically similar to González's earlier works--he's often been compared to Nick Drake (and who hasn't?) but actually sounds more like Ben Watt or Tir Na Nog's Sonny Condell--Fields is subtle but a bit more textured and rockish than the singer's solo stuff, and perhaps more enjoyable for it. Recommended!
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Columbia Legacy) Anyone interested in owning an actual piece of art rather than a collection of sound files will see the value in this extraordinarily beautiful version of jazz legend Davis's crossover classic Bitches Brew. Consisting of 3 CDs--featuring the original album plus six bonus tracks over 2 CDs and a third featuring the trumpeter live at Tanglewood in 1970--a DVD featuring a previously unissued 1969 performance in Copenhagen, two 180-gram vinyl LPs, a 52-page book and a "memorabilia envelope" containing photos, press reprints and a poster, it is about as compelling a package as you're ever likely to see. Few albums merit this overblown treatment, but Bitches Brew does indeed.
The Vaselines: Sex With An X (Sub Pop) It has long dismayed me that this now reunited, very excellent band--whose earliest work up through their 1989 split was recently repackaged by Sub Pop--can't be discussed without bringing up Nirvana, whose guitarist and singer was a conspicuous fan, but whose own work rarely if ever measured up to that of his inspirations. Eugene Kelly, who has had an interesting career of his own via solo work and bands like Captain America and Eugenius in the years between, continues to thrive as a compelling songwriter and this album is a welcome return to the spotlight for a much-missed band. Check it out.
Of Montreal: False Priest (Polyvinyl) Fabber than ever, Of Montreal return with a very solid album, featuring guest appearances by Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles, 13 excellent songs with titles like "Sex Karma" and "You Do Mutilate?" and cover art that looks like the work of the mid-'60s Atlantic Records jazz art department after their first profoundly unpleasant psychedelic experience! Word from bandmember Kevin Barnes is that this is his "self-professed masterpiece," but hey, this sentence is mine! Let's all try it!
Accept: Blood Of Nations (Nuclear Blast) It's difficult to make a lame joke about a metal band taking their name from an old Chicken Shack album when that's actually the case! Thus: sheer genius!