Jason Gross finally breaks down--yes!
I used to sell hologram bolo ties at the Mall of America
Monday, January 31, 2005
Can't believe I haven't already noted this: Two weekends ago, Kate hosted a Live Aid party with me. It was at her house; a bunch of folks came over, and we watched Live Aid in its entirety, exercising the option of forwarding through performances we didn't like. We ended up condensing it from 10 hours to six. It was great fun--everyone should do this!
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Thursday, January 20, 2005
OK, as promised . . .
50 FAVORITE ALBUMS, 2000-4
1. The Avalanches: Since I Left You (Sire/Modular)
2. Triple R: Friends (Kompakt)
3. Lifter Puller: Fiestas + Fiascos (Frenchkiss)
4. Basement Jaxx: Rooty (Astralwerks/XL)
5. Luomo: Vocalcity (Forcetracks)
6. The Streets: Original Pirate Material (Locked On/Vice)
7. United State of Electronica (Mannheim)
8. Clinic: Internal Wrangler (Domino)
9. Kylie Minogue: Fever (Capitol)
10. Superlongevity (Perlon)
11. Basement Jaxx: Kish Kash (Astralwerks)
12. Daft Punk: Discovery (Virgin)
13. The New Pornographers: Electric Version (Matador)
14. Sleater-Kinney: One Beat (Kill Rock Stars)
15. Clipse: Lord Willin’ (Star Trak)
16. Gretchen Wilson: Here for the Party (Epic)
17. R. Kelly: Chocolate Factory (Jive)
18. DJ /rupture: Gold Teeth Thief (Soot/Negrophonic)
19. Quasimoto: The Unseen (Stone’s Throw)
20. The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee (4AD)
21. Scarface: The Fix (Def Jam South)
22. Bob Dylan: “Love and Theft” (Columbia)
23. OutKast: Stankonia (LaFace/Arista)
24. Queens of the Stone Age: R (Interscope)
25. DFA Compilation #2 (DFA)
26. The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me (Frenchkiss)
27. Devin the Dude: To Tha X-Treme (Rap-a-Lot)
28. The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free (Vice)
29. Atmosphere: Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
30. Sonic Youth: Sonic Nurse (DGC)
31. Matthew Herbert: Globus Mix Vol. 5: Let's All Make Mistakes (Tresor)
32. Ellen Allien: Weiss.Mix (Bpitch Control)
33. Pantytec: Pony Slaystation (Perlon)
34. D’Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin)
35. Luna: Romantica (Jetset)
36. Junior Senior: D-D-Don’t Stop the Beat (Chunky Frog/Atlantic)
37. Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats (Essay, Germany)
38. Michael Mayer: Fabric 13 (Fabric)
39. 2 Many DJ’s: As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 (Pias, U.K.)
40. Big & Rich: Horse of a Different Color (Warner Bros. Nashville)
41. The Moldy Peaches (Rough Trade/Sanctuary)
42. Jonathan Richman: Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow (Vapor)
43. Jay-Z: The Blueprint (Roc-a-Fella)
44. The Strokes: Is This It (RCA)
45. Missy Elliott: Under Construction (Elektra)
46. The Coup: Party Music (75 Ark)
47. Lucy Pearl (Pookie)
48. Drive-By Truckers: Decoration Day (New West)
49. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella)
50. Black Box Recorder: The Facts of Life (Jetset)
Singles coming soon . . . .
Hadda point out that Jace Clayton is now calling grime "postrave british eskimo thug music," which is clearly the greatest name for anything in the history of humankind, even if it isn't quite as catchy or short as "grime" itself. Subject for further research: to begin calling '91-3 U.K. rave "post-acidhouse british midlands losing-their-mind-as-the-E-goes-bad music" and pre-Run-D.M.C. hip-hop "post-disco-funk new york black/puerto rican boroughs block party post-street gang music with people talking instead of singing over it." (Yep, I've been reading Chang's book, and yep, the shit's miles deep so far--about a quarter of the way through it, just getting into the Sugarhill Gang part.)
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Press releases from hell, pt. 1: "Aphrodesia, the San Francisco-based afrobeat ensemble who made national headlines in 2004 by traveling cross-country on a voter registration tour in a vegetable oil powered bus . . . "
(Their album is called Shackrobeat Vol. 1. Be very afraid.)
File under Taking Stock: Whole rash of half-decade lists on various blogs recently, usually those who voted in Stylus's Top 50 Singles of 2000-4 (no. 1: R. Kelly, "Ignition Remix") and the currently-accreting Top 50 Albums (I'm guessing either the Avalanches, Kid A, or Original Pirate Material will top it). Then there's Mike from Troubled Diva, who's asked ILMers for their 50 favorite U.K. no. 1 singles out of the 999 or so there've been so far. In the spirit of it, here are the ones I voted for, with 15 runners-up at the end. I'll try to get my 2000-4 singles and albums on here soon, too.
1. Althea & Donna, "Up Town Top Ranking"
2. George McCrae, "Rock Your Baby"
3. Donna Summer, "I Feel Love"
4. The Beatles, "She Loves You"
5. The Specials, "Ghost Town"
6. The Rolling Stones, "Honky Tonk Women"
7. Madonna, "Into The Groove"
8. Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Voodoo Chile"
9. Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean"
10. Rod Stewart, "You Wear It Well"
11. The Beatles, "Ticket To Ride"
12. ABBA, "Dancing Queen"
13. Freda Payne, "Band Of Gold"
14. Madonna, "Like A Prayer"
15. The Jam, "A Town Called Malice"/"Precious"
16. Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls"
17. R. Kelly, "Ignition (Remix)"
18. Ken Boothe, "Everything I Own"
19. Sugababes, "Freak Like Me"
20. Eminem, "Without Me"
21. The Four Tops, "Reach Out I’ll Be There"
22. Tori Amos, "Professional Widow (Armand Van Helden Remix)"
23. Soul II Soul ft. Caron Wheeler, "Back To Life (How Ever Do You Want Me)"
24. Pretenders, "Brass In Pocket"
25. Roy Orbison, "Oh Pretty Woman"
26. U2, "The Fly"
27. Marvin Gaye, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"
28. Color Me Badd, "I Wanna Sex You Up"
29. Blondie, "Heart Of Glass"
30. Gary Numan, "Cars"
31. The Rolling Stones, "Paint It Black"
32. Anita Ward, "Ring My Bell"
33. The Beatles, "Day Tripper"/"We Can Work It Out"
34. The Rolling Stones, "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction"
35. Chaka Khan, "I Feel 4 U"
36. Pet Shop Boys, "It’s A Sin"
37. Cornershop, "Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix)"
38. The Beatles, "A Hard Day’s Night"
39. Black Box, "Ride On Time"
40. The Beatles, "Help!"
41. Britney Spears, "Toxic"
42. Musical Youth, "Pass The Dutchie"
43. Lisa Stansfield, "All Around The World"
44. Desmond Dekker & The Aces, "The Israelites"
45. Kylie Minogue, "Can’t Get You Out Of My Head"
46. The Human League, "Don’t You Want Me"
47. John Travolta & Olivia Newton John, "You’re The One That I Want"
48. The Three Degrees, "When Will I See You Again"
49. The Rolling Stones, "Get Off of My Cloud"
50. Armand Van Helden "You Don’t Know Me"
Runners up: The Police, "Every Breath You Take"; Usher ft. Lil Jon & Ludacris, "Yeah!"; Elvis Presley: "It's Now or Never"; the Beatles, "Hello Goodbye"; the Everly Brothers, "All I Have To Do Is Dream"/"Claudette"; Backstreet Boys, "I Want It That Way"; M/A/R/R/S, "Pump Up the Volume"; the KLF ft. Children of the Revolution, "3AM Eternal"; the Kinks, "You Really Got Me"; Steve "Silk" Hurley, "Jack Your Body"; Dave & Ansel Collins, "Double Barrel"; Blondie, "Call Me"; the Streets, "Dry Your Eyes"; Eminem, "Stan"; Ben E. King, "Stand by Me."
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Rod Smith, you may have noticed (or probably not), is posting for real this year--it's his resolution. His sentence a day (or so) makes the rest of you look like amateurs (well, not you) (OK, you either). Have a look.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Deeply, deeply honored to be linked by Promocopy, a new site devoted to making sure the music-writing end of the blogosphere disappears up its own ass just that much more completely. (Not a joke, but not an insult either. I am honored, mind.) I anticipate a skewering from Candice about this topic, given her longstanding bemusement w/us writer types and the new post in particular.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
1. Black Leotard Front: “Casual Friday” (DFA)
2. Gretchen Wilson: “Redneck Woman” (Epic)
3. Jay-Z: “99 Problems” (Roc-a-Fella)
4. Portobella: “Covered in Punk” (Island, U.K.)
5. M.I.A.: “Galang” (Showbiz, U.K.)
6. Usher ft. Lil Jon & Ludacris “Yeah!” (LaFace)
7. Brandy ft. Kanye West: "Talk About Our Love" (Atlantic)
8. Britney Spears: “Toxic” (Jive)
9. The Walkmen: “The Rat” (Record Collection)
10. Big & Rich: "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" (Warner Bros.)
1. United State of Electronica (Mannheim) [21 points]
2. Gretchen Wilson: Here for the Party (Epic) 
3. DFA Compilation #2 (DFA) 
4. The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me (Frenchkiss) 
5. Devin the Dude: To Tha X-Treme (Rap-a-Lot) 
6. The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free (Vice) 
7. Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats (Essay, Austria) 
8. Sonic Youth: Sonic Nurse (Geffen) 
9. Big & Rich: Horse of a Different Color (Warner Bros. Nashville) 
10. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella) 
11. The Futureheads (Startime International/Sire)
12. Dungen: Ta Det Lungt (Subliminal)
13. Ted Leo + the Pharmacists: Shake the Sheets (Lookout!)
14. Junior Boys: Last Exit (Kin/Domino)
15. The Mountain Goats: We Shall All Be Healed (4AD/Beggars)
16. Dizzee Rascal: Showtime (XL)
17. Ghostface: The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
18. Van Hunt (Capitol)
19. The Thermals: Fuckin A (Sub Pop)
20. Madvillain: Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
21. Carolyn Mark and the New Best Friends: The Pros and Cons of Collaboration (Mint)
22. Wiley: Treddin on Thin Ice (XL)
23. Brian Wilson Presents Smile (Nonesuch)
24. Akufen: Fabric 17 (Fabric, UK)
25. Stereolab: Margerine Eclipse (Elektra)
26. DJ Green Lantern/Beastie Boys: New York State of Mind (djgreenlantern.com)
27. Teedra Moses: Complex Simplicity (TVT)
28. The Fiery Furnaces: Blueberry Boat (XL)
29. The Necks: Drive By (Recommended)
30. The Meat Purveyors: Pain by Numbers (Bloodshot)
31. Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth? (Tigerbeat6)
32. Kanye West: Kon the Louis Vuitton Don (mixtape)
33. Kompakt 100 (Kompakt)
34. Luna: Rendezvous (Jetset)
35. Mylab (Terminus)
36. The Helio Sequence: Love and Distance (Sub Pop)
37. Nellie McKay: Get Away From Me (Columbia)
38. DJ Olive: Bodega (theagriculture.com)
39. Viktor Vaughn: VV2: Venomous Villain (Nature Sounds)
40. Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2004 (Greensleeves)
41. Jon Langford: All the Fame of Lofty Deeds (Bloodshot)
42. Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample (Honest Jon’s)
43. Gilles Peterson in Brazil (Ether)
44. Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)
45. De La Soul: The Grind Date (Sanctuary)
46. Offshore Presents Troubled Waters Mixed By Clever (Offshore)
47. Burnt Sugar: Black Sex Yall Liberation & Bloody Random Violets (Trugroid)
48. The Ex: Turn (Touch & Go)
49. Masta Killa: No Said Date (Nature Sounds)
50. The Trio Plays Ware (Splasc[h], Italy)
51. Kid606: Who Still Kill Sound? (Tigerbeat6)
52. The Roots: The Tipping Point (Interscope)
53. Lil Jon & The Eastside Boys: We Run the South (mixtape)
54. Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
55. Komeda: Kokomemedada (Minty Fresh)
56. Arto Lindsay: Salt (Righteous Babe)
57. Phoenix: Alphabetical (Source/Astralwerks)
58. Youssou N’Dour: Egypt (Nonesuch)
59. Matthew Dear: Backstroke (Spectral Sound)
60. Blood Brothers: Crimes (V2)
61. Ada: Blondie (Areal)
62. Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic)
63. PJ Harvey: Uh Huh Her (Island)
64. Lusine: Serial Hodgepodge (Ghostly International)
65. R. Kelly: Happy People/U Saved Me (Jive)
66. Triola: Triola Im Fünftonraum (Kompakt)
67. Gogol Bordello vs. Tamar Muskat: J.U.F. (Stinky)
68. Ellen Allien: My Parade (Bpitch Control)
69. Camera Obscura: Underachievers Please Try Harder (Merge)
70. Ricardo Villalobos: Thé Au Harem D'Archimède (Perlon)
71. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra: Who Is This America? (Ropeadope)
72. Jay-Z Construction Set (jayzconstructionset.com)
73. Comets on Fire: Blue Cathedral (Sub Pop)
74. Kerrier District (Rephlex)
75. Michael Mayer: Touch (Kompakt)
76. Dykehouse: Midrange (Ghostly International)
77. Pop Ambient 2004 (Kompakt)
78. Felix da Housecat: Devin Dazzle and the Neon Fever (Emperor Norton)
79. Courtney Love: America’s Sweetheart (Virgin)
80. The Rough Guide to African Rap (World Music Network)
81. DJ Spooky: Rhythm Science (Sub Rosa)
82. Nas: Street’s Disciple (Columbia)
83. Robag Wruhme: Wuzzlebud “KK” (Musik Krause)
84. The Magnetic Fields: i (Elektra Nonesuch)
85. Mary Lou Lord: Baby Blue (Rubric)
86. Plastiq Phantom (Imputor?)
87. The Hives: Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)
88. The Biggest Dancehall Ragga Anthems 2004 (Greensleeves)
89. Carina Round: The Disconnection (Interscope)
90. The Fever: Red Bedroom (Kemado)
91. Clinic: Winchester Cathedral (Domino)
92. Rokia Traoré: Bowmboï (Nonesuch)
93. IQU: Sun Q (Sonic Boom)
94. Dalmatians: Rock/Pop Ruff Drafts (Imputor?)
95. Jason Forrest: Unrelenting Songs of the 1979 Post Disco Crash (Sonig)
96. Petey Pablo: Still Writing in My Diary, 2nd Entry (Jive)
97. Air: Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)
98. Theodore Unit: 718 (Sure Shot/Navarre)
99. Turing Machine: Zwei (Frenchkiss)
100. New Mexicans: Chicken Head Talking Diamonds (Stuck Under the Needle)
Sunday, January 09, 2005
What I've learned in Mark Baumgarten's attic/bedroom, stoned, tonight: I really am an eternal sucker for women who look like my old girlfriend A, except even more innocent. Welcome to Portland indeed. Edit: In light of some confusion, let me clarify this: I saw a waitress at a bar who resembled said ex-, and was mooning stupidly over her when I wrote that--which I did on Mark's dare, actually. Sorry, nothing actually happened to me in Portland in that manner, though you can always wish, right?
Something else I learned: I like an Arcade Fire song--"Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" I think is the one--a lot. I've only played that record once all the way through, and loathed "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" after hearing it again; a lot of what I wrote below in Unfaves if fairly knee-jerky. I'm going to have to give it another shot. My hunch is I'll find it really uneven, but that song Mark's roommate Mike played me last night was really pretty great--New Ordery, even.
Friday, January 07, 2005
The reading Douglas Wolk and I were going to do at Easy Street Records in West Seattle has been canceled. Repeat: canceled. HOWEVER, the event on Monday, January 10 at 7:30 p.m.--that's THIS COMING MONDAY--is still on. At taht, it'll be Douglas, myself, Mike McGonigal of Yeti, Chemical Imbalance, and freelance renown, and Colin Meloy of the Decemberists reading and/or discussing our contributions to Continuum Books' brilliant 33 1/3 series, in which various writers dive, at length, into the classic album of their choice. (Douglas wrote about James Brown's Live at the Apollo; I wrote about Prince's Sign 'O' the Times, Mike is working on a 33 1/3 on My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, set for publication in summer 2005; Colin's, already out, is about the Replacements' Let It Be.) The reading will happen at Powell's City of Books in Portland (located at 1005 West Burnside; 503-228-4651). It'll be a lot of fun--and you wouldn't want to miss out on that, would you?
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Jason Gross's favorite music writing of the year, right as I was about to leave the office and everything . . . .
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Unfaves 2004 (quickly since it’s a new year, I had a great Christmas and NYE, thanks for asking, and am over being sick this weekend and feeling bullish and forward-moving, 2005 ahoy):
The New Beard America
Yes I mean Devendra and Joanna and all that lot; I saw those two in Minneapolis during the summer, and while Devendra was actually pretty charming and clearly talented, the rapture he inspires in people who wouldn’t look at him sideways if he was spare-changing them on Capitol Hill feels more than a little suspicious. Plus the preciousness grates, though nowhere near as much as with Newsom, who sounds like (Lily Tomlin’s) Edith Ann with a head cold and a harp and a few 50-cent words. (Though it would be interesting to hear her cover a 50 Cent song, now that I think of it . . . .) But mostly it was boring, plus the sanctimony emanating from the room (not the performers, who whatever my reservations seemed to be trying, but their fans, who were clearly on the verge of breaking their arms from patting themselves on the back for having avoided the big bad mainstream and/or forsworn hair care products) made me immediately want to wear plastic clothes and dance to rave music--even more so than usual, I mean. What is it with the preponderance of back-to-the-land talking-to-toads willful weirdo whimsy lately, anyway? Maybe it’s some variation on the Pavement-esque “If people can get successful actually trying to be good at this then we’ll just be as daft as we can and act like if you don’t get the joke you’re just not hip, maaaan” thing that overran indie rock in the ’90s, only minus anyone actually getting successful and Pavement actually being good. Are people really so desperate for “something ‘real’” that the closer it feels to hearing someone having a nervous breakdown the less artificial it must therefore be? Are people really still falling for that? (Answer: Yes, now and forever.) Best line on this topic goes to Rod Smith, who when I told him where I’d been the night before gasped and said, “Those poor door people! You know most of those kids paid in coin.” (Accusations of rank classism can be addressed to the raised-on-welfare author of this screed via the email link on the right.)
Animal Collective and its spawn
See much of the above, and add flailing-in-the-dark mutterings about AC being a “pop band.” What is this “pop” you speak of, kemo sabe?
Scream Club, Don’t Bite Your Sister (Tiny Sensational)
The hands-down worst piece of shit I encountered in 2004, in any category. At first I thought it was fascinating, in a traffic-accident kind of way; maybe it would grow on me, particularly the first song, “And You Belong,” which maybe I could overlook the extreme clunkiness of because it was Righteous--hey, we probably need a song for gay teenagers to rally round more than we need another, oh, “Ridin’ Big.” But as the thing kept going, the room began to shrink, and my taste for camp was overwhelmed by my inability to cope with deliberate ineptitude and the smugness that carries it across the speakers. But when I reached the CD’s penultimate song, “Go Pee Pee in the Potty,” whose sound is even twerpier than its title, I admitted defeat.
Ray (director: Taylor Hackford)
Jamie Foxx’s impersonation of Ray Charles might have actually been turned into something resembling a performance had the makers of this botch actually been able to do something with it. Low point: the scene that “spawns” 1961’s “Hit the Road Jack.” And you'd hoped music was the only thing they stopped making like that in the ’60s.
The Arcade Fire
First listen uncovered a not unpretty but largely generic indie rock band (excuse me, “collective” or whatever they’re calling clumps of people playing instruments together at the same time up in Canada these days). Second listen intwoduced me to their feewings. Deep, deep feewings, expwessed wif uninhibited emoting. Gawd.
Here’s where I eat crow (for now, at least, because I’m sure to change my mind about Devendra eventually, oh well), because this is my fault as much as anyone’s---I kept talking about it long after anyone cared, and kept going after everyone started to. After three years of arguing about it on ILM and having written about it in the Sign book, it went mega this year, and I swallowed the bait just like everyone else. Well, sometimes you regret things. Anyhow, I hereby swear never to write about this topic on my blog, or on ILM (which I’m not especially active on these days, as some of you may have noticed) again, ever. Or at least have the decency to wait a few years before I do it.
The Walkmen, Bows + Arrows (Record Collection)
The Strokes? Puh-leeeze. If you want an overhyped, underachieving bunch of nouveau-riche N.Y.C. guitar bores, this band not only fits the bill, they’ve got a pedigree—eight years ago, keyboardist Walter Martin, drummer Matt Barrick, and guitarist Paul Maroon were in Jonathan Fire*Eater, one of the most notable marketing disasters of the alt-rock era’s twilight. Now that they have an Actual Scene to latch onto, their will to power has been unleashed, and anyone who outgrew emo before they hit puberty is advised to run for cover. On their second album, awesomely self-pitying vocalist Hamilton Leithauser makes the dude from Interpol sound like Missy Elliott in comparison. (Interpol sound like Timbaland in relation to these guys, too. And I won’t bother with Interpol here because what there is to say about them is so damn obvious I’d feel even more redundant than usual spelling it outthirdratejoydivision.) So how do you explain the feral blast that is “The Rat,” in which Maroon riffs like he’s holding onto his guitar for dear life in the middle of a hurricane and Leithauser evokes (and induces) real terror? Maybe someone threatened to make ’em get real jobs.
TV on the Radio
Superpitcher: “Fever” + Pass Into Silence: Calm Like a Millipond (both Kompakt)
Dullness can come from anywhere, kids! Just look at these four items. One’s a person who stoppedcaringaboutmakinghimselfinterestinganymorebutwhatcanyoudowiththosedull-assbeats,thoughyou’dthinkmaybehe’dstopsoundingsonarcolepticandmumblyzzzzzzzzzzz. One’s a band that’s “original,” because most people who write songs finish them, and because most people who produce records ensure that something is actually happening on them. And one’s the dregs of a label that, even at my most fervent, I’m all too aware of the drawbacks of, i.e. they’re effing BORING, mate. Usually, though, there’s something (lots of things sometimes) to grab onto. None of that for (note acronym) P.I.S., and ditto for the second half of Here Comes Love, which takes the subtlety to unimagined levels of tedium. Then again, rockist (sorry) that I am, I’ve always been more of a fan of the label at its most clicky-popping than for its smooth/gliding. Still, the utter defensiveness I’ve seen in relation to HCL just reaffirms my suspicions--that, and the fact that his cover of the Peggy Lee standard “Fever” really is just fucking horrible, and not even in a this-will-be-fun-in-ten-years way.
Fatboy Slim: Palookaville (Astralwerks)
Prodigy: Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (Maverick/XL)
Big beat went bust ages ago, in terms of ideas (which it never really had, which isn't a complaint), and in terms of the fun generated-to-fun promised ratio, and no two albums demonstrated it better than those of two of its biggest kahunas. The Fatboy just sounds clueless--is there a worse hook on earth than the one on "Slash Dot Com"? A more embarrassing, what-the-fuck-are-we-doing-anyway? guest spot than Bootsy singing "The Joker"? (There's something telling about Norm's ongoing partnership w/Collins; reminds me of the way Prince's music began being sapped of basic vital juices when he started working with his childhood idols. Nothing makes a party-at-all-costs kind of person seem less interesting than watching them gush over the folks they used to look up to, at least in musical terms, it would seem.) The Prodigy aren't quite at that level of slapped-together exhaustion--Always Outnumbered feels nothing if not consummately pofessional. But even as someone who doesn't require their faves to reinvent the wheel every time out, it still reminds me of Portishead or Black Sunday--follow-ups that hew so close to their predecessors they might as well be carbon copies, complete with fainter definition and far less interesting songs. (Though I do like "Memphis Bells" and won't discredit the folks who dig "Girls.") But both albums are mostly tiresome, like the guy who's still looking for the party after everyone else has gone to bed. Mostly, they prove that there's a fine line between stupid and stupid-fresh.
The Clash: London Calling: 25th Anniversary Edition (Epic)
For the most part, demos come in two categories: those intended to teach performers new tunes, and those performers make to remind themselves of their own ideas. Sometimes, the former can be inspired performances in themselves--see Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes--while the latter tend to be best left alone. Who really want to hear the tape Keith Richards made of himself playing the “Satisfaction” riff for a minute, then snoring until the tape stops?
“The Vanilla Tapes,” the demos that form the second disc of Epic’s expanded edition of the Clash’s 1979 masterpiece London Calling, belong firmly in the second category. Calling this one of the most unlistenable CDs ever released on a major label is no knock on the band; not only were these slopped-together performances never meant to be released, they weren’t even meant to be listened to for purposes other than figuring out the chord changes of “Clampdown,” or where to put the horns in “The Right Profile.” Comparing them with the finished album is like choosing between dinner at Babbo and the Twinkie you accidentally sat on. There's also a half-assed DVD with a couple amusing images of Guy Stevens throwing chairs.
Nirvana: With the Lights Out (Geffen)
The primary thing you will learn from this three-CD, one-DVD rag-and-bone banquet isn’t that litigation makes the world go round, or that Kurt Cobain’s genius couldn’t be contained by his band’s official albums, or that there’s a cultist born every minute. No, what you learn is that Nirvana used to suck. Not in the peanut-gallery sense, either--now that they’re gone forever, they’ll stay frozen in time as the great band they became--but in the sense that almost nothing on disc one of this box would make you ever care about hearing them again were you unaware of the performers’ identity.
That, and it mostly sounds like shit, for which you can blame the source material (cassettes, mostly) and the fairly indifferent remastering job done here. The primary difference between the bulk of disc one of and “The Vanilla Tapes” is that the Clash were just trying to figure out how to play the damn songs they’d written and made some cassettes to guide them. Nirvana, by contrast, were giving it their all; at that point, they were just too unformed to make much of it.
Which is fine in itself--flailing around in search of an identity is what young bands do. And some of that identity is already clear here: “If You Must” would have buoyed the spotty Bleach, “Clean Up Before She Comes” could have been finished into something worthwhile. But the only thing most of these alternate takes, demos, live cuts (a lousy version of of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” recorded at the band’s first show in 1987 opens the box), and experiments (“Beans” sounds like a Ween reject) prove is that Nevermind was, for the band that made them, an unimaginable world away.
There’s a reason that album and In Utero are so indelible: they skimmed the cream of Cobain’s songbook. Point blank, almost none of the previously unissued songs on discs two and three of With the Lights Out would have markedly improved those albums. That might be more damning if so much of these discs weren’t given over to not-too-interesting demos (Cobain apparently had a precariously wobbly four-track), alternate takes (“Polly” and “Rape Me” each appear twice, both negligibly compared to the final versions), and great songs in barely-there rehearsal versions. The rotten-sounding debut recording of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” just about defines the phrase “for historians only.” Even the versions of “Sappy” (retitled “Verse Chorus Verse” for 1993’s No Alternative) and “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” here are bested by the ones that were released on compilations (the latter on The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience).
Which is why the set’s DVD comes as a shock: despite the generally poor audio/visual quality (homemade tapes again), the band’s goofiness and giddiness, not to mention the sight of Cobain singing to a wall in bassist Krist Novoselic’s parents’ rec room, almost make up for the indifference of the rest of the box. It’s not a crime to hawk most of this uninteresting collection as forgotten or incipient or unheard genius. But it is like buying a fake Rolex from a licensed jeweler.
And obviously the election et al but I'll leave it at that for now and wish you all a very happy 2005.