Posts from July 2001

18
Jul 01

P. DIDDY, BLACK ROB, & MARK CURRY – “Bad Boy For Life”

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P. DIDDY, BLACK ROB, & MARK CURRY – “Bad Boy For Life”

Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” has always confounded me. Jimmy Page plays a riff straight from the Neil Young Perfectly Inept Solo school. Well, the riff itself isn’t gloriously inept, but when said riff bumps against John Bonham’s nonchalant drumming, it careens like a drunk roadie looking for octopi in the hallway of a Motel 6. Robert Plant’s vocals are, for the most part, left suspended in mid-air, bracketed by these drunken fumblings. And, then, they find that confounded bridge, everything comes together and tightens, and the song somehow emerges victorious. It’s a strange little ditty.

So’s this offering from the Sean John Collection. Unfortunately, while P.’ s ditty is backed by a stumbling guitar lead similar to the one found on “Black Dog”, there’s no bridge coming to the rescue. (Unless you could that stoppage in the video, where Ben Stiller shows up, acts like someone trying desperately to emulate Ben Stiller because Ben Stiller RAWKS!, and leaves me smacking my head in shock and dismay.) Black Rob & Mark Curry are servicable as far as rappers go – damned if I can recall a thing they said, but they’re all right. To be honest, I barely recall their contributions. Their words and diction pale beneath the dark shadow cast by P. Diddy’s desperate tussles with the concepts of “flow” and “rhythm”. When he tries straight-up rapping, it’s terrible. When he turns on the Devo switch, and tries to get down with the inept honkey funk of the previously mentioned guitar riff, it’s terrible. When he starts bragging about Bad Boy & 2001 & Cristal & whatever else he won’t shut up about in the spoken-word coda that ends most chest-beating pseudo-phat tracks, it’s terrible. Of course, I’m not the most impartial person when it comes to judging P. Diddy – his clothing line sucks, his over-the-top multi-million-dollar video productions suck, his non-obvious sampling choices suck, his dancing sucks. (Has he had a legitimate hit since he stopped Vanilla Icing his songs? I really can’t recall…)

I think of P. Diddy, and I think of Rob Liefeld. A comic artist from the mid-to-late 80s. Became wildly popular for his brash, in-your-face artistry, though critics rightfully called him on his egregious anatomical errors and severe lack of storytelling skills – the quintessential case of style over substance. Eventually, Liefeld co-founded his own comic publishing company, midwifed the careers of some equally egregious stylists, called himself a “writer” and pissed all over the Oxford Dictionary, tried branching out into other mediums – including comic book deals with a former cast member of Battlestar Galactica and Poison’s Rikki Rocket! – and eventually fell flat on his ass (at least in the public sector). While Liefeld still picks up a pencil from time to time for other companies (and I heard he’s improved), he had the sense to farm out his home-grown creations to folks that were (admittedly) more talented than him. Seeing Snoop Dogg & Xzibit make their cameos in the video for “Bad Boy For Life” – it’s not a rap video without the gratuitous cameos, remember – I can only dream of the day when P. Diddy hands off the mike to one of these cats and lets them do the dirty work. Until that day, cover your ears, because this bad boy is getting rank.

16
Jul 01

I Hear the Call

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I Hear the Call: ace piece on the Backstreets’ “The Call” which manages to make the song (not one of my favourites) sound fascinating and underestimate it both at once. Darnelle’s point – that the delusional narrator of “The Call” is focussed on the, uh, call which tried to disguise his infidelity, and not the infidelity itself – is worth making but! I think he underestimates the psychological perspicacity of Max Martin orwhoever on this lyrical front.

As in: yes, the reason relationships end tends to be a greater malaise which leads to a tipping point (infidelity, here) but surprisingly often this tipping point itself needs a moment, a last straw, a final face-saving excuse, and “you lied to me” is a reliable standby. The fact of the infidelity being too awful to confront all at once (which is why he (and she) have been confronting it nonstop in the ‘tween-verse two years), the actual break needs to be expedited by something tiny and confrontable, in other words the fatal call. There’s more to this pop stuff than meets the eye, you know.

QUIET!

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THE BETA BAND – Hot Shots II

It’s a fantastic summer day, a Saturday to boot, somewhere between warm and hot on the heat scale. Me, I find myself in the midst of suburban splendor, laying on a deck chair beside the pool. Mom, Dad: Love ya. It is, in fact, the kind of hazy lazy day of summer memorialized in song since the dawn of popular music.

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14
Jul 01

KELIS, “YOUNG, FRESH AND NEW” MARY J. BLIGE, “FAMILY AFFAIR”

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KELIS, “YOUNG, FRESH AND NEW”
MARY J. BLIGE, “FAMILY AFFAIR”

“i’ve gotta be young, fresh and new,” kelis sings in her upcoming single, knowing full well that, along with producers du jour the neptunes, she is all three. what she can’t say she is, however, is superstar — in an alternate universe, she has macy gray’s success, kelis being the macy gray for people with taste. unfortunately for her, i can’t see “young, fresh and new” troubling the charts anytime soon; fortunately for us, i say that because the single is unlike anything else you’d hear on the radio. what it sounds like is video game music, for one of those scenes where the hero has pressed the self-destruct button in the enemy’s lair and has thirty seconds to get out: kelis navigates a deluge of whirring noises, harsh synthesizers and fuzzed-out bass, tempering it all with a heavily-harmonized, heaven-sent chorus. if it doesn’t make trl, it’ll, at the very least, increase her standing amongst alternative soul fans and production geeks like myself, almost as valuable to the record company as actual sales.

at the other end of the spectrum exists mary. mary is probably now bigger than she ever dreamed she’d be when she was young (fresh, and new), staring out the window of her family apartment in the bronx. she sells out concerts the world over; racks up platinum album after platinum album; she’s sung with elton john! it’s gotten to the point where the “j. blige” is superfluous, like aretha, she is now just “mary.” she is the standard bearer, the queen of hip-hop soul, the one kids (kids! mary’s now 30 don’tcha know) like kelis are trying to chase down. on “family affair,” she’s joined by another individual at the head of their field, the one and only d-r-e, dr. dre, a dream pairing if i’ve heard one.

so it comes as a disappointment that “family affair” even pales in comparison to share my world‘s lead single, “love is all you need,” which despite its faults was anthemic at least, and this isn’t to say that “family affair” is a bad track. dre comes with top-shelf production — when you hear the snap of the drum machine, and the crispness of the synth strings, you just know it’s a dre production. his machines sound like the best money can buy, so good that they don’t mind being synthetic. like breast implants, who cares if they’re real or not when this is the end result. mary is in fine form, and it’s about time she did a record for the cars and clubs. the song goes on like this for three minutes and you’re nodding your head…and then it all goes wrong. nothing changes at that moment, and that’s the problem: you come to the realization that there’ll be no strong bridge or a change in the beat. like a number of dre’s recent productions — xzibit’s “x” — comes to mind, the best moment is the opening, when the beat is still fresh; when you discover that you’re going to hear it all song long, the thrill wears off. “family affair” is, ultimately, a record made by two people who know that their names will sell it, that as long as they make merely good records, no one’s going to knock them off their thrones.

it’s 1974. aretha franklin releases let me in your life. it’s staid, it’s a let down; it’s still good as most 70s aretha albums are, but it’s know what you were hoping for: you want “rock steady” and you instead get “i’m in love.” that same year, betty davis — funk goddess and wife of miles — releases they say i’m different; one listens to the record and can’t help but feel that the title is an understatement. now, on the whole, betty davis is neither better nor more important than aretha franklin, but for one year, for one album, the queen was dead, love live the queen. it’s now 2001, and the queen’s vital signs are looking bad, and hospital workers say they saw a shady-looking orange-haired woman hanging around her room…

13
Jul 01

Now I love the Human League

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Now I love the Human League as much as the next man. OK, possibly more than the next man, and perhaps more than is actually healthy. But in this monstrous double spread in the Guardian is buried a hideous and disturbing fact: “dance empire builders Ministry of Sound have acquired their back catalogue in a bid to make it available to young samplers, to challenge the perception of the League as part of the current 1980s nostalgia-kitsch boom, and to reposition them as the British Kraftwerk.” A thousand trance records based around ‘The Black Hit of Space’? Only a God can save us now.

12
Jul 01

April March – “Chick Habit”

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April March – “Chick Habit”

Do you want to frug and shake your wild, ratted-up hair all over the living room? Do you like to imagine that you’re a member of the original line-up of the B-52s on tour in a leopard print-decorated Airstream all over mid-60s France? Do you often wish that the Watiresses would re-form and record a a sequel to “I Know What Boys Like” for the new century? Are you a big sucker for sassed-up, bad-assed, it’s my party and these boots will walk all over you girly vocals and wailing brass sections? Yes? Yesss! Go forth and download. Thank me later. And I’ll thank Lee right now.

D12 (with Eminem) — “Purple Hills” / “Purple Pills” HAWD GANKSTUH RAPPHUS MC’S (WIT GATZ) — “Reptile Haus”

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D12 (with Eminem) — “Purple Hills” / “Purple Pills”
HAWD GANKSTUH RAPPHUS MC’S (WIT GATZ) — “Reptile Haus”

The first time I heard ‘Purple Hills’ (thank you again, MuchMusic), it was a silly little ditty that reminded me of old-school rap like ‘Rapper’s Delight’ — MCs goofing on rhymes and wordplay, not worrying about street life so much as just the beats and the microphone. But, yes, the aired song was bleeped repeatedly, so you don’t hear gunshots, or f-bombs, or the word that ends the line, ‘Young, dumb, and full of…’ — gee, I wonder? Perhaps the lack of cussing added to the air of light-hearted whimsy permeating the song. And even without the clown suit and cactus suit and the Joe-Boxer-wearing would-be Fat Boy coming onto midgets in the video, the lazy refrain of ‘and somethin’, somethin’, somethin”uh, I dunno’ always makes me happy. ‘I’ve been so many places, I’ve seen so many faces, but nothing compares to those blue & yellow purple hills.’ Country roads, take me home to the place I belong’

If only. The REAL version of the song, I soon learned, is actually called ‘Purple Pills’. Women wave your pantyhose, sing the chorus and it goes — ‘I take a couple uppers, I’ve downed a couple downers, but nothing compares to these blue & yellow purple pills.’ Damn it. Instead of getting in touch with their inner John Denvers, Em & his cronies are getting high on any two-bit chemical they can get their hand on, and the song goes up in smoke. I think the reason for the bleeps in the first version is to disguise the stupid shit the rappers are trying to flow with. Even the somethin’ somethin’, once oh-so-charming, loses its appeal in the midst of all the scorin’ & snortin’.

If you’re going to offend, do it with a wink and a smile. The first 20 seconds of ‘Reptile Haus’ feature enough shout-outs to ‘dookie’ and ‘doo-doo’ that it goes from stupid to silly to funny in no time. Dig, if you will, a picture of a Timbaland raised in a cabin in the Appalaichian Mountains, laying down the tracks for ‘Are You That Somebody?’ with the duck in place of the baby, and then dumping all the beats in a muddy puddle to make them Ol’ Dirty Bastard dirty. Atop that queasy beat, the 3 MCs that comprise Hawd Gankstuh Rapphus (Fly-Bot Van Damn, Guy Albino, Duke Crapmore) drop their peculiar type of knowledge — ‘The other day I went to the zoo, and what did they do? They put me in the reptile haus.’ I said a hip hop, the hippie, the hippie — well, the hippie probably got bit on the ass by these 3 freaks barking like hard-up dogs let loose in a mannequinn factory. But they definitely have the old-school flow down pat, even if the patois is a bit off-center. This wonderful little ditty is available on their Load Records release, entitled Wake Up and Smell the Piss. Such a lovely bouquet. Now this is the type of sunshine I’d like on my shoulders in the morning.

11
Jul 01

POP:ART

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POP:ART fun — the latest FT update is an interview with Dickon Edwards, former Shelley and Orlando pop mastermind currently enjoying himself with Fosca. Stop on by!

10
Jul 01

PUFFY AMIYUMI – “Boogie Woogie No. 5”

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PUFFY AMIYUMI – “Boogie Woogie No. 5”

Two young Japanese girls, stumbling around a stark white film set in torn jeans and sneakers (among many other outfits), with boys dancing around them in khakis, and a pale imitation of a Gene Krupa drumbeat bounding about in the background. No, this isn’t the newest Gap commercial – it’s the video for the newest single from Japanese pop duo Puffy AmiYumi. “Puffy AmiYumi,” says their website bio, “are more than just a chart-topping pop group. Much, much more. They are, quite simply, a cultural phenomenon.” In Japan.

I’m still not sure why MuchMusic has taken to showing this video every so often, but I’m grateful. (If anything, it’s one more reason why the Canadian MTV has it all over the American version.) The song itself isn’t much to crow about – imagine Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5” (surely, you remember Lou!) cheesed up with Casio trumpets and other teen-pop production trinkets, and then essayed by two pixieish Japanese girls, barking the lyrics like pep squad castoffs trying to audition for the team while locked in the janitor’s closet. It’s an out-of-touch focus group’s version of Pizzicato 5 – all the superficial aspects (the beats, the attitude, the ethnicity), but not one whit of style or panache. It’s a mess, yes, but it’s a glorious mess. Watching the video unfold (or unravel) makes for some choice entertainment, the likes of which can only be found in endeavors that strive for something just not quite in reach.

The really funny thing, however, is that someone, somewhere, thinks that THIS is the single that will break the group. In North America. According to the official Puffy AmiYumi website, their album (Spike) was released on this side of the ocean in the past month. (At least, in Canada – no word on a US release date, unfortunately.) More spelunking reveals surprise after surprise. Stations in St. Louis and San Jose are charting this thing at #1? CMJ is charting this thing, too? There’s a review of this album at PITCHFORK? Oh, boy. I can only imagine what praise critic Spencer Owen spread on his side of the toast:


“…upon listening to their fifth LP and first U.S.-released effort, Spike, it isn’t too hard to imagine why they’re so popular. There’s not a single second of art to be found.”

Well, hey, now – if you’re in the mood to admire art, why the hell are you shopping at Target?

PS – I do recommend sneaking over to the Puffy AmiYumi site and checking out the sound samples of the album (assuming you are Shockwave-compliant, that is). If you can only click on one track, I recommend mousing over “Love So Pure”, a track (in English, for you folks in the audience suffering from mild xenophobia) that screams P!O!P! in the way that the best Posies & Big Star songs do. I would not be surprised to learn that this is one of the tracks former Jellyfish Andy Sturmer – their “godfather” – helped birth. That’s right – TRACKS. Tracks with big guitars, big drums, and big melodies ripped from the fakebook of your favorite pop group (whether they be dodgy or upstanding). The snippets from the website sound glorious. Get clicking.

FROM THE EDITOR

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(Some old FT editorials resurrected from the archives for you…)

July 10, 2001

My illustrious publisher is currently off enjoying himself in the company of Greek goats (or something like that), so here’s a brief note saying that a variety of new articles are on the boil or being pieced over as I type. A full new FT update will be along in two weeks’ time — at least if I have anything to say about it, and why not, I’m the editor and all. In the meantime, however, please enjoy the latest entry to POP: ART, an interview with Fosca’s Dickon Edwards. As always, comments are welcome!

July 24, 2001

A few updates this time around! No new Third Door or POP: ART — new ones will be along soon! — but we’ve got the first FT article by Mark Sinker, regular denizen of our associated I Love Music and I Love Everything boards. His piece on Simon and Garfunkel was originally posted on the first board and here appears in an revised form. In the meantime, there’s two pieces from me — the first, my semi-long-threatened piece on Tool’s Lateralus and the state of being obsessed and lost in a record, the second the first of some planned pieces on summer and music, in this case my experiences of outdoor rock festivals. As always, comments are welcome!

September 4, 2001

*blows away cobwebs* Right, where were we? I went on vacation and then everything went into a haze. Fret not, though, we have some new articles in the pipeline, as well as upcoming news on New York London Paris Munich. What news is that? Can’t give away everything now, can I? But don’t fear, though there’s only one article this time around, it’s a mighty fine one, with Jess Harvell making his FT debut with a great discussion of the life and work of Arthur Russell. If you’ve heard the name but not much more, here’s a chance to learn not merely more about him but how the accepted historical record doesn’t always tell the full story. As always, feedback is welcome!

September 13, 2001

There was going to be a different sort of update on September 11. You can imagine why it didn’t go up (all regular FT contributors who live in NYC are well, thanks). A slew of articles next Tuesday — in the meantime, donate and, if you like, read my piece on Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus.”

September 24, 2001

Ah, delays. But understandable ones, my heart and head was somewhere else for a while and may still be there for a bit — I can but watch and wait. Life continues, though, and so here you’ll find three new articles — David Raposa’s reflection on the MTV Video Music Awards, Fred Solinger’s take on Mercury Rev’s new album All is Dream and my own review of that album and plenty of others from bands that have made it to the ten year mark and in one case well beyond that. Hug a friend, do something nice, use your brain, and as always your feedback is very welcome.

October 30, 2001

Things percolate and ponder, and somewhere over the horizon a new Focus Group looms…but that’ll happen in its good time. Right now, welcome the debut of Anthony Easton, talking about Bran Van 3000’s new album Discosis in ways that make me want to track down this sucker ASAP. Elsewhere, esteemed founder and overlord Tom Ewing makes his case for the best voices you’ll hear in music in recent times, while I come right out and say it — voices are great, but I really don’t need the lyrics to enjoy things. Think that’s heresy? By all means, e-mail me about that or anything else on your mind!

December 4, 2001

A long-delayed update of articles is also the cue for an announcement — the founder and publisher of the site, Tom Ewing, is set to take over the reins again as full-time editor. I was terribly flattered to be asked to run the site earlier this year and hope to have lived up to FT’s long-established standards during my time in the hot seat, though certainly I wish some more of my plans had panned out (not least of which is POP:ART — I swear, I’ll focus more on it now, really!). I do thank everyone for all the kind comments I’ve received, and Tom most of all for giving me the chance in the first place!

In any event, I’ll send you all off with a bang, namely four equally different and equally inspired pieces. Tim Finney uses the new Jan Jelinek album to reflect on the state of glitch, while Jess Harvell gathers his thoughts on the Piano Magic singles collection and David Raposa considers what might or might not have changed ten years on from Nirvana. Perhaps most impressive of all, though, is Marcello Carlin’s review of Pulp’s excellent We Love Life, here republished from its original appearance two months ago on the I Love Music forum. Hope you enjoy them all! Whatever Tom has up his sleeve next, it’s bound to be something good.