MICHAEL JACKSON – “One More Chance”
clearly irony is lost on michael jackson. we know it’s wasted on r. kelly, the song’s writer, who, on “step in the name of love,” declared himself the “pied piper of r&b,” i.e. creepy old guy who absconds with a town’s children for purposes unknown but very likely unseemly.
or perhaps it’s not. michael jackson essentially began his career asking for “one more chance” on the jackson five’s “i want you back.” and want you back he does, if the “you” in question is the pop audience. so, in his time of need, he turns to r. kelly, the man who wrote his last number one hit. it’s a pleasant, airy number with a leaden chorus: in his hey day it would have been an album track; during his lean years, maybe a third single. it quotes past triumphs, in particular “human nature,” itself a beautiful song that wasn’t fit to make it onto history, his first collection of hits, and one he’d die to get a chance to record today. “one more chance” is meant to help sell another hit compilation, number ones; if the single gets over by references to his past, the album will have to do the same because “one more chance” is rather charmless when taken on its own merits. he turned to kelly for another “you are not alone”; instead, he got a “gotham city.” does jackson really deserve another chance? based on a string of recent failures, professional and personal, that question becomes more and more secondary to another: will the public and, moreover, radio programmers give him one?
BRITNEY SPEARS FT. MADONNA, “Me Against the Music”
who knew the maternal instinct was so strong in madonna? oh, sure, the named might’ve tipped us off, but if her foray into children books wasn’t enough (and for some, it apparently is), she has become something of a mother figure to britney, counsels her not to smoke, date fred durst, and so forth. but if she really had her girl’s best interests in mind, she would’ve advised her against a) naming her album ‘get in the zone’ (what zone? the diet? autozone?) b) recording this song and c) inviting herself, madonna, to guest on it. last time they hooked up, so to speak, as everyone recalls, it was in service of that dog of a tune of madonna’s “hollywood” on the vmas. at least that was mitigated by the kiss; nothing quite rises/stoops to that level on “me against the music.” the opening banter alone is about as natural as the rapport between celine dion and frank sinatra on that hideous cover of “all the way.” and just as one has forgotten her presence, she appears mid-song to reassert it, as awkward as when one’s own mother calls out “i love you” across a crowded room full of one’s peers. when i first heard the (madonna-less) version of this song during the nfl kickoff festivities, it sounded like a chic song — dancefloor friendly, prominent rhythm guitar and choral presence — and i can’t help but feel how much better it could’ve been if it were. madonna knows nile rodgers, worked with him during her formative years. she should’ve facilitated that meeting. after all, what are moms for?
RYAN ADAMS – “SO ALIVE”
another year, another handful of ryan adams releases. now, say what you will about the whiskeytown records (i’ll say they were mostly patchy), but they did hint at, if nothing else, an individual voice. to be sure, the drunken fuck-up is not a new archetype but at the very least one got the sense that adams put something of his self in his words.
but ever since he’s been bought up by the major label machinery, dated winona, been welcomed into the fold by rock critics, and met his idols, he’s attempted to fill voids and pay homage — i admit to buying into it now and again because, as a classic rock guy, even i can only listen to captain fantastic and the brown dirty cowboy so many times. by turns, he’s bob dylan, now van morrison. on “so alive,” he’s early u2 — he is friends with the strokes, after all — but then he’s morrissey, ca. bona drag.
some might herald this as change, as a breakthrough: “he’s never tried to be more than one rock icon in the same song!” me, i hear the edge playing “suedehead”; steven patrick beating his chest and wrapping his arms around the world. there is total disconnect between verse and chorus that no pre-chorus or bridge could sumount. but it’s the details that bother most, the ice-pick guitar lines and the catch-in-the-throat vocals on the verses, especially. someone is sure to be pleased by this, ryan’s accountant for one, maybe another hollywood starlet (i hear tara reid’s single.) but i, for one, am left wondering who the hell does ryan adams think he is? or, perhaps, more to the point: just who is ryan adams?
CLAY AIKEN – “THIS IS THE NIGHT”
so this all happens because i happen to be listening to erasure; because i heard this clay aiken song on the radio; and because, hey, doesn’t the nylpm redesign look nice? why not bring the site even more hits? claynation will soon be on its way and i’m content to be its chew toy.
for those outside of the u.s., clay was the runner-up in the most recent american idol and is now probably the biggest geek icon since rivers cuomo. since then, the actual competition was the only thing he’s come second in, in terms of single sales, airplay, magazine covers, etc. think thom yorke after a ‘queer eye’ makeover. but it was before that makeover, as a gawky, God-fearing, fatherless, special education major that he won the hearts of a guilty nation. would we have responded differently if we knew that he ran over a kitten? that he harbors an intense hatred of cats? (i can’t believed he fooled so many young girls; me, i knew from the start. oh pussy, oh pussy cat!)
the talk surrounding this last ‘american idol’ was that it signified ‘talent over image.’ honestly, nothing could be farther removed from the truth. the reason why i believe europeans will remain untroubled by clay is that they know nothing about him, while we american viewers watched him grow up before our very eyes. who watched for the music? admit it, we all just hoped that this would be the night that clay winked at us, or that ruben pointed at us, or that julia’s top would bust open. everyone in this year’s top 12 had their little thing that they did, their own quirk: if they didn’t steal your heart, they probably stole your car. (ruben, the actual victor, is another story: he’s performed a cover of westlife’s “flying without wings” that will perhaps take off if europe isn’t yet tired of america selling its product back to them, even if it is in augmented form.)
(and, yeah, c’mon clay conspiracy theorists: your boy gets his own special “moment like this”-type song written especially for him, and ruben gets warmed-over westlife? please. no one’s gotten this jobbed since chantel failed to make it into s club 12 & under or whatever they’re calling that ‘american juniors’ group. )
what i’m saying, then, is that i’m worried about clay. i was doing my damndest to conceive a plan that will break him in the rest of the world. while listening to “this is the night” for the umpteenth time, i realize that the chorus bears a striking resemblance to erasure’s “oh l’amour.” (try it yourself at home!) i then turn to “oh l’amour” and i recognize the line: “broke my heart and now i’m achin’ for you.” “achin’ for you?” “AIKEN for you?”all of a sudden, i hear clay’s broadway melody over synths and tinny drums — it’s crazy enough to work, if andy’s content to play andrew to clay’s george.
let’s face it: erasure aren’t the world-beaters they used to be either; it seems mutually beneficial, to say the least. during the season, comparisons between clay and barry manilow were tossed about left and right. maybe it was the sportscoats; maybe it was the large gay fanbase. why not capitalize on it? a la the ‘abba-esque’ cd, this newly-minted supergroup could perform an ep of barry manilow covers. called ‘un-BARRY-ble.’ maybe something else. i just come up with the ideas, i’m not an ad firm. (answers to the usual address: best entry wins a handful of clay’s chest hair, as pictured on the ‘rolling stone’ cover.)
and if that doesn’t work… paging pete waterman…
rapper nelly’s neighborhood?: i don’t have a link for this since i just saw it on the “news” ticker on the e! network, but according to “industry sources,” nelly is in talks to star in (presumably, maybe he has more dramatic range than i think, though) his own sitcom this fall. no word yet if it’s to be called nellyville.
and speaking of nellyville, for those unaware, here’s the genesis of the term, taken from the village voice:
And so, the story goes, while test driving an SUV near St. Peters, Missouri, the roots-conscious rhyming millionaire discovered that the suburb was for sale. Succumbing to the nouveau riche urge to splurge, Nelly fantasized about purchasing the town and renaming it Nellyville. He bought the SUV instead of the burg, but the opposite move might have reconciled his sudden wealth, his attachment to home, and his acquired situational narcissism (i.e., the delusional state that allegedly made Winona Ryder go hog-wild at Saks Fifth Avenue). In fact, Mayor Tom Brown says, “St. Peters has never been up for sale, [nor do I] know of any other town for sale anywhere. At an assessed property value of [nearly] a billion dollars, I have no idea how anyone would think that they could ‘buy the city.’ “
justin and janet?: he says “bye bye bye” to alleged virgin britney and runs straight to the arms of self-proclaimed (and proclaimed and proclaimed, u.s.w.) freak janet. they first met when n’sync opened for janet…when justin was 16! most troubling couple since tobey mcguire and nicole kidman (or toby mcguire and heather graham?)
THICKE – “When I Get You Alone”
if there’s one name in rock that deserves to be delivered with caps lock on, it’s ANDREW W.K; about two car-lengths behind is THICKE. the emergence of this young singer confirms what many of us have long suspected, not to mention feared: alan thicke has been breeding again, and within the last twenty or so years.
like his old man, robin thicke is a practitioner of the songwriting craft, but whereas alan confined himself to the television theme song genre (diff’rent strokes, facts of life, wheel of fortune), robin has joined the growing ranks of pop/r&b artists. many people would try to conceal the fact that they’re the son of the guy who sang the theme to 1973’s ill-fated wizard of odds, but robin obviously revels in it. there is something unspeakably crapulent about the name THICKE in all capitals: perhaps it’s the monolithic excess it represents, or maybe because it calls to mind alan’s one-man off-broadway stage show, THICKE!, which was riddled with difficulties from day one. then again, maybe it’s just an american bias as it seems to be the very symbol of the canadians’ successful assimilation into our society, how they pass themselves off as one of us, conspire to steal our women, and monopolize our theme song industry.
the sins of the father, as they say, should not be revisited upon the son: robin has a song, and it’s not half bad at all. sure, kid rapper a+ beat him to the punch with the sample of “fifth of beethoven,” but robin uses it far more creatively and extensively. vocally, he falls somewhere in between justin timberlake and bobby brown; he places similarly on the freak scale, the lyrics making coy mention of putting one’s (preferably female) toys (e.g. a vibrator) away for the evening. what’s most disconcerting about the track, lineage notwithstanding, is the way the backing vocals and strings and synths create a wall of sound akin to michael jackson’s “thriller,” so it’s not so much “when i get you alone,” but “when i get you backed into a corner in this here dark alley.” anyone who’s seen the “thriller” video, and that means you, knows that that’s no way to get ola ray into bed –then again, michael jackson’s pops wasn’t the dad in growing pains.
timothy white, r.i.p. – somewhat lost in the midst of the news of john entwistle’s passing was word of the death of billboard editor-in-chief timothy white who died at the age of 50 of an apparent heart attack last night, just as the magazine was going to press. anyone who had his enthusiasm for music, loved the beach boys, and wore bow ties frequently is aces in my book.
VITALIC – “PONEY PART 1”
whenever i listen to sylvester’s “(you make me feel) mighty real,” i think, “this is music to snort coke to.” or, more craftfully, “mighty real” played as bianca j. got off one white horse and onto another in studio 54. the production is oleaginous and there’s an amphetamine-kick in its acceleration, but the intensity of sylvester’s vocal, an almost gospel-like fervor, suggests bright lights and packed dancefloors.
listening to vitalic’s poney ep, and “poney part 1” in particular, makes for a similar yet obverse experience. gone are the strobes and dancing girls, replaced instead by dark alleys and desperate men (and women). the production is not so far removed from sylvester: there’s a similar thickness, but the darker elements of the former are amplified and the kick drum seems uncannily persistent. synthesizers scream and vocals processed from a bad dream call out to the listener — if one chooses to accept it at face value, it’s music to mainline heroin to.
or maybe it’s the music that plays when miss kittin and her famous friends have sex every night in the back of her limousine, which is to say that, beneath the surface, it might just mean nothing at all. i can make one link between “mighty real” and “poney” with no vacillation whatsoever: no matter one’s drug of choice, and i’ve tried this at home, both still sound fantastic. and you can dance to them too.
r. kelly pleads case…in song: r. kelly delivered a new single, entitled — no joke — “heaven, i need a hug,” to chicago radio station wgci. listener response has been incredible — the song topped the station’s top 9 at 9 countdown. in the song, kelly takes aim at backstabbers, asks listeners to prolong judgement until all the facts are out there, and he tells the ladies to stop depending on men and to put their faith in the Man upstairs. having tuned in to the local urban stations in new york, i’m not surprised by the positive response since most new yorkers are either saying: (a) “let he who is without sin…” or (b) “wait until the facts…” and sometimes (c) “he’s in this position because he’s young, black, and wealthy…” dissenters are few but, as usual, they’re speaking for the Lord.