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by Darren Ratner

23 Mar 2010

Now that Captain Kirk is almost 80, I’ll go ahead and confess to being a true Shatner fan, even if I’ve never been a Trekkie, never seen Boston Legal, never cared for the Priceline commercials, and found that my only favorite Shatner moment was he and Will Smith getting high on laughing gas during an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

I’m not sure what’s funnier: Shatner himself making fun of Star Trek or Will Smith making fun of Star Trek. Either way, when Shatner grabs Alfonso Ribeiro and says “Scotty you’re…black!”, it’s hysterical.

by AJ Ramirez

23 Mar 2010

I have to confess, I’m not too familiar with the musical oeuvre of the recently-passed Alex Chilton. Most of what I know about the late Big Star frontman stems from laurels handed out by disciples such as the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck.  Don’t worry, fellow music aficionados; I do plan to thoroughly acquaint myself with the Chilton back catalogue over the next week. Certainly my primary reason for doing so is to explore the music of one of the most-lauded cult figures of rock ‘n roll, but another reason is because some frequently grumpy yet supremely talented guy named Paul Westerberg wrote a song about his hero that makes a very convincing case for Chilton’s artistic importance by virtue of being so effectively heartfelt in its admiration.

Yes, the Replacements’ 1987 single “Alex Chilton” is mired in a reverb-heavy production that dates the recording heavily and robs song of some of its punch. Its sound is a telling grab for commercial radio airplay by one of the founders of alternative rock, an ambition that would later sink the group for good. Nonetheless, the song overcomes its faults to become of the Mats’ greatest anthems. That’s because it’s instilled with an exuberance and conviction that overwhelms the band’s penchant for self-sabotage. In “Alex Chilton” we don’t get Westerberg the brat or Westerberg the misanthrope (although both personas resulted in stellar moments elsewhere in the Replacements discography). Here we get Westerberg the hopeless romantic, a man who wore his heart on his sleeve arguably better than any other songwriter of his generation. When Westerberg belts out the lines “I never travel far / Without a little Big Star” right before the guitar solo is unleashed, he’s as passionate about his love for Chilton’s music as he is in any of his ballads.

The Replacements practically charge through “Alex Chilton” in an effort to reach the promised land of the song’s infectious chorus. And what a chorus!  Setting it up with a surging prechorus where Westerberg contemplates a world in which the underappreciated Chilton’s music was heard by far more souls than had ever actually picked up a Box Tops or Big Star record (“Children ‘round the world sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ‘round”), the band that made such a potent declaration of discontent with “Unsatisfied” sounds like it wouldn’t want to be anywhere else when it hits those chorus hooks.  The words are straightforward (“I’m in love / What’s that song? / I’m in love / With that song”), yet when filtered through Westerberg’s ragged-yet-aching pipes they are both an epiphany and a loving statement of devotion.

Really, the appeal of “Alex Chilton” is a testament to both the Replacements and to the song’s namesake. Paul Westerberg’s talents as a singer/songwriter in his mid-‘80s prime were such that he could encapsulate his feelings regarding one of his favorite musicians in just a few choice lines. But he wouldn’t have anyone to focus his pop song hero worship if not for the late Mr. Chilton, a man who judging solely by this song most certainly earned his legend. And if Westerberg can’t go anywhere without some Chilton tunes playing on his stereo, I sure as hell need to start catching up on the man’s legacy.

by Alex Suskind

23 Mar 2010

MGMT
Congratulations
(Sony/Columbia)
Releasing: 13 April

Recording the follow-up to your critically-acclaimed debut album has to be a nerve-wracking affair. As a band, do you go with the same sound/formula you used on the first record? Or, do you venture outside the box and approach things from a completely different perspective? On MGMT’s sophomore album Congratulations, they successfully manage to do both.

Currently streaming on their homepage, the duo’s new record is decorated with the same new wave synthesizer riffs and catchy pop melodies they used on their first album, Oracular Spectacular in 2008. But this time, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden have injected the album’s nine songs with a heavy dose of prog rock and ‘60s psychedelia (that is, more psychedelia than the first album).

SONG LIST
01 It’s Working  
02 Song for Dan Treacy  
03 Someone’s Missing  
04 Flash Delirium  
05 I Found a Whistle  
06 Siberian Breaks  
07 Brian Eno  
08 Lady Dada’s Nightmare  
09 Congratulations

by PopMatters Staff

23 Mar 2010

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In the latest installment of the AV Club’s “Under Cover” project, the very indie Fruit Bats cover the very mainstream pop ‘70s and ‘80s hitmakers Hall & Oates. It’s a pretty faithful take and mostly great fun, except for a few off-key moments from Eric D. Johnson.

by L.B. Jeffries

23 Mar 2010

Dante’s Inferno is not a game for someone expecting to experience a precise reading of the poem. Video games and linear storytelling don’t get along very well, and unless you’re dealing with a genre built around delivering content, the plot is always going to remain in the background. An interview with the game’s Creative Director, Jonathon Knight, at Gamasutra explains their approach, “The Divine Comedy is a three part piece that’s 14,000 lines, and… there’s a lot going on there, and I think the game is clearly taking the top couple of layers of that, but it does not go deep into the more theological, or philosophical, or what-have-you elements of the poem. Ultimately the game is this gateway into Dante’s vision of Hell, but it’s not meant to replace a reading of the poem, obviously, which is much more sophisticated” (Christian Nutt, “The Road To Hell: Creative Direction in Dante’s Inferno”, Gamasutra, 5 February 2010). Knight explains later that they wanted to rely more heavily on the unique ability of video games to create a sense of place by having the game be a brawler but featuring elaborate setpieces to break up the fighting. Since the game relies heavily on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation of the poem, I’ll be citing that translation for this post.

Boiling down the first book of the Divine Comedy to its surface elements is a bit trickier than it sounds because you either think the poems are about three stages of the afterlife or that they’re about Dante’s spiritual transformation as he grapples with accepting God’s authority. Dante himself wrote in a letter to Can Grande della Scala, “The subject…of the whole work, taken literally, is the condition of souls after death, simply considered…But if the work be taken allegorically, the subject is man, how by actions of merit or demerit, through freedom of the will, he justly deserves reward or punishment.” (172) Given that the game re-imagines Dante as a Crusader who wields Death’s scythe, who can absolve damned souls to Heaven, and who can shoot super spirit crosses using a crucifix, it seems safe to say that the game is not taking the literal approach to the poem.

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