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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2007

I’ll admit it, I was skeptical. I thought our own L.B. Jeffries might have sucked down one too many helium balloons as a small child when he took on the assignment of reviewing the American Idol Talent Challenge and actually decided he liked it. Of course, this meant I had to try it.  And you know what? He’s right. The quality of the little contraption you get in the box with the fairly disposable DVD with the judge snark and the Idol-specific karaoke tracks is actually quite high for such an inexpensive karaoke machine. It will work just fine with a typical karaoke DVD, it will work fine with your DVD-Audio copy of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (as long as you don’t mind singing along with Wayne Coyne), and L.B.‘s right, it works especially well when you want to insert your own Mystery Science Theater-style commentary into the latest DVD release of, say, Gigli. It’s a fun party contraption for adults, and I don’t think I have to explain why kids love the thing. Fifty bucks might seem a bit much for an American Idol-branded hunk of plastic, but the possibilities it opens up are surprising, not to mention lasting.


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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2007

Sam Pulsipher has many problems. Not only did he burn down Emily Dickinson’s home, but he also killed two people. And while he’s married and started to raise a family, the son of the victims begins to make life difficult for him. And then other writers’ homes start to go up in flames. Sam’s fictional memoir, which slavishly obeys the clichés of the genre, is one of the funniest books of this fall. Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England unsparingly anatomizes our penchant for narrating our lives—our bizarre insistence that our life doesn’t count until it fits a prepackaged set of cultural conventions. The book is a literary funhouse, and its best trick is how readily Clarke makes us believe in the gag. Sam is such an engaging bumbler that one’s heart goes out to him, one wants to believe in his story, even at those moments when it’s absolutely clear that we’re being had.


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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2007

The official visual documentation of the recent Springsteen world tour arrives just in time in the “American Land” like an injection of bottled euphoria after a deadly struggle with depression. A pot of coffee after a hang over, a smile from a pretty woman, a white flag rising from the air after a gut-shredding battle, dawn after dusk—Springsteen and his talented band blast through the wreckage of a war-weary nation, hurricane disaster zone, and de-industrialized poverty and crime-stricken wasteland that is still called the United States.



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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2007

For the environmentally conscious hippy or ‘60s soul head, UMe offers up four new entries in their Number 1’s series. These CDs are 100% paper-recyclable, a nice change of pace from the plastic-hungry standard jewelbox. They also look sharp and colorful with their classy duotone covers and #1 cut-outs with solid bright colors. Inaugurating this green series are red-hot Motown classics like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, and Motown Number 1’s Vol. 2, the CDs are packed to the gills with one standard after another.


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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2007

Featuring 15 tracks gathered from three earlier volumes of the venerable Ultra Lounge series, this compilation presents a nice sampling of Christmas music that ranges from the kitschy to the classic. Unlike many of the other albums in the Ultra Lounge series, however, the Christmas Cocktails discs don’t just feature quirky, odd, and occasionally cringe-inducing musical oddities, but also include some wonderful old chestnuts, including a number of lesser known jazz classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s. For example, when’s the last time you heard “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Mambo” by Billy May? Other highlights include Dean Martin’s terminally cool version of “Winter Wonderland”, Kay Starr’s “(Everybody’s Waiting For) The Man With the Bag”, “Happy Holidays” by Peggy Lee, and “The Merriest” by June Christy. For kitsch, you can’t beat “Jing-A-Ling” by The Starlighters, the easy listening medley of “Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus’ Party” by Ferrante & Teicher with Les Baxter (unfortunately appearing without his “Band of Reknown”), or “Christmas Island” by Bob Atcher & the Dinning Sisters (though I prefer the laidback version of the latter by Leon Redbone). Finally, the album wraps up with a previously unreleased instrumental version of “My Favorite Things” by Martin Denny, substituting an accordion for the more traditional vocal melody. Forty minutes of Christmas coolness—definitely worth picking up.


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