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by AJ Ramirez

20 Jan 2011


When discussing half-remembered post-grunge hits with my friend Dustin a few nights back (this happens more often than you would think), he argued that any greatest hits album released by the Pennsylvania quartet Live should simply contain a copy of the group’s 1994 album Throwing Copper inside. And, you know, I have to completely agree with that, and I think most everyone else would, too. Sorry, “Pain Lies on the Riverside”.

Oh, Live: stridently passionate, humorlessly sincere, and insufferably portentous, the band always had a habit of crossing the mark into becoming unbearably overwrought. Around before grunge had even penetrated popular consciousness, the members of Live were in fact ardent devotees of R.E.M., injecting their spiritually-tinged college rock with U2-sized bluster and self-importance as well as the occasional questionable white-funk bass lick. Forgive Pearl Jam, everyone: it was really Live who paved the way for Creed. Yet for one album the group managed to dial back its most grating tics, beef up the hook-per-song ratio, and turn out one of the most consistent rock albums of the ‘90s. Live coasted for a long time upon the goodwill generated by Throwing Copper—allowing the ensemble to vex rock radio with the likes of the leaden “Lakini’s Juice” and the atrocious Tricky team-up “Simple Creed”—yet the band’s second album holds up today better than you would expect, in large part due to the presence of industrial-strength hits “Selling the Drama”, “I Alone”, “Lightning Crashes”, and “All Over You”.

by Natasha Simons

19 Jan 2011


I imagine that most of you had the time-honored Dick Clark countdown special on at some point during your New Year’s Eve. And, unless you were studiously avoiding Mr. Clark right around that all-important midnight hour—perhaps starting on your midnight amorousness early?—I imagine also that you caught the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys joint performance, intended to advertise their upcoming tour together.  Perhaps you watched out of the corner of your eye, amused. Maybe you cracked a joke to a friend or partner about the increasingly inappropriate moniker of “boy”, suggesting the word was starting to lose all meaning for you. I doubt that, for most of you, you thought about the Backstreet Boys very much more after that.  But speaking for myself, and for a certain special contingent of ladies out there, the performance marked yet another stop in a very strange tour of duty.

Take it from a former super-fan: watching the Backstreet Boys perform after all these years is weird. Down one “boy”, the remaining four 30-somethings soldier on, having been unable to forge successful solo careers, and clinging somewhat remarkably to the decaying specter that is the boy band (even as I type the latter, the 12-year-old zealot in me cries foul at my once-unthinkable betrayal).  On New Year’s Eve, watching, cringing, at the less-than-stellar performance, I recognized that what I was watching was a show of relics going through the motions; it was as if something mummified had been raised from the dead, only to sing (croak) and dance (stagger) about the stage for some unknown purpose.

An anecdote: a friend of mine was unironically dragged to a Backstreet Boys concert a few years ago by a prospective girlfriend. As he tentatively swayed to the familiar music and swore never to call her again, he took stock of his surroundings. No one around him was over the age of fourteen. The music of his youth was no longer his, nor hers, nor for most of the fans who had once been so devoted.  These legions had been replaced by new ahistoric droves, apart from the initial formation and progression of the Backstreet Boys.

And what a progression, eh? Bursting onto the European pop scene in 1996, the BSB became internationally famous after only a few short years toiling in anonymity.  “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” climbed the charts. In 1997, they returned home to a loving public; hence, “Backstreet’s Back”. I, a ten-year-old girl, was part of that public. Having first joined the fanhood in order to fit in at my new suburban Texas elementary school, I quickly took to the enterprise with great zest. What follows now you will have to forgive me for.

by Evan Sawdey

18 Jan 2011


Common Grackle is about as uncommon a group as you’re likely to find. A collaboration between indie songwriter Gregory Pepper and the hip-producer Factor (who are both Canadian), Common Grackle’s debut album The Great Depression is a spry little rap disc that is dominated by acoustic guitars, acidic and cynical lyrics, and a Kool Keith cameo that’s as fun as it is totally unexpected.  When it is not lyrically dissecting all the hipster kids on tracks like “At the Grindcore Show”, the band find a dark heart beating at the center of the album’s title track, which features a morbid, snarky narrator facing uncertainty about taking his own life.  The band is unabashedly quirky, but unashamedly fearless, crafting an album that’s as funny and gut-wrenching as it is wholly unique, which is why The Great Depression remains one of 2010’s hidden musical gems.

Yet those who enjoy intelligent, wry pop music have gradually come around to Common Grackle, and just as its career is starting up, the band managed to take some time to respond to PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here discussing the “bored housewife” method of relaxation, why Bruce McCulloch was a brilliant actor, and how the works of Erik Satie has deeply affected Pepper himself . . .

by Corey Beasley

17 Jan 2011


“Out of Gas” marks something of a détente in The Lonesome Crowded West, an emotional cooling. Isaac Brock’s gently-whammied riff bounces along at a leisurely pace, as his bandmates follow suit and keep things toned down. The riff, as the central focus on the song, is as subtle of an earworm as anything else Brock produces on the record. In other words, “Out of Gas” marks the first real foray of The Lonesome Crowded West into straightforward pop songwriting. You can trace that pop streak through the band’s early catalog fairly easily, from its beginnings in “Breakthrough” on to “Out of Gas” and “Polar Opposites” (we’ll get to that soon enough) and into “Third Planet” and “Paper Thin Walls”. The rest of that trajectory, of course, should be well known to anyone who owned a radio in 2004.

Critics who dismiss Modest Mouse’s pop sensibilities generally began to do so after the band started to have some commercial success. That goes to say that fans embraced older songs like “Out of Gas” (and those Moon & Antarctica tracks up there, even more so) readily and without complaint (it’s also worth mentioning, if we’re taking this path, that We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank seems continually misunderstood by many listeners, derided as a too-polished “radio record” when it in fact holds the band’s most aggressive—and aggressively loud—material since, well, The Lonesome Crowded West). Whatever controversy the hit single “Float On” and its ilk would later create, the fact remains that Modest Mouse was, from the very outset, able to craft remarkable pop songs when it so chose. “Out of Gas” is one such gem, easy to overlook, surrounded as it is by show-stopping tracks on the rest of this album. Of course, it’s that very restraint that makes it successful.

by Sean Murphy

13 Jan 2011


“When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band. . . .” The rest was history, wasn’t it?

I am, of course, quoting from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, the second song from Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece, Born to Run (1975). It seems appropriate to send a shout-out to E Street Band member Clarence Clemons (a.k.a. the Big Man) on the occasion of his 69th birthday, and celebrate what I consider his finest moment—and one of the finer moments in rock and roll history. We’re talking about “Jungleland”, needless to say. It is a perfect song, closing an album that also begins with a perfect song (“Thunder Road”).

First, a bit of backstory may be useful, since it would seem that little more needs to be said regarding Born To Run: it certainly does not need anyone to make the case it clearly and indelibly makes for itself as one of the ultimate rock albums, no further questions or comments necessary. That it came as the result of a fanatical and obsessive quest on the young Springsteen’s part (he was 25 when it was released) is well-documented. What is less understood and, for younger fans who came to the party during (or after!) the ubiquity of Born in the U.S.A., is that after two critically-praised but commercially-D.O.A. albums, there was a very real chance that millions of frenzied fans would never get an opportunity to scream “Bruuuuuuce!” at concerts for the next several decades. The desperation, ambition, and yearning wrapped within each song was very real, and more than slightly mirrored the state of mind of this scruffy underdog who (not unlike Rush before it made 2112) had the balls to stay true to his vision and figure he would either hit a grand slam or go down swinging.

And the rest is history, isn’t it?

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