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Thursday, Feb 11, 2010

Musically, “In the End” is dead simple.  That’s because it’s played so fast.  Green Day holds to the theory that the faster one plays, the simpler the arrangement has to be so the song doesn’t become a blurry mess amidst all that distortion.  Played in a rollicking standard-issue punk rhythm, Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar sticks to two chords (A5 and G5 power chords) for the verses.  Even the typically dynamic breakdown section has Armstrong plucking out as few notes as possible on his instrument.  Not surprisingly, Armstrong’s vocals are the focus of attention in this brief burst of a song, issued in a staccato delivery that constantly arches upwards melodically.  The most exciting part of the song is definitely the elongated “Sooooooo” Armstrong belts out to bridge his way from the chorus back to the verse, enhanced by the music dropping out behind him for a measure.


“In the End” is a resentful screed against a girl who’s chosen to go with the guy that’s “all brawn and no brains”, instead of the speaker.  Inquiring, “How long will he last / Before he’s a creep in the past / And you’re alone once again?”, he pointedly asks if that’s really what she wants. Having figured out what he perceives to be her true colors, Armstrong references the best song on Dookie when he sings “I hope I won’t be there / In the end when you come around”. 


As catharsis, “In the End” does the job (in fact, it’s a great song to put on when faced with rejection and you aren’t partial to more morose musical tastes), but it doesn’t possess the depth a track like “When I Come Around” does.  Rare for a song on Dookie, it’s one-sided with no self-effacing reflection or critical introspection.  Sure, it’s common to feel wronged when the object of one’s affection chooses someone else, but it’s not as captivating as the times when Armstrong delves into his angst to confront his own flaws.  Still, it’s a testament to Armstrong’s knack for memorable phrases that he’s able to conjure up an image of why he detests his rival merely with the lines “Someone to look good with / And light your cigarette”.


Tagged as: green day
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Thursday, Feb 11, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

What exactly should a musician do after he and his band have recorded and released a masterpiece of musicianship and storytelling?  What should he do if this masterpiece had, almost immediately upon its release, begun to change the musical landscape of the day, clearly casting the band as Masters of the Form?  Basically, what should musicians do after they’ve landed a mothership?  Well, if you were George Clinton and the members of Parliament you would just “go back and get more of that funky stuff” and release an amazing sequel.


Mothership Connection was a musical game changer that made Parliament funk superstars, and they didn’t even wait a year to release its follow-up.  The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, released a mere seven months after its predecessor, was something completely new in the world of popular music—a second chapter, part two of the trilogy that Mothership Connection had begun, and it deepened the Parliament mythology.


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Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010

With the heroic phase of Dookie completed, we now enter the home stretch of the album’s tracklist.  To be frank, there aren’t any hidden gems of sonic awesomeness lurking amongst the album’s concluding numbers.  While none of the remaining tracks are duds, they’re all very workmanlike Green Day songs that don’t rise to the pop pinnacles of the album’s best material.  Still, there are a few points of note worth highlighting in the tail end of the record’s runtime.


The most noteworthy aspect of “Emenius Sleepus” is that it’s the only song on Dookie featuring lyrics written by bassist Mike Dirnt.  As opposed to chief lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong’s witty, brat-savant character studies, Dirnt’s words are less distinctive and more restrained.  Essentially a lament about two friends who have grown apart, Dirnt’s words are light on details, leaving it to the listener fill in the particulars of what exactly went down on his or her own.  Dirnt does express disgust at what has become of his former friend (“And now I think you’re sick / I wanna go home”), but his words are tinged with regret, particularly in the second verse lines “What have you done with all your time / And what went wrong”. 


Unlike Armstrong’s material, “Emenius Sleepus” doesn’t contain any spite (either internally or externally directed).  Instead, it’s the lyrical equivalent of shaking one’s head in disbelief at how an old acquaintance has changed.  Dirnt’s muted, reflective approach to Green Day lyrics can also be found in his words for the band’s first post-Dookie hit “J.A.R.”, a song so good it’s baffling that it never appeared on a proper album release.



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Tuesday, Feb 9, 2010
Just like it took years to realize what an incredible year 1999 was to cinema, expect the "What was the best album of the last decade?" debate to go on for years.

More than ten years ago, I was reading reviews of the just-released Flaming Lips album The Soft Bulletin. As Napster and music downloads were still pretty much in their infancy in 1999, and our one college radio station maybe played one song from The Soft Bulletin every third day or so, I trusted critics and shelled out the $15. All it took was one listen to floor me. But I kept thinking about the few reviewers who were claiming it as “Album of the Decade.” Really? A few months before the decade ends, how can you give that distinction to an album that you just listened to?


Hence the problem with decade lists. When I was making up my decade list last year, I started to count up the albums by year. There was a baffling 16 albums from the year 2000. About a dozen from 2002. And a scant three albums from 2008 and only four from 2009. When I made my “Ten Best” for the year 2000, there was absolutely no way I could have imagined that 16 albums from that year would end up on my “100 Best Albums of the Decade” list. At that time, I even had trouble coming up with ten albums I liked from that year.


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Monday, Feb 8, 2010
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

In 2008, the Grammy Museum featured singer-songwriter Mark Guerrero’s 1972 watershed Capitol Records single, “I’m Brown”, in an exhibit called Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom. A Chicano-pride song with a humanist heart, the song acknowledges pride in one’s background/ethnicity while also recognizing, to quote the lyric, “I’m first a member of the human race.” The nod from the Grammy Museum regarding this philosophically inclusive song is a fitting crowning achievement for Guerrero, a unique artist who has largely gone unnoticed by the masses, though he has been making music, both on major labels and DIY style, for five decades.


The son of the late, legendary Chicano songwriter Lalo Guerrero, Mark Guerrero began his career at age 13 with Mark & the Escorts, an East LA band who shared bills with “Eastside Sound” legends like Cannibal & the Headhunters and Thee Midniters. After a stint leading a group called The Men From S.O.U.N.D., Guerrero went on to record two singles for Capitol (the aforementioned “I’m Brown”, and “Rock & Roll Queen”) Later, he signed with A&M Records and released one album in 1973 with his group Tango (check out the dramatic back-story about Tango, written by Guerrero himself, here). Later, Herb Alpert , the “A” in A&M, Records, would go on to record Guerrero’s song “Pre-Columbian Dream” on his 1983 album, Noche de Amor. Guerrero has remained active and prolific over the past three decades as well, releasing several albums,  lecturing and consulting on various Latino-focused exhibits, shows, and concerts, and performing regularly with various groups, including his own.


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