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Monday, Feb 15, 2010
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” - Isaac Hayes
Written by Jimmy Webb
From Hot Buttered Soul, (Enterprise, 1969)


“By the Time I Get to Arizona” - Public Enemy
Written by Carlton Ridenhour, Cerwin Depper, Gary G-Wiz, Stuart Robertz, and Neftali Santiago
From Apocalypse ‘91… The Enemy Strikes Black, (Def Jam/CBS, 1991)


These two songs are bound together, musically, lyrically, and spiritually, by the inventively funky vision of the artists, and by both artists’ commitment to civil rights. In 1969, after taking a break from music in the wake of the death of his close friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Isaac “Ike” Hayes took a country/pop hit performed by Glen Campbell and turned it into a striking, 18:40 soul-sermon about love and leaving. Twenty-two years later, Chuck D of Public Enemy (PE) borrowed the title of Isaac’s tune, swapped a state for a city, and lit into that state’s racially-charged refusal to acknowledge the holiday for Dr. King. Isaac Hayes and Public Enemy are both unabashedly funky, strong, cerebral-in-a-good-way, and multi-dimensional in their approach to conveying their desired message.


Hayes’ version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” begins with a hypnotic ride cymbal and organ (courtesy of the Bar-Kays), and Hayes’ stretched-out rap exploring the meaning of the song. He gives it an incredible back-story, expanding on Webb’s emotionally detailed lyric. He also breaks into little melodic moans every now and then, but for the most part, he sustains a very compelling, spoken-word-only intro for about nine minutes or so. Many old-school R&B songs have brief, spoken explanatory intros or interludes (e.g., the Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her?”, Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “All About Love”, )—but Ike really shows off here, digging deep and coming up with a fascinating narrative to complement Webb’s song. His “sermon” is packed with details about the protagonist’s “love blindness”, the nonchalant emotional (and financial) exploitation of the protagonist at the hands of his partner, sexual betrayal, and the dangers of mistaking a kind heart for a weak constitution.


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Friday, Feb 12, 2010

Some people might think that linking the inherently profound nature of Meshell Ndegeocello’s music to her sexuality is profane, but I think the link is damn near sacred. Only a handful of pop stars sing about anything other than sex not love, money not real power, and heartache to lament over relationships where neither partner initially respected themselves, let alone the other. Screen stars mimic the same, as violence, female subordination, and vilification of the poor permeate so much of our pop imagery. We can still easily count the number of female leading roles in Hollywood, and the absence of women from the corporate leadership behind our multi-billion dollar music and film industries attests to its antiquation.


Granted, the world is not as two-dimensional as straight/gay or black/white, so initially these sweeping generalizations might insult. For example, consider the number of queer people co-opted into reproducing the straight hegemony, and for this the fashion industry is exemplar. See all the fags creating stick-figure clothes and ho-heel shoes for real-world women?  Can you say eating disorder and diminished self-confidence?


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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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