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Friday, Aug 28, 2009
Even now, "She's Like the Wind" remains one of the better love songs of the 1980s.

Pop history is littered with the remains of singles released by actors desperately craving careers in music, from the strained vocals of Don Johnson searching for a “Heartbeat” to the featherweight vocals of “Don’t Give Up on Us”, the cheesy (yet oddly touching) plea from David Soul. Eddie Murphy had two Top 40 hits, the instantly forgettable “Put Your Mouth on Me” and the major smash “Party All the Time”, both of which came across as bad vanity projects. Leighton Meester, Blair on Gossip Girl (The O.C. 2.0), is currently featured on the Top 10 hit “Good Girls Go Bad”, a Cobra Starship song that sounded dated five seconds after it first played on the radio.


It’s almost a rite of passage for actors. Once they’ve found success appearing in a television series or in movies, many of them immediately want to prove that they are more than just actors. So we get Bruce Willis recording a cover of “Respect Yourself” and John Schneider remaking “It’s Now Or Never” – not bad songs, per se, just not particularly memorable either.


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Thursday, Aug 27, 2009
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mall-Rock

I get a lot of flack for loving My Chemical Romance. As a 37-year-old woman who runs with a decidedly indie-rock-snob crowd, there is no end to the taunts when someone spots The Black Parade in between the Mudhoney and New Pornographers CDs. Not for nothing is there little mention of MCR on PopMatters, and not even the release that broke them worldwide, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, rates a review. “Real” music fans simply do not acknowledge such adolescent pablum, and rarely will they even deign to ridicule it. Mall-rock, they call it. Any band with bags full of Warner Brothers’ money behind it, that can fill stadiums with teenagers the world over and sell T-shirts hand over fist at Hot Topic, forfeits any right to serious appraisal. Even my hairstylist calls them My Chemical Tightpants.


So what happened to me? I heard “Helena” on the radio back when it was released in 2004, and found the chorus stuck in my head at all hours of the day and night. Later on, a friend, whose indie rock cred is airtight in my book, divulged (gasp!) that she was a fan. I bought the aforementioned Three Cheers, and that was all she wrote. I bought a car over a year ago that’s never seen another disc in slot #3 of it’s stereo. I have to wrestle with my nine-year-old son and my four-year-old daughter over who gets to wear which My Chem shirt on any given day.


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Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009

Music does not always cost money these days, but it always costs time, something just as disappointing when it’s wasted. On occasion I’ve found myself listening to a CD of interesting sonic experiments, yet concurrently wondered if it occurred to the artist to ensure the record was an entertaining experience.

The concept of entertainment in music is one that is often outweighed by the quest for artistic exploration, but it’s one that should not be forgotten. The journey should be as rewarding as the destination. Unless there’s something provided during the listening experience to make it a rewarding sensation, chances are repeat plays will be few.


Consider that most albums will take an hour out of your day; this is especially important if you’re the sort to tune out the world to the detriment of everything else going one around you during the recording’s run-time. Live gigs have even more of an imperative to give you sufficient entertainment value. Depending on the type of show you are attending, you pay anywhere from pocket change to a small fortune to get a look at your latest sonic infatuation, and if you’re going to be there for an hour and a half (not counting finding parking, entrance queues, the opening acts, and trying to leave at the same time everybody else does) you should come away with a feeling a bit more satisfied than “Ehh, it was alright”. No matter what kind of musician and regardless of genre, at the end of the day, you have to ask: has the artist made an effort to entertain you, and can you honestly say that you were entertained?


One group whose chief goal it always was to deliver an entertaining spectacle was Queen, rock’s consummate showmen.


Tagged as: queen
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Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009

Nothing makes you feel like a Johnny-come-lately quite like stumbling upon a new band, only to discover that all their releases are way sold out. So it goes with Cold Cave, a loose collective of delightfully noisy, new wave revivalists from Philadelphia who I happened upon this morning via the Matablog. Wesley Eisold, who formerly fronted totally crucial hardcore acts Some Girls and Give Up the Ghost, is the band’s principal, around whom a cast of contributors—including former Xiu Xiu member Caralee McElroy—rotates.


Luckily for us latecomers, Matador has seen fit to snap up the band and will re-release their full-length, Love Comes Close, on November 3. A collection of odds and sods, presumably culled from the band’s long out of print singles, will follow. In the meantime, listen to “Life Magazine,” a fuzzed-out slice of eminently danceable synth-pop with an invitingly childlike vocal assist from McElroy. As it turns out, McElroy’s backing vocals on Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s cover of “When You Were Mine” only hinted at her potential. On “Life Magazine” she comes into her own as a frontwoman who’s equal parts disarming and enigmatic—the distant echo of her voice only leaves the listener wanting more. Just try not to get hooked on this song—I dare you.


Cold Cave
“Life Magazine” [MP3]
     



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Monday, Aug 24, 2009
Pop Heroism, One Song at a Time

“Don’t You Want to Be There” - Jackson Browne
Written by Jackson Browne
From The Naked Ride Home (Elektra, 2002)


This V-C-V first appeared in slightly different form on pcmunoz.com, June 14, 2005


In his speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Bruce Springsteen coined a fitting term to describe Browne’s music: “California Pop-Gospel”. I like that description quite a bit, because not only does it distinctly locate Browne as a Californian artist, it also acknowledges a kind of spiritual component to his work. Like his musical soul-brother Bob Marley, Jackson Browne has often urged us to consider the state of our spiritual selves as well as our connectedness to others, concerns that are usually addressed in the liturgical realm. The fact that he writes about these concerns with probing self-doubt (and often self-indictment) is significant, and in my mind a major reason why his many admirers have such a strong, emotional bond with his work.


“Don’t You Want to Be There” is primarily a meditation. Like a lot of Browne’s best work, it will break your heart, call you to reflection, and inspire you to hopeful action, all in the span of one listen. It opens with a simple enough invitation: “Don’t you want to be there / Don’t you want to go / Where the light is breaking / And the cold clear winds blow?” Around the middle, that invitation softly becomes an encouraging challenge: “Don’t you want to be there? /  Don’t you want to cry / When you see how far you’ve got to go /  To be where forgiveness rules / Instead of where you are?” The last line of the last verse then contains the most potent variation of the titular question, one that no listener can escape: “Don’t you want to be where there’s strength and love /  In the place of fear?”


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