CFP: The Legacy of Radiohead's 'The Bends' 20 Years On [Deadlines: 29 Jan / 12 Feb]

 
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Thursday, Feb 10, 2011
What does it mean to be rocked? Often, it's just best to let the music overtake you.

Rock is my favorite style of music by far, and I have to say, a large part of the genre’s basic appeal to me is so instinctive it’s a disservice to try to intellectualize or quantify it. At the end of the day, it’s that gut feeling I get from listening to the music—the primal sensation of “being rocked”—that often endears a rock song to me. Fact: I will never get sick of hearing distorted guitars that bash out killer riffs—indeed, I often teach myself how to play them on guitar so I can play them endlessly to my heart’s content.


This is a somewhat long-winded setup to explain that earlier this week I taught myself how to play Judas Priest’s heavy metal classic “Breaking the Law”, riff and all, because it’s totally awesome you guys. Yes, that is my well-thought out rationale for pursuing the undertaking. And if any style of rock music is duty-bound to adhere to a criteria of being “totally awesome” to determine its intrinsic worth, it is metal. Priest knows how to be awesome: decked out in studded black leather, singer Rob Halford habitually drives onto a concert stage on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, dismounting to whip the crowd into a frenzy as they are attacked by the twin lead guitar assault of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing. We’re long past the point where such stagecraft can be dismissed by haters as silly macho posturing for dimwitted metalheads. Expert showmen and terrific musicians in any case, Halford and Co. know what the audience wants and how to deliver. The leather, the metal, the sonic onslaught: it’s all honed to perfection for the express purpose of making you feel rocked.


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Thursday, Jan 20, 2011
Painfully earnest and soberly overwrought, for one album and one song in particular Live managed to convincingly sell the drama.

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”.


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Thursday, Jan 13, 2011
"Jungleland" employs the epic, almost operatic strategy Bruce Springsteen developed on the first two albums, but this is at a whole other level.

“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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Thursday, Jan 6, 2011
The Beach Boys are my favorite band, and all following pop composers are compared to the incomparable standard of Brian Wilson, the true pop genius

The Beach Boys are my favorite band. I still can’t seem to give up the idea that the Beatles were the “greatest”. They never released a bad album, and were the prototype for all rock bands to follow. The Beatles were elite for a longer stretch of albums, but at his peak Brian Wilson topped them. The shining star of pop, Wilson achieved the highest levels possible in the realm of popular music. He wrote, arranged, and produced. The Beatles + George Martin wrapped into one. All following pop composers are compared to the incomparable standard of Brian Wilson, the true pop genius. Here’s my top ten Beach Boys LPs.


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Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010
Tears for Fears don't get much respect. Even in the wake of Donnie Darko, they're mostly considered an afterthought in pop history. Yet, in an era that favors stripped-down, no-fi production, the sheer majesty of Tears for Fears' sound is surprisingly refreshing.

In the not-so-distant past, the roundtable of NPR’s All Songs Considered sat down to discuss the ‘80s. What was at times a thoughtful discourse on the much-maligned decade more often than not devolved into a bunch of aging hipsters laughing at synthesizers. At one point, a panel member (I can’t recall whom) brought up Tears for Fears. Immediately, Bob Boilen (the host) recoiled in disgust. After some coaxing from the forgotten panel member, he reluctantly began to spin “Head over Heels”. Before the synth-laden opening bars of the song could even give way to the first verse, he hit the faders, gasping, “I can’t even get past the damn opening keyboard!”


Nineteen eighty-five was 25 years ago. I wasn’t even born yet, but given my childhood worship of Marty McFly, that’s still pretty hard to believe. To many, Back to the Future is about the only thing worth celebrating from that year (the Goonies and The Breakfast Club notwithstanding). Yet seemingly lost on pop culture historians is the anniversary of another massively successful piece of pop art celebrating its first quarter-century: Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair.


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