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Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010
This riveting tune by the New Wave icons remains a potent reminder of the power of a well-written three-minute pop single.

Let me tell you, Adam Ant is awesome. Boasting a natural charisma, cool pirate-themed outfits, and ridiculously-chiseled facial features, at the height of his powers in the early 1980s Ant was a pop star to behold. Certainly his heroic image was striking and well-timed following punk rock’s ascent and sputtering-out, but even Ant’s own force of personality would have been meaningless if he didn’t have songs like the 1981 single “Stand and Deliver” to back up his self-assured posturing.


Adam and the Ants’ string of early ‘80s hits is one of the most unconventional runs of chart busters from any artist. Tunes like “Kings of the Wild Frontier”, “Antmusic”, and especially “Prince Charming” were bizarre tribal calls that mixed world music exotica with messianic self-belief. Of those hits, the group’s first UK chart topper “Stand and Deliver” has one of the more conventional song structures, sticking the tried-and-true verse/chorus/bridge pop outline. The wedding of that structure to the Ants’ trademark sound (defined by clacking Burundi polyrhythms and Marco Pirroni’s twangy guitar lines) is what makes “Stand and Deliver” the group’s most indelible song for me. The Ants always threatened to overtake the pop world, and here they turn out the ultimate pop single of the time.


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Tuesday, Oct 19, 2010
An unfairly named, unfairly shunned, and completely unhip genre, adult alternative, in my opinion, is producing some of the best new music these days, and you don't have to be a project manager with two kids and a suburban home to enjoy it. Here I examine three examples of the best records in said genre from this year.

According to the definition from the king of genre explanations, allmusic.com, adult alternative is “a smooth, melodic, radio-friendly style that packaged alternative’s mellower side for wider consumption”. Some mainstays of the genre include Jeff Buckley, late-era Goo Goo Dolls, my beloved Crowded House, my personal deity Aimee Mann, and—give me a moment to vomit in my mouth a bit—Dave Matthews Band. I suppose it’s adult contemporary with an edge. The three artists profiled here are undoubtedly part of this movement, and while it seems unfair to pigeonhole them into something for adults, genres exist for a reason and I’m not going to cry over it.


My first experience with bona fide adult alternative was David Gray’s “White Ladder” in 2000, when I was 18 years old. Growing up a punk rocker, and still considering myself one to a certain extent, I felt that my sheer enjoyment of that record was somewhat traitorous. But punk rock, God bless it, can be a limited genre that doesn’t take kindly to other genres, and the older I got, the more I found myself branching out, exploring more and more different types of music, and finding excellence everywhere. I no longer should, and I no longer do, feel any guilt. We should never limit ourselves, because art is subjective, and beauty can be found everywhere.


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Thursday, Sep 30, 2010
Radiohead -- The Mightiest Band This Side of the Stone Roses -- got its start by ripping off Catherine Wheel.

When Radiohead’s “You” saw its proper release as the lead track on the band’s debut album Pablo Honey (1993), listeners were greeted by a sparse chiming guitar figure that wrapped gently around itself before being pummeled by an onslaught of buzzsaw riffs and bottom-heavy drumming. When Catherine Wheel’s “Texture” saw its proper release as the lead track on the band’s debut album Ferment (1992), listeners were greeted by a sparse chiming guitar figure that wrapped gently around itself before being pummeled by an onslaught of buzzsaw riffs and bottom-heavy drumming.


There are a few ways to historicize this one. First, we could get all technical and argue about how “You” was released in seriously limited fashion on Radiohead’s Drill EP in 1992, which came out just prior to Ferment. The other is to state the obvious: Radiohead evolved out of the swirly waters of post-Loveless shoegaze, which oozes all over both Pablo Honey and Ferment. The other is to make a slightly bolder claim: Radiohead—The Mightiest Band This Side of the Stone Roses—got its start by ripping off Catherine Wheel. Since I’ve never been prone to impartiality, and since Radiohead left “You” in pretty much the same shape during the year between Ferment and Pablo Honey’s release, I’m going with the third option.


The implications of that thesis are pretty major, as the past twentyish years have seen Radiohead’s stock rise astronomically, while about half of Catherine Wheel’s stellar catalogue has slipped out of print. Thankfully, Cherry Red intervened and reissued Ferment in expanded form earlier this year. It’s a welcome reissue that gets just about everything right, which can often be a rarity with these campaigns.


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Wednesday, Sep 15, 2010
The reason I love Lady Gaga is she gives you so much more to like without the sour aftertaste of the explicitly sincere. With a bewildering assault of daring and reticence, she has buried herself completely until all that's left is aftershocks of passionate commentary and loaded imagery.

I love Lady Gaga. You can count my vote with the pro-Gaga factions in the cultural war. Everyone has an opinion; it’s all too much fun to join in the fray side-by-side with the likes of the intellectual and critical touchstone The Atlantic and the high-school-science-project, conspiracy-theory website The Vigilant Citizen, not to mention that haughty, freaky-folky mistress of song, Joanna Newsom. They’ve all gone on record in the past few months about the Gaga’s debatable cultural relevance. Is she the savior of pop? Is she the harbinger of the pop Armageddon? Is she a feminist or a brat? Or is she—is she?—a puppet of the Illuminati literally hell-bent on her mission to brainwash the masses?


Gaga has taken the world by storm in the past two years with a flood of hit singles, strange outfits, and stranger music videos. Her sense of fashion, fearsome ambition, and superstar status invite comparisons to Bowie, Bolan, and Madonna, but it’s hard to say (despite how much it is said) whether she’s an original blend or a regurgitated mixture of her influences. Maybe part of the reason everyone else is so confused about her image is that the singer herself seems uncertain of her motives. She embraces cheap escapism, but she has pretensions to high art. She claims her inspiration from adolescent heartbreak (and she appeals tremendously to that demographic) but her videos consciously employ controversial imagery and abstract, fragmented stories that repel literal interpretation.


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Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010
Swedish singer-songwriter project Foreign Slippers casts a singularly bewitching spell. Let's hope another salvo comes our way soon.

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. Wise words, and ones that spring to mind when I think of receiving parcels of review discs in the post. Since I’ve been reviewing records, I’ve grown accustomed—almost addicted—to the kind of anticipation these packages bring when they drop through the letterbox. It’s rarely the case that there’s something specific I’ve asked to hear, so that doesn’t explain it. No, more often than not, I choose to be given random selections, each cache bringing with it a slim but ever-present possibility that something special might come my way. Occasionally “special” means something I hear which, while never going to set the world aflame, I immediately forge a strong personal attachment to, not just in terms of liking a record, but also somehow beginning to feel almost connected to it. In September 2008, Foreign Slippers’ debut EP Oh Death was one such example.


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