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Friday, Jul 29, 2011
Though the troubled UK singer seems to fit the bill for rock 'n' roll's fabled 27 Club, Amy Winehouse will almost surely face some resistance.

Music journalists, rock critics, and casual music historians like to tell stories. They like to frame narratives, paint parallels, and place our heroes into the framework they’ve invented. And though this is very much a part of the rock ‘n’ roll tradition, it’s foolish to assume the rock stars are knowingly playing along. The “27 club” is one such narrative, involving a curiously high number of rock ‘n’ roll legends whose mercurial brushes with glory crashed and burned at that early age. Through dozens of names from here and there have been tossed in, the club holds a select few “core members”: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and original Rolling Stone Brian Jones.


But why 27? Perhaps there’s something inherently dangerous and sexy about an artist, particularly a rock star, going out on top. Twenty-seven is a crooked number, with the artist old enough to have pumped out a classic, but young enough to have avoided the myriad trappings of the inevitable aging process. The club’s lineage can be loosely traced to pioneering bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 of a mysterious strychnine poisoning. Once Buddy Holly died less than two years into his rapid rise to fame (albeit not at 27), music fans, too, were introduced to the tragedy and legend of the dead rock star.


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Thursday, Jul 14, 2011
Didn't Kurt Cobain perform as a teenage girl? If Nirvana did inspire an entire generation, then we really should be receiving Miley Cyrus' cover performances in a much more educated fashion than we are.

I will readily admit that I do not tend to keep up on much of anything that Miley Cyrus does. Her Twitter dis was too much for me to bear. Therefore, I was a bit surprised at myself for clicking on Stereogum‘s brief piece on her recent cover of “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz. (Hey, it was listed as one of the site’s “most commented” articles when I made that particular trip around the Internets. Whatevs.) In any case, while I was reading the article, I took the bait and searched out the apparently now-sort-of-(in)famous clip of Cyrus covering Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Dig the DIY footage below:




As should be expected, this performance elicited all kinds of caterwauling from the Nirvana faithful. The outcry is perhaps best captured in the comments to the TMZ post about Cyrus’s cover of the sacrosanct grunge anthem.


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Friday, Jun 17, 2011
Paul McCartney's effortless musical mastery (with no suffering artist gimmick) robs him of the serious consideration he deserves. But like literature and film's greatest auteurs, he will eventually undergo the Hitchcock / Shakespeare transformation from popular entertainer to century-defining artist.

In the year 2300, alien inhabitants will revere Paul McCartney in the same way Mozart and Beethoven are today. Paul McCartney is an artist of the first rank. The notion that he is talented yet slight (particularly in regards to his solo years) simply doesn’t exist except through the lens of Rolling Stone‘s post-Beatles breakup John Lennon worship. McCartney’s effortless mastery (with no suffering artist gimmick) robs him of the serious consideration he deserves.


Paul McCartney just isn’t hip. This week’s reviews of McCartney and McCartney II by Pitchfork are steeped in irony. The site gives the album that molded the entire sound of Pitchfork-branded indie of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s a 7.9; while a record that eclipses the presently hyped synthpop-chillwave fare received a 7.2. McCartney doesn’t get much love from the Rolling Stone old boys club either. An album like Ram is far better than the likes of the usual “top 10 album” mainstays like OK Computer and London Calling. Furthermore, Ram is the only solo Beatles album that maintains the impeccable standard of the ‘65-‘69 Beatles albums, a run that was largely orchestrated by McCartney. Argue whether Lennon or McCartney wrote better songs during this period if you must, but make no mistake: McCartney was the visionary behind every Beatles album starting with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.


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Thursday, Jun 16, 2011
Lady Gaga preaches acceptance and love. However, her music videos teach that love is only for the beautiful.

With over one million copies sold in its first week and three top ten singles leading up to its release in the US alone, Lady Gaga’s new album Born This Way has become a cultural phenomenon, in which Gaga’s declaration of individuality leads all her little monsters to the glorious truth: I’m OK, you’re OK. Actually, we’re all fierce and fabulous. 


Last year’s media attention on bullying seemingly inspired a slew of affirmation songs (for instance, Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Taylor Swift’s “Mean”), but no one has embraced the self-acceptance theme with the fervor of the Lady. This pops up repeatedly throughout the new CD, nowhere more clearly in the title track, in which she advises, “Don’t hide yourself in regret / Just love yourself and you’re set.” Why? Because you were born that way, baby, whatever “way” that might be. A more personal plea comes in “Hair”: “I just wanna be myself / And I want you to love me for who I am.”


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Thursday, May 26, 2011
There's another theme to the well-received new album from the chart-topping Chicago punk band besides cutthroat riffs and raucous drums: the end of the world.

Graduating in the same class as mainstream punk rock acts Green Day, Anti-Flag, the Offspring, and others, Chicago, Illinois-based band Rise Against crafts songs born of an ennui that long ago boiled over into rage. And there’s plenty to rage about, of course. Economic hardship, domestic and international imbroglios, and a rash of other injustices—plenty evidence for a gloomy forecast on the future. Add to this mix the prophecies of oddballs like Harold Campbell, the California man who caused a worldwide fervor when he predicted the Rapture would literally occur on May 21, 2011. These problems, and the anxiety they cause, infest Rise Against’s latest album, Endgame (2011)—a hymnbook of laments from a frustrated generation.


For the past ten years, Rise Against has conducted a series of Platinum- and Gold-certified seances where it channeled the collective consciousness of the self-proclaimed “orphans of the American dream”, those who grew up in the shadows of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, children who came of age in a era where people tweet about a tsunami’s rampage one minute and Justin Bieber the next. Obsessed with the search for truth, the band’s lyrics personify the anger beneath modern malaise, and document what happens when the inability to discern right from wrong collides with the desire to do so. What results, perhaps not surprisingly, is music rife with religious terminology.


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