July 29, 2009

July 21, 2009

Fart to Get it Back Again

Pearl Jam's new single, "The Fixer," reviewed.

I've been shitty at the internet lately. Firefox is not playing any YouTube videos for me (aka The Google Chrome Conspiracy), I'm frustrated about Verizon Wireless's lack of Flash access, and I'm being dramatic on FaceBalls (Faceslash /Faceslash). The Internet is Serious Business indeed.

Nonirregardless, I am here to talk the musics. The first thing I'm going to do is listen to the new Pearl Jam song called "The Fixer." This song is a big deal for a lot of reasons. The upcoming album Backspacer is their first without a record label's support. It also reunites them with producer Brendan O'Brien who recorded many of their early albums and recently remixed their debut album Ten for re-release. Most importantly, this album may be the first Pearl Jam album that I don't buy.

I was incredibly disappointed by their last album (the one with the avocado). There was one song that I loved ("Parachutes") but the rest of the album put me to sleep. It was one in a string of shitty albums I was buying by artists that I thought could do no wrong, but all sounded very stale. I don't know if I changed, or if they changed. Or if America changed. All I know is that if I can change and you can change, everybody can change.

I remember a joke that Eddie Vedder once told in Spin:
Q: How many members of Pearl Jam does it take a change a light bulb?
A: Change?!? We're not gonna change for anyone!
I've listened to 33 seconds of "The Fixer" and it's not bad. Pearl Jam premiered another track on The Tonight Show recently called "Got Some" and I wasn't impressed. The performance was not particularly memorable. The mix wasn't so hot. The vocals were low and weak. People accused it of plagiarizing a Devo tune that I didn't know nor cared to investigate. I'm feeling pretty neutral about "The Fixer" so far. The intro sounds familiar for some reason, and the verses are nice. The vocal melodies are not like anything I've heard them attempt before. They don't necessarily earn Eddie Vedder a gold star just yet, but it is good that after nine albums, they aren't rehashing the same old tricks. I think I just heard "When something's good/I wanna fart to get it back again." Nice. Farts.

I think I just heard the chorus. It sucked. I hope that's not really the chorus. A lot of "Yeah yeah yeah's." Like Rage Against the Cage, but not ironic.

Second verse, slightly different from the first. I think Eddie may have a cold. I thought I detected a stuffy nose earlier, and his powerful howling does not appear as bombastic as it could. Musically, the song is getting prettier as it goes, which is good. I like pretty.

1:23 - I think I may be in the bridge, but EV is beating that once-interesting vocal melody to death.

1:32 - I was wrong. THIS is the bridge. I don't believe we needed the third verse for the last 15 seconds. On the bright side, it was at least abbreviated. The bridge is ok. As a bridge, it sounds bridgey, and it bridges what needed to be bridged. The progression progresses progressively and that's progress. The third and seventh chords are a bit of a surprise and momentarily jarring. It took 8 replays of the bridge before it sounded smooth to me, but I like it.

Now we're back to that intro riff, I just realized where I've heard this before--it reminds me of a WJ and the Sweet Sacrifice riff. Check out "White Horses" on their Myspace page. WJ (Billy Alpha) was the one who showed me that Rage Against the Cage link recently. We played on a song together this weekend and he borrowed some RAtC "Uh huh's" and "Oh yeah's" for the lyrics. Rage Against the Cage borrows from Eddie Vedder, and now Pearl Jam is borrowing from WJ. "Fart to get it back again" is clearly about stealing riffs.

Or not.

OK, so the song fades which is sort of a cop-out. Maybe it's just for the streaming Myspace version, I'm not sure. I was getting bored with the "Yeah, yeah" parts anyway. The music was decent for the outro/choruses, but the lyrics should have either been more interesting, or removed completely. Or a solo or something. I'd rather have preferred something much more dramatic to wrap up the song. Like a fart sound. Or a light bulb changing.

Just to sum up here: The song is decent, but not amazing. I don't think it has a chorus, but there are still some hooks. I think I've already listened to "The Fixer" more times than The Avocado Album, but I'm still not ready to fork over any cash. I don't think I'd turn the dial if I heard it on the radio. I should mention that I did enjoy Eddie Vedder's Into the Wild soundtrack very much, so I haven't written them totally off. We'll see what I think when I'm able to preview more tracks in September.

All right, I've run out of time to dissect the new Michelle Branch song, so I'll have to leave you with a video of my band ripping off WJ and the Sweet Sacrifice, Conan O'Brien, and Eddie Vedder all at once. We also throw in Tim & Eric, Faith No More, and "Birthday Sex" for good measure. This was recorded by blogmigo Zac Clark, Rocker Tycoon a couple weeks ago at one of Jersey City's weekly Groove on Grove concerts. I encourage you to record your own video ripping it off, or write a review of talking about my once-powerful howling not being bombastic anymore. Apparently all I need to do is fart to get it back again.

July 13, 2009

I Wish I Could Shave You

This past weekend I shut my eyes every time a Bruno commercial came on the television. I don’t know if they just really ramped up the advertising this past weekend to make sure that everyone remembers that HEY BRUNO CAME OUT AND THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AND WE’RE GOING TO KEEP SHOWING YOU THIS COMMERCIAL UNTIL YOU JUST GO SEE IT, or if it’s been like this for weeks and I just watch such little television. I do want to see the movie. I know I want to see it based on how much I enjoyed Borat, and that’s all. I don’t need incessant commercials to convince me any further. In fact, seeing all the jokes ahead of time would convince me to just until it comes out on DVD.

But you didn’t come here today to hear about movies, you came for the long awaited and painfully belated Kelly Clarkson album review. Like Bruno commercials, I've been avoiding all Kelly Clarkson reviews so I could come up with my own inarticulate over-hyphenated third-grade vocabulary-filled re-view-.

FIRST, I must give a quick update on My December album review from two years ago on Myspace that I linked some folks to earlier today. That last hidden track at the end of the album is actually called “Chivas” not “Shit List” or “Shivers” or whatever I thought I was hearing. I don’t know why I'm ashamed that I got it wrong—it’s not listed in the liner notes. She was allegedly drunk when she wrote it (video below) and I think I was drunk when I wrote the review, so it’s all good.

The two songs that I loved from the last album “Be Still” and “Can I Have a Kiss” were never released as singles. The single that was released (“Never Again”) did well, but did not hit number one. The second single, “Sober,” barely broke the top 100. Speaking of “Sober,” I’m getting a beer.

I was really rooting for her on that last album because she co-wrote all of the songs and then The Man told her it wasn’t good enough. She said it was and refused to change it. They put it out the way she wanted it, and in this story the good guys did not win. The Empire Struck Back. Ok, yeah, she sold a shitpotload of albums, but not nearly as many as the one before called Since U Been Gone and A Bunch of Other Hits Specifically Engineered So You’re Guaranteed to Love and Buy. Truth be told, and as you’ve probably (not) read in the last review, there really weren’t a lot of great songs on My December. Forget the hit machine that she was raging against. The majority of the songs were just blah.

Fast forward to Now, now. It’s obvious that the My December experiment affected Kelly Clarkson's pride because on All I Ever Wanted she's back with a vengeance. And by vengeance, I mean armed with a bunch of songwriters. 9 of the 16 songs (Deluxe version with 2 bonus tracks) were written entirely by someone else. On one hand, this sort of really pisses me off. Ok, on both hands it pisses me off.

Let’s begin the immersion.

“My Life Would Suck Without You” – The first time I heard this song I immediately thought “Since U Been Gone Pt. 2” and I looked Kelly in the face and I said, I said “Kelly,” I said “you let the terrorists win.” It was bad because it was a retread of an earlier hit. It was twice as bad because it the first single. It was three times as bad because it was a step backwards from the whole “I want to be a respected songwriter” stance on the last album. Remember back when Nickelback first started sucking cock and people were putting out recordings of two of their songs playing at the exact same time to expose how formulaic their garbage is? I just did a poor man’s version of that on YouTube with “My Life Would Suck Without U Been Gone” by playing both songs just to confirm my thoughts before I put them down on INTERNET PAPER. Their structures are really 90.210% the same. The dynamics and hooks are all basically in the same spots. SURPRISE! THEY’RE WRITTEN BY THE SAME FUCKING ROBOTS! Johnny Five and C-3PO for christ's sakes. Just because the lyrics are the polar opposite of “Since U Been Gone” doesn’t mean anything else is. You didn’t fool me!

Here’s what else I don’t like about the song—the fake drums. It's technically a dance pop song so I can suspend my disbelief in synths and drum machines, but there’s some super fake tomfillery in the last chorus instantly slaps me in the face. The fill sounds like my balls being thumped upon by cold wooden spoons. Yeah, think about that feeling for a while, boys.

After hearing that song on the radio, I immediately wrote off Kelly Clarkson’s integrity and said I would not buy the album, much like how I’m feeling about Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age, and Tool these days. I’m not a fair weather fan, I just can’t be a sucker anymore. So that’s the end of the review.


A month later I heard a second single that is also not about sucking: “I Do Not Hook Up.” There’s another simple but catchy guitar intro here, but then, hmmm… some real drums. Some more layers added on building up to the chorus. A nice long chorus with some interesting changes--wait did she just say “I fuck deep”?

Therein became my half-a-month-long obsession. I was convinced that she said “I fuck deep” and blasted the song every single time I heard it on the radio. For weeks my life was consumed with either “F-F-F-Fuck her Face” or “I fuck deep.” Over and over and knitting and knitting and knitting. There was no way she was saying that on radio, right? I mean Britney got away with that “If You Seek Amy” nonsense (“See You Auntie”), but Kelly Clarkson couldn’t be flat-out slipping F-bombs onto top 40, could she?

Ok, I eventually looked up the real lyrics, but by then I was already down with the concept of I Fuck Deep. Like, I just don’t hook up, I FUCK DEEP. This theory can’t be repeated out loud without making a fist and punching your other hand for punctuation. I love this god damned song and everything it stands for, even if I am the one inventing what it stands for. I PWNED THIS SONG AND I PWN DEEP.

But then came the real bomb… it was written by Katy Perry. Fizzzzzzzzzzle. I hate Katy Perry, but I love the song. Waaaaahh. Here is where I found myself at the crossroads for the album. I couldn’t pretend that I don’t love this song, even knowing that Katy “Nazi Party Leader” Perry wrote it, but I didn’t feel comfortable supporting Kelly Clarkson relying on other people for hits when she sold me so hard on her songwriting potential from the last album. Rather than take a hard stance, I put the album on the fence and went back to listening to “Poker Face” 80 times a day (another post, another day).

The end.

(Of that chapter.)

VIRGIN SMEGMASTORES closing sale featured discounts on albums. This included new albums. I was going there 17 hundred thousand times a week, so I considered buying anything I sort of wanted if it was a good enough deal. All I Ever Wanted was abundant and available for preview, so I took advantage. I skipped past the first two singles and I heard some good rock tracks. The price was right, but I still mulled it over for a while. I think the deciding factor was the potential for a ridiculous 2300+ word blog entry. And the pink cover.

The next day I tore it open and listened to the CD on the way to work. It turned out that the tracks which sold me on the album the night before were really not so hot after all. I guess it was loud in the store and the headphones were not so great, so my buyer’s remorse began to set in. “Don’t Let Me Stop You” felt too similar to “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” but with way too many lyrics. “Already Gone” reminded me of Beyonce’s dull “Halo” song. Same slow boring piano progression and uninspired chorus. “If I Can’t Have You” is too electro-poppy for me. Everything annoys me about “Whyyawannabringmedown”--the title, the lyrics (“I’m not your love monkey”?), the count-off en espaƱol, the cheap hand claps, the vocal effects, the shitty fuzzed out pseudo indie rock guitar riffs, and the unnecessary background vocals contributed by one of the songwriters (who is coincidentally now promoting the same song as re-recorded by his own band on myspace=lame).

I’ve said enough bad things. Here is What I Like About U. The first song that stuck out to me as really good (besides “I Fuck Deep”) is “I Want You.” There’s a ton of production, but it’s all really fun. The song itself is pretty simple, but it’s so damn happy. I guess I like it for the same reasons as that Natasha Bedenfield song “These Words.” It’s pure sugary pop, but it somehow sounds like nothing else out there. AND just when you think it’s over, it goes on for another 30 seconds. It’s possible that Kelly Clarkson happened to have another lyrical couplet laying around that she refused to toss out, or maybe she read my last review that talked about “Be Still” needing to go on longer. Either way, thumbs up.

“Ready” also has some interesting instrument sounds and production in the verses. It’s an extremely normal structure but with a lot of nice touches. I should take this time to point out that her vocals are excellent throughout the whole album. That never comes into question (except for “Whyyawannasingaweakrocksong”). She seems to sing so effortlessly. Her harmonies are very well constructed and always fresh. I mean, her singing is already perfect. The only way to screw it up is to make her sing a crappy uninspired song.

“Save You” is another fantastic track. I discovered today that it is basically the same chord progression as “Ready,” but I won’t let that diminish how good the song is. The drums don’t come in until over a minute into the song which makes them feel extra powerful. There is an abundance of snare rolls throughout the second verse which approach the verge of distraction but never cross the line. That drumming (along with the extended solo drumming at the end) reminds me of the song “Titanic” by New End Original. The chorus may be corny, but it fits. There’s also a very bizarre bridge. The instruments fade out, then piano, strings and vocals take over at a completely different tempo. The lyrics here seem like throwaways (I don’t ever want to hear the rhymes “change,” “same,” and “pain” again), but I still applaud the nonconformity that pushes the boundaries of a fairly traditionally structured song. Coming out of the bridge, everything magically matches up again (It really will “be all right”) and we have a great, but clearly non-Top 40 song.

What else? “All I Ever Wanted” is funky and bassy with a breakdown that sounds like Kelly Clarkson trapped under the glass of a pinball machine. “Long Shot” is even wordier than “If I Can’t Have You” but way more effective (curse you again Katy Perry). The chorus lyrics again seem pretty generic, but we hit it with such good momentum that I can over look the blandness. Don’t worry, I won’t be buying any Katy Perry albums. I can’t stand her vocal delivery.

“Cry” is a decent power ballad that shows up too soon on the album. (While I’m on the subject, “I Do Not Hook Up” should be the first track, not the second.) “If No One Will Listen” is a fairly predictable ballad, but at least it's in the right place—at the end. “Impossible” is meh. There are two bonus tracks that don’t really do anything for me except remind me of the great Kilbacca album “Ride on the Tip of My Tongue.” (By the way, the Deluxe Edition is not really worth the extra money, there’s nothing particularly amazing on the DVD.)

What have I learned from this? I don’t know. I can’t draw any absolute conclusions like “I like all the songs that Kelly Clarkson co-wrote” or “She should put the pen down and just stick to singing.” Well, it’s obvious that she should stick to singing, but as for the writing part, I really don’t know. I should just call a song a song and not worry about who wrote it until after I hear it. Even then, I shouldn’t worry so much. Just like I’m refusing to read anyone else's review of this album until after I finish mine, I shouldn’t really add any extra bias before or after. I mean, it bums me out to see so many people’s names on the songwriting credits, but I guess that’s what works for her. I’m sure she’s come to terms with it, so why shouldn’t I? There’s no doubt that the girl can sing for real. This certainly isn’t going to be my album of the year, but there’s more a few damn good songs here. She’s going to have an amazing Greatest Hits album (if they just let me pick the track listing). See? I'm part of the problem. I guess I'm still learning how to listen to a pop album.

I'm going to go read other reviews now and see what the other humanoids have to say. I encourage you to NOT do the same and just think of this as the definitive Kelly Clarkson review.

July 2, 2009

Van Gogh-Kart

My poor Honda got sideswiped yet again while parked over night in NYC. This time, the driver's side mirror was completely ripped off the side of the car. It was nowhere to be found on the street so either the hit-and-run coward grabbed it as a souvenir or another passerby disposed of it. Fortunately, aftermarket replacement mirrors are relatively cheap ($50), but it pisses me off that the car insurance I've spent thousands and thousands of dollars on over the years is useless to me in this case. It's also incredibly frustrating to spend $8 in tolls several times a week to visit (and presumably spend more money in) New York City, only to have my car constantly damaged on its streets. I'm just going to have take my frustrations out by terrorizing idiot pedestrians that have no concept of what DON'T WALK means.

On the bright side, I'll learn how to install a side view mirror on a Honda Civic which will make things easier if and when this happens again. I also used this opportunity to coin a new phrase on Urban Dictionary (it's been approved, but the page hasn't been published yet):

Van Gogh-Kart - (n.) A vehicle that is missing one of its side-view mirrors, reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh's severed ear.

Fucking animals.