Note to Self: Don’t Die

ryan adams

Whose music has moved you more than anyone over the past 10 years?

I asked myself this question about 10 years ago, half way through the first decade of the new century.

If it’s one thing that has defined the 21st century so far it has been the breakneck speed of change – one day you’re listening to your relatively new CD collection and the next day you’ve got the entire collection in the palm of your hand.

And yet, if I ask myself this same question 10 years on from the first time I asked it, the answer is still the same.  Only now it’s 20 years.

From his kick-ass punk-country debut Faithless Street with Whiskeytown in 1995 to his solo double punch of Heartbreaker & Gold in 2000-2001, a couple classics with the Cardinals a few years later and right through to his new album, Ryan Adams has consistently cranked out high quality tunes for 20 years.  And at a higher quality than any other artist or band.

Incidentally, he just lost out to Beck for 2014’s “Best Rock Album of the Year” – another musical giant whose prolific output since the mid 90’s is impeccable.

beck

My only complaint over the years with Adams had always been his perceived lack of humor when it came to his name, closely resembling that other Adams in sight and sound.

However, it seems that Adams the Younger has finally come to grips with his name and much more.  Read on.

If you question my bold claim, I challenge you to find me a song post 1994 that is…

…prettier than:  When the Stars Go Blue

…more feel-good than:  Firecracker

…a better Oasis cover than:  Wonderwall

…a catchier song about the Big Apple than:  New York, New York

…or a better non-parody 80’s tribute song than:  Gimme Something Good 

And as clearly seen on this final “live” video proof for my case, Adams has embraced his inner 80’s child as well as his Canadian cousin:  Run to You

Like many of his ideas around the time of his forgettable Rock n Roll, “Note to Self: Don’t Die” sounded like a bad idea.  Even without hearing it.  However, I am now very glad he wrote that note to himself and didn’t go the way of Kurt Cobain or Jeff Buckley – two other musicians who had a lot more to give us.

jeff buckley2

I understand if you take umbrage at my claim.  Therefore, I invite you to challenge me right back.

Tell me whose music has moved you most over the past 20 years.

P.S. My 3 Best Alternatives:

Beck

Thom Yorke/Radiohead

Jeff Tweedy/Uncle Tupelo/Wilco

 

A Day in the Life

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

As a protest against the Vietnam War, John Lennon sang these words in 1971.  9 years later he’d be dead.

Although it felt far removed from me at the time, I distinctly remember the fateful news of his death on December 8th, 1980.  However, growing up I’d always been partial to Paul’s soothing vocals and soft features.

In fact, it wasn’t until listening to “Mother” from his first post-Beatles solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 30+ years after it had been written that I made a real connection to him and his music.

I was completely flattened by the sheer rawness and power of his words as he screamed them out.  The unfiltered pain and honesty.  I still am.

To my mind there has never been a better example of a figure in pop culture with the courage to do and say what he believed was right – protesting a war or professing his love for the woman people blamed for the break-up of the beloved Beatles.

Written 5 years after he’d laid down his guitar and decided to live deliberately after most of his life in the spotlight, nothing illustrates this better than his lyrics to “Watching the Wheels” released shortly before his death:

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll

No longer riding on the merry-go-round

I just had to let it go

To honor John Lennon on the anniversary of his death, I’d like to share “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” with you.  Take a few minutes to listen and see if you can feel the power and emotion in his words and music.

john lennon

A very Merry Christmas and Happy 2015 to you and your loved ones!

Tim

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

Dearest Family and Friends,

I have something I’d like to share with you.  I plan to tell the rest of the world shortly but I wanted to confide in my closest relationships first.  I’m Twee.  Yes, after 43 wonderful but often confusing years, I now clearly see who I am and how I want to be.

Funny thing is, I didn’t realize it until coming across the funny little book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film.

TWEE

With the exception of fashion, a book title has never had a better target audience than yours truly.

In fact, this very blog is dedicated to intelligent new music, books and film, which includes the golden age of television we’re living in – Fargo and True Detective head and shoulders above any cinema film I’ve seen in a long time.  At least since The Grand Budapest Hotel (more on Twee icon Wes Anderson later).

So when a friend sent me a baby blue copy with a petite bird cage on the cover, I cautiously entered in to “the first strong, diverse, and wildly influential youth movement since Punk in the ’70s and Hip Hop in the ’80s—showing how awkward glamour and fierce independence has become part of the zeitgeist.” – Amazon’s words.

Like Morrissey, Wes Anderson films or anything emanating from Brooklyn (Twee epicentre), you’ll probably either really like or really dislike this book.

One of the things I liked so much about it is how it links particular Twee things with particular Twee locations (bubble-gum indie pop & Glasgow, beards & Brooklyn).  It took me back to a time when statements like: “I was living in London in ’66” or “I spent a lot of time at CBGB’s back in ‘76?” could trigger an instant association of Beatle Boots and Bee Hives or black jackets and white sneakers up against a dirty brick wall.

Ramones

Coming of age in a sleepy town in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980’s, I missed out on the explosive Minneapolis scene led by true grunge grandfathers Hüsker Dü and The Replacements.  I was too young to experience the drunken high jinks of Paul Westerberg and the 3-chord anger of sexually confused Bob Mould, but I did grow up a few short hours south of Seattle (Grunge epicentre).

Other than one cool record store downtown, Salem, Oregon didn’t offer much in terms of an authentic music scene.  Any music scene, in fact.   What it did have a surplus of however was the ubiquitous “head banger” in black t-shirt under jeans jacket full of kick-ass rock patches – required dress for any true Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne or Def Leppard fan.

iron maiden

Other than Grand Records down by the river, it was slim pickings if you wanted to get a hold of anything more obscure than Winger, Warrant or aforementioned metal trail blazers.

And then one day in the summer of 1983, my friend Matt Halferty and I came across a copy of Depeche Mode’s Speak and Spell, the Twee gods smiling down upon us.  I now know that the electronic pops and buzzes that blew us away upon first listen weren’t all that cutting edge when they appeared on the European scene in 1981.  Gary Numan, OMD and a handful of Teutonic man-machines had been tinkering with computerized synths for half a decade.  I can’t speak for Matt, but this just may have been my Twee Damascene event.  Keep in mind, we’d just witnessed the heavy metal coming-out party courtesy of Van Halen, Quiet Riot and the glam metal hybrid of Ratt –  massive radio staples in the 7th grade.

Matt ended up going to a different high school but I went on to buy the next few Depeche Mode albums in addition to The Smiths debut and a handful of other second wave British invaders that I now realize are very Twee.

With puberty firmly setting by the mid-80’s, I then moved on to the testosterone-fuelled music of the Doors, Led Zeppelin and the Who – a language I understood much better.  “The queen is dead.  What was Morrissey on about?  I just saw her on TV.”

By the fall of 1990, my sophomore year of college and another musical sea change or two, my top 5 bands went something like this:

The Violent Femmes, The Cult , Social Distortion, REM, The Smithereens

In keeping with the full disclosure of the post, I probably would have left off that last one had I not read the review of Nirvana’s 20th anniversary re-issue of Bleach.  Urban legend has it that while driving from their hick town of Aberdeen to Seattle to record their debut album for $600 in 1989, the Smithereens were one of 2 bands Nirvana listened to on the 100-mile drive over.

Listening recently to “Losing my Edge” from post-punk (Twee’s edgy cousin) revival band LCD Soundsystem in which an aging DJ who “was there in 1968 at the first Can show in Cologne” and again he “was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City”, I got to thinking – Have I ever experienced a scene?  And when “was I there”?

I’d discovered The Beatles through The Chipmunks sing the Beatles hits.  However, I still think it’s one of the best collections of Beatles covers ever. Listen to those harmonies! And I’d been much more interested in Luke Skywalker’s true family history than the real story behind The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.

But I had been at an outdoor concert once while at the University of Oregon in 1992 where a very mediocre band claimed to have played right alongside Nirvana in Seattle before they exploded.  It was more of a fraternity event than a concert, actually.  I even made two trips to Seattle the year grunge broke big – once to see our lowly Ducks get destroyed by the mighty Washington Huskies and again at Christmas break with a Seattleite I was dating.  I never did make it to any of those cool, grungy music venues I saw later in Cameron Crowe’s Ode to Grunge, Singles.  I did visit the original Starbucks café on one of my trips, however.  I later found out it wasn’t in fact the original, original (automatic Twee disqualification).

And that’s probably how it is with “scenes”.  They’re over before you know they’ve started.  By the time I caught up with Sid Vicious, I quickly recognized Billy Idol’s bankable bad-boy snarl – one of the original hangers-on from London’s punk scene circa ’77, but not the snarl’s rightful owner.

And I suppose the true origin of every “scene” can be traced back to its original place and people.  Weren’t the Sex Pistols just a lucrative creation of image-savvy Malcom McLaren?

A few years prior to year zero, Mr. McLaren had in fact tried to give the proto-punk New York Dolls a style make-over.  The matching red leather Dolls with massive Soviet hammer and sickle backdrop didn’t go over too well on their tour of the Bible Belt, evidentially.

NY Dolls

I suppose if you’re going to be one of those guys who “was there”, you’re inevitably going to end up sounding like James Murphy in “Losing My Edge”:

I was there.

I’ve never been wrong.

 I used to work in the record store.

I had everything before anyone.

When I come across like-minded music lovers they tend to get big eyes when they find out I went to college in the Pacific Northwest in the early 90’s.  I usually just smile and tell them I visited the original Starbucks.  I might also happen to mention I was a huge Smithereens fan.

But coming back to the intelligent new media at hand, the fact that I loved the Smiths and REM – the two reigning Twee bands of the 80’s, am geographically connected to Twee icon Kurt Cobain and am a card-carrying fan of the wonderfully Twee world of Wes Anderson, I have come to the indisputable and inconvenient conclusion that I am Twee and have probably always been Twee.

For those of you who find this news hard to swallow, I would strongly recommend reading this entertaining little book – if not to gain a better understanding of me and my world, then perhaps for the pure enjoyment of learning what drove Walt Disney to create the Mouse and his Magical World – light years away from that brutal world he’d experienced driving an ambulance as a high school drop-out on streets of blood and rubble at the end of WWI.

In addition to many more entertaining stories like this one and the creative weaving together of seemingly unconnected people, places and movements (e.g. Mickey Mouse & Nirvana), you might not agree with me and Morrissey that “Meat is Murder”, but you might just discover that you’re not so different from us after all.

Thanks for letting me share with you.  I’d love to hear “where you were” and what movements you’re connected to – wittingly or un.  Thanks for sharing your story with me!

My Generation

Gallery

This gallery contains 5 photos.

‘I’ve heard Generation X called a lot of things but “forgotten” isn’t one of them’ – my first thought when I came across Letter from the Forgotten Generation  on LinkedIn a few weeks ago.  My second thought:  ‘Didn’t I propose something … Continue reading

The Unforgettable Fire?

Rarely does a band hit their stride with their 4th album – especially a double one like Arcade Fire’s Reflektor from 2013.  If you weren’t a fan of the Beatles before the sprawling double White Album, I doubt your affection for the lads began with “Piggies” or “Bungalow Bill”.

Bono in costume

With a Little Help from My Friends

It’s safe to say that a good band usually comes into their own by their 2nd or at least 3rd album.  Radiohead, for instance, really started to gain momentum with The Bends and then blew the doors off with OK Computer – their third.

Their re-invention a few years later with the double punch of Kid A & Amnesiac propelled them in to another stratosphere all together.

Watch the metamorphosis live:

For Rock N Roll re-invention and true innovation, one must first look to the former mop tops’ monumental leap from Please, Please Me to Revolver in the mid-60’s.

The Lads on Day Trip

The Lads on Day Trip

Then came David Bowie’s 70’s space odyssey from Ziggy Stardust to the Berlin Trilogy via The Thin White Duke and a few other celestial reinventions.

Bowie in Flux

Bowie in Flux

And before Radiohead grabbed the torch at the dawn of the new century, U2’s transformation from Americana-inspired choir boys in the 80’s to the edgy, dipterous juggernaut in the early 90’s kept the tradition alive.

The Fly in Flight

The Fly in Flight

Some bands never manage to regain the magic of their 1st spin – Kings of Leon Youth & Young Manhood and The Strokes’ Is This It from the early noughties (2000-2009) come to mind.  Two great performances by all these cool young dudes, but sadly nothing new:

When I think of the noughties, innovation is not the word that comes to mind. Homage in the best case, theft in the worst:  Interpol as Joy Division, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as Jesus & Mary Chain, Franz Ferdinand as Gang of Four, even U2 circa ’04 as U2 circa ’81.

And when Arcade Fire debuted with Funeral in 2004, it seemed to me like they were doing a bit of everybody.  Despite a shower of compliments from Bono to Bowie, I somehow couldn’t feel the heat (yeah, I know).  With their Born to Run homage/follow-up Neon Bible, I was more impressed.  Not a big surprise considering I’m a big fan of the 70’s E Street Band.  Listening to their next offering The Suburbs was a bit like watching the latest Pixar installment – very pleasant and very forgettable.  That all changed upon hearing Reflektor.

There are two possible explanations for this.  In late 2012 I saw them admirably back Mick Jagger on a Brian Jones-era Stones classic on Saturday Night Live.

The Red Rooster in Full Strut

The Red Rooster in Full Strut

My second encounter with the Fire came when stumbling across this funny and damn catchy video of the Reflektors performing “Here Comes The Night Time”,  with a little help from their friends.  Could the Reflektors have managed to separate the Fire from their noughties’ peers the same way the alter egos of Sgt. Pepper and Ziggy Stardust did for The Beatles and Bowie, respectively?

I really liked Franz Ferdinand’s disco-fueled 3rd album Tonight in ’09 but couldn’t tell you how the rest of the post-punk revival bands are faring post post-punk revival.

As for the true originals, I haven’t really connected to any of U2’s post All That You Can’t Leave Behind  output – now almost 15 years old. However, I’ve learned to never count the Irish lads out.  Radiohead’s last few albums haven’t moved me much.  I did enjoy Bowie’s comeback with last year’s Next Day and have also been mildly impressed with McCartney’s new New one, but haven’t listened to either more than a few times.

Which of course begs the question – is the music of today less compelling than that of the 20th century?  Or, have my tastes changed so drastically that I can’t be compelled to listen to an album from start to finish?  I can’t answer that but what I can say is that I have come back time and time again to Reflektor – more Rushmore, less Toy Story.

Watch them kick off this concert carnival in L.A. with “Reflektor” and let me know what you think of the present day Fire aka Reflektors.  Could they be a “Connector” with Beatles-Bowie-U2-Radiohead…or mere “Reflector”?  Apropos of my Rock N Roll Reinvention short list, who’s on yours that’s missing on mine?  Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Tim’s Top 100 Albums of All-Time & Best Album of 2013

As 2013 draws to a close you’re probably being bombarded by year-end “Top 10/50/100 Album” lists.  And just like every year, I’ll lay down a sizable chunk of my hard-earned money on a handful of magazines to make sure I don’t miss out on anything good.  Yes, I’m a sucker for these lists – it’s people like me that are responsible for this year-end pontificating by music journalists…it’s probably the reason I immediately loved Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity with all the top 5 lists rattled off by the lovable slacker Rob and his record-shop sycophants.

Incidentally, High Fidelity is the only film soundtrack to make my list.  Read on.

Watch Rob reel off his “Top 5 Side 1’s Track 1’s” in the movie version.

High_Fidelity_Five

In summer of 2012 I began a project ambitious in scope and execution.  At 41 years old, I gave myself the challenge to make my very own top 100 list.  I figured I’d spent half my life reading about what others considered to be their top albums and therefore deserved to make my “Top 100 Albums Of All-Time”.

Here are the criteria I used:

  • Before an album could make the list, I had to listen to it in its entirety (no track skipping!) and enjoy every track on the album, i.e. the album as a complete piece of work.  As you can imagine, this automatically disqualified many worthy candidates which would easily have made my list if it had been a conversation down the pub – the most conducive environment to authentic list-making, in my opinion.  Sadly, I made it about 15 seconds into the Jacko-Macka duet, “The Girl Is Mine” off Thriller before it got the boot.
  • The album needed to have relevance to me now or was at least still capable of giving me an emotional reaction, i.e. nostalgia alone was not enough. (PJ Harvey / To Bring You My Love ’95 – Yes. Social Distortion / Social Distortion ’90 – No.)
  • The third and final criterion was that once the album went on the list, it had to stay there – in other words, no revising.  Firstly, it would have become a never-ending project.  Secondly, I wanted to trust my gut reaction on first listen.  Admittedly, I did give a few albums 2-3 listens to account for the odd bad mood or sub-optimal listening experience.  Case in point – Lou Reed’s  New York makes the cut on second listen, Steve Miller’s Fly Like An Eagle doesn’t.

Watch Lou rock “Dirty Blvd” with a little help from his friend David.

Lou Reed & David Bowie

As with all lists I’d imagine, it would certainly look a lot different if I now went back with my critically-trained editing pencil.  Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti easily knocks out Coldplay’s Rush of Blood to the Head.  Case in point.  However, I forced myself to abide by the self-inflicted criteria and live with the consequences.

If you’re interested in my final “rough” cut, I invite you to take this visual journey:

Tim’s Top 100 Albums.

If you made it to #100 you might not have recognized this album as it is just came out in October of ‘13.  Although it hasn’t stood the test of time like the other 99 entries on the list, The Avett Brother’s Magpie and the Dandelion has all the right stuff in my book – raw, heartfelt lyrics, great melodic hooks, soaring harmonies and most of all fantastic musicianship from this hirsute crew from North Carolina.  Watch them with special guest Chris Cornell play “Vanity” on Jimmy Fallon.  Hands down, my favorite album of 2013.

Let me know what you agree with or what you think is missing.  Or better yet, send me your top 100…or perhaps just your top 5:-).  Either way, I’d love to hear  your all-time favorite tunes…

Happy holidays and all the best to you in 2014!

Anderson: Portrait of a Serial Filmmaker

Rushmore

Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson and Wes Anderson both released films in 2012.  The Anderson name is not the only thing these two intelligent storytellers have in common.  Born 13 months apart in the middle of Generation X, consider these other commonalities:

  • Back-to-back masterpieces to close the curtain on the 20th century and open a new one on the 21stBoogie Nights & Magnolia (P.T.) and Rushmore & The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes).
  • Revolving cast of players – Phillip Seymor Hoffman, John C. Riley, William H. Macy (P.T.) and Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwarzman (Wes).
  • Anti-pop culture topics with against-the-grain film making styles:  Wes’ Fantastic Mr. Fox is about a rag-tag group of B-list animals done in stop-motion animation in the age of in-your-face 3-D.; P.T.’s There Will Be Blood about a despicable oil prospector in early 20th century shot with old school 35 mm cameras in the economical age of digital.
  • Comforting but disconcerting character-driven storytelling with an odd mix of melancholy and humor

And yet their films couldn’t be more dissimilar – compare the decadent San Fernando Valley in the golden ago of porn in P.T.’s Boogie Nights with the surreal private academy in an anonymous time and place of Wes’ Rushmore.

Boogie Nights

Here are two compelling reasons with supporting video why I’m moved by their films:

First, I’ve see a lot of great ensemble films with parallel running stories all converging for a big bang at the end.  But none of these films, including recent Academy Award winners Crash and Traffic, packs the punch of P.T.’s Magnolia – one fateful day in the life of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning.  Watch Tom Cruise prance in the role of his career as sex guru T.J. Mackey

Second, and on the similar note, I’ve seen a lot of funny films with funny characters getting into all kinds of funny predicaments – think of Chevy Chase as hapless patriarch Clark Griswold desperately trying to get his family across country to the wonders of Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation or Steve Martin’s ambitious idiot Freddie Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

As funny as Chase, Martin and many of their 80’s comedy brethren are, none of them displays the emotional complexity of Bill Murray’s lonely chain-smoking industrialist Herman Blume in Rushmore.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when watching Blume’s competitive friendship with eccentric teenager Max Fischer played by Jason Schwarztman.  Watch these frenemies exchange pleasantries at an awkward chance meeting

If you’re new to either Anderson, here is a good starting point:

P.T. Anderson

  1. Boogie Nights ‘97
  2. Magnolia ‘99
  3. There Will Be Blood ‘07*

*Watch Daniel Day Lewis bully his former nemesis by “drinking his milkshake” in Blood

Wes Anderson

  1. Rushmore ‘98
  2. The Royal Tenenbaums ‘01*
  3. Fantastic Mr. Fox ‘09

*Watch a few of the quirky Tenenbaum gang discover their wife/sister’s hidden past

With Moonrise Kingdom (Wes) and The Master (P.T.) released in 2012, that’s 15 consistent years of high-quality film making.  I’d argue that only the Coen Brothers have a run to parallel this.  And after all, there are two of those guys.

And by “run” I mean original, no-compromise film making in an industry where not compromising could mean career death or obscurity.  Woody Allen managed it for years but now makes most of his films overseas to secure the funding.

Even the guy who kicked off the whole indie film craze back in ’89 with Sex, Lies & Videotape, Steven Soderbergh, has made a handful of throwaway films, including the 3 hugely successful Ocean films.  I didn’t see his edgy male stripper in Magic Mike last year but I strongly suspect the film lacks the stuff that propelled his films like The Limey in the 90’s.

The Limey

Give me Gene Hackman as the lying, deceitful Royal Tenenbaum or the aforementioned sex-addled T.J. Mackey and you’ll find a character with a real edge – characters created by two very different but equally brilliant minds spinning yarns at the top of their game.

The Dark Knight Rises

Lanegan cartoon

Fact #1

On April 5th, 1994 Rock ‘N Roll lost a brilliant mind when Kurt Cobain departed for the celestial Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.

Fact #2

As with John Lennon, Bob Marley or any of the gone-too-soon Hall of Famers, there’s no guarantee he or Nirvana would still be creating the quality music heard at the end of the 20th century.  “Elvis died the day he went into the army” was reportedly how Lennon greeted news of the king’s death.  One could argue he himself experienced a similar creative death as seen in his post-Primal Screaming output.

Fact #3

With 2012’s Blues Funeral, one of St. Kurt’s Seattle peers is still making great music.  In fact, Mark Lanegan, known for his dark demeanor and gravely voice, has never been in finer form:  review, incl. listening samples:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/4f4z

Blues Funeral Poster

In Rock ‘N Roll’s short 60 year history, there have been great artists (Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer) who have re-conjured their magic at the end of their careers.  There have also been artists who create such amazing music in their youth that there’s sadly nowhere to go but down (Stevie Wonder, David Bowie).  Then there’s the rare artist whose second or thrid act, after ill-advised dabbles with 80’s technology or worse, is just as impressive as their first.  But it is an ever rarer artist like Lanegan who can sustain excellence without the embarrassing dip.  Even Dylan spent a long spell in the Rock ‘N Roll desert (’76-’88) before launching his never-ending Never Ending Tour (’89 – present).

Jamming in moldy garages with future band mates and doing lots of drugs in the dreary Pacific Northwest, Mark Lanegan first came on the scene in the mid-80’s.  Exercising my Roman Catholic right to criticize the Vatican, I grew up a few hours away from Grunge Ground Zero.

Despite what I consider the best song on the grunge-defining Singles soundtrack, the Screaming Trees never managed to break it big like Nirvana or other Seattle brethren.  Watch them perform the aforementioned “Nearly Lost You” on Letterman in 1992: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJIEZx-_T74

Another watershed moment for grunge, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance from ‘93 is considered by many to be their swan song – a flash of brilliance as the ship was beginning to go down fast.  The powerful cover that closes this acoustic tour de force is “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”.

On his first solo album from 1990, “The Winding Sheet”, Lanegan not only performs this emotive blues classic by Leadbelly, Cobain plays guitar and sings backing vocals on it.  Without a doubt, Rock ‘N Roll was never the same after a few short years of Nirvana’s original ideas.  However, this was not one of them.

Cobain and Lanegan

Here are three reasons I believe Mark Lanegan continues to perform at the top of his game:

  • Desire to collaborate with great artists – Kurt Cobain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU6o0FFBrqs), PJ Harvey (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhiqG_1woYE), and Isobel Campbell to name just a few.
  • Willingness to play second fiddle – 5 years as a guest vocalist with the Queens of the Stone Age (no apparent “Lead Singer Syndrome” – see Keith Richards’ Life for definition).
  • Singular vision – singing the blues at the height of hair metal, not just in the blues-friendly post White Stripes world.

Other than Jack White’s solid solo project Blunderbuss, I haven’t heard much new music from 2012.  But I do find it interesting at a time when the garage-blues Black Keys are winning multiple Grammys and the blues artist du jour, Gary Clarke Jr. have taken the genre mainstream, Lanegan veers left and pulls this beautiful rabbit out of his hat.

The Quietus describes the alchemy:

Blues Funeral sees Lanegan stirring together electronica, processed beats, spaghetti westerns, southern 60s soul, folk and all-out sonic onslaughts to blend his most satisfying and heady brew to date…it is the sound of an artist freeing himself of expectation and convention, and in the process has delivered the finest work in Lanegan’s already impressive canon.

Mark Lanegan is clearly an artist “transcending his influences to create a new template of his own” – clearly a key skill for steering clear of Rock ‘N Roll Purgatory.

Let me know who you think belongs in the short list with Lanegan.  Or any other any other Rock ‘N Roll issues you wish to healthily debate.  Looking forward to your comments!

Coming soon:

Anderson: Portrait of a Serial Filmmaker:  an uncanny look at Generation X’s  two greatest storytellers.

‘Til Tuesday

The 25th of December falls on a Tuesday this year.  I’m normally not one to go out and buy a legitimate artist’s perfunctory mid-career Christmas album.  I do, however, get all warm and fuzzy inside when I hear the E Street Band’s “Merry Christmas Baby”.

Bruce

But in general, I’d much rather hear Rod the Mod screaming “Stay with Me!” than sleepwalking on his new addition to the cannon.  See below.  Enough said.

Rod

After a string of great albums kicking off the noughties (’99-’05), I broke my golden rule a few years back and got One More Drifter in the Snow by Aimee Mann.  A handful of tepid standards and sub-standard originals, I shelved Drifter after a few painful listens.  I decided to limit future listening to her non-festive material.

Ever since she got the sex-addled Tom Cruise to sing along with “Save Me” at the end of Magnolia, I’ve been a huge fan.  Cruise was at his all-time best playing sex guru Frank TJ Mackey, by the way.  Somehow I don’t think the fanaticism fell too far from the proverbial tree.

Tom

When she gave up a toe as part of Autobahn’s entourage trying to derail the Dude in the Big Lebowski, her status was forever etched in gold.  And the fact that she springs from the early 80’s Boston punk/new-wave scene gives her a lot more street cred than some of her 90’s brethren who still fly the Lilith Fair flag 15 years past its due date.  Who can forget those cat-like eyes and Cyndi Lauper haircut during her mid-80’s 15 minutes of MTV fame with ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry”.

Aimee

So after recently re-discovering her brilliant post-Magnolia album Lost in Space, I decided to give Drifter another go.  Back was the disappointment and embarrassment I had felt hearing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” the first time.

I consider myself a relatively loyal guy.  And because I have a soft spot for Christmas music (Bing & Deano = benchmark), I hung on tight ‘til the last track, “Calling On Mary”.  I don’t know how I missed this little gem in previous years but I strongly believe it deserves a place among her best.  Rather than take my word for it, have a listen for yourself.  Read on.

As this quarterly Intelligent Media blog is meant to deal with “new” media, I had intended to write about the first single off her new album, Charmer.  After hearing her perform “Labrador” on various talk shows, it has really grown on me.  Watch it live.  And for review of Charmer

I also realize I’ve already made my Q4 blog entry for 2012.  However, I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I’ll leave it up to Aimee and Bruce to do it properly:

Aimee Mann – “Calling on Mary”.

The E Street Band + special guest – “Merry Christmas Baby”.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new album/single, her foray into Christmaslandia or Christmas music in general.  Thanks for sharing with me!