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John Mayer - "Home Life"

When it comes to feeling settled, we all have a certain temperament. For many people, it can change depending on the situation, but you always hold a basic idea of what's most comfortable. As I face holiday travel tomorrow I'm reminded again how much I just like to stay home.

But I've already written about that (Jellyfish, I Wanna Stay Home). And though that's a part of Mayer's song, it's not the whole story.

The real story is the search for romantic satisfaction. God, how many songs have been written about it? I'm guessing that an objective overview of the history of pop music would prove that more songs have been written about the negative side of love than the positive side. As the Carpenters sang "the best love songs were written with a broken heart."

Mayer doesn't appear to have a broken heart in this song, though he's definitely resolute that he doesn't want one. "I refuse to believe," he sings, "that my life's g…

2004: Great Eight

Here it is, my favorite time of the musical year, that time when music obsessives everywhere condense all of the year's releases into a pocket sized list. It's our best chance to display our good taste, and make sense of the myriad of releases we inundated ourselves with.

I must admit that last year I was frustrated by how much time and perspective changed my list, so this year I'm playing it safe by only including 8 CDs. Most of the albums that made it were reviewed at some point in the year, on this very site, so I've included the review number and month so you can go back and read more if you choose. I've also included what number the CD was in my yearly buying. Yes, I keep a list.

Also, check out Richard Nelson's Top 10 at Highway 290 Revisited.

Brian Wilson - Smile

37 years later the Beach Boys' lost masterpiece finally arrives. Of course two/fifths of the original group are dead, and two/fifths more didn't participate, but it's still a triumph …

2004: The Best Of The Rest

It's end-of-the-year list time, and this year there are some extra categories designed to give props to music that didn't make the vaunted Top 10.

Guiltiest Pleasure:
Avril Lavigne - Under My Skin
I'd call a guilty pleasure something you are embarrassed to be seen purchasing, or to be caught listening to with the windows down. Luckily the Internet has made the buying anonymous, and air conditioning gives us comfort with closed windows. Avril's album is slickly produced, surprisingly un-annoying, and catchy as hell.





Best Soundtrack or Compilation:
Garden State
Any good soundtrack can stand on its own but also gives the listener that extra depth of experience if they've seen the movie. This does it perfectly; every song plays some significant part in Zach Braff's funny / sad / inspiring film.






Greatest Greatest Hits:
Carpenters - Carpenters Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition
Greatest hits collections serve two purposes. One is to properly introduce you to an artist - Jackso…

65. Mos Def - The New Danger (2004)

Sometimes (more often than I'd like, actually) I walk out of the record store with something I never expected to purchase. Such was the case a month or so ago when I went into the Electric Fetus and walked out with Mos Def's latest effort The New Danger.

A couple of nights before I'd seen Mos Def perform his new song Close Edge on the Chapelle Show. His performance was simple but unconventional. As Dave drove, Mos sat in the passenger seat and rapped, seeming for all the world like he was making it up on the spot. I was mesmerized.

Even so, I hadn't even thought about seeking out the album until someone came into the Fetus and asked about it. Anyone publicly expressing interest in an artist is always fascinating to me, and I eavesdropped as I heard the clerk say, "Yeah, you want to listen to it first? It's pretty weird." And that sold me.

Of course there's always bad weird and good weird. Luckily, this record falls into the latter category. It's a bi…

Rilo Kiley - "Portions For Foxes"

Ah, a great opening line can be a work of art, and Jenny Lewis, Rilo Kiley's singer, obviously recognizes this. Portions For Foxes begins thusly: "There's blood in my mouth 'cause I've been biting my tongue all week."

That kicks off a catchy, guitar-driven, too-realistic rumination on romance. This isn't the typical a boy-broke-my-heart story, but instead a complex confession from a girl who knows she's just using someone to satisfy her earthly desires, and has no lasting romantic interest. She hates to do it, but she has little self control because "the talking leads to touching and the touching leads to sex." Immediately this leads to regret because "then there is no mystery left." Ouch.

The chorus, then as if we didn't know, Lewis tells us in the chorus: "And it's bad news / Baby I'm bad news."

Bad girl songs are nothing new. Fiona Apple's Criminal is probably the torchbearer. Songs like that are perfec…

64. Shawn Colvin - Polaroids: A Greatest Hits Collection (2004)

Shawn Colvin is easy to dismiss. The fluke Lilith Fair success of 1996's Sunny Came Home has given her the aura of a mainstream artist, which in truth she really isn't. She's a wordy, guitar-playing folkie who looks like a prettier version of my college American Romanticism professor. There's a whole sub-genre of artists like this, people like Lucy Kaplansky, Claudia Schmidt, Carrie Newcomer. Who? Exactly. These are artists with a small devoted following, who sell enough records to make a living but will never enter the collective consciousness.

Sunny Came Home falls right about at the two-thirds mark of Colvin's newly released Polaroids: A Greatest Hits Collection and some might be surprised to find that it's not a stand-out track. It's simply another in a flow of great songs, not the song you wait through the others to hear.

Just for that simple fact, Polaroids should set the record straight on Colvin, for those who stumble across it. For me, it cem…

63. Collective Soul - Youth (2004)

What if Collective Soul singer Ed Roland had a nasal, whiny voice instead of a booming baritone? Besides making his long hair seem silly, it would turn Collective Soul into a top-notch power pop unit. Afterall, their songwriting almost exclusively focuses on the high H's of power pop: Hooks and Harmony. Fortunately for them, Roland's manly voice has allowed them to masquarade as a hard rock band.

Forget that. Youth, their sixth album (and first since 2000), is pure pop. It begins with Better Now, as an effective "we're back" song as you could ask for. Roland tells us he's "newly calibrated" and "happy as Christmas" over a bed of praiseful vocals and saxophone (!). It sets the tone for an album that hasn't met a catchy chorus it didn't like.

Highlights include rockers Home, Feels Like (It Feels Alright), and Perfect To Stay. There are a couple of ballads, the best of which is the romantic Under Heaven's Skies. All are immacula…

62. Gwen Stefani - Love Angel Music Baby (2004)

Here's why I love Gwen Stefani: It's not because she's sexy, cute and stylish (though that doesn't hurt), it's because she's so goofy and neurotic. Her lyrics have always been as transparent as a freshly-washed window. There has never seemed to be a filter or front between her thoughts and her words. Through her songs we've been made a party to her hopes, dreams, confessions and fears. No Doubt's first huge hit, Don't Speak, was cool because it was written about how pissed she was at the band's bassist. Return Of Saturn was full of songs about her desires to have a functional relationship and get married and have a baby. Even the party record Rock Steady was full of specific personal statements like Making Out and Underneath It All.

Usually when an artist goes solo, she uses the occasion to get personal, to write about things she couldn't in the confines of the band. I guess Gwen felt she had no choice but to go the opposite direction…

61. Eminem - Encore (2004)

What does a person expect when he or she buys an Eminem album? I think the answer to that has changed since 2001's The Eminem Show. After that album's ubiquitous success and then the even more ubiquitous success of 8 Mile and its accompanying theme Lose Yourself it was okay for your mom to sing an Eminem song. In a couple of fell strokes, Eminem went from a reviled fringe figure to someone who was widely embraced by the mainstream. In other words, he earned artistic capital. Now how has he spent it?

Well, if you judge from the first five songs on Encore. Evil Deeds is his typical family issues song, a sort of Cleaning Out My Closet sequel. Sign of maturity? Em says he's thankful for his talent. Never Enough features the ever-reliable Nate Dogg and a uncharacteristically tight verse from 50 Cent. Yellow Brick Road details Em's past and focuses specifically on the recently-discovered tape wherein he used the n-word. And get this: He actually apologizes! Like Toy Sol…

Wrong choice, America

Here Comes President Kill Again
Written by Andy Partridge
Performed by XTC

Here comes President Kill again
Surrounded by all of his killing men
Telling us who, why, where and when
President Kill wants killing again

Hooray, ring out the bells
King Conscience is dead!
Hooray, now back in your cells
We've President Kill instead

Here comes President Kill again
Broadcasting from his killing den
Dressed in pounds and dollars and yen
President Kill wants killing again

Hooray, hang out the flags
Queen Caring is dead!
Hooray, we'll stack body bags
For President Kill instead

Ain't democracy wonderful?
Them (terrorists) can't win!
Ain't democracy wonderful?
Let's us vote someone like that in

Here comes President Kill again
From pure white house to number 10
Taking lives with a smoking pen
President Kill wants killing again

Hooray, everything's great
Now President Kill is dead
Hooray, I bet you can't wait
To vote for President Kill instead

60. Dogs Die In Hot Cars - Please Describe Yourself (2004)

Poor Chomsky. They try their hardest to pattern themselves after early-period XTC, even going so far as to reference White Music lyrics and titles in two of their songs (Herod's Daughter and Animal), and here come Dogs Die In Hot Cars, stealing all the buzz and glory. Admittedly, DDIHC have an advantage. Singer Craig Macintosh's voice is a dead ringer for XTC singer Andy Partridge's. It's uncanny.

The current Neo New Wave movement in music needed this. If Interpol are Joy Division, The Killers are Duran Duran, The Libertines are The Clash, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are Blondie and TV On The Radio are Genesis, then why not have an XTC?

DDIHC don't seem very shy about the comparison. One of the songs on their excellent debut is called Apples & Oranges, which is the also the title of a 1989 XTC album. (It makes me wish a band would make a whole album of songs with titles named after albums without title tracks). And their songs are not a far cry from XTC's Drum…

59. XTC - White Music (1977)

It's somewhat reassuring to know that even the most accomplished people in the world have certain aspects of their past that they'd rather ignore. XTC are a band whose sophistication and vitality cannot be called into question, but did their 1977 debut album indicate that in any way? No.

It's not that the album is bad - it isn't - but compared to their later work it's pale and primitive. It's as if they only had 8 crayons to color with. Later albums like English Settlement (1982), Skylarking (1986), and Nonsuch (1992) were definitely the results of a box of 64.

Still, there are flashes of the brilliance that would fully emerge later. Radios In Motion and This Is Pop, both songs about songs, have a primal thrill: fast tempos, manic performances, punchy harmonies. Statue Of Liberty is a clear standout. It's a catchy mash note to the titular figure, and is filled with clever double entendre (singer/songwriter Andy Partridge's specialty). Check out th…

58. Jimmy Eat World - Futures (2004)

Is it possible to be proud of people you've never met? I first started listening to Jimmy Eat World in 1996, and they were just one of the unknown bands my roommate Nick had turned me on to. We went and saw them a couple of times in '96 and '97, in small venues with crowds of no more than 50 people. I listened to their 1999 album Clarity obsessively and for awhile I thought it brought me good luck (I was listening to it when I got the phone call telling me I got a job in Minneapolis).

So when the band blew up in 2001 with the album Bleed American and the hit The Middle, it was strange, but satisfying. Suddenly here they were performing on Saturday Night Live and MTV, their songs being used in the Super Bowl, and friends were actually asking me about them. Emo fans are notoriously hip and fickle, and, unlike myself, some fans felt the pop-oriented material on Bleed American was an obvious stab at stardom. The fact that it was semi-successful burned them even more. According …

Short Stack

In a blatant attempt to reach review number 60 by the first anniversary of this blog, I'm offering up some brief reviews of recent releases.

54. Ben Folds - Super D (2004)
This is the final EP in a series of three meant to tide us over until Folds finishes working with Captain Kirk and releases his second solo record, and Folds saved the worst for last. It kicks off with a bombastic cover of The Darkness' Get Your Hands Off My Woman. From there we have three sub-par original compositions (the most interesting of which, Kalamazoo, features a disco bridge) and a brief live cover of Ray Charles' Them That Got. The other two EPs each contained at least one sublime moment, but this one has none, giving the whole project a cast-off feel.

Rating: C
Fave Song: Get Your Hands Off My Woman

55. Duran Duran - Astronaut (2004)
Are your vinyl copies of Rio and Notorious wearing out? Here's a new album from a fully reunited Duran Duran. The band were responsible for their fair share…

53. R.E.M. - Around the Sun (2004)

Pre-release reviews can play a large part in how I view an album. I'm usually optimistic about any new effort from an artist I love, and reviews can either feed that optimism or diminish it. A bad review especially can drop the status of a new album to just above that of a Maroon 5 live album. The obsessive part of this is that VERY rarely would I avoid a new record by an artist I like just because of a bad review (or several). And no matter what, I'll usually be hard-headed when I get the album and insist that the critic was full of it.

The story can go two directions from there. One, the critics' complaints actually have merit and will eventually creep into my perceptions of the album. Or, my hard-headedness sticks and I love the album.

I mention all of this because the early words on R.E.M.'s latest effort have not been kind. As I see it, the main grievance is that the band hasn't made Automatic For The People again. This is a little sad to me, considering that al…

James Taylor - "Baby Boom Baby"

This is my confession: My mom is the single biggest influence on my musical tastes. It's not cool, I know. My dad is the one who was hip in the '80s. When I was ready he turned me on to Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, XTC, Roxy Music, Marshall Crenshaw, and many other great artists.

My mom, on the other hand, was square. Her tastes ran in directions generally reviled by my dad: Elton John, Billy Joel, The Carpenters, Lionel Richie, and James Taylor.

(In college my parents went to see James Taylor in concert. It was today's equivalent of a guy having to go to a John Mayer concert with his girlfriend. My dad just barely stomached it; my mom loved it.)

Just as with their politics and religious beliefs, I feel I've greatly benefited from having two vastly different viewpoints presented to me. About 90 % of the time, I lean toward my father's views, but on music, my heart will always truly lie with the artists my mom introduced to me. That will always be where I go for comf…

52. Green Day - American Idiot (2004)

Many people seem blindsided by the fact that Green Day is still making relevant music, but to me it came clear with the last album, Warning. For whatever reason, anytime an artist seems to hit their prime early (Counting Crows, Weezer, etc.) it's hard to accept that they'll ever make something listenable again, let alone gripping. Warning wasn't a groundbreaking record, but it was highly enjoyable.

Now comes American Idiot, which to those who haven't been paying attention seems like an out-of-nowhere return-to-form. It's easy to attribute this to righteous anger about our current times, especially in light of the lead single, American Idiot. If there's one good thing to say about the Bush administration it's that they've given us some great reactionary music. In fact no two lines can sum up the Bush approach to "protecting" the country better: "Can you hear the sound of hysteria / The subliminal mind-fuck America" By the way, I always…

51. The Thrills - Let's Bottle Bohemia (2004)

I would never begrudge another music listener their opinion, but some opinions fly so brazenly in the face of truth that one can't help but react negatively. Witness Jody Rosen's review of The Thrills' new album in the October 2004 issue of Blender. She (or he?) uses adjectives such as "overwrought," "strained" and "self-serious" to describe the effort. He (or she) seems to think that the band has become pretentious and full of itself. I don't know what album Jody Rosen listened to, but I just don't hear it.

Instead, I would use these words to describe the album: "loose," "effortless" and "charming." And clearly no band high on their own importance would name a song Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?, nor would they write a line like "I'm too vain for greatness." Maybe Jody Rosen has some secret grudge she (or he) is playing out in print, because the only whiff of pretense on this album is the b…

50. Matthew Sweet - Living Things (2004)

Matthew Sweet has worked with lots of notable people through out his career: Aimee Mann, Hanson, Mick Fleetwood, Pete Droge, Shawn Mullins, members of The Attractions, The Bangles, Big Star, The B-52's, R.E.M., Talking Heads, Television, and Voivoid, as well as session musicians who played with The Rolling Stones and Beach Boys.

On Living Things, he adds another name to that resume. Van Dyke Parks is an idiosyncratic musicial prodigy who has done critically acclaimed solo work, but is best known for working on the songs that were to make up Smile, the Beach Boys' never-released (at least until the end of this month) follow-up to Pet Sounds. Matthew appears to be doing whatever he can to become this generation's Brian Wilson.

What Parks apparently brought to the table was a diversity of instrumentation. The gripping opener The Big Cats Of Shambala (I looked it up...Shambala is a wild animal preserve located on the edge of the Mohave desert, not far from where Matthew makes hi…

The Smashing Pumpkins - "Ava Adore"

Here's a secret: Adore is an awesome album. Created in the wake of the massive success of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and the temporary firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, it's the Pumpkins gloomy gothic eletronic Depeche Mode record.

Many say that the band went in this direction as a direct result of Chamberlain's abscence, but there's actually evidence that they were headed this way no matter what. The two soundtrack songs that directly preceded Adore, Eye and The End Is The Beginning Is The End, were completely different from anything the band had done before. It's as though Mellon Collie was the band's late '70s power rock album and these singles were their shot at early '80s new wave. The first time I heard Eye on the radio it was a thrilling moment to hear the band trying something so different.

Anyway, Ava Adore is the best song of this Pumpkins phase. Musically, the marching beat (not unlike Chamberlain's usual style) is played on …

49. Lisa Loeb - The Way It Really Is (2004)

Two things:

1) The title of this album is odd, seeing as how the opening song on her last album, Cake And Pie, had the exact same name. For me, it harkens back to the Doors and Led Zeppelin. The Doors' third album was called Waiting For The Sun, but the actual song appeared on their fifth album, Morrison Hotel. Houses Of The Holy was Led Zeppelin's fifth album, but the song with the same title was on Physical Graffiti, two albums later. In my limited knowledge, Ms.Loeb is the first artist to name a record of all new material after a song on a previous album.

2) I love those little stickers record companies put on the front of CDs to sell them. If they aren't already affixed to the actual CD case, I'll try to take them off the plastic and put them there. Usually these stickers say things like "the new album from..." or "features the hit singles..." or they have quotes from reviews. The Way It Really Is contains a non-attributed snippet that describes t…

Dreams So Real

In the latest issue of Spin (September 2004; Pixies on the cover), my pal Chuck Klosterman issues a challenge. The challenge is to build your ideal rock band within these limitations: 1) You must have a singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and wild card, 2) You can only have one person who's currently active in a band, and 3) You can't pick Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, or Animal from the Muppet show for your band.

Klosterman's ideal band would be called Doomed Honeymoon, and have the following line-up:

Guitar: Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)
Bass: Bootsy Collins (Parliament-Funkadelic)
Drums: Tommy Lee (Motley Crue)
Wild-card: Prince
Lead Singer: Karen Carpenter

Damn him for picking those last two!

Of course I found this to be an extremely fun exercise, so I started making my own list. I used Klosterman's rules, but also added that everyone should still be alive, just so the idea that this band could actually get together is not as far-fetched. A…

'83 Going On '87

I watched the movie 13 Going On 30 last night. In case you don't know, the premise is this: On her 13th birthday, a girl named Jenna wishes she was 30, and it magically happens. The movie starts out in 1987 and makes use of several '80s songs for key plot points.

While I'm not in the business of reviewing movies for this site, I will say that I enjoyed this movie for two reasons: 1) I am in love with Jennifer Garner, and 2) for a supposedly escapist "girl movie" the film has a message that many people could use (namely, looking at your current life choices through the eyes of childhood might not be such a bad thing).

What I did not enjoy was the use of '80s songs! While none of them are bad, or anachronistic (meaning they didn't use anything from post-'87), the songs are surprisingly out of touch. Check out these four songs that play important roles in the movie: 1) Jenna is obsessed with Rick Springfield and his song Jessie's Girl (1980); 2) Jenna …