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Showing posts from February, 2004

28. Danger Mouse - The Grey Album (2004)

I might be risking a cease and desist order by even reviewing this album (my lips are zipped as to how I acquired it; computers were not involved), but how could I resist?

If you didn't know this album is a marriage of sorts. It takes the vocals from Jay-Z's recent Black Album (see the November archives for a review) and places them over music samples from The Beatles' White Album. DJ Danger Mouse is the mastermind behind it, and like a lot of brilliant ideas, it was a gamble. The Beatles' publishing is very tight about the use of those songs (except it seems when it comes to selling out for commercials), so you had to know it wouldn't fly.

So sadly this is a work of art that will never reach the masses.

And have no doubt, this is art. There are those who might find it blasphemous, and those who might simply argue that taking things other people have created and putting them together is not art. But these people would have never had the creative audacity to put t…

Billy Joel - "Summer, Highland Falls"

It's not the most rock 'n' roll thing to admit, but piano is the instrument that does it for me more than any other. It's percussive and propulsive and yet wistful and thoughtful. It contains multitudes. That's why I like Elton John, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, and Ben Folds so much.

In fact, one might argue that this song here embodies everything that's great about the use of piano in rock 'n' roll. (One might also argue that it's the prototype for about 85% of Ben Folds' career.)

The song is propelled by a quick-tempo, but the mood is entirely reflective. And though I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what the song is actually about (the title is apropos of nothing), the lyrics certainly project a sense of depth.

There are lots of memorable couplets:

"They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known / And I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own."

"How thought…

27. Courtney Love - America's Sweetheart (2004)

In so many ways this album is just as personal and self-absorbed as Hang On Mike, though Courtney never mentions herself by name. Then again, she doesn't really have to; anybody who has even a passing interest in celebrity news is all too familiar: naked cavorting, drug arrests, legal battles over child and music custody, famous boyfriends, etc. In fact, since '98 Courtney has been known for just about everything but music.

Actually, that year's Hole album, Celebrity Skin , was a largely (and unjustly) ignored effort. Critics thought it too poppy and fans that wanted their music poppy were already enamored with Britney and Backstreet. I found it to be the perfect balance: a facade of catchy hooks and harmony in front of world-weary and fatalistic lyrics. It's exactly what you'd expect from Courtney, a seriously messed-up woman in a beautiful package.

America's Sweetheart is hardly different, though there's definite evidence that the years have worn on Love. S…

26. Candy Butchers - Hang On Mike (2004)

The first thing we need to establish is that the Butchers' lead singer and songwriter is named Mike Viola. The second thing is that two of these 12 songs have that name in the title (with another using it in the lyrics).

With even the blandest of songwriters you have to assume they're putting something of themselves into the lyrics, some bit of emotion or life experience. But outside of rap it's rare to find this level of self-reference. And yet, it doesn't bother me nearly as much as it should, probably because this is kind of a concept album.

The concept is that Mike is just on the brink of giving up, especially on his music career, and he needs all the encouragement he can get, even if it comes from himself. Hunker Down, Sparkle, and Superkid all deal with this to some degree, but the title track is the clearest statement: "If there's one thing you're good for," Viola tells himself, "it's another song."

And he proves it too, with som…

25. Van Halen - 3 (1998)

Being a fan is sometimes like being in a relationship. There are bands who are like the person you'll be married to for 50 years; they just stick with you no matter what. Other artists are like one-night stands, with one good record or song and nothing else to offer. Then there are those affairs that burn bright and intense, and may last quite awhile, but are ultimately doomed to fail.

So it went with Van Halen and I. In 1996 I bought Best Of Volume 1, and fell in love. Not only did the music appeal to me, but this was probably the most interesting time in the band's already interesting history.

In brief: The group started in 1978, with David Lee Roth on lead vocals. That lineup made 6 albums together, including the classic self-titled debut and the commercial blockbuster 1984 (which featured Jump, Hot For Teacher, etc.). Then in 1985, Roth bailed on the band, and they decided to soldier on with a new vocalist, the Red Rocker, Sammy Hagar.

Improbably they got even more pop…

24. The Bens - self-titled EP (2004)

What's with singer-songwriters and forming super-groups these days? Right on the heels of The Thorns come The Bens. Who knows how or why The Thorns got together, but Ben Lee, Ben Kweller, and Ben Folds seem to think having the same first name is reason enough to form a band.

Seriously, the conundrum when three songwriters get together is: Can they really make music collaboratively after working solo, and if they can, are the results better than the solo work would have been, or are the songs compromised?

The Thorns showed this to be a limitation; though all their songs were credited to the band, it was quite obvious who wrote what. I Can't Remember sounded like a Matthew Sweet song and would have worked on one of his albums. Runaway Feeling sounded like a Pete Droge song and could have been on one of his albums.

At first The Bens really seem to make an attempt to avoid that. On the first of the four songs, Just Pretend, the boys take turns on lead vocals. They also harmoniz…