Wednesday, June 15, 2005

76. Black Eyed Peas - Monkey Business (2005)

After two listens to their new album, Monkey Business, I was ready to give Black Eyed Peas a black eyed review. After breaking through with their 2003 album Elephunk, the Peas seemed to have let the success corrupt their music. The follow-up seemed mindless, and even worse, boring.

But then something strange happened on my third listen. I was a little bit charmed by some of the songs.

What is a reviewer to do when he feels so conflicted? I decided to break the album's tracks into three categories to better articulate my feelings:

1) The Songs I Like

Pump It is a fun party tune set to the surf guitar and horns of Dick Dale. You've heard this song in Best Buy commercials. Don't Phunk With My Heart is the first single, and it does its job just fine, though I could live without the Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam lift from I Wonder If I Take You Home, especially since Kylie Minogue did it better on her last album. Don't Lie is a less-exciting sequel to Shut Up, from Elephunk. The guys explain themselves in the verses, and Fergie doesn't want to hear it on the chorus. Gone Going takes the head-scratcher of an idea to sample a Jack Johnson tune, but the song itself is an effective cautionary tale about someone who lets success go to their head. Finally there's Like That, the best song on the album. There's a guest appearance takeover by Q-Tip, Cee-Lo, John Legend, and Talib Kweli and the result sounds like classic hip-hop.

2) Songs That I Hate

There are only four of them, Dum Diddly, Disco Club, Ba Bump, and Audio Delite At Low Fidelity. The reason I hate them is the same. They are all ridiculous. When I reviewed Elephunk, I praised the Peas for marrying their socially conscious lyrics with party time melodies. Here they haven't even bothered with the socially conscious lyrics. In fact, they've barely bothered with lyrics at all. The rhymes on these songs are repetitive, lazy, thoughtless and wack.

3) Songs I'm Ambivalent About

My Style and They Don't Want Music both feature high-profile guests (Justin Timberlake and James Brown, respectively) who are wasted with one-note performances, in both cases just repeating the title phrase. However, neither song is outright bad. Bebot is very interesting. It's sung in Filipino and sounds very cool. Even your snobby world music friends might like it. I just wish the Peas didn't feel the need to shout out the word "Filipino" as much as possible; it nearly ruins the mood. Union continues Sting's fearlessness about farming his songs out for hip hop samples (I'll Be Missing You, Roxanne '97). I kind of admire his forward thinking, one just wishes the results were good. This time the sample is from An Englishman In New York, and all it does is make me want to listen to the original song again.

My Humps gives me the most inner turmoil. One part of me just wants to blindly embrace this catchy ode to Fergie's ass. But another part of me is deeply bothered. I'm not only bothered by the completely unsexy use of the term "humps" to describe butt cheeks (it's only slightly better than Sisqo's "dumps like a truck"), but also by the content. I don't want to become a prude as I get older, but as I teacher I know kids listen to this stuff. I don't want 10 year olds going around singing about their "lovely lady lumps."

Finally, there's Feel It, which just makes me go "eh" but does illustrate something very interesting about this album. Fergie is now the breakout star, which is not so surprising considering she was brought in to sex up their image. The surprise is that she has become artistically invaluable. Many of the songs on Monkey Business would simply sink without her interesting vocal contributions.

So what's the final verdict? Six songs out of fifteen that I like. And, to be generous, let's add three more from the ambivalent list. That brings us to 9 out of 15, or three-fifths, or 60%. That means:

Grade: D
Fave Song: Like That

Sunday, June 12, 2005

75. Motion City Soundtrack - Commit This To Memory (2005)

Is emo over? Did someone forget to notify me? I only ask because I swear the other day I read the words "post-emo" somewhere. I thought we were still in the midst of it. Aren't bands like Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, and My Chemical Romance still making waves? Isn't the Warped Tour still making the rounds?! Then again, Promise Ring, Blink-182, and The Get-Up Kids have all called it quits.

Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter. Emo is probably the first pop music movement that no actual band would admit to being a part of. And that's a shame, because it's a good, non-trendy sound: harmony, keyboards, fast guitars, emotional lyrics. In fact those exact same words could be used to describe power pop, or the new new wave movement.

You could also use it to describe Motion City Soundtrack. And no matter what category you want to place it in, their second album is a corker!

Produced by Blink-182 singer/bassist Mark Hoppus, Commit This To Memory finds the middle ground that made Blink sometimes great; not too funny but not too serious. There are no scatalogical jokes and no experimental gothic punk, just great melodies about fucked-up relationships. Nothing captures that spirit than the third track, When "You're" Around. "I'm so full of love it deeply sickens me" singer Justin Pierre tells us. Isn't that the exact problem all of these emo kids have?

The album encapsulates the emo experience in other ways. Feel Like Rain bends Pierre's voice into a longing reminiscent of Jimmy Eat World. Hangman brings to mind the keyboard-driven whine of The Get-Up Kids. Producer Hoppus offers vocals to that track, as well as a Blink-182-esque drum and guitar breakdown at the end of Time Turned Fragile. But it's not all-emo-all-the-time. Resolution and L.G. FUAD both bring up fond allusions to underappreicated '80s outfut The Outfield.

Also, you know me, I can't go without mentioning the fact that MCS are from Minneapolis. If you didn't know that there are a couple of clues, one overt and one covert. The less direct reference is this great line from Time Turned Fragile: "How it got so cold / That words just froze / We had to wait 'til summer / To find out what was said." That's a Minnesota thing, for sure. Better Open The Door is not only the most raucous song on the album, but it also contains three Minneapolis references. "Frank fails to see the humor in / my sad attempts at break dancing / In every bar along Lyndale Avenue" and "Liz likes to liquor up my thoughts / From the C.C. Club to the Triple Rock."

A gift for melody and songwriting is in abundant evidence on Commit This To Memory, from the two (TWO!) choruses on Better Open The Door to the float-away-on-a-cloud bridge on Make Out Kids that could have been its own song. MCS are obviously a band reaching for their prime. If there really are those who believe that we are in post-emo era, this is the kind of album that proves the rumors of its demise have been grossly exaggereated

Grade: A
Fave Song: Better Open The Door

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Da na na na na na

I was born 28 years ago on this day! And in the way time works, that day was also a Saturday. I'd like to thank my mom and dad, especially my mom!

In celebration I present my Top 10 Favorite Birthday Songs:

10. Neil Diamond - Desiree (I know that in no way is this song about a birthday. It's really about Neil losing his virginity: "The time was right / The night was long". But the second verse begins, "Then came the 4th of June.")

9. 50 Cent -In Da Club (Okay, also not technically a birthday song. But since this was released, how can we get through a birthday without mentioning shorties, Bacardi, and not giving a fuck?)

8. Lesley Gore - It's My Party (Speaking of not giving a fuck: "I'll cry if I want to".)

7. Alice In Wonderland Soundtrack - The Unbirthday Song (A classic! I had this on a vinyl album of Disney's best movie songs and always asked my mom for unbirthday presents after listening to it).

6. Blur - Birthday (Droning Brit-pop for your friends that hate birthdays. "I don't like these days / They make me feel so small.")

5. Pet Shop Boys - Birthday Boy (This is an epic track from their last release, Release. I can't quite figure it out. It may be about Jesus; it might be about being gay. Hard to say.)

4. Stevie Wonder - Happy Birthday (Actually about declaring Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. How can you not love that, Arizona?!)

3. Ronnie Milsap - Happy Happy Birthday Baby (Not one of my favorite Milsap songs, but still a great downer of a birthday tune. The narrator writes to wish his ex a happy birthday, even though she broke his heart.)

2. The Beatles - Birthday (Somehow this song has become an acceptable alternative to the actual Happy Birthday, despite the most likely untruthful line: "It's my birthday too, yeah!")

1. No Doubt - Six Feet Under ( First of all I love any song that cops The Cars' sound. And that chous: "Today is my birthday / And I get one every year / And some day... / Hard to believe / But I'll be buried six feet underground". It's the best 23 word summation of adult birthday thoughts ever put to music.)