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Showing posts from January, 2010

252. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Running With Scissors (1999)

When "Weird Al" Yankovic's first album came out I was six years old. When Running With Scissors came out, I had just graduated college. Though I had outgrown Al's sense of humor by this time (detailed in my review of Bad Hair Day), I didn't really know that then.

So was ignorance bliss? No, not really. I found some minor pleasure in the album, but mostly Running With Scissors sat on the shelf, and with good reason. Though better than Bad Hair Day, it's not a good album.

Once again, I'm aware that I bring a jaded adult bias to these later Al albums. Had I been 12 years old in 1999, I probably have been floored by Running With Scissors and played it incessantly. So that's something to consider as you read. However, I think I would have hated the cover art no matter what. It's overly obvious and not very well composed either. And what's with that band of track running along the right third of the cover? What's the purpose of that? I vote this f…

Rock Bottom: Madonna

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not alwaysagree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.

* …

251. Duran Duran: Liberty (1990)

Since we only get a year that ends in 0 every 10 years, I thought it might be fun to look back at interesting albums from 1980, 1990, and 2000. Next we have...

When I chose Duran Duran's Liberty as 1990's representative, I didn't really know what I was getting into. I picked up the album very cheap at the end of last year, and it spent a couple of weeks on repeat in my CD player. Since I'm pretty much ignorant of Duran Duran beyond their hits, I thought it'd be a fun album to investigate and review.

Wouldn't you know that in the course of my research, I discovered that Liberty is considered Duran Duran's worst album! Now, I'm not really including it as part of the Rock Bottom feature for a couple of reasons. One is that I don't have an enough expertise on the band's oeuvre to make a good judgment call, and the other is that Rock Bottom rule about "missing vital members." Duran Duran has a complex personnel history, but there's an agr…

250. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Bad Hair Day (1996)

Between the ages of 17 and 19 I really got into Kurt Vonnegut's novels. I bought and read every one of them, finding that each one more revolutionary and spell-binding than the last. During that time, one of my dad's friends, a bookstore owner said, "Ah, I remember my Vonnegut phase too. I'm glad I outgrew that."

I was kind of stung by that at the time, at the idea that my interest in this great and important author was nothing more than a developmental stage. And though his comment was mostly callous and condescending, it had a patina of truth. Namely that lots of forms of entertainment are developmental.

I bring that up because Bad Hair Day is "Weird Al" Yankovic's ninth album and yet it shows very little evolution from his first one. And I don't mean that musically; Al has had the luxury of being able to evolve along with the musical times. It's his sense of humor has remained exactly the same throughout. And if I had to put a number on it,…

Rock Bottom: Talking Heads

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not alwaysagree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.

* …

249. Billy Joel: Glass Houses (1980)

Since we only get a year that ends in 0 every 10 years, I thought it might be fun to look back at interesting albums from 1980, 1990, and 2000. First up...

Billy Joel had wowed the pop music audience with the one-two punch of The Stranger and52nd Street in 1977 and 1978 respectively, and the big question surrounding his 1980 follow-up, Glass Houses was: "Will success ruin Mr. William Joel?"

The answer is no, success didn't ruin him. But certainly didn't make him happy, either. Glass Houses' songs are full of doubt, alienation, anger, loneliness, and self-loathing.

Just a Fantasy finds Joel lonely on the road and pleading to his girl for relief: "I know it's awful hard to try to make love long distance / But I really needed stimulation / Though it was only my imagination" (Yep, he's asking for phone sex). All for Leyna concerns a young man who has become hopelessly obsessed with a one-night stand who wants nothing more to do with him. In Sleeping Wi…

Rock Bottom: The Beatles

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not alwaysagree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.

* …

"Weird Al" Yankovic - "Headline News"

Headline News was the only new song on Al's 1994 box set Permanent Record: Al in the Box (it was also released as a single and on Greatest Hits Volume II). The song is a parody of Crash Test Dummies unlikely hit of the same year, Mm Mm Mm Mm.

That song detailed three stories about children, one who is so traumatized by an auto accident that his hair turns white, another who is embarrassed to undress for gym class because of her birthmarks, and another who goes to a Pentecostal church. It's a strangely elliptical tune with a wordless chorus, sung in an improbably low baritone. What can I say, the mid '90s were heady musical times.

Al's take on the song finds him substituting the children's stories for, as you might have guessed from the title, popular news stories of the time. First up is Michael Fey, the American youth who got caught for vandalizing cars and stealing road signs in Singapore. He was sentenced to be caned, a routine punishment there. Next is Tonya Hard…

248. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Alapalooza (1993)

Even for "Weird Al" Alapalooza is a weird album. A surprising contender for Rock Bottom status (though it fell just short), this 1993 opus contains some of Al's best work, as well as some of his most puzzling.

Song Parodies:
We start with Jurassic Park. Sometimes Al's parodies are all about the subject matter and sometimes they're about the song (in rare cases it's both). Jurassic Park is all about the subject matter; the movie was a massive hit in 1993. The song (Richard Harris' 1968 hit MacArthur Park), though it fits very well lyrically, is in odd choice, mostly because it's so anachronistic in context with the other, more modern, song styles on the album. It's also strange that Al chose to sing the song from Jeff Goldblum's character's point of view ("I admit it's kinda eerie / But this proves my chaos theory"). And remember what I've said before about a bad song making for a bad parody? It holds true here.

Achy Breaky S…