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Showing posts from February, 2010

256. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Straight Outta Lynwood (2006)

Straight Outta Lynwood, Al's 12th (and newest for now) album is, thankfully, a minor return to form. After getting bogged down in increasingly uninspired parodies and increasingly juvenile humor, Al reigns in some of those bad tendencies, remembers that humor doesn't have to be completely devoid of social commentary, and delivers his best album since Alapalooza.

Parodies
White & Nerdy, the album opener, is a parody of Chamillionaire's Ridin'. Right away a renewed energy is apparent. Yes, the lyrical conceit (a narrator brags about the breadth and depth of his social ineptitude) is similar to that of All About the Pentiums, but it's nonetheless clever, and Al is fully committed. As a measure of the song's cultural impact, I actually saw students in the middle school where I teach wearing shirts sporting the title phrase.

Canadian Idiot, a take on Green Day's American Idiot, at first seems like one of Al's annoying blanket cultural generalization songs (…

Rock Bottom: Jay-Z

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 All Music 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.

Remake Second Take: We Are the World

In case you haven't heard, a bunch of singers recently got together to make a new version of We Are the World, that classic schmaltzy superstar balled written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The impetus was to raise money for disaster relief in Haiti. I have problems with this. Well, not the disaster relief itself, but certainly the remake.

1) My criticism of the original stands: If these multimillionaires really want to help they could donate their time and money rather than recording a song asking lower and middle class people to do the work. Charity singles always seem to me to spring more from an egotistical place rather than a compassionate one.

2) From a creative standpoint, I agree with Jay-Z's recent comments about the remake. He said, "So I appreciate the efforts and everything, but We Are The World is untouchable like Thriller is untouchable." He added that he would have preferred a new song over a remake. Me too.

3) Finally, and most importantly, is th…

Rock Bottom: "Weird Al" Yankovic

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 All Music 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. If that's the case, I'll 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 a…

Rock Bottom: They Might Be Giants

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. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases. 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 thi…

254. Motion City Soundtrack: My Dinosaur Life (2010)

Note: My opinion on this album has changed since the publication of this review. Read this for more detail.


In a recent interview, Motion City Soundtrack frontman Justin Pierre said his Minneapolis pop punk band's new album, My Dinosaur Life, is an "all in" moment, a shot at the big time.

I have to assume he was talking about the business side of things (this is their first album on a major label) because creatively, MCS has been all-in from the beginning. The band's 2003 debut (I Am the Movie) was embryonic and uneven, but still had a fair share of notable moments. The next two albums, 2005's Commit This To Memory and 2007's Even If It Kills Me were outstanding. They were perfectly-paced, energetic, and deeply catchy.

Ironically, My Dinosaur Life is none of those things.

Where Even If It Kills Me left off, MCS were finding a balance between their cold-weather cynicism and a growing sense of hope and happiness. It makes sense: Lead singer and lyricist Justin…

Rock Bottom: Van Halen

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.

* …

Rock Slide

You're about to be inundated with Rock Bottom entries.

When I started a feature investigating artist's "worst" albums I had no idea how much fun it'd be! Though I had originally only intended to do an unlucky 13 artists, I've kind of been on a roll (so to speak) lately.

So you've already seen entries for The Beatles, Talking Heads, and Madonna this year, and coming up in the next few weeks we've got Van Halen, They Might Be Giants, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Jay-Z. These four will bring the number of entries up to 22.

(Click here for an index.)

And it's all a precursor to something new I have up my sleeve. Thanks for reading!

253. XTC: Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (2000)

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. Finally...

After 7 years of being unable to officially record because of a dispute with Virigin Records, British power pop group XTC finally returned to the scene with 1999's Apple Venus, Volume 1. The songs were lush, acoustic, and pastoral. XTC's sound had included that element in its later years, but never had it been so pronounced.

2000 saw the companion album, Wasp Star (the Aztec name for Venus) released. Its songs showcased the rock-oriented XTC we were more familiar with. Both records were heralded by critics and fans as a triumphant return. Little did we know that they were also a triumphant, two-volume swan song.

I guess we should have known; there were clues. Longtime guitarist Dave Gregory had quit the band before they'd even finished Apple Venus. XTC had not had a permanent drummer since Terry Chambers left in 1982. Thou…