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Showing posts from March, 2010

262. Broken Bells: Broken Bells (2010)

Broken Bells is a collaboration between Shins frontman James Mercer and producer extraordinaire Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton. The latter has already had great success as half of a super-duo, teaming with Cee-Lo to become Gnarls Barkley.

And though it contains no breakout hit on the level of Crazy, Broken Bells' debut album is an enjoyable piece of work.

However, that assessment is mostly dependent on you holding Mercer in high regard, since his voice and sensibility stand at the center of the record. In fact, it's easy to view Broken Bells as a James Mercer solo album with production by Danger Mouse. Sure, Burton cowrites every song and brings an experimental spirit with him (especially in the diverse instrumentation), but this is Mercer's show.

In fact, those hoping for something that doesn't sound mostly like The Shins will only have one song to latch onto. That'd be The Ghost Inside, which is the strange amalgam of indie rock and futuristic R & B that …

Rock Solid: Beach Boys

"If you only own one album by The Beach Boys it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases and as a pain in the ass in others.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

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Far be it from me to propagate the same old story…

259. XTC: Drums and Wires (1979)

Barry Andrews, whose keyboard was an integral part of the early XTC sound, left the band in 1979 due an internal struggle with guitarist/songwriter/singer Andy Partridge. Andrews saw them as equals; Andy saw himself as the leader.

So it's ironic that the first post-Andrews album, Drums and Wires, finds a new challenger to Partridge's supremacy. Bassist Colin Moulding, who had contributed 3 awful songs to White Music and 3 mediocre ones to Go 2, made an amazing leap in songwriting on the album. In fact, he wrote all of the album's singles, including the song that stands as the band's third-biggest hit, Making Plans for Nigel.

Mostly thanks to the catchiness of that song (and Life Begins at the Hop) and the introduction of talented guitarist Dave Gregory as Barry Andrews' replacement, the common belief is that Drums and Wires was the debut of XTC as a guitar-based melodic pop group (rather than a new wave punk band). But the full album doesn't quite support that th…

In XTC

For one shining moment in 1976, everyone thought the band Klaatu were the reunited Beatles in disguise. It turned out to be a false rumor based on some far-fetched and not-so-far-fetched coincidences, as well as some vague musical similarities.

What does that have to do with anything?

When my dad first told me about this, on a summer day in 1996, I wondered why more bands didn't release music under pseudonyms, just for the fun and freedom of it.

And then my dad told me about the British band XTC, who in the '80s had released an album as The Psonic Psunspots. He described their "Dukes of Stratosphere" album as Beatlesque and Beach Boyish. Sufficiently intrigued, I asked if I could borrow it sometime. But my dad didn't own the album; he'd checked it out from the Bloomington Public Library back when it was released in 1987.

That was the first time I'd heard of XTC, let alone the Psonic Psunspots, but I had a new mission. I vowed to find that record.

I was initial…

An Open Letter to "Weird Al" Yankovic

Dear Mr. Yankovic,

Do you remember me? I last wrote you in 1988, suggesting that you parody Robert Palmer's hit Simply Irresistible using the title Simply Indigestible. I don't blame you for not taking my suggestion, but I still think it would have been pretty funny.

I'm writing now because I've just spent the past 5 months reviewing every single one of your albums on my blog, and I've got some thoughts and advice I'd like to share with you.

Let me start by thanking you for the joy you've brought me over the years. There have been laughs, of course, but you also introduced me to the kaleidoscopic menu of pop music. I'm guessing my tastes would be much more limited if not for your genre-hopping. Viewing your career in whole has been like taking a tour through the last 27 years of pop music history.

But I've also noted some disturbing trends in your career that I'd like to address. And remember, all of this is meant in a constructive way. I'm here…

Rock Solid: "Weird Al" Yankovic

"If you only own one album by "Weird Al" Yankovic it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases and as a pain in the ass in others.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

* * *

If anyone is qualified to tell you a…

Rock Solid: David Bowie

"If you only own one album by David Bowie it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases and as a pain in the ass in others.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4)…

257. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Internet Leaks EP (2009)

One of the modern day raps against "Weird Al" has been a lack of timeliness. Given the increased speed of media, the songs and topics Al parodies can become passe by the time he gets around to putting out an album. Seemingly acknowledging this, Al has spend the last year releasing advance singles from his next album. In turn, those songs have been packaged together as a digital EP called Internet Leaks.

Though this solution may allow the songs to be more topical, it doesn't necessarily make them better (as we'll see) and it certainly doesn't increase excitement for an album. Who wants to buy a CD when they've already paid for half of the songs?

Parodies
Whatever You Like is a parody of T.I.'s 2008 hit...Whatever You Like. If I'm not mistaken this marks the first time Al has used the same title and lyrical concept in a parody. In T.I.'s song he promises his girl all sorts of great things (a private jet, a 5 million dollar home, a Bentley, etc.). Al do…

"Weird Al" Yankovic - "You're Pitiful" (2006)

Weird Al's career is littered with parodies that didn't get released because of artist or label refusal. Thus we've been spared Snack All Night (Michael Jackson's Black or White), Chicken Pot Pie (Wings' Live and Let Die), Laundry Day (The Offspring's Come Out and Play), Gee, I'm a Nerd (The Beatles' Free as a Bird), I'll Repair For You (The Rembrandts' I'll Be There for You), Fast Food (Alanis Morissette's Thank U), Bad Date (Daniel Powter's Bad Day).

While working on Straight Outta Lynwood, Al recorded You're Pitiful, a parody of James Blunt's ubiquitous 2005 single You're Beautiful. Before the album was released, Blunt's record company protested. Because he had Blunt's permission, Al released it on the Internet for free download instead.

Al's version features a narrator who dresses down an unnamed "you", a poor schlub who doesn't have a lot going for him. Among other things, he can't dance,…

Rock Solid: R.E.M.

"If you only own one album by R.E.M. it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. Rolling Stone serves as a tiebreaker in many cases and as a pain in the ass in others.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

* * *

I've just started this new feature and I'm already …

Best. Album. Ever.

The sun is rising and a new day is dawning.

I've spent the past 17 months on this blog researching, listening to, and writing about "bad" albums. In case you weren't following along, the Rock Bottom project found me picking a musician and then determining which of their albums was the worst in the eyes of critics and fans. Though it sounds somewhat torturous, it was actually a blast uncovering the various reasons why an album was so hated, deciding whether I disagreed or not, and then writing about the whole process.

It took me 16 of those 17 months to come up with the logical companion project (I never claimed to be a quick thinker). Now that we know the worst of an artist, why not look at their best?

This, I'm discovering, brings up a whole different set of issues. How do we quantify what is ultimately an opinion? Sales? Critical reaction? Cultural impact? Fan response? My solution is to look at all of them. I'm going to rely on my trusty sources, the All Musi…