Does anyone really care about Eminem anymore? I guess a lot of people do, as he’s been a current trend on Twitter, since he announced that he was going to release a new album called Recovery in June. But I’m just curious as to why anyone really cares at this point. When he first appeared on the music scene in late 90’s and early 2000’s he was certainly among the most interesting of musical stars, and certainly the most controversial. Whatever you think about his misogynistic and homophobic lyrics (and it’s hard to argue that a lot of his lyrics aren’t those things) the guy let you into his tortured life and for a while it seemed fascinating. Like Lennon and Cobain before, for Eminem music and life intersected so much, it’s hard to tell where they stopped.
The best song he Eminem ever recorded was “Lose Yourself” because it came off as a triumph of over-coming the odds, and the song had a momentum that is rarely heard in rap. After that though, he seemed to rest on his laurels, just releasing dribble and lame shots at celebrity. Last year’s Relapse didn’t get the attention that everyone thought it would, because so much had been said about his drug abuse that it felt like we knew it already. The audience didn’t need to hear his perspective. Eminem ceased to be actually interesting. Before he had been different – a white rapper, he used different personas. But drug abuse made him like many other musicians. There was nothing that hadn’t been said before. Perhaps Eminem has learned as much as the lead-off single from Recovery, eschews his normal celebrity-bashing lead singles. On the “Not Afraid” song he raps that Relapse was “Ehh”. That might the most personal and true thing he’s said in a while. But it’s just not Relapse that’s “ehhh”. It’s Eminem’s whole career since 2002.
Bob Dylan’s Together Though Life turns 1 today, and it’s still constantly on my playlist. Ever since Time Out of Mind in 1997, Dylan has been on a creative high. Time Out of Mind was followed by the what -really-might-be-his-best-since-Blood-on-The-Tracks – Love & Theft. 2006’s Modern Times was pretty good too, but a kind of somber and weighty affair. On the other hand, Together Though Life is perhaps the first time since Blonde on Blonde where Dylan lets loose and sounds like he was making music just for the hell of it and actually enjoying himself in the process. There’s a twisted chuckle at the end of “My Wife’s Hometown”, and an cry out of “woo!” in the middle of “It’s All Good”.
Together Through Life is probably the closest studio incarnation to Dylan’s never-ending-tour where every night is a surprise and melodies and songs change constantly – but the music is always rooted in blues and pre-rock and roll music. Dylan even takes the melody of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love To You” for the hilarious “My Wife’s Hometown”. Dylan being Dylan though his wife’s hometown is hell and she’s got “stuff more potent than a gypsy curse”. “Forgetful Heart” might be his best ballad in years. “I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain,” Dylan sings in the voice that has now become more of a growl . “The door has closed forevermore. If indeed there ever was a door.” This is the song of a lonely man, but even his old age he still has the bite of his younger years.
Rolling Stone recently reported that 16 unreleased Dylan songs will appear on the soundtrack to My Own Love Song that served as the genesis for Together Through Life. Director Olivier Dahan asked Dylan to contribute “Life Is Hard” for the movie, but Dylan kept on writing and compiled what would eventually become Together Through Life. While I will surely get the soundtrack, I’m also hoping that this year we’ll get the Bootleg Series 9. If not, as Dylan sings on Together Through Life – “you know what they say man. It’s all good.”
I was pretty excited to read that Foxboro Hot Tubs (aka Green Day plus a couple of other dudes) recently played a secret show in New York. I’ve always been a big fan of Green Day, especially American Idiot. After the American Idiot-era ended for the band, I stated to one of my friends that Green Day should do a dirty rock and roll album next. I was partially right – they released that album Stop Drop and Roll!! under the Foxboro Hot Tubs moniker. But as Green Day, they released the follow-up to Idiot with the subpar 21st Century Breakdown. 21st Century isn’t particularly bad – it just takes the worst parts of American Idiot without bringing the quality of songs that made that album a classic. And now American Idiot is a musical on Broadway. A while back, I stated my thoughts on the American Idiot musical. For the moment it seems band that got big singing about masturbation and getting high, things are entirely too serious.
Which is why I’m glad that Foxboro Hot Tubs are back – or at the very least, Green Day haven’t forgotten about being ridiclious. Stop Drop and Roll!! isn’t meant to change the world. It’s dirty garage rock that could have easily been made in the mid 1960’s – most of the inspiration seems to come from 60’s British garage rock. Unlike a lot of other modern-day garage rock bands (The Strokes and The White Stripes I’m looking at you) Stop Drop and Roll!! doesn’t try to authenticate itself and present itself as the savior of rock and roll. By choosing that route, Foxboro Hot Tubs by accident created perhaps the best garage-rock album of the decade. Every song is filled with killer hooks, and chunky guitar riffs taken from classic early singles by The Who and The Kinks. It’s everything that 21st Century Breakdown is not, and is all the better for it. I’m all for changing the world through music, but even Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan know how to have to fun sometimes.
Spin recently named U2’s Achtung Baby as the number one album of the past 25 years. As a big fan of U2, a few years ago, I probably would have listed Achtung Baby as such. (But I have to say, Rain Dogs, Rum Sodomy & The Lash, and The Queen is Dead – among a few that come to mind – have more meaning to me than Achtung Baby currently does.)
Most casual listeners refer to The Joshua Tree as U2’s masterpiece, but Achtung Baby truly does belong in the pantheon of great albums. Stripping away the worldview of their 80’s albums, Bono turned his lyrics inward creating U2’s most personal album. At the same time, the music was turned up inspired by the industrial movement and also David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”. The Edge already known for his excessive use of guitar pedals, ditched his trademark echo for a wall of distortion. Achtung Baby is the 90’s version of “Sergeant Pepper” and “Highway 61 Revisited” – the sound of a band taking a giant risk musically while at the same time challenging its fans to fantastic results. (Unlike Radiohead, with Achtung Baby U2 created an experimental record that is actually listenable. Kid A I’m referring to you.)
Unlike a lot of other great albums, Achtung Baby’s emotional core is actually at the end of the album. The last three songs might be among the most emotional and sad songs U2 ever recorded. (And that’s saying something considering this U2 we’re talking about.) “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” shows a man at the end of his rope clinging on for dear life. (When singing this song on last year’s 360 tour, Bono would try to personify this by singing and swinging from a suspended microphone.) “Acrobat” deals with the conflicts of being a rock star, being spiritual but not religious. “Yeah I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in,” Bono sings. “Love is Blindness” ends the album on a slow note with the Edge producing perhaps the best guitar-solo he’s ever recorded. Depending on your point of view, the song is either about an IRA bomb, or leaving his home behind and sleeping with a prostitute. (I’m going with the prostitute theory.)
I don’t listen to Achtung Baby as much as I used to. But it still remains one of my favorite albums. And it’s also an album that U2 knows is among their best – they regularly play songs from it while on tour. And 19 years later, they’re still trying to recreate the magic of the album with last year’s disappointing No Line on the Horizon.
After watching a video on Earth Day today I had no idea that the event was sparked by the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River. While almost every knows of Earth Day, no as many people know about the burning of the Cuyahoga River. I only know about it because of R.E.M.
R.E.M. chronicled the disaster in their 1986 song, “Cuyahoga”. When I first heard the song when I was about 5 (I was a huge R.E.M. fan as a kid believe it or not)I had no idea about the Cuyahoga, or any idea of what the song meant. I also thought the chorus was “Puyahoga” instead of “Cuyahoga” I asked one of my older brothers what the song was about. When he told me, the idea that a river could actually burn stuck with me. Even now, I’m slightly afraid if someone flicks their cigarette butt into the Chesapeke Bay it could end up like the Cuyahoga. Hyperbole, I know.
The song begins with a memorable bass riff played by Mike Mills before the rest of the band kicks in. “Let’s put our heads together start a new country up,” Michael Stipe announces. Peter Buck sticks to his trademark chimes during the verses, but alternates between those and power-chords during the pre-chorus. The song sounds like it starts out as a normal R.E.M. circa 1986, but the chorus turns into one arena friendly rock with its plaintive shouts of “Cuyahoga!” during the chorus. Like a lot of R.E.M. songs, Michael Stipe alternates between glimpses of old memories (“We knee skinned that river you and me, We knee-skinned that river red”) and harsh reality (“Rewrite the book, and rule the pages, secured in faith. Bury, burn the waste.”) “Cuyahoga” is one of R.E.M.’s forgotten gems, but more than that, it’s also an important reminder of a piece of history.
I recently heard MGMT’s new album Congratulations and was unimpressed. Oracular Spectacular was a fascinating debut filled with some great songs (“Kids” and “Time to Pretend”). Sometimes it’s hard to follow up great debuts with another great record. Here’s a list of some of my favorites.
Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model. Boosted by the Attractions on the follow-up to My Aim is True, the music finally matches Costello’s nastiness.
R.E.M. – Reckoning.Reckoning takes away the murkiness of Murmur resulting in an album full of Byrds fueled college rock.
The Band – The Band. Another terrific set songs on the follow-up to Music from Big Pink. Doesn’t contain the “big hit” (ie – “The Weight”) but “Rag Mama Rag” and “King Harvest Has Surely Come” are undisputed classics.
Ryan Adams – Gold. Heartbreaker Ryan Adam tried to be a modern Gram Parsons. (Emmylou Harris even guests on one of the tracks.) On Gold he attempted to take on The Rolling Stones circa Exile, and despite his prolific tendency, he’s never bettered Gold.
The Pogues – Rum Sodomy & The Lash. Red Roses For Me is good rowdy fun, Rum Sodomy & The Lash proved the Pogues were more than just Irish folk music on speed.
Yesterday, I gave my praises to Elvis Costello and Allen Touissant’s The River in Reverse. It’s a rare breed of an album – a true collaboration whether neither artist is overshadowed by the other. Here’s another of my favorite collaboration albums. (Note: I know there a tons of jazz albums in this category, but unfortunately my jazz collection is somewhat lacking.
Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue
This collaboration is in my top 10 albums of all time. Taking unfinished Woody Guthrie lyrics as the starting point Billy Bragg and Wilco create gem of a record. Both artists update Guthrie’s lyrics but still retain the spirit of his work. The album begins with the hysterical “Walt Whitman’s Niece” with its call and refrain. (Key lyric: “And as she read, I laid my head. But I can’t tell which head.”) Then there’s the gorgeous “California Stars”. If you never believed in just running off to get away from it all, this song might change your mind. Of course not of all of it is fun – being an album full of Woody Guthrie lyrics. “Eisler on the Go” is Guthrie’s response to Han Eisler being deported by the US Government during the Cold War. If I can’t think of an album to listen to, I almost always pick up Mermaid Avenue and am never disappointed.
Just saw this article earlier. Lou Reed is apparently releasing the infamous Metal Machine Music album. Lou Reed is one of my musical heroes, but I could never wrap my head around Metal Machine Music. Metal Machine Music like “Revolution Number 9”, “Self Portrait” and even Sandinista! is the sound of hubris taking over. Each of these individuals involved have created some of the best music ever to be made – and these musical projects reveal they can indeed make shit. The worst part is – they try to pass it off as art.
I like feedback and noise. I wouldn’t be a fan of The Velvet Underground, The Stooges of Sonic Youth if I weren’t. But I also like songs – not just meandering noise for no other reasons than shock value. “Sister Ray” is known for it’s excessive use of feedback and noise (and some deem it almost unlistenable) but it is still a song. It pushes the limits of what could be called music for sure – distortion pedals pushed to the max, and John Cale on organ. And the lyrics are even darker and subversive for 1968.
Says Lou Reed about the song: “Sister Ray’ was done as a joke—no, not as a joke—but it has eight characters in it and this guy gets killed and nobody does anything. It was built around this story that I wrote about this scene of total debauchery and decay. I like to think of ‘Sister Ray’ as a transvestite dealer. The situation is a bunch of drag taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear.”
Even at its most extreme music is supposed to elicit an emotion out of the listener. I’m not sure what a person benefits from listening to Metal Machine Music other than to write to Lou Reed and ask for some time of life back. And now he’s planning on rereleasing this thing?