This is just delightful: Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" transposed -- turned inside-out, really -- on the piano. The jaunty trills here are straight out of a New York City-in-the-fall movie soundtrack.
I think I see the problem with poor Kurt ... he was just playing in the wrong key.
Update: And here's Paul Anka giving it the full lounge-lizard treatment, via @RobertMatre:
The album: Kenny Chesney, "Life on a Rock"
Genre: Cheese-and-bacon-wrapped country
Verdict: Country music for people who are scared of country music
Why do you listen to music? It's an important question, one that occurred to me as I was listening to Kenny Chesney's latest. Chesney gets slotted in with country musicians, which is correct enough, though he owes far more to Jimmy Buffett than he does to Johnny Cash. But while he employs the usual elements of country music -- storytelling verse, singalong chorus, guitars aplenty -- whatever soul there might be is buried under the crushing weight of friendly chord changes, wistful fake-nostalgia lyrics and genre-appropriate instruments. This is the Applebee's of music: safe, easily digestible and only vaguely memorable. Every CD should come with a side of honey-mustard dipping sauce.
Here, let me demonstrate. You can check out the opening track, "Pirate Flag," in the video above. Hit play as you read this, and let's see if we can tick off the crowd-pleasing marks that Chesney hits in this song:
• Beachy ukelekes, to put you in the right frame of mind
• Reference to coming from, yep, a "little bitty homegrown small town"
• Moonshine that makes you want to get naked, which would seem to be the basis for some ugly court cases
• Getting on a Greyhound bus to leave this world behind
• Finding sun and sand, of course
• References to spending his whole life running around, while the wind still blows him ... um, around (interesting: "around" rhymes with "around")
• Something about a note in a bottle to a long-legged model, which makes no damn sense at all
• Finding love with an "island girl" and living beneath a "pirate flag," which in these days of Somali pirates is probably not a good idea
• Those crazy "friends back home" wonder what he's doing, as friends do
• References to rum, blender, salt air, local bars, sails and other beachy-type things
• Absolutely no references to, you know, working or paying for this paradise or anything like that. At least Zac Brown's "Toes" was honest, that you get your ass booted back stateside when the money runs out.
This is Mary Sue wanking, pure and simple. (Stick with me here: there are people who write fan fiction of their favorite genres: Harry Potter, Star Trek, Twilight, et cetera. And when they do, they always insert a character who's basically a stand-in for the author, a character who happens to be just the tiniest bit smarter and wittier than all the characters, while getting to romance certain ones and one-up others. Kenny Chesney -- or, more properly, the character named "Kenny Chesney" -- is, like Jimmy Buffett before him, the middle-aged white guy's Mary Sue.
Which, granted, is a very lucrative role to play. Who doesn't want to chuck it all and head for the sun and sand? (Preferably on something a little less aromatic than a bus, though.) The thing with Chesney is that it's all so calculated, the way that chain restaurants ladle on adjectives (applewood-smoked bacon! Southwestern roasted-corn salsa!) to shorthand you right into the right frame of mind.
You generally shouldn't judge an album by its song titles, but in this case, you'd probably be on target: "When I See This Bar" is a story about, yep, a bar. "Spread the Love" is a faux-reggae joint about -- you guessed it -- spreading love (First lyric: "All God's children gotta come together"). And hey, while it must be nice to have the coin to hire the Wailers and Willie Nelson, you'd wish they had more to work with than in-the-pocket impersonations of themselves. It's like meeting DeNiro in a restaurant and asking him to do "You talking to me?"
Look, bottom line: this is a perfectly serviceable album, one that absolutely makes me want to go grab a margarita and hang in the sunshine. Plenty of white folks dreaming of beaches will be playing this through their Bluetoothed ipods by the pool all summer long. But they're going to have a hard time remembering the last song that played as soon as the next one starts.
This one needs absolutely no introduction:
And yes, that's two Journey posts in a row. I promise I won't write about "When the Lights Go Down In The City" tomorrow.
[Via Hollywood Babble-On]
As a culture, we've slid out of '80s nostalgia and we're well into the '90s revivals now — just you watch; there'll be neo-Blues Traveler and neo-Candlebox bands coming along any day now — but before we bid adieu to the '80s for another decade or so, let's isolate the most '80s moment in music history.
It comes, naturally, in a song by Journey, that most quintessential of '80s bands. A hundred years from now, movies will still feature "Don't Stop Believin'" as a handy cultural touchstone ... although the Michael Bays of the 22nd century will probably use it in a World War I flick. (Hey, it all happened about the same time, right?)
Anyway, the moment I'm talking about doesn't come in "Don't Stop Believin'," but in "Any Way You Want It." The song itself is indelible '80s material, starting with the very first verse:
She loves to laugh
She loves to sing
She does everything
She loves to move
She loves to groove
She loves the lovin' things
And really, who doesn't love the lovin' things? And who doesn't love a woman (no name necessary, though it was probably "Heather" or "Stephanie") who loves those lovin' things? The '80s were a pastel, bubbleheaded decade, culturally speaking, and songs like this are a big reason why. I imagine Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain vomited blood when they heard this song.
ANYway. So the subject matter is pure '80s, and the music — big, fat Neal Schon power chords; multitracked Steve Perry vocals, drums that sound like someone's pounding on a plastic cooler, none of that scary low-end bass — is a master class all by itself. Add in the video, with its "play the jukebox" motif and the classic lip-syncing band (and utterly creepy ending), and you've got all the elements of a time-capsule moment.
But let's distill further. It's my contention that the ultimate '80s moment comes at the 2:20 moment of this song, the bridge right after the solo. Steve Perry's soaring vocal: "She said hooooooold on, hold on, hoooold on..." is the entire '80s distilled down to a ten-second John Hughes/Cameron Crowe/Reagan/Madonna/"Alf"-implied sound bite. That's it right there. Package that, bottle that, make it the world's ring tone, and we'll be back to the days of big hair before you know it.
In honor of Guns n' Roses getting elected to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame (along with the Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys), I give you the video that is everything about this band: insane coolness-turned-overwrought absurdity. Ladies and gentlemen, "Estranged":
Generally, most kids grow out of using "Webster's Dictionary defines X as ... " as a way to lead off their term papers by, oh, 10th grade or so. But Axl Rose is not like most kids. And the weirdness only goes on from there; at this point, these guys were already five different corporations who held periodic meetings onstage.
Did they deserve to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot? My inclination is to say no, and this is from a huge GnR freak. They had only one truly great album ("Appetite") and were more defined by what they didn't achieve than what they did. Still, this was the last of the Larger-Than-Life Rock Star Bands; Nirvana and hip-hop would combine to kick the pins out from under the rock star mystique, and the genre has never recovered. (Knowingly or not, this video is making that exact point with the whole leaving-it-all-behind scene in front of the Whiskey and the Roxy at around the six-minute mark.)
Still, if you're going to jump the shark — or in this case, dolphin — might as well do it off the side of an ocean liner.
Axl Rose is performing in Atlanta tonight, and barring a drop-out-of-the-sky miracle, I won't be seeing him. This marks the first time since, oh, 1988 or so that I've been in the same town as a Guns n' Roses show, and I haven't checked it out. My younger self wants to punch me in the face right now.
Shoot, for awhile there, I didn't even have to be the same state to see GnFnR; I remember driving from D.C. to Philly to see one show, waiting three-plus hours after Soundgarden wrapped for GnR to get their act together and get onstage, and then driving back to Washington and arriving home around 5 a.m. Yeah, that was kind of stupid.
So, yeah, I'm sitting this one out. I need to do a whole big writeup on GnR, a definitive statement of what-the-hell-this-band-all-means, but for now I'll just say this: I don't miss GnR enough to want to go see them again. Maybe that's a function of the fact that this "band" is just Axl and a bunch of interchangeable cats (some of whom have been in the "band" longer than Slash and Duff ever were, but I digress). Maybe it's a function of the iTunes era; any time I want to hear "Locomotive" or "Rocket Queen," I don't have to search out the CD and pop it in; I can have it cued up and playing before you finish reading this sentence. If familiarity breeds contempt, it also destroys surprise. I've heard all these songs too many times, too recently, for them to mean anything to me anymore.
Anyway, here they are just a few weeks ago in Rio. Axl doesn't sound terrible, he's just ... well, he's hitting all the right notes, I guess:
That's "Estranged," and it's one of those songs that can only be transcendent to a guy totally lost and adrift and wondering what the hell to do next with his life ... hypothetically speaking, of course. Twenty years after its release, with two decades' worth of musical and cultural distance on it, the song just sounds like the kind of overproduced sludge that was the unholy offspring of the late '80s and early '90s. (And it doesn't help that the band is clearly just going through the motions; check the guitarists at about the 5:35 mark. Paycheck!)
Perhaps it'd be better for songs like "Estranged" if you could just hear them a few times at a moment in your life when they meant something to you, and then never hear them again. "Stairway to Heaven" and "Freebird" are punch lines. "Imagine" is played in malls. The way that songs play upon your mind and your memory can't be replicated, and repeating them over and over only crushes the memories into paste. It's why Classic Rock Radio, where it still exists, is an abomination and should be killed with fire.
Anyway, Guns n' Roses still rule, but since it's not 1991, and it won't be ever again, I'll pass and stick with my memories, like the RFK Stadium mosh pit so crowded the passed-out guy near us couldn't fall to the ground, or the Hampton Coliseum free-for-all where a whipsaw-mean Axl leaped into the crowd right over my head. (You can see that particular leap at 2:35 of the "Live and Let Die" video.)
So, good luck with the show, Axl. (Judging from this review of Orlando a couple nights back, it'll go exactly like I'd expect.) Don't keep showing up late to the stage, though. People won't wait forever.
I make no secret of my love for late-80s hard rock/heavy metal. Metallica, Van Halen ... this is mother's milk. But above all stands Guns n' Roses, and I'll beat you with your Arcade Fire-stuffed ipod if you dare mock them.
Check that. If you mock their music. Because oh, Axl ... time, she's a bitch:
Seeing Axl in some kind of stone-faded jacket and jeans with too-long hair ... man, it's like looking at your mom's Facebook page. Painful in a time-marches-on way that you can't completely verbalize.
Oh, but it could have been worse. Let's take a look, shall we? First, from earlier this year:
Whew. Knockin' on heaven's door and asking for thirds, apparently. Next, there's this ...
Yeah, that's about the time that he stopped going shirtless. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Still, it wasn't as ridiculous as this one:
Damn, that's some fine-ass cheese! (And some fine-ass ass, too.) I'd think that was satire, except that Rose didn't ever do anything other than imply that he was being completely straight here. (Best part: the "In Da House" brass knuckles. No, wait, the rhinestone AK-47. No, the over-Botoxed "even I don't believe I'm doing this" expression on his face. This is the photo that keeps on giving!)
Ah, Axl. Would that we could go back to the good ol' days...
On second thought ... that first photo is the best of the bunch. Tell you what, Axl ... we'll roll with your consistently five-years-behind-the-times looks. Just stop asking us to feel your serpentine, okay?
I own a metric shitload of music. Like 15,000 songs or something like that. If I started playing it right now, it'd be almost Thanksgiving before I had even a single repeat. And in that mix, some stuff gets lost. This whenever-I-feel-like-it series is about the songs that I forgot I owned, songs that pop up when I hit the ol' "shuffle" button on iTunes and let the fates choose my playlist.
Beck is quite possibly the luckiest survivor of the '90s grunge era. He (presumably) made a ton of money off "Loser" when it was a hit, and probably will continue to do so ad infinitum as it's used decades hence to score period pieces from Clinton's America. But unlike other one-hit wonders from the era -- paging Ugly Kid Joe -- Beck's big breakthrough cut was actually his creative low point. He's gone on to make music that's complex, challenging, determinedly uncommercial but always damn listenable.
Like today's track, "Strange Apparition." It starts with some Afro-skiffle percussion before Beck himself starts singing in his trademark semi-ironic white-boy-blues weary-hipster voice. (Beck, for the record, is the only guy who can pull off this attitude without me wanting to punch him in the face.) But it's not the percussion or the vocals that make this song; it's the piano. Here, dig on it:
That piano, friends, is awesome, a dead-bang descendant of Chuck Leavell's Let It Bleed-era piano work for the Stones. (Check out "Monkey Man" right about the 2:35 mark for the same kind of wandering, circular piano that's not so much leading the song as stumbling forward through it.
I absolutely love the piano in a rock setting, whether it's Leavell or Bruce Hornsby. Yes, I realize Hornsby is stretching the definition of "rock" to its breaking point, but hear me out: when you dig past the surface sheen of his adult-contemporary radio hits, the piano work there is genius -- delicate and evocative. Hey, if it was good enough for Tupac, it's good enough for you, pal.
I can play exactly two songs on the piano -- "Let it Be" and the outro to "Layla." (Oh, and "Linus and Lucy," too. Let's not forget that.) I keep promising myself I'll learn how to play for real, and piano like on "Strange Apparition" is exactly the kind I want to play -- sloppy, with a hell of a lot more feeling than technique. It's whiskey over wine, a 2am bar with your girlfriend rather than a 7:30pm reservation with your wife. (Love you, sweetie.) It does exactly what music is supposed to do -- pull you out of your world and drop you, if only for three minutes, into another.
This is improv genius that requires some explanation. First, you need to know what ChatRoulette is. It's a meetup site where anybody with a webcam can hook up with anybody else. Bored with your random hookup? Click, boom, you're on to somebody else. The major problem? An inordinate amount of guys showing their penises. You know, just like at Wal-Mart.
Enter Ben Folds, uber-piano-dork extraordinaire. He hooked up ChatRoulette at a concert and began riffing on the various random hookups he met. And it went a little something like this:
Man. I can play piano like that. Really. I can.
"Sabotage" is one of the great songs of the '90s, and it's absolutely inseparable from the fake-'70s-cop-show video. You put that music to pretty much anything -- shoving your way through a crowded bar to get a drink, walking into your office, mowing the lawn -- and it instantly becomes badass. But somebody had the brilliant idea to set it to clips of "Battlestar Galactica," which is cool enough. But to then do a shot-by-shot recreation of the video? Magnificent. Here's the Galactica video by itself, and here's the side-by-side comparison:
If America could ever harness the time we spend screwing around on the Internet and put it to productive use, we'd own the world again. (Gracias, Warming Glow.)