Friday, July 29, 2005

Words of wisdom posted on Usenet

While reading a thread on the Usenet newsgroup alt.music.inxs about the show Rock Star: INXS, I came across this well-stated post by a user named zaryzary2003. It was in response to someone who claimed that no great albums have been made since 1972:

"I think that most people say that the "great" era of music occurred at some point between the ages of 17 and 25. So if you were born around 1950, then the greatest music was late 60s. If you were born in 1940, then it was late 50s -early 60s early rock and roll stuff. People born in 195-60 will probably say it was either Disco/ Led Zeppelin/ other 70s rock depending on what they were doing. People who were born in 1985 will probably look back and say that today's music is the pinnacle. and people born today will someday back fondly at the greatest hits of the year 2025. It's all subjective, which is probably why people can't agree on it, and also why they argue so vehemently about it. No no no! they say. The music of the year XXXX was truly the best of all time! I know that everybody says that, but the people of my generation who say it are *really* right!"

To which another poster named Mary responded:

"You took the words right out of my mouth. It is almost like the mind slams closed after a certain point, and all the newer music seems inferior. We invest a lot of youthful emotion in the music we listened to as we matured, and music after that never seems quite as vibrant. In other words, it is not the music, it is US."

Good points, though perhaps debatable ones. I thought I'd pass them on.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The other Fantastic Four movie

Have you seen The Fantastic Four? It's enjoyable enough, and probably as good as a live-action movie about the Marvel Comics superhero quartet can be. It's doing respectable business. It is officially a blockbuster, so it will likely turn a profit on its $100 million budget. It doesn't look like the superhero movie genre has played out yet, as some people think it has.

What you may not be aware of is that another FF movie was made in 1994. There's good reason not to be aware of this, because it was never released in theatres or on home video. In fact, it was never meant to be. So, naturally it has become a much-bootlegged film.

Here's the story behind it. The owners of the film rights to the Fantastic Four nearly lost those rights due to time limits. If the movie was not made by a certain date, the rights to the movie would have expired and would have been made available to another buyer. Chris Columbus (the director of the first two Harry Potter movies) was waiting for this to happen so that he could option the FF film rights. But the owners prevented this by enlisting B-movie kingpin Roger Corman to quickly make a Fantastic Four movie before the expiration date. (Who better to call? In the '60's, Corman used to shoot movies in two or three days!). So the first live-action FF movie was made in 1994 for only $1 million, strictly for legal reasons and with no intention of it ever being seen by the public. Now that the "real" FF movie has been made, their goals have been met.

However, it came as a shock to the actors who worked on the 1994 film that it wasn't released. They were unaware of the real reason that the movie was made, and were disappointed that their work didn't see the light of day. Some, if not all, of the crew probably felt the same way. It was made with a no-name cast. The only actors I recognized were Alex Hyde-White (the star of a 1986 British film called Biggles) as Mr. Fantastic, and Jay Underwood (who starred in the 1986 film The Boy Who Could Fly) as the Human Torch. Oh yes, and character actor George Gaynes (probably best remembered for the Police Academy movies) appeared briefly in the beginning.

Is it bad? Sure it is. But I kinda like it. It's truer to the Marvel comic than the new movie, which actually makes it pretty corny for a live action movie that is not set in the early '60's (the comic book debuted in 1961). The acting is mostly hammy, and the special effects are predictably shoddy for a low budget movie. The Thing's rock body looks more like foam, but he does look like the Thing from the comics. How does the Human Torch flame on? By way of animation -- and contemporary CGI it certainly isn't. The Torch's flying scene looks like it was made for a Saturday morning cartoon. Dr. Doom's plot to fire a laser that will wipe out NYC is now laughably similar to the plots that Dr. Evil hatched in the Austin Powers movies (this movie predates them). This movie is good for a lot of laughs -- some are intended, but most probably weren't. The plot holes are hilarious, too; the Torch and the Invisible Girl can suddenly do things toward the end that the movie doesn't show them doing earlier. Also, it's usually hard to tell who's hitting whom in the fight scenes.

But I like this Roger Corman production for the bad movie that it is. Anyone who has ever been a fan of the FF comic book would appreciate it, as would fans of bad movies in general (you know who you are). If you happen to share my peculiar addiction to rarities, this one's a keeper.

Rock Star: INXS -- week 3

Wow! Two birds with one stone! Heather and Daphna are both gone. At the beginning of this week, it was stressed on the show that contestants are only one bad performance away from elimination. As if to illustrate that point, not one but two contestants who did OK the first two weeks were sent home the third week. Jessica saved herself with a solid performance of INXS' "Elegantly Wasted". She's bought herself some more time. Heather's performance of the band's ballad "By My Side" was underwhelming. Daphna's performance of "What You Need" was OK, but unimpressive. It seemed like Heather was the one who would get the boot, but it was quite shocking when she and Daphna both did. If nothing else, Heather and Daphna can say that they performed with INXS' rhythm section; bassist Garry Beers and drummer Jon Farriss sat in with the house band for Wednesday night's performances. The other contestants are now on notice: they can't afford one bad performance if they want to stay in the running.

Tuesday night's show did reveal some performers' weaknesses. Heather was sick when she performed Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy", and she sounded that way. That song was surely not beyond her normal range. Jessica's performance of Patti Smith's "Because The Night" was decent but flawed. And Daphna's rendition of the Clash's "Rock The Casbah" was all wrong. It sounded like a Las Vegas lounge rendition of the Clash. The criticism from members of INXS was stinging; Jon Farriss came right out and told her she "murdered" the song. Ouch! It's not surprising that they made the bottom three in viewer voting.

There were other weak performances as well. J.D. is going through meltdown! He's lucky he didn't make the bottom three instead of Jessica, or there might have been three dismissals. He wisely did not take a trip-hop approach to Queen's "We Are The Champions" like he had planned, but his straightforward rendition was troubled enough. He claimed to have lost his composure when he saw his long-lost sister in the audience. He also seemed to be trying to make amends with the other singers by saying they are all champions. Ty and Brandon didn't seem to be buying it. Speaking of Brandon, he faltered with his performance of Squeeze's "Tempted", failing to hit several notes. Another night like that can cost him.

I am so glad that Tara was not in the bottom three again! I liked her rendition of Bowie's "Suffragette City", although the band criticized it as being "too cute". But she gave it some sass without over-the-top attitude. I had to admire her for asserting that she believed in herself. Dave Navarro said he wanted to see that in her performances. Uh, Dave? What performances have you been watching? Tara got my vote this week.

Mig, Marty, and Suzie are definitely becoming frontrunners for the title. Ty is also a contender, although I was less impressed with his rendition of REM's "Everybody Hurts" than the band was. He sounded a bit too precious at a few points. Jordis did well with the Spencer Davis Group classic "Gimme Some Lovin'", and showed that she can work a crowd. But she missed the second line of the song. She can get away with that one time like Suzie did, but she shouldn't repeat that mistake. I was a bit disappointed by Deanna, who was my initial favorite. Supertramp's "Give A Little Bit" was her first song choice? She sounded good enough, but left no impression this time.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Whatever: The '90's Pop & Culture Box

This Tuesday, July 26th, Rhino Records is going to release the 7-CD box set Whatever: The '90s Pop & Culture Box . This follows two other Rhino decade collections: Have A Nice Decade: The '70s Pop Culture Box , and Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box . Those first two collections were very well done, although the '80's box wasn't quite as well done as the excellent '70's box. Critics have been panning Whatever, and when I look at the track listings it's not hard to see why. There are plenty of cool tracks scattered about the 7 discs, but they don't represent their decade's pop or culture too well. No one can deny the importance of grunge to the music of the '90's. But there are no tracks by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, or Bush to be found on the whole set. That's probably because the bands wouldn't allow the use of their songs. As a result, the grunge era is represented by such lesser-known Seattle bands as Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Afghan Whigs, the Gits -- you get the idea. There is a good sampling of the many alternative bands that had hits during the decade. Still, was "What's The Frequency, Kenneth" the best REM song available? I won't mention which song was used to represent the band L7, but surely a better one could have been chosen. There are definitely some alt-rock gems in this collection, i.e. Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" and the Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly", but there are far too many essential ones missing. There's nothing from U2's Achtung Baby or Alanis' Jagged Little Pill. Nothing from Beck, the Cranberries, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Radiohead, Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins...I'm sorry, which decade are we looking back at again?

This may sound like a strange complaint, but it looks as though Whatever could have used more bad songs from the decade. Have A Nice Decade had lots of awful songs on it, but hey, that was the '70's for you. That set illustrated its decade remarkably well, and even had sounds from news broadcasts and such in between songs. Like, Omigod! did a less thorough job of encapsulating the music and culture of the '80's. It contained a lot of cool new wave from the decade that evoked the time to some extent (many of those tunes were already offered on Rhino's Just Can't Get Enough CDs) and just enough cheesy pop and fad reflections to be successful in its goal. In the liner notes, one of the producers of Whatever says that he and his colleagues had too much "reverence" for the decade to dwell on kitsch, so the set only contains a minimum of decade-defining embarrassments. We get M.C. Hammer, Right Said Fred, and Snow. But no Vanilla Ice, no Billy Ray Cyrus, no Spice Girls.

Too much reverence for the '90's? I'm gonna hurl. (A little early-'90's lingo for you there). In any case, Whatever is one pricey box set. The two previous collections were worth it, but I don't know if I'll be shelling out for this one. I do have many good memories from the '90's, but Whatever is not likely to evoke many of them.


Various Artists - Whatever: The '90s Pop & Culture Box

Rock Star: INXS -- week 2

Since week 3 of Rock Star: INXS is about to begin, I'll belatedly comment on week 2. Neal is gone! Nothing personal, but -- good! Ever since the second night when he came out on stage doing an extreme Mick Jagger impersonation, I knew he wasn't going to last long. What killed his chances was his rendition of Bryan Adams' "Summer Of '69"; he sounded like your average open mic night performer. His band Bona Roba is reportedly making some waves in New York; maybe his TV exposure will help his band get further.

Tara made the bottom three again! I know people have issues with her song selections -- she sounded country singing the Eagles' "Take It Easy" and perhaps over-compensated when she did Black Sabbath next -- but she's good! Her performance of INXS' "Mystify" on Wednesday hopefully saved her for a while.

Jessica? She's on her way out. She isn't bad, but she seems to make all the songs she sings sound the same. Her sex appeal was hurt by her weird poofy hairdo on Tuesday. Her indifferent performance of INXS' "Don't Change" on Wednesday didn't help her chances much.

And what's with J.D. and his sudden brown-nosing? It doesn't become him. It wasn't so much the part about him telling the members of INXS that he loved their songs; it was his insinuation that the other contestants don't. Watch it, J.D. That's going to hurt you down the road, if not sooner. I know you're used to being homeless, but right now you have to live with the people that you dissed on TV. Very uncool! Having said that, I thought his masculine interpretation of Alanis Morissette's "Hand In My Pocket" was pretty cool. I still don't know if he's right for INXS, though.

Last week, Deanna had my vote. This week, she hurt herself by creating unnecessary drama about being stuck with a song she didn't like, REM's "The One I Love". Her rendition actually wasn't bad at first, but toward the end it sounded a bit overheated. Better luck next time, D. This week, my vote went to Mig for his performance of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way". His personal drama about being intimidated by the song may have helped him; he did pretty well for a guy who was having doubts.

Official site:
http://rockstar.msn.com/home

The website of Neal's band Bona Roba:
http://www.bonaroba.net

Friday, July 15, 2005

Rock Star: INXS -- so far

Well, the first week (three episodes) of the CBS reality show Rock Star: INXS is behind us. (The last two, from Tuesday and Wednesday night, will be repeated this Saturday night. I don't know if they'll do that every week). I have to say that a colorful cast of characters are in this competition to become the new lead singer of INXS. There are white males, females, and one black male vying for the title, and all of them have talent. Some of them are just not right for INXS, as guitarist Tim Farriss has had to tell two of them before sending them home. The first night, a dancer/yoga instructor named Dana got the boot. She was a character. If the show was called Rock Star: No Doubt and they were searching for a new Gwen Stefani, she could have been a contender. On Wednesday night, a singer named Wil was also sent packing. If the show was called Rock Star: Coldplay and they were searching for a new Chris Martin, Wil could have been the man. But he was too low-key for INXS. Since they've both had exposure on TV, both of them could still have a future in the music biz. If I know the nature of that business, there probably are people in it who are seeking the next Gwen Stefani and the next Chris Martin.

I understand that the band is not exactly looking for a new Michael Hutchence. They are looking for a strong frontperson for the band, and if that person takes INXS in a new direction, so be it. But it will still be the same band instrumentally. Five out of five of the original instrumentalists are still in INXS, so it is important that whatever individual takes the prize fits in well with them. The two most obvious wild cards are out, so the competition between the remaining 13 contestants is going to be tougher.

One thing that works against some of them is the song selection available to them. If they choose the wrong song to sing, it can kill their chances. On the second night, a singer named Tara sang the Eagles/Jackson Browne song "Take It Easy". She sounded fine, but she didn't sound like INXS material when she sang that particular song, which is probably why she was one of the bottom three when the votes came in. Fortunately, she was given the chance to redeem herself by doing a respectable rendition of INXS' "New Sensation". Also, a Chicago coffee house barista named Jessica fell short vocally when she sang Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me" on the second night. She did better the first night (I don't remember what her song was), but she is no vocal match for CT's Robin Zander. That song was beyond her range. Jessica has sex appeal, and she looks like she could be Avril Lavigne's older sister, which could work to her advantage. But she needs to choose her song more carefully next time.

A couple of contestants are very iffy. A homeless Canadian musician named J.D. definitely has talent and strong presence, but he may have too much edge for INXS. The first night, Dave Navarro remarked that J.D. looked "possessed". This from a man who played with Jane's Addiction and the Chili Peppers! J.D. has toned down his edge since then, and actually arranged a modern rock version of "California Dreamin'" to good effect, which makes him look good for the long run. But his talents and personality are probably better suited to a different band.

And this Susie person? I don't know. She was brought up for possible elimination two times out of two; not a good record. Also, she was shown on the first episode asking Marty if something was wrong with his voice. Was she just trying to plant a seed of doubt in her competitor's head? The hostess Brooke Burke suggested this, and that makes Susie look bad. Susie has a good voice and is pretty, but she still has more to prove.

The other white males besides J.D. come across as Hutchence wannabes, which I think hurts them more than it helps. Neal's impersonation of Mick Jagger is a bit much for me. I predict that the next lead singer of INXS will either be a woman or a black man (Ty). My personal pick at this point is Deanna, who sang "Piece Of My Heart" the first night and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" the second night. She seems like the one most likely to be able to go the distance.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fountains Of Wayne family tree

I recently picked up the new Fountains Of Wayne 2-CD set titled Out-Of-State Plates. It's a B-sides and rarities collection, containing 28 songs that the band recorded between 1994 and 2005. Yes, the band has been around that long, despite the fact that they received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2003. In case you don't recognize the name, Fountains Of Wayne were the band who scored a top 20 hit with "Stacy's Mom", from their 2003 album Welcome Interstate Managers (which IMHO is one of the best albums of its year). Their power-pop sound usually combines hooks and humor with a sophisticated sound. Like most odds-and-sods collections, Out-Of-State Plates does have some inconsistency, but far less than you would expect from a set of songs recorded over the course of 11 years. In fact, the second of the two discs is quite solid. The newer songs tend to be the better ones. This is not surprising, because this band has so far been improving with age. All three of their proper albums (the first was Fountains Of Wayne from 1996, the second was Utopia Parkway from 1999) are fine, but they've gotten better as they've gone along. If they can maintain that upswing, then they will truly be a band to watch. The sheer quantity of enjoyable songs on Out-Of-State Plates makes it worthwhile. The cover songs that appear on this collection are interesting: the band covers Dionne Warwick, ELO, Aztec Camera, Ricky Nelson, and Britney Spears ("Baby One More Time" is actually a good song in their hands).

The main singing/songwriting duo of Fountains Of Wayne are Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood. Schlesinger wrote the title song to the 1996 Tom Hanks movie That Thing You Do!

Since 1994, Schlesinger has also been a full-time member of the alt-pop band Ivy. That trio is rounded out by the husband-and-wife team of multi-instrumentalist Andy Chase and French-born singer Dominique Durand. Ivy's sound is dreamy and stylish pop, clearly distinguished by Durand's seductively creamy vocals. Their 1994 EP Lately and their 1995 full-length debut Realistic are low-budget indie-label delights. Their 1997 album Apartment Life, released on Atlantic Records, delivered more of the wonderful same with more sophisticated production. The 2001 album Long Distance was also good, although the trio's sound seemed to have settled into a semi-predictable formula. Their 2002 album Guestroom was a dandy collection of cover songs, featuring tributes to such varied artists as the Cure, the Go-Betweens, the Ronettes, the Blow Monkeys, and French singer Serge Gainsbourg. Ivy's style lent itself well to these songs. Ivy's most recent album, In The Clear, was released earlier this year. Schlesinger and Chase have come a long way as producers, and this album is Ivy's most polished album to date. It still has the essential Ivy sound, although it could almost be mistaken for Dido.

While Schlesinger was busy with Fountains Of Wayne's recent success, Chase and Durand also kept busy with two strong side projects released on Chase's label Unfiltered. Chase and Durand formed a group called Paco with two other musicians, Michael Hampton and Gary Maurer. Their 2004 album This Is Where We Live did have noticeable Ivy ingredients -- Durand's voice and Chase's trip-hop arrangements -- but the other two songwriters/multi-instrumentalists added a slight alt-rock edge. Most of the results sound like Garbage (the group, that is, and that's meant as a compliment).

Also, Chase recorded a Durand-less album in 2003 under the name Brookville, called Wonderfully Nothing. Brookville had a more laid-back sound, not unlike Ivy's dreamy pop with elements of smooth jazz. Chase handled vocal duties. Its sound was experimental but relaxing and accessible. If Ivy can be described as sounding like Portishead without the bleakness, then Brookville can similarly be described as resembling Radiohead without the chilly tension. Brookville is currently recording a second album due in early 2006.

Fountains Of Wayne official site:
http://www.fountainsofwayne.com

Ivy official site:
http://www.thebandivy.com

Unfiltered Records:
http://www.unfilteredrecords.com

Saturday, July 09, 2005

eMpTy V

Right now, VH-1 is playing selected performance clips from Live 8. MTV will be doing the same later in the day. Call it a day of atonement. The reason this is being done is because MTV received media criticism and over 2,000 complaints from viewers about their coverage of the Live 8 events last Saturday. They focused more on interviews and commentary than on the music. I'm glad people let their voices be heard on this.

Now, perhaps people can persuade MTV to actually become a music channel again. I know, I doubt it too. I don't know why they bother calling the channel "Music Television" anymore, because as far as I'm concerned, it hasn't been that for 10 or 15 years now. Almost every time I tune in anymore (which, I must admit, is not very often), I feel like I'm watching a hipper-than-thou version of TLC (The Learning Channel). MTV should change its name to "Punk'd TV", or "Cribs TV"; anything besides "Music Television". That just seems like false advertising anymore. Shows like TRL are not good enough. MTV even created a second channel, MTV2, that was supposed to be more music-video oriented. But it seems to me that it didn't deliver on that promise. What was the point?

I have heard several theories as to why MTV is not primarily a music video channel anymore. The most believable one is that it is harder to sell commercial airtime during music video timeslots, because they appeal to shorter attention spans than half-hour programs do. (Thanks!). But I at least thought that for something like the Live 8 broadcast, the powers that be at MTV would remember why it is called "Music Television". I thought they would at least have a clue as to why people would tune in to that channel on that day. Apparently, that was too much to ask.


"Video killed the radio star, then it committed suicide"

-- Doug Powell, from his song "Empty Vee"

Friday, July 08, 2005

Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill Acoustic

The acoustic version of Alanis Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill, which is currently only available at Starbucks coffee shops, will be released to record stores on July 26th. Alanis recorded this new acoustic version of her mega-platinum 1995 album to mark its 10th anniversary.

Some record stores have been refusing to stock other CDs by Alanis in protest against the Starbucks deal. I wonder if they will take similar action against Bob Dylan, now that he will be selling an upcoming CD exclusively at Starbucks.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Cure page updates

I've recently added two reviews to the Cure page: one of the 1993 Sideshow EP, and one of the 2-disc special edition of the 2001 Greatest Hits compilation.

Sideshow was released in the States as a companion piece to the full-length live album Show. The UK version of Show (which was a soundtrack to the VHS concert movie of the same name) was a 2-CD set. But it was only released as a single-disc in America, presumably because another full-length live Cure CD (titled Paris) was released at the same time. So, the four tracks that were excluded from the American version of Show were made available to US fans on the Sideshow EP. Not surprisingly, that item is now out of print.

The 2001 Greatest Hits compilation is still in print in its regular single-disc form, but the limited edition two-disc version is no longer available. That edition's second disc contained live-in-the-studio acoustic versions of all 18 songs from the first disc. It's a shame that it's been discontinued, because without that second disc, Greatest Hits is easily inferior to other Cure compilations.

Rarebird's Cure Reviews
http://rarebird9.net/cure.html