Thursday, August 25, 2005

Rock Star: INXS -- week 7

Goodbye, Deanna. The contestant whom I had originally pegged as the standout performer during the first week was sent home the seventh week. At this point, it's no surprise at all. As the weeks went on, the husky-voiced singer showed little variety. She did what she did well, but it was all she did. However, she did get a great showcase on her final Tuesday night performance. She was able to perform her original composition "My Truth", a suitable blues-rock number that was co-written by her and Ty, in front of a worldwide audience of millions, and she did well. She has already lived many a musician's dream, and I'm almost certain we'll hear more from her in the future. When she sang the INXS song "Elegantly Wasted" on Wednesday night, her voice put a unique spin on the song, but it showed that she was not the appropriate person to become the full-time frontperson for INXS. But I hope to buy a Deanna Johnston CD someday.

My vote this week went to Ty. His grandiose arrangement of "Proud Mary" was more Turner than Fogerty, which made it a fine vehicle for his talents. Enlisting his three female competitors as backup singers was brilliant. The change from slow to fast tempo came on a bit strong, but I was impressed with the whole Ty show. If his future doesn't lie with INXS, he could be headed for Broadway, or for his own dynamic solo act.

My vote didn't save him from the bottom three, but that's not such a bad thing. When Ty is in the bottom three, he comes out looking good after nailing his assigned INXS song. In this case, the song was "What You Need", and he excelled with it.

That brings me to my next point. We need to see these singers perform INXS songs. Up to this point, I haven't had a problem with the show's format. It made sense when there were 10, 12 or 14 contestants. But it's now high time we heard the top contenders cover INXS. We can rant and rave about Jordis, Mig, and JD all we want, but the fact remains that the viewing audience has yet to hear them perform songs by the band they are competing to front. I hope I don't sound like a conspiracy theorist, but judging from the posts on MSN's official message boards, there seems to be a plot among countless female viewers to keep voting for JD every week to keep him out of the bottom three. Come on, girls! I want to hear this hotshot do an INXS song! He's the one who once brazenly told the band that he loves their songs more than the other contestants do. And Dave Navarro now says that JD's voice is "totally suited" to the INXS back catalog. I want to hear proof!

Mig was the other contestant besides Deanna who performed his original composition. His song "Do Or Die" was not all that impressive, but Mig and the house band punched it across well. After the Sunday night drama over the contestants writing their own songs, it seemed like a letdown to only hear two of them.

But I guess Mark Burnett and company needed to play it safe, and had the other five performers do classic rock songs. Suzie's enthusiastic perfromance of the Stones' "Start Me Up" was worthy of the Wednesday encore. JD's modern interpretation of Foreigner's "Cold As Ice" was cool, and almost compensated for his blunders the two previous weeks. Marty made the most out of Live's "I Alone", though he continues to be predictably Cobain-like. His Wednesday performance of INXS' "Don't Change" was good enough to earn him points.

But what happened to Jordis? The girl who took my breath away three weeks ago flirted with disaster this week. The Aerosmith classic "Dream On" seemed like an ideal song for her. But her performance was troubled from the beginning. And when she hit (or failed to hit) that feared note toward the end, she crashed and burned. It's a good thing she stayed out of the bottom three (remember Daphna and Heather?). But she needs to redeem herself.

There are only six contestants left, so half of them will be in the bottom three next time. Good. (To see what I mean, re-read the fourth paragraph above).

Saturday, August 20, 2005

"Best of" albums

This article appeared in the Associated Press a few days ago:

http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/music/wire/sns-ap-music-greatest-hits,0,5706787.story

It doesn't surprise me at all that "Best Of" collections are available for so many artists. You can usually see how well such CDs sell when you look at Billboard magazine's Top Pop Catalog Albums Chart:

http://www.billboard.com/bb/charts/popcat.jsp

It is a matter of free market demand, and I'm all for CD buyers having these types of choices and conveniences. The only thing that worries me is that catalog titles in general have reportedly not been selling well in recent years. If consumers continue to mainly buy compilations and avoid buying the artists' proper albums, it could lead to more albums going out of print.

Garth Brooks Albums to Only Be Sold at Wal-Mart

Today it was announced that country star Garth Brooks has signed a contract with Wal-Mart Stores that will make his CDs available exclusively at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and their online outlets. Here is the AP article:

http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/news/wire/sns-ap-people-garth-brooks,0,4298324.story?coll=sns-ap-entertainment-headlines

I have never been a fan of Brooks. I've always failed to understand the broad appeal of his generic country music, and I certainly find it incredible that he is one of the all-time best-selling recording artists. But that brings me to my point. If a recording artist as successful as Brooks is willing to sign on to a deal that will allow only one company to sell his CDs, will other artists follow suit? Time will tell, but I don't like the looks of this. This does not seem like a healthy thing for music retailers in general.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Rock Star: INXS -- week 6

How about that all-acoustic show? The eight performances on Tuesday night were quite a change of pace for this show. The songs were chosen for the singers, and all of them were performed acoustically, which presented dual challenges for them.

My vote went to Suzie this week, for her classy rendition of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me". (Evidently, my vote couldn't save her from the bottom three). Close runners-up were Ty for his soulful interpretation of Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" (although I agree that he should lose the tongue affectation) and Mig's solo piano performance of Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way" (although his inclusion of Jordis and Marty for the Wednesday night encore was a bit corny).

Deanna struggled through "I Can't Make You Love Me". Her voice is well-suited to the heartbroken country ballad, but she couldn't quite make it ache like Bonnie Raitt could. Jessica actually did fairly well with "Torn", the Ednaswap song that was a hit for Natalie Imbruglia, but she predictably landed in the bottom three along with Suzie and Deanna. All three women did well performing INXS songs on Wednesday night, but one of them had to go. Not surprisingly, it was Jessica. She had been on borrowed time for the last few weeks, and her time was up. Time will tell if we see more of her in the future, or if she is simply headed back to the coffee house.

Near-misses: after inspiring the all-acoustic show with his surprise move last week, Marty went back to being predictable with his Cobainian rendition of the Britney Spears hit "Baby One More Time". Regardless of who made it famous, it's really not a bad song, but Marty's performance held no surprises. Jordis was in good voice for her performance of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (the same song that resulted in the show's first elimination when Dana swiftly got booted), but her interpretation of the song was strange. She smiled through much of it and added the line: "just like I did so many times before". She sang the song as if it is about faith, not about dying. Does she misunderstand the song, or was she trying to reinvent it? It was hard to tell.

The worst was the notorious JD. His ineffectual performance of the Stones ballad "As Tears Go By" was the worst rendition I've ever heard of the song. Even Marianne Faithfull's most whiskey-voiced performance of the song is preferable to JD's. He also looked bad on Sunday night's reality portion on VH1, showing a somewhat childish inability to work with others. It's a wonder he continues to evade the bottom three.

Official site with downloads:
http://rockstar.msn.com

Monday, August 15, 2005

Joydrop with Tara Slone

Tara Slone, the Rock Star: INXS contestant who was eliminated during the fourth week, is the former lead singer of a defunct Canadian band called Joydrop. Joydrop released two albums: Metasexual in 1998 and Viberate in 2001. Metasexual is currently in print. Viberate is out of print but isn't hard to find; I was able to find a factory sealed CD with relative ease.

Metasexual at once sounds modern and retro-'80's. Musically, it has traces of '90's alt-rock and ambient sounds. But Slone's opera-trained vocals are more reminiscent of '80's hair bands like Heart and Vixen. Slone avoids the '90's "riot-grrl" trend almost completely. In fact, the lyrics of "Fizz" seem to poke fun of the '90's alternative mentality. A few songs ("Spiders", "All Too Well") hint at post-Alanis angst, but Slone bears more vocal resemblance to Pat Benatar and Debbie Harry on those songs. The unexpected mixture of '80's and '90's sensibilities makes Metasexual a unique and riveting album.

Viberate basically follows the same blueprint as its predecessor, but Slone's vocals are higher up in the mix, and the mood is a bit more somber. Slone's one songwriting contribution, "American Dreamgirl", is sung with an indignation that would make Morissette proud. Most of the writing was done by Slone's three male bandmates, and most of it is very good.

Now that Slone is out of the running on Rock Star: INXS, she plans to release a solo album soon. In the meantime, the two Joydrop albums are worth discovering.

Joydrop - Metasexual

Joydrop Metasexual (Tommy Boy TBCD 1237) 1998

Track Listing:

1. Fizz
2. Beautiful
3. Breakdown
4. Strawberry Marigold
5. Spiders
6. Dream Today
7. Cocoon
8. Over + Under
9. If I Forget
10. All Too Well
11. No One
12. Dog Star Radio
13. The Line
14. Until


Joydrop - Viberate

Joydrop Viberate (Tommy Boy TBCD 1416) 2001

Track Listing:

1. Thick Skin
2. American Dreamgirl
3. Sometimes Wanna Die
4. Life on the Sun
5. Swan Song
6. Replaced
7. Viberate
8. This Is Not Real
9. Expiry Dates
10. Do You Believe
11. Embrace
12. Metasexual

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Deconstruction (1994)

Seeing Dave Navarro co-hosting Rock Star: INXS brought one of his lesser-known projects to mind. After the breakup of Jane's Addiction and before Navarro's recruitment by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Navarro and former Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery formed a short-lived trio called Deconstruction with a drummer named Michael Murphy. Their only album was the self-titled Deconstruction, released in 1994 on Rick Rubin's American Records label. The album is out of print, and has become the subject of Rarebird's Spotlight Album Review #9:

http://rarebird9.net/deconstruction.html

Eric Avery was the main creative force behind Deconstruction. He was a fine bassist, but was far less skilled as a vocalist, lyricist, and band leader. He and Navarro shared vocal duties, but both of them had unappealing voices that sank the album. Navarro's guitar heroics are the only thing that redeem the long and labored Deconstruction album.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Rock Star: INXS -- week 5

I thought it would be Jessica who would go this week. Instead, it was Brandon. Jessica redeemed herself (again) after a forced performance of Nirvana's "Come As You Are" on Tuesday with a strong rendition of INXS' "Disappear" on Wednesday. She covers INXS songs better than she covers anyone else's, which has been the key to her survival up to this point. Brandon was given the task of singing the obscure INXS song "Don't Lose Your Head", from their out-of-print 1997 album Elegantly Wasted. His fate was sealed when he forgot the words to the band's song on judgment night. He never seemed like a top contender in this contest. Maybe he has a future as a Southern rocker. Has anyone from New West Records been watching?

My vote this week went to Marty. He took a very gutsy chance performing the Killers song "Mr. Brightside" acoustically and without the house band. It was a move that could have destroyed him if he didn't pull it off. He worked without a net, and came through with almost flying colors. He may have altered the course of the show. Kirk Pengilly was so impressed that he suggested an all-acoustic week, and that is what next Tuesday's show will apparently be. That should really put some of these contestants to the test.

Suzie took a surprising chance with a chunky arrangement of REM's "Losing My Religion" that grew more intense as it went along. She pulled it off well, even though it didn't save her from the dreaded bottom three. Other notable mentions: Ty's restrained and soulful performance of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry", a song that fit him like a glove. Mig did fine with Free's "All Right Now", not that it surprised anyone. And Deanna made a strong comeback with the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Running". Now I remember why she was my favorite the first week.

On the downside: Jordis flubbed her performance of Eric Clapton's classic "Layla". I didn't expect her to take my breath away again like she did last week, but this was her least impressive vocal performance to date. The smile on her face was a visual distraction, considering the song she was singing. Also, she dropped a line in the song like she did two weeks ago. She had best not make a habit of that. After her bravura performance last week, she can be forgiven for one flub. J.D.'s performance of Seal's "Crazy" was something of a disaster, lacking nearly everything that the smooth r&b song requires. He's lucky he wasn't in the bottom three instead of Suzie.

Next stop: All-Acoustic Tuesday!

Official MSN site with downloads:
http://rockstar.msn.com

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Rock Star: INXS -- week 4

Jordis! Jordis! Jordis! It's all about Jordis this week. Did you see Jordis? When I saw her emotional performance of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold The World" Tuesday night on Rock Star, I didn't feel like I was watching a 22-year old novice contestant on a reality show. I felt like I was watching a star. Jordis shone as brightly as a world-famous pop star on an awards show. As Dave Navarro and the INXS members said, I felt it. There's a new front-runner in town!

However, there were no slackers on Tuesday night's show. It was the most solid episode yet. The contestants were more aware than ever that one bad performance could be the end of them, so they sang for their lives. The bottom three was not a matter of who didn't perform well. It was a matter of who didn't measure up to the rest. Ty can be forgiven for a less-than-perfect performance of the Foo Fighters' "Everlong", a song he claims he never heard before(!). There's no way he could have been justly eliminated based on that, especially after his sensational perfromance of INXS' "Kick" on Wednesday. Brandon Calhoon may be on his last legs in the competition, but he's also safe for at least another week.

But Tara is gone. Her Tuesday performance of the Police's "Message In A Bottle" wasn't bad, but it paled next to most of the others. Besides, it was her third time in the bottom three. I suppose the band can only argue with the viewers for so long. And it's hard to blame her if her "little ticker" can't take any more of being in that undesirable position. But Tara is a talent. Her bio on the MSN site says she is working on a solo album. I'll be watching for it.

Jessica is still in the game. She made the most of the Violent Femmes' "Blister In The Sun", which everyone seems to agree is a terrible song for a vocal competition. She's earned at least another week. It was odd to see JD's performance of "The Letter" being based on the Joe Cocker remake instead of the Box Tops' classic version, but it did allow him to show off his flair for stage performing. I'm still unsure of Deanna, who was my initial favorite when the show began. Melissa Etheridge's "I'm The Only One" seemed like a natural choice for her, but she merely did an adequate job of it. Maybe running through the audience and then dancing in front of INXS on the sideline distracted her. She still has more to prove.

Official site with downloads:
http://rockstar.msn.com