Friday, March 27, 2009

No Alarms And No Surprises, Please

Yeah yeah... garage punk and stuff. Fuzzboxes and Fenders. My friends often think they have me all stitched up as far as "What Mike likes". So I wanna throw a wrench in that machine, and somehow fess up to myself, as well. In the interest of full disclosure, ladies and gentlemen, here's a list of unexpected favorites, guilty pleasures, and shameful secrets that I'm sick of hiding.

1. The guitar tone on Lenny Kravitz' "Are You Gonna Go My Way" is almost perfect, and I would love to figure out how I could replicate it. If I could, it would probably be the only tone I'd ever use again.

2. I own every Wu-Tang Clan album, and every solo album by the nine primary members. And a bunch of compilations of related tracks. And some mixtapes.

3. I like to relax to Mazzy Star more often than anyone this side of 1995.

4. Post-'95 Prince. 'Nuff said.

5. For all my talk of being born-again in the waters of punk rock in high school, my college years taught me that I'm probably never going to shake my affinity for Black Sabbath & Led Zeppelin (Sab more than Zeb, though).

6. Even though this is about loves, I still hate the Doors. Everything about them.

7. Kevin got me into Thin Lizzy and now I can't get out. And I don't wanna.

8. I used to go for power walks to the tune of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Outta My Head", which I'm still convinced is a perfect pop song, whatever it's other merits may or may not be.

9. While it was a gift, I do in fact own that Eiffel 65 album. Remember them? That "Blue" song?

10. I know the Spin Doctors' Pocket Full Of Kryptonite album so well that I do that "wooow, deedle diddle wooooowwwww" sing-along thing to the guitar solos, cause I know how all of them go. And I still think that's a pretty good pop album.

11. Oasis.

12. It's been long enough since I've listened to them that my feelings may have changed, but I used to own multiple albums by the Verve Pipe. What are the cosmic repercussions of that?

13. There is nothing wrong with my loving the first five Cheap Trick albums, which are stone-cold power pop classics. There is, however, something wrong with my loving the next five as well.

14. Is Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" far enough removed from the charts for it to be considered a guilty pleasure? I mean, that Goldfrapp song that it ripped off is, so I'm gonna list it.

15. When packing up my CD collection when we were last moving, there were two different CD copies of Bell Biv DeVoe's Poison. That's a GOOD album!

16. My love for mid-90's alterna-rock is well established, so let's just get the ones that I couldn't really argue in favor of out of the way: Veruca Salt, the first Bush album, Mother Love Bone, Silverchair, Filter, Soup Dragons, Imperial Drag. These among many others have been played, willingly, in my home within the bast 6 months. [The Gin Blossoms, Presidents of the USA, Urge Overkill, and The Figgs are all safe, as I can objectively say that they're really good albums.]

17. When I moved to Boston, I had to leave about 90% of my very large CD collection at my folks' place, taking only "the essentials", i.e., the CDs that I felt I really needed the physical copy of, for which high-quality MP3s would not suffice. I had 4 albums and a six-disc box set by The Cult among those 300 CDs.

18. I like David Bowie. No, no, you misunderstand. Of course I like Ziggy & Berlin-era Bowie, but I'm talking about post-Scary Monsters, pre-Outside David Bowie.

19. Sometimes, when I'm doing dishes, I like to dance and sing along to Kraftwerk's The Man Machine. There's nothing shameful about the Kraftwerk, more about the dancing.

20. Madonna's first two albums. I'm not ashamed, but I do feel guilty about it.

21. I will always love The Prodigy Experience, and to a lesser degree, their next three albums.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

21st Century Putdown

-- Green Day's latest bloated concept piece, 21st Century Breakdown, now has a release date. It's due May 15 via Reprise. Get, uh, excited.

So let me get this straight, Pitchfork...

Green Day puts out a Who-influenced double-album mix of fuck-you politics (thanks, punk rock) and teenage angst (will the real Husker Du please stand up?), which is a huge success. Depsite some of the singles being the maudlin ballads, it puts big loud rock songs back on the charts for like two years. They follow it up with a sixties-styled garage-punk record under an assumed name which rocks and is also a success. Why in the HELL would you possibly be all snarky about their upcoming album? Sure, the cover art is bad, to say the least, but c'mon jerks... why you gotta be hatin'? Is this really going to be any worse than the tripe that's clogging up the charts right now? U2's latest abortion is the only rock album in the top 5, and unless you count Nickelback and Chris Cornell* (I don't), the charts are almost devoid of any rock music. Kelly Clarkson is at number one, and that's fine. She's not evil. Not my style, but not dangerously manipulative like U2 and thier ilk. And this has nothing to do with my teenage love of their first four records. I did love them, but it took me a while to come around to American Idiot... once I finally picked it up though, I wasn't disappointed.

So chill out, Pitchfork. Just because there's a pretty good chance that this new album will be a reachout to Green Day's "bread and butter" demographic (under-17 Hot Topic Shoppers), it still gonna be better than most of the rest of what's on the radio.

[*I was on yesterday, and saw a banner ad for Chris Cornell's new album, with a big "Produced by Timbaland" graphic over the lower half of the album art. Does that just seem totally messed up to anyone else?]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Was It Really That Bad?

I was a grunge fan.

From '89-'92 I lived in Vienna, Austria. I was 7-10 years old during that period. Due to a lack of English language media, I often found myself flipping through the movies section of my parents' copies of Newsweek and Time, because those had pictures of the big upcoming blockbusters (Batman, Dick Tracy, etc.). However, once you read those movie sections enough, and I was a pretty smart kid, you start reading other parts. So I'd read the music section. Around that time, I was taken to a concert at a local rec center by a friend's high school age brother when I was in the third grade, and when I saw one of the bands I had seen at the rec center talked about in Newsweek, I thought it sounded cool and I saved my Christmas money and went out and bought the big album everyone was talking about as a "new youth movement". It was Nevermind, and it was awesome. So I was rocking some Nirvana at age nine, and I didn't get the fact that this was a complete sea change in youth culture, or that it was revolutionizing both contemporary rock music or fashion. I just knew it was loud and fuzzy and catchy and I sorta liked how ANGRY it was and I didn't know why.

Over the years, I kept my faith to the loud and fuzzy. I mean, I've broadened my pallette, but I've never gotten rid of my grunge CDs, and Mudhoney might still be one of my Top 5 bands of all time. Which brings me to my point. There was far more variety in the grunge movement than a lot of people realize. There was a metal faction (Alice In Chains, early Soundgarden), there was a garagey punk faction (Mudhoney, parts of The Melvins), there was a psychedelic group (Love Battery, Screaming Trees), and there was, most abundantly, the "Classic Rock" faction that was epitomized by Pearl Jam.

In the interest of Full Disclosure (TM), I'm not a big PJ fan. They were funkier than I preferred my "real serious rock" to be, and they were often just too serious for their own good. I applauded their fight against Ticketmaster when that seemed like it meant something, and their hearts were in the right place, but they had that U2 vibe about them of wanting to fight "The Man", not really being sure who he was, and swinging blindly in all directions. As the years rolled on, the fact that there were essentially two mentalities at work in the band became known, and that was very telling. Frontman Eddie Vedder was revealed to be the Punk Academy graduate with the sellout/deity dillema, while bassist Jeff Ament was unabashed in his desire to be the biggest band on the planet at nearly any cost. And that's OK I guess. Their recent albums have been perfectly acceptable, but I just have no real interest in picking them up, and we could have worse things than another ethical rock band making workmanlike records... sort of like Tom Petty for My Generation (TM).

But what about then? Some critics and fans on my side of the fence (grunge-that-comes-from-punk) labelled Pearl Jam mere classic rock revivalists and derided their presence on the radio at the expense of real important artists like Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, and The Melvins. Now? I would KILL to hear a band like early Pearl Jam ruling the airwaves. Who cares if the rage and Big Important Issues (TM) were misguided stabs by guys in their early 20s? I just went back and listened to their greatest hits collection and these guys were fantasic for their first two albums at least. Messy? Yeah. Inconsistient? You betcha. But I would love a band that would take that kind of risk in public, something that we're sorely missing. While the Information Age may have changed the way that things work, it sure seems like we didn't know how good we had it. Remember how irritating the Presidents Of The United States Of America seemed? I DARE you to go listen to their album again. The two-string bass concept was developed with Mark Sandman of Morphine, and as the Trouser Press guide puts it, "[They] could not be more intrinsically indie if they had the PopLlama logo tattooed on their foreheads." And yet America embraced them with open arms. I heard fucking HARVEY DANGER on the radio the other day, and suddenly "Flagpole Sitta" didn't sound too bad. And yet we complained.

I've been attempting to make a case for years about the New Pop Age of the post-grunge mid-90s, where the marketplace was open to almost anything as long as it was catchy and grunge (i.e. punk) influenced. Unfortunately, at the tail end of this age, Dave Matthews swooped in to ruin things, but even in this age, his first album was almost just another one in the crowd. Sure, one-hit wonders abounded, but there were some excellent albums that never got their due to to the wonderfully disposable nature of the times. Remember when you could buy any Flaming Lips CD for three bucks because they were a past-their-prime flash-in-the-pan after playing "She Don't Use Jelly" on 90210? But alas, that's a rant for another day. Remind me, though and I'll tell you young 'uns all about it.

Classic rock is still kinda lame, and no matter what happens, Rolling Stone will remain a bastion of late-60s heirarchy and close-minded Boomer-ness, but I'll be damned if those early Pearl Jam singles don't sound great. Sure, you can't understand what Vedder's singing, and the bass playing is too funky, and Mike McCready's lead lines are all too busy, but for a brief moment in time, meaning NOW, those songs are sounding pretty good. And I don't know whether that's a reflection on the state of radio and culture today, or if it's just that Pearl Jam has aged like fine wine.

I think it's the former.

Oh, and I really like that song "Dissident" on Vs..