Monday, December 31, 2007
Of course, that's not true. Public Enemy - one of the greatest groups in history, and I'm talking hip-hop, R&B, rock and roll, whatever genre you want to talk about - hasn't been "hot" for a long time.
Most fans will agree that their best albums were 1988's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and 1990's Fear Of A Black Planet. I always felt that the next one, 1991's Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black is also a classic. That seems to be when they stopped being "hot," though. Maybe because on their first few albums, they were scaring the crap out of white people, by criticizing the government and society in general. Adding to that, the music was appealing to lots of young, white people, despite it's pro-black message. But on Apocalypse, they started looking towards their own community, and maybe people didn't like that.
But as a long time fan, even I had to admit that the albums that came next weren't classics: Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age and There's A Poison Goin' On had moments, other albums didn't really have any songs that I loved. Then, all of the sudden, they did this collaboration with Moby, called "Make Love Fuck War," and it is one of their greatest tracks ever. The song was a one-off, but was later included on their New Whirl Odor album, which turned out to have some other great songs, like "Bring That Beat Back" and "New Whirl Odor."
But this new album, How Do You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? is damn near a classic. I really like the latest albums by Common, Kanye and Nas, as well as KRS-One's album with Marley Marl, but P.E.'s latest is the best hip-hop album of the year. The fact that Chuck D. and Flavor Flav are in their 50's, there are no "hot" producers, and the album criticizes materialism and fake gangsterism in hip-hop makes it commerically dead on arrival, which is just a damn shame. Do people really need to hear Jay-Z's return to his gangster roots? They'd be a lot better off with this record.
A critic from Rolling Stone magazine really summed the album up in a short review: "Young hip-hoppers respect Chuck D.'s hectoring legacy from a distance, but his moralizing conscience and increasingly uncompromising disdain for gangsta lies makes them nervous. So they claim his flow has thickened and his beats have falen off, which is just more lies." Or as Chuck says in "Can You Hear Me Now?": "At the age I am now/ If I can't teach/ I shouldnt even open up my mouth begin to speak!"
The hip-hop and R&B industry totally reminds me of the country music industry: very conservative, likes to sort of look rebellious, while not toleralting any rebelliousness. I'm starting to think of Public Enemy as the Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash of hip-hop. I guess maybe they should be referred to as "Outlaw Hip-Hop."
But still, the rumors that The Kinks may be reuniting in 2008 are pretty exciting. As the stories go, it will be the original band - Ray Davies, Dave Davies, original drummer Mick Avory (who stayed in the band through the '80s) and original bassist Pete Quaife (who left the band in 1969).
This version of the band recorded lots of classic stuff, and is the most beloved version of the band in thier native England. They recorded "You Really Got Me," "All Day And All Of The Night," "Waterloo Sunset," "A Well Respected Man," "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion," among many other classics.
But if they tour the U.S., I wonder if they'll add some of thier '70s and even '80s material: after Quaife left the band, they had lots of huge hits here, like "Lola" and "Come Dancing" to name two.
The other question is what will these guys sound like? Ray recovered from being shot in New Orleans a few years back, but Dave has suffered a stroke in recent years, and Pete has dealt with kidney failure. But I guess Ray won't sign off on the reunion if he doesn't feel that the shows will be good.
And, of course, this is just a rumor circulating in the British press, never the most reliable source for this kind of thing. Still, here's hoping we get one more chance to see The Kinks in 2008.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
But I maintain that Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck can come up with a great album - although they have yet to do so since Bill left the band (in my opinion). They have had some great moments though, like "The Great Beyond" and "Bad Day."
R.E.M.'s next album is yet another release to look forward to in 2008.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
They also sound like a band called The Network, whose album, Money Money 2020 came out on Adeline Records, owned by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day.
Paste Magazine - one of the better U.S. music/culture mags - is reporting on its website that Bill Berry may be rejoining R.E.M. for a tour.
I'll let the cynics come up with mean-spirited theories about why this would happen. But Bill leaving R.E.M. was one of the most amicable splits in rock and roll history. He just wanted to get off of the bandwagon. The fact that he had a potentially life threatening brain aneurysm on his last tour with the band probably contributed to his decision to move on with his life. I don't imagine that he'd be doing this for the money, I think he just wants to play those awesome songs again. Here's hoping that the rumors are true.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
And speaking of “Conquest,” The Stripes have just released a Conquest EP, with a bunch of new songs, two of which are collaborations with Beck: “It’s My Fault For Being Famous” and “Cash Grab Complications On The Matter.” There’s also another new song, “Honey, We Can’t Afford To Look This Cheap,” plus a new version of “Conquest.”
I’ve heard that The White Stripes may never tour again – my guess would be that Meg White doesn’t like being on the road. That would be a shame, but as long as they put out music this good, that’s cool. (And as long as Jack still tours with The Raconteurs).
They’re often compared to Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements, which I’m sure is fine with them. I heard a song of theirs “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” from their last album, Separation Sunday, which I liked. Then I heard “Chips Ahoy” from their latest, last year’s Boys And Girls In America. It's just an incredible album.
So when I just read on their web site that they’re working on a new album, it gave me something to look forward to (music-wise) in 2008, other than Aimee Mann's upcoming album.
If you think that you don’t like “new” bands, check out The Hold Steady, you’ll thank me.
Pegi used Anthony Crawford – a musician who was part of Neil’s ‘80s rockabilly band The Shocking Pinks, and who worked with Neil on and off over the years – as her acoustic guitarist (she played acoustic as well). The rest of her musicians, bassist Rick Rosas and steel guitarist Ben Keith are from Neil’s band. I liked her set – it went on a bit long, and it was a long night, but I was definitely enjoying most of it.
Neil’s solo set was much like last week’s, with a few notable differences. He played a beautiful version of one of his greatest songs, “After The Goldrush.” I’ve seen him do the song a lot over the years, but since ’92 or so, he usually plays it on his pipe organ, which is a cool. But last night, he kicked it old-school, playing it on piano. It was amazing. He also did “Cowgirl In The Sand,” which would have been great with the band – but regardless, it was just as haunting just on acoustic guitar. It’s one of my favorite Neil songs, and one he rarely performs. Finally, he closed the first set with the opening song from Harvest – “Out On The Weekend.” He mentioned that “Someone asked me to play this the other night. He’s probably not here now, but here it is.” I’d never seen him perform that, so it was really cool that he did it. He left “Heart Of Gold” off of the setlist, which was fine with me.
The electric set kicked off with his Buffalo Springfield classic, “Mr. Soul”: for my money, one of his most enduring songs. That was worth the price of admission right there. But the whole set was great. I thought the band, who were occasionally joined by Pegi on backing vocals and vibes, and Anthony Crawford on piano and backing vocals – really jelled well.
I read that Jonathan Demme has been shooting some of the shows: hopefully the result of this shooting will be something that comes out, and not one of Neil’s (many) shelved projects. Demme did a great job on Neil’s Heart Of Gold film.
Monday, December 17, 2007
If his name sounds familiar, it's because he was the bassist for one of the best bands of all time - Jane's Addiction. In April Eric Avery will release his solo debut, Help Wanted. You have to respect the guy for not being involved in any Jane's reunions. The tours were great - and I really liked their reunion album, Strays (one of the better reunion albums ever, in my mind). But the guy didn't feel it was the right thing to do, and he turned down a lot of money, you have to respect that. The stuff he's done since then has been... interesting. His one-off post-Jane's project with Dave Navarro - Deconstruction - was so weird, it's not that fun to listen to (although maybe I should try to revisit it). I haven't heard his Polar Bear project. On the other hand, he tried out for Metallica, and has played in Alanis Morissette's band.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing what the album is like. His contributions to the Jane's Addiction albums were incredible: it was truly a band that was way more than the sum of it's parts (as evidenced by most of the stuff they've done since they first split up).
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Which is a bit weird, as most people who are vaguely familiar with Aimee's music probably wouldn't associate her, or her music, with fun.
I am a huge fan of Aimee's. Yes, her music can be depressing, and her sense of humor isn't totally apparent if you just listen to her music. A few years ago, Aimee and her husband, Michael Penn, toured together and hired the comedian Patton Oswald to not only open the shows, also to provide the in-between songs banter. What was funny about that is that Aimee and Michael were hilarious on thier own, and Mr. Oswald just added to the general hilarity. Also, I've always felt that theres some undercurrent of optimism in her music. Like, maybe the wrecks that she sings about have some chance of redemption or improvement.
Last year, Aimee released a Christmas album, One More Drifter In The Snow, and decided to do a Christmas tour. I missed it, but read about how great it was, so I was sure to catch this year's. Aimee and her great band played a few Christmas songs, plus some of her other stuff, like "Jacob Marley's Chain" and her classic "Save Me." But she also gave the stage over to a cast of special guests: comedian Paul F. Thompkins (probably most well known as a "talking head" on VH1's Best Week Ever), and singer-songwriters Ben Lee, Josh Ritter and Nellie McKay, as well as "The Hannukkah Fairy" who did a pretty hilarious rap about the meaning of Hannukkah. The show made me curious to check out more of all of their music.
Aimee also had a three part film which showed her quest to get "special guests" for her Christmas show, including Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Weird Al, Patton Oswald and someone from CSI: Miami (Emily Proctor?), and a few others. It was really funny. Aimee has great comic timing, I'm surprised she hasn't done more film work (although let's not forget her toe-sacrificing role in the classic Big Lebowski). I guess it's probably because in movies, you don't have much control, and after spending years fighting labels, she isn't prepared to sign over a few months to corporate movie studio. Still, she was really funny.
On another Aimee note, I saw her show at Warsaw in Brooklyn over the summer, and she played a few new songs - apparently, there's no electric guitar on the next album. That's cool: her new album is one of the records I'm most looking forward to in the '08.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I'm not a fan of the myriad of award ceremonies that seem to crop up week after week. But the Grammys seem to have (to me) a prestige to them, plus there's the fact that they are given out by an organization that works year round to support music.
Yes, it's a corporate thing, yes, the major labels have lots of influence, yes, critical favorites are often overlooked, blah, blah, blah. But I think that they've done a good job of getting a clue since the days that Jethro Tull beat Metallica for the heavy metal Grammy or DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince beat Public Enemy. At it's best, the Grammys award artists who combine artistic merit (which, of course, is subjective) and sales.
And that's why I was floored (like a lot of other people) when I saw that Bruce Springsteen was shut out of the "major" categories of Album, Record and Song of the Year. I figured Bruce, along with Kanye West and Amy Winehouse were going to be the big nominees, and I was right in two out of the three. Where The Grammys used to be more about older artists, now it favors younger ones (probably in no small part because of the TV ratings). But Bruce is the type of artist the voters seem to love: he's older but (unlike Steely Dan, who won a big Grammy a few years ago), sells a lot of records, and is a big influence on younger artists, from Pearl Jam to Arcade Fire.
"Girls In Their Summer Clothes" is such a great song and production, I was really surprised that it wasn't nominated for Record and Song. Although I don't write about mainstream pop too often, I like a lot of big pop hits: so I have no problem with Justin Timberlake's "What Comes Around... Goes Around" being nominated for Record. I love Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." I haven't heard the new songs by Beyonce or Rihanna (who seems very Beyonce-like). And I am definitely a Foo Fighters fan. But from a production standpoint, I can't see how the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender" is a great production - it sounds like the producer stayed out of the way and let the band rip. Rightfully so. But "Girls..." is a great wall of sound production.
"Rehab" is also up for Song, which I have no problem with (although I prefer Amy's "You Know I'm No Good"). I really like Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like A Star," but I don't think it is as good as "Girls..." A lot of people diss American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. I don't know much about her, but "Before He Cheats" is a great song (albiet one she didn't write). Is the Plain White T's song really better than Bruce's?
Both Amy Winehouse and Kanye West are up for Album of the Year, rightfully so. I'm happy to see Foo Fighters up for it. I was suprised to see Vince Gill: I like the music that I've heard from him, but it was a quadruple album. Did it really make that much of an impact? You'd think that if the voters were in tune with country music, it would be a Keith Urban or Brad Paisley or even Carrie Underwood album, with all due respect to Mr. Gill. Finally, with all due respect to Herbie Hancock - who has some incredible music on his resume, including his stint with Miles Davis, his own band The Headhunters and the immortal "Rockit," just to name some. But how is his Joni Mitchell tribute album nominated for Album Of The Year? It just seems like block voting or something. Meanwhile, I guess Columbia Records' staff was more interested in getting nominations for Beyonce than for Bruce.
This is coming off like a whiny post. Well, Bruce did get a few nominations: Magic is up for Best Rock album, against Foo Fighters, John Fogerty, Wilco and Daughtry. As long as Daughtry doesn't win, that's cool. "Radio Nowhere" is up for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance against Beck's album-less single "Timebomb," John Mellencamp's "Our Country," Lucinda Williams' "Come On" and some Paul McCartney song. And Bruce's version of Ennio Morricone's "Once Upon A Time In The West" is up against Metallica's version of Morricone's "The Ecstasy Of Gold," Rush's "Malignant Narcissism" and songs by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai (if I were to vote, I'd go for Rush!).
It's not all about Bruce, either. I was happy to see Foo Fighters get those props. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss got a nod, as did The Beastie Boys (for their underrated The Mix-Up album), The White Stripes ("You Don't Know What Love Is [You Just Do What You're Told]" is surely one of the best songs of the year), U2 (for "Window In The Skies" from their best-of, and "Instant Karma" from the John Lennon tribute album). Green Day (for "Working Class Hero" also from the Lennon tribute), Ozzy Osbourne (for his great song "I Don't Wanna Stop"), Common and Steve Earle. Alicia Keys got some for her great song "No One" - I don't think her album will be eligible until next year's Grammys, a strategy often used by U2. Ben Harper got one for Best Instrumental for "Paris Sunrise #7" but realistically, it is probably because he is one of the few "pop" artists with an instrumental who the voters have heard of.
I guess there's no use in taking the Grammy Awards that seriously: this Friday, tickets go on sale for three Springsteen shows at Giants Stadium. Last time he did Giants Stadium (in 2003 with The E Street Band on The Rising tour) he started out by putting three shows on sale, and ended up playing ten sold out nights (followed by three at Shea Stadium weeks later). I guess it's better to have the vote of the people - that's democracy for you.
Every review I've read has raved about how great they were. I'm glad to hear it. I wonder... can they really end it here? I'm sure Robert Plant is still committed to touring with Alison Krauss to promote their awesome Raising Sand album. But surely the temptation to at least do a few festivals has to be more real than it was before last night's show. (I've also read that Plant is planning his next album, to be produced by T-Bone Burnett, who also produced Sand). Next year could be very interesting for Zeppelin fans...
But next year, we might see a reunion by Mudcrutch. For those of you who have never heard of them, that was the band that Tom Petty was in, before The Heartbreakers: yes, this is another mention of Tom Petty. Anyway, Mudcrutch also included future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. Probably their best song was "Don't Do Me Like That," which The Heartbreakers revisited a few years later. Tom said in a recent Rolling Stone interview that they've recorded a new album, and that they may tour - but he just wants to do festivals. I guess if they're not doing Petty's Heartbreakers material, it doesn't make sense for them to bear the burden of selling lots of tickets. I'm psyched to hear this. Of course, I'm also looking forward to his next album with The Heartbreakers.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
That's the rumor circulating on the web right now: that Led Zeppelin and Metallica will be headlining Bonnaroo in 2008. Of course, Robert Plant has been bullish in every interview that the upcoming Zeppelin reunion concert is a "one-night stand" (although Jimmy Page clearly hopes that they'll do more). Plant has stated that next year, he'll be touring with Alison Krauss for their awesome collaboration, Raising Sand. Of course, he could do that and hit the festivals with Page and John Paul Jones in the summer. Bonnaroo is the perfect festival for Zep: it kind of has the hippie spirit that Plant at least has. He's always been more into the psychedelic and garage rock scenes than hard rock and metal. In fact, being associated with hard rock and metal seems to annoy and embarass him. Bonnaroo would also be a great place for him and Ms. Krauss to perform, if he was of the mind to perform with her and with Zep in the same weekend. John Paul Jones kind of did that last summer: he performed with a bluegrass band that he produced called Uncle Earl, and then also at the "superjam" with Ben Harper and ?uestlove from The Roots. Man, if Zeppelin didn't do a U.S. tour, but just played Bonnaroo, that would be crazy. Last summer, The Police were one of the headliners - but they also did a fairly extensive tour. But if Bonnaroo was the only opportunity to see Zeppelin in the U.S... that would be pretty insane.
Add to that Metallica. One of my favorite bands, but a surprising choice for the festival, given James Hetfield's conservative politics and the fact that he's always had a disdain for hippies. But if they play a set like the ones they did at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit a few weeks back (they covered Rare Earth, Nazareth, Garbage and The Dire Straits!), that could be a cool deal for Bonnaroo.
Although Bonnaroo always books lots of jam bands, I wonder what happens when tons of rockers come just to see Zeppelin and Metallica? While I've never been to the festival, there's been many years where the lineup has been tempting. I've just never wanted to take the time off, pay for the plane fare, and go through the trouble of camping. I've always read that the festival has been incredibly well-run, treats the concert-goers well, and has been enviornmentally conscious. But I wonder if this brings it dangerously close to a Woodstock '99 type scene.
But despite what I said in an earlier post, I think that if this turns out to be my only chance to see Zeppelin, I may have to buy a tent.
Monday, December 3, 2007
There's also news that he's re-releasing Thriller. Bad move I think: even though he's having some of the hottest producers like Kanye West and will.i.am remix tracks, it just feels desperate. Although I am interested to hear what his new album will be like. I hear he's working with will.i.am: that could actually be good. One of Michael's big problems is that he's never been OK with not being huge. All of his superstar peers like Springsteen, Madonna and Prince have, at some point, accepted that they won't ever be as big as they were in 1984. Michael's never been able to swallow that, and because of it, he comes off as desperate. I'm not at all interested in the tabloid aspect of his life. But if he could do a few new songs that are as good as the better moments on Dangerous (like "Black Or White"), that'd be pretty cool.
I don't think Billy gets enough credit for his songwriting. He'd be the first to admit that some of his songs are a bit cheesy (I've read interviews where he openly mocks "Just The Way You Are"). But he writes about regular people struggling with the world around them with a near-Springsteenian eye. "The Downeaster 'Alexa,'" "Goodnight Saigon" and "Allentown" are great examples of this. Billy isn't in my top echelon of favorite artists, but I've always been a big fan. I'm looking forward to this song, which hits iTunes tomorrow.
Incidentally, I really respect Billy's deciscion to get off the treadmill. He has nothing more to say, why put out new albums just because he's "supposed" to? He tours, plays the old songs that his fans want to hear, and that's great. I think it's more natural for a guy like him, who has recorded so many great songs, to quit if he can't match the quality of his earlier music. Not everyone can be Springsteen or Petty. That said, I have high hopes for this new song.
Still, it's such a corporate event, and Tom (to my knowledge) doesn't have a new album to promote. But whatever, I'll tune in, and good for Tom for getting such a large forum for his music. As much of a joke as the Superbowl halftime shows have historically been, there's been a few good ones. U2 was transcendent. I thought Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones were both great. Prince blew the roof off last year. I'm curious what songs Tom will play (I'm guessing "American Girl" will be one) - whatever he does, it will be great. He comes with less hype than the other artists that I've mentioned, but he's just as great. Hopefully he'll play "Money Becomes King."
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Back in my days as an interviewer, I had a few occasions to speak with Danny. He was always really cool. A few of them were before Bruce reunited with The E Street Band. Like the rest of the group, he was trying to get a new career going (he was recording solo albums of mainly accordian-based instrumental music)... and of course every interviewer asked about Bruce. Danny was very gracious about it. I was really happy for him when Bruce got the band back together. Anyway, get well soon, Danny, it won't be the same without you.