Hova’s Back

February 23, 2010

On Jay-Z’s latest album The Blueprint 3, the once and future king of hip-hop elevates bravado to an art-form not seen since his Black Album.  After Hov announced his retirement in 2002, he released two more albums that made you wish he really had quit the game.  It was confusing to say the least.  After clawing his way from being an unknown to being the president of Def-Jam records in ten years time, he left us after delivering the best rap album in a decade.  It’s not exactly a new schtick in rap music.  Too Short used to announce his retirement on every album.  The two albums Jigga released after The Black Album sold well but did not garner much chart success with Kingdom Come’s “Show Me What Your Working With” the only top ten single on either album.  American Gangster, released in 2007, fared even worse on the Billboard Hot 100 with no singles charting above number 55.

With sales already in excess of 1.6 million albums The Bluprint 3 put Jay-Z back on top.  Its third single, “Empire State of Mind” featuring Alicia Keys earned the rapper his only number 1 hit.  “Run This Town” with the ubiquitous Rihanna made it to number 2, but it’s the first single, “D.O.A. (The Death of Autotune)” that made this writer yell “Oh snap!”  The song brings to mind great battle raps like Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” or “I’m Bad” by L.L. Cool J all set on top of brilliant production from No I.D.  The mix of trumpet and electric guitar gives the track a smooth yet edgy sound. He admonishes other rappers to “grow a set” and says the way to prove your street cred is to simply, “get violent”.  That sentiment appears to be at odds with his assertion on “What We Talkin About” that “Ain’t nothin cool about carrying a strap”.  But this is rap music, not a dissertation.  That’s one of the best things about hip-hop:  It doesn’t have to be a seamless world-view. It can be jumbled and contradictory just like its predecessor Rock and Roll.  Example:  the self-proclaimed hater of auto-tune uses an auto-tuner on “Hater” later on the album.

“On to the Next One” and “Off That” are interchangeable, theme-wise. Namely:  Jay-Z is a trend-setter.  What do you expect from the only MC that does yoga?  In “On to the Next One” he proclaims, “Used to rock a throw-back, ballin on the corner, Now I rock a Teller suit, lookin like an owner.”  This song is good but I was hoping against hope that it would be some kind of insane collaboration with The Foo Fighters. (See “All My Life” from FF’s 2002 album One By One) “Off That” continues in the “I’m so avant-garde” vein.  Jay’s awe-inspiring ego is on full display on this one as he reveals that he’s “so tomorrow they order mines on yesterday”.  He even takes a second to get political on “Off That”:

“This ain’t black vs white, my n***a we off that
Please tell Bill O’Reilly to fall back
Tell Rush Limbaugh to get off my balls
This 2010 not 1864”

Once again:  “O snap!”

The Blueprint 3 isn’t all machismo though.  The obligatory, One For The Ladies type song is usually a throw-away on rap albums.  Not this time.  “Venus vs Mars” is one of the best tracks on the album.  Jay discovers the yin to his yang and even likens he, and his fictitious paramour to James and Florida Evans.  But the thing that makes this song great isn’t all the nice “she’s the Bonnie to my Clyde” type of statements; it’s the last verse that really makes this song special.  That’s where the listener figures out that this is a break-up song!  That’s right boys and girls, even mega-rich, music industry moguls get their hearts broken.  The Florida and James comparisons turn to Shaq and Kobe in the final stanza with Hova lamenting that the girl took his “whole flavor, I call her Coke Zero” and even comparing her to Bernie Madoff.  Ah the longing, ah the bitterness.  It’s good to know that Jay-Z is just like you and me. Except baller as hell.

The last stand-out track is one of the six on the album produced by Kanye West.  “Young Forever” finds Jay-Z rapping over Alphaville’s 1984 pop hit “Forever Young”.  On one hand Jay is at his most philosophic on this, the fifth single from The Blueprint 3.  He is a man coming to terms with his own mortality.  He stresses remembering the good times and wistfully wishes that life could be like a rap video with pretty girls and champagne all the time.  On the other hand, this is Jay-Z.  He ain’t trying to be too damn sad.  He also infuses this cut with some thoughts on his figurative immortality.

“i’ll be alive for a million years, bye bye,
so not for legends, I’m forever young
my name shall survive”

There are a couple of tracks on the record that are throw-aways (“A Star Is Born”, “Already Home”, “So Ambitious”) but if you’re into hip-hop, rejoice.  The king is back.  Hell, even if you aren’t into hip-hop, give this one a try.   In the end it’s a return-to-form for the rapper who brought the term “Flow” back to the vernacular.  Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is about Hova that makes him so great.  It even puzzles the man himself.  He asks in “D.O.A”, “I’m a multi-millionaire, so how is it I’m still the hardest n***a here?”  Good question, Sean.


It’s Not About A Salary It’s All About Reality

December 5, 2008


I’ll admit I have only a passing interest in The Thermals.  I kinda dig, but can’t be overly enthusiatic about their three-piece lo-fi.  Punk is a label that gets tossed around a lot and I guess I’ll toss at them.  The most punk thing about them is that they (according to the latest Billboard) turned down $50,000 for the use of one of their songs in a Hummer ad.  Their music has been featured in TV shows “Chuck” and “Weeds,” so maybe they are just making a principled stand against gas-guzzlers.  If so then nevermind about the punk thing.  Caring about the environment while good for serious, well-rounded people  is not punk.

The Thermals put out three  albums on Sub Pop but decided to go with Kill Rock Stars for their fourth effort.  I supposed the reason that any established artist decides to go smaller rather than the normal evolution of bands from small label to large label is to gain more  control and get more personal attention.  This wouldn’t seem to be the case with The Thermals.  Hutch Harris, Thermals guitarist/singer told Pitchfork, “(Sub Pop) treated us incredibly well and we never had anything less than full creative control.”  Uh.  Ok.  So then why switch?  Maybe The Postal Service takes up the time of the entire Sub Pop staff.  Maybe The Thermals are getting picked on by The Gutter Twins in the hallways.  Or maybe musicians are just flakes who like to rock the boat for no good reason.

It might be pointing out the obvious but I’m not such a big fan of Kill Rock Stars.  Sure I like Eliot Smith and The Decemberists but I’m certain that if not for the staff of KRS I would never have heard Deerhoof.  But I have heard Deerhoof and I can’t un-hear it.

Here my completely illogical love of all things Sub Pop rears its ugly head.  Its a by-product of when I grew up.  When I hear the name Sub Pop I think of “Touch Me I’m Sick” from Mudhoney or “Negative Creep” from Nirvana.  When I hear the (abbreviated) name KRS; I think of KRS-One.

Here’s a great video for a good song, “Pillar of Salt” from The Thermals 2006 albumThe Body, the Blood, the Machine.

The World’s Largest Record Collection

September 30, 2008

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania resident Paul Mawhinney has 3 million records and 300,000 CDs.  Thats over 6 million songs.  And he wants to give them to you for the low-low price of $3 million.  Thats a steal when you consider that his collection is estimated to be worth $50 million.   He could sell it off piece by piece and earn enough money to take care of his medical bills but he’s aging and he wants the collection kept intact.

Watch the short film.

Update (GW): I used my God-like Administrative Powers to both fix the link and embed the video. (Oddly, the embedded video is visible in Firefox on my laptop but not on my desktop. If you don’t see it, use the link.)

Album Review: James McMurtry – Just Us Kids

September 4, 2008

James McMurtry’s Just Us Kids was released earlier this year (I’ve never been on the cutting edge of anything so I just got it) and is enjoying some success on the  Americana Radio Chart.   I don’t really know much about McMurtry other than the fact that his dad was Larry McMurtry and that he’s a damn good songwriter. 

The only record I had really ever heard of his was “Choctaw Bingo”, (a word on my terminology:  I tend to refer to “singles” as “records” sometimes, its a radio thing, its bound to happen) a wonderful, white-trash epic of a song in which he admits that even though Ruth-Ann and Lynn are his second cousins he wants ” to get between ’em with a great big ol’ hard on like an old Bois d’ Arc fence post you could hang a gate from and do some sister twistin.” 

Also I guess “Levelland” from Robert Earl Keen’s Picnic is one of his, but I’ve never heard him sing it.

Well Just Us Kids is not like that at all.  I was hoping it would be, but now I’m glad for what it is:  a thoughtful, well-written, and timely album that makes up in passion what it lacks in subtlety.  With songs like “Cheney’s Toy” it’s a bit more directly political than I like from my alt-country but none of it comes across like an immature screed (see once relevant NOFX’s Wolves in Wolves Clothing for an example of that.  Why hast Fat Mike forsaken fun?). 

The best song on the album is “Ruby and Carlos”, a story-song about a middle-aged cowgirl and a would be country drummer with combat experience.  They start together and get torn apart by…life, I guess.  Draw your own conclusions. \”Ruby and Carlos\”

Some songs on Just Us Kids are lighter, but there’s a heapin’ helpin’ of incest (not the funny kind from “Choctaw Bingo”), murder, corruption, and heartache.  I give it four stars.

Puttin’ the “try” Back in Country

August 5, 2008

I guess I should start by saying that its my job to know about country music. I am the morning show DJ for a country station in north Louisiana. Keeping that in mind I pose this query: What do Jessica Simpson, Darius Rucker, Jewel, and Kid Rock have in common? They are all enjoying varied degrees of success on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart.

I don’t particularly enjoy the music I play at work. Over the years however, I have learned to like some of the slick, over-modulated pap more than the rest. The great danger in my profession is that occasionally I will realize that I am singing softly to myself the words of some thoroughly embarassing modern “country” song. Carrie Underwood’s “All American Girl” is especially infectious. Not to mention the vocal stylings of barely legal Nashville songstress Taylor Swift. Basically, after ten years of toiling away in the country format I have come to say things like, “That new Keith Urban single is great!” Now hold on, I don’t mean that I’m gonna be buying his latest album. In fact I get it for free and still won’t listen to it. (I feel kind of bad about saying that. I’ve met the man and he gave me my only bonafide, Australian “Good-on-ya!”) What I mean by “great” is that it fits a hole in our format that I’ve been looking to fill. You know, the cliche of the three minute, positive, not too country, up-tempo love song. (Thanks to Larry Cordle for that line.)

That being said, enough is enough! Jessica Simpson? Why? “Well she’s from Texas, why not?”, some would say. By that logic, we should play Pantera. Simpson’s country debut has come to us in the form of the unholy, ear-raping “Come on Over”. She sings “Leave the dishes in the sink/Leave the aahhs-cubes in your drink/Just Come on Over”. I feel dirty after introducing this song. Since when does she have a thick Texas drawl? And what moron told her to pick a song with the title “Come on Over” for her first single? That was the title to Shania Twain’s late nineties album that sold a bazillion copies. It had twelve oft-played radio singles on it for pete’s sake! That’s about the same as if Hoobastank decided to relase a single called “Kill Em’ All” that somehow wasn’t about the Metallica album of the same name.

Jessica is the worst offender of the four pop interlopers but only barely. There is a special place in hell for Kid Rock now that he has released “All Summer Long”. Hot damn thats bad! The song starts by ripping off Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and ends by ripping off “Sweet Home Alabama.” Yes thats exactly what the world needed: a reworking of “Sweet Home Alabama”. Christ. I’m getting worked up just thinking about this abomination which, by the way, the listeners just love.

Jewel sucks too. The only good thing she ever did (besides wearing a tight tee-shirt) was covering the Steve Poltz song “You Were Meant For Me”. And she didn’t even do that right. Its “I break the yolks with my goddamn fork/I can’t believe you’re taking me to court”, not whatever the hell she yodels in her mega-hit version.

That brings us to Hootie. “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” is his country debut and compared to the other singles in this post, it’s phenomenal. Besides, its fun to say “Hootie”. Still he would have been better off releasing, as a single, the BK jingle he did.

To sum up, pop country sucks but should be left to the pros; people like Craig Morgan who at least seem authentic when they sing songs with titles like “International Harvester”. I’m just glad that we seem to be done with the jingoistic, willfully ignorant crap like “Have You Forgotten” from noted sadist Darryl Worley which excoriates pointy headed liberals for not realizing that the war in Iraq is somehow about 9-11. I often fantasize about putting Toby Keith, Charlie Daniels, and Darryl Worley into a rocket and shooting it into the blazing heart of the sun. Steve Earle could have the honor of pressing the button.

I would like to say, to those who ask how I can put up with my job: It’s damn easy. I talk for a living. It beats the hell out of real work. Also, once a week I host an alt-country show where I can play whatever I want. It’s Monday night from six to eight. Check it out here.

C’mon Get Depressed

July 29, 2008

I guess it’s passe to note that Rolling Stone might not be cool, but as G.O.B. Bluth would say, COME ON!!!

I had a vague idea that The Jonas Brothers were one of those tween sensation things that happens for some reason, but I wasn’t happy to find them on the cover of RS this month.

I didn’t really know who they were and have never heard their “music” as they refer to it. But now you have!

I don’t really see the wisdom in their being on the cover. Are there thirteen year old girls out there who are going to buy the mag now because of the dreamy cover shoot? And the answer comes back to me…probably.

It’s kind of freaking me out that I have a subscription to this magazine. What? I read it for the articles.


The “God Fodder” II?

June 26, 2008

Ned\'s Atomic Dustbin - Some Furtive YearsNed’s Atomic Dustbin: when you hear that name what do you think of? Do you think of the odd line-up? They had two bassists. One took the traditional bass-line while the other riffed. Do you think of John Penney’s inexplicable hairstyle? Or do you think, “Who the hell is that?” If the last one describes you, don’t worry, you haven’t been ignoring a great new band, you were probably just born in the mid 1980s or later. Ned’s didn’t make many waves outside of Britain except for their excellent 1991 debut God Fodder and broke up in 1995.

Well, Ned’s is back. Kind of. According to their website, all the original members were contacted by Sony about putting together a track listing for a best-of. Since the guys weren’t really best of buds anymore, they worked out the project through e-mail. I guess they decided to get back together and have some fun. They played a show in December in London marking the first time in thirteen years that the five original members were in the same room. There has been no talk of recording new music since they have been “re:united” (they were discussing the track listing for the aforementioned best-of, entitled Some Furtive Years: a Ned’s Anthology, via e-mail. Thus the somewhat cutesy “re-united” slogan on their site). In 2006, with the help of some replacement members, Ned’s released a three-song EP entitled Hibernation that had the all the brio of their early years and a spirited, if ill-advised, remix of “Kill Your Television.”

I’m hoping that the band will release a new album sometime soon. And that they will tour in the U.S. That seems unlikely. Maybe if we all hold hands and sing in the words of their biggest single “Grey Cell Green”, “The grey cell’s green only if the green sells grey” they’ll come to the States. What on God’s Green Earth does that mean, by the way? My friend David Mason is sure that the entire song is about Swamp Thing. I’m not convinced, algthough that might shine some light on the lyrics, “You’re telling me it’s mother earth, some sign of birth It’s not, it’s inside me”. Or maybe he’s a drug mule. Consumed with “dee-sah-high-er” (thats “desire” in John Penney-ese). Ok so: grey cells = brain matter, no, wait, still nothing. I welcome any theories as to the song’s meaning, but don’t really care. Its an energetic,3:00 minute, post-garage, over-amped good time.

Why write this post when there is nothing new to report? I just found my copy of God Fodder on cassette under the passenger seat of my truck. I say “my” copy when actually I purloined it from Squint’s guitarist, Matt Frederickson some years ago. No Matt, you may not have it back. You have a CD player in your car and I have a tape deck. I deserve that tape!

Here’s “Grey Cell Green”: