Friday, September 16, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen...Corey Feldman

This is f*cking outstanding. Corey Feldman and his new band Corey's Angels performing on the Today Show. Check out how he has the girls in his band dressed. Think he's "helping make their dreams come true"? Oh, and it's a double concept album!

Monday, September 12, 2016

An Album I Love By an Artist I Don’t Like (and Albums I Hate by Artists I Love)

Throw enough sh*t at the wall, and something is bound to stick. It worked for FDR during the New Deal, and it sometimes works in music as well. If someone has a base level of musical skill and talent, over time, they are bound to get something right.

It is easy to hate Billy Joel. Very easy. When I was in middle school, though, I loved his music. I own most of his records on vinyl from back when I was buying vinyl before the dawn of CDs (now I am back to buying vinyl again). But his music has not aged well at all. He was cheeseball with the ballads, and when he tried to pose as a rocker it just looked and sounded ridiculous (“Big Shot,” anyone?)
But…there is one Billy Joel record that still sounds so great, and it remains amongst my favorite records. Songs In the Attic (1981) is a live record he put out with a specific purpose, and he accomplished it brilliantly. In the well written liner notes by Joel, he talks about how he was never happy with the way his first four records sounded. After he got big with The Stranger, his band gelled and they presented the early material live the way he had wanted all along.

Hence Songs in the Attic. These are live renditions of album tracks from the early records performed with his more (at the time) current band. He only had one pre-Stranger hit, and that was the ubiquitous “Piano Man,” and thankfully that is not even on this record. As he stated in the liner notes, “Piano Man” never sounds different live than on the recording anyway, so why bother putting it here? The tracks that are here are uniformly superior to their studio counterparts, so he was right to try and get them a second listen. They are all deep album cuts, and good choices. Even though they are taken from different shows and even tours, for whatever reason, the record has a real cohesion to it. It sounds like it was meant to be put together in this way.

It is often this way with music, but I remember listening to this record during a certain period in my youth. Pulling the vinyl out late the other night…wow. A strong wave of nostalgia and those memories of youth came flowing back. Makes sense that the record closes with his own nostalgic look back, “I’ve Loved These Days” (a much, much more effective song that his later cheesy semi-hit “This Is the Time,” which tries to cover the same ground).

Even if you don’t like Billy Joel, this record may be the exception to the rule for you. It certainly is for me.

Now, to be fair, records I hate by artists I otherwise love. There are actually many of these I could choose from. We all make mistakes, even the best of us. Here are some mistakes…

Neil Young: My favorite artist of all time. But Living With War and The Monsanto Years both sound like some angry old man with half the facts on some simplistic political rant. Might be OK over the dinner table with friends, but it doesn’t make for great records.

Bruce Springsteen: Human Touch, where Bruce completely loses his sound and makes a record with slick L.A. session players. By the numbers songwriting too. Working on a Dream, where Bruce finally becomes a parody of himself in places.

The Who: Endless Wire. I was genuinely intrigued with what a post-John Entwhistle Who record would sound like. Surely someone as smart as Pete Townshend could age gracefully in music. Nevermind. Half-baked concept album about something I don’t care about.

Peter Gabriel: I don’t know, anything post-1992? Let’s go with OVO, his misbegotten soundtrack for the Millenium Dome Show in London. Bland songwriting, bland production, annoying guest artists. To quote Donald Trump, a disaster.

Dire Straits: On Every Street. Wonderful title track aside, it is no wonder Mark Knopfler ended it after this record. Pressure of following up something like Brothers In Arms was too much, or more likely, Knopfler doesn’t seem like an artist comfortable at that level. I think it all got too big.

Van Morrison: anything from the mid-1990’s on. Even into the 1980’s, Van Morrison was making challenging, vital music with depth (if you haven’t, it is worthwhile to delve into Van’s 80’s material). I chose to list Van here, because take your pick, record after record of cruise control, non-descript, mid-tempo R&B influenced product. Somewhere Morrison ceased to be an artist and became just an entertainer. Other artists who completely had me but took a turn like Morrison: Sting post-Soul Cages, U2 post-Zooropa and ZZ Top post-Afterburner.

What about you? Records you love by artists you otherwise dislike, or records you hate by artists you otherwise love?

Friday, September 2, 2016

RIP Gene Wilder, 1933-2016

I haven’t thought about Gene Wilder in a long time. In part because he has been out of the public eye for quite awhile. The last movie he was in came out in 1991. He belongs to a different time. But when I heard about his death (as 2016 continues to be The Year of Celebrity Deaths), the memories of his greatest performances brought a big smile to my face and a chuckle. That is what he seemed to be about, bringing laughs and smiles to people in tough times (his best films came out in the 1970’s).

One of the more unique things about his performances for me was that he was able to present characters that have a bland, surface normalcy but just under the surface is an unstable volcano that will occasionally erupt onscreen, and he was never afraid to take it there when need be. Willy Wonka may be his most memorable role, and as sweet as he is in the film, there is still something a bit sinister too, just under the surface. I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving my kids with him on a tour of his factory.

But for me, his greatest role is Victor Frankenstein in Mel Brooks’ 1974 classic Young Frankenstein. Most of Brooks’ films I find irritating (although Blazing Saddles is great in spots, featuring another iconic Wilder role), but YF hits all the right notes and tone and is both a loving homage to the classic era of Universal Horror films and also a masterful comedy. Wilder co-wrote the script. His performance is a master class in comedic acting. How he so desperately wants to be taken seriously and escape the “Frankenstein” name, then gets pulled into his grandfather’s work and legacy. His performance moves across the entire spectrum, from subtle, wry humor to raging, manic tantrums. So many scenes (the spinning bookcase – “put the candle back!”) have entered the collective comedy consciousness of a generation of moviegoers.

RIP Gene Wilder