Monday, December 31, 2007

No. 302: The Slim Shady LP

Band: Eminem
Album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On Eminem's second record, the Detroit rapper produced a considerably more personal record. The record lost a lot of the humor of the first album, but the record became smarter.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The anger is a little off-putting to me, especially when he acts like he's being persecuted. Eminem, I'm sorry to mention this to you, but you're treated with kid gloves because of your skin color.
Best song: "The Real Slim Shady" is problematic, but decidedly catchy.
Worst song: "The Way I Am" is classic narcissism nonsense.
Is it awesome?: I don't think so.

I've said most of what I wanted to say about Emimem already, but there are a few notable things about his second record. For one, this is the album that took Em from being a dude with a huge record to being the biggest star in rap music. This occurrence came largely out of "Stan," a huge crossover hit that finally had everyone listening to him. The Dido song "Thank You" provides the sample that Em raps over, as he goes with a somber lyric about an obsessive fan.

"Stan" is interesting if only because it created the mass impression of Eminem as thoughtful introspective dude. That's not a bad thing and not totally inaccurate, but it's immediately shot down in "The Way I Am," a song that's easily Eminem's worse popular single. The song is Em's idea of self-definition and it pulsates with adolescent anger. The song's hook has the line "Radio won't even play my jam," a proposition to ludicrous, it's hard to even mention it.

And that's the thing. The level of humor on the record is less than "The Slim Shady LP." "Kill You" has the humor that dotted Em's first record, but also bubbles with real anger that he probably wasn't able to include on his first record. It's hyperbolically angry (which is clever in and of itself), but also troubling in its sincerity.

(That's one of my overriding problems with Eminem. I worry that his recent work is more indicative of the type of artist he is. His first record was his first work with a major label; I'm sure he had a lot of guidance and advice and probably wanted to please them. He probably changed his style a fair amount. I like that Emimen better.)

The highlight of the album is, once again, the lead single, "The Real Slim Shady." Brimming with pop culture references, Em mocks Tom Green, Carson Daly, Will Smith, Britney Spears, nursing homes, and just about everything else under the sun. With his signature snark, he recounts his self-definition in a way that's far more humorous and clever than "The Way I Am."

Because I nitpick, there are two problematic lines in the song. The first is "Half of you critics can't even stomach me, let alone stand me," another of Em's delusions of persecution. The idea that critics don't like Eminem has been patently ludicrous since his second single was released (just as the idea that radio won't play his jam is idiotic). The other is the faux populism of "The only difference is I got the balls to say it," a notion that attacks "political correctness."

Now, the concept of "political correctness" is something that bothers the hell out of me. There is no such thing as "political correctness." It is simply being correct. So, when you say "fag," you aren't being correct. You're being offensive. When you call a Korean-American "Chinese," you're being incorrect. It's as simple as that.

So, when Eminem implies that he's being the voice of the anti-political correct world and he's being persecuted because of his bravery, I find that to be patently ridiculous. It's idiotic.


Because I find each Eminem record to be of deteriorating quality from the one before, "The Slim Shady LP" is not a terrible record, but it's not nearly as good as his first record.

No. 301: John Wesley Harding

Band: Bob Dylan
Album: John Wesley Harding
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Dylan's trip to Memphis in 1967 after recovering from a motorcycle accident resulted in his most country album to that point. Similarly, he developed his mid-career style of writing, wherein every line was shorter and more potent. Cliche as it may sound, the record is something of a turning point in a career filled with them.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's a stretch to call this a great album. There are some good songs, certainly, and the record's writing is a sea change for Dylan. But, really, the songs aren't great.
Best song: "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" is interesting in structure and composition and "All Along the Watchtower" is a classic.
Worst song: I don't care for "Down Along the Cove"
Is it awesome?: Not really.

You know what's sad? I still have three more Dylan albums after I finish this one. All said, there are 10 Dylan albums on the 500 list (11 if you count "The Basement Tapes"). That's one every five weeks. Ick.


In one of the magazine's "What I Learned" features, Ray Charles said this:

When you write a good song, it will be good even if it's sung by somebody with a bad voice.

I doubt he was saying that about Bob Dylan, yet that single sentence sums up Dylan so well. Dylan's verbosity was toned down for this record, but he still managed to concoct an absolute classic track for the album, "All Along The Watchtower." Dylan's voice in the song is nothing of worth; He sounds frail, nasal and downright annoying. But the song rises above Dylan's voice. The song's biblical allusions and easy chord progression make for a great record and it's one of Dylan's best.

Of course, the staying power of "Watchtower" actually is in its ability to be covered by just about anyone ans remain a classic. The Dave Matthews Band -- a group I despise -- does "Watchtower" and it is their best song. Tom Petty has played it and is among the best versions. And, of course, Jimi Hendrix' version remains the one by which all versions are measured.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No. 300: Fear of a Black Planet

Band: Public Enemy
Album: Fear of a Black Planet
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: P.E.'s third album shows the group at its peak. The Bomb Squad's production is more complex and eschews the easy old-school hip hop traditions by layering more sounds and Chuck D's writing became more pointed and political
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Professor Griff mess and the abject homophobia of "Meet the G That Killed Me."
Best song: Well, obviously, "Fight the Power" is the highlight of the album and, possibly, the band's entire repertoire.
Worst song: "Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man" isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

I've addressed this issue before, but it bears repeating. Public Enemy is an example of the tyranny of boomer thought. PE is a group that looked like the Black Panthers and sang about racism.

And this album furthers that cause. "Fight the Power" is the band's highlight, containing probably the best sneered lyric on a rap record:

Cause I'm black and I'm proud
I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamp

"Fight the Power" also has the famous "Motherfuck him and John Wayne," a classic Flavor Flav interjection and one that reflects the group's general ideal.

The album isn't just "Fight the Power." "Burn Hollywood Burn" -- with guest spots form Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane -- is a scathing attack on the movie system that has ignored and insulted black culture from the time of "Birth of a Nation." "911 is a Joke" is Flavor Flav's best recorded moment -- by far -- and was oddly prescient, as years later 9111 responders in Phildelphia left a beating victim die on the street.


As someone of Jewish background, I have to address the Professor Griff mess and the subsequent lyrics on "Welcome to the Terrordome."

At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, classic anti-semitism is born out of jealousy. People envy Jews in the world because Jews -- for whatever reason -- have been more successful than they (we, I guess) should be. Certainly in the United States, Jewish people have gained more power than their (our) numbers should indicate. There simply aren't a lot of Jewish people in the U.S. -- According to the census, Jews make up approximately 1.5% of the US population. But, you can't turn on the TV without seeing Jews everywhere. Jewish people occupy top spots in entertainment, academia, government and high finance; All powerful and/or highly visible positions in American life. This level of success doesn't reflect the sheer numbers, so, inevitably, people get jealous.

So, when someone like Louis Farrakhan goes on about Jews being evil and scheming and whatever, I look at it as pure envy.

I can understand some stereotypes and why people believe them. If someone says "Jews are greedy" or "Jews are cheap," that makes some level of sense in the same way stereotypes of other groups make sense. They're simple prejudices, no different than the classic "Group X is lazy" or "Group Y is greasy."

But, when Professor Griff says "The Jews are wicked. And we can prove this" and that Jews are responsible for "the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe..." It reflects the old European (and current Middle Eastern, by the way) idea that Jews have a secret cabal that runs global finance or the world Zionist government.

Each is patently ridiculous is only because the amount of coordination to achieve any of those things -- especially in a pre-Internet world, as most of those stereotypes come from the pre-Internet days -- is so large that no one could pull it off. It would have to involve help from many non-Jews (heads of state and the like) that it's patently ridiculous.

Honestly, here's the secret about Jews in America: Jews in America are normal Americans. Totally normal. Jews aren't evil, scheming or malevolent. Jews want to have a good life and raise children with their values. Just like every other American. Jewish culture is such that education is important and the history of Judaism in Europe mostly thrust the banking profession on European Jews in the Middle Ages. Trust me. It was no conspiracy.

America Jews like to scream (to other Jews) that the sky is falling in regards to assimilation into American culture. They write books like "The Vanishing Jew," arguing that intermarriage and assimilation is killing Judaism.

This argument is all good and well, but this change was long coming. Jews are the last European people to assimilate in America and remain, probably, the most exclusive European group. Two hundred years ago, Dutch-Americans only married Dutch-Americans and Anglo-Americans only married Anglo-Americas, but they eventually started to intermarry. One hundred years ago, Irish-Americans only married within their communities and Italian-Americans did the same. Jews are the only group that hasn't assimilated totally.

Any Facebook member can see the bizarre amount of groups populated by young(ish) Jews. A ridiculously attractive high school classmate of mine is in, I believe, 10 different Judeocentric groups. I assume there are many more.

So, my point is this: It's not just people like my mother and Alan Dershowitz -- boomers both -- who believe Judaism needs to be preserved by not intermarrying and proclaiming your Jewishness all the time. Judaism is insular and has been for a long time.

(For the record, I despise this stuff. I don't believe in god; Jewish, Christian or otherwise. I'm ambivalent towards the issues in the former Judea. I basically think everyone is crazy over there. I'm actually something of an anti-semite myself, socially, as I prefer not to hang with Jews -- they're always into that stuff. I have several close Jewish friends, but I prefer the insular community of indie rock hipsters and video game idiots to the Jewish community.)

People like Louis Farrakhan see this and, I believe, get jealous. Because these people -- not secretive, by any means as this is not a Mason situation -- have achieved success without becoming something they're not, people like Farrakhan think something is amiss. It isn't.

So... we end up with lyrics like this:

Crucifixion ain't no fiction
So-called chosen frozen
Apology made to whoever pleases
Still they got me like Jesus

It's all good and well, but that's just hateful. "Welcome to the Terrordome" is a great song in a lot of ways, but that and the "Rabs on the rag" line are just awful. There's no way around it.


The anti-semitism obviously affects me, but the record remains a classic. It's probably not as good as RS makes it out to be -- PE is this dream hip hop group -- but it's still a quality record, reflecting a period in history that needs to be noted.

No. 299: Coat of Many Colors

Band: Dolly Parton
Album: Coat of Many Colors
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Parton's best record has her doing her best straight-up country work. Her Southern warble wraps itself around three Porter Wagoner songs and seven of her own.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Country is what it is; I can't get into it. I imagine this is great country, I don't identify with it very much.
Best song: The title track is pretty great, "If I Lose My Mind" is a little dirtier than I expected. That's good.
Worst song: "My Blue Tears" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Maybe.

It's pretty amazing to think that Dolly Parton wasn't a punchline at one point. To people my age, she is exactly that: One of the world's most ridiculous human beings on Earth, with outlandish makeup, giant breasts and platform shoes. She's also the Southern queen of nostalgia, with her Dollywood nonsense and her patriotic nonsense. All in all, a punchline.

Case in point: When Pitchfork reviewed three Parton reissues ("Coat of Many Colors" was one), the reviewer clearly had trouble not fully mocking Parton:

It's one of her most consistent early records, meaning that she makes it two-thirds of the way through before she hits a pedestrian song, and all the way to the last song before she hits an embarrassing one.

And that's kind of how I look at this record. It's tough to get around Parton's voice, considering my first exposure to it was "9 to 5." Nevertheless, she hits the classic country themes of poverty (the title track), small-town gossip ("She Never Met a Man (She Didn't Like)") and lovesick sadness (just about every other song on the record).

The record gets key points for one segment in "If I Lose My Mind," a Porter Wagoner. The segment?

But he done things to me I couldn't understand
Why he made me watch him love another woman
And we tried to make me love another man

Whoa! Dolly Parton is working blue, ladies and gentlemen. That's very, very dirty.


Look, this is country music. As I mention in my biases, twang just doesn't do it for me. So, a record like this doesn't speak to me. Add in Parton's voice and we have a problem.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

No. 298: Master of Reality

Band: Black Sabbath
Album: Master of Reality
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The original stoner rock album, "Master of Reality" hits about a million topics and is a wonderful sequel to "Paranoid."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm a big Sabbath guy, so I'd like to see all of the first four or five Sabbath records on the list; This is the third and final one.
Best song: Pretty much anything on this album is fantastic; My favorite is probably "Lord of this World."
Worst song: "Into the Void" is the only song I don't like.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

"Master of Reality" is kind of a hidden gem in the Sabbath catalog. The first record will always be notable for being the band's debut and "Paranoid" is famous for being, well, "Paranoid." "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" was the last of the good Ozzy records and "Black Sabbath Vol. 4" has "Supernaut," of course.

Sometimes, "Master of Reality" gets lost in the shuffle. The album has zero bad songs and has some of the band's highlights. "Lord of this World" is the ideological sequel to "War Pigs," while "Sweet Leaf" is a love song ode to, well, marijuana and probably the first stoner rock record. "Children of the Grave" is, like the first album, heavily occult-based and "Solitude" is easily Ozzy's most tender vocal work.

"After Forever" continues to be, to me, the most confusing of all Sabbath songs. A Tony Iommi-penned number, the song sings the virtues of Christianity. It's been speculated that Iommi was simply being anti-establishment in his writing. In essence, the song was written in sarcasm, some argue. Iommi has never really commented on it, troubling as that is.

But, the beauty of Sabbath, of course, is in the riffs. "Sweet Leaf" opens the album with a heavy, slow burn (sorry) head-banging riff and a thumping Bill Ward drum line. Covered by weed-smoking bands everywhere, it's a classic among classics. The album is filled with similar riffs.

No. 297: Weezer

Band: Weezer
Album: Weezer
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Weezer's was a perfect moment in time. The band was a perfect fit with their producer (former Cars front man and walking death Ric Ocasek), the record was perfect for its time (post-Nirvana void) and the album was released just before MTV began its steady decline (due to its eschewing of rock and roll).
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Looking at it from a modern perspective, I'd probably place it higher. The cultural relevance of this album, I think, is pretty big.
Best song: I love every song on this album, though "Say It Ain't So" is my favorite song from the album. At this moment.
Worst song: "Only In Dreams" is the album's lowlight and that's only because it's long. Otherwise, it's a near perfect album.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

It's hard to overstate this album's influence.

As I wrote in "Some Girls," the playlisting of certain albums is undeniable. "Weezer" came out at a time when MTV still pumped up rock and roll and the burgeoning subculture. The band's relationship with Spike Jonze (he directed the "Buddy Holly" and "Undone - The Sweater Song" videos) made it so that the album's videos were played often on MTV. The band's hooks and general demeanor (something I'll touch on later) meant that they were played almost constantly on MTV in 1994 and 1995.

American pop culture is incredibly post-modern and the early 1990s, the 1970s hadn't gotten their turn as "decade of the past du jour." In the '70s and early '80s, '50s nostalgia was popular (see "Grease," "Happy Days," "M*A*S*H," etc.) and the mid-'80s until the early '90s -- only within the subculture, mind you -- saw a '60s revival (The Doors movie, the Woodstock re release, etc.). The culture was adopting punk rock in a lot of ways -- Sub Pop's entirely popularity -- but mainstream 1970s culture was never really recycled.

Weezer did that. Like the first Boston album, the band's debut is filled with huge guitars, a big drum sound and even bigger hooks.


There's also the nerd thing.

Weezer is widely credited for being the band that brought nerdiness into the mainstream. I'm not going to totally argue with that, as they certainly brought nerd rock some credibility. I'm not going to make the case -- that a columnist at a rival student newspaper made while I was in college, though I can't find the link -- that every emo band was simply copying this album. That's nonsense, as the Braids of the world were doing emo before this record came out.

However, the nerdiness of Weezer had to have been completely influenced by the 1980s, the decade of the nerd triumph. While 1980s white popular music fell into two camps -- the extreme (hair metal, Flock of Seagulls keyboard nonsense, etc.) and the whitebread preppy (Hall and Oates, Phil Collins, etc.) -- 1980s film and TV was populated by tons and tons of triumphant nerds. Anthony Michael Hall (I know you were wondering if he has his own Web site. He does.) made a career largely out of playing a nerd who eventually got the girl. Hell, they made a whole series of goddamned movies about triumphant nerds.

Similarly, D&D -- a nerd staple that made its way into a Weezer song ("In The Garage") and a game that the band embraced -- was introduced in the mid-70s and gained huge popularity (among nerds, I guess) in the 1980s. In fact, the "nerd" archetype was mostly honed in the 1980s with the popularity of computers and role-playing games. Not surprisingly, the triumphant nerd storyline popped up soon thereafter.

So, Weezer really was a product of the 1980s in a lot of ways. The band's personal style was such that a song like "Buddy Holly" was an announcement of it; The look (that endures today) was mostly taken from the type of clothes the band wore. Sweater vests, thrift store t-shirts and (especially) thick-rimmed glasses endure, largely because Rivers Cuomo & Co. made it OK to wear them.

As many of the nerds from the 1980s were turning into 20-somethings in the early 1990s, Weezer game them a popular music voice. Instead of the largely inaccessible computer rock of Kraftwerk, Can or Neu!, anyone can sing along with "My Name Is Jonas," nerds and musicians alike.

Is Weezer itself responsible for these changes? Of course not. Everyone has a computer now and the wave of the Internet/personal computer was going to change a lot of things. But, Weezer gave it a face in the mid-'90s and that's not without its import.


The band's nerdiness had, I believe, another impact in the way Weezer was received. While grunge bands were taking heroin and singing about suicide (Pearl Jam), religion (Soundgarden) and war (Alice in Chains), Weezer was a group of nerds. They weren't singing about anything scary -- save for maybe Cuomo's brother's car crash and subsequent troubles in "My Name Is Jonas." In fact, the album is largely full of love songs, both platonic ("Buddy Holly") and romantic ("No One Else"). There's sadness ("Undone" is the classic outsider at the party story, as evidenced by the inanity of the spoken parts), but the album is mostly harmless.

MTV, not surprisingly, is the type of network that saw this potential and rode it. A big portion of the album's success is due to it coming along when MTV was powerful and pumped up the album.


But what of the music? Again, the hooks on the album are undeniable, a credit to both Ocasek and Cuomo. The band's bright sound is allegedly due to Ocasek's insistence that Cuomo switched his guitar pickup selection (he was on the neck pickup, Ocasek switched him to the bridge), but the songwriting is Boston-esque in its easy iteration of classic themes.

"No One Else" and "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here" are classic jealousy/breakup songs, with the latter being a wonderful experiment in a weird time signature(as is the wonderful love song "Holiday"). "In The Garage" espouses the nerd late '70s/early '80s lifestyle by name checking KISS, D&D and X-Men over an awesome distorted guitar riff.

The album also pays homage to the '70s sound by its distinctive guitar solos. While Cuomo is no Slash, his "follow-the-melody" solos add wonderfully to the songs. The easy lead line in "Holiday" is the type of thing that Ocasek surely had a hand in.

Similarly, the band's hard rock love peppers the album. Yes, they're nerdy, but the KISS poster "In The Garage" was loved for its guitar work. The guitar interplay during the chorus of "Say It Ain't So" is positively Sabbath-esque and the hard-driving guitar in "Only In Dreams" takes a great deal from The Pixies.

Matt Sharp's harmonies -- he taught himself to sing an octave above Cuomo's lead vocals -- add a Beach Boys-esque layer that is mostly forgotten when people give the album kudos. This, of course, is in addition the the fact that "Surf Wax America" is a direct homage to the Beach Boys, both in lyrical content (neither the Beach Boys or Weezer were surfers, yet they wrote about surfing) and in musical execution (the harmonic breakup at the end of the song).


I remember being put in charge of music at a New Year's Eve party a few years before the band's semi-successful comeback (on the heels of the green album). I remember playing this album and one of my friends commenting something to the effect of "Whatever happened to these guys?" No one knew, but we all agreed that this album was great.

And even after some post-blue album success (some. Not a lot.), this album endures. It's wonderfully poppy and filled with awesome hooks, big guitars and a fine all-inclusive nerdy sensibility.


Just for shits and giggles, here are the two Spike Jonze videos:

(The coolest thing about either video is that the band played to a sped-up version of "Undone," and Jonze then made the video in slow motion to achieve that particular effect. Also, dogs.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No. 296: We're Only in it for the Money

Band: The Mothers of Invention
Album: We're Only in it for the Money
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Zappa's response to "Sgt. Pepper" is similarly a concept album and just as loose. However, instead of the Sgt. Pepper concept, Zappa wrote a record decrying the superficiality of 1960s culture. In classic Zappa fashion, it was heavily censored.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As with all Zappa, the record has its ups and downs. It's certainly not really accessible.
Best song: "Absolutely Free" is the centerpiece of the album and a great track. I also really enjoy "Who Needs The Peace Corps?"
Worst song: "Hot Poop" is one of many sound experiments. It's not a song, though.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

When the Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper" and the many critics loved it as the first real concept album, Frank Zappa was angry, especially after McCartney said he'd heard Zappa's records. So, in a response, he wrote and recored "We're Only in It for the Money," a full-on satire of hippies and their lives.

The song goes from overt -- the line "Flower Power sucks" in "Absolutely Free" -- to the more subtle -- the Lenny Bruce reference in "Harry, You're A Beast." Overwhelmingly, Zappa hated hippies -- really, who doesn't -- and he made mince meat out of them on "We're Only in It for the Money."

"Who Needs The Peace Corps?" is the easiest song on the record and the best as far as Zappa's laceration of what he calls "Phony hippies." While Zappa shared some of the same values -- his "Trouble Every Day" took down the establishment -- "Who Needs The Peace Corps?" paints the 1960s counterculture of just stupid impressionable teenagers who want to get to the Haight by asking the Chamber of Commerce.

I'd hardly call it Zappa's best work, but it might be his most cohesive.

No. 295: Meat is Murder

Band: The Smiths
Album: Meat is Murder
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Considered a classic by more than just Rolling Stone (it is featured in "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die," for example) the record shows Morrissey's political and social views in a way the band's debut didn't.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I really should like the Smiths, but I don't. Morrissey's voice, for some reason, rubs me the totally wrong way.
Best song: "How Soon Is Now," while not a typical Smiths song, is certainly the most enduring from the record.
Worst song: "What She Said" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: I may not be the guy to judge this.

I want to like the Smiths. I really do. I realize that Morrissey is a British combination of Michael Stipe and Steve Albini, two people I admire. And, on some level, the Smiths are growing on me. I enjoyed the title track, "How Soon is Now" and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore." While I don't love the song, I find the politics of "Barbarism Begins at Home" to be pretty agreeable.

But, for some reason, his voice just doesn't work for me. Too bad.


How fitting that this record comes up on the list the day after Christmas, when Morrissey said this about Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas:"

I'm not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I'll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn't done shyly it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.

How great is that?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

No. 294: Kick Out The Jams

Band: The MC5
Album: Kick Out The Jams
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the classic pre-punk records, “Kick Out The Jams” has become a rallying cry for punkers everywhere. At any point in time, you can find millions of high schoolers rocking out to this record. Also, Wayne Kramer.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The MC5's sound isn't really remarkable, all things being equal. They did something that a lot of people did; They just built up a really big audience in the Midwest.
Best song: The starting and ending tracks are, by far, the best.
Worst song: I don't like “Motor City Is Burning” much, though I do credit them for playing it on Devil's Night.
Is it awesome?: It's close.

So, here's my question: What the hell was in the water in Detroit during the 1960s? In addition to Iggy and the Stooges, you had Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent (though he grew up in Illinois) and, of course, the Motor City Five. Protopunk, while mostly spawned from New York's Velvet Undergound, certainly got a huge lift from the same place that gave us Motown, the Detroit Pistons, Henry Ford and Mitch Ryder. That's pretty cool, but very very strange.


Notable is that the title track has been covered many, many times. Bad Brains (with Henry Rollins), Blue Oyster Cult, Rage Against the Machine and Jeff Buckley have all done notable covers. An odd collection, for sure, but for something of an iconic song, I guess that makes some sense.

Reading Lester Bangs' 1969 review of the album was a great starting (and, probably, ending point). Bangs – in a way that only he could – asked a pretty interesting question: Why have the Motor City Five gained more fame and notoriety than its contemporaries? Bangs, being the center of rock criticism, had the answer:

Most of the songs are barely distinguishable from each other in their primitive two-chord structures. You've heard all this before from such notables as the Seeds, Blue Cheer, Question Mark and the Mysterians, and the Kingsmen. The difference here, the difference which will sell several hundred thousand copies of this album, is in the hype, the thick overlay of teenage-revolution and total-energy-thing which conceals these scrapyard vistas of cliches and ugly noise.

So, on some level, the MC5 were 1969's Strokes. Something to think about.


But, whether it's hype or not, the record endures. It has one of the more iconic (spoken) lines “And right now it's time to... kick out the jams motherfucker!” Though there really isn't a meaning behind this – despite hippy protests – famous line, it's punk rock in a phrase, essentially. There's real energy and love for the music in there.

(I'd argue it's all the bad things about punk. It's mindless, meaningless and angry.)


The record, of course, was recorded live at Detroit's Grande Ballroom. The band, as with most protopunk, just played their stuff faster and louder than other bands. It was somewhat interesting then (though, as Bands points out, not that interesting), but it's downright boring now.

That's the thing about the MC5; The Nuggets box really makes the MC5 sound largely uninteresting. That set has tons of great bands doing cool songs and the MC5 doesn't sound like the super important band that I'd thought of them when I was in high school.

No. 293: Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits

Band: Simon and Garfunkel
Album: Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Certainly one of the more literate acts from the '60s, S&G wrote songs so distinctly about that period. Their music was enjoyable on a couple of levels and certainly interesting. A greatest hits package from such a popular and influential group is certainly good. Also, look at that 'stache.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Well, it's a greatest hits package for, essentially, a soft rock group. I like Art Garfunkel's voice as much as the next guy and I think Paul Simon is a smart dude, but this is the kind of stuff that belongs on Lite FM.
Best song: “Cecilia” and “Mrs. Robinson” remains my favorite songs by S&G.
Worst song: I don't love “America.”
Is it awesome?: Sure, but it's a greatest hits package. So...If it's not awesome, the band stinks.

By now, regular readers know my thoughts on greatest hits packages.

This particular package is interesting if only because it has four previously unreleased live tracks in addition to the standard 10 hits. This is less impressive to me; For the most part, S&G didn't do a whole lot of studio trickery. It's not like they're Pink Floyd or The Who.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No. 292: White Light/White Heat

Band: The Velvet Underground
Album: White Light/White Heat
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: If nothing, it's my favorite VU album. In an odd juxtaposition, the record has both the longest (“Sister Ray”) and also the most punk things (“I Heard Her Call My Name”) the Velvets ever die.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not accessible, on any level. It's a tough record to enjoy if you're not ready for it. Seventeen minutes of a blues riff and lyrics about cross-dressing and heroin does not make for radio-friendly listening. Similarly, “The Gift” is macabre and an experiment.
Best song: I'd suggest “The Gift,” if only because of Cale's haunting reading. “Lady Godiva's Operation,” also sung by Cale, is similarly awesome.
Worst song: I don't love “Her She Comes Now.”
Is it awesome?: Yes. Absolutely.

Coming off the band's heavy involvement with Andy Warhol and Nico, the Velvets toured all around the country, improvising and experimenting with feedback. The result? “White Light/White Heat.”

I love this album, personally. The subject matter of nearly every song is creepy or dirty, both adjectives that could easily describe Lou Reed in every way. “Lady Godiva's Operation” is a sweet-sounding song that is lyrically about a drag queen's botched operation that turns into a lobotomy. “I Heard Her Call My Name” is full of guitars that are dragged out and nasty. The title track is a frenetic rush of guitars and a lyric glorifying the use of crank, while a pounding player-style piano finishs the song.

“The Gift” is unlike any Velvets song in both the way the song is constructed (a short story written by Reed and read by Cale) and the way it was recorded (Cale in one channel with the band in the other). The song was recorded that way in order for listeners to either enjoy the music or just Cale's reading of the story. Which, really, is kind of cool.

The album, of course, is famous for “Sister Ray.” The song's base – a bluesy jam called “Booker T.” that the Velvets had worked on during their first tour – rolls along as the band improvs on the guitar, organ and drums. The lyrics, of course, are standard Reed fare; Heroin, transvestites and sex. It's 17 minutes of awesome; Long and interesting as ever.


Oddly enough, the album hit the Billboard 200 charts and got as high as... 199. That's kind of cool.

No. 291: The Basement Tapes

Band: Bob Dylan and The Band
Album: The Basement Tapes
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Um... People love this album...
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: ... But I hate it. It's a bad facsimile of folk music.
Best song: Bah, whatever.
Worst song: See above.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

There is probably no truer Boomer masturbatory exercise on this list than this album. Like all things Dylan, "The Basement Tapes" falls somewhere within "is it genius or just plain weird" continuum. Sadly, for the project

But, the simple fact that there was an absolutely clamoring for this record when it came out is a testament to the unbridled love for all things Dylan, quality be damned.

Let's explain a little:

The songs were recorded in 1967 while Dylan was recovering from a motorcyle accident. The Band was there with him and both outfits wanted to mimick old American folk music. The recordings were mainly for themselves, but slowly, bootlegs of the sessions trickled out into the world. Because Dylan was bigger than Jesus in the late '60s, the bootlegs made their way around the Dylan fandom. The label (and presumably the artists) wanted to cut some of that off at the past, and released it as a double album.

The album's lovers will say that it's the best of both worlds. The Band's Americana coupled with Dylan's lyrics make for a great approximation (and update) of the folk music that defined America earlier in the century.

I, on the other hand, would suggest it to be a Disney version of folk music. Let me explain.

Twentieth century French philosopher Jean Baudrillard has written extensively about America and their love of "manufactured reality." It's basically the concept of symbolism on a grand scale. Disneyland's Main Street is the great example of something that isn't real, but is a symbol of something (the small town) that actually exists and has some value.

The folk music of the early-mid 20th century has a great deal of value. It was the culture of the underclass and reflected many things about said class. When Dylan and the Band -- both artists of huge repute and success -- try to emulate that life, it stops being a reflection and simply a copy of something. It's the dark side to post-modernism.


If course, I'm not the person to talk to about this stuff. I started this project as an anti-Boomer thing. Robert Christgau, who I admire, loves the album:

We needn't bow our heads in shame because this is the best album of 1975. It would have been the best album of 1967 too. And it's sure to sound great in 1983. A+

So, Christgau likes it. But, I don't.

Friday, December 21, 2007

No. 290: Talking Heads: 77

Band: The Talking Heads
Album: Talking Heads: 77
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Talking Heads' debut album is nothing if not unique. David Byrne's off-kilter lyrics and singing plays perfectly with the band's dance-ish beats.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album is raw. The production doesn't always do the songs justice. Also, the Heads' better work was their later work, though this album remains great.
Best song: "Psycho Killer" and it's not really close.
Worst song: "The Book I Read" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes, if a little raw.

I'd like to posit a theory: The New Wave era was the most diverse era in American and British pop music. CBGB's, specifically, housed tons of bands with totally different sounds, all of whom had the luck to come through New York at about the same time.

Think about it. The Talking Heads' irony, Blondie's reggae disco, the Police's reggae rock, the Cars synth pop, the Ramones' punk, Television's art rock and Patti Smith's spoken word, uh, nonsense stuff.

The Heads' proto-nerd rock (which we'll examine later in the week with Weezer's first record) was something to behold. While the band stretched itself out in its later years, "Talking Heads: 77" is raw. It's disjointed and it attempts to be jointed. It's sincere while not expecting to be.


I know I can't really complain -- considering some of the work I've done around here -- but Rolling Stone's piece in their 500 list is nonsense. It only talks about how the Heads wore button-up shirts instead of punk rock t-shirts. Big whoop.

Style is important -- without it, David Bowie is just a dude -- but the Heads' brilliance is in their music.


But, what of the songs?

There are three songs on the record that really draw me in. The first is, of course, "Don't Worry About the Government." I still cannot figure out if the song is a sarcastic look at political idealism or if it simply reflects that political idealism. It's the type of intelligent songwriting that made Rolling Stone once call the Heads "the great Ivy League hope of pop music. "

The slide guitar work on "No Compassion" reflects the oddness of the song. Following the influences of Camus, the song's viewpoint of a savage, non-empathetic world is the kind of thing English majors delight in discussing and conservatives delight in actually practicing. The song's ending stanza is reflective of what would become the next decade:

In a world where people have problems
In this world where decisions are a way of life
Other people's problems, they overwhelm my mind
They say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time

Oddly enough, the song's one hit, "Psycho Killer," has a similar and darker theme. As Byrne fmaously explained:

When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad. Both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter were much more fascinating than the good guys. Everybody sort of roots for the bad guys in movies.

The song's musical structure is strange, if only because the staccato guitar is played over Tina Weymouth's simple -- but effective -- bass line. Like the best Heads songs, it's danceable while being lyrically sinister. Byrne's singalong about murder is something to behold and likely the band's signature song.


It's strange to contrast "Talking Heads: 77" with the band's more successful -- and, in my eyes, better -- work. Brian Eno had yet to get involved with the band. The band's sound was simpler in 1977. I, personally, prefer the fuller sound, but some of the songs on "Talking Heads: 77" are undeniably great.

No. 289: Call Me

Band: Al Green
Album: Call Me
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Another of Green's classic records, "Call Me" is likely Green's best team. On the record, Green hits some country roads and black power themes, all while serenading us with his saccharine voice.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not super familiar with the record, but I do enjoy it. So, let's say that it's ranked correctly. Why not?
Best song: "You Ought to Be With Me" is great.
Worst song: I don't love "Your Love Is Like the Morning Sun."
Is it awesome?: Sure.

Al Green's voice is starting to grow on me. I can't lie. I'm really enjoying his emotive singing style. Green makes you want to believe him so much that I almost converted to Christianity after hearing "Jesus Is Waiting." Almost.

Otherwise, it's a fun mixup of genres all while keeping with Green's soulful R&B style. His interpretation of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" works as Green's voice echoes Nelson's honey twang, whereas his straight play of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is brilliant. His black power anthem, "Stand Up," is understated and wonderful, while "You Ought to Be With Me" is raucous and fun. The guitar on "Here I Am" is a pleasant genre hop while Green's voice is the star on the title track.

Supposedly, Willie Mitchell's production is the main reason the record sounds this way and I wouldn't dispute that. Bringing overarching strings into the mix to help with the already fantastic horn sections that Green had employed gives the album a lush, orchestrated feel.

Maybe the repetition is the cause, but I really enjoyed "Call Me." I'm not the world's biggest Al Green fan, but this one is really fantastic.


Because this is the last Al Green record on the list, it's probably best to recount the most famous thing about Al Green. From our good friend Wikipedia:

It is believed that [longtime Green confidant Mary Woodson] ardently wished to be more than just a friend to Al Green. One night, she left the guest quarters, then entered the main section of the house without permission. She snuck into his bathroom to make a surprise attack. With no warning whatsoever, she threw a large pot of sticky boiling grits over him as he was undressed and preparing to shower. As Al Green writhed in pain, she ran into another part of the house and committed suicide by shooting herself.

So, uh, there's that. That was the year he put out "Take Me To The River." Coincidence? Probably not.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No. 288: Something Else by the Kinks

Band: The Kinks
Album: Something Else by the Kinks
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Kinks turn towards more introspective rock from the mode heyday was coming to a head on "Something Else."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Again, this record never hit in the U.S., likely due to the fact that the Kinks were in the U.S. when it came out.
Best song: "Waterloo Sunset." That's it.
Worst song: "Tin Soldier Man" isn't where the other songs are.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I'm not really sure as to why the Kinks were banned from the U.S. for four years, but they were. I used to wonder why the band was never as popular as The Who or Stones, but that makes perfect set. The band wasn't in America, basically, at all, so they couldn't grow their popularity in the biggest music-buying nation in the world for four years.

So, uh, that makes sense.


Nevertheless, the record has some decidedly British stuff on it, from the album opener "David Watts" to "Afternoon Tea" to, maybe, the best song by the band, "Waterloo Sunset." The Dylan-esque "Death of a Clown" also appears on the record, easily Dave Davies' best song, though another "Something Else" song, "Love Me Till the Sun Shines" gives it a run for its money. All great songs.


But, really, this album is all about two words: "Waterloo Sunset."

"Waterloo Sunset" is one of the best melancholy songs ever written, if not the best. The story of a saddened man sitting by the Waterloo Tube Station, the song puts into words the forlorn lonely man as lovers pass by his view.

As is Ray Davies' way, the song features a fantastic character sketch of the famous couple, Terry and Julie, as they go about their (presumed) date. Few songwriters are able to paint a picture as vivid as Davies is and "Waterloo Sunset" is, probably, his greatest work.

In 2004, a radio station named it "Greatest Song About London", while Time Out magazine named it the "Anthem of London". Having only been in the London airport, I can't speak to that, but of the songs I've heard about London, it is easily the best.


Is "Something Else" a great record? It's not as easy as the songs we all know from the band, but it's worth the effort.

The process

A commenter recently wondered how many times I listen to each record before I write each piece, so I figured now would be as good a time as any to explain the process by which I do each piece of this project. I think it's a pretty good procedure and has produced some decent results.

The first thing I do is, of course, get the album. At the beginning of the project, I printed out the list and went to my CD collection (approximately 1,700 CDs and 250ish vinyl records with a lot of overlap). If I didn't have the album, I would borrow it from a friend, take it out from the library or (mostly) buy it. This, so far, has meant many hours at the thrift store by my apartment and at CDepot. also, a great deal of money spent at the iTunes store. At the start of the project, I had about 250 of the 500 albums. I currently have about 425, including all the albums I've reviewed so far with a few notable exceptions:

  • Jackie Wilson's "Mr. Excitement" and Jerry Lee Lewis' "All Killer No Filler" are way out of print and I was not willing to pay over $100 for each. I obtained two different copies of other greatest hits collections for each artist and was able to get all the tracks on each collection.

  • The Robert Johnson collections were not out of print, but I already had two different Johnson collections with the exact same songs. So, I just made a different playlist on my iPod with the songs sequenced as the RS-approved collections have.

  • I borrowed, but did not rip, the "Anthology of American Folk Music" and the Ray Charles box set.

Everything else is either in my iTunes library at home or on a vinyl record on my bookcase.

The next step, of course, is listening to the record. I listen to every record at least five times (if I'm not already familiar with it. If it's something like "Nevermind," any of Beatles records or "Metallica," I already know it and will only listen two or three times). Most of the time, two listening are on my iPod (yes, I know. The sound quality isn't as good.) in transit. Being that most people experience music in this way, I find this to be a great first look at any record. Similarly, it's easy to concentrate on the music while walking to my office from the Metro station, as that route is etched into my brain. I will also listen to the record while playing Playstation (normally FIFA 2007, in case you care).

(For vinyl, I do all of the listening while eating dinner or playing Playstation.)

Finally, I'll take one or two more listens while I'm writing the review.

As for the actual writing, I like to read a little bit on each record. This includes looking the record up on following Web sites:

  1. Rolling Stone's 500 album site (obviously)

  2. Wikipedia


  4. Robert Christgau's site

  5. (if applicable)

  6. Any genre sites (The Source, for example)

The research is often done while writing the review, so the composiution of each review takes about two hours each. Some take considerably less time (seriously, I listened to that album probably 10 [!] times and couldn't think of anything to say). Some take more. I even farmed a few out.

Sometimes, I don't have a lot to say and often, I don't have the time to write as much as I'd like (I have a full-time job, after all).

I then will put the review down and revisit it the next day (I write everything a two days or so before they're posted). This is when I'll do my final edits, mostly on spelling, grammar and such. Stuff, of course, falls through the cracks.

I try to write about my personal experiences with records and mix it with some fun(ish) facts about each record. If I find something interesting in my research, I'll write about it, but I'm not trying to be some sort of repository of album history. The Web already has too much of that.

I hope everyone enjoys my nonsense. I'm enjoying writing it and I'm glad more than five people are reading it.

No. 287: Anthem of the Sun

Band: The Grateful Dead
Album: Anthem of the Sun
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Um, it's not terrible background music. Certainly, the musicianship on the record is noteworthy.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Meandering solos, overly stocked rhythyhm sections (the album is the first with a second drummer) and awful vocals, "Anthem of the Sun" is everything I don't like about the Grateful Dead.
Best song: "Alligator" would be decent, if it wasn't long as hell.
Worst song: Everything is stinky.
Is it awesome?: I suggest no.

I thought I'd used up all my Deadhead jokes, but here's another one.

Where do you hide things from deadheads?
Under the soap.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No. 286: Los Angeles

Band: X
Album: Los Angeles
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: West Coast punk rock owes a lot to X's "Los Angeles." If nothing, the band's sound was more accessible than the later hardcore that came from that scene.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm both too young and too disinterested to enjoy this stuff.
Best song: The title track is pretty good and their cover of "Soul Kitchen" is pretty cool.
Worst song: "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's distinct sound, but I can't get totally behind it.

My knowledge and passion for punk rock is basically nil, so I can't really speak to the greatness of this album. It's catchy and it's fun. I enjoyed listening to it, if only for the band's version of the Doors' "Soul Kitchen." It still has a little bit of the original's melody while keeping the punk band's speed.

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist from The Doors, produced this record and it shows. Unlike most punk records, an organ makes some serious appearances. That was probably the most striking thing for me.

It's not hardcore, which is the angle from which I always see California punk rock. There's a fair amount of hooks and catchyness, the title track being the great example. Nevertheless, it's a good one.


For what it's worth, I find Exene Cervenka to be attractive and would make out with her -- even at 51 -- if she asked me.

No. 285: I'm Still in Love With You

Band: Al Green
Album: I'm Still in Love With You
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of Green's classic albums, "I'm Still in Love with You" has him doing rock standards and his usual sugary sweet R&B.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I have not really fallen in love with Green.
Best song: The title track is great.
Worst song: "Oh, Pretty Woman" is bad.
Is it awesome?: I don't think so.

One of the fun things about this project is doing the research for each album. In the original 1972 review for "I'm Still in Love With You," Rolling Stone reviewer Vince Aletti writes:

Both Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield are taking steps in these same directions but neither have that certain ego-driven Star Quality that would qualify them as top contenders for the long-vacant Otis Redding heavyweight spot

Weird, eh? Withers has no albums on the list, though I'd argue that "Still Bill" deserves a spot. Mayfield has one proper album and one compilation with the Impressions. Green has two proper albums and a greatest hits compilation.

So, just as in 1972, Al Green wins out.


Maybe it's because I tend towards being a contrarian or maybe it's because I just don't like too much sugar in vocals, but I'm not in love with Al Green. Certainly hearing him do "Oh, Pretty Woman" is odd. Not in that he's playing a rock and roll standard -- Otis played several in his time. Rather, it's striking to hear such a different version that is so very inferior to the original and -- to a lesser extent -- another version (Van Halen's cover on "Diver Down").

Still, the highlights of the record are pretty excellent. The album highlight, "Love and Happiness," was never released as a single but radio devoured it. It's a wonderful little song, influenced as much by a preacher's sermon in rhythm as it is by the church of Otis Redding.

"Look What You've Done for Me" and the title track are nice little romantic songs and "Simply Beautiful" is sweet. Green's version of the Kris Kristofferson-penned "For the Good Times" is much better than Green's version of Orbison's classic, certainly.

I wouldn't heap the praises RS has (both in 2003 and in 1972), but "I'm Still in Love with You" is one of Green's best albums. He's still a greatest hits artist for me, but this one is not bad.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No. 284: Music of my Mind

Band: Stevie Wonder
Album: Music of my Mind
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The first of what are considered Wonder's great five albums, "Music of my Mind" is Wonder's virgin foray into funk. Unlike his squeaky clean Motown-sounding records, "Music of my Mind" utilizes his stable of keyboards and synths.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I just don't find the record to be exciting. There are a couple of upbeat numbers, but the record is mostly forgettable songs.
Best song: "Love Having You Around" is bizarre, but fun.
Worst song: I don't care for "Evil."
Is it awesome?: The seeds are there, but the plants didn't sprout until later.

Here's something I've been wondering: Are all keyboards the same, in terms of ability to play them? Steve Wonder is, without a doubt, a nearly unmatched musical, so I guess my assumption that he can play any keyboard is fine. But, can a piano player pick up a Moog or an Arp synth and bang something out? How about a harpsichord?


There are two things I need to remind myself when thinking about "Music of my Mind. The first is written on the back of the album cover: "this album is virtually the work of one man." Wonder played all the instruments on this album, save for one trombone part and one guitar solo. That, in and of itself, is impressive. I know a few artists on the list did similar things -- "The Downward Spiral" comes to mind -- but, considering Wonder's blindness, it's even more impressive.

The other fact I have to remember is that the record was recorded in 1971. Stevie Wonder was born in 1950. When I was 21, I was watching "Spongebob" on mute while listening to King Crimson records (don't knock it until you've tried it) and eating Cheetohs for breakfast. So, yeah. Impressive.

With all that said, I am not the world's biggest "Music of my Mind" fan. Unlike "Talking Book" or "Innervisions" there is no "Superstition" or "Higher Ground" and there is no string of genius like "Songs in the Key of Life." It's a nice record that works very well as background music.


For what it's worth, the album opener is my favorite on the record. The song's synth part is raucuous and Wonder is clearly enjoying himself. Still, the chorus lyrics are, um, strange.

Every day I want to shake your hand, yea, yea, yea,
For in the world makin' me a better man,
And every day I want to get on my camel and ride

Um. A camel? What? Why does he have a camel? Are there a lot of camels in Detroit?

No. 283: Five Leaves Left

Band: Nick Drake
Album: Five Leaves Left
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Paired with Fairport Convention, Drake's debut album has a fuller sound than Drake is known for. It certainly has its pop tinges; The album has several hummable songs on it.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I am not a Nick Drake fan and this album has tons of Nick Drakeish melodies.
Best song: “River Man” is pretty good.
Worst song: "The Thoughts Of Mary Jane" is not very good.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

Blah blah I don't like Nick Drake. Blah blah I like guys influenced by him (Elliott Smith, Iron and Wine, etc.). Blah blah dead guy.

Bring on the next album.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The best album of 2007: The Shepherd's Dog

Because it's the end of the year, everyone needs to do an end of the year list. My list is one record. I thought to go on a rant about AV Club's list of the best records, as I have done to friends this past week, but I won't. Instead, I'll use AV Club -- probably my favorite site on the Web -- as the RS surrogate.

Band: Iron and Wine
Album: The Shepherd's Dog
Why AV Club gets it right: Sam Beam's transformation is striking, as he fills out the classic Iron and Wine sound (whispery vocals and arpeggiated guitar) on the third proper album for the band. It spans genre while still keeping I&W's sound (tough to accomplish, certainly), yet builds on said sound completely.
Why AV Club gets it wrong: not to get too deep into my problems with the list, but if someone really thinks the Wilco record is better than "The Shepherd's Dog," I think that person really needs to rethink his or her views on music.
Best song: "The Boy with a Coin" is brilliant.
Worst song: "The Devil Never Sleeps" is the worst song on the record and it's still better than 99% of songs I hear.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

When I was in high school and college, I would make year-end lists. This was -- mostly -- a pre-blog world, so I would simply post them on a Web site (yes, kids, we had Web sites before Blogger), I'd e-mail them to friends or I'd do a radio show about them. Being on radio for eight years was really a nice venue for that sort of thing.

I stopped doing this when I graduated college. The reasoning is pretty simple: I don't get to hear as much new music as I did while in college. While a DJ, I listened to the station nonstop. As Program Director all the music we got passed through my desk. So, at the very least, I'd heard of something and most likely, I would have heard a few songs on the station. All of this was free.

Now? Not so much. I rely on Pitchfork for bands I don't already know, and even then, I don't fully trust their reviewers. I can't afford buying tons of new records, because I have bills to pay. I'm late on everything and I mostly just buy records from bands I liked on graduation day.

(I know, I know. No one wants to hear my complain about being an adult. It's part of growing up. You stop knowing underground culture and you're supposed to settle down, breed, etc.)

My point is this: I don't think I could write a good year-end list, because I mostly buy records I know I'm going to enjoy. I obtain a lot of music (I spend a lot of money on iTunes, I am an eMusic subscriber, etc.), but it's not like I have people trying to convince me to like something -- that's what promo people do to radio station PDs.

Instead, I have a list of bands I like a lot and when they come out with records, I get them. This is good most of the time, but can be horribly disappointing other times; The new Wilco album is ass, despite what AV Club says.

Which brings us to this record. The AV Club's 25th selection rounds out the bottom of their top albums of the year. Again, I can't speak to about half the albums on the list, but I can say this: "The Shepherd's Dog" totally blew me away. That, in and of itself, is enough for me to call it my favorite album of 2007.

That's not to disparage any of the other records I really enjoyed this year (the Radiohead, Kanye West and Arcade Fire albums, for example). But, "The Shepherd's Dog" continues an arc that Sam Beam has followed for his last four releases and may -- hopefully not -- have reached its pinnacle.

Iron and Wine is probably most known from the "Garden State" soundtrack on which Beam (the main songwriter and performer in I&W) covered The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights." Beam's voice on that track is essentially perfect for the song, a track recounting the tenderness of young love. Beam's vulnerability is nothing if not endearing and his easy guitar picking deconstruct the original version's beeping and booping.

Nevertheless, the simplicity of I&W's early records -- like "Such Great Heights," I&W's first two albums have little outside of guitar and Beam's whispery vocals -- has turned into full-on experimentation within song structure and arrangement on "The Shepherd's Dog." In lieu of simple guitars and banjos, Beam brings different styles of basses and guitars and even uses a Dijiredoo on the record.

A lot of critics have cited I&W's work with Calexico on the bands' 2005 EP in their reviews of the record. Certainly, "In The Reins" is a brilliant album, combining two of my favorite modern groups. But, the idea that Beam simply got together with Calexico and decided to start using tons of quirky percussion and piano on his next record is, needless to say, silly.

Especially when you look at the pre-"Shepherd's Dog" highlight of I&W's discography, 2005's "Woman King" EP. On the record, Beam exhibits two things: The ability to lyrically work within a theme (the strong female being the theme) and the ability to arrange for a bull band. "Woman King" is mostly straightforward in its folk-rock styling, but the addition of extra guitars and percussion into the mix was a huge departure from Beam's Nick Drake imitation, but proved -- in my mind, as least -- to be his most effective. This was, of course, pre-Calexico collaboration.

Nevertheless, "The Shepherd's Dog" takes Beam's newfound (maybe?) skill to a totally different level. Instead of simply following a folk rock template, Beam switches, mixes and genre-hops.

What's so striking about this diversity of sound is that "The Shepherd's Dog" remains decidedly an I&W record. Beam doesn't try to be Calexico -- as some reviewers would suggest -- but rather works African musical motifs into his normal sound ("The House by the Sea") or uses musical onomatopoeia ("Carousel"). Even in subtle instance, where Beam simply accents his normal sound the result is striking. "Resurrection Fern" is considerably fuller than anything on "The Creek Drank the Cradle" or even "Our Endless Numbered Days." Beam even channels his inner rockabilly star on "The Devil Never Sleeps." Despite being the weakest song on the record, it's still remarkably good and something of a revelation to hear Beam's voice doubled and singing over a rollicking piano. "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)" and "Lovesong of the Buzzard" are two animal-ased songs that move; The former being more sensual while the latter a pure strange-rhythm rocker.


As is my failing as a writer, I can't even coherently write about the album's lead single, "The Boy With A Coin." The song, in a bizarre time signature I still don't really understand, is based around a start/stop acoustic guitar line (again, it's a decidedly I&W album). The lyrics are typically Beam, describing two children, the curiosity of human existence and the wonder with which we see the world.

The slide guitar work (OK, I give, some stuff he probably picked up from Calexico) accents the song without making it sound a country number. The several atmospheric guitar lines -- nothing more than a note or two extended -- fill the background with weight.

The song has no real chorus, save for Beam singing "hey" and "yeah" in his near-perfect voice and the crazy rhythm gets clapping as an accent.

(When I saw I&W in the fall, it was pure hilarity to watch the crowd try and clap along.)

Again, I have a fair amount of trouble explaining just exactly why "The Boy With A Coin" is so great. It just kind of is.


I guess one story I could tell is this: I pre-ordered the album without hearing much of "The Boy With A Coin" (as much as I love Pitchfork, I don't pay attention when they post songs on the Forkcast, as they did with the single). When I got the record home and listened to it, I fell in love with the record and had to tell someone. The problem? None of my friends -- well, none of my friends with whom I correspond often -- are really I&W fans. I imagine none of them have heard enough of I&W.

So, what did I do? I e-mailed a friend I hadn't spoken to, in, I think, six months. Maybe longer? I don't know. The entire e-mail:

Subject: Because I need to tell someone...

Body: ...And you're the only other Iron & Wine fan I know, you should really get the new album, "The Shepherd's Dog." It's wonderful. Like, amazing, ridiculously wonderful.

Here's the lead single:

OK, that's all. I hope you're doing well, otherwise.

Because, really, what else can you say, right?


Allmusic says it well:

By the end of the record, you may feel a few pangs for the discarded, sparse sound of early Iron & Wine, but the beauty and majesty of The Shepherd's Dog will pave right over them, and you should be able to enjoy the masterful songcraft, inspired performance, and note-perfect production with no guilt and a fair bit of awe.

That's exactly it: The sparseness of I&W's earlier records is gone and that's a great thing. The word "awe" is used and I couldn't think of a better term.

When I ordered the record, I was hoping for a good album. When I received it and listened, I was fully blown away. I haven't been that surprised by a record in a while. It surpassed every high expectation I had for it.

No. 282: The Cars

Band: The Cars
Album: The Cars
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Cars' success helped bring New Wave into the mainstream as human ugly stick Ric Ocasek's guitar work and songwriting created a sort of proto-nerd rock.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm comfortable with this placement.
Best song: "Just What I Needed" is one of the great lead singles of all time.
Worst song: "I'm in Touch With Your World" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

I wish I still had the booklet, but the liner notes from one of the Cars' greatest hits compilations (obviously, I'm paraphrasing) described the band as in a precarious New Wave place. The Cars were just punk enough for punks to like them, but also New Wave enough to get shows at CBGB's and have the punk rockers to enjoy them, as well. In essence, they got the best of both worlds.

On the strength of the band's first record, it's tough to argue. In fact, the first record has just the smallest tinge of New Wave quirkiness that the Talking Heads reveled in. Rather, Ric Ocasek's songwriting and Roy Thomas Baker's clean production made it so that the band would find serious radio play.

It is, really, a pretty amazing record. The band used to joke that the album should've been called "The Cars' Greatest Hits" from the start three (!) songs charted from the album. Those three songs -- "Just What I Needed," "My Best Friend's Girl" and "Good Times Roll" -- are all great fun and the album has a few non-single tracks of awesomeness.

"Don't Cha Stop" and "You're All I've Got Tonight" are both tons of fun, while "Moving in Stereo" is a signature song from the 1980s, thanks to its place in one of the most famous scenes in movie history.

The Cars are, for the most part, a greatest hits band. But, this album is a ton of fun.

No. 281: Can't Get Enough

Band: Barry White
Album: Can't Get Enough
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Maestro of Love's third album was also hit biggest hit (it hit no. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts). It cemented him as something of a pop culture icon (oh, that voice).
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's certainly great for the culture as a whole, but the Luther Vandrosses and the Teddy Pendergrasses of the world certainly had more of an effect on music.
Best song: How can I not say “Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe?”
Worst song: "I Can't Believe You Love Me" is too long (over 10 minutes) and not good.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

I'm showing my age here again, but I can't really find a lot to love about “Can't Get Enough.” It's nice, but this sort of loungey singer type stuff is a whole lot of nonsense. The music – I hope you like strings – is fine, but it's nothing exciting. It's overproduced and appears to try very hard.


And then, the voice. The old standard joke about Barry White's voice is that he could say just about anything and be sensual. Certainly, I used to joke with friends in high school that he could say some filthy stuff – the type of stuff that only R. Kelly thinks about – and women would swoon.

It's a funny joke, but, really, his voice is nothing if not distinctive. Isaac Hayes (with whom White made a duet record) has a distinctive speaking voice, but his singing voice isn't nearly as much a signature as White's. Obviously, there's value in that, but it would be better if he sang something other than, I'm sorry, lounge music.


One of the problems with White's existence is that every man in America does three impressions: Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley and Barry White. Nearly every comedy troupe and standup (I'm thinking specifically of Craig Shoemaker) does some “oooohhhhhh, yeaaaaaaaaagh” nonsense. So, uh, that sucks.

Most importantly, though, hearing White's voice swearing a blue streak is funny Here he is, messing up a radio spot. You can thank me later.

Friday, December 14, 2007

No. 280: Folk Singer

Band: Muddy Waters
Album: Folk Singer
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Paired with a fantastic band, Muddy Waters' archetype bluesman -- older, wronged and soulful -- puts in one of his strongest efforts. Stripped of his electric guitar, Waters moves up and down the neck of the guitar while wailing in his trademark croon.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album is remarkably short, otherwise, it should be higher.
Best song: Waters' own "My Home is in the Delta" is brilliant, as well as Willie Dixon's "My Captain."
Worst song: I'm not in love with "Big Leg Woman."
Is it awesome?: Yes, yes, yes.

There are supergroups and there are SUPERgroups. The band Muddy Waters assembled for his 1963 album was an example of the latter. Waters played guitar and sang, Willie Dixon played bass, Buddy Guy played guitar and Clifton James played the drums. To put it in late-1960s rock and roll terms, that'd be like having Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, John Entwistle and John Bonham playing in a band together. Um. Wow.

And it shows, by the way. I've not heard a blues record that sounds like it is doing so much with so little. Despite the acoustic premise, all four members of the band tear their instruments apart sounding like the best of any Delta blues players (because, um, they are).

There aren't a ton of Waters or Dixon tunes on here, but it doesn't really matter. The songs are almost secondary to the skill in which the quartet plays them.


"Folk Singer" has an odd history in that Chess was worried that the Bob Dylans of the world were going to drive electric bluesmen out of business. So, the label convinced Waters to record "Folk Singer" in order to capitalize on the growing folk and folk-rock scene.

Nevertheless, this is the type of album that makes me glad I'm doing this project. It's amazing.

No. 279: My Life

Band: Mary J. Blige
Album: My Life
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Mary J. Blige's second record is decidedly personal. It hits both the positive and the negative aspects of Blige's life at the time. Darker than "What's the 411?" the record was produced by Puff Daddy and has a ton of samples on it.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is not a record made for me.
Best song: "I Love You" is pretty.
Worst song: "You Gotta Believe" stinks.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Where Whitney Houston left off, Mary J. Blige comes in. Certainly, a harder edged singer, Blige's powerful croon has had huge crossover appeal (Jerry Seinfeld was recently on The Daily Show touting a Blige concert he'd enjoyed). Hell, she's been nominated for 26 (!) Grammys, winning six. She's a mainstream star.

I can see the draw in her record, but, for whatever reason, it just doesn't hit me at all. Listening to the Rick James-sampled "Mary Jane (All Night Long)," I just get tired of her scatting in the middle of the song. The easy keyboards on "My Life" sound half-porno soundtrack and half-Muzak. Not a great combination.

Maybe I'm missing something. Certainly, he voice is great, but the fat-girl logic and bizarre optimism of songs like "My Life" (she actually sings the lines "you'll be at peace with yourself" and uses the term "all that negative energy" in the song) seem like a bizarre version of Marvin Gaye's best optimistic work.

--- calls it "Perhaps the single finest moment in Sean "Puffy" Combs' musical career," and I'd argue that B.I.G.'s records are better moments, but certainly "My Life" has some solid production on it. Despite some weird choices (the keyboards on "My Life" come to mind), Puffy makes a record of it. Again, it's not for me, but I can see the draw.

I wish I had more, but I still see this as an updated Whitney Houston record with some religious undertones. That is not a compliment.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No. 278: The Immaculate Collection

Band: Madonna
Album: The Immaculate Collection
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Madonna was the preeminent female American pop singer for the majority of the 1980s, so a retrospective of her hits up until 1990 was probably smart.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The songs were all remixed for the album. Most got a slight reworking (editing here and there), but a weird version of "Like A Prayer" doesn't do the original justice. The two new songs weren't anything to write home about.
Best song: For my money, the single best Madonna track is "Material Girl." It is followed closely by "Like A Virgin."
Worst song: I can do without "La Isla Bonita" entirely. "Crazy for You" is pretty crappy.
Is it awesome?: Yes it is!

We know my feelings on greatest hits collections, so I won't rehash them here. If I was making this list, I would go with "Like A Virgin" as the second Madonna record. Not only because it was the first real controversial Madonna record (and what is Madonna without controversy), but also because its four singles are brilliant ("Dress You Up" and "Angel" missing from "The Immaculate Collection").

Nevertheless, what can you say about the 1980s version of Madonna (this is pre-sex book, pre "Erotica," pret-motherhood, pre-Kabbalah and pre-writing around as a middle-aged woman with camel toe)? Believe it or not, she was mildly sexy -- even in 1990 -- and she hadn't quite worn out her welcome as a shocking person.

Case in point: The "Justify My Love" video. The song was one of the two new originals for the album and the video was a big deal. Madonna wasn't messing around with crosses or anything (I guess she got tired of that during "Like A Prayer"), but she was close to having sex in the video. It was a minor controversy, as MTV and Canadian MuchMusic banned it. But, looking back now? It's like Elvis' hips. So, there are some gay dudes in bondage gear in the video. Madonna sorta touches her crotch? She's in her bra? Big whoop.

(Maybe I'm just desensitized to that stuff. I imagine that video may still shock some people. because of the Internet, I've seen some some pretty, uh, gross stuff [*cough*2girls1cup*cough*], so nothing really shocks me.)


Nevertheless, whoever was in charge of putting together Madonna's music and lyrics in the 1980s was, needless to say, pretty awesome. Save for the totally midguided "La Isla Bonita" and "Crazy For You," the album has nary a bad song (the new songs aren't great, but they're not bad). "Live To Tell" is a little preachy, but somewhat heartfelt. The three singles from her debut ("Holiday," "Lucky Star" and "Borderline") are remarkable in their 80s-ness. However, I'd suggest we've reached a point in our culture were 80s camp is totally acceptable. So, really, if I was at a disco (I don't go to discos, but just play along for a minute) and I heard "Borderline," I wouldn't think much of it. That's all I'm saying.


And, if you'll indulge me, I wanted to sing the praises of "Material Girl." Madonna's ode (sort of, until the final verse) to flat-out greet is based around a guitar riff that's nothing short of awesome. In a time when guitar music was not really popular in dance music, the "Material Girl" riff is up there with "Beat It" for great danceable guitar sounds.

The lyrics, of course, are pure "Wall Street" (the movie, not the actual financial sector), in that Madonna suggests that "only boys that save their pennies make my rainy da-ay" and that "the boy with the cold hard cash is always mister ri-ight."

Also, um, a great video (save for the Robert Wuhl appearance at the beginning)

After all, we're just living in a material world. And I, Ross Gianfortune, am just a material, uh, girl. I guess.


"Like a Virgin," in fact, is the album by which I will always judge and remember Madonna. "The Immaculate Collection" is "Justify My Love" Madonna, I prefer "Material Girl" Madonna.

No. 277: Aladdin Sane

Band: David Bowie
Album: Aladdin Sane
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Wow. Um... Bowie's cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together" is pretty good. "The Jean Genie" isn't terrible.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is nothing but an idiotic attempt to recapture Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character, albeit in a lesser form. It's just more dumb glam rock, only without the intelligence or newness.
Best song: "Let's Spend the Night Together" is fun.
Worst song: "The Prettiest Star" misuses Marc Bolan totally.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

There is no purpose to having this album on the list. None. It is a strong album only in that the Ziggy Stardust theme, Bowie's calling card. Otherwise, there's nothing of worth here.

I'm sorry, but even Bowie's greatest strength, his image-shifting, isn't even prevalent on "Aladdin Sane." Rather, it's simply a recasting of the Ziggy character in a Toqueville-esque exploration of America...

Come on. What nonsense.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No. 276: Anthology of American Folk Music

Band: Harry Smith, editor
Album: Anthology of American Folk Music
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Before recorded music as we know it was popular, folk and country was the music that defined America. While most of it was ephemeral, Harry Smith was a ridiculous collector and compiled any recording he could find.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This should probably be higher.
Best song: Basically, any of the Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Willie Johnson songs.
Worst song: "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" was probably the worst song on there, but it's still decent.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

The best comparison I can make is that this collection is like the wheel of American popular music. The wheel is simple, but without it, we have nothing. Without "James Alley Blues" and "Dry Bones," there's no Joan Baez, no Bob Dylan, no James Taylor, no Johnnie Cash, no Madonna... No nothing.

(I'm no musicologist, so I'll leave it at that.)

No. 275: Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814

Band: Janet Jackson
Album: Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: To say this record was successful would be an understatement. "Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814" is the only album in history to spawn seven top five hits. The album has sold 14 million copies worldwide. It came out at just the right time (the late 80s/early 90s) when a record that had some political overtones was fine, as long as it had a fantastic beat.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't know that the magazine has it wrong. This record is, essentially, a place in time. I want to fault RS for putting it on here, but I can't really.
Best song: Any of the seven top five hits are pretty good, but let's say "Miss You Much."
Worst song: "Lonely" sounds more dated than the rest of the record.
Is it awesome?: There a certain nostalgia to it.

In the same way I referenced Dr. Dre in a recent piece on Eminem, I would reference Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with Janet Jackson.

Janet Jackson, if you take her family and producers out of the mix, isn't anything special. She's pretty, but nothing fantastic (and in pop music, women need to be pretty. Sorry.). Her voice is fine, but nothing special.

But, her famous name, her totally vanilla social commentary and especially her producers made it so this album ruled the airwaves for almost two years. Every time another single was released, it shot up the charts. It didn't matter if the video was ridiculous ("Escapade"), the song was nonsense ("Miss You Much") or was a cheap cop of a Poison song ("Black Cat").

The real revelation was "Love Will Never Do Without You," where Jackson finally acted like a pop singer in dressing in a very feminine way and highlighting her natural beauty (she would later take this too far on subsequent records).

Does "Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814" as an album today? Not really. There are a ton of nonsense sketches and small interstitials. And the production sounds dated (not in the good Madonna way, either). But, at its time, this record was huge. I mean, huge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On comments redux

I've seen a small increase in visitors lately (probably due to the mixtape club thing), so I just wanted to reiterate something I've written before:

So, please, if you have an opinion, post it in the comments. Also, if you want to address me directly and don't want it posted on the site, my e-mail address is in the right column. I will respond to you as quickly as possible.

I encourage feedback, so please let me know if you think I stink or if you think I'm awesome or you think I shouldn't be so hard on CCR or whatever.

No. 274: Mothership Connection

Band: Parliament
Album: Mothership Connection
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Definitely one of the classic funk records, many readers will be familiar with songs from “Mothership Connection” via Dr. Dre. Nevertheless, George Clinton's spacefunk dreams were partially realized on this record.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The middle of the record, save for “Mothership Connection (Star Child),” is pretty not memorable.
Best song: “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” is almost synonymous with Parliament and funk music.
Worst song: "Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples" is just OK..
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Clinton says it well:

"We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn't think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang.”

There's not much else to say, is there?

No. 273: The Slim Shady LP

Band: Eminem
Album: The Slim Shady LP
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Eminem's popularity is hard to argue and his ability as a rapper is also up there. This first record has most of the great Eminem qualities (humor, verbal flexibility, etc.) without a lot of his bad qualities (unabashed, unfocused anger, homophobia, etc.). Moreover, the beats are excellent, thanks to Dr. Dre's production.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's certainly misogynist. The overwhelming influence of Eminem's wife Kim on the record is obnoxious and really takes away from Em's copious ability.
Best song: The lead singles -- "My Name Is" and "Guilty Conscience" -- are incredibly clever. "My Fault" is tons of fun, despite its mostly dark context.
Worst song: "Cum On Everybody" and "Rock Bottom" aren't very good.
Is it awesome?: It is certainly his best, in my eyes.

I'm way late on getting my feelings on Eminem up on the Internet. In fact, Eminem has been out of the limelight now for a few years, as his last record was released in 2003. The rumor remains that he has retired, though I imagine that is greatly exaggerated.

Nevertheless, Em is easily the best white rapper ever to come along. It's not even close. The Beasties do some things well, but they are so very worn (and do an 80s version of rap music).

But, Em... He's just so clever.

From "My Name Is":
Stop the tape! this kid needs to be locked away!
Dr. Dre, don’t just stand there, operate!
I’m not ready to leave, it’s too scary to die
I’ll have to be carried inside the cemetery and buried alive
Am I comin or goin? I can barely decide
I just drank a fifth of vodka -- dare me to drive?
All my life I was very deprived
I ain’t had a woman in years, and my palms are too hairy to hide

From "Guilty Conscience":
Okay! Thought about it, still wanna stab her?
Grab her by the throat, get your daughter and kidnap her?
That's what I did, be smart, don't be a retard.
You gonna take advice from somebody who slapped Dee Barnes?!


And what of it? There's a lot of culture that is made by brilliant people who also had some, uh, questionable morals. That stuff is here. He's misogynist, he spouts "faggot" more than once and he proposes violence

Here's the question: Why scrutinize Em for this when all three of those things (violence, sexism and homophobia) are standards of rap music?

I love Jay-Z and I don't love Eminem. And, really, there isn't a whole lot of difference in the two, skills-wise. Jay is better at working with better producers and making hook-heavy records. Eminem seems to have a clever lead single from each of his records.

But, the B.I.G.s and Jay-Zs of the world toss around "faggot" somewhat often and we all know that a gun takes a starring role in their songs more often than it should. And, come on. "Money, Cash Hoes" was one of Jay's singles. "Big Pimpin'." That sort of thing.

So, I hate to go down this path, but do we hold Eminem to a higher standard because he's white?

I'd suggest he does. GLAAD doesn't do a lot of demonstrating around, say, Beanie Man's concerts. Women's groups don't often send out press releases about, say, Snoop Dogg. The rap discussion often centers around Emimen.

So, yes. I do think he's scrutinized more than other rappers because he's white. But, his success is also largely because he's white; The focus on Eminem is there because he's white. It's pretty simple human nature; People identify more with those who look like them. He's a fantastic MC, but he's not the best.

Also, in regards to the violence, at what point are we talking about hyperbole?

For example, "97' Bonnie & Clyde" is a cool little song, if you don't listen to the lyrics, but one that is reprehensible if you do (despite how clever it is). Is it something like the "Hostel" and "Saw" movies, where the violence is so hyperbolic that you can't take it seriously. Em, on some level, is assuming a character and acting out his murderous fantasies (that's what they are, simply fantasies) on the record.

I don't know. And I'd love to just lambaste him, but he might be smarter than that.


It goes without saying that he has every right to say whatever the hell he wants. I'm a first amendment absolutist. I agree with Melissa Etheridge on Em, he's hurtful, but he's massively talented and freedom of speech is freedom of speech.


One more thing to remember: Eminem is a rapper. He's not a producer. The best possible thing any rapper can do is hook up with a great producer at the helm. There are, of course, few greater than Dr. Dre. Dre makes this record sound so bouncy and so fun. Em's production on other artists' records (the track he did on 50 Cent's debut is the prime example) has a totally different -- and worse -- feel. Dre can basically spin gold.


All that aside, the record's humor is what makes this record better than his later records. Instead of "What I Am" -- a misguided and bitter song -- Em's humor comes out in the semiautobiographical song "My Fault." The song recounts a party in which Em gives a girl mushrooms (she takes the whole bag), she has a bad trip and starts revealing a lot of personal stuff.

And that's the type of Em I think we all want. The idea of having a smart, funny, somewhat introspective rapper is great. Even the really violent, sexist stuff ("Bonnie and Clyde '97" comes to mind) is still clever. White or black, it's too bad that Em has gone away from that. He'd be better served to go back to that Eminem.