Friday, February 29, 2008

No. 390: Elephant

Band: The White Stripes
Album: Elephant
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The White Stripes took garage rock's energy, the simplicity of early rock and roll melodies and the rawness of the blues and made for a great record. The album's opener is one of the most memorable guitar riffs of the last 10 years.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The band is mostly a one-trick pony and the songwriting doesn't veer really far from itself (though, they would later do that on "Icky Thump"). Jack White's voice doesn't really do it to me.
Best song: "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" is great, as is "Seven Nation Army" and "In the Cold, Cold Night."
Worst song: I really don't care for "Ball and Biscuit."
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I have been late on the White Stripes. I was Indie Rock Pete for the White Stripes for many years. I've mentioned the phenomenon before, but bands that got huge play on my college's radio station while I was PD tended to just anger me. Often, I would reject them without hearing enough. I'd commented to a friend's father saying he liked the White Stripes by saying "I liked them better when they were called the Kinks."

So, it took me a few years (and, actually, a Jack White side project in the Raconteurs) to get into the band. I now acknowledge that the White Stripes are a pretty excellent band, if spotty.

"Elephant" is their masterpiece. The band's sound had evolved enough to include ideas other than simply copping T-Bone Burnett. The songwriting had evolved enough to include more than just simple above/love rhymes and scaling riffs.


While the band's influences are pretty well-known (blues, early rock and roll, Iggy Pop, etc.), I'd suggest the biggest influence on "Elephant" is the Pixies. The best songs on the album have the Pixies' signature quietLOUDquiet dynamic, specifically "Sven Nation Army," "The Hardest Button to Button" and their version of the Burt Bacharach-penned "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself." Meg White's metronome drumming style fits the music and is loud enough to accent Jack White's almost-twang.

Let me also state that, for all the Internet to see, that I have a giant crush on Meg White. I wish she sang more, as she does on "In the Cold, Cold Night" and "Well It's True That We Love One Another." Pitchfork compares her vocal to Maureen Tucker and Georgia Hubley, but I'd suggest that White's vocals are better.


Also, because this is the Internet, I'd be remiss without pointing you to the awesome videos for "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button."


Honestly, check out what our good friend Wikipedia has to say about the use "Seven Nation Army" in sport:

Italian football fans often chant the song's signature guitar riff, most notably during Italy's victory in the FIFA World Cup 2006. About 10 million Italians were supposedly singing the song across the nation the night following the final. Coincidentally, in order to win the World Cup, a team has to play against seven different nations. The success of the chant led to the song gaining a second Italian Top Ten entry, peaking at #3.

How do all those Italians sing a guitar riff? Do they use "doo" or "daa?" Or "baa?" So many questions...


Are the White Stripes a great band? Probably not. They're horribly flawed in their simplistic approach to their music, lacking any real layering. Jack White's voice leaves a lot to be desired, however distinctive it is.

Still, this is the band's best album. It's a perfection of the form in that the band's style was never better.

No. 389: The End of the Innocence

Band: Don Henley
Album: The End of the Innocence
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: N/A.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Don Henley, I believe, is the root of all evil. He's simply complaining about the world passing him by, which is ridiculous on, like, 500 levels. Seriously. Fuck that guy.
Best song: Nope. None.
Worst song: The song with Axl Rose, "I Will Not Go Quietly," is terrible.
Is it awesome?: A thousand times no.

There is bad music, there is terrible music and then, there's Don Henley.

"The End of the Innocence" is the flipside of Boomer bragging. As Robert Christgau says in his review of the album, "Bitch bitch bitch, bloat bloat bloat." It's self-indulgent in a way that few records are -- No, Don, we don't give a shit about your problems -- and uses simple, English 101 language (the title track's theme) or romantic blathering to back up his point.

Some records are bad because they are misguided fiascoes. For all that I dislike about "Bat Out Of Hell" -- and I dislike a lot about that album -- I can understand the decisions behind it. It's a large album and a large idea. I can't stand the record, but, I see the decision-making behind it. I don't like Springsteen, but I see why everyone likes him. It's not my style, but I see the reasons people like Springsteen.

But, I cannot fathom why anyone would like this album. It's like the diary of an English professor going through a midlife crisis. It's recorded in the melodramatic style of the time, with pianos dotting Henley's idiotic crooning.

Who thought this was a good idea?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

No. 388: A Hard Day's Night

(U.K. cover)

(U.S. cover)
Band: The Beatles
Album: A Hard Day's Night
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The soundtrack to the band's first movie, "A Hard Day's Night" is classic early Beatles: Great hooks, melodic solos and unparalleled harmonies.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I imagine this could be higher. It is, after all, The Beatles.
Best song: "Things We Said Today" is amazing.
Worst song: "You Can't Do That" isn't perfect.
Is it awesome?: Yes!

Here's an interesting thought: The Beatles recorded "A Hard Day's Night" in one day. I cannot fathom that a band could be so prepared and ready for recording wherein they did not tinker at all with the songs while recording. That's the famous Beatles discipline in its truest form.


"A Hard Day's Night" isn't a great film by any stretch. It is, however, a lot of fun and a great piece snapshot of Beatlemania.

Because of my own melancholy, I cannot fathom being a Beatlemaniac. In the midst of the 2008 presidential race, I often see people at Barack Obama's rallies fainting or crying. Just the idea of Obama makes these people cry.

I'm in the middle of reading "American Brutus," an excellent book about the conspiracy to kill President Lincoln. The book goes into great detail about the passion and emotion surrounding the evening Lincoln was shot. The fellow theatergoers were all exceedingly excited to catch a glimpse at Lincoln in his box at Ford's Theater that evening.

Celebrities all have varying degrees of import in our lives. I wouldn't cry if saw any presidential candidate speak, but I have a friend who often tears up while watching Obama speak on TV. I imagine I'd cry if Lincoln spoke, but that'd be because the zombies are about to take over.

And, you know, Zombie Lincoln probably knows where to find Zombie General Ulysses S. Grant. And Zombie Grant could surely plan a successful campaign against the living.

But, I digress... I guess I just can't imagine screaming or crying when I see someone famous. Famous people are just people, despite how talented they are.

Look at Paul McCartney. I would argue that he's on the shortlist of greatest songwrtiers ever. As much as I mock his sunnyness, he's written more great songs than anyone outside of a small group (his bandmate John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, maybe Pete Townsend). But, he's still just an aging hippy who thinks nature is totally awesome and fascinating.

(For what it's worth, I agree with him.)

So, the question is this: Is it worth screaming if you see him? I'd suggest that it is not.

Hank Azaria tells a story that his brother-in-law met George Harrison at a party and started, essentially, freaking out. Azaria's brother-in-law approached Harrison and said "It can't be! It can't be you! It can't be!" Harrison, calmly, replied "No, it can't."

(Man, how sad is it that my frame of reference is largely based on Simpsons commentaries? I need to get out more.)

So, my point is this: I've met some of my idols (Steve Albini at a show and I worked with Tony Kornheiser after he got me my job at the Post) and they're just dudes. The Beatles were four young men from Liverpool. Yes, they were four very talented young men, but young men.


"A Hard Day's Night" is very Lennon-heavy in its songwriting. Ironically, the best song on the album is a McCartney-penned track, "Things We Said Today." It is probably McCartney's best vocal performance, as he stays within his lower vocal range.

Early Beatles records are fantastic in that the albums are full of songs you know. They're wonderful as the intersection of early rock music and popular music. The hooks are unstoppable ("A Hard Day's Night" and "Can't Buy Me Love" are great) and the musicianship is great.

No. 387: Country Life

Band: Roxy Music
Album: Country Life
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Yada yada Roxy Music influenced a lot of '80s music. Yada yada Bryan Ferry had a vision. Yada yada yada.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I keep trying to find something in this album and cannot. It's overly dramatic at times, oddly constructed at others and overall, kind of a mess.
Best song: "Bitter-Sweet" is fun, with the German lyrics and all.
Worst song: "If It Takes All Night" is a wannabe blues song.
Is it awesome?: Bah!

You won't see Roxy Music compared to Nick Drake often, but the method that made me appreciate "Pink Moon" didn't translater to "Country Life." I've listened to "Country Life" more than 10 times in the last week. I could probably sing half the melodies. I could identify most of the songs.

But, for whatever reason, the record doesn't speak to me.

Famed critic Lester Bangs called the band "the triumph of artifice" and I don't think he's too far off. Bryan Ferry's meticulous production is something to be admired, though his sporadic genius shouldn't be celebrated.

Again, I can't really get into the album, save for "Bitter-Sweet," a song featuring German-language lyrics.


Also, the album cover. Ferry famously said in 1995 "pictures of pretty girls had been used to sell everything else…why not rock music?" I can't say I disagree with him, as I always enjoy a good picture of a pretty girl. Were it socially acceptable, I'd surround myself with pictures of pretty girls. As it is, the closest I can get is a photo of Abe Lincoln on my desk at work.

The cover of "Country Life," of course, features two pretty girls (well, one. The one on the right isn't all that pretty.), scantily clad. The models were fans of the band and the album's title is a joke on the British magazine of the same name.

What's fun is that a few countries wouldn't sell the album with the cover as constituted. Spain censored it, as did the Netherlands. Many U.S. retailers sold it in a black shrink wrap.

If nothing, that's kind of cool.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No. 386: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Band: The Wu-Tang Clan
Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of hip hop's greatest albums, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" is dense, dark and wonderful. All the MCs are distinct and great, while RZA's production is like nothing else.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Just on pure greatness of the album this should be in the top 20.
Best song: "Shame on a Nigga" is amazing, "C.R.E.A.M." is a classic and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit" is the band's signature track.
Worst song: The closing track, "Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber - Part II" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

At the risk of sounding like the pompous bastard I actually am, the 1990s were a great decade. The underground was still unique enough to draw a contrast to the mainstream, while the two was beginning to creep together.

In rock and roll, grunge's foray onto the modern rock charts made for punk's acceptance into corporate culture. In hip hop, everything seemed to be turning and the huge amount of MCs coming into the game made for a dearth of standards as to what popular hip hop really was.

And as such, the Wu-Tang Clan were able to find its way into selling tons of records. In a normal reality, Wu-Tang shouldn't have sold any records. "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" is like nothing before it, full of Eastern philosophy, ghetto tales, grimey production, quirky pop culture references, outsized personalities and cartoonish violence. Quite frankly, there hasn't been much made since it was released, either.

The split between East and West coast styles is sometimes overstated, but Wu-Tang's production-style is a huge departure from Death Row's P-Funk re-dos and Public Enemy's James Brown samples. RZA wasn't taking samples from metal or crazy places, but he certainly was creating a distinct style. The album's sound has a dirtier feel than hip hop before, and a sound that has not been revisited.

While RZA has said some of this was because of shoddy equipment, but it works as well because the group members' voices are similarly grimey and distinctive. RZA branches different styles into certain songs -- "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" has an Eastern-style melody while "Shame on a Nigga" is outrageous -- but the album's theme of kung fu meets the ghetto is reflected in each song through samples and deep beats.

Many of the members of the Wu-Tang Clan have released brilliant solo albums, more than any other group I can think of. RZA has scored films (his score for "Ghost Dog" is absolutely wonderful). Ghostface's last two albums are among the best hip hop albums of the last few years and Method Man's collaboration with Redman ("Blackout!") is one of the best hip hop albums I've ever heard. Plus, whether you like him or not, Ol' Dirty Bastard's two albums are wildly entertaining.

But, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" is better than all of them. It's a brilliantly put-together record, with great group dynamics.

No. 385: Pretzel Logic

Band: Steely Dan
Album: Pretzel Logic
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Maybe the band's best album, "Pretzel Logic" is often Steely Dan's most challenging, working odd time signatures, syncopation and complex vocal takes.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I can't speak to the greatness of Steely Dan like others can, but I'm happy with this ranking.
Best song: The first four tracks on this album are un-fucking-stoppable. "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," particularly, is great.
Worst song: I'm not in love with "Charlie Freak."
Is it awesome?: Sure.

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter was an original member of Steely Dan. This is what he looks like:

Anyway, he was also in the Doobie Brothers and is something of an accomplished musician. Or he was.

Apparently, because of his love of studio technology and recording equipment, he fell into the missile defense industry. He's currently a consultant and chairs a Congressional Advisory Board on missile defense. More information is found here and here.


Outside of that, I can't speak to this album much. However, I do know that one particular reader is quite a fan of Steely Dan (and I forgot to ask him to help provide some insight), so, Kelly, take it away in the comments.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No. 384: Pyromania

Band: Def Leppard
Album: Pyromania
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Pyromania" has sold more than 10 million records, worldwide, based on Def Leppard's very specific brand of hair metal (though, there wasn't much metal about it).
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's sugary, no-substance rock and roll. While that's fine, I don't know if it's great.
Best song: The three singles are great.
Worst song: The rest of the album sucks.
Is it awesome?: Nah, but it's tons of fun.

Just an aside for my American readers, that cover looks a little eery, considering Sept. 11, right? Is that just me? Maybe it's just me.


In a lot of ways, I'm really glad I have no real memory of the 1980s. From all I can tell, it was a decade of silliness. We had a president whose biggest resume line was acting beside a chimp, we decided as a society to be downe with day-glo and we all teased our hair.

Def Leppard's success, for example, probably couldn't have

I've mentioned this in passing, but the decade made all of the music therein look as though it has zero credibility today. While that comment is mostly about bands like The Police (bands who fell in love with synths), I'd also suggest it applies to fashion and image. Def Leppard isn't taken seriously by anyone

Now, from what I've read, they weren't taken seriously by their contemporaries, either. Critics hated "Pyromania" when it was released in 1983 in the way critics hate bands like Nickelback today. In short, the kids loved 'em, but anyone over the age of 22 hated 'em.

Stepping back from it, "Pyromania" is somewhere between genius and a hot steaming pile of garbage. There are three amazing singles and a whole bunch of nonsense. Quite simply, the album sold 10 million copies on the back of those singles.


Like Oasis, it's best not to look at Def Leppard for what they aren't, but what they are. No. Def Leppard wren't writing Dylan-esque allegories to socio-political struggle. And no, Def Leppard didn't create multi-layered sonic compositions like Pink Floyd. No, they didn't expand capture the zeitgeist like Nirvana. And no, they didn't expand the musical form like Led Zeppelin.

But, like Oasis, Def Leppard released three really fucking catchy, really fun songs from "Pyromania." "Photograph" features a patently ridiculous video, but I dare you to watch said video and not hum the song for the rest of the day. "Rock of Ages" is almost the picture of silly songs about rock and roll, but, again, it's got a great bassline, a Neil Young reference in the lyrics and a chorus that'll stay in your head all day.

Also, "Foolin'" has a bitchin' cowbell and this video:


One final aside: Def Leppard wasn't the first band to do it, but intentional misspellings really annoy me. I understand that it's a credibility thing in hip hop (yes, it still annoys me), but in rock and roll, it's not a credibility thing. It's just dumb. Slade's release of "Cum on Feel the Noize" seems to be the first real instance of this (no, the Beatles don't count, that's a bad pun) and Def Leppard carried that torch into the 1980s. It's dumb.

No. 383: A Quick One

Band: The Who
Album: A Quick One
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A very strong argument could be make that "A Quick One" is The Who's strongest album. It has tinges of the band's later thematic genius in the title track, great R&B (the band's strongest style at that point), pop sensibilities and even a hint of experimentation.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd have this one higher.
Best song: The album is fantastic and it is full of great songs.
Worst song: See above, though I can see why people don't like "Cobwebs and Strange."
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle were still finding their way in 1966. They were still youthful rockers, brought up on R&B and Elvis. Yet, they were also trying to find new ways to rock and roll art and storytelling.

And so, we get the most well-rounded Who album of the band's catalog. Each member contributed a song to the record, with a cover song to boot. As such, each band member's personalities come through, with Moon's strangeness, Townshend's straightforwardness and Entwistle's skill as a storyteller as the dominant themes.

The band is tight as ever. Despite the somewhat shoddy production (Moon's drums often sound like they were recorded with broken mics), Moon is at his peak of drumming. While he would later fill Who records with ridiculous fills ("Won't Get Fooled Again" is a great drum song, but the fills get distracting), Moon remains steadfast and accented on "A Quick One." His interpretation of the drumline for "Heatwave" is the great example; Moon keeps the beat while adding bits and short, two-note fills to add to the song without distracting.

The title track is where Townsend first experimented with longform musical storytelling and it is riveting. While the storyline isn't as complex as "Tommy" or the failed Lifehouse project, "A Quick One" is easy to understand and follow. A man strands his girlfriend/wife for a year and she feels lonely. Her friends suggest she enjoy the company of Ivor the Engine Driver. Her lover comes back. She confesses. He forgives her.

Pretty simple stuff, right?

Still, in a nine-minute period, the band rips through the storyline. The song starts with an excellent a capella (each member has a good singing voice, lest we forget) and moves into jangly pop, vocal Beach Boys-type harmonies, surf-style Entwistle awesomeness, a honky tonk section and a straight rock finish. It's stylistically varied, lyrically interesting and tightly played. Basically, it's all the things the Who does well in a nine-minute mini-opera.

Few bands would be as bold to even think of a concept such as "A Quick One," but the Who pulled it off beautifully. It's among the band's best records and wildly underrated.

Monday, February 25, 2008

No. 382: More Songs About Buildings and Food

Band: Talking Heads
Album: More Songs About Buildings and Food
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The band's second album featured help by Brian Eno and moved the band into a more mature territory. Out of the classic punk rock roots, the Heads became more of an art-rock circumstance and further defined their sound. It's an underrated gem.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There isn't a lot of accessibility on this album and "More Songs About Buildings and Food" almost defines quirkiness.
Best song: The hit single from the album -- and one of the band's signature songs -- is their cover of Al Green's "Take Me To The River." It is, in a word, genius.
Worst song: You know, there really isn't a bad song on the album.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

While Talking Heads' best work is usually cited for David Byrne's inventiveness or Brian Eno's production, but one of the main reasons "More Songs About Buildings and Food" is great is the band's rhythm section. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were the members of the group who brought funk's backbeat to the band and introduced Byrne to the possibilities therein.

The album is littered with such rhythms. "Found a Job" has the quick dance beat of James Brown's earlier work, while "Take Me To The River" has the slow burn of the original. "The Girls Want to Be with the Girls" has the moving bassline of Bootsy while "With Our Love" is severely influenced by the Meters.

(Famously, "Burning Down the House" gets its name from an old P-Funk chant -- "burn the house down!" -- Frantz would shout during the band's jams.)

Byrne's songwriting takes on new features on the album. The lyrics reflect realities ("Warning Sign"), social commentary ("Found a Job") and conceptual pieces ("Artists Only"). The best-written song on the album is the album closer, "The Big Country," wherein Byrne looks at the flyover with a slide guitar and country beat. The song's lyrics ("I say, I wouldn't live there if you paid me./I couldn't live like that, no siree!") reflect Byrne's ability to write a sarcastic song with tinges of coastal truth. While simple-sounding, the song is layered and complex.

Of course, the juxtaposition of Byrne's real world reality (see the album's title) over the band's staccato funk is the band's signature and Brian Eno helped the band realize this on "More Songs About Buildings and Food." While the band would expand the sound, "More Songs About Buildings and Food" is the signature Heads album.

No. 381: The Modern Lovers

Band: The Modern Lovers
Album: The Modern Lovers
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Jonathan Richman's hopeless devotion to the Velvet Underground is well-known and his youthful exuberance was able to shine through on the record.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't totally get it, so I'd be lying if I said I think it's the greatest thing in the world. I respect it, but I don't love it.
Best song: "She Cracked" and "Pablo Picasso" are great.
Worst song: I don't love "Girlfriend."
Is it awesome?: It's close, but it is derivative.

Influence is a weird thing. Like duplicating cassettes, each subsequent copy seems to lose a little. That's kind of how I look at the Modern Lovers record; The Velvets were great, but the Modern Lovers are less great.

Jonathan Richman is a wonderful songwriter and certainly was a precocious young man, writing and recording most of the album as a teenager. The album's production matches its influence, as John Cale recorded many of the tracks.

(The history of the album is well-documented by our good friend Wikipedia.)

What struck me is how the band was a minor league of sorts for post-punk bands. Richman himself had a decent solo career and kept the band's moniker into the late 70s. Keyboard player Jerry Hairston went on to play in the Talking Heads and David Robinson was the drummer for the Cars. That's pretty impressive.

Still, the record is full of youthful, pre-punk fury. While it's mostly copped from the Velvets, it remains a pretty amazing record.

Friday, February 22, 2008

No. 380: Sunflower

Band: The Beach Boys
Album: Sunflower
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Criminally underrated due to Brian Wilson's absence, "Sunflower" is a well-written and well-produced album that doesn't really sound like the Beach Boys.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The record is a little unnerving, as it doesn't really sound like the Beach Boys. It makes for an odd listen.
Best song: "Our Sweet Love" is beautiful.
Worst song: I don't love "Deirdre."
Is it awesome?: Not really, but it's better than I thought it was.

This is the Beach Boys?

The harmonies of songs like "This Whole World and "Cool, Cool Water" sound like the Beach Boys we all know, but the arrangements sound like something out of the catalogs of Love or The Zombies. "Even the vocals on songs like "This Whole World" are nowhere as sweet as earlier Beach Boys records.

Nevertheless, the album shows that the Beach Boys weren't all just surfing and cars without Brian Wilson. "All I Wanna Do" is a hauntingly pretty song. "Forever" is a straight up ballad with a well-rounded arrangement.

"Pet Sounds" is probably overrated and "Sunflower" is probably underrated.

No. 379: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Band: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Album: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Springsteen's debut album is a shape of things to come, with all of Springsteen's signatures.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: You know my thoughts. I don't like the guy and this album reinforces those feelings. The songs are arranged in a way that saxophones get more play than they should, Springsteen's gravel growl annoys me and the faux country stylings get real old real quick.
Best song: Bah. My name is Ross and I'm a curmudgeon.
Worst song: See above.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Really, I prefer this version of "Blinded by the Light:"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No. 378: Funky Kingston

Band: Toots & the Maytals
Album: Funky Kingston
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Outside of Bob Marley records and a soundtrack, "Funky Kingston" is the best reggae album I've ever heard. Hands down.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Some of the songs run together, but that's probably just my lack of reggae knowledge.
Best song: "Love is Gonna Let Me Down" is amazing
Worst song: "Sailing On" isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: It is.

I came into "Funky Kingston" only knowing "Pressure Drop" from the soundtrack to "The Harder They Come." "Pressure Drop" is a fantastic rave-up song, the kind of song you could dance to until you got sick.

Granted, reggae can get pretty repetitive and "Got to be There," "In the Dark" and "Sailing On" sound close to one another. Still, the distinctive music styles the Maytals reference (country, soul, rock and roll, etc.) make for such a great album.

As such, the band takes amazing covers and destroys them. John Denver's "Country Roads" gets an amazing treatment, as does "Louie, Louie," one of rock's great songs. "Love is Gonna Let Me Down," a Maytals original, is Toots Hibbert's best homage to Otis Redding's singing style. "In The Dark" is lushy produced and features gospel-style singing seen only in some of Marley's best songs.

It's a fantastic record and one that I'm glad I now have, thanks to the RS list.

No. 377: CrazySexyCool

Band: TLC
Album: CrazySexyCool
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: TLC's only foray into greatness is a picture into female hip hop/R&B of the 1990s. It's also the best album of that style.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Like so much of hip hop and R&B of that period, the record has too many skits and interludes.
Best song: "Creep" is great.
Worst song: "Kick Your Game" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's close.

Like most R&B and hop hop records of the time, "CrazySexyCool" isn't necessarily a full album in that every song is great. Rather, the sum of the singles is the more important aspect of "CrazySexyCool."

And, as such, the singles on the album are great. "Creep" is the wonderful anthem of stepping out on one's spouse (of course, in retaliation for the man cheating on her), while "Waterfalls" is the overwrought morality tale against drugs and AIDs.

The group's schtick -- three girls with the three adjective personalities in the album title -- is such that the album gets real old, real quick. However, "Creep" remains a classic and the album reflects that. It's not great, but it's close.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No. 376: (What's the Story) Morning Glory?

Band: Oasis
Album: (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Oasis' wannabe Beatles record falls short of that line, but remains a classic. It has love songs, awesome post-modernism ("Some Might Say"), piano ballads and soaring pseudo-space rock, all done well in the best English fashion since the Kinks.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Ultimately, this album doesn't really do anything save for cop classic rock.
Best song: "Wonderwall" is one of my favorite songs.
Worst song: "Roll With It" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I don't remember where I read this, but I remember reading a defense of Jamie Moyer several years ago. It went something to this effect:

"Everyone likes to talk about what Jamie Moyer can't do. He doesn't strike a ton of people out and he can't break paper with his fastball. We should focus on what he can do. He gets people out at a very good clip. Just because he's not Walter Johnson doesn't mean he's not an effective pitcher."

(A paraphrase, certainly)

I don't think it's a stretch to say the same about Oasis. Certainly, Oasis' problems are self-inflicted (their pompous pronoucements about being heir to the Beatles' throne were and are ludicrous). But, buying into a Beatles comparison to any band is stupid, especially for a band 30 years after the Beatles.

But, here's the thing: Let's not focus on what Oasis isn't. Yes, they're not the Beatles, but no one is. However, Oasis is a band that put out two great records. Yes, they're heavily influenced by the fab four, but that's something to be celebrated. Trying to write hooks in the same vein as the Beatles is fine. Comparing yourself to them is not.

(For what it's worth, a lot of things suffer from this problem of comparative analysis. Futurama is a great TV show, but because people compare it to The Simpsons, it will never measure up.)


The album came along in the post-grunge/pre-nu metal void of the mid-1990s. "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" doesn't reinvent the wheel, it's just a straight rock and roll record with nods to those who came before. The opening track takes cues from both Cheap Trick (the theme and lyrics) and "Dark Side of the Moon" (the overture-style sonic montage of the album). The hit single references a little-known George Harrison solo record and the album closer had a video in which Liam Gallagher dressed like John Lennon. "Some Might Say" copped rhytymns from T. Rex and "Cast No Shadow" has tinges of Elton John. The band certainly was able to show off its chops. The title track featured Noel Gallagher's searing guitar and "Don't Look Back in Anger" showed off his vocal ability and piano skills.


I come to "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" (specifically, one song) with a ton of baggage, though. The album was released during my first sememster of high school and "Wonderwall" was one of the anthems of my freshman year of high school. The beginning of my second semester in high school was the one in which I started dating my first real girlfriend and "Wonderwall" was our song. Juvenile? Probably, but that doesn't make it not so.

"Wonderwall" is a fantastic song on par with few other songs of that period. While not written as a love song -- Gallagher said it was actually written more as a friends concept -- the song's meaning has turned it into one of the great love songs of the decade.

Oddly enough, despite being a favorite of mine, the original version isn't even the best. That accolade belongs here:


"(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" is Oasis' best work and one of the great records of the decade. It would be, in the words of Steve Albini, probably ultimately forgettable were it not so very great. It's not Radiohead and it's not any of the truly influential records of the time. Still, it remains great.

No. 375: The Ultimate Collection

Band: John Lee Hooker
Album: The Ultimate Collection
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: If there's a Mt. Rushmore of blues artists, John Lee Hooker is on it. This greatest hits set contains all of Hooker's classics, which are largely rock and roll classics.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Because of the nature of blues' time as a genre, the greatest hits set is fine, but a lot of the hits aren't so great. The songs on the first disc mostly run together.
Best song: "Boom Boom" is near perfect.
Worst song: "No More Doggin'" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's a good quarter of a set.

I was talking to a friend this weekend about music with which we have no strong connection. Blues, to me, is one of those genres.

My connection, of course, is that rock and roll is a direct descendant of the blues. And, as such, John Lee Hooker's best (and most famous) have been covered by many rock and rollers.

So, as such, my favorite songs from this set are the ones you probably know. "Boom Boom," "You Know, I Know," "Crawlin' King Snake" and, of course, "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" are my favorites from this set.

John Lee Hooker has a great voice and his ability to take his pain and vocalize it through his gritty vocals is a quality the best bluesmen have and Hooker had it.

Overall, though, the first disc of this set mostly runs together, but the first half of the second disc is brilliant, distinct and near-perfect.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No. 374: The Eagles

Band: The Eagles
Album: The Eagles
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Wow. Um. Well, someone likes the Eagles. They have sold a fucking lot of records.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The Eagles are the antithesis of rock and roll. The band's combination of nonsense philosophy, crappy folk and even crappier rock and roll is boring, boring, boring.
Best song: Well, "Witchy Woman" sucks, but it was a small plot point toward the end of an excellent episode of my favorite TV show.
Worst song: Please. This album stinks.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

You know who likes the Eagles? Robert Christgau. You know who doesn't? Me.

I've heard Jack Johnson's (man, I forgot where I heard/read it) popularity explained by saying that he reminds people of the guy they bought weed from in high school. He's a nice dude, he's harmless, he doesn't hassle you, but there's really nothing to him. He's basically harmless.

This, of course, is why I hate him. "Harmless" isn't a compliment in rock and roll. Even now, progress needs to be achieved in music and bands like Isis are able to do that. In the absence of that, really good songwriting (not just harmless songwriting) is what buoys great artists.

The Eagles, some would argue, are great songwriters. I would not. I would say that, like Jack Johnson, they wrote songs using idiotic, stoner phrases ("Take it Easy" being one of the operative examples) and easy love archetypes ("Witchy Woman").

That the Eagles are celebrated in our culture makes me feel like Pat Buchanan or Bill Bennett, the people who hate America's cultural movement over the past century. I'm not sure I love an America where Don Henley and Glenn Frey are celebrated.

No. 373: Post

Band: Björk
Album: Post
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Icelandic diva Björk is one of music's most distinct voices and one of our culture's strangers characters. Her warbling vocals and pan-genre music reached its apex on "Post," her follow-up to "Debut."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm happy with this album here. It's clearly a fine record, though one that, ultimately, doesn't matter a ton.
Best song: The opener, "Army of Me," is the best song on the record.
Worst song: "Cover Me" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It is a fine, fine, album. I really like it.

Björk is a strange, strange person. She often dresses in Peter Gabriel-esque costumes, both while performing and on the red carpet. She sometimes beats up photographers..

Also, her videos are kind of strange:

"Human Behavior," from "Debut"

"Army of Me," from "Post"

"It's Oh So Quiet," from "Post"

All is Full Of Love," from "Homogenic"

I don't know anyone from Iceland, so I sometime wonder if Icelanders think Björk's strangeness is normal. As in, is Iceland just a land of Björks in the same way I think of Sweden as full of Ikea workers and I think everyone in the Dominican Republic plays baseball.

(Not really.)


"Post" is a pretty remarkable album in the same way that Björk herself is remarkable. Her collaborations with Tricky, particularly, sound remarkably cool. The album's lead single, "Army of Me," features a fantastic industrial sound, later echoed on "Echo." "Hyperballad," while still electronic-sounding, could almost double as a Bedhead song in its slowcore-ness. The keyboard on "Isobel" is evocative and pretty, while "I Miss You" is the type of thing played in discos worldwide.

"It's Oh So Quiet" is a cover of an old jazz song released by Betty Hutton, "Blow a Fuse." It was mostly a joke and has since been mostly disowned by Björk. Nevertheless, one of the questions it brings up to me is the idea of singing in one's non-native language. Often, in "It's Oh So Quiet," it is hard to understand her voice. Because Björk's voice is so, well, strange, it's hard to tell if it's her voice or the language barrier that makes her hard to understand.

This later comes up "The Modern Things," when she sings in her native tongue. The later verses are in Icelandic and I, obviously, don't speak Icelandic. Still, it probably is more natural than her heavily accented English.

Nevertheless, "Post" is amazing. It's the type of album that's both challenging and catchy.

Monday, February 18, 2008

No. 372: Late for the Sky

Band: Jackson Browne
Album: Late for the Sky
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Browne's third record was his most mature and was written as such. The song's apocalyptic vision is thematically interesting.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I really hate Jackson Browne. As one of the leaders of the 1970s "California sound," his easy listening nonsense makes me want to stick knives in my ears.
Best song: The title track isn't terrible, though it's too long.
Worst song: The rest of the record is terrible.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

I'd be really curious to hear this album rerecorded by a harder artist. The simple fact is that I hate Jackson Browne. I hate his stupid folky guitar. I hate his stupid midtempo drum arrangements. I hate his major key piano stuff. I despise his hangdog vocals. I hate him.

But, the album's actually not a poorly written one, in fact, I think it would be a decent record re-arranged by a better artist. It's just that Jackson Browne fits with the Eagles in the laid-back, acoustic guitar and midtempo drums line of music. The crap that sold tons of records in the 1970s to white bread, mayonnaise sandwich eaters all across America. Today, this is known as "adult contemporary rock" and it sucks.

nevertheless, the idea of a love story set against the apocalypse intrigues me. Too bad it's executed so poorly.

No. 371: Siren

Band: Roxy Music
Album: Siren
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Containing the band's biggest single, "Siren" is probably Roxy Music's only album with real pop tendencies. Instead of the soundscapes and experiments, Bryan Ferry and Co. used hooks and disco-type beats to build their songs, with pretty intriguing results.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Save for a few tracks, the songs aren't hugely distinctive.
Best song: Both "Both Ends Burning" and "Love is the Drug" are great songs.
Worst song: The vocals on "Sentimental Fool" are annoying.
Is it awesome?: Not really, but it's not bad.

Bryan Ferry is nothing if not innovative. He's the type of dude that is willing to take risks and mess around with style often. I respect that. A lot of artists are more likely to work with a particular formula until we're all too tired of it to complain (I'm thinking AC/DC here). No one would ever accuse Ferry of doing that.

That's not to say that Ferry switched and changes styles so much that you don't recognize his stuff. Roxy Music records remains Roxy Music records and Ferry's style is pretty distinctive. Save for the Devo-funk of "Love is the Drug," the songs are "Siren" are easily identifiable as those of Roxy Music.

With all that said, I don't think Ferry pulls off the pop accents well. "Whirlwind's" guitar is a little off and "Could it Happen to Me" is a little too Meat Loaf-ish for me to enjoy it. I never connected well with "Nightingale," probably due to the overdone guitar and woodwind pieces within the song.

Still, the album has its moments. "She Sells" has the odd piano of showtunes, though Ferry seems to walk that line pretty well. The off-filter dance of "Love is the Drug" is hypnotic and Ferry's lyrics are just prescient enough for the me-first, cocaine-fueld 1970s. "Both Ends Burning" is also funked up and danceable, with background dancers playing off Ferry's bizarre croon.

"Siren" is Roxy Music's most pop-oriented record and there's a lot to like about that. It's not great, but it's definitely listenable.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No. 370: Volunteers

Band: Jefferson Airplane
Album: Volunteers
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the most ardently ant-war records, "Volunteers" was Jefferson Airplane's only other album of note. It helped reinforced the Woodstock generation's ideology while still keeping their collective interest.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Jefferson Airplane stinks and this type of folk rock kind of stinks.
Best song: The band's version of "Wooden Ships" isn't bad.
Worst song: "Turn My Life Down" kind of stinks.
Is it awesome?: Nah.

It's hard to decide how much the anti-war movement was influenced by the music surrounding it or if it was vice versa. The large scale of the movement certainly was the place that bands like Jefferson Airplane took their influence from. But, how much was the anti-war movement spread through the airwaves and hifis in the way of bands like the Airplane?

Certainly, punk rock in the '80s was both influenced by and actually influenced the punk underground of that decade. I'd say that the kids were more important in the implementation of said movement, while the bands were much more just angry. While they were important, Black Flag, Minor Threat were more looks at teenage angst than overarching movement people like Jefferson Airplane. It's an odd thought, though. Were people getting charged about the anti-war movement because of Jefferson Airplane? Who knows...


Nevertheless, the album isn't very good. Grace Slick's voice loses its novelty after a couple of songs. The first song, "We Can Be Together," was one of the first popular songs to use the word "fuck" in it and it was played on TV once, uncensored on The Dick Cavett Show on August 19, 1969, and the performance is recorded the first and only time the word "fuck" has been recorded on television. The title track is a great song and one of the ones played at Woodstock.

Overall, it's not a particular great album, just more Boomer love for a decent band with a few OK songs.

Friday, February 15, 2008

No. 369: Regatta de Blanc

Band: The Police
Album: Regatta de Blanc
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Police's second album shows the band moving towards the band's reggae love. Fueled by Sting's dub-style bass and Stewart Copeland's drum skill, "Reggatta" moved the band forward quite a bit.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album isn't particularly strong outside of the two singles. The band's departure from its punk roots didn't really work as well as it probably should have.
Best song: "Walking on the Moon" is probably the band's strongest nod towards reggae and one of their best tracks.
Worst song: "No Time This Time" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Eh. The band's first and final records are the best.

The Police sit somewhere between punk rock and pop rock. There's something incredibly interesting about this to me. The band appeals to both the subculture and the main culture. Straddling this line is basically punching a band's ticket to big record sales.

As the record's title suggests, this is white guys trying reggae. At times, it's much more effective than one would expect. The singles are fantastic, as "Message in a Bottle" takes the punk speed and accents it with Andy Summers' guitar line. Similarly, Sting's easy narrative of a man on an island is tried and true.

"Walking on the Moon" takes a larger risk in slowing down the tempo more than the band had ever tried. Maybe the band's closest tie to full-blown dub, the song was written in the same way "Yesterday" was. According to our good friend Wikipedia, Sting was drunk and was singing "Walking round the room" to himself, but realized that would be a silly title for a song.

The rest of the record is satisfiable, though not great. The title track, at points, appears to steal from previous songs (the bassline, for example, mirrors "Can't Stand Losing You"). "The Bed's Too Big Without You," even at four minutes, sounds longer than it probably should be, due to a misguided slowed down drum line.

The Police's non-single tracks aren't always great, but the singles are always fantastic. This record shows that quite well.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

No. 368: Rage Against The Machine

Band: Rage Against the Machine
Album: Rage Against the Machine
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Both political activists and musicians, Rage Against the Machine were a force of nature during the 1990s. Tom Morello's heavy riffs combined with Zach de la Rocha's inspired -- if sometimes crazed -- political screeds made for some heavy, heavy stuff.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I get a little tired of de la Rocha's vocal style. The rap/rock hybrid is hard to swallow and Faith No More
Best song: "Bombtrack" is pretty good, "Freedom" is cool and "Wake Up" is decent.
Worst song: "Settle For Nothing" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: That guitar... That guitar...

If nothing else on this project could get me fired, this would be the entry. I've joked (well, half-joked) about my religion -- or lack thereof -- by saying that I worship the sun. I've said that anti-semitism isn't really racism, but just jealousy. I've not taken any political stances, but I am voicing support for a band that, uh, is a little nutty.

I'll say this about Rage Against the Machine, though: While they may seem to simply be gutter punks misreading smart revolutionaries, a lot of what they say makes sense on a smaller level.

First, the stuff with which I don't agree. Sendero Luminoso is not worthy of the band's support. Nor is Che Guevara. The guerrilla video shoot for "Sleep Now in the Fire" was stupid and bum rushing the stock exchange is dumb (not surprisingly, Michael Moore was involved). I can't speak of the EZLN, because my knowledge of Mexican politics is minimal.

Certainly, the band does and says a lot of stupid things that, while intriguing, are mostly just gutter punk philosophy. Tom Morello, a Harvard honors grad, for example said this to Guitar World:

America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you've lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn't belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don't care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.

It's a reflection of the inherent problem with Morello. He's a socialist and socialism doesn't really work well.

Nevertheless, the band mostly has good intentions and does a ton of work for issues that really exist. For example, the band often protests the two-party system. Is there anyone with a brain who really thinks the two-party system is great? Isn't choice the backbone of the marketplace of ideas?

A great example is the band's aversion to big business running the American political system. The band's 1996 appearance on SNL is a great example of several of their issues coming together. The band burns flags (free speech, like it or not) and wanted to protest Steve Forbes' appearance on the same episode. You'd be hard-pressed to find people who think STeve Forbes is a great political candidate and even harder pressed to find people who think big business is great for the political system. I think Barack Obama's current status as presidential front runner speaks to that.

(Now, one could aruge that SNL is a private TV show and shouldn't have censored the band. I understand that argument but would suggest that the airwaves are a public space, so NBC should not be censoring free speech while using public space.)

Similarly, the band often is in front of Amnesty International and other human rights' groups in support of political prisoners. Are there a lot of people out there who think it's OK to imprison people wrongly? It's pretty clear that Leonard Peltier at least deserves a retrial.

Even if you find that particular cause to be objectionable (which is fine, Peltier makes for a badmartyr and most Americans do not care about Native Americans, being that they were victims of a genocide, basically), RATM has played the Tibetan Freedom Concert, a cause no one outside of China's government objects to. The band did billboards for UNITE, railing against sweatshop conditions in Asia. Again, who's pro-sweatshop (though, I could make an argument for comparative advantage)? RATM are ardent supporters of the Anti-Nazi League, which again leads me to ask, who is pro-Nazi? I don't want to meet the pro-Nazi people.

Finally, the band is ardently pro-free speech, a cause that I care deeply about. Freedom of speech is first step in any cultural, social or political change in this nation. RATM often acts in favor of free speech (burning flags being the big example) I'll let out good friend Wikpedia describe this incident:

At a 1993 Lollapalooza appearance in Philadelphia, the band stood onstage naked for 15 minutes with duct tape on their mouths and the letters PMRC painted on their chests in protest against censorship by the Parents Music Resource Center. Refusing to play, they stood in silence with the sound emitted being only audio feedback from Morello and Commerford's guitars; the band later played a free show for disappointed fans

The image is here. It is, of course, not safe for work.


RATM operates on the assertion that their message will be heard through their music. This assumes that the listeners are avid and voracious music fans who will read the records' liners, understand what's going on when the band protests and know what Morello is referencing when he writes on his guitar.

Because, really, what a lot of angry teenage boys hear is simply "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" While that's an anti-authoritarian cry against bad governmental actors, it mostly taps into teenage angst, especially when played over that riff. They don't always check out

Think of it this way: How many suburban kids (who eventually end up getting business degrees, ironically) had RATM posters in their dorm rooms? RATM posters featuring the staring visage of Che Guevara? Or wore Che Guevara shirts? How many of those kids grew up to be business people? A lot, I'd say.

Music has the chance to shed light on social ills only when expanded upon. The market RATM tapped into -- teenage boys -- isn't exactly known for its awesome power to force social change. It's a market known for its awesome power to try and get blow jobs in the bathroom of its collective high school.

Certainly, some of the short lyrical lines like "When ignorance reigns, life is lost" or "Now freedom must be fundamental" (both from "Township Rebellion") are great for kids to remember and sing. But, really, do you think they know that song as well as "fuck you, I won't do what you tell me?" I'd say no.

I respect the band's passionate viewpoints and ability to express said viewpoints in song. That is awesome. But one has to remember that most of the message is lost on a fanbase that just wants some awesome riffs.


Which brings us to the actual record. I find the musicians in RATM, minus de la Rocha, to be immensely talented and interested. I loved Audioslave, as it took an awesome metal band and added one of my favorite singers. It'd be like Fleetwood Mac, but instead of Lindsey Buckingham, Steve Perry was singing.

De la Rocha's hip hop is interesting, no doubt. His voice works for the band better than it should, mostly because of his clear passion for his words. But, overall, this rap-vocal thing doesn't work well over most of the record. You'll notice that the best guitar work -- on songs like "Freedom" and "Bullet in the Head" -- is done while de la Rocha is silent.

And, oh, man, that guitar. Tom Morello (a North Shore guy, by the way) is Albini-esque in his ability to get a distinct, strange sound out of his guitar without using keyboards or studio effects. Between scratching on the strings, using multiple pedals and differing techniques, Morello's sound is one of the most distinct in hard rock's history. You hear it in the slight twang of "Bombtrack," the reverb and harmonies on "Bullet in the Head" and the flanging of "Killing in the Name."

Morello, more importantly, was able to craft simple riffs better than anyone since Tony Iommi. Like the Sabbath guitarist, Morello's ear for melody is nearly unparalleled. His riffs hang in your ear the same way the ones form "Iron Man," "Paranoid" and "Sweet Leaf" do.


I would love to slam the record because of de la Rocha's gutter punk style lyrics, but I can't. This is a hugely flawed album, but still a great one.

No. 367: Is This It

(U.S. cover)

(International cover)
Band: The Strokes
Album: Is This It
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: While it isn't groundbreaking like the fine folks at RCA said it would be, there is little to quibble with. The album is one of the finest rock and roll records of the new century. It's a clear cop of the successes of the genre – the come-hither vocals, the metronomic drums, the riff-heavy guitar, etc. -- and it apes them all very well.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't know that it does. It's a fine, fine record.
Best song: The record is brilliantly catchy, but “Hard To Explain” is probably the best song.
Worst song: Again, the whole record is amazing, but the first single, “Last Nite,” was not worth the first single-dom.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

I was music director of our college radio station in Sept. 2001. This is important because Sept. 2001 was the month that the hype of the debut Strokes record hit a fever pitch. Of course, Sept. 2001 was also when two planes hit the World Trade Center towers.

So, for me, “Is This It” will always remind me a little bit of Sept. 11, 2001. The band was to be the main attraction at the CMJ Music Marathon that was postponed due to the attacks. The promotional runup to CMJ was huge on the record, enough to make any music director hate the band.

I was among those people. When the record reached our station, I refused to play it during my radio shifts, largely because I was so sick of it. Our DJs played that album like it was going out of style. Like any other hugely promoted record, I had no interest in hearing the record.

Boy, was that dumb.

I picked up an import copy of the record a few months after the record was released. Wow. What a revelation. The album's hooks are almost hip hop-esque in their catchiness. The guitar lines are razor sharp, repetitive (again, catchy) and awesome. And Julian Casablancas' voice. Oh, boy.

I know this isn't the type of thing you hear a lot about male voices, but Casablancas' voice is sexy. He doesn't often get into his raspy register (he hits it on the chorus of “NYC Cops” and towards the end of several other songs), but when he does, it compliments his smooth apathetic singing voice. It's almost the voice of the teenage boys that love the record; Young and confused, yet also strong.

I'd be lying if I said I cared about what he is singing. I don't. He could be singing “Deutschland über alles” and I think I'd still be OK with it.

And, boy, is he handsome!


The Strokes are hardly a great band. They break no ground. They don't play with song structures, they don't do much in the way of singing about anything other than love, partying and other spoils of being a Williamsburg hipster.In essence, I can't really see anyone calling The Strokes their favorite band.

Still, on sheer singability of the records, it's hard to beat this album.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No. 366: Mott

Band: Mott the Hoople
Album: Mott
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Boy, I wish I knew.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Mott the Hoople is, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant. This record is boring and filled with a nasal, awful vocal performance. Ick.
Best song: "Honaloochie Boogie" isn't good, but it is mercifully short.
Worst song: "Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zürich)" is just terrible.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Every band on this list has its ardent supporters. I honestly believe I've met someone who could vociferously sing the praises of any single artist here. Even Barry White and Carole King have their backers.

Even if you don't love an artist, it's hard not to deny the general place in rock histoy of any single artist, for the most part. I'm not a fan of Janis Joplin, but her popularity and mark on music are absolutely undeniable.

But, Mott the Hoople? Mott the goddamned Hoople? Come on.


I think everyone would agree that David Bowie is the pinnacle of glam rock. In addition to setting style trends, Bowie actually experimented a little with characters and sounds. I prefer T. Rex myself, but to deny Bowie's import on the culture and style would be idiotic.

On some level, though, there's a second level of glam. Sweet, Slade and Mott the Hoople fill this second level and I can't stand them. Glam rock has never been known for its musical stylings and most of the bands were folk bands turned electric or standard rock bands stealing Chuck Berry riffs.

In the case of Mott the Hoople, they were basically David Bowie's mentees and released music that sounded eerily like Bowie's. I don't like Bowie, why would I like a Bowie knockoff?

Even worse is that the record is is far too self-referential. The album opener, "All the Way from Memphis," is a song about a guitar player losing his guitar. Also, "Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zürich)" is a song entirely devoted to the band's near breakup. Please.

Mott the Hoople isn't very good without David Bowie writing songs for them ("All the Young Dudes" is a classic).

No. 365: Louder Than Bombs

Band: The Smiths
Album: Louder Than Bombs
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A compilation of singles and hits, "Louder Than Bombs" was an American album meant almost solely for American audiences. It has the same jangle and moping that you expect from the Smiths, with specific highs on the second half.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's still the Smiths and you still know what you're getting.
Best song: "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" is amazing
Worst song: "London" isn't great, but it is short.
Is it awesome?: It's not bad. They're not a bad band.

I've compared the Smiths to R.E.M. before and this record has a real R.E.M. guitar sound. I think I've mentioned that the Smiths are growing on me, but "Louder Then Bombs" has furthered the cause. A mostly singles compilation, the record is full of good stuff.

The second and third sides of the album are particularly great. From the short, sweet "William, It Was Really Nothing" to the amazing instrumental of "Oscillate Wildly," that section is really good. Later, on side four comes "This Night Has Opened My Eyes," another stunner.

Some of the songs run together, as I couldn't really differentiate between the end of "Sheila Take a Bow" and the beginning of "Shoplifters of the World Unite." Really, though, that could just be me.

I may become a Smiths convert yet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

No. 364: American Recordings

Band: Johnny Cash
Album: American Recordings
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Johnny Cash's comeback album is something of a revelation and one of Rick Rubin's greatest triumphs. Combining traditional country songs and slightly off-the-wall covers, Cash makes his presence known again.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is actually ranked almost exactly where I'd expect. It's good, but not a superlative album, but it's entirely pleasant.
Best song: "Thirteen," a Danzig cover, is amazing.
Worst song: I don't love "Like a Soldier."
Is it awesome?: It's very, very good.

At the risk of sounding curt, the reason this album is on here is because the American Recording series is responsible for this:

No. 363: Ray of Light

Band: Madonna
Album: Ray of Light
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Madonna's most mature album was also her first that doesn't play to her own sexual and dating preferences. It was less than controversial and won many awards for her effort.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Despite her critics loving her voice, I still find it to be a little flat and ineffectual. Also, William Orbit's production gets repetitive towards the end of the record.
Best song: The title track is the most unlike the rest of the album and easily the most memorable. "Little Star" is the best of that type of songs.
Worst song: "Skin" stinks
Is it awesome?: I'd say no.

"Ray of Light" is an odd record. Madonna's constant shape-shifting is something of a signature, but usually came with a relatively poppy sound.

"Ray of Light," no doubt, has pop tendencies. Look no further than the title track for such tendencies. A dance hit of thumping bass and swirling effects, the song is upbeat and fun. Also, great video, based on Koyaanisqatsi.

But, most of the record isn't like that. The first single, "Frozen," directed by famed video director Chris Cunningham, was as confusing as the song itself. A slower, more electronic sound accompanied the single and Madonna sang more in a way that was to emphasize her newfound range.

The rest of the record reflects this. In "Swim," Madonna appears to fancy herself Portishead (she's not). In "Shanti/Ashtangi," she finds herself mixing her non-traditional religions up (I thought she was a Kabbalah person, personally).

Certainly, William Orbit's production is nice and interesting, but it isn't backed up by Madonna's voice. in fact, my biggest concern with the record is the overall confidence in Ms. Ciccione's vocal abilities. She has never had a strong voice and highlighting said voice leaves the listener hoping for it to fall into the background. She can't carry the song.


Dance music, like rock and roll, is a young person's game. Madonna was 40 years old when "Ray of Light" came out. No amount of yoga is going to keep someone young forever and Madonna's persona -- sexy, certainly, fun and passionate -- was about youth.

As 1999 approached, Britney Spears released her first album and a new generation of pop stars was coming up through the ranks. Hip hop was the new music of the youth and, quite simply, Madonna couldn't keep up well.

She decided to, once again, reinvent herself. It works well on this record, but Madonna's old musical style (amped-up dance music) worked for her voice because her voice didn't have to carry the song. On this record, it was supposed to do that and it didn't. That's a shame. Under a better singer's care, this could be a classic. Instead, it's a pretty good William Orbit record with a mediocre singer.

Monday, February 11, 2008

No. 362: L.A. Woman

Band: The Doors
Album: L.A. Woman
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Despite the three singles, the Doors' final album is more blues-oriented and raw. The album's nod towards Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon backs up Jim Morrison's voice well.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Much of the blues stuff is forgettable, as the band's real memorable moments are its most eclectic.
Best song: You know, "Love Her Madly" is simple, but great.
Worst song: "L'America" isn't terrible, but it's not good.
Is it awesome?: I'd say no.

I outlined my early teenage love for the Doors in an earlier piece but failed to mention that I had a big backlash against the band in high school, college and even until today.

What I said before still stands. Jim Morrison is a lyrical dope. "L.A. Woman" is an album full of strange political stuff ("L'America"), road songs ("Riders on the Storm" and the title track), blues cops ("Cars Hiss By My Window," "Been Sown So Long" and "Crawling King Snake") and even a requisite love song ("Love Her Madly").

Of course, the takeaway is Morrison's poem set to music that is "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)." The lyrics appear to be drug-induced nonsense ("Stoned Immaculate" comes from this song) while the title is a reference to old, high-powered Mexican stations whose signals carried into Texas during the dawn of rock and roll. The band rolls through a pretty nice rock and roll number (they'd hired a bassist by this point), but Morrison's lyrics are, well, stoner religion.


My favorite song on the record is the least-Doors sounding one on the record. "Love Her Madly" works around an easy major-key guitar jangle and a piano riff that surrounds Morrison's strikingly low-key voice. Morrison's instrument sounds best when he isn't letting all loose, but rather when he is restrained, as he is in "Love Her Madly" (also, "Light My Fire").


The Doors were hardly the world's greatest band. They had a famous singer and a good -- not great -- group of musicians. This album, the band's last, has its ups and its downs.

No. 361: Substance

Band: New Order
Album: Substance
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: New Order's bass-heavy dance music is jaunty and fun and set the soundtrack for much of the 1980s.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not a dance music fan, so I'm not the man to ask.
Best song: "Bizarre Love Triangle" is great.
Worst song: "Sub-culture" isn't awesome.
Is it awesome?: It's a great dance record, it's not a great record overall.

Here's a fact no one cares about: All but one of the albums numbered 361-370 are albums I didn't have on my iPod going into this project. I only owned two of them (the Rage record and the Strokes record).

With that said, it's hard to know be somewhat familiar with a couple of New Order records, specifically this classic hits compilation. It's been played in every 80s movie ever and those of us weened on those movies (mostly replayed on cable) have these songs all around.

The band was formed in the demise of Joy Division. Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner decided to carry on in the aftermath of Ian Curtis' suicide.

New Order, like Joy Division, never spoke to me on a large level. I can certainly appreciate it as dance music, but anyone who has seen me dance knows I'm not a dancer.

Still, if you're having a dance party, there are few albums better to get than this one. Put on "Blue Monday," "Thieves Like Us," "Ceremony" and "Bizarre Love Triangle." The party will thus be started.

Friday, February 8, 2008

No. 360: Siamese Dream

Band: The Smashing Pumpkins
Album: Siamese Dream
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Despite being a two-man operation, "Siamese Dream" is the Smashing Pumpkins' greatest work by a mile. The song's production is tight, the guitars rage and Billy Corgan's voice is a wail of pain.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The lyrics on the record reek of self-centered nonsense and reflect, I'd say, Corgan's deplorable personality.
Best song: "Cherub Rock" is great, though the other three singles ("Today," "Disarm" and "Rocket") are all awesome. As far as non-singles go, "Soma," "Quiet" and "Spaceboy" all soar.
Worst song: I don't like "Mayonnaise," though, people enjoy it.
Is it awesome?: Unfortunately, yes.

I am a pretty disorganized person and one of my great regrets is that I've lost many of the columns I wrote in college for the MU Student News. Their online archives suck and my columns appear to have been lost in the ether.

Nevertheless, I wrote a column about superfandom that had a specific person in mind (a fellow who I knew in high school) and lambasted the idea of the "fanboy" and those who worship at the altar of certain bands.

(The irony, of course, is that I am a closet fanboy of a few bands, Death Cab for Cutie being the big one.)

I mentioned the three bands I'd experienced the most exuberant and unrelenting fandom (the wording I used, I believe, was something like "[Band] could fart into a microphone and their fans would still think it was genius.") were Tool, Radiohead and the Smashing Pumpkins.

(I would, by the way, add Nine Inch Nails to that list now.)

I don't have anything against Tool or Radiohead fans, particularly. I did hate Radiohead fans at the time because they wouldn't quit it with their love for "Kid A," though I've since come to love that album. Tool fans and I are mostly on the same page, though they bristle at the idea that Tool is a prog-rock band. Smashing Pumpkin fans, though, would always argue with me that "Melon Collie" was genius, a modern day "The Wall." They'd namedrop the Cure and Smiths, while claiming "Adore" was just an extension of '80s eyeliner rock. They'd cite Corgan's nihilistic streak as cause for "Zero" to be a generation's anthem, as opposed to what it really is: A neat guitar riff.

There's an inherent problem with SP fans and that's Billy Corgan. Most of the popular alternative rock bands of the 1990s had a pretty negative attitude towards fame; most simply wanted to make music and make a living from it. If they wanted fame or thought themselves geniuses, they kept it quiet, put on a humble face and made music. Some went to great strides to disassociate with fame (Pearl Jam and Radiohead come to mind) and some let fame destroy them (Nirvana, sadly).

Corgan, leader of Smashing Pumpkins, doesn't necessarily appear to love fame any more than a normal person, but he certainly fancies himself a genius. Being humble is not something that is in his behavior set. If he ever had a day without self-importance, I'd be hugely surprised. In his own mind, everything he says is important.

On some level, I understand the entitlement and self-centeredness. Corgan is the child of divorce (I can't totally identify with this, as my parents split when I was in college) and grew up in the Chicago suburbs (this I can certainly identify with).

The failed dreams of suburbia, however, is a concept I can identify with. It's a dangerous game as we suburban kids have been told from our first days on Earth that we could do anything we wanted. We were worshiped, coddled and treated as kings from day one, so when those things didn't come, many of us moped and complained. Many of us expected the world to hand us something that wasn't going to come.

In short, the expectation of success and affluence was our Achilles' Heel. Some of us adapted, worked hard and achieved that success. Some faced failure and overcame it. Others are bouncing around careers and post-graduate education (Hello!) in the hopes for a facsimile of the comfort we had growing up. This failure to replicate that suburban upbringing is frustrating, but a learning experience for most.

Billy Corgan, I have to think, grew up with the same encouragement. Eventually, we suburban kids realize that the world isn't our cheering section and we buck up. Many settle into a life that isn't our parents', either in mindset or in affluence.

Corgan never lost the cheering section.

(For the record, I have no idea as to what one is supposed to do to stop this suburban situation. I'm partially sure this whole rant is simply narcissism and a reflection of my own laziness and expectations of the world. This, of course, is why I should never have children.)


I know sports relatively well and Corgan reminds me of the wunderkind wide receiver who has never been told "no." He records all the parts on the album by himself because, damnit, he's the genius. He drinks his fans Kool Aid so much, his lips are redder than a French hooker's.

And his fans just mainline ass-kissing to him, while defending even his worse projects to non-fans (like myself). After I wrote my column about the band's fanboys, I got more e-mail than when I told bicyclists that I hate them and bloggers (irony much?) that I don't care about any of their lives.

The simple fact is this: Corgan thinks the world revolves around him. We all do, on some level, but Billy Corgan is one of the only people around who gets it reinforced by other people. When an album doesn't get critical praise, he pouts on his blog like an infant. He would refuse to go on tours with Nirvana because Kurt Cobain's wife was an ex-girlfriend (with whom Corgan would reunite after Cobain's death. Classy, Bill.). He would secretly re-record James Iha's guitar parts. He kicked, I think, three bass players, out of his band.

There are a lot of mercurial talents in rock music who are clearly jerks. I'd never want to share a meal with Steve Albini, but his music is wonderful and his polemics on the industry are great. The guys in Metallica seem like abject douchebags, but to deny the glory of their first four records would be foolish. Dave Mustaine is clearly a nutjob, but "Peace Sells" kicks all types of ass.

But, Corgan takes it a step further. He acts like a spoiled child and his fans reward him. At least there was a backlash for Metallica when Lars Ulrich decided Napster was worse than Hitler.


Of course, the problem is that Corgan's first mainstream success is great. For all of Steve Albini's comparisons to REO Speedwagon, "Siamese Dream" is a wonderful extension of alternative's rock and its move into the stadia of America. Corgan's love of Zeppelin caused him to ape Page/Plant's songwriting work while expanding on it and shortening it to fit a more space-rock aesthetic. So, instead of expanding quasi-metal odes, we get "Rocket," a popish song built around a cool rock riff. Instead of "Battle of Evermore," we get "Disarm," a vulnerable ode to rock stardom filled with strings, bells and timpani.

"Quiet" is a full-throttle rock song echoing the band's debut, while "Today" sounds almost like sugary enough to justify the band's idiotic video. "Soma" is literate and cool, while "Spaceboy" has the acoustic feel of a, well, space rock song.

"Siamese Dream" is likely to be remembered for its opening track, "Cherub Rock." The song's lyrics -- again, showing Corgan's selfish, idiotic tendencies -- are a somewhat blunt attack on the independent music scene of Chicago at the time, telling the Albinis, McEntires and Prewitts of the world that it "Doesn't matter what you believe in" and that they're only in the scene for the money. Like a tantrum-throwing kid, Corgan's voice modulates between the softness of a child and the wail of a baby as he acts the scene's victim. Unlike Mr. Simpson and the "No Homers Club," Corgan appears to have been left out of the party is angry.

Still, as awful as it is lyrically, the song's production (Butch Vig had recently come off the success of "Nevermind" and had worked on the band's debut, "Gish") and Corgan's meticulous guitar layering make for the band's best work. The guitar solo takes as much from the metal gods of the '80s as it does from Mick Ronson. The song starts with a drum roll, an easy riff that ends up riding up the neck up before the band explodes into the song.

It's easily the band's greatest achievement, a staggering riff, an awesome drum line and a vocal performance that fits the song's terrible, terrible anti-independent music message. Musically, though, it rocks.


As much as I hate to say it (again, their fans are pricks just like the band's frontman), "Siamese Dream" is wonderful. says "Siamese Dream stands alongside Nevermind and Superunknown as one of the decade's finest (and most influential) rock albums." I wish I could dispute this, but, sadly, I cannot.

No. 359: Stankonia

Band: OutKast
Album: Stankonia
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The last 10 years have seen many hip hop albums released, but few have received the praise that "Stankonia" has. The album's diversity of sound and theme straddle the line that the genre has dealt with (the backpack and the gangsta, or the "player and the poet," as the duo called it) since the early 1990s. The album melds the themes incredibly well and was the band's crossover breakout.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album falls off toward the end.
Best song: "B.O.B." has the surefire drum and bass beats and a searing political message in the chorus.
Worst song: "Snappin' & Trappin'" isn't great. But, really, the rest of the album is nearly flawless.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

Here's a question: Why do so many hip hop albums have skits in them? Obviously, not all hip hop records have them and most of the best ones don't (Jay-Z doesn't, for example, have a lot of skits). But, a lot do and certainly a lot more hip hop records than rock and roll ones have skits. Why is that? Also, is anyone else annoyed by these skits?


What's cool? According to OutKast, they're "Cooler than Freddie Jackson sipping on a milkshake in a snowstorm." Now, if you like lyrics, you cannot not love that lyric.

The reason "Stankonia" is great is because of its lyrics. That's not to say that the album's production of Prince-like varied influences isn't awesome. It is. The album bounces from pop-meets-P-Funk of "I'll Call Before I Come" and " to the rapid-fire rap of "Snappin' and Trappin'" to the drum and bass of "B.O.B." to the slow burn of the title track. Few groups can pull that off and OutKast does it perfectly.

But the lyrics are where these guys make their hay and clearly this album has superlative lyrics. The record is socially conscious concerning both the world and the black community. The latter gets treatment on ""Red Velvet" and "Humble Mumble," the former gets it on "B.O.B." and both get treated in "Gasoline Dreams."

Certainly, Andre 3000 has gone off the rails in recent years, as far as focusing his talent on music. But, his avant garde hippie is the perfect compliment to Big Boi's player's ball attendee. While Big is rapping about guns and violence (after all, this is a guy who raies pit bulls), Andre is hitting metaphors about elephants, the highway to heaven and puppy love. As well, the duo's clear homage to George Clinton's various projects are in their update of "funk" as "stank." Clearly working a Southern angle, the duo uses the colloquial language of the region to update P-Funk's language of space funk.

Does the album have issues? Sure. "We Love Deez Hoez" is kind of silly, but that's going to come along on any record. As I've mentioned, the skits get tedious. The final song, while a nice adventure, gets tedious.

Still, this is one of the great albums of this young century. It was OutKast as their best, merging the gangsta and the backpack.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

No. 358: Singles Going Steady

Band: The Buzzcocks
Album: Singles Going Steady
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In the pantheon of early punk rock pioneers, Manchester's Buzzcocks certainly belong in the conversation. This 1979 compilation of the band's early singles is a furious tear through sexual lyrics, awesome hooks and a sneering vocal performance.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Punk rock is often simple and this compilation is no different.
Best song: "Orgasm Addict" is clever and "Love You More," is interesting, but "Ever Fall in Love?" is brilliant.
Worst song: "Oh Shit!" is dumb.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

I'm a pretentious fuck.

I imagine anyone reading this knows that I'm a pretentious fuck. I often shoot down some pretty accessible stuff, I despise the "California sound" of the 1970s (save for Linda Ronstadt and that's only because I have a crush on her) and the albums I choose for "Unlisted" are of the indie rock genre (for the most part).

I've tried to lay this out in my biases and it shows up in a lot of my pieces for this site. So, you know, sorry.

For today, it would be incredibly stupid to say that I don't like "Singles Going Steady." The Buzzcocks are a seminal punk band and the band's love of hooks is one of the key pieces of the formulation of the genre. The band used awesome melodies in songs like "Ever Fall in Love?" -- probably the band's best song -- and quirky sexual/political lyrics ("Orgasm Addict," "Just Lust," "Love You More," etc.) are amazing. Hell, even the blissed out excitement of "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" is great.

But, my big complaint with a lot of punk rock remains, as well. A song like "Oh Shit!" is based on easy (facile, I'd say) repetition and the shock of bad words. Well, hooray. That's real mature.

Again, this just speaks to me inability to really embrace punk rock's earliest purveyors. I love the Clash, but the other late '70s/early '80s punk rock never really resonated with me much. I prefer the stuff they influenced (grunge and hardcore, basically) than the originals.

No. 357: Honky Château

Band: Elton John
Album: Honky Château
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Elton John's fifth album was recorded in Paris and featured absolutely no strings (the first of his albums to do so since his debut). It's a more rock and roll situation, with more honky tonk (hence the title) styled songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album's songwriting isn't as tempered as songs on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
Best song: "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be a Long, Long Time)" is a fantastic song. "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" is awesome.
Worst song: "Amy" isn't great, especially considering what we now know about Elton John's personal life.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

I'm not sure how to fully address this properly and I don't know if this is the right album to address it with. It's something I've tried to address before. It's the sincerity v. irony debate, one that I have in my head much more often than I probably should.

Torquil Campbell of Stars addressed it, vis a vis the current state of indie rock:

God bless Animal Collective, but they really have, in their own strange way, made indie rock a much more conservative place than it should be. If you can create intellectual distance from your work, then critics will feel clever for getting it and give you good marks; if you create music that fucked-up 13-year-old girls might enjoy, then critics will feel like you're trying too hard and not give you good marks.

Why does this debate matter? Well, for one, I forget that people actually read this blog, so when I fully mock an artist, I don't expect someone to take me to task on it. (Just to clarify again, I absolutely got several things wrong in that review.)

It's easy to love stuff that's largely unassailable. My favorite three bands (as shown in the sidebar) are Tortoise, Mogwai and Pink Floyd. Basically, two mostly instrumental bands (one of which openly admits that its song titles mean nothing) and a classic rock stalwart that mostly deals in obtuse themes and space-rock. I've not met many people who can talk shit on any of those bands without using the words "weird" (in the case of Floyd) or "boring" (in the case of Tortoise and Mogwai).

I'm writing about this later in the week, but I've gone through this before. Smashing Pumpkins fans tore me a new one via e-mail when I talked ill of their favorite band. This week, of course, I had a similar situation with a single reader. I should've remembered that situation, but assumed two stupid things:

  1. I assumed that no one was reading my site. Even looking at my site traffic stats, I get fewer than 70 visitors per day. Admittedly, that's higher than it should be, but it's still not huge. Still, the site is on a Google property, so it'll be high on searches.

  2. I never thought that Billy Joel had a fervent fan base.

The last point is probably condescending, but I say it not in a condescending way. I simply say it as though I really don't know a ton of Billy Joel fans. I hate Billy Joel -- I think that's clear -- and some of my statements the commentor took as fact (the "theater person" analogy is mostly that he makes melodramatic music, not the literal "hey, I think he was an actor in high school"). Nevertheless, I should've either skirted the album review (as I did on the Eagles piece) or done more research.

But the bigger issue is this: I often take down overly sincere music because sincerity just doesn't do it for me a lot of the time. I'm not as mean about it as I was earlier in the week probably because I know more fans of the music I don't like (the Cure, Springsteen, etc.). I have tons of friends who love the Boss, so I don't open fire on him the same way I do with, say, Billy Joel.

Nevertheless, I imagine part of it goes back to the type of music I enjoy. Mogwai is in full irony mode 23 hours a day. Floyd's music is more cerebral and overarching. Any insult people hurl at my favorite bands? I've heard them and thought the same thing in my head.

So, I guess I just forget that sincerity exists in a seat-of-the-pants situation. The music I enjoy is more cerebral. (How's that for pomposity?)


With all that said, I love "Honky Château." While it's not "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," it's got a raucous little record with a ton of cool songs. "Honky Cat" is patently silly and "Rocket Man" is classic Elton John: A little off-the-wall, a lot melodic and generally awesome.

Also, it's a surprising down-to-Earth album. Despite the honky tonk stuff, the balladry of "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" is a cool little song, written in the voice of a teenager. "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" is Bernie Taupin's look at New York's aura. "Hercules" is a nice little love song.

Overall, it's some of the great piano rock and roll.