31 August 2006

It's Oh So Iceland

I'm off to Iceland! Unless Andrew and I buy a condo or an igloo and decide to stay forever, I'll be back next Tuesday night.

Until then, however, I'll be on the lookout for Björk. I'm hoping that she'll be there when I step off the plane, ready to drape a swan around my neck.

But seriously, you guys. I love Björk and her music. I will absolutely dance with her to "Big Time Sensuality" while we hike around Iceleand's golden circle. (Scroll down that link to see a picture of the sod gnome. Amazing!)

So that's it. I'm off. But I'll see you all next week!

Oh, okay.

Before I go...

let's look at more fun pictures of Bjork.


30 August 2006

Al Gore: One Hip Dude?

So I realize I'm hardly the first person to mention that Al Gore has gone from "wooden almost-president" to "sexy environmental crusader responsible for the third-biggest documentary in American film history."

However, I was still surprised by his celebrity playlist, posted this week on iTunes.

For one thing, is Al Gore a celebrity now? Yes, he was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, but I thought that was kind of ironic. Are politicians even allowed to be celebrities? I mean, other than Fred Dalton Thompson, of course.

(Side note: I briefly joined the... umm... Young Republicans club at my high school because they had scheduled a field trip to the Outback Steakhouse in order to meet Mr. Thompson. At the time, he was a Tennessee senator and the co-star of "Feds," a movie I had seen about a thousand time on cable. To me, it seemed worthwhile to join a club that would let me leave school in the middle of the day, eat cheese fries that I didn't have to pay for, and shake hands with Agent Bill Bilecki. Plus, the day after that event, I dropped out of the organization. Turns out cheese fries couldn't coat over the taste of my rampant liberalism.)

But back to Al Gore. His apparent celebrity status notwithstanding, there were a few more things that surprised me. Here's a quick sampling of songs on his playlist:

(1) "I'm Alright" by alt-country chanteuse Kim Richey. "It is a perennial on my playlist because it makes me feel good," he writes. Mine too! Who knew that the former veep and I both shared a fondness for obscure-yet-talented singer-songwriters?

(2) "UMI Says" by Mos Def. Gore writes, "I chose this song to blow Mark's mind." Well, not really. But Al Gore may be the only person over forty who even knows that Mos Def is a brilliant rapper, not just that guy who was in "Topdog/Underdog" on Broadway. Plus, remember how Tipper Gore was responsible in the 1980s for inventing that warning label for CDs? The one that says music contains explicit content? Does Tips know that her husband is listening to music with... language?

(3) "Gone Going" by Black Eyed Peas. Now this is surprising because of Gore's explanation. "I also love the fact," he says, "that the Black Eyed Peas wrote such a great song and wrapped it around a hook that comes from Jack Johnson, who is one of my all time favorite singers and songwriters."

I think that comment poses the biggest quandary. Is Al Gore cool for liking Black Eyed Peas and Jack Johnson? Because on the one hand, those acts skew pretty young. But on the other, they're not exactly the hippest groups on the block. Catchy? Yes. But also the kind of act you might expect your mother to enjoy. Well, as long as she doesn't know what her London Bridge is.

You know what I mean? Jack Johnson and Black Eyed Peas hover in some gray zone where they are both hip and unhip at the same time. I think it's because they're both so obviously packaged to be unthreatening. Even the Peas' most aggresively sexual songs are silly and playful, and Johnson wrote an album's worth of material for the "Curious George" movie.

But they're popular. And they make shiny videos. And they make accessible versions of hip-hop and folk. That makes them hipper than someone like Celine Dion, whose inoffensiveness resides in the uncool ghetto of adult contemporary balladeering. Plastic hip-hop will always be a little awesome. Even if just a little.

But since Al Gore already cops to liking hip-hop and folk artists with unassailable cred, his embrace of BEP and JJ makes him a little less cool. (No need to send letters. I'm aware that I'm in the same boat. But my lack of coolness is not in question.)

However, I think Al Gore has coolness to spare. I mean, he is saving the environment. And didn't he invent the internet? Or blogs?

So rock on Al, and keep surprising us all. I can't wait to see you on tour with Bono, simultaneously running the World Bank and doing a sweet guitar solo on "One."


26 August 2006

Watch Andrew on Cash Cab!

Hey everyone! For those of you who have been dying to know what Andrew looks, sounds, and acts like, you can find out this Monday on the Discovery Channel.

That's right, on Monday, August 28, at 5:30 PM (EST), Andrew will be a contestant on Cash Cab, a game show where a taxi driver asks people trivia questions. Correct answers result in cash money.

Andrew is riding in the cash cab with his friend Sheri. From what I've heard, they're going to make a wild pair. And who's that giving Andrew some help on his "phone a friend" question? Why, that's me! Awesome!

This has nothing to do with music, but I figure it's at least as important as the new Christina Aguilera CD. Happy watching!


25 August 2006

Good Albums Come to Those Who Wait

Happy weekend everyone! I'm just a day away from heading to a 70s-themed, faux prom being thrown for my friend Amy's birthday. I'll be dressed like "Sexy 70s Jogger," which means tube socks with blue and red stripes, enormous sunglasses, and short-sort, red terrycloth running shorts. Can you handle it? I almost can't.

But before all that fun begins, let me ask you a quick question...

Which albums did you learn to love? By that, I mean albums that you bought and didn't quite like at first. Maybe there was one song that grooved you, but the overall record got skipped in favor of one more listen to Sgt. Pepper's. Then, however, after a few weeks (or months) you decided to give the chastised album another chance... and BAM! Suddenly, you got it. And it entered your heart forever.

For me, there are two obvious answers to this question.

As an eighth grader, I had been happily dieting on REM's videos for "Losing My Religion" and "Shiny Happy People" for over a year. And when "Automatic for the People" got released, I ran right out to buy the cassette. (I know! Cassette! And this one was yellow, I remember, which was super crazy.) But you know what? That album was totally lost on me. I thought "Everybody Hurts" was pretty good, but otherwise, I decided the album was snooze central. To me, Tori Amos was more arresting. U2's "Achtung Baby" was more inventive. I shoved my yellow cassette among a pile of ill-purchased singles, including Joe Public's "Live and Learn." (And if you remember that song, let's be best friends.)

Then high school started. I started studying poetry in Mrs. Ireland's class. I got... I don't know... more thoughtful? Whatever the case, a year after I bought it, I finally started HEARING "Automatic for the People," and now it remains one of my favorite albums. The layered, elegant music is like a soft blanket, and the twisting emotions of the words still move me. I especially love the sadness of "Try Not to Breathe" and the political anger of "Ignoreland."

A few years later, I had a similarly slow wake-up call to the music of Allison Moorer. For those who don't know here, she's an alt-country singer who happens to be the sister of Shelby Lynne. Her music rarely has pop polish, which makes an immediate affection difficult (for me). Her songs require several listens to sink in, but when they do, they're amazing. I have five of her albums, and each one has required six months of patient listening before it has finally grabbed me.

There's something satisftying about working for a relationship with music. When songs reveal themselves to me in a new way, I feel like they've helped me grow as a person. The ability to love what I previously disliked tells me my world has improved. Like a professor once told me, a vital critic isn't someone who learns to like fewer things over time, but who learns to like more.

Whivch albums fit this catgory for you?

p.s. -- While I was writing this post, I was watching "Lost Boys" on cable. Right now, it's the scene where Jason Patric, recently convereted to vampirism, tries to attack Corey Haim in the bathtub but gets stopped by the dog. Remember that? It's just a few minutes after Kiefer Sutherland makes Patric eat maggots. Awesome.


22 August 2006

Lyfe Lessons

[NOTE: This post now includes a link to the full song...]

Sometimes, when I'm waiting for the subway or trying to stay awake during the second act of a particularly heinous play, I imagine myself talking to a passionate reader of "I Totally Hear That." You know, someone who thinks about the blog as much as I do (and shares my enthusiasm for red New Balance sneakers). In all likelihood, this "reader" is just an extension of myself, but I can't afford the therapy to figure out what that means. So for now, let me just say that this Red-Sneakered Reader has been asking me the same question over and over.

"Mark," he asks, " Why do you so rarely write about contemporary hip-hop on this blog?"

And I know he's right to ask. Or I'm right to ask. Or whatever. The point is... I wish there were more contemporary hip-hop that inspires me.

After all, I do like hip-hop. Lauyn Hill? Mos Def? A Tribe Called Quest? Ding! Ding! Ding! And poppier stuff? Don't get me started. I will shoop all night on this fantastic voyage, because I know that mo money means mo problems, okay?

However, I mostly cannot handle the genre's current trend. Songs are built not around sampled hooks but around single repeated notes. As a result, tracks sound flatter, thinned out into a few bleeps from a computer. Producers like Timbaland and Jermaine Dupri are leading the way--just think about Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous" or Janet's "Call on Me." Plus, entire sub-genres of hip-hop--like the California- based style known as "hyphy"--thrive on this rote approach to musicianship.

And that bores the hell out of me. As a pop fan, I can certainly embrace formulaic music, but the formula has got to have more shape than, oh, the tuneless drumpad-thumping of a Lil' Jon song. Whenver I hear something like that, I want to teleport myself to a club where they play lots of Heavy D and the Boyz. Now THERE was a rapper who knew how to throw some business underneath his rhymes!

But last night, at 1:30 in the morning, I was taking a cab from my power-free Brooklyn apartment toward the lights and A/C of Andrew's Manhattan digs. There on the radio, I heard a new hip-hop song that intrigues me.

It's called "S.E.X." by Lyfe Jennings (featuring LaLa Brown). (Listen here)

At first, the musical situation seems predictable. One or two piano notes sound over and over, a drum machine repeats the same brief pattern, and a violin snippet plays under the chorus.

But then there's Jennings' voice. It's remarkably gruff, and it's twisted by the same Memphis accent that Terrence Howard uses in "Hustle & Flow." He makes ugly sounds, but they're too distinctive to blend in with everything else on the radio.

Then there's this woman, LaLa Brown. She sings with generic breathiness on the chorus, but in the bridge, when she takes over lead vocals, she drops down into a rich alto. It's a sonic surprise, accompanied by the entrance of acoustic guitar (!).

This song may not be changing history, but at least its straying from the pack.

Its words stray even further. Instead of celebrating booty and cash, Jennings and Brown are addressing young women, telling them to think twice before becoming sex objects for men. Jenning uses his barking voice to make proclamations like this:

Life's a trip
Heard you just turned seventeen and finally got some hips

Hustlers on the block go crazy when you lick your lips

But they just want relations

They don't want relationships

And before Brown steps in to sing, she says, "Hey, yo, Lyfe, she might take it better coming from a woman."

For me, that's the moment the song transcends to excellence. As a man telling a woman to respect herself, Jennings has already taken an unusual (for hip-hop) position. Then he steps aside so a woman can speak. This gives the song depth of perspective, suggesting Jennings has the humility both to share the spotlight and admit he doesn't know everything.

The relatively dynamic music, then, gets bolstered by thinking that evolves over the course of the song. "S.E.X." escapes the droning hum of sameness.

Given Jennings' history, that's not surprising. While serving a prison sentence for arson, he says he was deeply influenced by the spiritually questing music of Erykah Badu. His artistic approach involves vulnerability, emotions, and singing in a really odd falsetto.

Now I'm not saying that hip-hop doesn't get interesting until it gets sensitive. But sensitivity certainly helps "S.E.X." become an interesting song. And I am happy to put it in my regular rotation.


20 August 2006

And just where IS your London Bridge, young lady?

Thank goodness I'm back! I've missed you all so much! For a week, I couldn't get my blog to work. Something crazy happened with the transfer to new Blogger software, and in my effort to switch over, I accidentally created a new...

Well, it doesn't matter. I'm back.

And now that I'm here, I need us to consider something very important.

Where the hell is a lady's London Bridge? Because a lot of Americans seem to know. After all, we the people have sent Fergie's song "London Bridge" to number one on the Billboard singles chart.

At first, the chorus seems to make sense. It's apparently a coy reference to a woman's... um... hoo-hah. But take a second to really consider these lyrics:

How come every time you come around
My London, London Bridge want to go down

Like London, London, London
Wanna go down like
London London London

See what I mean? It's sort of apparent what the song is about, but not really. Which part of Fergie's body operates like a bridge? Because there's something really wrong with her if she's got an organ that moves that way. Or if she isn't talking about a bridge raising and lowering, is she referring to "London Bridge is falling down?" As in collapsing in a flaming wreck? Because that's not sexy.

(And also? This song is a total rip-off of "Hollaback Girl." But I digress.)

Of course, Fergie has made something of a career out of nonsense sex songs. As a member of the Black Eyed Peas, she helped bring the world "My Humps," a song whose video mesmerized my former roommate and me for weeks. (All those bored-looking women in skimpy shorts on motorcycles! How can they be so disinterested and yet so skanky?)

Now granted, the chorus to "My Humps"can be understood in a jiffy. "My humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps." 'Nuff said.

But the bridge of this song? Consider this nugget from Black Eyed Pea will.i.am :

Mix your milk with my cocoa puff
Milky, milky cocoa puff

Mix your milk with my cocoa puff

Milky, milky riiiiiiight...

A few months ago, my friend Adam blogged about not understanding this part of the song. (Scroll down this post to find his analysis and see a picture of me looking cute). At first I resisted, but now I agree.

On one hand, if will.i.am is a man talking to a woman, then the sexual parallels of his words are all backward.

On the other hand, if he's speaking in the voice of a woman who is seducing a man--which I think is what he's doing--then it's still weird. Milk? Sure. Semen. But what's a woman's "cocoa puff?" Is it... um... hair? Because that's all I can think of that might make sense.

But why would you sing about that? Isn't a woman a tease if she wants to stop hooking up when you reach her "cocoa puff?" Does she merit her own song?

In both "London Bridge" and "My Humps," the attempt at cleverness gets in the way of sense, which undermines the cleverness being sought.

Kelis' "Milkshake"--to borrow an example from this week's Entertainment Weekly--is a much more successful coy-but-sexy song. When she sings, "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard," you can actually understand that she means jiggling her bosoms. (Or "buzz-ooms," to quote my grandfather.)

The clarity makes the song more fun. It helps us know what to jiggle when we're literally intepreting the lyrics on a dance floor. With the Fergie tracks? You just have to shake something and hope for the best.

Of course, the beats are still good, so maybe the best answer is to stop thinking and keep dancing.

Then we don't have wonder why Fergie added an erroneous "t" to the title of her upcoming album, "The Dutchess."

Instead, we can just put milk on our cocoa puffs until our London-London-Londons go down.

P.S.--The photo below is of the original London Bridge, which is now in Lake Havasu, Arizona. Love those wacky facts!

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12 August 2006

I can't stop editing The Smiths

Hello everyone...

If you read my post about The Smiths before 6 PM on Saturday, August 12, you may want to give it another glance. I did some heavy editing, trying to clarify and deepen the ideas.

Self-publishing means nothing's ever finished, I suppose.

But now I'm finished with The Smiths post.

I swear.



10 August 2006

Discovering The Smiths in 2006

I know what you're thinking.

"Mark, how did someone who purports to have his finger on the pulse... nay, on the carotid artery of all things musical and hip manage to make it to 2006 without ever hearing The Smiths? Did you sign a contract? Did you lose a bet? Did you spend the eighties and nineties living in a tree in order to keep it from being cut down, thereby losing access to record stores?"

Well, obviously not, you guys. If I were the kind of person who would live in a tree, I would already know The Smiths' music.

And it's not like I didn't know them at all. Even growing up in Chattanooga, I still had access to Rolling Stone and MTV, so my cultural studies let me know that Morrissey (or, "The Moz") was an influential rock star. Even though I hit adolescence after The Smiths broke up, I did buy the cassette single of Morrissey's solo hit "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get." I liked the somber tunefulness. I also liked that Moz posed on the single's back cover with his shirt open. Rowr!

Here's what that glancing knowledge led me to believe about The Smiths' music:

*It's the suicide soundtrack for fashion-conscious teens

*It's the slowest, saddest music in the world. Like, slower and sadder than Mazzy Star.

Then one fateful day, Andrew and I were driving to Vermont (no, not Montreal), and he was on his iPod DJ shift. He played this catchy number that I quite liked. "What is this?" I asked.

"It's 'Ask' by The Smiths," he reported, "I loved them in middle school!"

Andrew explained that he especially loved a line from the song "Unloveable" that said, "I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside." "That one line crystallizes what the Smiths are all about," he said.

I figured this proved my assumptions about the group, but I was intrigued by this catchy "Ask."
I asked (tee hee) Andrew to tell me more. He said he'd burn me a copy of "Louder than Bombs," which pulls together a lot of their singles and rarities.

Now that I've heard the album several times, I have a brand new take on The Moz and Co.

Herewith... Mark's New Thoughts on The Smiths

First off, "Louder Than Bombs" is instantly accessible. The music has more hooks than a bait shop. I'd describe much of it as fun. There are ballads and sorrowful numbers, but tracks like "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" and "London"are mosh-ready punk. Meanwhile, "Sheila Take a Bow" joins "Ask" as a danceable number the Go-Gos might enjoy.

And with a few exceptions, even the slower cuts aren't as slow as I'd expected. Mid-tempo songs like "William, It Was Really Nothing" recall 10,000 Maniacs or The Posies--rich, textured music whose drum-heavy rhythm feels alive.

I can also hear that The Smiths have influenced everyone from The Maniacs to Gin Blossoms to Snow Patrol (if you've been reading this blog, you know that's good news to me.). But I'd argue that many of them have taken the band's sound and tidied it up a bit. Structurally, songs on "Louder than Bombs" tend toward ragged turns. "Sweet and Tender Hooligan," for instance, starts out tightly controlled, but it ends in near-chaos. Morrissey howls, the pitch kicks up, guitar strings get furiously slapped. An emotional voyage has occurred.

It's a voyage that happens on almost every track on the album. Better still, no journey is the same. Each track has a distinct tone--often different from the one just before it--but the band feels comfortable of a range of styles. Morrissey's voice proves especially fluid. True, it never loses its weeping quality, but he sculpts his instrument to fit the emotional needs of whatever song he's singing. With a lesser performer, self-deprecating songs like "Half a Person" and "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" might be sung the same way. Moz, however, has versatility. The former track has a low-pitched, extended-syllable weariness. On the latter, the vocal is lighter, the words just barely glanced upon. Higher in his register, Morrissey sounds more bemused than defeated. Same vocalist, different persona.

Yet the lyrics to these lively and varied anthems are just as bleak as I'd imagined them to be. Snow Patrol may have dark phrases, but they can't compete with gems like these...

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour, but heaven knows I'm miserable now

I know I'm unloveable. You don't have to tell me. I don't have much in my life.

Oh yes, you can kick me, and you can punch my face, but you won't change the way I feel.

If I had discovered this album when I was an angsty teenager with a taste for poetry, I would have held it up like Excelsior in the sun. Finally, a band that understands my pain!

But now that I don't feel black on the inside? I wonder how serious the agony really is. The lyrics are so hyperbolically morose--and they often contrast so completely with the music that accompanies them--I feel like "Louder Than Bombs" could be an album's worth of irony. Does Morrissey really mean all this, or is he commenting on the type of narcissism that would allow someone to believe their personal heartbreak is tragic?

Or is it both?

That blurred line makes the music even more intriguing. This is a record with a secret or two. This is music that can speak to us or entertain us. We're allowed to choose.

I choose both. Next time Andrew and I are on a road trip, I'm going to cue up a few Smiths tunes myself.


09 August 2006

Glory be! It's the free iTunes download!

Yet again this week, the free iTunes download is a great song. Who doesn't need the occasional dose of tuneful balladry, particularly when it includes phrases like "boy, don't be afraid to shake that ass?" No one!

That's right. No one.

And that's where "Sewn," by British quintet The Feeling, suits me well. (See how "sewn" and suits" go together? I was just watching Project Runway. Go Michael! Love the Pam Grier!)

Anyway, The Feeling. Listen closely to "Sewn." It sounds like the best Sheryl Crow song ever recorded, if Sheryl Crow were a winsome British man. (And marrying Lance Armstrong doesn't count. Just because he wins prizes in Europe doesn't mean he's British, y'all).

But no matter who they sound like, I never would've heard The Feeling if the folks at iTunes didn't hurl some freebies at me every Tuesday.

So here's a fun game for everyone with that omnipresent Apple software. What are the best songs you've discovered through the "Single of the Week" and "Discovery Download" features? The worst? Here are mine...

Best iTunes Freebies

"Over My Head (Cable Car)" by The Fray -- Now a hit single. Great lite-rock.

"Andromeda Liberata" by Andrea Marcon, etc. -- I almost never listen to classical music, but this medley of baroque duets thrills me. (At least, I think it's baroque. I should ask Andrew.)

"Something More" by Sugarland -- As you know, I was a hater. Now I'm a lover.

"Breathe (2 AM)" by Anna Nalick -- Overplayed now, but the lyrics are still lovely.

"Freedom Fighters" by The Music -- I'll say it again, you guys. PLEASE go listen to this band. Especially if you like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand.

"Don't Stop" by Lateef & the Chief -- This excellent bit of rap-soul is one of the most positive hip-hop songs I've heard in years. All about female empowerment, but also a reminder that women shouldn't treat all men like they're pigs. Plus, the flow is so damn smooth. (NOTE: If you're seeking this on iTunes, make sure you type "&" instead of "and")

"Mama's Room" by Under the Influence of Giants -- But you knew that already.

Worst iTunes Freebie

To be fair, I don't download the ones that sound like crap. But of the free songs I HAVE downloaded, the one with the shortest shelf life has been "Steady as She Goes" by The Raconteurs. Jack White, man. I love some of his stuff--the Loretta Lynn collaboration and the White Stripes' "White Blood Cells"--and some of it sounds hopelessly smug as it references earlier musical styles. This song sounds like it has massive air quotes around it... never a moment of genuine passion. That's okay for a few listens, but it wears out its welcome. Then it's back to the Pussycat Dolls for me! (Kidding.) (Kind of.) (Well, Pussycat Dalls in rotation with baroque classical.)

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03 August 2006

I could get obsessed with these songs...

MTV should really play videos. LOGO does. And thanks to LOGO's video show, I just heard three great new songs. (Especially the third song on this list. You'll see what I mean.)

I also heard "SexyBack" from Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. I can live happily without ever hearing it again. C'mon, Justin! True, anything you do right now will get attention, but don't just phone it in with this formulaic crap! Don't give me vocals distorted by a computer like you're Cher in 1999! Don't give me breathy cooing on top of a tuneless beat!

Give me a melody. Give me actual singing. Give me something on par with "Rock Your Body!"

Enough about the bad news. Here are three songs worth checking out. Click on the title to hear a sample.

(1) "Mama's Room" by Under the Influence of Giants

I actually downloaded this in June, when it was the iTunes free single of the week, but it slipped off my radar. Now it's back. For those who can't wait for the fall release of the new Scissor Sisters album, this track will provide an equal dose of glam rock fun. You even get a coy collusion of sex and motherhood, a la the Sisters' "Take Your Mama." Nobody said a pop song had to be original to be fun, you guys. I'll take a good knock-off anyday, especially when it's as hummably cool as this. My booty doesn't know about originality. It just knows to shake.

(2) "Cheated Hearts" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

I've been hearing about this band for several years. How could I not? Entertainment Weekly devotes at least two column inches to them every week. While I liked "Maps" and "Gold Lion" well enough, I was never more than a fan at a distance. This tune pulls me closer. It would sound perfect on a mix that includes Siouxsie and the Banshees and Shakespear's Sister: sonically dense, haunted by the lead singer's cool remove, and happy to deliver an amazing chorus. Why fight it?

(3) "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)" by Cobra Starship (featuring a whole bunch of other people)

I'm not kidding. The theme to the century's most ironically appreciated movie just happens to be rock-awesome.

Trying to cook up the perfect jam? You'll need the following: Massive, sing-along chorus. Non-sequitur cursing. Dirty guitar licks. Perfectly timed use of backing female vocals.

And a rap breakdown after the second chorus, suckas.

"Snakes on a Plane" has all of the above.

Plus, it opens with Samuel L. Jackson talking about the motherf***ing snakes on the motherf***ing plane.

And on Cobra Starship's MySpace page? There's picture of him singer holding Gizmo from The Gremlins. I think it's a "him" and not a "them." The people are just guests from other groups, I think.

Like it matters. The important thing is that this song joins "Ain't No Other Man" as the absolute best sonic experience I've had all summer. Color me obsessed.


01 August 2006

The Third Level of Hell

Okay, everyone. Take a deep breath, count to ten, let it out. Now you're ready to read this.

There are obvious horrors about Meat Loaf returning with a third installment of "Bat Out of Hell." One is that we will probably be subjected to more flop-sweat and comas as he succumbs to the stage fright that almost felled him when he performed with Katherine McPhee on "American Idol."

Look at that photo. He isn't healthy. Can we handle watching him crash and burn?

The next horror is that we must endure even more songs--with 87-word titles and 4 hour running times--by Jim Steinman.

Whoa! Hold up.

Before you get all crazy on me, let me say that I do like quite a few of Mr. Steinman's baroque ditties. How can you not love "Total Eclipse of the Heart," both Bonnie Tyler original flavor and Nikki French with extra remixes? The first "Bat Out of Hell" has grandeur. And I was a freshman in high school when "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" was always on the radio, so that one gets bonus points for nostalgia.

But come on. A little Steinman goes a long way, and I think we've got enough to last. You can only hear so many of his hysterically overblown creations before the ironic glee turns into a need for silence. Especially later Steinman, when he gets even more self-indulgent. Perfect case in point? "Dance of the Vampires." On Broadway for five seconds. (Go cry with Elton, Jim. Vampires don't work in musicals)

One of the worst things about "Dance of the Vampires" was that it desecrated the legacy of a great single by turning "Total Eclipse of the Heart" into a production number. FOUL BALL!

And if you look closely at the info about "Bat III," you'll see that Steinman's doing it again. With Meat Loaf's help. The Billboard writer buries it in his story, but the sheer wickedness of the fact leaps out.

I quote: "A video for the Jim Steinman-penned 'It's All Coming Back to Me Now,' which features up-and-coming vocalist Marion Raven, will premiere Aug. 12 on VH1."

Yes, that's right. Meat Loaf is covering a song originally recorded by Celine Dion. Is my head exploding? Did self-seriousness take over the room? Because the only people I can think of who exist with more bombastic melodrama than Celine Dion are Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf, and Elizabeth Taylor. If Liz shows up in this video, I'm moving to Iceland for good.

Worse yet, I actually like the Celine version. It's one of the good Steinmans, written like the Act I closer of a great musical (you know, a musical that isn't "Dance of the Vampires.") Celine's over-the-top singing and utter lack of irony are a perfect fit for the material, which features lines like "When you kiss me like this/And I kiss you like that/It's so hard to resist/And it's all coming back to me now."

I can remember my friend Cheryl and I driving to high school in our senior year and just singing the crap out of that song. And my roommate in grad school and I wrote this entire stage show based on it. The show involved a Celine impostor in a torn wedding dress, rising out of a trap door as a single white lily fell from the ceiling to warn her beau that this lady was a fake. It was awesome, campy fun.

And really, camp is what makes Steinman work. It's what made Meat Loaf work a few decades ago. It's why Celine Dion, with her Vegas stage show, is a miracle I would love to behold.

But Meat Loaf is no longer campy. Like "Dance of the Vampires," he's crested over into desperation. Watching someone fall apart is only fun when the person seems in control of his madness. Look at that picture up there. Meat Loaf is not in control.

Yet this is what he's doing with himself. Potentially staining the legacy of a good song.

Of course, I haven't heard the "Coming Back" cover. Maybe it's great. But I feel like this "Marion Raven" person had better get ready to catch some fainting Meat.