Thursday, August 28, 2008

Matthew Good Band - "Beautiful Midnight"

"Beautiful Midnight" by Matthew Good Band is quite literally the best album no one remembers. Even though this album was a hit in Canada and they won two Juno awards (Canada's equivalent of the Grammys), it never quite caught on in the US. I remember some of their videos off this album being played on the now-defunct TV channel MuchMusic (now Fuse), which was a Canadian channel.

The music ranges on this album from slow, ethereal, and haunting to pounding and visceral. It showcases the versatility of the musicians. It is unapologetically hard rock music, yet it stands above many of their peers at the time due to the lyrics.

The lyrics stand firm as commentary on society, although at face value they could also describe romantic relationships or friendships gone wrong. "The Future Is X-Rated" attacks the disposable nature of the world today with lyrics such as "And now they've got drive through/And a video store where there used to be real live actors." Matthew Good snarls the lyrics through some kind of computerized synthesizer, adding a more menacing aspect to his words.

Interestingly, the title of each track on this album lists a specific time of the day before the name of the song, such as "06:00 PM Hello Time Bomb".

Track listing of the Canadian (original) version from 1999:

1. 05:00 PM Giant
2. 06:00 PM Hello Time Bomb
3. 07:00 PM Strange Days
4. 08:00 PM I Miss New Wave
5. 09:00 PM Load Me Up
6. 10:00 PM Failing The Rorschach Test
7. 11:00 PM Suburbia
8. 12:00 AM Let's Get It On
9. 01:00 AM Jenni's Song
10. 02:00 AM Going All The Way
11. 03:00 AM A Boy And His Machine Gun
12. 04:00 AM The Future Is X-Rated
13. 05:00 AM Born To Kill
14. Sun Up Running For Home

Some tracks included were different on the US version, released in 2001, the song "Deep Six" replaced "I Miss New Wave" and "Everything Is Automatic" replaced "Going All The Way". Also the song "Apparitions" replaced "Let's Get It On."

The song "Everything Is Automatic", much in the vein of "The Future Is X-Rated", criticizes the "skin-deep" view of society today: "Down a hole, up a rope/Down some pills, up some hope/This karma machine only takes quarters/New age soldier, new age soldier." I wonder if this album didn't catch on in America because it criticizes the shallow lifestyle so many are content to live. As a nation, we stereotypically enjoy gossip magazines, reality shows, and McDonald's, not post-modern critiques of a greedy society. It also may be the album's release date in America (2001) that doomed it. Songs such as "God Bless The USA" and Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" - in other words, patriotic songs - were quite popular towards the end of the year, after September 11th, and rightfully so. At that period in time, people might not have wanted to hear criticism from musicians. "Beautiful Midnight" was certainly not the hopeful message the country wanted - and needed to hear.

The album is actually phenomenal from start to finish, but the stand out tracks are "Hello Time Bomb", "Strange Days", "Suburbia", "Jenni's Song", and "The Future Is X-Rated". It's certainly worth a listen.

And maybe now, at a period in time where people are dissatisfied with the current government, the message of "Beautiful Midnight" may actually resonate more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" & the male gaze

Katy Perry's song "I Kissed A Girl" has spent an impressive seven weeks in a row at number one this summer. Of course, similar feats have been accomplished by decidedly catchy but unimpressive songs like "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain (which spent 10 weeks at #1) and the infamous "Macarena" which spent a shocking 14 weeks at #1.

This song is incredibly catchy, that part is undeniable. It has just the right amount of computer-enhanced vocals to make it a hit, but just enough of Katy's voice to make her credible. I like the song well enough. Katy herself seems to be a mix of cute and tough, and she seemed likeable in her performance and hurried interview on The View recently. The small amount of controversy the song has generated probably has only added to its popularity (see Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus for example). But listening to it for the hundredth time today got me thinking:

Would this song be anywhere near as popular if it was a man singing about another man?

I believe the answer is no. The song comes off as sort of a bi-curious ode that fits in well with the Tila Tequila/MTV culture of 2008. But what if Tila Tequila were a guy? Would MTV's show have attracted the ratings it did and been brought back for a second (and possibly third) season? Would men and women have found the show so addicting as they did?

My point is: being lesbian seems to be more widely accepted than being gay. Katy Perry (an attractive girl) singing about kissing another girl "just to try it" helps fuel the ever-present male fantasy that two of their female friends might just start making out in the corner of the next grungy bar during one of those "heart-to-hearts" women always seem to be having. If a similar song called "I Kissed A Boy" about two men came on the radio, most men would cringe, as if to assert their hetero-status (in case you missed it the first time).

Jill Sobule (mostly known for the song "Supermodel" off the Clueless Soundtrack) had a mild hit in 1995 with a song called "I Kissed A Girl" (no similarity in music or lyrics to the Katy Perry song). The interesting thing is that both songs romanticize relationships with a female for their difference from relationships with men. Both songs emphasize the soft lips and skin of a woman, and the forbidden yet oh-so-right feeling of kissing a woman. Yet while dismissing and almost badmouthing men, these songs play into male who wins in the end?

Diamond Rings obsolete in the Music Industry

It is evident that long gone are the years of the Diamond album.

A Diamond album is one certified ten times platinum (10 million copies) by the RIAA. There are (by my count) 42 albums released in the 1990's that have achieved this status, as varied as Tom Petty & the Heartbreaker's Greatest Hits, the Titanic Soundtrack, and Kenny G's "Breathless". However, it is interesting to note that the two biggest sellers of the 1990's are both country albums: Garth Brooks' "Double Live" (21 million) and Shania Twain's "Come On Over" (20 million).

By contrast, in this decade, there are only 7 albums so far that have reached Diamond notification. One of these albums is the Beatles' incredibly popular "1" album, a 2002 compilation of all their #1 hits. In this sense, it is a compilation of previously released music that appeals to Beatles fans of all generations, not music that is a product of the changing trends of the new millennium. Also, these albums were all released in 2003 or earlier, with the majority from the year 2000 (Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again", NSYNC's "No Strings Attached", and Linkin Park's "Hybrid Theory"). These albums all appeal to a younger pop/rock audience and they were a continuance of the mid-to-late 90's teen pop trend. While Linkin Park was not a boy band or teen pop star, they had undeniable appeal to a similarly aged audience as those other groups (thus I include them in the trend). Rounding out the 7 albums are Shania Twain's "Up" (2002), Outkast's "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" (2003) and Norah Jones's "Come Away With Me" (2002). These three albums really have nothing discernible in common except for the fact that they all produced hit crossover singles.

Now it is 2008 and digital downloads seem to be the way of the future.
Physical album sales have been in decline for years and digital track sales jumped as much as 45 percent from 2006 to 2007 . Britney Spears's new album "Blackout" sold about 880,000 physical copies but the digital downloads off the album amounted to over 3.1 million in sales. Kid Rock interestingly enough, who had a wildly successful album in the late 90's, refuses to sell any of his music on ITunes or other digital music sites. His reasoning is that he wants his fans to experience his album as a whole, not just buy his Top 40 hit song "All Summer Long". His strategy seems to be successful as his album is currently in the Top 10, selling over 90,000 copies in a week where Mariah Carey and Madonna's recent albums only sold about 15,000 combined. Garth Brooks also made a similar statement and refuses to sell his music on Itunes. His recent album Ultimate Hits has sold 5 million copies in less than a year. This may be one of the few recently released album that has a shot at becoming diamond certified.

Yet, this strategy of shunning Itunes and similar websites surely would not be successful to a new artist who does not have an established fan base like Kid Rock or Brooks. New artist Katy Perry would certainly agree with this statement. It is only in the year 2008 that Katy Perry, whose song "I Kissed A Girl" was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for an unprecedented 7 weeks in a row, would NOT have a platinum or even gold album. The single (ostensibly from digital downloads, as singles do not seem to be released physically in the US anymore) has sold 2 million copies however. People seem to be eschewing the album in order to buy the single only.

It makes me wonder how many diamond albums that had a few hit singles but mostly filler tracks would have not gone diamond if released after the year 2003. How many of the 17 million people who bought the Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 would have simply downloaded "I Will Always Love You" on to their Ipod in 2005?

2 sites I used to help write this entry:

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