Thursday, October 30, 2008

Favorites

Today I decided to make a get-to-the-point list of my favorite songs and albums, just for fun.

Favorite Songs

Bon Jovi (slow): "Always"
fast: "Bad Medicine"

Aerosmith (slow): "Crazy"
(fast): "Love In An Elevator"

Skid Row (slow): "I Remember You"
(fast): "Monkey Business"

Guns 'N Roses (slow): "November Rain"
(fast): "Paradise City"

Carrie Underwood: "Some Hearts"
Taylor Swift: "Should've Said No"

Garth Brooks (slow): "More Than A Memory"
(fast): "Friends In Low Places"

Melissa Etheridge: "Like The Way I Do"
Will Smith: "Wild Wild West"
Matchbox 20: "Back 2 Good"

Bruce Springsteen (slow): "The River"
(fast): "Cover Me"

Favorite Albums

Bruce Springsteen - The River
Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell
Carrie Underwood - Some Hearts
Melissa Etheridge - self titled
Bon Jovi - New Jersey, These Days, Lost Highway
Skid Row - self titled
Britney Spears - Baby One More Time, Oops I Did It Again!
Guns N Roses - Appetite For Destruction, Use Your Illusion II

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Melissa Etheridge - self titled


While driving home last night and listening to Sirius station #15 Classic Rewind, "Similar Features" by Melissa Etheridge came on the channel. I had absolutely forgotten how much I loved this song and really the entire album. It's from her debut self titled album, released in 1988. Interestingly, I just read that the album as it is sold now was re-recorded in 4 days, as her record label rejected the original cuts of the songs as being too polished.

Absolutely every song on this album is amazing and could have been released as a single. I'm (shockingly) not going to focus on Billboard chart positions or RIAA certifications in this post (although the album went multi-platinum [how vague!] if you're wondering).

Here's the tracklisting:
1. Similar Features
2. Chrome Plated Heart
3. Like The Way I Do
4. Precious Pain
5. Don't You Need
6. The Late September Dogs
7. Occasionally
8. Watching You
9. Bring Me Some Water
10. I Want You

Now that all that technical stuff is out of the way, here's my emotional take on it:

It's a raw, gritty album, packed with the real emotion that so called "singer songwriters" these days wish they could channel. The music itself is powerful, but never overshadows Etheridge's voice - a true instrument in itself for the way she can growl out a phrase or alternately sound completely vunerable. "Occasionally" relies mostly on Etheridge's voice as the only accompanying music is a percussion beat. Songs like "Watching You" are richly textured and evoke a clear picture of a cold night in which the subject of the song looks up at their lover's window (and pave the way for future songs like "An Unusual Kiss").

"Like The Way I Do" is the standout track on an album of standout tracks. It's a story of jealousy, desperation, and love that is unashamed. There is something very visceral about this song that I think resonated with many people - including me (way back in the year 2000... to the point where I still consider this one of the songs that defined me most at a certain time in my life). "Similar Features" is a song of similar subject material...

Go on and close your eyes
Go on imagine me there
She's got similar features with longer hair
And if that's what it takes to get you through
Close your eyes, it shouldn't bother you

The lyrics are just as intense on songs like "Bring Me Some Water" and "Don't You Need". What helps this album to succeed is a thread running between all the songs - they fit together almost like puzzle pieces of a story. "I Want You" is the tale of a one night stand in which one person refuses to acknowledge the former lover - a song incredibly chilling, the lyrics those that stay with you for a very long time.

This album is certainly almost completely forgotten by now, except by Etheridge fans who should count it as one of her best. Sadly on her 2005 greatest hits album, although three of the songs were included, they were all "remixed", whatever that means. Isn't it clear that the real power of these songs lies in the emotions laid bare in the lyrics, the tone, the music itself?

Out of the 4 Etheridge albums I own (self-titled, "Yes I Am", "Your Little Secret", and "Skin"), this one is the best.

The best compliment perhaps I can give the album is that 20 years later, it still retains its power, intensity, and sense of urgency.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2008: Single Reviews


Fall Out Boy - "I Don't Care"


This song is incredibly catchy, although like every other new song - the chorus gets a little repetitive by the end of the songs. Typical - but great - Fall Out Boy lyrics add some punch. It's truly unfortunate that Fall Out Boy are such sub-par live performers, as their studio recordings are so good. It's hard to predict how this song will perform on the charts [the only stat I could find was that it has hit #35 on the Canadian Hot 100] - but does it even matter? Their rabid fans will eat it up immediately, and they're probably guaranteed a #1 album debut when the album is released Dec. 16. It was pushed back from the original Nov. 4/Election Day release due to an esoteric statement from Pete Wentz....I'm sure their fans are angry about it. "These friends, they don't love you/They just love the hotel suites now"...this song is either a commentary on a specific individual or the state of Hollywood starlets in general. "I don't care what you think/as long as it's about me/The best of us can find happiness in misery" sings Patrick Stump, in what could easily be the egotist's anthem for a generation.




David Archuleta - "Crush"

This song seems to have already hit its peak with a week at #2, probably largely due to digital sales. Aren't all chart positions largely due to digital sales these days anyway? Archuleta has crafted a sweet ballad that could easily find a home on Radio Disney and the Adult Contemporary type charts. It appeals to both pre-teen and teen listeners, and probably also moms (who loved Clay Aiken!) "Is it real or just another crush?" Archuleta sings with such earnestness we have to believe him. It's a cute - but bland - song that comes off as a little generic, and the equally generic video won't help much either. But Archuleta is adorable and he will likely do well in the future with his debut album.




David Cook - "Light On"

This song is co-written by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. I think this is a good first single for Cook, although it is very Daughtry-esque. Cook has a great voice and will most likely go on to be a great success, particularly if he writes his own music or lyrics. He could also translate that into writing for other artists which is usually lucrative. "Try to leave a light on when I’m gone/Something I rely on to get home/One I can feel at night," sings Cook. However, having watched Cook the entire season on American Idol, from the auditions to the finale, I feel he could have done more with a first single. It could have been a little bolder, a little more daring..."Light On" is playing it safe by sticking to the "Home"/"What About Now/"Feels Like Tonight" type song made so popular by Daughtry lately. Speaking of Daughtry, I think he has released 5 singles off that album!! Pretty unusual for an act these days, unless you are Rihanna. Then there is not a week that goes by without a single of yours in the Top 10.



T.I. - "Whatever You Like"

"Stacks on deck/Patron no ice/We could pop bottles all night/And baby you could have whatever you like", raps T.I. in his typical well-enunciated (comparatively) style. The song is basically an ode to giving a girl whatever she wants, whether it involves private jets around the world or Patron with no ice or "stacks on deck"...whatever that means. Hey, sounds good to me. It's catchy and vaguely features female background vocals during the chorus. Bottom line, it's probably one of T.I.'s best songs.

The song has already hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and set a record for largest jump to number one in one week (from #71 to #1)...a record he later broke a few weeks later with his single "Live Your Life" (featuring OF COURSE Rihanna) which jumped from #80 to #1. (Britney broke the record this week with a jump from #96-1.) I think these large jumps are completely influenced by digital sales (most people like to buy the song on Itunes the week it is released obviously...the week prior the chart standings were based solely on airplay, then the next week airplay + digital sales = huge jump in chart position.

"Whatever You Like" by T.I. is not to be confused with "Whatever U Like" (a song by the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls featuring T.I.) or the recent Weird Al parody of the song, also titled "Whatever You Like". Just a warning.




Monday, October 13, 2008

If I Was Your Vampire



After watching the full length trailer for the "Max Payne" movie (which coincidentally is playing on TV as I write this) I was enthralled by the song playing in the background. On a side note, "Max Payne" looks like a bigger budget rip off of "The Crow" (which will forever be associated with Brandon Lee's tragic death on the set...but what a performance, what a legacy he left everyone with...one of the most haunting and visceral movies I have ever seen, it is amazing).

The song is a little known Marilyn Manson track called "If I Was Your Vampire" off a CD he released last year (that was released to little fanfare, as I hadn't heard anything about it, and it only sold 200,000 copies).

A link to watch a fan made video with the song in the background (the song's video is mysteriously not on YouTube): http://video.yahoo.com/watch/602387/2902908

Anyway, the song is gorgeous. It's dark and deep, and not exactly earthshattering material from Marylin Manson (who has done the same sort of thing with "Coma White" and "Coma Black")...but it is incredibly haunting. It's the type of song that shakes you to your very soul and resonates with you long after you've heard it. The type of song you'd listen to in the dark while running your fingers over a tattered photograph, the light of candles flickering in the background.

And something about me thinks it would be perfect for Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular Twilight series. If Twilight had a little more bite. Oh haha I am so funny! (For anyone living under a rock, the Twilight series is comprised of 4 novels that have sold millions of copies. The plot can be reduced to a love story between a teenage girl and a chillingly seductive vampire.) But the Twilight saga is a bit too PG rated for a song as brutal as this one, and that bothers me. I wish it was perfect for Twilight, but Twilight skims over the blood lust that has made vampire novels/movies/songs/stories so alluring for so many centuries.

"If I was your vampire, certain as the moon,
Instead of killing time,
We'll have each other until the sun.
If I was your vampire,
Death waits for no one.
Hold my hands across your face,
Because I think our time has come."

"You press the knife against your heart
And say, 'I love you so much you must kill me now'"

God, it is chilling. This song is much more suited to Anne Rice's incredible Vampire Chronicles series ("Interview With The Vampire", "The Vampire Lestat", "Queen of The Damned")...and by that I mean the BOOKS, not the movies. Or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in its darker moments, of which there were many.

Even though I love the Twilight series, I have to say that they are a little too tame for my taste, but they clearly appeal to the market to which they were written for. The above two "Twilight" posters were fan made, the actual movie poster is below....doesn't Bella look 13?? Tsk tsk, that movie poster looks cuddly in comparison to the above two.


I'm glad that "If I Was Your Vampire" is getting the attention it deserves after being included in the "Max Payne" trailer. If only it had been written 15 years ago, so it could have been on the already amazing "The Crow" soundtrack.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Guns' N Roses: Appetite For Destruction (Album Review)


I read on "Ask Billboard" today that "Appetite for Destruction" by Guns 'N Roses has surpassed Boston's self-titled album as best selling debut album of all time. Previously the RIAA had certified Appetite at 15 million copies, and Boston's album at 17 million, but just recently on September 23rd, "Appetite" was certified at an astonishing 18 million copies sold...and that's just in the US.

That's incredible. And what's more incredible is that this album is still selling, without the band touring today or even still existing. (I do not count Axl's weird version of GNR as the band existing...does anyone?? It really should be called Axl Rose is a Wacko...but that doesn't sound too catchy does it?)

Here's the tracklisting:

"Appetite for Destruction" (released July 1987)
1. Welcome to the Jungle 4:34
2. It's So Easy 3:23
3. Nightrain 4:29
4. Out Ta Get Me 4:24
5. Mr. Brownstone 3:49
6. Paradise City 6:46
7. My Michelle 3:40
8. Think About You 3:52
9. Sweet Child O'Mine 5:56
10. You're Crazy 3:17
11. Anything Goes 3:26
12. Rocket Queen 6:14

Sweet Child O'Mine was a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit, "Welcome to the Jungle"went to #7, and "Paradise City" went to #5. And of course, the whole album went to #1, in both 1988 and 1990.

Even "Nightrain" (which I don't believe was officially released as a single) went to #93 on the Hot 100 and #26 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

But my point is, many of these songs get played on rock radio - 21 years later - even if they weren't released as singles. Because any of them could have been a single. Because they were just that good.

"Appetite" has been listed on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the Rolling Stone Best Albums of the 1980's, VH1's Greatest Albums of All Time, Q's 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time, and #1 on Kerrang's 100 Greatest Rock Albums Ever.

Songs like "Rocket Queen" and "Paradise City" are epics in and of themselves, rock anthems that still strike a chord today. "Anything Goes" and "Nightrain" are hard-hitting, like a 1-2 punch, fast and furious blasters of songs. "Sweet Child O'Mine" is a ballad - featuring a killer guitar intro - that allowed GNR to attract female rock fans while not alienating their male audience. "Mr. Brownstone" is sort of the sleeper hit on this album that should have been a single. Or maybe that's "Rocket Queen".

This was the album that catapulted GNR to stardom - for better or worse - and perhaps their only true "perfect" album. Lies, being an EP of half live songs, is hard to look at as a true GNR album. Same problem with "The Spaghetti Incident" because it is a mostly forgotten full-length album of cover songs (some of which are genius..."You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory", "Since I Don't Have You" and "Buick McKane/Big Dumb Sex" stand out as the best tracks).

Use Your Illusion I and II are magnificent, but there are flaws, as you could imagine that an album that took several years to complete might have. It seems as though the scope of Axl's vision was so wide it was hard to live up to in reality. The albums are incredible, but missteps like "My World" throw them off. (I am still hostile about the inclusion of this song of Axl psychobabble being included on II. According to Wikipedia, the other members of the band didn't even know about this song until it showed up on the album.) They ended up selling 7 million copies each anyway.

There's something about "Appetite" that's raw, it's actually dangerous, not just an imitation of it. "Use Your Illusion" doesn't have that same raw feeling, it's more polished, although it's evident that the band didn't lose their edge in the recording of it.

All in all, "Appetite For Destruction" is an incredible album...one that changed the face of rock 'n roll at the time period and continues to influence both rock fans and musicians today.

Everyone should own it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Women In Music

Getting away from my commentary on the music industry, I decided I would review some of the newest songs by women being released to radio and discuss their likelihood of success.


Britney Spears - "Womanizer"

Arguably, this single is the most buzzed about of any released recently. Will Britney be able to finally make a comeback? This very well might be the song that allows her to do just that. It's repetitive but a little less so than "Gimme More" (the first single off her last album "Blackout"). It slinks along with a dance beat you'd expect to hear at an underground club. Britney's vocals are - as usual - computer-enhanced but she does seem to be singing with a bit more emotion than the Blackout album where her love songs were sung in the same manner as songs about sex in the back of a dingy club. (Or at least that was the image I got from them.) "Womanizer" is a bit more sassy, it's the sound of Britney standing up for herself. From the buzz surrounding this song, I say it makes Top 40 easily, and ends up Top 10.

Prediction: #2
Actual position (as of Oct. 15): #1...making a record jump from a #96 debut to #1, the highest one week jump to #1 EVER



Taylor Swift - "Love Story"

This single has already hit #5 on the Hot 100 (although this week it falls to #9 in its third week) so no predictions for its success here. I'm impressed that Swift has translated her country stardom into Hot 100 success. It's actually very difficult for country artists to crack the Hot 100, although clearly not for rappers who seem to dominate that chart lately. Swift's song is sweet and romantic, and her yearning vocal grows on the listener. This song is a Romeo and Juliet inspired tale of teenage love, because every teenager feels their love life is as dramatic as Shakespeare's play. I like this song and I like that Taylor writes or co-writes all of her songs. That's very impressive for a girl who just graduated high school!

Prediction: Peak at #5
As of Oct. 14, "Love Story" is at #13, falling from the #9 spot...meaning my prediction of peaking at #5 is likely to hold.



Katy Perry - "Hot N Cold"

This song is oddly catchy, although it honestly just lists opposites and makes them into a chorus (hot/cold, yes/no, up/down, in/out, wrong/right, black/white). This song has already hit #6 on the Hot 100. The question is will it make it to #1 like Perry's last single "I Kissed A Girl"? My bet is no. The song is stylistically very similar to "I Kissed A Girl" yet it lacks that lyrical flirtatiousness that benefited Perry the last time around. It also doesn't have the shock value that propelled the last song to the top of the charts. Yet "Hot N Cold" is a fun song in its own right and clearly has become a hit for Ms. Perry, firmly preventing her joining from the #1 Hit Wonder category.

Prediction: #4
As of Oct 14, "Hot N Cold" has peaked at #6.



Leona Lewis - "Better In Time"

This song has peaked at #18 yet I predict Top 10 success for this single. It's far more emotional and personal then the extremely repetitive "Bleeding Love", which actually kind of grossed me out with its discussion of blood and veins. I can actually respect Leona for this song and its message, about healing after a breakup or broken heart. It has a positive message, unlike "Bleeding Love" which always struck me as a pretty weak anthem.

Prediction: #9
As of Oct. 14, "Better In Time" is at a peak of #14, up from #18 the previous week. Looks like my prediction was a little too far reaching.

In a few days, hopefully I'll get around to reviewing some singles by men, like "Crush" by David Archuleta and "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay.