Category Archives: Nostalgia

2015 Favorites (So Far)

Top: Brandon Flowers, Marilyn Manson, Empire Middle: Carly Rae Jepsen, Daniel Johns, Florence + The Machine Bottom: Dr. Dre, Kelly Clarkson, Muse

Top: Brandon Flowers, Marilyn Manson, Empire
Middle: Carly Rae Jepsen, Daniel Johns, Florence + The Machine
Bottom: Dr. Dre, Kelly Clarkson, Muse

A few months ago I thought to myself: “Self, is it 1997 again?”  I was rocking to Marilyn Manson, Blur, Noel Gallagher, and Prodigy…  Timbaland kept my head nodding…  Bjork released something that sounded Homogenic…  (Seriously, all those things happened in 1997 AND now again in 2015.  Whaaaat?)  Yes, I’m aging and nostalgic, but in my defense, my old heroes are still making new music.  As the year progressed, some other familiar faces joined the fray.  I thought 2014 was a huge year (seriously, go back and see how many gigantic — but ultimately disappointing — records were dropped last year) but this year is proving to be stellar.  It’ll be interesting to see who survives until December and how the love-rankings change…  Here goes:

1. Marilyn MansonThe Pale Emperor
This album did not leave my car’s dash for about 2 solid months. A return to form, a concise, tight work from a man who has finally matured and settled into a realistic and content place. Catapulted into my top 5 Manson albums of all time, which is no small feat.
Must: “Deep Six” | “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” | “Devil Beneath My Feet” | “Cupid Carries A Gun”

2. Brandon FlowersThe Desired Effect
Since 2004, Brandon Flowers has been one of my spirit animals.  We’re the same age, and even though our lives are completely different (see: Mormon rock star vs. doubting Catholic nobody), every lyric he writes hits me right where it counts. If this was a Killers album, it’d be my 3rd favorite after Hot Fuss and Battle Born.
Must: “Can’t Deny My Love” | “I Can Change” | “Lonely Town” | “Untangled Love”

3. EmpireOriginal Soundtrack
What. A. Show. Thank God for Timbaland, because this soundtrack is just stacked, start to finish, with absolute bangers that hearken back to a funner, more bombastic time in hip-pop (i.e. Timbaland c. Missy Elliot-era & Timbaland c. JT/Nelly Furtado/2008 glory). The show is so good it could carry these tunes, but they stand on their own.
Must: every single song, except for the Courtney Love/Jennifer Hudson/Mary J. Blige songs… yes I’m serious, the cast can hold their own.

4. Carly Rae JepsenE MO TION
Yeah I’m surprised too.  No idea from what corner of the pop heavens this glorious album descended from, but holy hell, it’s perfect. She deserves more credit and airplay for this. ’80s-tinged gems that are catchy, fun and not the least bit corny. Unfortunately, it seems like this record might get buried by Taylor’s unstoppable 1989 (still got legs!) but she really deserves at least some kind of Tove Lo-level exposure.
Must: “Run Away With Me” | “Emotion” | “Gimme Love” | “Your Type” | “Love Again”

5. Daniel JohnsTalk
I love Silverchair. I love Dissociatives. I love anything Daniel Johns does. Yet I still went into this with some trepidation. In the end, I’m still onboard.  Whereas B.Flow is my Vegas spirit animal, Daniel Johns is my Australian walkabout guide. Produced by Lorde’s guy, it sounds like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean at some points, but it’s all Daniel. The Silverchair fans that never got past Frogstomp (lulz) are so pissed about this, but if you’ve been keeping up with his career, this is a wonderfully logical progression.  Gorgeous.
Must: “We Are Golden” | “By Your Side” | “Cool On Fire” | “Dissolve” | “Chained” | “Faithless”

6. Florence + The MachineHow Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Took a few spins, but the ol’ California spirit finally hit me.  A great breakup album, it has a few bangers.  Not as many as her previous records (Ceremonials is still my fave), but enough to warrant repeat listens.  There are a few slower same-same tracks, but you can easily skip them and jump right to the good stuff.
Must: “Ship To Wreck” | “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” | “Queen of Peace” | “Hiding” | “Make Up Your Mind”

7. Dr. DreCompton
16 years later.  This album is not a singles/hits collection.  It’s not a party record.  It’s a journey through Dre’s history, past and present, coming full circle at the “end” of his career.  It’s exhilarating, heavy, and intense.  It just came out, so I have no doubt that it’ll climb in my rankings by the end of the year.  It’s quite the experience.
Must: “Genocide” | “Loose Cannons” (skip the murder skit at the end… yikes) | “One Shot, One Kill” | “Just Another Day” | “For The Love Of Money”

8. Kelly ClarksonPiece By Piece
Nothing new here, just a solid, adept collection of pop gems from one of the best voices we have today.  We’ve got some Sia collabs, some sappy (but so, so moving) ballads, and one particular banger that should not have used anything dubstep-inflected (so 2012) but that works so well.  One of my favorite songs of the year, “Take You High.”
Must: “Heartbeat Song” | “Invincible” | “Someone” | “Piece by Piece” | “Take You High” | “War Paint”

9. MuseDrones
I’m still on the fence about this one.  It’s tied with The 2nd Law as the worst Muse album ever (doesn’t bode well for our heroes’ trajectory) but it actually has more good songs on it than its predecessor.  So confusing.  That old riff spirit is back and the songs are concise, but when you go back and listen to Origin of Symmetry (which Matt said they were trying to spiritually recapture) it’s really not the same.  Sigh… downward spiral since The Resistance era ended…
Must: “Dead Inside” | “Psycho” | “Reapers” | “The Handler”

10. The ProdigyThe Day Is My Enemy
BOOM!  This is a violent little record.  Even though they’re “electronic,” Prodigy were always more comfortably lumped in with more aggressive and physical rock and metal acts (just look at their live shows).  Their latest is just pure fury. Nothing new here, nothing really to write home about (nothing will ever beat Fat of the Land, even though Invaders Must Die comes really close).  Just a straight-up punch to the face.
Must: “The Day Is My Enemy” | “Nasty” | “Rok-Weiler” | “Rhythm Bomb” | “Get Your Fight On” | “Wall Of Death”

11. Mark RonsonUptown Special
Great background music.  Fun all-around record.  Gets placement here simply for “Daffodils.”  What. A. Song. (there’s also that song with Bruno Mars… maybe you’ve heard it a few times on the radio…)
Must: “Summer Breaking” | “Feel Right” | “Uptown Funk” | “Daffodils” | “In Case of Fire” | “Heavy and Rolling”

12. Big Data2.0
Where’d these guys come from?!  This is one of those albums that can be played at parties from now until the end of time.  Fantastic groovy songs with a wide array of exciting guests (Rivers Cuomo, Dragonette, Kimbra), but nothing beats the glory of “Dangerous,” one of the best songs of the year.
Must: “Business of Emotion” | “Dangerous” | “Clean” | “Snowed In” | “Get Some Freedom” | “Perfect Holiday”

13. BlurThe Magic Whip
Full disclosure: my family is from Hong Kong, where the boys recorded this album. So I came in super biased.  Luckily they deliver. Anything is better (in my book) than 13 and Think Tank.  There’s some of the their old energy here, a lot of solid pop tunes, and a little Gorillaz energy seeping in (“New World Towers” and “Thought I Was A Spaceman”). Happily surprised with how good this turned out.
Must: “Lonesome Street” | “Go Out” | “I Broadcast” | “There Are Too Many Of Us”

14. Tame ImpalaCurrents
By year end, this will probably climb up a few spots.  It’s taken me a few listens to really appreciate the soundscapes.  I was worried about the hype heaped upon this one, but so far, it’s delivering.  Groovy, smooth, super catchy. Ronson’s “Daffodils” was just a taste of what Kevin Parker was up to…  It’s an album of 70s-inspired dreamy space groove.
Must: “Let It Happen” | “The Moment” | “The Less I Know The Better” | “Disciples” | “Cause I’m A Man”

15. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying BirdsChasing Yesterday
I miss Oasis.  You miss Oasis.  Thank God he was the genius behind Oasis because this is basically another album’s worth of perfect Noel tunes.  Nothing too revelatory here, but it’s so familiar and comforting to hear him do what he’s so good at.  With some psychedelia tossed in for good measure.
Must: “Riverman” | “In The Heat of the Moment” | “While The Song Remains The Same” | “Ballad of the Mighty I” | “Revolution Song”

And then we have the “Close but no cigar” ones that kept this from being a “Top 18” list…  they’re awesome albums, but as the year has progressed, they haven’t had the staying power as the 15 above:

1. BjorkVulnicura
It really is a gorgeous, heart-breaking album.  But I’m not in the right place right now and this is NOT what I would consider feelgood stuff.  It’s way too heavy for me right now, despite the moments of beauty and “classic” Bjork that’s shining through.  It’s just too sad.
Must: “Stonemilker” | “Lion Song”

2. Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
This album is great, don’t get me wrong.  And it is home to my favorite song of 2015 (“Pedestrian..” IS BEST).  Her lyrics and delivery are stellar, the songs are cute, but I don’t see this staying in rotation past this year.  Who knows.
Must: “Pedestrian At Best” | “Aqua Profunda!” | “Depreston” | “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”

3. You + Merose ave.
Here simply to give it some exposure and remind myself that there are some gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous tunes on this record (a project from Pink and her guy friend).  “You and Me” and “Unbelievers” are worth the price of admission, but I haven’t listened too thoroughly to the other tracks.  Yet.  This will likely get me through Autumn and Winter, so we’ll see whether it jumps by year end.
Must: “Capsized” | “You and Me” | “Unbeliever”

Bottom 9

Top: The Prodigy, Mark Ronson, Big Data Middle: Blur, Tame Impala, Noel Gallagher’s HFB Bottom: Bjork, Courtney Barnett, you+me

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Review: Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

Hey pal, you've got some cake on your face...

Hey pal, you’ve got some cake on your face…

Take a trip down memory lane with me.  The year is 1995.  I’m watching MTV with my buddy and a video starts.  Some clown covered in bird shit with makeup all over his face is screaming at the camera.

Friend: “Oh shit, this guy is awesome!  You know them?”
Me: “Nope.”
Friend: “This song rules.”
Me, singing along: “...who am I to disagree?
Friend: “I thought you said you didn’t know them?  How do you know this song?”
Me: *rolls eyes*

And so began my absolute love affair with Marilyn Manson.  A year later, I was hunched over a brand new CD acquisition, CD liner booklet filled with depraved, filthy images of decay, perversion, and a guy on his knees, a gas mask on his face, connected to a hose attached to another guy’s crotch.  This was serious fucked-up shit.  I still remember the fresh smell of that booklet, the newly-opened CD fragrance that gives me Ratatouille moments up until this very day.

A few years later, I’m standing outside my local CD purveyor in the dead of winter, freezing my ass off.  My mom was with me, buying everyone around us coffee.  At the front of the line, Marilyn Manson sat at a long table, face plastered in colorful makeup.  Hours later, I finally get to meet my hero and all I could muster was “OhmyfuckinggodIloveyousomuch!”   He signed my copy of his autobiography with a smile and nodded at me.  My mom came up next with another copy to sign for my friend.  “How are you today?” she asked him.  He smiled at her and replied, “Very well, thank you.”  And then they start chatting!  Meanwhile I’m standing off to the side, aghast that Manson is getting more out of my mom and they are becoming fast friends.

Over the next few years, I don my makeup.  I do my nails.  I try the torn pantyhose look.  I squeeze into my pleather pants.  I see him in concert about 6 or 7 times.  You’ve never seen me in such a frenzied state.  Nothing beats it.  The last time I feel such absolute fanboy love/lust, it’s 2001 (the post-Columbine Holy Wood era, i.e. his last truly great spectacle tour).  And then nothing but a steady decline.

The Golden Age of Grotesque was Manson’s turning point.  The last album that incorporated that insane feral energy and deviously intelligent wit.  Then the drugs and relationships got the better of him and he released a trio of absolute eye-rollers, starting with the passable Eat Me, Drink Me, then the godawful High End of Low, and finally an album that I don’t even have on my “just in case” external hard drive, Born Villain.  As a good fan, I never completely gave up hope, but I didn’t get those hopes up either.

And then The Pale Emperor happened.

What an album.  Clocking in at a sparse 10 tracks, it’s a concise, masterful gut-punch, full of swagger, thump and enough old-school creep-atmosphere to please his die hard shock rock faithful.  I never thought I’d see this day.

Depending on how much you’ve listened to him in the past, I can break the album down into a couple categories.
“Old” Manson (i.e. sounds like it was produced by Trent or something, aka “File Under Antichrist Superstar and Holy Wood):  “Deep Six,” “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”
SwagTASTIC (i.e those Manson songs that you can kinda dance to, aka might fit nicely onto Mechanical Animals): “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” “Devil Beneath My Feet,” “Cupid Carries A Gun”
Creeptastic (i.e. perfect for a horror movie, a mix between “Man That You Fear” and the creepier tracks on Holy Wood, and all the amazing ballads on Mechanical Animals): “Killing Strangers,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting,” “Odds of Even”
There’s also a trio of acoustic bonus tracks on the deluxe edition: “Day 3” (acoustic of “Odds of Even”), “Fated, Faithful, Fatal” (acoustic of “Slave Only Dreams to Be King”) and “Fall of the House of Death” (acoustic of “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”).  Well worth your time, if you can snag them.  Manson claims that every song on the album was recorded in one take, so God bless producer Tyler Bates.
If I had to choose a least favorite song on the album (i.e. that dreaded skippable track), it’d have to be “Warship My Wreck.”  The good thing is that it’s not bad.  It’s just not as catchy as everything else.  It’s still got great atmosphere, but once you’ve heard everything else, you’re going to want to skip ahead.
In the Manson power rankings, I’m going to go ahead and put it behind Holy Wood.  It’s likely tied, overall, with Portrait of an American Family.  But for me, at this age, it barely nudges Portrait down a peg.  As follows:
1. Antichrist Superstar
2. Mechanical Animals
3. Holy Wood
4. Pale Emperor
5. Portrait
6. Eat Me, Drink Me
7. Smells Like Children
8. High End of Low
9. Born Villain
Take that to the bank.  Manson has aged and he still has a lot to offer a world that has come to accept him as not really that shocking at all.  Surprisingly, he remains a hero/icon to a new generation of ignored, lost and misunderstood youth (who weren’t even old enough to remember the religious furor kicked up during the Antichrist era).  He remains one of the most intelligent performers alive and, even though his wit and ferocity were strangely silenced during the Bush years, music still needs a cartoon villain and underdog.  The fact that Holy Wood remains relevant almost 14 years later is both a sad truth about American society (and it’s love of God, guns and government) and a reminder that Manson was one of most vital and important music and pop culture figures of our lifetime.  The Pale Emperor is his way of saying “Don’t count me out just yet.”
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Review: How to destroy angels_, “Welcome Oblivion”

On March 5, 2013, Trent Reznor released new music with his new band, How to destroy angels_ (yes that underscore is supposed to be there don’t ask me why I don’t know either).  Therefore one can conclude that no matter how middling or meh this output happens to be, it is still Trent and Trent still rules the roost in Neiltown.  That being said, htda’s debut LP — Welcome Oblivion — is not awful.

 

 

On one hand, you’ve got the good stuff, the shit that sounds like a conventional song, which, Trent being Trent, sometimes is not so easily attained.  Lead single “How long?” is the closest you’re going to come to convention.  There’s a chorus (I think?), some lyrics, it’s catchy.  This might be played on a really cool radio station that nobody listens to.  On these so-called “good” songs, it just sounds like a NIN song where Trent is replaced by his wife, Mariqueen (seriously, even her delivery sounds exactly like Trent).  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

On the other hand, you get a whole shitload of stuff that sounds like Ghosts or Year Zero, my two least-favorite NIN projects.  While I appreciate the thought put into both albums, man cannot live on concept alone.  Ghosts tries my patience, even if there are some gorgeous tidbits floating around those 4 volumes of tedium.  Year Zero has its moments as well, but God help me, half the songs sound the same.  SNORE.

That’s how I listened to this album.  The songs either fall on the “songs” side, or on the “Oh GAWD Trent, no more Ghosts/Year Zero/David Fincher movie score castaways!” (or somewhere in between).  Here they are, presented alongside convenient “File This Under” acronyms (i.e. “YZ” = Year Zero, “G” = Ghosts, etc.):

 

“Songs” (a.k.a. download/listen to these if your attention span is as small as mine)

1.  “Ice Age” – cute folksy little track that strums on and on and on.  It’s catchy enough and sticks in your head. (Ghosts/Fragile)
2. “On the wing” – more sleepy harmonies from Trent and Mariqueen, yet this sounds a lot like a Goldfrapp song that snuck onto Year Zero.  Which is awesome.  Hence the placement in “Songs” rather than below in the “Not So Bad.”  (YZ/The Slip)
3.  “How long?” – THE standout track of this album and a good enough reason for the creation of this entire LP.  It is a grower, but oh boy, what an earworm.  I played the shit out of this track and I’m not even sick of it.  It finally sounds like Mariqueen’s gig, not a cheap cover version of a NIN song.  I love, love, love this song. (sounds like htda.)
4.  “Strings and attractors” – more masturbatory Ghosts shit.  I’m so done with these blips and bloops and bleeps.  Mariqueen sounds nice and angelic on this track, but as with “Too late, all gone,” it tries my patience.  Not sure why, but I just want to press the “next” button… and then, THEN it becomes something else.  Something Fragile-y.  And I’m back onboard. (G/F)

 

“Not So Bad” (a.k.a. I’ll take what I can get…)

1.  “The Wake-up” – a good intro.  Short and sweet. (YZ/G)
2.  “Keep It Together” – droning and monotonous, but hey, there are vocals!  VOCALS! (YZ)
3.  “And the sky began to scream” – the blips and bleeps get a bit more aggressive and Mariqueen drops the vox (barely) again… this is like begging for crumbs.  (YZ)
4.  “Welcome oblivion” – vox TOTALLY sound like Trent… starts off Year Zero-y, ends with some surprisingly awesome Fragile-sounding twangs and drums. (YZ/F)
5.  “The loop closes” – this is a strange one.  You’ve got the Year Zero production, but also some flourishes of Fragile and even Downward Spiral (!!!!!!) instrumentation.  It’s another mainly-instrumental wank-fest, but it’s surprisingly gratifying.  This track also has the most Trent vocal presence, if you care.  (DS/F/YZ)
6.  “Hallowed ground” – the delicate closer of the album is a mixed bag.  You’ve got your icy piano tinkling, which reminds me of Still, and your ominous Year Zero electro-beats.  It’s peaceful and relaxing and if you’ve made it this far, just enjoy it and be glad the album is finished.  (S/YZ)

 

“Jesus Christ, Trent Reznor… enough of this shit!”

1. “Too late, all gone” – this sounds EXACTLY like a Year Zero castaway that replaced Trent’s vocals with Mariqueen.  I don’t know why it bugs me so much…  maybe because it feels lazy?  I don’t want to hear any more Year Zero shit, let alone a track that’s supposed to be for another group.  And it’s not even a bad song (technically, for whoever you are reading this, it’s worth a download.  Honestly.), I just have lost patience at this point.
2. “We fade away” – Ghosts with vocals.  Again.  Sigh.  It’s not terrible by any means, but an album full of b-side worthy songs is not an album.  (G)
3. “Recursive self-improvement” – oh, these fucking song titles.  We’re on track 11 and you can tell I’m clearly getting frustrated.  Even Radiohead are not this self-indulgent (fightin’ words!).  Should I have bought Amok instead?  I’m not even sure.  Let me go get another beer while this song blips its way to the end… This sounds like the soundtrack to a video they play in the computer exhibits at science museums.  (Social Network castoff?)

The problem with NewTrent (i.e. post-drugs, clean-living buff TR) is the quality of the output.  It used to be that we had to wait fucking YEARS between NIN projects.  As a kid, this felt like an eternity.  OldTrent would drop off the face of the earth and, being the time before Facebook and Twitter, we had to rely on news websites and rock mags for any news of his whereabouts.  Then he’d magically reappear, drop a new single, and heads would explode.  This is why I’d wait in line for a midnight release of a new NIN album.

Then, starting in 2005, NIN came roaring back with With Teeth (in my opinion, their last good album) and it’s been a steady outpouring of project after project of whatever NewTR feels like tossing to his fans.  Year Zero.  Niggy Tardust.  Ghosts.  The Slip.  Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Social Network.  This.  It’s too much.  I’d rather he release something mindblowing twice a decade instead of the same old bloopy-blippy shit, stretched out over ten volumes with various scores and soundtracks in the mix.  May God help me, but I’m sick of wading through this muck and mire just to find one or two songs that connect.

Their self-titled debut EP is still their best output, by far.  Because SONGS.  Four of six tracks from the Omen EP appear on Welcome Oblivion, making that EP a waste of time.  Yet I still buy them all.  And I’m still going to the concert in April.  I trust Trent’s vision and will at least appreciate this as an artistic statement.  But this is yet another project where I’d be just as satisfied downloading a couple songs and getting on with my life.  I’m happy Trent is keeping the creative juices flowing, but I really need the new NIN album to be a banger.

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Daydream Believer

Fake, made-for-tv band or not, this is one of my favorite songs ever.  Rest in peace, Davy Jones.  You’ll always be a part of my childhood.

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Dragon Days

Happy Lunar New Year!  新年快樂!  恭喜發財!

2012 is the Year of the Dragon, the most badass of the zodiac creatures, the one we all cower to, soiling our fluffly little tails.  The last time this beast slinked its way into our lives was 2000.   A lot has changed since then, right?

In the year 2000, there was that whole Y2K scare, where a lot of people thought the internet would crash and all computers would self-destruct because, though they were capable of calculating insane mathematical formulas, they couldn’t handle a numerical change from 1999 to 2000.  Then these jilted machines would become sentient and Terminator 2 would finally happen.  That was such a scary New Year’s Eve.  We all expected the ball drop to trigger the explosive blast that would destroy Earth.  Now in 2012, all we have to worry about is the end of the world in December (No Christmas???  Awwwwww…).  No fun.

But let’s get to the music.  In 2000, things called “mp3s” started to seep into our lives.  Napster (RIP) made it possible to overwhelm your computer’s hard-drive with loads of free, poor-sound-quality music that you could get away with “sharing” without repurcussion.  Until Lars-tallica decided to sue Napster and lose a bunch of fans for being such a stupid little Danish douchebag.  Today, we can go to jail for this shit, thanks to greedy Big Brother RIAA and his tiny, tiny penis.

In 2000, MTV still played music videos.  Kids, you do know that MTV stand for “Music Television,” right?  Well they had this show called Total Request Live (“TRL” for short and lazy).  Nu-metal (Limp Bizkit), pop punk (Blink-182) and boy bands (‘N Sync) were the diet of the day.  It was a giant frat party and Eminem was the ring leader.   Even though the bulk of this garbage has been wiped from our aural memories, dubstep is the new nu-metal, so I don’t think we’ve made much progress…

The biggest albums of the year were Eminem‘s Marshall Mathers LP, Britney‘s Oops I Did It Again, Faith Hill’s Breathe, ‘N Sync‘s No Strings Attached and Santana‘s Supernatural.

The Billboard Hot 100 was dominated by Santana (12 weeks total, daaaaaamn), Christina Aguilera (6 weeks total), Destiny’s Child (10 weeks total), Savage Garden, ‘N Sync, Sisqo, Madonna, Janet Jackson and Creed.

Critically, this was a dire time for music, as you can tell.  Where was the substance?  While Em and Brit had minor comebacks last year, the bulk of these folks are completely irrelevant these days.  Beyonce and Justin abandoned the groups that brought them fame.  Christina is still chugging along, receiving more fame for The Voice than her voice.  The Savage Garden guy came out of the closet and launched a failed solo career.  Creed is on a reunion tour now, though I don’t know who thought that was a remotely good idea for the universe.  Madonna, as always, is the only constant.  2000 was the calm before the storm of 2001, when the world would come crashing down.

My favorite albums of the year were DeftonesWhite Pony, No Doubt’s Return of Saturn, Korn‘s Issues, Ayumi Hamasaki‘s Duty, Radiohead‘s Kid A, Orgy‘s Vapour Transmission, Linkin Park‘s Hybrid Theory, Marilyn Manson‘s Holy Wood and A Perfect Circle‘s Mer De Noms.   Little did I know my music life would change in 2001, with the introduction of the Beatles and Beach Boys to my diet (thank you, Japan) and the explosion of “The” bands that would bring back rock and roll.

I saw Nine Inch Nails live for the first time.  I also saw Method Man/Redman, No Doubt, Metallica (4th time), Nickelback opening for Kittie and the Get Up Kids (weirdest line up ever), Deftones, Incubus, and my old friend, Marilyn Manson (3rd time).  When I met Deftones, my camera broke.  Then I cried.  So not metal…  It was a crazy year.

Some other stuff happened, but since we’re all busy preparing New Year’s dinner for hungry family members, let me assault you with a litany of factoid trivia gems for your next Quiz Night.

Bon Jovi released their mega-comeback, “It’s My Life.”

U2 realized that Pop was a huge mistake, made an appropriate comeback, and are now enjoying new life as Biggest Band On Earth.

50 Cent was shot 9 times but survived (sigh), thus allowing him to torture us with his “music” for a couple years before dropping into obscurity.  Thank God.

Oasis played a couple tiny gigs at Wembley, which you can see on your own private, well-worn copy of Familiar To Millions.  12 years later, we watch with nostalgia and dream wistfully of the good times of cocaine-fueled brotherly hate.  Never Forget.

-Oasis prequels The Beatles reminded us that they were here first and dominated the Christmas season with the 1 compilation.

-“Who Let The Dogs Out?

-Zach left Rage Against The Machine.

-At the Drive-In released Relationship of Command.  Then they broke up.  Then they got back together for Coachella 2012.

-The Smashing Pumpkins played their “last show”… but Billy couldn’t leave well enough alone and has since destroyed the Pumpkins name.

-Sadly, Color Me Badd and Candlebox also split up.  =(

-Radiohead begin a new era with Kid A.  Things are never the same again.

-Oasis release Standing On The Shoulder of Giants, an underrated album, home to one of my favorite Oasis tunes, “Gas Panic.”

-Elliott Smith released his final album, Figure 8.  R.I.P. friend, you have the most badass suicide in history.

-Coldplay, Goldfrapp, Linkin Park and Pink all released their debut albums.

-Praise the heavens, Nickelback had their first hit in America with “Leader of Men.”  They signed with Roadrunner, of all labels. Our lives are forever changed.

Black Eyed Peas were still whiteboy backpack rap.  Fergie was still a meth-head.

Aaliyah was still alive.  Duet with Trent Reznor will never be realized.

-People listened to Limp BizkitFor pleasure.  (Guilty…)

-Aaaaand most importantly, if we take anything away from Y2K, let us never forget that Sisqo blessed the universe with “The Thong Song”… from the album, Unleash the DragonWe’ve now come full circle, folksHappy New Year!

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Springsteen Returns

Everybody?  Springsteen’s back, alright!

This week, Mr. Boss released the first track — “We Take Care Of Our Own” — from his upcoming album Wrecking Ball and it’s actually pretty awesome.  I want to rent out Fenway and put this on the PA just so I can hear it in all its stadium glory.

I haven’t enjoyed a Springsteen song this much since Born in the USA.

That classic album was released in June 1984, a few weeks before my 3rd birthday.  It was the very first album I ever bought.  You may be crying “liar with mutant memory powers!” but I distinctly remember going to the mall with my mom, getting my little fingers around the giant cardboard square, bringing it back to the car (it was a sunny day) and tearing the plastic wrap off Bruce’s star-spangled buttocks.  Poor Limahl’s “Neverending Story” theme song was tossed aside and The Boss owned the record player until 1986, when another Jersey dude happened (see: Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet).

The release of the new single inspired me to whip out that 28-year old relic for a little spin.  I hadn’t listened to Born In The USA in its entirety since the ’80s.  I don’t know why I loved it so much as a kid.  I used to dance around in my skivvs to the title song, pretending I was singing the national anthem or some shit.  Like many an idiot politician, I had no idea what the song was actually about (hint: it ain’t about “sis-boom-bah I love America“).  Well the album has been on repeat for a couple days now.  The title track is actually my least favorite now (too cornball), but hot damn, I forgot how awesome “Cover Me,” “Downbound Train,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” and “Glory Days” are.  Fuck all this snow that’s covering our icy winter hell; I want to blast down a desert highway in an old shitbox with the windows down and this blaring out the busted speakers!  How did I not listen to this in nearly THREE DECADES?

Somehow I lost interest in Springsteen during the ’90s and ’00s (blame the alt-scene).  He did that Philadelphia song.  He had that angry record about 9/11 and Bush (or was it about boners?).  I was definitely not interested.  But over three decades apart, he was still a strong presence.  He inspired Brandon Flowers and Win Butler — two other ’81 babies, whatamIdoingwithmylife?! — to release their modern interpretations of Classic Springsteen (see: Sam’s Town and Neon Bible, respectively).  My favorite piano gals (Tori Amos and Bat For Lashes) recorded covers of “I’m On Fire.”  Rage did “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” (“NO REST!“).  Even Lady Gaga nabbed Clarence Clemons (RIP) for a killer sax solo on “Edge of Glory” from her 2011 opus… Born This Way (coincidence?!?!  never!!!!).  It’s like The Boss tried for a couple decades to win this fan back.  And I think he did it this week.  I’m looking forward to when the *ahem* “…Ball” drops on March 6th.

Until then, go dig out your copy of Born in the USA and listen NOW.  You’ll thank me later

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Give Me Life, Give Me Pain

Give me myself again.*

Today, one of ’90s alt-rock’s most seminal albums (and one of my lifetime favorite Desert Island Discs) turns twenty: Little Earthquakes, by my favorite polarizing ginger, Tori Amos.

Twenty years ago, I was in 5th grade.  I was still listening to Weird Al, Kris Kross and Boyz II Men.  Mariah Carey was my #1 gal.  MJ’s “Black or White” was the #1 song in the country (U2’s “Mysterious Ways” was #1 on the rock charts).  Nirvana were still riding Nevermind to the bank.  I had no time (or emotional maturity) for this kind of shit.  I had suffered through years of piano lessons; I would not suffer it on my Walkman.

It wasn’t until a couple years later when she released her second album, Under The Pink, and the lead single “God” — her highest-charting hit and best music video (filmed at the rat temple in India) — that I was roped in.  It was 1994.  Darker urges and melodrama were seething below my pubescent skin.  A little band called Nine Inch Nails was about to change my world.  I was ready to join Club Angst.

Snatching up her entire discography to-date — singles, bootlegs and EPs included — I dove head-first into the back catalog, starting with her debut album.   Some melodrama is expected with all Tori Amos fans, so let me just get this out of the way: the first time I heard “Precious Things,” I started to cry.  Sitting in my bedroom, head resting on my new compact disc stereo (kids, “compact discs” are what we used to call CDs), I let the opening piano riffs and shallow panting soak into my ears.  I had never heard this kind of passion, fury or intensity coming from a woman (or a piano) before.  I had never been so emotionally moved by a song.  I had never reacted so physically to music before.  By the time the song swelled to its final crescendo and came crashing down, I was breathless and my cheeks were wet.  What the hell just happened?!?

The rest of the album is equally untouchable.   Though not my personal favorite in her discography (see: Under The Pink, Boys for Pele, and From The Choirgirl Hotel), I cannot deny that it is her best.  Uncomfortably candid and personal, touching and heart-breaking.  This is why debut efforts are usually classics: they are the cumulative effort of the artist’s entire life up until that point, including the pain, misery and confusion that come with growing up.  Their big unveiling to the world.  Their mission statement.

There isn’t a skippable song on here (save for the disturbing, yet necessary, account of her rape, “Me And A Gun,” which I still cannot listen to).  Empowerment anthems “Crucify” and “Girl.” The heart-wrenching familial loss on “Winter.”  Radio-staple “Silent All These Years.”  Kinky “Leather.”  The weepy “China.”  Even the b-sides were stunning (including the best cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” you’ll ever hear and a take on Zep’s “Thank You” that bests the original).  I was hooked for life.  I felt like she was opening a door — for me and me alone — into her soul.  Through a crappy set of speakers on the outdated shag carpeting of my bedroom floor, we forged a lifelong relationship.

When I met her in 2003 (*faint*) I asked her to autograph the lyrics of “Tear In Your Hand,” which contain the line “If you need me, me and Neil will be hanging out with the dream king/Neil said hi, by the way” (this refers to her BFF Neil Gaiman, but a crazed fan can pretend).  Every time I hear this song (or any of the other Neil-referencing songs in her catalog), I glibly smile.  I’ve grown up with this woman and, even though she has no idea who I am or what I’ve gone through in life, she’s shared her pain with me for 20 years and counting.  When I reflect back on the past two decades, she’s one of the few constants.  This album started it all.

Minutes Before Fainting...

*Lyrics from title track, “Little Earthquakes,” the final track of the album.

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