Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Band: Mariah Carey
Album: E=MC2
Best song: "Touch My Body" is a classic. "Migrate" isn't bad.
Worst song: "I Wish You Well" has some biblical stuff in it. Which is very weird.

I've said it before, but I'm incredibly proud of my RS project. It's too bad I never found the money to self-publish a book out of it.

Anyway, the pride is more than the marathon-ness of the project than any actual insight I discovered in listening to all those records. I'm not a particularly insightful or smart guy. I mostly just gathered some interesting information about the good records and tried to humorously shit on the bad ones. Ultimately, I improved my writing and I learned a lot about music.

One of the few recommendations I had for the list was the suggestion that Mariah Carey be a part of the list. There is no excuse for Carey's absence on the RS list, as it came out in 2003, eight albums into her career.

It's simple. Carey's voice, persona and music have been as influential as nearly any in the last 20 years. Take a look at the charts and you'll see Carey's influence everywhere.

Which brings up the question: Why was she left off the list? Obviously, sales is not the only category by which RS measured the artists on the list; Pavement, Robert Johnson and Massive Attack never sold a ton of records. And Garth Brooks (who should be), Hootie and the Blowfish, Celine Dion and Shania Twain (all of whom probably shouldn't be) aren't on the list. Still, sales does indicate a level of cultural integration that is nearly impossible to ignore.

Mariah Carey has the third-most number one albums for all female artists (behind Barbara Streisand and Madonna) and was the best-selling female artist of the 1990s. She has the most number one singles of any solo artist and the second-most of any band or artist (behind only the Beatles).

I'd call it racial (notice I didn't say racist. Things can be racial without being racist.), but Someone is buying her records and it's not just 13-year-old girls.

I think there's a general disinterest by the RS people in two things:

  1. Music of a relatively recent vintage

  2. Urban pop music

(This is why R. Kelly is also left off the list. That and the peeing.)

Mariah Carey is the queen of urban pop music. She started as a quasi-innocent sugary tart of a singer (See "Emotions" and all those videos wherein she's wearing a flannel shirt with curly hair.) with a ridiculous vocal range. She turned into a more sexualized woman after splitting with Tommy Mottola and became something of an urban diva, with a reputation for being difficult, flighty and talented.

She spent an entire episode of MTV Cribs changing outfits for each new room -- decidedly that show's nadir. She was the first time I can remember an artist suffering from "exhaustion," as in, she was drunk and passed out at a club. She starred in Glitter, a movie that's up there with the worst movies I've ever seen. She got married last year in secrecy to a guy 15 years her junior. They are, according to Carey, "Soulmates."


The RS editors don't spend time with young girls aspiring to be singers, because the girls my age and younger that grew up with Carey as a role model are all now dominating the charts. Rihanna? Cites Mariah Carey as an influence. Christina Aguilera? Stole the squeaky/powerful sustained note stuff straight from Carey. Beyonce? A better-looking Carey clone with a more powerful diva streak.

Carey is as influential as Janet Jackson, who has two albums on the list.


Carey's last album is actually really pleasant. While other artists seem to have overtaken her in the public's heart, Carey's five-octave range -- an instrument she is too quick to show off, by the way -- remains a wonder. Her devotion to more hip hop-influenced R&B pop music is evident. On E=MC2, Carey's recent tendency toward such music is picture perfect. First single "Touch My Body" is vintage Carey; it is a romantic smooth jam asking her man to give her "what I deserve" and to "feel on" her "curves." It's not raunchy, but sexy. Though I want Young Jeezy to be punched in the head, but Carey's work on "Side Effects" -- from the stutter-quick verses to the smooth verses -- is among her best. "I'm That Chick" has an almost disco feel to it and has Carey's sexiest voice at the ready, double-tracked and fun. "Love Story" tells a nice, though dumb, story over a melody that Carey's voice is perfect for. "Migrate" features a T-Pain guest and, for some reason, Carey's vocals through an auto-tune effect; it works because Carey's voice is so good for the song. The song's odyssey from the car to the club to wherever is a neat sorta dance narrative and fits Carey's new persona well.

"Bye Bye" isn't anything special and "I Wish You Well" are just OK. "Love Story" is a mediocre Jermaine Dupree track (though, I'd say that's a pretty repetitive phrase). Carey's attempt at reggae ("Cruise Control") doesn't really work.

But, generally, E=MC2 is a nice record by an amazing artist.


Sadly, the idiots at Universal won't let me embed the official (brilliant) video for "Touch My Body," so, you'll have to click here for the it.

Let me say this, too: Mariah Carey is a drop-dead gorgeous woman. She's clearly nuts and has a weird utlra feminity -- like Pamela Anderson, Carey almost seems like what a cross-dressing man thinks women should look like -- that turns me off (I'm straight, but that super feminine stuff -- prissy nonsense like dangly earrings, big updo hair, mani/pedi and the like -- really turns me off.). But, she's outstandingly good-looking and her body -- bought or not -- is amazing, even at 39. I'll quote a pretty old Bill Simmons column with which I agree:

And nothing drives a woman crazier than hearing a guy say, "I think Mariah Carey is hot" -- you might as well just say that women shouldn't have the right to vote. She's the best. I will defend her lunatic sexiness to the death.

Almost every woman I know -- save for one or two -- thinks Mariah Carey sucks and is a weirdo or a whore or whatever. But, man, is she good-looking.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Band: The Lonely Island
Album: Incredibad
Best song: "I'm On A Boat" is amazing and certainly "Dick in a Box" is a classic.
Worst song: Bleh. Whatever. It's all goofy jokes, no?

In a way, the Lonely Island guys are the Death Cab for Cutie of comedy. The next-big-thing-cum-famous, Andy Samberg and company were indie rock comedy originally. Looking scraggly and slightly Williamsburg (not to mention actually hailing from Berkely), the trio self-produced videos they uploaded to YouTube and ended up writing and -- in the case of Semitic-handsome leading man Samberg -- performing on Saturday Night Live. Major label time, folks.

Saturday Night Live kind of sucks. It's nearly impossible to do topical sketch comedy for 90 minues a week, forget doing it well. The show has always overplayed catchphrases and characters. For every funny sketch, there are 10 that go on far too long, all-often with bad celebrity impressions.

Let's not forget, it's never been great. Adam Sandler was funny on the show, but his movies are better. Will Ferrell's best work -- honestly, what the fuck happened to that guy? -- is probably from the show, but he's certainly been a success. Mike Myers' crazy ass created many characters on the show, but his best work was, no doubt, in the Austin Powers movies. Eddie Murphy was great on the show, but his standup is a million times better.

In the show's current incarnation, the digital shorts are, by far, the best part of the show. From what I've read, The Lonely Island guys have free reign over the shorts and have done them well. The songs are nearly always funny and the non-song sketches are strange, but funny.


I love NAthan Rabin's writing and he recently wrote a bit about Samberg's film, Hot Rod:

The cultural gatekeepers sadly were not willing to go to bat for a movie where a typical gag involves the hero having an out-of-body experience and watching a sentient grilled-cheese sandwich wrestling a taco that fights dirty.

Samberg thrived in a very weird, very new, very specific context: within absurdist two-minute musical videos riffing on the cheesiest depths of pop culture. So perhaps it’s no surprise that audiences didn’t embrace him as the star of a studio movie.

I think that's a fair point. What would the Lonely Island have been had they not been born around the same time as myself? Would they have been Weird Al Yankovic? Would they have ended up as writers for The Simpsons? Who really knows?


Incredibad is a compilation of a lot of new songs and many of the digital song shorts. For the most part, it's great, though not perfect. "Ras Trent" doesn't really work, as Samberg's goofy voice is too put-on. The record is a little too hip hop heavy ("Natalie's Rap," "Dream Girl" and that stupid Santana song are far too much). The album is probably too long. I never found "Lazy Sunday" to be particularly funny and the faux corruption of my dream woman makes "Natatlie's Rap" a mostly tired exercise.

Nevertheless, the record is really fun. What makes Incredibad and, moreover, the Lonely Island guys so fun? Parody works well when it's dead-on and whoever wrote the music for this record really know how to mimic specific genres. When the group branches out onto specific genre, it's nearly perfect. The group's three great achievements all echo perfectly the genres they mock. "Dick in a Box," both the video and the song, has a melody straight out of a Color Me Badd song. That it became a viral cultural touchstone is a testament to Justin Timberlake's full-on devotion to the song.

"Jizz in my Pants" is similarly great. The song's electronic vocals and the Euro-tinged beat sound like the type of thing you'd hear at an all-ages club. That the lyrics are another weird adolescent thing just tops it off.

"I'm on a Boat" is great for its absurdity. The song clearly mocks "Big Pimpin'" and that Akon song ("I'm so Paid") and the entire bizarre hip hop fascination with yachts. The song, indicative of the entire record, is a study in juxtaposition. Like a reverse Belle and Sebastian -- a band that used twee music to sing about dildos and young people having strokes -- "I'm on a Boat" uses a spot-on hip hop beat and a guest spot by T-Pain to scream "the boat engines makes noise, motherfucker!" In fact, T-Pains breakdown is among the song's highlights. Using his auto-tune, he ends his ridiculous interlude with the bizarre and biologically wrong conceit that he "fucked a mermaid." The brilliance lies both in the lyrics and the execution. The call-and-reponse lite rapping of Akiva Schaffer and Samberg is striking, with T-Pain echoing the final word of each line. Juxtaposition at its best, the novelty of being on a boat has never been better.

Indeed, absurdity is the name of the game and it works, mostly. "Dream Girl" has Norah Jones singing about Chex Mix, while the sexy vocals of Julian Casablancas singing about old people fucking in "Boombox" is mind-bending. Humor shows us that the world makes no sense and Incredibad exploits this well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thr33 Ringz

Band: T-Pain
Album: Thr33 Ringz
Best song: "Freeze" isn't bad. "Therapy" is OK. "Can't Believe It" is probably the best song on the album. "Ringleader Man" is better thaan I expected.
Worst song: "Karaoke" isn't great.

You know the phrase "Too much of a good thing?" It's an easy thing to forget, but it's really evident everywhere. I get tired of so many things. In a short attention span world, we all get tired of stuff quicky. I imagine I'd never get tired of having tons of money.

And so it goes with the auto-tune/vocoder effect. The pitch-shifting effects/device is, in 2009, everywhere. Every song seems to have it. I, back in the long-ago days of Cher's "Believe" (I still can't believe it was 11 years ago), told a friend of my love of the effect, "I could listen to any song with that thing on it." Little did I know that the pop music landscape would provide this to me.


T-Pain started as a novelty with his initial hits were just that. "I'm in Luv with a Stripper" is both a ridiculous idea and a zeitgeist moment. Post-pimp cup and pre-Obama, the song was an urban snapshot featuring two huge up-and-comers in Mike Jones and T-Pain.

I have a place in my heart for T-Pain, as he was born and raised a Muslim. He remains a Muslim, though I have no idea how devout he is. I can't imagine he's super devout, as he seems intent on buying "Shawty" a "drank." He named himself T-Pain to describe his Tallahasse upbringing. I can't imagine a ton of Muslims in the Florida capital, but, then again, I'm used to living in pretty diverse places.

Eventually, T-Pain became a man-about-genre for hip hop. He'll sing for anyone -- including the Lonely Island guys, in one of their best compositions -- and appears to do so. His work with Lil Wayne is a song of legend, but, let's be honest, it's annoying just about everyone. Not me... yet.

Thr33 Ringz is full of circus imagery, as one can see in the video for "Can't Believe It," wherein T-Pain and Lil Wayne go all over carnivals and crazy imagery. The songs have some of that, though it's mostly just "Ringleader Man" that has such metaphors. As with most album themes, it's stupid.

Still, the record is surprisingly good. "Chopped & Skrewed" is really good, with a very strong Ludacris guest spot. "Can't Believe It" is, not surprisingly, buoyed by Lil Wayne. "Ringleader Man" has T-Pain without his beloved vocal effects and is actually a nice slow jam (with ridiculous lyrics, but still). Ciara sounds great on "Blowing Up" and noted spousal abuser and certifiable bad person Chris Brown makes "Freeze" a quality song.

"Superstar Lady" is weak and I can entirely do without whatever it is Young Cash purports to be. "Digital" is a nice groove, but the lyrics are moronic.


So, T-Pain, I enjoy your auto-tuning ways. Don't stop doing what you're doing, buddy.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Band: Michael Jackson
Album: Dangerous
Best song: "Remember the Time" still holds up pretty well.
Worst song: "Dangerous" isn't all that good.

This isn't a particularly timely blog, by any stretch of the imagination, but I made the mistake of doing another write on Meat Puppets II, before realizing that I'd already written it. That was dumb.

Anyway, I've already done a bit of writing on the now-deceased King of Pop. Jackson had three albums on the Rolling Stone list and all three are classics.

I saw somewhere that Generation X lost two of its icons yesterday, but Farrah Fawcett -- who died of anal cancer, which is really rare -- isn't much of an icon for people of my age. She was a face -- and a hint of a nipple shaft -- on a poster that occupied the background scenes of That '70s Show and other such post-modern media. Michael Jackson, for better or for worse, was in our consciousness for our entire lives.

Thriller came out when I was just over a year old and some of my earliest memories are of my parents showing it to me -- my sister was a huge fan -- and my being scared shitless as a toddler (it almost certainly fostered a love of zombies). Bad came out when I was six, with my sister and I imitating the dances. Dangerous came out when I was in late elementary school and I learned all the words to "Black or White" and the ill-fated Michael Jordan collaboration "Jam." And that's just the music.

Jackson's presence later was entirely tabloid-based. The wheels came off -- publicly, at least as I remember it -- when the rumours started swirling about his sleeping in an oxygen chamber and his owning the Elephant Man's bones. Then, the chimp. Then Neverland. Then, the children.


Dangerous isn't anything of particular hateability, as an album. It holds up surprisingly well, though it does sound dated. "Jam" is ridiculous. "Why You Wanna Trip On Me" is horrific in its attempt at grabbing slang. "Give in To Me" is good, one of Jackson's better late-era tracks. "In the Closet" is nice, though, it certainly brings up questions about Jackson's public image.

"Black or White" is, after "Man in the Mirror," Jackson's most famous do-gooder track. It's got a nice groove and a video that was revolutionary at the time -- however stupid it's turned out to look. "Remember the Time" is actually a really good song with a nice chorus and a sweet lyric. It's one of Jackson's better songs.

Make no mistake about it, Dangerous has Jackson running on creative fumes.


I was going to quote myself liberally about my feelings on the King of Pop, as I don't totally disagree with anything I wrote 18 months ago about him. I have tremendous sympathy for Jackson. To play armchair psychologist, it seems like Jackson had no ability to relate to other adult human beings. He was a tiny adult from the time he got into show business, a shy kid who was babied his whole life. He was rich beyond his wildest dreams -- though he died in debt -- and was able to do anything he wanted, essentially.

I have this theory about famous people. Let's call it the George Lucas theory. I've written about it before, but I wanted to write a little more about it here, in that it's not just an artistic situation. Lucas is the meal ticket to everyone and he hasn't heard "no" since 1983, but that's all about his work. Lucas doesn't appear to have tried to fight dogs or molest little girls or whatever.

Michael Jackson, at some point, was the meal ticket to so many people. When he thought it a good idea to build his own compound/theme park in 1988, no one told him not to do so. When he bought a chimp, no one told him not to do so. When he got all that plastic surgery, no one stopped him. When he get involved in a morphine addiction, no one told him no.

Here's the question: Who could've done this? The sycophants and yes-men were, most assuredly, employed by Jackson or were benefitting from him. They would've lost their own income.

So, who? Jackson was so rich, he could certainly pay anyone for anything he wanted. He seems to have hired unscrupulous doctors to prescribe various painkillers to him later in life, it appears. He hired people to take him around the world to do these concerts with tons of fans screaming for him, not a one worried for his own safety.

Maybe his family could've helped him out, but what type of people are we talking about here? Janet is the most normal of the group and she's clearly nuts. Jermaine, for Christ's sakes, named his kid "Jermajesty." This family is crazy.

I don't know the answer; it appears that Michael Jackson never saw himself as strange or sought help for his wide variety of problems. No doubt, his foundation did a world of good. But, he should've, indeed, looked at the man in the mirror more often.


And, of course, for shits and giggles, here's the worst concept involving Jackson:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Freedom of Choice

Band: Devo
Album: Freedom of Choice
Best song: It's easy to say "Whip It," being that it is probably the band's most famous song. I'm going to go with either the political title track or the lovely sad love song "It's Not Right." "Girl U Want" is a popular one.
Worst song: "Ton o' Luv" isn't wonderful.

(If this is disjointed, it's because I have four or five ideas I want to get into this piece and don't have time to flesh out proper transitions. Sorry.)

Wikipedia, the newspaper and knowledge

I recently finished my Master's Degree in journalism. Most of the discussion in modern journalism schools appears to be about the modern state of journalism and where the newspaper fits in the grand scheme of the Internet.

Basically, newspapers are losing money and cutting staff because ad revenue is down by a lot. Circulation is being lost -- who has time to read through a proper paper newspaper when all the information is online? -- and people are moving toward more specialized news organizations. In lieu of a general news source like the Washington Post, people are moving toward a specific political Web site or a sports site or whatever. The sturm und drang around the stories you want to read -- ads, other stories, photos, etc. -- are unnecessary, so people move toward personalized news and headlines and whatever. Active participation v. passive participation in news and knowledge acquisition, if you will.

I've done a crap job of recounting the issue. Just Google "Future of journalism" or "journalism and the Internet" and you can see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, one of the concerns that my non-journalism friends -- aka the people who don't think that journalism is of the same import as surgeons or educators -- have is the value of the sturm und drang around the preferred stories. You know, the stories next to the one you want. Maybe you want to read about President Obama's speech and next to that story is one about Russia or something. Maybe a photo catches your eye. Essentially, the classical light browsing.


The Web has things like this. The Most-Read modules on most news sites are worthwhile for browsing. The New York Times' Web site is particularly good for this. You might read some news via Twitter or Facebook or some other recommended place. This is part of the burgeoning Recommendation Culture -- as coined by The Long Tail -- and it's certainly a factor in expanding non-sought knowledge.

Also, many sites have sections with related stories. This is less of case of expanding general knowledge than it is to gain expertise in a particular subject or group of subjects. Nevertheless, these sections will move people into reading more news and learning more.

(As someone who works in Web news, every news site desperately wants you to stick to their site. Each organization tries to put as many places on each page to keep you from leaving the site.)

But, ultimately, this type of browsing tends to exist within the things you care about. Maybe you end up reading something about a different video game than the one for which you were looking. Maybe you read a story about the Pittsburgh Pirates instead of the Houston Astros, your local team. Overall, you're still reading about baseball or video games.


It's easy to get bored with news, I think. Because of the nature of news, timeliness is nearly finite, so a reader can easily get tired of reading the news of the day.

Enter Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia loop is something we've all experienced. Here's the scenario:

I want to look something up about, say, Planet Earth (my girlfriend and I have fallen in love with the show). I then, while on the PE page, clicked on the entry for the Roseate Spoonbill, because I didn't know what it was. I then read the entire entry. I think clicked on the sidebar link to aves. This got me to
the entry on penguins, a favorite animal of mine. This got me to the emperor penguin. Which then got me to several other different penguin species

This led me to the story of the Roy and Silo, the homosexual penguins at the Central Park Zoo. Which got me to the Wikipedia page for homosexual behavior in animals.

That's a long way from Planet Earth, is it not?

I gained a great deal of knowledge from this little loop. I read about different birds and sexuality in animals. I learned a lot more than I would have just reading a newspaper.

Bro-mance, sexuality and A&A

Reading about homosexuality in animals made me think a lot about the recent idea of "bromance" (as I write this, the most bought TV show episode is one entitled "Bromance" from a show called Greek) as a thinly veiled term for male homosocial behavior. Eve Sedgwick, of course, said that homosexual and homosocial behavior among men are difficult to separate; there is homosexuality in homosocial behavior.

It makes some sense. The closest of friends, no matter the gender, connect in a way that just average friends do not. Does that mean these friends want to boink? Probably not, in my experience. But, the idea that someone wants to be closer to someone of the same sex is not a crazy notion.

I'm a big believer in the sliding scale -- the Kinsey scale -- of sexuality. Yes, sexuality is more complicated than that, but more people, I'd suggest, fit in the 1-5 range than in the 0 or 6 sides.

Because of societal pressure and moreover, simplicity, most men would probably say that they are a zero, exclusively heterosexual. I'd say I'm probably a 1.5. I am extremely passionate for women -- specifically a certain shape of woman -- but I sometimes find myself attracted to men. Granted, it's not often, but it happens.

(And let me say this: I think it's kind of important to pick a major there. Bisexuality seems to be the domain of the screwed up, so while I would do it with, say, Brad Pitt, I am straight.)

I look back to my freshman year of high school (and here's where we get to the music). I was a very green boy of 14 and I got interested in radio. I don't really remember why, exactly, I found my high school's radio station (yes, my rich, liberal white kid high school had a radio station) to be my point of interest, but it was. I met two gentlemen while doing the normal initiation stuff for the station and fell in love with both.

The first (we'll call him A) was an awkward, pale, bespectacled guy with a decent voice and a somewhat troubled past. He also liked a different strain of music than I was used to. He was into indie rock, though at a top level (he introduced me to Yo La Tengo, for example). A's first passion appeared to be radio more than anything and he's since gone into professional radio. To which I say, good work.

The other (we'll call him M) was more laid-back and apparently into the station for some other reason. He did a show that focused more on the roots of rock and roll, soul music and R&B. I don't know what he's doing now, but I don't think it's in professional radio.

Anyway, I had huge crushes on both of these guys when I was a freshman in high school. I imagine if either wanted to make out with me, I probably would've.

That's neither here nor there. The point is this: M's favorite band was Devo.

Freedom of Choice

Devo's third album is probably the band's best. Keeping with the band's political themes, the album touches on self-determination ("Whip It"), individual rights v. collectivism ("Freedom of Choice") and the obvious themes of 1980 ("Gates of Steel" and "Cold War").

The album had the band moving away from the guitars of earlier albums ("Girl U Want," for example, is more reminiscent of earlier Devo records). "It's Not Right," though, is the picture of the band's new direction. It's a synth-driven record recalling the emerging musical styles of the time -- New Wave and dance -- backed by a sad little chorus lyric.

I love you, darling.
It's a crying shame.
The way you run around,
like you're in a big game.
I'm so happy, I could cry every time.
I think about you.

Of course, the song is known for this video, the one for "Whip It." The song's riff is tripled on a keyboard, the bass and a guitar. The video is iconic for its time and the stackable hats have proved to be something of a symbol for the band.

Nevertheless, the album is more then "Whip It." It's a record that had Devo in transition and proved to be the band's biggest hit.