This song is an absolutely terrific piece of music, with a melody reminiscent of “At the Beginning” by Flaherty and Ahrens, and one of the best girl-group songs to come out of England since the heyday of Girls Aloud. The only reason anything about its quality is in doubt is that some people have raised objections to it because they somehow took the singers’ chosen metaphor for their sexuality as an allusion to date-rape drugs. I don’t know if I’m more disgusted by these people’s apparent determination to get offended by every piece of media in existence, or their inability to grasp the basic concept of metaphor, especially a metaphor that’s been around at least since Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer used it in “That Old Black Magic” back in the Forties.
Archives for September 2015
Al Stewart might just be the classiest Soft Rocker of all time. He started out as a Progressive Folk-Rocker with College radio hits like “Roads To Moscow”, and he retained the ambition and intellectual qualities he displayed there even after moving into radio-friendly Soft Rock. This song features an impossibly lush arrangement, with an elegant keyboard lead-in and a saxophone part giving it a kind of jazz-folk quality. This, combined with the sophisticated and richly romantic imagery of the lyrics (‘she comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolor in the rain’), gives the piece a feeling of world-weary continental elegance. This song has a handful of people who still scorn it simply because it was a Soft Rock radio hit that was a bit overexposed when it came out, but I have always maintained that Soft Rock can be a perfectly legitimate genre, and it just doesn’t get better or more legitimate than this.
Verdict: This song is a true classic.
New Age Music gets a bad rep, which may be partly due to people not comprehending the difference between the Ambient music genres and Muzak and thus automatically dismissing it based on the fact that it’s designed as a form of background music, but I think the larger problem is that this bozo has been the public face of it for the last thirty years. In reality, there are plenty of legit artists in the New Age field (granted, the only one that most mainstream listeners would recognize is Enya, but within the genre there are other respectable big names like Stephen Halpern, Jean Michel Jarre, David Lanz, Kitaro, and Symbiosis), but unfortunately none of them has penetrated the pop consciousness as much as Yanni. In effect, he plays the homogenized pop version of New Age Music…his music is all cheesy, overblown bombast, with none of the subtle atmospheric beauty of the good New Age musicians. Granted, bombast can have its pleasures under the right circumstances, but it’s best when combined with memorable melody, and this guy’s total lack of melodic inspiration keeps him from taking his bombast to the level where it would have any actual sweep or power. On top of that, he’s just not a particularly talented piano player, a pretty damning indictment for a guy who makes his living at that instrument. Just how ungifted he is can be illustrated by comparing him to his direct predecessor, because in the previous generation, we also had an Easy Listening pseudo-Classical pianist for basically the same market…his name was Liberace. Now, Liberace wasn’t on the level of Classical piano giants like Glenn Gould, but he did have often dazzling virtuosic skill at his instrument and an extremely distinctive playing style, two things that Yanni will never achieve. I’ve been told this particular piece has the same positive effects on the human brain as a certain famous Mozart concerto because its basic musical structure is similar to (read: ripped off from) that piece, and while I’m not qualified to disprove that statement, it seems extremely far-fetched given the actual quality of the piece…I’ve heard Diane Warren compositions that were closer to being Mozartian than this garbage.
Verdict: Bad, but if you want to see what the New Age Music genre is really like, check out some of the more legit acts I mentioned above. They’re a hundred times better than this idiot.
Here it is…the show that gave Broadway the shot in the arm it so desperately needed. Because this show has been imitated by countless lesser shows for the past decade, and because of the mediocre movie they made of it, it’s now hard for some people to remember how brilliant this show is when seen with fresh eyes. The book draws from one of Mel Brooks’ best movies, but it actually improves upon it, softening the blackly comic edges and making the characters far more likable while retaining one of the great comic plots of the last century.
The score is outstanding, with delightful numbers that echo the styles of old-fashioned, classic Broadway, from Fred and Ginger (the uptempo love song “That Face”), to Show Boat (the hilarious intro to “I Wanna Be a Producer”), to Fiddler on the Roof (the outrageously beleaguered “King of Broadway”), to West Side Story (the howlingly funny “Keep It Gay”), to Rodgers and Hammerstein (the hilarious but genuinely touching climactic song, “Til Him”). Almost every number is a showstopper, and the two biggest, the “Springtime For Hitler” sequence (which Brooks turns into a massive star salute in the vein of “Hello Dolly”) and “Betrayed” (a comedic version of “Rose’s Turn”, complete with fragmentary reprises of earlier songs), are a class of showstopper hardly ever seen on Broadway.
Some have accused the lyrics of being heavy-handed, but Mel Brooks had spent his entire career doing this kind of low comedy, so one might ask what they expected the show’s lyrics to sound like. Besides, despite the frequent use of blunt but utterly on-the-money shock humor, there are actually several genuinely clever moments in the score, from the dazzling string of rhymes at the climax of “The King of Broadway” to the risque wit of “If You Got It, Flaunt It”.
The conventional wisdom says that the show depended entirely on its original leading men, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, to make it work, but I saw the show twice with the replacement casts, and it works just fine without its stars. The story, score and staging are what really make it hilarious. I might go so far as to call this the greatest musical comedy of the decade. It certainly sparked a Broadway renaissance that would last for several years to come, and it deserved every bit of its acclaim.
Before this year, Carly Rae Jepsen seemed like the quintessential one-hit wonder, even if she had technically had two hits. She was known primarily for a silly borderline-novelty song that was launched primarily by going viral on social media, and her actual album was a miniscule hit compared to that one individual single, and these are all generally signs that a performer is not going to have much of a shelf-life. On top of that, she appeared as a replacement lead in a Broadway show, and that is rarely a sign of career health for a mainstream pop singer (case in point: Clay Aiken in Spamalot).
So when this album was released, especially given an extremely poor choice of lead single, virtually everyone was expecting it to be a forgettable mediocrity after which she would probably disappear for good. So this album’s frankly stunning quality wound up surprising a lot of people, and I’m not ashamed to say I was one of them.
Everyone is comparing this album to 1989 by Taylor Swift, another album that silenced an uproar of preliminary skepticism, with some even suggesting that it is superior to that modern masterpiece. In reality, the album isn’t quite as good as 1989 (mostly because it lacks that album’s range and variety), but it does tap into that same shimmering, ravishing blend of retro influences and totally new sounds, and it still stands as one of the greatest albums of the current year.
And like 1989, it decided to advertise itself with the worst song on the album, “I Really Like You”, a blatant retread of Carly Rae Jepsen’s first hit, “Call Me Maybe”, with an incredibly annoying repetitive hook that sounds more like a parody of her earlier work than anything else. At least with “Shake It Off”, one could see the commercial (if not artistic) justification for going with it as a lead single, but since there’s not really a conventional winning formula for a smash hit song anywhere on this album, they really should have taken a chance on one of the more rarefied tracks and hoped for lightning to strike, which it obviously has done repeatedly in a decade where “Somebody That I Used To Know” topped a Year-End Chart
But despite the poor choice of initial publicity, pretty much everything else here is lovely. The second single, “Run Away With Me”, which should have been released first to begin with, is a perfect example, a huge, sweeping love song at once ecstatic and desperate, and loaded with melody from the intro verse to the chorus. The title track has perky music that sounds like a cute love song, but the scorching, mocking lyrics make most of Kelly Clarkson’s output look tame by comparison (the opening line is ‘Be tormented by me, baby’). “Gimmie Love” makes far better use of a repeating hook than “I Really Like You”, creating one of the most haunting choruses I’ve ever heard in conventional uptempo pop.
The motor-mouthed Funk Jam “Making the Most of the Night” provides a burst of uptempo energy, sounding different enough from the songs it’s influenced by to qualify as a synthesis of new genres rather than a mere throwback. “All That” provides the album with a truly elegant slow ballad to provide contrast with all its up-tunes. And for those who still see Carly Rae Jepsen as a squeaky-clean, sexless pop princess, we have one of the most erotic pop songs of the decade, “Warm Blood”, which sounds uncannily like actual love noises in both music and words.
Then there is the album’s high point, “Your Type”, a devastating, anguished love song featuring Jepsen’s rawest and most dramatic performance ever (apparently, she used an E-cigarette for days beforehand purely to get precisely the right broken, raw-throated sound for the song). I’ve heard people complain about Jepsen’s supposed lack of personality, but this is an effect created by her unwillingness to make an ass of herself in her public persona…she displays plenty of depth and, yes, emotion on her performances here, and her rendition of “Your Type” is revelatory. This album isn’t turning out to be the commercial juggernaut that 1989 did, partly because Jepsen has not received nearly as much promotion, but the serious pop listeners are definitely realizing how brilliant it actually is, and it seems likely to live on in history as one of the truly great albums of the 2010s. Rolling Stone and Pitchfork gave it lukewarm reviews at the time, but don’t be surprised if it winds up on their ‘best of the decade’ lists in five years.
Whitney Houston’s legendary cover of this Dolly Parton classic actually managed to reach the top ten in re-release form twenty years after its original debut. It’s one of a very few songs to ever do that, so I suppose it therefore deserves to be touched on. Well, I know Houston’s version is something of a sacred cow, all the more so after her untimely death, but while I actually have a very high opinion of this cover, I still don’t think it’s equal to the Dolly Parton original. Houston sings the song gloriously from a vocal perspective, and it displays her ravishing mezzo-soprano sound and monumental vocal power perhaps better than anything else she ever recorded, so the iconic status of her cover version is hardly surprising. But from an emotional perspective, I’ve always found Parton’s calmer, more understated version far more moving than Houston’s melodramatic, passive-aggressive rendition. After all, Parton wrote the song about her professional mentor Porter Wagoner, so it’s really meant as a quiet, bittersweet farewell (in Parton’s case, to a surrogate father-figure rather than a lover), and not the kind of overwrought love ballad Houston treats it as. Still, there’s certainly room in the world for both covers, and while I may find Parton’s version more emotionally convincing, I certainly wouldn’t want to lose either of them.
This immortal American anthem, originally synthesized from the combination of a patriotic poem and a gorgeous Christian hymn, is arguably the greatest item in all the rich field of American patriotic music, and it really should be our national anthem instead of the tuneless and stilted “The Star-Spangled Banner”. And Ray Charles’ decision to record it as though it were a popular song not only allowed the mainstream public to hear the much more dramatic lyrics to the song’s other verse, but provided this oft-taken-for-granted classic with its all-time definitive performance.
This is, in all honesty, one of the greatest songs ever written. It’s a wickedly funny song about a beguiling, gender-ambiguous beauty named Lola, and features one of the most unforgettable hooks in all of Classic Rock, as well as having the distinction of actually being much funnier than its own Weird Al parody. On top of that, it was about forty years ahead of its time, given that transgender issues are only now becoming a hot-button topic within the last few years…for reference, this song came out in 1970.