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Archive for October, 2007

Eugoogly: Stylus Magazine

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 31, 2007

The end’s not near, it’s here

So as all of you (or all of you that would care, at least) probably know by now, today is the last day of new content to be offered by the website for which I’ve written for the last four and a half years (and which has generously hosted and nursed this blog for the last nine months). Stylus editor Todd Burns has decided that after a half-decade of running the site, for much of the time with little or no assistance, he’s hanging up his spurs, and rather than choose a successor (who would almost definitely end up losing interest in and squandering the site within a year’s time), he decided to pack up the whole thing. Truly, nothing could be scarier this Halloween than the prospect of an internet without it’s best music magazine.

But I’m going to try to restrain most of my writerly impulses to be as sentimental and melodramatic as possible in eugooglizing Stylus here. ‘Coz to be totally honest, this doesn’t really affect my day-to-day life that much, and to be even more honest, I might as well have stopped writing for Stylus years ago. While co-writer workhorses like friends of IITS Ian Mathers and Tal Rosenberg have continued to crank out review after review every week, I’d be surprised if I contributed an article a month this last year. What’s more, I’ve only written one actual review of a new album in the last 18 months (dNTEL’s Dumb Luck), and it was a truly miserable experience and probably a truly shitty review.

Fact is, I don’t belong at Stylus, and I haven’t for a long time now. Which isn’t to say I’ve had some humongous ideological breach with the site, or that it’s somehow worsened over the years of my writing for it, or that the Stylus community has in any way made me feel like I didn’t deserve to be a part of it. It’s just that Stylus is, at heart, a magazine for music writers, and I guess I should accept that that’s not really what I am–at least anymore, at least not in that way. I barely listen to 20 new albums a year, and the great majority of those I cram in come November-December just so I’ll have a decent list to submit for year-end compilations. But even that wasn’t enough of a draw for me this year, and out of a combination of embarrassment and deadline confusion, I didn’t even submit a ’07 year-end list for Stylus–something that the me of four years ago would’ve seen as the ultimate in heresy.

And to submit one last piece of semi-brutal honesty, I haven’t really read the site in ages. I mean, I browse–if there’s a new album I have a passing interest in, I might look for the grade and skim the beginning and ending paragraphs, and if there’s a non-review article written on a band, song or album I actually do care about, I’ll probably read most of it, and in some cases, even the whole thing. But ultimately, I’m the kind of reader that music writers (especially those at Stylus) hate, and for good reason. So what business could I possibly have posing as one myself?

It’s also hard to get too misty-eyed about the site’s demise when I spent my entire Stylus career in perpetual fear of being fired. This was largely due to the editorial genius of Todd Burns–a man who, whether he realized he was doing it or not, was positively brilliant in getting results from his writers by being almost unceasingly ice-cold to them. For 95% of article and review submissions, the only comments you’d get from the man was “received.” When he made announcements on the staff board, they were terse and to-the-point. Even when he engaged in board conversations on the subjects he was most passionate about, you still felt like he was laying his opinions down as executive statements and memos.

As such, writers such as myself felt an unending craving for his near-parental approval, and when possible, worked to reflect it. When you failed him, he never actually called you out on it, but you just knew that secretly he was making note of the disappointment in his great mental Stylus file cabinet. The guilt and shame was unbearable, consequently, while I might have fucked up a whole lot over the course of my Stylus career, I’m pretty sure at least that I never fucked up twice in a row.

What made the man a truly prodigious editor, though, was how he gave you just enough encouragement to stop you from ever throwing up your hands and firebombing the whole site. I don’t know how he did it, but it seemed like whenever I was reaching my tipping point, he’d respond to one of my articles with an actual “good job on this,” or “thanks for putting in the effort,” or something like that. And that one piece of approval was enough to fuel tolerance for another six months of “received” responses.

Still, I always figured that eventually he’d reach a tipping point of his own. I’d miss one deadline too many, I’d try a little too hard to push the site towards the pop-centric agenda I’d always basically been trying to propagate and make enemies out of one too many of the album-centric senior writers, I’d make one too many snarky comments to make him realize he never liked me as a person or a writer and hey, he could boot me whenever he felt like it. Whenever he IMed me or e-mailed me or called me or in any way attempted to convey that he wished for some communication between the two of us, I was like Redd Foxx in Sanford and Son–this was gonna be it, the big one, PopMatters, I’m comin’! But somehow, it never happened. The fact that Stylus is meeting its demise while I’m still in board is something I never could’ve guessed four years ago, and in a perverse way, I feel like I’ve won some sort of endurance contest, probably at Todd’s expense. (For the record, Todd Burns in person is an extremely nice, friendly, welcoming, funny, and not-at-all ice-cold person, though I still secretly suspect that he hates me, and I likely always will–I’d almost be disappointed to find out otherwise at this point).

Now that I’ve gotten all that other stuff out of the way, though, I’m still going to get a little sentimental here. Because, despite our falling out over the last few years, without Stylus Magazine, I simply wouldn’t be here right now. And I mean that on several levels, obviously. First and most literally, I wouldn’t be at this blog–something which I’ve fantasized about doing for years of increasingly less satisfying Stylus writing, and which I have to credit Todd for finally giving me the impetus and motivation to actually start. Though I’ve been slacking off a little more than I should recently, and though sometimes writing articles at 3:00 in the morning after a night’s drinking isn’t always something I really want to be doing, this blog is everything that I’ve always wanted and hoped for in my career as a music writer (minus, y’know, the getting paid part)–a place where I can talk about whatever I want in the way I want to do it without worrying about schedule conflicts, article guidelines or editorial expectations, and a place where I still feel like I have even better and more passionate readers than I did on Stylus. If my four years at Stylus result in nothing else, its leading to the creation of this blog would automatically make it time well spent.

On another level, I have no idea if I’d be doing internet writing at all if not for Stylus. I can’t imagine who else besides Stylus (and Todd, specifically) would’ve been willing to take a chance on a 16-year-old indie kid with no writing experience, just on the reccomendation of a different 16-year-old indie kid with no writing experience (Long Story Short of how I got to Stylus: me and my friend Kareem tried out in HS, he got in but I didn’t, but he re-reccomended me and I ended up staying at the site twice as long as he did). Stylus allowed me to experiment with and work out my writing style that, say, the NYU newspaper never could have, to a point where I actually feel relatively comfortable with myself as a writer, a claim I definitely couldn’t have made back in 2003.

And on the furthest level, I have no idea if I’d even be here at NYU, or if I’d have made it to college at all without Stylus. Without having that sort of music-writer identity, and a place where I could confirm that identity to myself and the world on a weekly basis, I have no clue what would have been driving me career and goal-wise at all. My interests are disturbingly narrow, my skill set somehow even narrower–if I hadn’t become a music writer, I can’t imagine what there would have been left for me to get into (drugs? dental hygeine? promiscuity?) It’s sort of a scary thought, really.

But it’s not just what it did for me, my career and my identity that made my time at Stylus so worthwhile. I made a casual mention of it up there a little while back, but I do really mean it–Stylus is, by far, the best music writing site on the internet right now. The depth and diversity of the quality writers for the site is simply staggering–writers that can cover everything from Norwegian death metal to pre-teen chart pop with thoroughness, insight and clarity, on a regular basis. You’ve got countless series of creative, unusual, non-review-related columns (several of which for whom I’m proud to have had a part in the creation), a constant willingness to try out new ideas without neglecting the old ones, even a layout that just kept getting cooler. We even had Dom Passantino, fer chrisssake. However diminsihed my part in it might have become, I couldn’t be prouder to have played a part in it at all.

The fact that it never was, and in all reality, never possibly could be, as widely viewed and as influential as Pitchfork is more about editorial ideological differences than any actual superiority in quality. Todd Burns and Pitchfork mastermind Ryan Schrieber were likely just as skilled and hard-working at their respective jobs, but what they wanted out of their sites were totally different. Schrieber, despite what he might say to the contrary, was all about singularity. His brilliance was (and is) in how he managed a series of writers almost as diverse as Stylus’s cast and made it seem like the entire site was always speaking with one voice. Consequently, when they give an album a positve review, it feels like the whole site–not just the entire staff, but the entire site’s history and track record–is behind it. This is the main reason why Pitchfork doesn’t give new albums 10.0’s anymore–because the review isn’t just one man’s opinion, but the unanimous voice of the whole staff, and who wants to reccomend an album so thoroughly whole-heartedly when a lot of people might disagree, or the album might not sound so great a few months later?

Todd, on the other hand, was all about plurality. He used to publish multiple reviews of the same album from writers with differing viewpoints just so it wouldn’t seem like we were handing pronouncements from on high. Similarly, one of Stylus’s best regular articles was the On Second Thought column, in which writers would defend or put down albums in an against-the-grain manner, often when we had previously published reviews or blurbs that the OST would directly oppose. Even on the best of all-time lists we’d publish (many of which were the result of my constant prodding for more, more, ALWAYS MORE LISTAGE) he’d always take the time to make some “this is just our opinion, if you agree, cool, if not, whatever” type qualification. With so little attempt to claim authority, it’s no surprise the site had barely a fraction of Pitchfork’s influence–after all, it was always only one man’s opinion.

That’s not to say that Pitchfork’s model is a bad or in any way cheap or immoral one–there was an available and necessary-to-fill niche in internet music criticism, Schrieber was brilliant to be the first to jump into it, and I have nothing but respect for him for it (though I do wish he’d own up to his site’s self-created-and-perpetuated identity a little more). But if you ask me which model I’d rather read, or rather write for, it’s gotta be Stylus’s–a site which tolerated even the most outlandish opinions as just as worthy as those that toed the party line, and which did so totally unapologetically.

I do wish I could still feel the connection with the site in its last days that I did at the beginning. When I first heard, several months ago, that the site’s folding was imminent, I only felt a twinge or two of sadness, and even less of surprise. Stylus’s readership has, I believe, plateaued some time ago, and Todd was doing way too much work for way too little financial reward to make the site feasible for too much longer. Frankly, lasting as long as he did is something I consider a Herculean achievement. But as the rest of the staff writes dolorous farewells and shares stories about breaking down crying while reading our final day’s pieces, I can barely even bring myself to browse through them. Maybe I should consider myself lucky that this isn’t affecting me so much, but I feel like with all it’s given me, Stylus deserves more than just a conflicted blog post. So to our readers, to the rest of the staff, and of course, to Todd, I’m sorry that there was more that I could’ve done for the site that I didn’t, I’m sorry that I pushed the site in a direction it didn’t always want to go in, I’m sorry that I didn’t do more of my part in at least upping the site’s hit count by visiting 20 times a day, and most of all, I’m really sorry that I’m not sorrier now that it’s all over.

At least I’m getting a chance to do my part to send the site off properly this weekend. Stylus writers are coming from all over the country (and even a couple from different ones) to give Stylus the New Orleans-style alochol-and-karaoke-soaked funeral that it so richly deserves. I can’t remember the last (non-trivia-related) weekend I was so excited for–it might even date back to the last great Stylus meet-up in 2005, a similarly alcohol-and-karaoke-soaked celebration that the site so richly deserved. It’s all coming full circle, and I just hope my voice recovers from last night’s KOing by then. In the meantime, time to begin the long and arduous search for a new home page.

R.I.P. STYLUS FUCKING MAGAZINE, 2002-2007

(Stay tuned the next few days for stories about some of my favorite contributions to the site, and maybe even a couple written by other dudes)

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Posted in Eugoogly | 12 Comments »

Take Five / Commercial Break: Siginificantly Above-Average Playoffs Ads

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 31, 2007

Whoops

All right, you guys got me. I bit off a little more than I could chew last night with my promise of ten super-shitty playoff-heavy commercials as well as five that were not so. I tried to scramble to erase my initial previews of the latter, but I left one mention of ’em in there, and you guys being the super-dedicated hawkeye IITS readers that you are, you called me on it. But hey, that’s why I love you guys. So, without any further ado, the five that commercials that made inning breaks and relief pitcher warm-ups endurable:

  • Ortiz and Urlacher Switch it Up. I had no idea what the hell I was watching the first time I saw this commercial, and it’s still pretty fucking weird. Aside from being big dudes playing for scary teams, I’m not really even sure what Sox slugger David Ortiz and Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher have in common to bring ’em together here, but it’s hard to argue with any commercial that has two of the most physically intimidating men in pro sports kicking a little bamdinton ass. Especially when the commercial so aces the details–the broadcaster’s deadpan, the verite-ish cinematography (which makes the shuttlecock sticking out of the one dude’s leg seem particularly disturbing and hilarious) and even Ortiz’s trademark thanking-the-man-upstairs finishing move. Oh, and it’s a Vitamin Water commercial, I think.
  • Nothin’ But a Good Time. Don’t really care at all about the visuals on this XBox 360 ad–which are still pretty cool, showing emergency supplies of 360 titles being delivered to the needy. But this one’s all about the music–a kiddie chorus-voiced cover of Poison’s hair metal standard, “Nothin’ But a Good Time”. Transforming one of the sleaziest songs of the 80s into a pre-teen gamer anthem is pretty well guaranteed to put a smile on my face .
  • I’ll Take the Stairs. Bud Light’s riffing on one of the classic old school visual gags is one of the most successful uses of anti-humor I’ve seen used in recent TV, advertisement or no. First time through, I was praying it was going to go there with the joke, and when it did, I was chuckling for the next ten minutes. Essential viewing, no doubt.
  • A Car You Can’t Ignore. Who says physical comedy is dead? Stacy from Wayne’s World (OK, fine, Lara Flynn Boyle) could probably sue for royalties, but this had me in semi-stitches anyway. Best viewed in immediate succession with its follow-up commercial, which I can’t find a link to at the moment, so I guess you’ll never know about that for certain.
  • Warren Wallace. As penance for innundating us with those increasingly unfunny and unsettling Gekko commercials (does anyone else find the ones where he laments the fact that if he had a different name, he wouldn’t have a job, to be a little too, I dunno, Beckett-esque?), GEICO hits us with its best ad campaign since the Cavemen glory days, about the titular pint-sized auto-racing fiend. Dunno what it is about super-cocky pre-teens that so winds me up, but Warren’s toothpick-chomping arrogance had me quoting along every time he came on TV after the first. Proof that when it comes to catchy advertising characters and campaigns, GEICO is still a hundred miles away, son.

Posted in Commercial Break, Take Five | Leave a Comment »

Commercial Break / Listeria: Ten Commercials I’ll Be Glad Not to Have Rammed Down My Throat Anymore

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 30, 2007

They can’t all be Sir Charge, I guess

So the playoffs are officially over, and the two teams I bothered to get emotionally invested in both ended up going down in straight sets. Still, there are some definite advantages to the series being over–more time to catch up on the second-tier new TV that I’ve been slacking on recently (Dirty Sexy Money and Life are still on the air, right?), as well as time for a certain new video game I’ll surely be writing about fairly soon. But even more importantly–no more watching the same fucking awful commercials every night.

Despite having hardly slacked on my TV watching in any way in recent years, it’s been a fairly long time since I actually watched the same show on the same channel every night for weeks at a time–the closest thing I can think of is when I’d watch I Love the _0s shows every night in their premiere week on VH1. Consequently, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to watch the same blocks of commercials over and over and over again. Needless to say, it’s not something I’d generally reccomend, as the decent commercials invariably become irritating, the irritating commercials become unbearable, and the unbearable commercials start to haunt you in your sleep. Here are ten of the worst, as well as the five actual quality ones that helped restrain my channel-flipping thumb.

10. “There’s only one…OCTOBER!The most consistenly oppressive series of commercials to be aired during this post-season was this Dane Cook vehicle. How the third-most annoying man in stand up (Mencia, Williams assuming he still counts) booked the gig is beyond me, but truth told, he doesn’t do a half-bad job–conveys the necessary enthusiasm and decent rapid-fire editing takes care of the rest. It could’ve avoided inclusion on this list if it wasn’t for the ubiquity, and if it wasn’t for that damn catchphrase, which Cook keeps trying to find new ways to emphasize (“THERE’S ONLY ONEoctober??!”) with limited success. Parodied cleverly by SNL’s Jason Sudeikis (“I think one of them’s a hockey team” he says about the Diamondbacks/Rockies series).

9. The Twinkly Bank of America Ads. Talk about trying too hard. I hate when commercials attempt to imply deep emotional connections with products to which no human could actually feel a deep emotional connection, and this ad for a bank–which has customers seeing the logo protecting them everywhere they go (or something, I never paid too close attention) while twinkly but super-serious piano plays in the background–is in egregious violation of this. Plus, everyone knows that Commerce is really where it’s at.

8. The House / Bones Ad. House ads always look stupid, and Bones ads always look…well, even more stupid, considering the show it’s advertising is fucking Bones. But this would be relatively harmless if it wasn’t for the song in the background, Swingfly’s “Something’s Got Me Started.” Already included in an episode of Private Practice and ads for TGI Fridays, this song is in huge, huge risk of becoming the next “Cobrastyle” if ad men aren’t careful (which, of course, they won’t be).

7. Not Your Country Yet. The great thing about my previous decade-plus of avoiding sports on TV? 95% of the time, I was able to avoid those Jeep ads with John Mellencamp’s “Our Country.” I’d heard horror stories from my friends about it, but the actual commercial only appeared on my horizon a handful of times, so I figured it was harmless enough. Once I started, thoguh, the floodgates opened, and now I could probably recite Mellencamp’s self-parodic rallying cry better than I could the National Anthem (which “Our Country” basically is now, as far as I can tell). The only reason it’s not higher on this list is because TBS seemed to phase it out by the end of the Division Series, and by the time the playoffs reached FOX I don’t think I saw it at all.

6. Got a Little Captain in Ya. Have nothing against this series of commercials in particular, but the one showed constantly during the playoffs (the one where the two guys go into the pizza place and order delivery so the driver will take their inebriated asses home) rubbed me the wrong way. Just the smirk on the dude’s face when he says “Yeah. Delivery.” So smug and self-impressed with his drunkenness.

5. Philawareapragueicago. One thing more annoying than commercials trying to make emotional connections that aren’t there are ones that try to coin catchphrases that just aren’t happening. The new AT&T ads (about phone coverage that works in a variety of places, I think) do this with the aforementioned geographical smush, reiterated several times throughout the commercial. I can’t wait to forget this phrase’s existence.

4. The Gilette Champions. Apparently Roger Federer, Thierry Henry and Tiger Woods have nothing better to do with their time than to do lame Gilette ads, and lame Gilette ads have nothing better to do with Federer, Henry and Woods than to dress them in suits and have them walk in tandem towards the camera, spouting motivational phrases like tools. Remember when Tiger Woods commercials used to look like this?

3. You’re My Number One. Verizon has pretty much yet to do a watchable commercial with that “Can You Hear Me Now?” loser (who makes the “Dude, you’re getting a dell” guy look like Sean Connery), but this one is a new low. I really just hate cell phone commercials in general, I guess–I refuse to believe that anyone actually cares that much about the minutae that these ads pore over. Does anyone actually give a damn about who they put in Their Five?

2. Frank TV. “The show that will literally change the face of late-night TV!” First off–stop using the word literally when the situation is not literal at all. Second off–what exactly is so revolutionary about a fat dude being unfunny? The guy’s actually not bad at the impressions, but no one can sustain a TV show on impressions alone, and as it turns out, no one can sustain an ad campaign on them either. Only thing keeping this from pole position is its mercy-kill upon the transition of the series from TBS to FOX. Now it all just seems like a bad dream.

1. Three Rules to Live By. Putting Coach Bobby Finstock to shame, the chode in the newest Taco Belll commercial advises his bro that real men do not own lapdogs, never date women with dragon tattoos, and always get chili on his nachos bel grande–then, of course, his dragon tattoo-laden wife hands him his lapdog to walk. Hilarious! As if this wasn’t bad enough, they also started showing an edited version of the clip where the first two pieces of advice, as well as the part with the wife, are edited out, leaving just the nachos bel grande part, and absolutely zero jokes. The only thing that could make this commercial worse would be the misappropriation of isolated, out-of-context lyrical phrases from a classic pop song. Heh.

Posted in Commercial Break, Listeria | 7 Comments »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap / Eugoogly: The 2007 Colorado Rockies

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 28, 2007

Rocktober Blood: Can now rest easy

Goddamn it.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Eugoogly, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Blog Hiatus: 11/26-11/27

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 27, 2007

Celebrating Halloween a few days early. Will be back in time for some mad Guitar Hero III bloggin’.

Posted in Blog Hiatus | Leave a Comment »

Charts on Fire: 10-24-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 26, 2007

You can catch Soulja Boy at your local party, yes he crank it every day. Or you can just check the top of the pop charts, where he’s been for SEVEN FUCKING WEEKS now. Not like I can really blame America for it or anything, dear lord is this song hypnotic. Why I love this song when I hated, hated, hated D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” is utterly beyond me–they’re almost identical in terms of hooks, production and IQ (or, in the case of all three, lack thereof), but D4L topping the charts practically put me into a depression, while I could live with this staying on top until next year.

Nipping at his heels, though, is Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss.” Soulja producer Mr. Collipark made some bizarro comment about how Soulja Boy reminds him of a young Michael Jackson (which makes no sense), but far more people have tended to make the comparison with Mr. Brown (which makes perfect sense, though I probably shouldn’t refer to him as Mr. Brown too often). With four Top 15s off his last album (including a tip-topper) and now a #2 with a bullet, he’s already starting to post MJ-like stats, and I gotta say, the song’s damn good, minus the now-obligatory T-Pain cameo (nine top 40 hits this guy is on this year, is nothing sacred????) If he’s not exhuming skeletons and putting voodoo curses on Peter Jackson by ten years’ time, I’ll be pretty disappointed.

Since I haven’t done this column in a long-ass time and have yet to address it, let me also take this time to discuss our country’s #3 single this week, Timbaland and OneRepublic’s “Apologize“. I don’t even remember what my reaction was to this song my first and only listen through Shock Value, but seeing the video for this sorta blindsided me. I’m not even sure if the song’s that great (though I’m certainly digging it), but I just couldn’t get over how different it sounded–splitting the difference between Keane and JT, finding a surprisingly organic-sounding middle ground that actually turns out to be a pretty comfortable way to be. Most of Timbaland’s attempts at rock collabing have been laughable, maybe he just needs to stick to the ballads. In any event, whoever thought Timbo would have three straight top five hits on the left side of the “f/” symbol?

Rounding out the top five are Alicia Keys’ “No One” (suuuuuuuuuucks) and Colbie Cailat’s “Bubbly” (love for this one grows daily). In the low end of the top 10, we’ve got Kanye’s “Stronger” (very ready for this song to die, dropping four to #6), Baby Bash and T-Pain’s “Cyclone” (totally pointless, 11-7), Kanye’s “Good Life” (very ready for this song to go for the glory, up two to #8), Rihanna and Ne-Yo’s “Hate That I Love You” (yawn, 15-9) and that other Timbo single no one’ll remember anything about in a few months except for what a weird title it was (7-10).

Let’s take a minute to address Finger 11’s “Paralyzer” (26-21) and the general recent trend of modern rock bands turning to disco in their moments of need. Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy, and now F11 have all hit paydirt getting into the groove, and this last one is the most improbable example of them all. Anyone remember “One Thing,” their Throwing Copper-ish semi-power-ballad from a few years back? I actually loved that song, but I could never expect a band of such staid accoustic righteousness ever wanting to “make you move,” much less putting their backbeat where their mouth is. Weird.

Other big gainers this week include The-Dream’s “Shawty is a 10” (song{ is more like a 4, LOL, 83-24) Fabolous’s “Baby Don’t Go” (dude’s devotion to mediocrity is touching, 27-25), Playaz Circle f/ Lil’ Wayne’s “Duffle Bag Boy” (there are people on this besides the Lil’est survivor? Whatever, 35-27), DJ Khaled f/ Half the Northern Hemipshere’s “I’m So Hood” (FACT, 40-31), Jordin Sparks’ “Tattoo” (man, did anyone care about the last season of AI? 55-39) and Gorilla Zoe’s “Hood Figga” (only interesting for the clumsy censoring, 41-38).

Speaking of clumsy (yessssss I am amazing at transition sentences), Fergie has a song called exactly that scaling 46 positions to #45 this week. Halfway between “Stars are Blind” and “Ain’t No Other Man” (and yes, I mean both sides of that as a compliment), this is by far the most palatable thing the girl’s done on her own thusfar, though for sheer purposes of fascination, none will ever trump “Fergalicious” or “Glamorous”. Girl’s building up quite the resume, in any event. Take that, M.I.A., you hack.

And Soulja Boy’s second hit is already appearing on the horizon!! “Soulja Girl” (c’mon, what else were you expecting?) climbs 14 to #44, not quite the martian-sounding transmission of planetary dominance that its predecessor was, but one step at a time, I suppose. Meanwhile, super-underrated country sensation Taylor Swift’s got a new one, “Our Song” (Stylus co-writers like Miranda Lambert but I like Taylor more, probably because I still haven’t listened to the Miranda album, 56-46) and that boring asshole Trey Songz extends his lease on life by another four weeks or so with “Can’t Help But Wait” (60-47).

The two coolest new-ons to the charts this week are both about shadows, because they both have the word shadow in the title and that’s cool because shadows are cool and these songs are pretty cool. This is a roundabout way of mentioning how The Killers’ cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay,” from new Ian Curtis biopic Control, is the chart’s top debut this week at #68. Some people are crying heresy, but I’m liking it, because I have no respect for anyone. Meanwhile, Linkin Park put a third simultaneous song on the Modern Rock top 20 (only band besides U2 or R.E.M. to ever accomplish this) with “Shadow of the Day,” the sorta U2-via-“When You Were Young” type anthem you feel like they were going for with all of Minutes to Midnight. Works pretty well–there must be at least a one-disc mix worth of great 80s arena-style chest-beaters in the last two or three years of mainstream rock by now.

Chevelle are still pretty cool. Silversun Pickups are one of the better things to happen to rock in 2007. Rolling Stone needs to get over Bruce Springsteen’s tragic death in 2001 and stop giving his posthumous albums five stars. And I wish I could remember the name of a single Dierks Bentley song.

Posted in Charts on Fire | 6 Comments »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap / Listeria: There’s Only One Rocktober

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 24, 2007

*Disclaimer: The Good Dr. still does not wish to appear to believe himself any sort of expert on matters athletic, therefore he acknowledges that his opinions on the matter continue to be self-indulgent and often largely suspect, unlike with all other matters, on which his word is final

So as I gear up to watch my first World Series in I don’t even know how long–a decade, at least, since even when I got into the 2004 playoffs, I lost interest by the time it became obvious the Cardinals didn’t have a chance against the Red Sox–I gotta say, I’m pretty fucking excited. These definitely feel like the two teams sort of destined to make it to the end of the Fall Classic (sorry Phils, you got it next year), and I sort of can’t wait to see how it plays out. But while I’d be OK with either team winning–the Red Sox have earned their period of athletic imperialism, I suppose–I’m 100% pulling for the Rockies. Ten reasons why.

10. The Uniforms. All right, I gotta admit that the asthete in me gets easily biased by a teams with some sharp-looking digs. The Rox’s austere but brilliantly eye-catching black, white & (purple? dark blue?) rags look great under the bright lights, and feel sort of oddly appropriate for the team’s character. Couldn’t possibly explain why that is, of course, and that’s because it’s probably totally nonsensical, but hey, that’s why it’s only #10, tough guy.

9. Troy Tulowitzki. Matt Holliday may have been the series MVP for his clutch HRs, and Matsui and Torrealba might have put up the most impressive stats, but for me, the NLCS was all about watching Troy Tulowitzki being a fucking beast in the field. Dude just refuses to screw up, and that leaping yoink! he made on that line drive in Game 4 might have been the coolest thing I’ve seen all post-season.

8. The Mascot. I mean seriously, what the fuck is with this guy?

Not quite as enigmatic as the Philly Phanatic, but far creepier and even less easily justified.

7. The Actual Attempt to Trademark “Rocktober” Phrase. Not if 1984 horror flick Rocktober Blood has anything to say about it.

6. Honestly, Do The Red Sox Really Wanna Be the Yankees of the 00s? Regaining that same kind of much-loved Underdog status might take them another 86 years.

5. The “Well, They Beat the Phillies” Justification. As in, “Well, they beat the Phillies, so they better win the whole thing.” I mean seriously, how much more crushing would it have been if after the Rockies swept the Phils without breaking a sweat, they went and dropped four straight to those Diamondback jobbers? If they win the whole thing, and prove to be the “Team of Destiny” about which so many have prognosticated, well, then, who were the Phils to get in the way of fate?

4. They’ve Never Won Before. I heard a lot of bullshit about how the NLDS was boring and pointless because the two teams had so little history when it came to post-season success. I mean, you gotta build that history from somewhere, right? If the Rox cap this amazing post-season with a World Series victory, these guys could end up proving to be one of the classic teams of the 00s. I personally find that creation of brand new mythology far more interesting than, say a Sox-Cubs “Battle of the Curs-ed Ones!“  series would be.

3. That Clip of Todd Helton Hallelujahing After Making the Final NLCS Out.

When was the last time you saw such unadulterated rapture?

2. My Desire to Believe in Athletic Superheroes. It’s the same reason that I want at least two or three of the pros to make the final table every year at the World Series of Poker, and why I do even kinda hope that Josh Beckett manages to keep his streak of WS near-perfection in this series (he can lose in extra innings or something, that’s cool). I want to believe that the Rockies haven’t been beating in so long simply because they are thoroughly unbeatable. I’d like to believe that should the season go on another 40 games, the Rox would be able to pick up at least 38 of ’em. I want to believe that athletic perfection is humanly possible.

1. They’re Still the Goddamn Underdogs. I mean c’mon, what exactly do these guys have to do to make people believe? 21 of their last 22 games, the first time since The Big Red Machine in 1976 to win seven straight post-season games, the first team since the new system was created to not be down more than a run at any point in the playoffs. And yet after all this, they’re STILL THE GODDAMN UNDERDOGS?? SI, ESPN and FOX Sports all say they’re going down, some in as few as five games. They don’t have the hitting, they don’t have the playoff experience, they don’t have the history. I call bullshit. History isn’t all that, and you don’t win 21 of 22 without a reason. I say Rox in 5. tops.

Play ball.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Listeria | 6 Comments »

Take Five / Your Cover’s Blown: The Five Weirdest Covers of “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 24, 2007

Ready boots?

Few 60s pop songs have proven to be more bizarrely enduring than Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that–far from it, in fact, since I think its status as one of the 60s’ quirkiest, catchiest and most distinctive hits is somewhat inarguable. The brisk, tambourine-heavy beat, writer Lee Hazelwood’s classic hard-knocked homilies (“You keep lyin’ / when you oughta be truthin'”) via Sinatra’s trademark deadpan delivery, the closing mariachi horns, and of course, that unforgettable descending bass hook, all add up to one of the best singles of 1966, my vote for the greatest year for pop singles in the 20th century.

What’s strange about it, though, are the people keeping the song’s legacy alive. Aside from throwaway covers from Jessica Simpson and the Supremes, and a token appearance in the first Austin Powers movie, “Boots” appears to be almost solely the domain of the creepy and fucked up. The song’s most memorable pop culture appearances come via movies like Full Metal Jacket and Natural Born Killers, and versions of the song span such genres as punk, industrial, metal, alt-dance, rap, reggae and just plain out there. Just how many weird versions of this song have there been? Versions by Nick Cave, Operation Ivy, Kon Kan, Boy George, Antonio Banderas (via the Shrek 2 soundtrack) and The Residents DIDN’T make the cut for this article. Here’s the five that did:

Mrs. Miller – “These Boots Were Made for Walkin‘” A sort of weirdo, non-fictional precursor to the SNL Culp Family sketches, Mrs. Elva Miller was a 60s novelty act who (probably) wasn’t in on the joke. Nearing 60 at the time of her biggest pop success, Miller’s hits were wobbly, off-tune and off-beat renditions of some of the biggest hits of the time. Her karaoke-ish covers make for some of the queasiest listening you’ll ever experience, not just because her singing is so bad, but because it feels like she might have a nervous breakdown at any point during the song’s running time. Not quite as transcendental as her “Downtown” cover, but a worthy entry nonetheless.

Symarip – “These Boots Were Made for Stompin‘” This late-60s skinhead reggae cover of the Sinatra tune turns the song’s more empowering elements into a more rebellious cry against oppression, a la “Pressure Drop.” Naturally, “Walkin” is changed to “Stompin,” which apparently was the main concern of skinheads before they decided that blanket racism was a more solid ethos or some such.

Megadeth – “These Boots More of a joke than anything else when first recorded for debut album Killing is My Business…and Business is Good!, you’d be hard not to be impressed with the band’s semi-faithful (OK, they might’ve changed a word or two to aggro it up a bit, but it’s still clearly the same song) rendition. Managing to not be impressed, however, was Lee Hazelwood, who called the ‘Deth version a “perversion of the original” and demanded it be removed from further pressings of the group’s album. Listen and judge for yourself, I suppose.

Crispin Hellion Glover – “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’Yes, that Crispin Glover. An improbable and yet somehow inevitable cover of the 60s gem from his sole solo album, The Big Problem ? The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be (which I’ve still yet to hear, but for which I have received uniformly positive buzz), Glover’s version basically Wesley Willisizes the song (tinny drum machines, disarmingly breezy instrumentation, maniacally shrieked vocals), and then some. Even the mariachi part at the end sounds ridiculously unsettling here.

KMFDM – “Boots Neck and neck with their re-work of Madonna’s “Material Girl” for my favorite gender-swapped KMFDM pop cover. Turns out “Boots” is just as applicable to German industrial breakneck motor-pop as any other genre, though by this point in the article, I can’t imagine you could find that too surprising. The “READY BOOTS? START WALKING!!!!!” part never sounded quite so maniacally gleeful/tyrannical before.

Posted in Take Five, Your Cover's Blown | 3 Comments »

Listeria / Mythbusting: The Ten Ugliest Artists Whose Careers MTV Failed to Kill

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 22, 2007

Still getting their money for nothing and/or chicks for free

And who did the people want to see? It wasn’t Supertramp or Joe Jackson. In fact, it was the end of those guys’ careers. People got one look at Joe Jackson, and they said ‘Put the camera back on his shoes!'” -Dee Snider (paraphrased) on MTV, from Heavy: The Story of Metal

One of the bigger prevailing myths in the conventional narrative of rock history is that the birth of the music video, and particularly the start of MTV, sounded the death knell for all the artists of the time that weren’t as photogenic as MTV’s first wave of superstars (Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Madonna, etc.). Just like The Beatles were supposed to have wiped the teen idols of the early 60s off the map, and punk was supposed to have put the final nail in the the coffin of dinosaur rock in the late 70s, MTV, popular opinion says, single-handedly ruined the careers of dudes that could fill an arena, but couldn’t strike a pose to save their lives. It’s a rockist argument against the music video that, over 25 years later, still prevails in some circles of rock crit–people who believe that MTV signaled a shift from music being the most important thing in chart success to the image taking prominence.

Yet, take that Dee Snider quote about Joe Jackson. It sounds great, sure, but it’s not really true–in fact, Joe Jackson only had one top 40 hit in the US pre-MTV, and he had three more afterwards, including his all-time biggest (“Steppin’ Out”). This sort of thing ends up being true with really a good deal of the artists whose careers MTV is claimed to have demolished–artists who might not’ve flourished quite so much on the channel, but if you look at the actual charts and sales numbers at the time, were still doing pretty OK. Here’s ten of the better examples:

10. Kenny Rogers. All right, so Rogers might not’ve been ugly at first (though I have no idea, imagining a young Kenny Rogers is kind of like thinking about a teenage Leslie Nielsen), but by the early 80s, you wouldn’t think that the MTV generation really could’ve had much use for the proto-Silver Fox. Yet Kenny still had at least a few years of solid hitmaking left in ’em, including two top-ten duets (Sheena Easton on “We’ve Got Tonight,” Dolly Parton on “Islands in the Stream,” the last country song to top the pop charts for 17 years). For all I know, the guy never even made a music video.

9. Christopher Cross. This guy’s name gets pulled out more than almost anyone as an example of the victimization ugly people suffered as a result of MTV’s debut. And indeed, in 1980, the man won five Grammys and sold albums by the million, and by 1984, the man had no career left whatsoever. But the man did manage three more legitimate hits, including his chart-topping “Arthur’s Theme,” post-MTV debut. And honestly, was anyone actually expecting C.C. to be the next Bob Dylan, just because he won a couple Grammys? Do these same people wonder when Shawn Colvin is going to begin her reascension to pop supremacy? Any hit single past the first one, this dude should be thankful.

8. .38 Special. Maybe rock south of the Mason-Dixon line has different visual standards, but a bunch of dudes in their 30s who look like they’d sooner go to a gay disco than a barbershop or laundromat don’t particularly strike me as the kind of poster boys MTV were initially looking for. But I think MTV actually helped these guys somewhat–nearly all of their biggest hits came post-MTV, and I even remember seeing the “Hold on Loosely” vid on the channel’s all-time top 500 video countdown in 1997. Let it never be said that the kids don’t go wild for chest hair.

7. Dionne Warwick. Seems only fair to have some female representation on this list, even though I don’t think there’s ever been a time in pop history when it was easy for ugly chicks to get airplay. In any event, Dionne Warwick was probably pretty cute back in the late-60s, but from the early-80s onward I can’t think of a more terrifying-looking individual–got them crazy eyes, for certain. Still, she managed one of her all-time biggest hits with 1982’s “Heartbreaker,” and eventually was the main performer on one of the decade’s most unfortunately enduring hits, “That’s What Friends are For”. Audiences could’ve been too scared to scorn her, I suppose.

6. Chicago. Dunno if you could call Chicago ugly, exactly, but the visuals certainly weren’t their high points. I mean, for a band with over 20 years of megahits, how many of these guys could you pick out of a lineup? Even Peter Cetera is just sorta bland-looking, and he wasn’t even there for the band’s biggest post-MTV hit (“Look Away,” the #1 single of 1989). I dunno, supposedly the “Stay the Night” vid is pretty cool, but I think if MTV was half as influential on the pop charts as people think it was, Chicago should’ve disintegrated by August 2nd, 1981.

5. Rush. You’d think Rush would’ve at least compensated for their horrific looks by making a series of kick-ass, over-ambitious videos with ludicrous plots and badly dated special effects. I think they eventually made some videos with bad special effects, but that’s about it–most of their classic-period vids were just them playing live or them playing in the studio. Yet despite this slap in the face of MTV, Rush managed a half-dozen more platinum albums post-’81, and proved once and for all that when you’re dealing with Canadians, all bets are off.

4. Bob Seger. 1987. That’s when Bob Seger had his all-time biggest hit, “Shakedown,” from the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack. The Motor City Fatman was probably getting more ass six years after MTV’s debut then all of New Edition combined.

3. Eddie Money. Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself–“No way did Eddie Money have hits in the 80s! Maybe that fluke with Ronnie Spector, but that’s it!” How about this–SEVEN top 40 hits after 1981. Could you name any of them, or recognize them if they came on the radio? No. Could I? Absolutely not (well, at least I couldn’t if IITS compatriot Victor Lee wasn’t such an inexplicably huge fan). But even in his middle age, MTV failed to stop this quintessentially average-looking dude from swarming the airwaves. Ridiculously inexplicable.

2. Phil Collins / Genesis. Why these guys had any pop success at all, ever, will forever be a mystery to me–even their semi-decent songs seem like they should be way too weird for pop radio. But at least if it happened in the 70s it could’ve been somewhat forgivable, since maybe if people didn’t know what a tool Phil Collins looked like, or that he was still by far the best looking guy in the band, maybe they wouldn’t have held it against the dudes so much. But that MTV actually helped their career–“Land of Confusion” and “In the Air Tonight” being two of the most popular videos of the 80s–well, that’s almost as hard to explain as why anyone ever bought a Mike + the Mechanics album.

1. Toto. The quintessential ugly, anonymous band (I can’t name a member, can you?) had their two biggest hits, “Roseanna” and “Africa,” almost a year after MTV’s debut, a fact that could arguably be explained by the two-step con they pulled on MTV audiences. First, they put themselves behind a fence, obstructing view just enough to instill reasonable doubt that the men behind it might’ve been attractive in a better view. Second, they named their comeback hit after one of the hottest actresses of the decade, who the drummer (keyboardist? Tambourine player? I don’t remember) happened to be dating, furthering suspicions that these guys must at least be decent looking. By the time of the “Africa” video, it was too late–the country had already committed to at least a year’s worth of Toto as legit pop stars, and they even threw a whole bunch of Grammys at ’em to boot. But considering Foreigner and REO Speedwagon also both had #1s well after MTV’s debut, this theory is as unlikely as all the non-lookers in rock conspicuously disappearing in the second half of 1981. The uglies are always still there, creeping in the background, striking when you’d least expect.

Posted in Listeria | 7 Comments »

In the Mix: U2’s Poopropa

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 21, 2007

Another article borrowed from Stylus, sorry people but it’s 3:00 and I just spent a half-hour manually blowing up an air-mattress.

Few bands have careers long and resilient enough that they can basically just fuck around for a decade without any fallout. In between the years of 1991 and 2000, U2 took chances with their career that few bands of their stature would ever have even thought to attempt, and audiences were rewarded with some of the coolest, most surprising, and ultimately most confusing and frustrating music of the band’s career. Consequently, they alienated fans by the millions, until the eight million-selling Achtung Baby became the three million success of Zooropa and the barely platinum Pop. Critics weren’t much kinder, as a smaller fraction of the unanimous praise for Achtung was awarded to Zooropa, and an even tinier portion of good will spilled over to Pop, which surely goes down as the most maligned album in the band’s career.

Frankly, it’s not hard to understand why this happened. Simply put, Achtung Baby was a masterpiece—a virtually flawless album that combined musical innovation with lyrical heartbreak, and deservedly saved the band’s career from almost certain egomaniacal self-destruction. Zooropa and Pop, to understate the point, were very far from masterpieces—uneven in sound, quality and pacing, both are decidedly difficult listens, with little of AB’s immediate, obvious greatness. But that’s not to say that the greatness isn’t there—indeed, both albums have a handful of songs that I would have no problem rating with the band’s very best. But the greatness isn’t found in universal anthems like “One” or “With or Without You,” or in righteous rockers like “Mysterious Ways” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”—rather, it’s in these curious, lyrically obscure genre-benders, songs that often don’t even sound like U2 could possibly be behind them—likely the point all along.

Eventually, the band would decide that experimentation and identity-shifting wasn’t as rewarding as playing lowest-common-denominator stadium fillers, and at the turn of the millennium, they (even admittedly) re-submitted their bid for “Best Band in the World” status, and today are just as popular and beloved as ever. And though it’s hard to fault their decision—U2 has always been a band of the people, and said “people” weren’t sticking around for too much more of the band’s Eurocentric weirdness—it’s equally hard not to feel disappointed that a band willing to take such chances decided to settle for being Generation X’s Rolling Stones. It’s highly unlikely we’ll even see an Achtung Baby from these guys again, much less a Pop or Zooropa.

In any event, there is definitely at least one classic album’s worth of material to be found in the band’s “lost decade,” and I’ve attempted to craft it, here. Similarly to my Synchronized Machinery article from a few weeks ago, this isn’t a greatest hits set—I’ve attempted to make a record that follows the Pop guidelines of “starting out at a party and ending at a funeral,” so there’s only really room here for the big, gaudy dance-rock numbers and the sobering, spiritual blues ballads. Consequently, some of the best songs of the period didn’t make the cut, including the heartbreaking love song “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” the mysterious, adrenalized “Last Night on Earth,” and the Johnny Cash-sung Zooropa closer and fan favorite “The Wanderer.” But I’d like to think that what is here is the cohesive masterpiece U2 failed to materialize during this time, the failure of which arguably cost the band their edge, and if you’re as disillusioned a fan as I am, their soul.

1. “Pop Muzik (PopMart Radio Mix Edit)” (promo single, b-side to “Last Night on Earth”)

Hardly the most musically accomplished thing U2 did in this period, but I can’t think of a better choice to introduce this period of their career. After all, consider the source material—synth-pop fluke M’s 1979 #1 hit, a lyrically enigmatic but irresistibly catchy song concerned with the same kind of media overload that so preoccupied U2 during the 90s. The band obviously agreed, since their cover/remix—produced by Happy Mondays and New Order knob-twiddler Steve Osborne, with Bono laying down some new vocals—was used as intro music on their PopMart tour. In recorded form, however, it was relegated to obscure b-side status on a single that no one heard, so here we put it in the forefront, where it probably belongs.

2. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (single from the Batman Forever soundtrack)

Probably the most famous non-album track in U2 history, and probably one of the best. It’s not quite as experimental as most of U2’s upbeat singles from this time, but as a slice of immaculately produced neo-glam, it’s held up surprisngly well. Adam Clayton’s rumbling bass line and Larry Mullen Jr.’s loose, thundering drumming nearly put this in big beat territory, while the Edge’s multi-tracked guitar work (there must be a half-dozen lines going throughout this song—how the hell they managed it live is beyond me) ensure that it’s the last thing U2 ever did that could generously be described as “rocking”. Plus, Bono moans like Marc Bolan on the bridge, and that string outro! Dudes should’ve done soundtrack work more often—besides Larry & Adam’s hysterically 90s “Theme from Mission: Impossible,” which somehow charted higher than any other U2-related single since the ‘80s.

Speaking of which—how come no one makes soundtrack videos like this one anymore? I mean, I know the actual answer—music videos aren’t widely viewed enough anymore to function as legitimate promotional tools for the movies and soundtracks on which they appear, and besides no one buys soundtracks anymore, etc. But still, watch the video and see what a badass fuckin’ movie they turn Batman Forever into—nothing but amazing chase scenes, dazzling set pieces and awesome sound-byte quotes. Gotta be the coolest movie ever, right? (Personally, I still think it actually is pretty great—not as good as the immortal Returns but much better than the snooze-worthy original and laughable Batman & Robin.)

3. “Numb” (single from Zooropa)

Definitely a top five U2 single for me right here. I don’t know what shocks me about it more—that it wasn’t a huge, near-titanic hit for them, or that it was even released as a single (or that it even exists at all) in the first place. Because it doesn’t really make sense as a single—no chorus, not even any verses of note, just one long monotone rant, courtesy of The Edge. Yet…I don’t see how anyone could not love this song. First off, you’ve got that amazing, just ridiculous intro, Mullen’s dripping, tap-tap drum beat pierced with The Edge’s shrieking guitar scrape (crrreeAKKK-CREAK….CREAAaak-creek…creeeaAAAKKK…..CREEEAaak…), a hook that should be jarring and atonal but somehow sounds just perfect. I can’t imagine how many takes and how much production splicing it took to get it just so, but man did they fucking nail it.

And then that vocal. It may be monotone, but goddamn, what a tone they chose (once again, the production on it must’ve been staggering). The Edge hits the perfect pitch of total transfixion—who knows what he’s even saying for half the song, but you just don’t want that tone to stop. Add more nifty production flourishes (the machine-gun synth squeaks, the radio static that seeps in, the looped scream in the last verse) and Bono’s angelic falsetto filling in the negative space (“I fee-eel nu-umb!”) and, I’m sorry, but you’ve got a single that deserves to be held in the band’s highest tier of esteem, along with your “One”s, your “Pride”s, your “With or Without You”s. And, oh man, that video—hard to imagine another video whose visuals so capture the feeling of the song, though another one’s coming up in this article. I could write a whole book about it, but instead, just watch it, please. And then watch this strangety-strange parody of it, a mid-90s promo for The New WKRP in Cincinatti. I had no idea that show even existed.

4. “MOFO” (Single, from Pop)

There was much ballyhoo over U2’s new direction at the time of Pop, and how they had embraced trance and house and big beat and all sorts of other Euro-dance styles, but as far as I can tell the only legitimate evidence of this on the album was “MOFO.” Sure, there were some electronic shenanigans in a bunch of the other tracks, but this is the only one that actually sort of sounds like the Chemical Brothers, or one of the angrier Underworld singles (the undulating synth part actually presages “Moaner” and “King of Snake” by a year or two). It’s got that sort of frenetic, hyper-adrenalized feel, with a little grime and grease to it, that it wouldn’t have been out of place on the Hackers or The Saint soundtracks—which, frankly, is definitely speaking my mid-late 90s electronica language (back when “electronica” was even semi-acceptable in music-crit vocabulary). It’s not a seamless integration, but I still think it sounds pretty cool, and I wish more of the album actually felt like U2 pushing out the walls a little bit like they do here.

5. “Miami” (Pop album track)

Actually a far grittier and more depressing album than most people give it credit for, Pop’s bread-and-butter are these kind of haunted, skin-crawling ballads of decadence and self-loathing. Apparently Q once voted as one of the ten worst songs by a great band, but then again I’m pretty sure they gave this album some super-glowing review when it was first released, so clearly they’re not to be trusted in the first. Anyway, I love the thick drum sound on this one, and those sireny synths give the song the kind of spooky sound it needs, and of the half-dozen or so relative soundalikes like this on Pop, this one serves best for Poopropa’s first truly downbeat song.

6. “Holy Joe (Guilty Mix)” (b-side to “Discotheque”)

Another relatively stripped-down (as in, not much in the way of hooks) but thickly textured (as in, everything sounds real shiny and nice) number with a little more energy than “Miami” to kick the album back into gear a bit. Pop’s closest peer is Depeche Mode’s Ultra—an album released the same year with the same sense of crisis—a singer unsure of the state of his soul, a band unsure of the state of their sound and career. Both feature dalliances into electronics without ever really pulling out all the stops, and both achieved similar levels of success, the main difference being that for Depeche Mode, the stakes were far lower—their career had already peaked for good in the early-90s, and they had to know it, since they never made the same kind of play for returned relevance the way U2 did. Probably better for it, though, and I’d listen to Playing the Angel a few dozen times before I’d listen to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb once.

7. “Lemon” (single from Zooropa)

Along with “Numb,” the most curious single U2 ever released, and along with “Numb,” the most superficially sublime. Bono, once again falsetto’d out, croons about who knows what over The Edge’s choppy, (tremolo?) guitar lines and Adam & Larry’s “futuristic German disco” (actually pretty accurate) beat. If it weren’t for the song’s bridge, with the piano and Bono’s trademark wailing, there’d be absolutely nothing to mark this song as U2. Naturally, it tanked on the pop charts, but the clubs seemed to dig it OK, and once again, another great, insanely creative U2 video. When exactly did these guys forget how to make a decent four-five minute clip, let alone crank classic after classic as if videos were so much Play-Doh? Do they just not care anymore?

8. “If God Will Send His Angels” (single from Pop and City of Angels original soundtrack)

Clearly, U2 were big ol’ Wim Wenders fans, with Zooropa’s “Stay” not only getting on the soundtrack to Wenders’ Faraway, So Close!, but the song taking the movie’s title for its subtitle (also to differentiate it from Lisa Loeb’s concurrent hit of the same name) and even its video getting directed by the man himself. And then, they offer up “If God Will Send His Angels” to City of Angels, a remake of Wenders’ Wings of Desire. Makes sense, especially for a song like this—more of Bono’s worrying about God, Jesus, blind people and the state of the world (“If God will send his angels / I sure could use ‘em here right now”). IGWSHA is the great U2 anthem that never was, a song just slightly too obscure and just not quite inspired enough to really have the mass appeal of their true classics. Still, it deserved to at least have Bono standing on a huge statue overlooking all of Los Angeles in the video or something. Hell, “Iris” got that much.

9. “North and South of the River” (B-side to “Staring At the Sun”)

Why this didn’t make the cut for Pop is one of a mysterious album’s biggest mysteries. As a low-key but fairly rousing anthem, this actually might’ve sounded more at home on All That You Can’t Leave Behind than on this, which I’d ordinarily mean as an insult, but this feels like the kind of song of redemption and hope that the utterly miserable second side of Pop so badly needed. And, really, this is way better than most of ATYCLB, which kind of sucks outside of “Beautiful Day” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Perhaps I should’ve saved this for a hodgepodge album of those two albums, but that assumes there’s enough there for an entire album of decent material, which I’m not terribly optimistic about. (Prove me wrong, kids, prove me wrong!)

10. “The First Time” (Album track from Zooropa)

Funny, returning to Zooropa recently, this song kind of blindsided me. I had just assumed from memory that aside from “The Wanderer” (which, in retrospect, I kind of wish I had found room for here somewhere) the second side of Zooropa was filled with nothing but inconsequential tracks like “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car” and “Some Days Are Better Than Others,” total garbage songs that reminded me why it had been so long since I listened to the album in the first place. But this ballad, a gorgeous number that could have been a huge “All I Want Is You”-style ballad if it ever bothered to swell, which, curiously, it never does—just some synth waves, a yearning guitar line, and one of Bono’s most soaring vocals for four minutes. Clearly, U2 grasped the song’s power better than I did, placing the song as the closer to their Best of 1990-2000 compilation, as did Brian Eno, who lobbied to have the song included on the Zooropa’s final cut. Lost classic, sorta, and the perfect way to end the “funeral” section of my Poopropa album.

11. “Discotheque” (Single, from Pop)

All right, so maybe this is one of them New Orleans-style funerals (“Hey, you’re dead, sucks but not really, let’s party”), since I’m ending the album with an upbeat dance song. It’s not quite as frenzied as “MOFO” but it’s probably the better song, although to say the public wasn’t ready for it in 1997 would be a gross understatement. Or just an incorrect statement in general, since it’s doubtful the world ever would be ready for a song this much in opposition to everything the band, or y’know, rock music seemed to once stand for. Fuck ‘em all though, ‘coz this song is kind of great—The Edge’s impossibly fuzzed-out guitar, the furious cowbell exploitation, even the utterly laughable “HUNH! HUNH! DEES-CO-TEK!” outro. I don’t even remember what I thought of this song when I first heard it in 1997, but I love it more with every year that passes, especially when I imagine the dropped jaws of “real” U2 fans when they first saw what the band they’d presumably follow to the end of the earth was up to these days.

Or, of course, when they saw the video. Half 2001: A Space Odyssey and half “Sex Over the Phone” (OK, maybe 25% / 75%), the thing is simply the gaudiest, glitziest, and, to be somewhat reductive, gayest thing ever visually attempted by a mainstream rock band, much less one of U2’s stature. Find a fan watching Bono wave the white flag at Red Rocks back in 1983 and tell him that less than 15 years from now, the boys will make a video where Bono humps the camera, The Edge sashays down the runway, Adam does his best cat-pose under a spinning disco-ball, and the whole band DRESSES UP LIKE THE FUCKING VILLAGE PEOPLE for the outro, but first, prepare to get punched in the throat. Compared to this, Bowie & Jagger’s “Dancing in the Streets” may as well be a late-80s Motley Crue video. It works as a symbol for this period at large—extremely risky, more than a little embarrassing, but kind of awesome and infinitely preferable to a former hole-in-one of a band content to hit for par for the rest of their career.

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