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Archive for November, 2007

Charts on Fire: 11-29-07

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 30, 2007

Can we talk about how bad “No One” is? Not just that I happen to dislike it, but I think it’s genuinely a poor piece of music. I’m not the biggest Alicia Keys fan to begin with, but I’ll acknowledge her better songs–“Fallin,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” the irresistible reggae remix of “You Don’t Know My Name.” However, she just sounds off here–her voice is strained, the hook is weak, the lyrics are particularly boring. And yet here we are, week #2 at the top spot. C’mon, surely Soulja Boy deserved at least one more month at #1. How many people are gonna be Cranking Dat No One at Bar Mitzvahs 20 years from now?

There’s not really to much else to be said for the top ten this week–it’s virtually identical to last week’s, though “Apologize” and “Kiss Kiss” have swapped places (#2 and #3, respectively), Fergie is two spots away to having her fifth top five hit off of The Dutchess, and Rihanna’s back in the top ten with “Hate That I Love You” (as if she ever left, #9). For the second week in a row, four of the songs in the top ten have T-Pain on ’em, the first time that’s happened since that 50 Cent chart super-blitz in early 2005. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving robot, I guess.

More exciting for me is the chart success of two of the year’s better rock-goes-disco numbers, Finger Eleven’s “Paralyzer” (at #11 for the second week) and Good Charlotte’s “Dance Floor Anthem (I Don’t Wanna Be in Love)” (up nine to #26). Who could’ve possibly guessed these bands would have a second wind in ’em? Especially glad for the GC single, since their first excursion into funk territory, 2004’s super-underrated “I Just Wanna Live,” passed without half the notice it deserved. Dunno if I’m quite comfortable rooting for the band that once did “Little Things” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” but damn, these guys keep surprising me.

Meanwhile, bravo to country-pop princess Taylor Swift, getting her third top 40 hit of the year with “Our Song” (not quite as good as “Teardrops” or “McGraw,” but still better than 95% of country top 40 hits this year, #23). Also doing it big this week are Natasha Bedingfield’s “Love Like This” (kinda liked her as a two-hit wonder, oh well, 27-21), Plies and Akon’s “Hypnotized” (throw Plies on the pile of rappers who can’t seem to have a hit without Akon or T-Pain, 32-24), and Sean Kingston twice over, once on Bedingfield’s “Love Like This,” once on his own “Take You There” (less loveable without an oldie-stealing hook, 42-31). Also, Wyclef has his first top 40 hit in ages with “Sweetest Girl” (though I have a feeling Akon and Lil’ Wayne might have a bit more to do with it, 44-37).
Gotta give special props to Mary J. Blige this week, though. The idea of Mary doing a self-motivational anthem as her new album’s lead single would normally be a nightmare top 40 scenario for me–frankly, I don’t think I’ve liked a single hit of hers since “Family Affair” over a half-decade ago–but “Just Fine” puts a ridiculously big and improbable smile on my face. The cowbell on the chorus helps, as does the “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” pilfering, but really, it’s just a very nice, breezy song. Bizarre, huh? Moves up seven to 36 this week, hopefully with a good deal of climbing still to come.

Josh Groban has the #1 album this week. It’s so sad that the only cultural force with as much influence over popular music as American Idol is Oprah Winfrey.

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Popcorn Love: John Travolta in Face/Off (1997) and Broken Arrow (1996)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 30, 2007

“WHEEEE!!! WHAT A PERDICAMENT!!”

The mid-90s were truly a time of wonder for John Travolta. After re-invigorating his career with a leading role in perhaps the definitive movie of the decade, doors were suddenly opening left and right for the one-time has-been. Get Shorty was his next move, and it was indeed a wise one–a movie almost as funny as Pulp Fiction, and one were he wasn’t quite so overshadowed by the flashiness of the director (as if Barry Sonnenfeld could ever overshadow anyone). A couple of mediocre leading roles followed–White Man’s Burden, Phenomenon, Michael–before finding the two roles that would come to define the actor in my young mind.

Fact is, John Travolta was born to play bad dudes. I mean yeah, he’s decent at planing genial old guys, pretty good at playing stupid guys, and downright great at playing generally amicable gangsters, but he just never seems to have as much fun as he does when he’s playing unambiguous evildoers. That glean in his eye when he’s killing people for no real reason–it’s unmistakable. It amazes me that the only movie since these two to seem to notice this is 2001’s Swordfish, which is similarly awesome, albeit for slightly different, even trashier, reasons.

It’s no surprise that the middle parts of Face / Off are so much better than the bookends. Nicolas Cage actually makes for a surprisingly charismatic villain (his “If I were to let you…suck…on my tongue…would you be grateful?” come on remains an all-time classic), but he just seems more at home as cop Sean Archer, the role of righteousness, whereas Travolta seems to just be biding his time as a tightass good guy until he can really let loose as the amoral, hedonistic bad dude Castor Troy. His taunt to Sean upon visiting him in prison (where Sean is posing as Castor–it’s not really worth explaining if you haven’t seen the movie already) ranks as one of the most gleeful in the history of supervillainy:

“I have personally torched all the evidence that proves you’re you. So, wow, looks like you’re gonna be in here foorrrr….THE NEXT HUNDRED YEEEE-AAARS!! Now, I have GOT to go…I’ve got a government job to abuse, and, uh… a lonely wife to FUCK. Did I just say FUCK? I MEAN MAKE LOVE TO!”

Poetry in super-evil motion, truly. But the best thing about Travolta-as-Castor-as-Sean is how damn good at it he is. He seduces Sean’s wife Joan Allen with a romantic dinner (and has his second best line in the movie reading from Allen’s diary–“We haven’t made love in two months. What a loser.”), parents his daughter Jamie better than he did (“Dress up like Halloween…and ghouls will try to get in your pants”), albeit significantly more incestually, and even does his job way better than Sean did (though knowing his own evil plots did give him a slightly unfair leg up in that department). You feel like everyone probably would’ve been better off if Sean had just stayed in jail, and not gone around disrupting the newly idyllic situation–who wouldn’t want John Travolta as a badass husband/father/employee, anyway?

But despite being by far the superior movie–I must’ve seen that movie 10 times before I hit high school–it’s Broken Arrow that has the more memorable Travolta performance. This is at least slightly attributable to how little competition he has in the movie–a second-rate Christian Slater as the good guy, a pre-American Psycho Samantha Mathis as one of the most boring love interests in action movie history, and no particularly memorable performances as Travolta’s henchmen. And it’s also at least slightly attributable to how little of the movie Travolta spends disguising his inner villainy–it’s only like 20 minutes before he shows his true colors, and even before that he seems slightly demonic.

Mostly, though, it’s because Travolta is given free reign to be the most insane, intent fucking bad guy he’d ever play. This guy just loves, loves, loves being evil. He barely even needs any motivation to go rogue–I think he gets passed up for a promotion or something before the movie starts, which he evidently considers as enough of a slight to start a nuclear war. Once there, he has the absolute time of his life, squealing “I da MAN!” upon downing a helicopter full of military dudes, and programming the nuclear bomb to go off anyway despite there being no chance of his demands being met, unforgettably proclaiming “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke!” as his justification. Travolta’s best scene, though, is in his climactic fight with Christian Slater, on a moving train with the bomb five feet away, where they have the following exchange:

CS: “You’re out of your mind!”

JT: “YEAH! AIN’T IT COOL?”

CS: “I’m serious, Deak, your mind has taken a walk off the map.”

JT: “Maybe, but I’m still gonna kick your ass!

Travolta barely seems disappointed that he’s not going to get his bomb ransom money–in fact, it’s pretty obvious that the ransom was just an excuse to perpetuate more villainy. This is further substantiated by Travolta’s final scene, in which after having lost the fight to Christian Slater’s character (and honestly, who loses in a fight to Christian Slater?), the train crashes, and the bomb is catapulted by the crash right into where Travolta is standing. Rather than jump out of the way, Travolta stands firmly in the bomb’s path, with the most Satanic grin he can possibly manage–as if getting blown up by his own bomb is really what he wanted all along.

How do we get from these to Domestic Disturbance and Wild Hogs? C’mon, I bet this guy’s got at least one classic piece of foery left in him.

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One Moment in Time: Putting A Hear’n Aid on a Bleeding Wound

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 29, 2007

They are calling you, calling you

If you watch half as much VH1 Classic as I do, you’re probably intimately familiar with this PSA–you know, the one with all the past and present metal stars (mostly past, naturally) talking about what a problem Autism is, and vaguely spurring audiences on to do something about it. I’m still not sure what the funniest part of it is–how impassioned Tommy Lee seems, how utterly bored Gene Simmons sounds (and how Ace Frehley doesn’t do anything but lend emotional support), how charismatic Dee Snider thinks he’s being, or how weird Ronnie James Dio still looks. Everyone looks either too serious, not serious enough, or just looks like they have no idea what they’re doing there in the first place.

Point is, nothing makes metal guys look more ridiculous–and metal guys spend a lot of time looking ridiculous–than attempting to appear charitable. No genre of music has as little a place for altruism as classic metal–I mean yeah, maybe Iron Maiden sang about the plight of Indians every now and then, and Dave Mustaine probably thinks that there’s a message to his music beyond “singing with your teeth clenched makes you sound kind of insane,” but otherwise, it’s almost all about me, me, me. There’s a reason why the version of “Rock and Roll All Night” you hear on the radio cuts out the lines about “taking out the garbage, but not before sorting it into recycling and non-recycling”. Unless caring about others is going to directly lead to more money, drugs, sex and pyrotechnics, it just doesn’t seem feasible for metal dudes.

Take “Stars.” In 1985, Jimmy Bain, Vivian Chamberlain and Ronnie James Dio (all of Dio’s eponymous band) combined to write a metal equivalent to “We are the World” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with a similarly all-star cast to back it up, to raise money for Africa relief. And to be fair, for an all-metal cast before the real height of hair metal, they got a lot of big names–dudes from Quiet Riot, Iron Maiden, Journey, Queensryche, Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P., Night Ranger, and too many others to name here among them–to play on the single. The supergroup was called Hear ‘n Aid, and the song was called “Stars.”

The song is a bizarre concoction. Despite being a hefty seven minutes long, “Stars” is so overstuffed with singers and guitarists that no one gets more than a couple bars at a time to themselves, making room for nine lead vocalists and 10 soloists (and I’ve only ever heard of two of ’em–how the guy from Dokken negotiated his way into a solo is quite a story, I’m sure). What’s odd about this, though, is how little you notice the staggering number of people involved–everyone ends up kinda sounding interchangeable, which I guess is what happens when you do a super-supergroup charity single with contributions only from artists of one genre.

The really strange thing about “Stars,” however, is how little it sounds like a charity single. There’s a short intro of lamentation from Ronnie (“Who cries for the children? / I do!“), but aside from that, it just sounds like your average early-mid 80s metal song–no “there comes a time where we heed a certain call,” no “tonight thank God it’s them instead of you,” nothing. The sum total of the chorus? “WE’RE STAAAARS!!!” Meaning what, exactly? “We’re stars, and we can help you”? “We’re stars, and you can be too, by buying our single and helping Africa”? “We’re stars, and we will shine the light towards the end of world hunger”?

Evidently, the public was similarly confused by the song’s message, since according to Wikipedia, it only raised about one million in a year. One million dollars? How many copies did this thing sell, 12? There were about 50 “stars” involved in this thing, so that comes out to what, 20k a piece? Most of these dudes probably spent that much on mascara, hairpsray and leather a month. Still, apparently it was enough to warrant a sequel, as Wikipedia says that it is rumored that “as of spring 2005, Dio is planning a second Hear’n Aid, and is currently writing the new song.” Maybe he’s waiting for the studio GnR’s using for Chinese Democracy to free up.

The first time I ever heard about “Stars” was when it topped VH1’s list of the 100 Most Metal Moments–still one of my all-time favorite VH1 countdowns. And though I wondered how the hell a charity single could be considered metal, I realize now that it wasn’t actually such a bad choice–“Stars” was a glorious demonstration about how not even the plight of Africa was a big enough cause to truly eclipse the personalities and egos of metallers.

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Qlassic Quotes: Cypher Says “Get Ready” in The Matrix (1999)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 27, 2007

“Why oh why…didn’t I take the BLUE pill?”

Do you remember what it was like watching The Matrix for the first time? After two sequels, infinite parodies, and maybe one too many stoner discussions on the movie’s philosphies and mechanics might sort of retroactively dull the thrill, but watching this movie for the first time in the theater was just unbelievable. The number of things I saw in that movie that I had just never seen before is basically unrivaled for me. And this was at the height of my movie snob phase, no less–thank god the movie got 3 1/2 out of 4 in the Inquirer, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have seen it until after the third one was out.

Even more impressive than how, well, impressive the movie was, was how unexpected the whole thing. Before the internet made critical and fan consensus hype virtually unavoidable, all I really had to go on at the time were the previews. And they were ridiculously enigmatic–purposefully so, I think, meant to build buzz the old-fashioned way through mystery and word of mouth. It’s an approach that works exactly one out of every 137 times a studio tries it, but it really worked here–going in, I had as little idea about what The Matrix was going to be like. No greater favor can be afforded a movie than low fan expectations, and The Matrix was brilliant to do so little to assuage them–especially since the movie more than spoke for itself.

So it was kind of cool that Neo’s indoctrination to the world of The Matrix sort of echoed that of the fans–unlike most movies of The Matrix‘s size, where you already know exactly what’s going to happen and just hope that getting there is kind of cool, you legitimately had absolutely no idea what was coming next watching this movie. A whole lot of weird shit happens to him in the first half-hour or so in the movie–his mouth grows shut, evil mechanical scorpions crawl into his belly button, and eventually he gets swallowed by a liquid mirror. All things considered, he handles it pretty well–better than 13-year-old me, anyway, who was freaking out at just about every moment. In a good way. As Neo swallows the Red Pill and prepares to have his mind blown, we’re suddenly bracing ourselves for anything and everything.

Enter Joe Pantoliano. Is there a more underrated pop cultural force from the last 25 years? It’s easy to call him a quintessential that guy–everyone knows his face, nobody knwos his name–but after enough hits, don’t you stop being a ____-hit wonder and start being a legitimate Greatest Hits act? I mean, c’mon, this is Ralphie Cifaretto we’re talking about! John G! Guido the Killer Pimp! Not to mention Midnight Run, Bound, The Fugitive, Bad Boys, Goonies–Al Pacino’s resume from the last two and a half decades isn’t even this impressive. Add in his turn here as cyberturncoat Cypher…you’ve got a veritable pop culture legend on your hands.

In just about all of these movies, Joey Pants’ characters hit that perfect mix of pity, disgust and dread, to inspire a blend of hatred and sympathy from viewers rivalled by few. You definitely don’t like him, but you kinda see where he’s coming from. I mean, who is this Neo guy anyway, and why does everyone love him so much? He doesn’t even wear an earring! Or have facial hair! He’s a Christ figure, and Christ figures have lousy senses of humor. He has no place for a sardonic wisecracker like Cypher in his revolution, or even in his social circle. Cypher’s betrayal was more of a pre-emptive strike than anything.

But before all that, before Keanu even goes down the rabbit hole, Cypher gives Neo a piece of advice that no one watching the movie could ever forget:

“Buckle your seat belt, Dorothy. Because Kansas–is going BYE BYE.”

Yeah, I know. It’s a terrible line. A truly epic piece of badness. My brother once hit the nail on the head: “It’s like it packs every bad action movie cliche ever into one line.” Yet–it works. Because that’s exactly what The Matrix felt like–that rollercoaster ride feel where you get that rare and unbelievably exciting feeling that you’re in uncharted cinematic territory. It’s totally right. Minus the badness.

Posted in Qlassic Quotes | 6 Comments »

Geek Out: Working My Way Through Rock Band, Pt. 1

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 26, 2007

Oooh, she’s a killing machine, she’s got everything

Talk about a foregone conclusion. Put it simply–Shocker: Rock Band is awesome. Double Shocker: Rock Band is exceedingly expensive. I mean yeah, maybe you can get away with spending under $500 if you’re one of the lucky sons of bitches to have the luxury of already owning an X360, but that, uh, wasn’t me, so I’m already at least that much in the whole trying to get my hands on this game. Not to mention having to lug the fucking thing–unwieldy, to say the least–around New York all day just to make sure I wouldn’t get shut out from getting a copy. In the end, unless this thing ends up fixing just about every problem I have in my life, it’s gonna be hard to justify the effort and expenditure.

Rock Band is off to a good start. Why I didn’t think to include it in my Five Reasons Why I Don’t Care About the Writers Strike is lost on me, since it pretty well nullifies all five–even if MTV suddenly decided to do a countdown of the 2000 best alt-rock videos released in the year 1995, I don’t think I’d be around to watch much. It’s given me an always-functional activity to do with my roommate (who usually opts out on Guitar Hero after an hour or so, but was drumming with me until 3:30 the other night) and a fantastic built in party excuse to lure friends and acquaintances to my Brooklyn abode. It hasn’t written my 20 page paper on John Donne yet, and it hasn’t quite assuaged my fear of an eternity of crippling loneliness, but then again, I’ve only gotten a good 20 hours or so with it so far (Thanksgiving, could you possibly have come at a less opportune time?) so let’s give it another week or so to work at those.

So yeah, pretty much everything you’ve already heard about this game is true. The guitar is kind of weak, and the axeplay isn’t as great as it is in the GH series (and it’s lame that they only give you one, meaning you need to buy another separately to have the bass and guitar working simultaneously–c’mon, $170 isn’t enough??), but that’s about where the game’s flaws end. The drumming is expectedly exhilerating. As my roommate pointed out, it’s nothing like playing the guitar–when you play the guitar, you’re fully aware that you’re playing a glorified controller, but when you’re playing the drums, you’re actually playing the drums, sort of at least. I worked through the songs on medium without much of a hitch, but now that I’m getting into hard, I know it’s only a matter of time before the game shuts me down completely, which I’m actually looking forward to.

The vocals are pretty great as well. Aside from the fact that some songs can get kind of boring with the extended vox-less sections (and no, adding parts where you have to hit the mic to simulate a tambourine or cowbell doesn’t help, unless you’re playing “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”), it’s a pretty successful Karaoke Revolution-type integration. I also like that you can adjust the volume of both your mic and the vocal track, so that you can get a leg up from the original singer if you have no idea how the song goes, but it feels more like karaoke when you actually know the song pretty well. It can be tempermental, and sometimes you have to sing against your better instincts to do well in the song, but generally, it’s pretty cool, when it could’ve been disastrous. It will be interesting to see in big groups if anyone’s going to want to actually step up to sing, though–especially on songs like “Mississippi Queen” or “Green Grass and High Tides,” where no one under the age of 50 could possibly know how all the vocals go.

The only thing I’m really not sure about with this game yet is the Band World Tour Career Mode. I only played it for three hours or so, but already, the fact that you end up playing a whole lot of the same songs over and over again was starting to be a nuisance. Meanwhile, the game expects you to really care about making your band feel like an actual band–gaining and losing fans, playing increasingly large venues, competing against other “bands,” etc.–but these games’ attempts at any sort of plot or narrative arc always feel contrived and sort of boring (and very, very silly), and I have to wonder why these “bands” wouldn’t just rather do quickplay.

But enough of this big picture stuff. Let’s get into the lists and petty squabbles:

Five Best All-Around Songs (Good for All Four Instruments):

  1. The Pixies – “Wave of Mutilation” (Just about any Pixies song would be)
  2. Jet – “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (Officially having gone from the good kind of ridiculously catchy to the unbearably annoying kind and back)
  3. Beastie Boys – “Sabotage” (Kind of unforgiving with that vocal part, though)
  4. Coheed & Cambria – “Welcome Home” (Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are)
  5. Rush – “Tom Sawyer” (But you knew this one, right?)

The Five Songs That Are Actually in My Vocal Range and I Can Sort of Sound Good Singing, Sort Of:

  1. Radiohead – “Creep” (that “runnnn…RUNNNN….RUNNNNN….RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNN!!!” part is really a make or break)
  2. Faith No More – “Epic” (WHAT IS IT?)
  3. Queens of the Stone Age – “Go With the Flow” (Once I figure out how it goes, anyway)
  4. Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun” (GRUNGE POWER BALLADS, motherfuckers. Where the hell are “Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” anyway?)
  5. The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter” (Kind of. Old songs are harder to song, for some reason)

Drums, Please!:

  1. The Clash – “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (No other song quite matches the sheer pounding sensation of this one)
  2. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps” (Intro melts me)
  3. Metallica – “Enter Sandman” (Even better than the guitar part, somehow)
  4. Molly Hatchet – “Flirtin’ With Disaster” (So that’s where that intro is from, huh)
  5. Nirvana – “In Bloom” (Puts the Foo Fighters song into perspective, anyway)

Oh Man, That Riff:

  1. Weezer – “Say It Ain’t So” (Best part about guitar on Weezer songs? You almost always get the beginning and the end to yourself)
  2. Blue Oyster Cult – “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” (My #1 in the Top Ten Songs That Should Be Featured in Guitar Hero article I wrote for Stylus a year or so back)
  3. The Ramones – “Blitzkrieg Bop” (Still one of the all-time most perfect guitar songs)
  4. Bon Jovi – “Wanted Dead or Alive” (The song that makes you forget that there are no Guns n Roses songs to be found)
  5. Smashing Pumpkins – “Cherub Rock” (The one holdover from GHIII that fails to feel even slightly pointless)

Totally Pointless:

  1. The Hives – “Main Offender” (A particularly pointless song from one of the more pointless bands in recent years. Even “Walk Idiot Walk” would’ve been infinitely preferable)
  2. Sweet – “Ballroom Blitz” (Not a bad song or anything, but we already had to put up with the Krokus cover in Rocks the 80s, do we really need the original too?)
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Dani California” (The intro really does rip off “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” too)
  4. OK Go – “Here It Goes Again” (I had no idea there was a Surfer Rosa reference in the lyrics before, though)
  5. Aerosmith – “Train Kept A-Rollin'” (“Sweet Emotion”. “Walk This Way”. “Amazing”. “Love in an Elevator”. The number of classic Aerosmith songs–ones that would work beautifully–that have been stepped over in favor of the mediocre troika of “Last Child,” “Same Old Song in Dance” and “Train Kept a-Rollin'” in these games is utterly pathetic).

Are They Gonna Have Synths in the Next One?:

  1. The New Pornographers – “Electric Version” (Surprisingly effective choice on the whole)
  2. The Killers – “When You Were Young” (Getting to work on my Brandon Flowers imitation is one of the game’s more priceless joys)
  3. Deep Purple – “Highway Star” (I always thought that was a guitar solo–who plays the keyboard like that??)
  4. Boston – “Foreplay / Long Time” (C’mon, the best part of the song!)
  5. The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The two minute-long sections where the band on stage is just standing around doing nothing while the keyboard part goes on and on is pretty funny, though)

Gameplay and Packaging Gripes:

  1. “Energy”? Just fucking call it Star Power, guys. Either that, or change the concept a little.
  2. The pieces of trivia listed before some of the songs, dear lord. Does knowing that Michael Stipe once released a book of Patti Smith phots really illuminate gameplay on “Orange Crush” at all?
  3. I wish they had included some sort of carrying case for all the game’s equipment–as it is, it’s almost entirely untransportable, which is kind of unfortunate.
  4. If there’s a way you can play with the guitar or drums without unplugging the USB hub and plugging it back in each time you start the game, I haven’t figured it out.
  5. Not making the intro to “Maps” available to play on the guitar part seems kind of cruel.

More to come, surely.

Posted in Geek Out | 2 Comments »

Time of the Season: S3 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (’07)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 25, 2007

“You’re the most horrible people alive.”


Gotta give credit to the It’s Always Sunny folk for sticking to their guns. In its longest (14 eps), most widely exposed season yet, the show is same as it ever was, from the brilliantly lo-fi credit sequence to the small, self-contained cast and of course, the pure heartlessness. I seem to remember there at least being some attempts from the guys to temper their less magnanimous impulses in the first two seasons, but now it’s basically just an amorality free-for-all (the episode pictured above, in which Dee and Frank actually get married to try to con Dee’s father out of her dead mother’s money, is particular high/lowlight). The cast almost approaches Master Shake territory at some points when it comes to self-defeating assholeishness–times when it’d actually be in the characters’ best interests to do something decent, but they still can’t bring themselves to do it.

I have now watched over 30 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in not even so many days. And like Mama always says, watching too much TV in a row will give you hairy palms. Same of course applies for Philadelphia, whose edge just starts getting duller if you watch too many episodes of it in too concentrated a period of time. Eventually it becomes sort of like “hmm, what racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic/anti-social/evil exploits will the gang get into this episode?” The show’s relatively newfound practice of titling its episodes in reference to the episode’s first scene, a sort of punchline to the opener’s set-up, started out as clever, but once you’re not only expecting the punchline, but you’re pretty much able to predict what the punchline’s gonna be, you know something’s not the way it should be.

Not to say it was a bad season, though. Plenty of good episodes, and plenty of great moments, most of which in some way involve Charlie Kelly, quickly becoming not only the show’s breakout character but one of the most hilarious characters on TV right now. His Serpico impression in “Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City” is topped only by the scenes of his two musical opuses, “Nightman” and “Dayman,” in “Sweet Dee Dates a Retarded Person.” Charlie gets closer every episode to being the true successor to George Costanza: the kind of character who’d be disgusting and disturbing if he wasn’t so lovably pathetic.

And once again, the entire season passes without any multi-episode plot arcs. No love interests, no plot twists, nothing really of consequence whatsoever. That’s all well and fine for now, but the show’s going to get boring pretty quickly without any sort of development–this isn’t House, the formula isn’t quite rock solid enough to never plan to deviate from it. But the establishment of a minor supporting cast is probably a good start, and hell, as long as they keep the classic Charlie moments and the WaWa references flowing, it’s hard to complain too much. Just no more “Gang Gets Hooked on [Drug]” episodes please.

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Blog Hiatus: 11/22-11/24

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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OMGWTFLOL / Your Cover’s Blown: Paul McCartney & Billy Paul’s Versions of “Let ‘Em In”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 21, 2007

Do me a favor

Can you imagine a world in which Paul McCartney is a popular recording artist? And I don’t mean popular in that just generally well regarded, “Prince is still as popular as ever!” way–I mean popular, not just with #1 albums and sold out tours, but with huge, monster hit singles. There were probably girls that listened to solo Paul McCartney. Young girls. You really know that The Beatles must’ve been the best band of all-time for Macca to even be allowed the time of day for his solo career, much less the consistent runaway success he achieved for pretty much the entirety of the 70s.

And believe me, I don’t mean this to insult the old duck–Paul McCartney is awesome, no question, in my mind every bit the equal of John or George in terms of classics, both with the band and without (Ringo, of course, is still miles ahead of the pack). But he’s awesome in the way that my 11th grade Physics teacher was awesome, or the way that the wheelchair trivia guy in Ghost World was awesome, or, of course, the way the entire cast and staff of Carpoolers is awesome. In other words, quirky, goofy, impossible to take seriously awesome. Old awesome. Listening to Paul McCartney’s solo or Wings stuff stuff is like deciding to eat lunch in the backyard instead of at the dinner table. Pleasant. Dignified. Aloof. Brilliant.

Nonetheless, when was the last time old awesome translated into hits? I mean, we’re talking about a guy who had a top 40 hit with a cover of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” .
A guy who mentions military ranks in several of his biggest songs. A guy who wrote smashes around phrases like “HAAAAANDS ACROSS THE WATER,” and around bad title puns like “Helen Wheels”. A guy who even acknowledged his critics in one of his biggest hits, but determined that this old dog didn’t need new tricks, and proclaimed “Heeeeeere I gooooooooooo AGAAAAAAAINNNNN!!!” Were 70s audiences really so burned out from the decade before that they decided that all they could handle was the most harmless music humanly possible?

Even for Macca, though, “Let ‘Em In” reaches new heights of inanity. The great majority of the lyrics are repeatings of this phrase:

Someone’s knocking at the door
Somebody’s rinign’ the bell
Do me a favor, open the door and let ’em in

There’s also a part where he lists the people who he wants to be let in:

Sister Suzie, Brother John
Martin Luther, Phil and Don
Brother Michael, Auntie Jin
Open the door and let ’em in

The amount of effort evident in the creation of these lyrics is truly stunning. This is not a short song, either–this is all there is to chew on for the song’s 5:11 duration. I mean, shit, check Wikipedia’s riveting commentary on the song’s lyrical content:

The lyrics include references to a list of Paul’s visiting friends and relatives: “Sister Suzy,[1] Brother John,[2] Martin Luther,[3] Phil and Don,[4] Brother Michael,[5] Auntie Gin,[6] Open the door and let ’em [them] in.”[7]

In a later verse, “Brother Michael” is replaced by “Uncle Ernie.”[8]

Like many other Wings songs, “Let ’em In” has been covered.

Wow.

Anyway, the song is disturbingly hypnotic. Insanely catchy, too, but in a much, much less confrontational manner than something like the Vengaboys, or the New Pornographers. The pounding bass-like piano line in the background, the light shuffle of the drums, the crisp production–it’s insiduous. Listening to “Let ‘Em In” is like watching an ant crawl on the ground after getting one of the best pot buzzes of your life–something that shouldn’t be even close to interesting, but remains unmistakably captivating and even slightly profound nonetheless. It’s the way Seth Rogen describes You’ve Got Mail (his favorite movie, one of the only funny scenes in the whole show) in that episode of Undeclared–“It’s just pleasant. It’s like waves lapping against a shore.”

I found Billy Paul’s cover of “Let ‘Em In” while doing a research paper on Classic Philly Soul my Junior year (let’s hear it for college, huh?) and hoping to prove that Billy Paul had songs more worthwhile than “Me and Mrs. Jones”. Dunno if Billy’s version of the Macca standard is actually better than his signature song, but I certainly find it more interesting–and slightly less creepy, since the only times I ever hear “Me and Mrs. Jones” seem to be when the song’s being used for lamely humorous purposes on Comedy Central.

But it just astounds me the way that Billy Paul actually finds meaning in McCartney’s song. Paul takes the song’s central premise and somehow makes it a civil rights anthem–helped greatly by the innumerous MLK samples, which make the song feel like kind of a proto-“Come Together” (or at least a proto-“Cult of Personality”). Paul also changes the namecheck part to be all about real life black leaders of the time (though I’m not really sure if Louie Armstrong qualifies as such). McCartney also mentioned MLK in the original “Let ‘Em In,” so you could say the meaning was there all along, but when hearing it from Macca, you could never imagine that the phrase “open the door and let ’em in” could possibly be a plea for something as broad as racial equality. It doesn’t sound like it could be a plea for anything less narrow than “hey, get the door, will ya? TOUGH GUY?

Once again, though, not that I’m complaining. I probably still ultimately prefer the McCartney version, just because its appeal is so singular among popular music–no other supposed rock star will ever seem as unconcerned with doing anything resembling the attitude of “rocking” again, I don’t think. Cvil rights is all well and good, but hey, sometimes some good company with older relatives is what really hits the spot.

(They’ll kill me if I write this much about Paul McCartney without mentioning them at least once, so please check out solidlittlerockjams.blogspot.com, which has probably reviewed seven new unreleased Macca albums in the time it took me to write this column)

Posted in OMGWTFLOL, Your Cover's Blown | 10 Comments »

I Sez / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: “Icing the Kicker” Technique Trend Inspired

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 20, 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

I was watching that Bills – Cowboys game on Monday Night Football a month or two ago–or at least, I was watching the last quarter–and I was amazed by the zaniness of the whole thing. The Cowboys were clearly the superior team, but they just kept fucking up–QB Tony Romo had something like five interceptions, and it was still an eight-point game for the Cowboys with only a few minutes to go. They get a touchdown with a half-minute left, but screwed up the two-point conversion, which should’ve ended the game. But then an onside kick, a couple good downfield passes, and Dallas kicker Nick Folk was in range (well, sort of, 53 yards) for a field goal. Folk kicked it, and it was good, for a last-second victory over the Bills.

That run alone would’ve been enough to make it a Little Giants-worthy sequence of dramatic athletic unlikeliness. But then, it turned out the kick had been invalidated by Bills coach Dick Jauron calling timeout just before Nick Folk geared up–forcing Folk to go through with the 53-yard beauty of a kick, only to have to do it all over again. Turns out that the move was somewhat irrelevant, as Folk somehow had a second one in him, nailing the second kick even more precisely. But my mind was blown just the same–can you actually get away with shit like that in the NFL?

Much to my surprise, this move was not illegal, and not even unprecedented. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan pulled the same move against the Raiders in week two, who, inspired, went on to pull the move themselves against the Browns the next week. Both times, the move–known as “icing the kicker”–had the desired effect, nullifying successful FGs and generating flubbed second attempts. There are probably examples that predate ’07, too, but I’m pretty sure it’s only in this year that it’s fully registered as a legitimate trend (and if even that’s not true, fuck it, it’s worth writing about its awesomeness anyway).

I love it. That it’s not blatantly illegal is amazing enough, that it’s actually becoming a socially acceptable last-ditch coaching manouever is just hilarious. Can you possibly imagine how frustrating this would be if you were a placekicker? The closest equivalent I’ve heard drawn to it is base runners going on a 3-2 count with two outs–since if the batter walks or strikes out, it’ll have been pointless, and if he hits it foul, they’ll have to go back and do it over again, but they can’t afford to look back at the batter themselves to see. But even that–the game isn’t relying on the base runner, really, its on the batter, and he’ll know whether he hits it or not. Imagine what it would feel like to split the uprights from 53 yards to win a come-from-behind game, to start your mental celebration, only to find out you have to do it again. Imagine what it would feel like if you missed a second time. Imagine how impossible it would be not to resist the urge to strangle the opposing coach for pulling such a cheap stunt and costing you the glory and the game.

Bottom line is, this sort of out-in-the-open under-handedness is what’s so badly missing from sports right now, even in the NFL. For such a rough-and-tumble league, where bodies are destroyed and dreams are shattered practically every week, it seems like everyone is altogether too polite. In the media blitz leading up to the Pats-Colts game, it was like both sides were in competition to proclaim the other team the superior one. Seemed like every day, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were talking about how scared they were of the other, and Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy were trying to prove their team was taking the other one more seriously. Huh? When did football, of all sports, start to get so terrified of showing a little hubris? Even after they won, the Pats remained calm, continuing to insist that they were taking their schedule “one game at a time,” as if no one on the team was thinking HOLY SHIT 16-0. This isn’t the NFL I was promised.

What this icing the kicker mishigas does is to serve as an actual drawing of a line in the sand. It’s saying “yeah, I’m screwing you on a loophole, ‘fuck you gonna do about it?” It’s challenging the sport to be as confrontational mentally as it is physically. It’s doing what the Pats have been doing on the field, if not off–running up the score to 56-10*, going for it on the fourth down in the fourth quarter, generally just scoring as much as possible even in irrelevant situations, because they can. If the rules allow it, and if it works, then why the hell not? Shady, sure, and probably somewhat immoral, but it makes for great sports and riveting television, which is always truly the greater good.

That’s not to say that this move is as infallable as it is sinister, however. Coach Shanahan to catch lightning in a bottle with the move again tonight against the Tennessee Titans, icing Titans kicker Rob Bironas from 56 yards out. But this time, it had the opposite of the desired effect–Bironas missed his interrupted kick, but nailed the follow-up, making Shanahan a life-saver for Tennessee. Only fair, I suppose, that a move so underhanded should have such a high potential for backfiring.

Nonetheless, icing the kicker is a move guaranteed to up the drama, frustration and ridiculousness of any given football game. And if these guys aren’t going to give us the drama, frustration and ridiculousness they should be required to be giving us off the field, they better start doing their damndest to be doing it in-game.

*Also against the Bills, currently in the running for the second-most put-upon team in the NFL today

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, I Sez | 6 Comments »

In a Perfect World: TV Channels That Need to Exist

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 19, 2007

What if you woke up tomorrow and everything was perfect?

You know the feeling. You’re sitting at home late on a Wednesday night, hoping to catch something worthwhile and time-killing on TV before you’re ready to go to bed. You’re confident about your chances. After all, you get more TV channels than you ever thought you’d have at your disposal. You get more TV channels than only a decade earlier you would’ve believed were even possible. Yet as you flip through your dozens, even hundreds of options, you gradually come to the horrific, inevitable conclusion: There is nothing on TV.

More and more in life, I’m beginning to believe that getting more channels on TV barely upgrades your potential for finding quality programming. Verily, it seems to me that the amount of channels one gets on TV is totally independent from your odds of actually catching something good. I don’t know if it has to do with one’s TV standards expanding or contracting to meet the amount of channels one gets, or if TV is just diabolically programmed to be eternally frustrating, but whether you get 20 channels or 2000, there’ll always be a time when there’s just nothing on.

Until tonight. For tonight, I will be unveiling my blueprints for eight new, 24/7 channels which will forever erase the need for aimless channel flipping. See, the main problem with TV isn’t that there aren’t enough choices, but that the choices available don’t remain consistent enough within their own line-ups. When you turn on a channel like, say, USA, you’re entering a total crap shoot–you could be getting a new-ish episode of Monk, re-runs of Walker, Texas Ranger a showing of Along Came Polly, or some weird alternative sports coverage. The odds of catching something decent are relatively good, but completely unreliable.

What TV needs, more than anything right now (well, anything besides writers), are channels tailored to very, very specific purposes. Channels that have clearly defined concepts, and never deviate from them. Channels, essentially, that can always be relied upon. The eight channels I propose here might not always be the most exciting or revelatory of TV programming, but the combination of them should be enough to ensure that no matter when you watch, there’ll always be something worth watching on at least one of them.

  • HBO TV: This one I’m pretty surprised doesn’t already exist. Despite being practically unrivalled for brilliant, cutting edge original TV programming, 75% of HBO is still a crappy movie channel, a channel where you’re about five times more likely to catch another airing of The Island than a re-run of a classic Wire or even a decent Sex & the City episode. HBO TV cuts out all the cinematic pretensions to focus on re-running of the channel’s original material, from classic shows like Six Feet Under and The Sopranos to early groundbreakers like 1st & Ten and The Larry Sanders Show and even recent misfires like The Comeback and John From Cincinatti.
  • CCN (Classic Cartoon Network): This is partly inspired by a conversation I had recently with a classmate about how there’s nowhere to catch The Pink Panther (show, not movie) on TV these days, and how that’s probably a shame of some sort. A little less focused than some of my other proposed channels, this’d be closer to what Cartoon Network was like in its embryonic days, before becoming overrun with original programs–mostly filled with classics from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies eras, but filled in with enough (usually dated) miscellany to keep things fresh. And not a single Billy and Mandy episode to gum up the works.
  • All-SNL. Once again, sort of shocking this doesn’t already exist. Over three decades’ worth of back catalogue to work with, you could probably run this channel for at least a month or two straight before having to start repeating episodes. I don’t even like SNL much, but it’d be nice to be able to catch up on some of the more classic episodes, especially if I could do so without having to suffer the indignity of having to flip to E! to watch ’em.
  • TDN (Teen Drama Network): The mid-day block on SOAP network showing back to back eps of The O.C., Beverly Hills 90210 and One Tree Hill is a good start (even if I’ve yet to force myself to break bread with the latter), but I want an entire channel devoted to this much under-rerunned subgenre. It could mix critically acclaimed experience recreations like My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks with significantly less credible choices like Head of the Class and Saved By the Bell (obviously using an extremely liberal definition of “Drama” here, but TDN just looks better than TTVN or TDOCN), right up to modern-day soaps like Gossip Girl and The Hills. Some days I just need to spend watching recreations of youths significantly more exciting than mine was.
  • WSN (World Series Network): I’ve come to really enjoy watching (or at least occasionally flipping to) airings of classic World Series games recently–I generally know where they end up, but I often have little or no knowledge as to how they got there, so watching them unfold is like watching Sunset Boulevard or Carlito’s Way, where you know how the hero ends up at the outset but have no knowledge as to how or why. Even better, though, would be a channel where your odds of catching a complete dog of a WS game were as good as catching a classic Game 7–not only would it make catching one of the unforgettable games more of a real find, it’d shed new light on WS games that have been completely forgotten by time. I mean, catching the legendary video for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” on VH1 Classic is all well and good, but really, I’d rather see the catastrophic video for the Monster flop “Tongue”–just ‘coz, well, when was the last time you thought about the video for fucking “Tongue”? Hell, expand it and show Division and League championships too, if you really want to get frisky.
  • MTV Classic: Speaking of VH1 Classic. At this point, though, rather than a 24-hour video channel that keeps getting watered down further and further until it’s barely even vid-related, I’d prefer a channel that just took to showing archival music video broadcasts from the channel’s earlier years. I want the old MTV channel IDs, the old MTV commercials, the old MTV VJs and of course, the old MTV videos. Watching that VH1 Classic re-airing of MTV’s first 24 hours was one of the more revelatory vid-related experiences I’ve had in recent years, this channel could be like that all the time.
  • FDN (Food Delivery Network): By far the most ambitious of my channel blueprints, since this would involve the creation of a nationwide business as well as a TV channel. But to me it seems like the logical conclusion of the Food Network–delicious meals getting prepared, with a phone number shown at the bottom of the screen where you can call up and order the products being prepared from your local FDN hub. Too much of the Food Network seems to me like masturbation without the payoff, so why not make the foodgasm actually possible?
  • SSS (The Triple S): One channel, three words: Seinfeld, Simpsons & Scrubs. Given the amount these shows are rerun throughout the course of your average TV day, I figure we’re already about 1/4 of the way to this channel already, why not just go the whole nine yards? All three have wide but easily accessible back catalogues of episodes, all three are almost impossible to switch away from once they get into a groove, and all three stand up to countless re-viewings of re-runs. Well, that’s a total lie, you can’t watch the same Scrubs episode more than twice without souring on the show completely, but who would watch a channel called The Double S?

Posted in In a Perfect World | 6 Comments »