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Archive for April, 2008

Mixed Emotions: Weezer – “Pork & Beans”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 16, 2008

You hate for the kids to think that you lost your cool

It ain’t easy beeing Weez. Not to say that it’s particularly hard–God forbid we should all be enormously rich beloved rock stars with Elisha Cuthbert on speed dial–but their fans always seem to be grouchy about something. You can’t please all the people all the time, and nobody knows that better than Weezer. Make Believe was a decided commercial succes but was met with mixed reviews at best, and likewise, lead single “Beverly Hills” marked their biggest hit in a decade, while being utterly reviled by much of the W faithful. Previous album Maladroit was met with lukewarm reviews but spawned no hits and has since been dismissed by much of the band’s fanbase as insubstantial. You’d have to go back to 2001’s Green for a Weez album that was both commercially and critically successful, you’d have to go back to Pinkerton for a Weez album that the entire fan base could get behind, and you’d probably have to go all the way back to the Blue album for the last Weezer album to be an unqualified, across-the-board success. I think it’s safe to say Weezer are due for a crowd-pleaser.

Unsurprising, then, that everything about the W’s upcoming 2008 album should scream back to basics. They’ve got the monochromatic album cover (already being semi-coloquially referred to as “The Red Album”), they’ve got Jacknife Lee, producer of R.E.M.’s “FINE YOU WANTED A RETURN TO FORM ALBUM HERE TAKE IT” effort Accelerate, behind the decks, and now they’ve got lead single “Pork & Beans”. Debuted on KRoq earlier this week, “Pork & Beans” is unmistakably old-school Weezer–listen to a single second of that chorus, and you’ll probably catch yourself thinking thoughts like “hm, I wonder when they’re releasing the CD single?” and “hey, maybe Matt Pinfield will debut the video for this on 120 Minutes this Sunday!” The multi-tracked vocals, the chugging drums and bass, that one-channel guitar crunch…there’s just no sound that’s quite parallel to it, and if it doesn’t make you smile at least a little bit, then you’ve probably never smiled at Weezer before, and the odds of you having smiled at anything ever in your life are not particularly high either.

So, good news, right? Time for Weezer to reclaim Band Everyone Loves Always status? Time to start counting down the days to Red‘s release? Time to punch yourself in the face for not admitting that “We Are All on Drugs” was the best song ever? Well, maybe that last part, but pity poor Weezer, ‘coz I’m just not quite ready to concede those first two. It’s catchy, sure–my head is so full of music and trivia that it usually takes me about a half-dozen listens to remember how any song goes, but I was singing this one to myself for an hour after listening to it the first time. Even in their darkest hours, though, catchiness has never been an issue for the Weez–you may love “Beverly Hills” and “Hash Pipe,” or you might have immolated your Rivers Cuomo action figures because they disgusted you so much, but you damn sure know how them choruses go. What really forms the disconnect between 90s-era Weezer isn’t the hooks, it isn’t the production–it’s the lyrics. And we might still have a problem them.

First things first–titling your lead single “Pork & Beans” is just straight up perverse, and not only in the way that it sounds like a sexual innuendo (which for all I know it actually is). It’s silly because it’s just not a title that a hit song can weather–it’s way too unspecific to the song, the mental image isn’t one you associate with any aspect of popular music, and it comes from maybe the weakest line in the song (“I’ll eat my candy with the pork and beans”–meant to be a statement of individuality and control over your destiny, I suppose, but much more logical as a total non sequitur). I mean, I guess Weezer has a history in this respect–“El Scorcho,” “Hash Pipe” and “Dope Nose” aren’t exactly top 40-ready titles either–but this one seems particularly weak and tossed off to me.

This would be a forgivable offense, and even arguably a good joke, if the rest of the lyrics weren’t so lame as well. I mean, more Weezer contemplating whether they should be concerned about being cool and popular and just deciding “well, fuck it, I’ll do what I want”? Didn’t they already do that in “Beverly Hills” (and wasn’t that kind of redundant to begin with?) Yes, Rivers, I understand that the kids are fickle these days, but proving that you know who Timbaland is while subsequently insisting that you don’t need to know who Timbaland is doesn’t make you sound either hip or lovably un-hip, it just makes you sound old. Legitimately secure people people shouldn’t have to sing about how legitimately secure they are, right? Can’t Weezer just sing about stuff anymore?

I’m probably making it sound like I dislike this song more than I do–really, it is pretty catchy, and if the rest of the album is this tuneful and well-produced, it bodes for a highly listenable Red at the very least. But the thing with Return to Form albums is that they’re never quite as satisfying as it should be, since all they end up doing is emphasizing how long and far it’s been since the band was there the first time around–you can never really repeat the past, especially not once you’ve graduated from Harvard, gone to cellibacy and back, and adopted Rick Rubin as your personal swami. But let’s hope some of the surprises Weezer have promised to have up their sleeve–“longer songs, non-traditional song forms, different people writing and singing, instrument switching, TR-80s, synths, Southern Rap, and Baroque counterpoint” among them–keep things a little new and interesting. I’m not ready for Weezer to be officially Old quite yet.

Posted in Mixed Emotions | Leave a Comment »

Notes From the Underbelly: The 2008 CMT Awards

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 15, 2008

Sisqo and Tim Daly: Now officially country-approved

My relationship with mainstream country has always been a troubled one at best. For northern pop music would-be critics like myself, country (or country-pop, C&W, or whatever you’d like to call the commercially dominant strain of contemporary country music) represents a sort of final frontier in popular music–it’s been easy for me to reconnect with the rock, hip-hop, pop and R&B sides of the top 40 since I listened to and loved all that stuff growing up, but like many, I never really had that country background, and partly as a result, most country still sounds pretty foreign to me. My ex-compatriots over at Stylus found something to champion in Miranda Lambert’s commercially-middling but critically-darling Crazy Ex Girlfriend, but the album failed to grab me much. If anything, I was more impressed by Taylor Swift’s couple of country-pop crossovers (which) provided some of the more unexpectedly pleasant Top 40 hits last year), whose singer/songwriter status, pop production and stunning starlet looks landed her in more familiar musical territory for me. But aside from her, and despite my genuine belief that all pop music was created (more or less) equal, I’ve yet to find enough relateable on any level–musical, lyrical, or ideological–in modern country to justify a concerted effort into keeping up with the genre.

Still, I’ve been kept moderately abreast of goings on in popular country thanks to my internship at Sirius, at which I find myself working on the New Country station more than almost anything else on the dial. I don’t actually get to listen to it much, but through editing song transitions I’ve probably heard the intros and outros to just about every song on the country charts about a half-dozen times. I’m also kept informed on song titles (Rodney Atkins’s “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” is still probably my favorite), on covers (Clint Black doing The Hollie’s “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)–meh), and by listening to the DJ breaks, even current events, so when it was pounded into my head today that the CMT awards were on tonight, I decided to give ’em a shot. Wasn’t quite worth livebloggin’, but I have some thoughts to share on the occasion nonetheless…

  • I’m trying to think of what the Rock equivalent to Billy Ray Cyrus hosting an award show in 2008 would be. Tom Cochrane? Ugly Kid Joe?
  • It’s sort of comforting to know that award show banter is some of the most awakward and cringe-inducing dialogue to ever be found on TV, regardless of on what side of the Mason-Dixon line it happens to be filmed. Billy Ray and Miley, though…not going to be invited to co-host the VMAs any time soon.
  • The gap between LeAnn Rimes and Christina Aguilera is getting to be too close for comfort. Please, please keep this girl away from dark makeup, facial piercings, and Linda Perry.
  • The thing that nearly all the female winners on this show have in common is that they all act positively shocked to have won anything. LeAnn swears that she “didn’t expect this at all,” Taylor mimes checking the envelope herself to make sure they didn’t read it wrong, and Kellie gets so flustered at the surprise of her win that she makes a final thank-you comment along the lines of “To all the people I didn’t name, I haven’t forgotten you…well, actually, I did forget you, but, uh…you know what I mean.” You’d think these girls were all in a cup size competition against Dolly Parton or something. Someone has to win, you know.
  • Snoop makes an appearance to pimp his new country single (and no, I haven’t heard it, and no, I can’t fucking wait). When asked of his country past, Calvin claims that the “G” in “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” stands for “Git ‘er done, y’all.” First The View, then Wrestlemania, and now the CMTs–does this guy have to be liked by everybody?
  • Check out these chorus lyrics to the Tim McGraw & Faith Hill duet “I Need You.” Points for not resorting to old cliches, I guess:
  • I need you
    Like a needle needs a vein
    Like my uncle Joe in Oklahoma needs a rain
    And I need you
    Like a lighthouse on a coast
    Like the father and the son need the Holy Ghost
    I need you

  • While we’re at it, the third verse to Brad Paisley’s “I’m Still a Guy”:
  • These days there’s dudes getting facials
    Manicured, waxed and botoxed
    With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands
    You can’t grip a tacklebox

    Yeah with all of these men lining up to get neutered
    It’s hip now to be feminized
    I don’t highlight my hair
    I’ve still got a pair
    Yeah honey, I’m still a guy

  • The one legitimately huge surprise of the evening, Sugarland comes on with a bunch of guest artists I don’t know to perform a cover of “a classic from the 80s.” I quickly recognize the opening chords to The Dream Academy’s much-beloved (by me, anyway) “Life in a Northern Town,” but instantly laugh it off as coincidence, as I can’t imagine what a bunch of country dudes from Atlanta would possibly find cover-worthy about a British folk-rock ode to Nick Drake. Sure enough, though, I hear the opening “As the Salvation Army Band played…” salvo and my mind is officially blown. They don’t even do something lame like tweak it to be “Life in a Southern Town” or anything like that. And the cover isn’t half bad. Cool.
  • A good-looking female “fan” bum-rushes the stage, hugs Toby Keith and then dances provocatively at the front of the stage during Keith’s performance of feminist anthem “She’s a Hottie.” I figure this is just part of the act, until security escorts the girl off the premises and I remember that in some parts of the world–some parts of this country, even–Toby Keith doing “She’s a Hottie” is not only not considered repulsive, but is probably roughly on par with Prince doing “Kiss.” Wow.
  • Billy Ray gives the obligatory “Support Our Troops” shoutout, which is met with a standing O and thunderous applause. The Dixie Chicks, unsurprisingly, are nowhere to be found.
  • There’s the “Wide Open Country” video category, which appears to be the closest thing to an “alternative rock” category equivalent that the CMTs will have. The award is supposed to be given to an artist who stretches the boundaries of what country music can be. The nominees? Allison Krauss & Robert Plant, Jack Ingram, Willie Nelson, and The Eagles. Hm.
  • The amount of violent female revenge songs in country is getting damn near troubling. Carrie’s “Before He Cheats,” of course, but Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead” is gaining momentum, and now even sweet little Taylor has a “Picture to Burn”. And you’re telling me Joe Nichols and Billy Currington have better things to write about than crapping in their exes’ shoes or something for cheating on them? Get in there, dudes!
  • Iggles Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh present video of the year, with Walsh’s attempts to address the crowd as “y’all” fooling no one. Taylor wins for “Our Song”–my least favorite of her three big ones, but I’m still glad to see it beat out Carrie and Kenny. Taylor seems…less surprised this time around. Doubt she’ll ever be terribly surprised ever again.

Ultimately, what watching these made me realize that what really alienates so many people like me from modern country isn’t necessarily the music itself (or the artists themselves), but the uniformity across the board in the culture. And I don’t mean that in that diminuitive “every song sounds the same” way, because that’s not really true. I mean that there’s a decided, almost jarring lack of iconoclasm to be found anywhere in these proceedings. Get a bunch of the biggest rock acts together and you’ll be under no pretensions that acts like Nickelback, Maroon 5, Radiohead, Fall Out Boy and System of a Down all like and support each other’s music, and get a bunch of the biggest rap acts together and you might (and often do) have a brawl break out before the ceremonies are done. But get a bunch of the nation’s biggest country acts together, and it’s one big happy family. You’re not going to see Taylor Swift snubbing Kellie Pickler for being an American Idol product and not writing her own songs, you’re not going to see Willie Nelson moaning about how “no one writes real country anymore,” and you’re not gonna see Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney beefing over album sales and celebrity girlfriends.

And that’s not totally a bad thing–it’s deifnitely sort of heartwarming to see these people so completely enamored with and so earnestly united by their music culture, and in that way it’s even sort of enviable. But as someone raised on alt-rock, I’ve been bred to long for the existence of at least a touch of punk attitude–someone being really arrogant or antagonistic in an acceptance speech, or someone from either the old or new guard attempting to create some sort of us vs. them dynamic, or someone expressing some sort of unpopular (or at least not universally accepted) political opinion. But it’s more or less a complete whitewash (and I don’t even mean racially–hi, Sisqo!), as everyone seems to have the same musical, political and sexual views (rowdy and fun loving, but ultimately conservative and above all old-fashioned), and no one seems willing, or even desirous, to upset the apple cart in any way. No wonder the Dixies were considered such pariahs–I knew their opinions were unpopular, but I didn’t realize how revolutionary simply having a different opinion is around these parts. And while I hate bringing politics into pop music, and while I wouldn’t even consider myself the most liberal of guys, it makes it really difficult for me to get down with a genre when it seems to so exclusively preach a life ideology in which, for the most part, I don’t see myself included.

Now admittedly this is a bit much to be concluding off of cursory genre knowledge and one award show, and frankly, if there are readers out there who’d like to explain to me why I’m misreading this, why my reading of this doesn’t have to be such a negative one, or simply why I’m an elitist asshole for saying any of this shit, I would honestly love to hear it, because I really do hate the idea of closing my mind off to such a large section of the pop realm. But as it stands, I think I’m just gonna have to stick with having an encyclopedic knowledge of these songs’ intros and outros, and not go exploring too much further than that.

Posted in Notes From the Underbelly | 2 Comments »

Charts on Fire: 04-10-08

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 13, 2008

“”Dudes are gonna hate this one… Ugly dudes, that is.” – Lil’ Wayne

Couple days behind on this week’s chart rundown, but it’s been a while, and there’s some mildly interesting stuff going on, so better irrelevant than never I suppose. “Touch My Body” is in its second week at #1, which is hopefully pretty close to the end of its run at the top–song’s good enough, but it’s a reputation #1 if there’s ever been one, and we wouldn’t want Mariah to get the wrong idea.
More intriguing to me is the #2 ranking of Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love,” which actually snuck a week at #1 away from Mariah and Usher while we weren’t looking. I’m still not quite sure what I think of the song, since the (admittedly memorable) chorus has yet to really stick with me in any positive way, but I think its classic potential is far greater than the singles straddling it at the moment.

One of those singles, by the way, is Madonna’s Timberlake and Timbaland-supported “4 MInutes,” which in its second week at #3 gives Madonna her first top five hit since “Don’t Tell Me” over 7 years ago. If “Elevator” was evidence that the Timbaland bubble was starting to burst, than “4 Minutes” is fairly definitive proof, as Timbo’s production (and JT’s backing vocals) not only sounds increasingly gun-for-hire, but also completely overwhelms anything unique or interesting that Madonna might tend to bring to the table, as Mrs. Ritchie sounds distinctly like a guest artist on her own semi-comeback single.  Clearly the public is still eating Timbo’s leftovers up with due dilligence, but that can’t last forever…can it?

Similarly perplexing to me is the success of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” at #4 this week. Now Lil’ Weezy has been listed among the greatest rappers alive for some time now, and based on miscellaneous guest appearances, freestyles and non-hits of his (last year’s “I Feel Like Dying” being a particular stunner) have been impressive enough to give him the benefit of the doubt in this respect. But I’ve never really heard that one great, undeniable single from him, nothing that could be stood up next to a “Big Pimpin'” or “Hypnotize” as the kind of universally loved crossover smash that the streets can still respect. “Lollipop” certainly isn’t it–it sounds like a weak, and even sort of lazy concession to pop-rap standards without the big hook to back it up. Plus, using the T-Pain voicebox and deploying the phrase “lovely lady lumps??” Still unacceptable for at least the next 20 years. Until he can crash the charts with a single far superior to this, I don’t really see how he can be considered one of the greats. Maybe the final release of the much-hyped Tha Carter III will convince me otherwise.

The rest of the top ten is old hat, but we got plenty else to discuss in the top 40. There’s the return of Danity Kane, whose “Damaged” (#19) still bears too much of Diddy’s stamp for comfort, but is still about a gazillion times better than ’05’s putrid top ten hit “Show Stopper”. Fall Out Boy are back for the first time in ’08 this year, with friend and kindred spirit John Mayer in tow, on a cover of “Beat It” (#21). FOB’s affinity for some of the most boringly overplayed hits of the 80s has been no secret for some time, and this being the 25th anniversary of Thriller and all, I guess it makes sense, but unless you’re a 12-year old pop-punk acolyte that doesn’t know why MJ should be considered anything but a pedophilic weirdo, goddamn does it feel pointless. Impressive enough shredding form Mayer, though. And just in case you forgot about him for two seconds, T-Pain is back on two new ones in the top 40 this week, Rick Ross’s “The Boss” (confirms Double R as one of the least-compelling figures in hip-hop, but at least Snoop and Slim Charles are in the video, #23) and 2 Pistols’ “She Got It” (more my synth-hop speed, #29).

The real story of the week, though, might be the appearance of Radiohead in the top 40, for the first time since 1993. Alas, the #37 debut of “Nude” on the chart is not as much attributable to a sudden open-mindedness in Top 40 radio or the song’s appearance on a season finale of The Hills as it is to Radiohead’s accidental (or extremely underhanded and shrewd) chartbusting technique of selling the five tracks to “Nude” (currently being used for a Radiohead fan remix contest) individually, counting each of them towards the song’s chart success. Well, it took fifteen years, but Radiohead can now breathe easy, having officially shed the “One-Hit Wonder” title. Something tells me the song might not be bouncing on its way to the top ten this time next week, though. Good song, by the way.

Also worth talking about is one of the notable new entries (of which there are a surprising number this week) on the normally stagnant Modern Rock charts–that of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” (#12). Oh, yeah, another new Death Cab single, ho hum–accurate 95% of the time, perhaps, but not so much here. Sez Ben Gibbard of new album Narrow Stairs, “It’s totally a curve ball, and I think it’s gonna be a really polarizing record. But I’m really excited about it. It’s really got some teeth […] I think abrasive would be a good word to use. [We were influenced by] heavy, sludgy, slow metal [and] synth-punk band Brainiac.” Normally this’d be a knee-jerk eye roll, but they do kinda back it up with eight-and-a-half minute lead single “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Abrasive isn’t exactly the word I’d use–more brooding, sinewy, and very very lengthy–but this certainly isn’t your grandmother’s Death Cab for Cutie, and that’s probably a good thing.

That new R.E.M. single, though (#85 Pop, #21 Modern Rock)? Not really so great. Plus, the title always makes me think of that horrific Al Gore episode of South Park where he keeps saying “I’m super, super serial.” Is that even a joke?

Posted in Charts on Fire | Leave a Comment »

My Philosophy: Kobe Proves Me Right All These Years

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 11, 2008

Hyperdunks?

I had a lot of theories in High School, most based on movie cliches that I planned on living my life in order to avoid, just in case. Many of them were time-travel related, and at least a couple of them I think ended up appearing as my HS yearbook quote, one of the many reasons why I haven’t looked through that thing since I got to college. Nonetheless, the one that perhaps best caught on with my group of friends, and the one which seemed the most urgent and logical at the time, was one summarized in two simple words;

Jump Up.

I never understood why action stars and other potential auto victims in movies never responded to the threat of oncoming cars like this. They’d either try to run away (which unless you’re the Flash, rarely works out advantageously), try to return fire (better, but still risky–bulletproof glass, lack of bullets, or they could just duck) or simply stand there and scream (the most popular option, albeit the one with the least potential upside). But why didn’t they just jump up? Most cars aren’t that tall. Plan for it, get a good running start, and boom–you’re still running away, and with momentum on your side, but your assailant has to go through the trouble of turning his car around and gearing up for round two (if the frustration of missing in his first attempt hasn’t already completely dissuaded him from his mission).

Long had I searched for confirmation that this was indeed a viable action film strategem in the making.
And indeed, I essentially received such confirmation in the form of the Steven Seagal and DMX classic star vehicle Exit Wounds, in which Mr. Seagal essentially just Jumps Up to evade a looming auto attack. But it wasn’t quite perfect–the car had already had its top stripped off earlier in the scene, making Steven’s still-Herculean jump seem not quite so impressive, and it was filmed and edited in such a way that you don’t actually quite see him attempt, clear and land the jump beyond a shadow of a doubt (though, believe me, I don’t question for a second that Mr. Seagal could perform such a stunt, and that he even does it regularly off-camera just for kicks).


(6:20 in)

Nonetheless, it was not until Kobe Bryant decided to film some of his extra-curricular activities that my theory was proven beyond question. Against the advice and better judgment of teammate and confidante Ronny Turiaf (and when one of the NBA’s All-Big-Goofy-Backup First Team is acting as your voice of reason, you know you’re about to act a damn fool), Kobe laces up his Nikes and Jumps Up–from a standstill, no less–over a driving Aston Martin. And he clears it beautifully, even sticking the landing.

Most amazing to me here is the fact that Kobe was clearly as big a proponent of this theory as I was, because there’s simply no other explanation as to why he would attempt such a stunt. I guess you could say it’s the beginning of a burgeoning cross-promotion with Nike, but honestly, how much more money, publicity and air-time could they possibly give to Kobe without him qualifying as a shareholder? Plus, could you imagine the consequences if Kobe had mistimed his jump only slighlty? “Sorry, Coach Jackson (Phil?), won’t be up for playing in the post-season this year, YouTube was calling me.” Kevin Brown and Joel Zumaya’s lame DL trips would suddenly make them seem like amputees by comparison. Let it never be said that Kobe Bryant was a man who feared tempting fate.

Anyway, this clip alone should make the race for the NBA MVP a total moot point. Let’s see Chris Paul try to jump a motorcycle onto a moving train or LeBron James deflect a rocket with a lunch tray before we re-open discussions on that one.

Posted in My Philosophy | 7 Comments »

Songs We Take for Granted: Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men – “One Sweet Day” (1995)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 9, 2008

Sorry, I never told you…

As you may or may not have heard (and due to the chart-slacking at this end, I’m ashamed to say you certainly haven’t heard it here), Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body” leapfrogged to #1 on the Hot 100 last week. This is notable both for being the first #1 single for Jack McBrayer and the 18th #1 single for Miss Mariah, thus surpassing Elvis’s 17 and giving her the second-highest tally of chart-toppers of the Rock era. Carey is now a mere two singles away from tying the Beatles’ record of an even 20 gold medals, which she could theoretically be looking at taking before the year is up.

Of course, Mariah’s place in chart history is assured even if she never releases another single, thanks to a little single called “One Sweet Day”. Her duet with Boyz II Men topped the charts in December of 1995 and stayed at pole position until March of the next year, a 16-week reign in total that easily snapped the rock-era record for length spent on top the top 100. It’s a run that has proven to be almost as unassailable as the ’72 Dolphins’, as such chart-busters as Los Del Rio’s “Maccarena,” Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997” and indeed, Mariah’s own “We Belong Together” all tapped out at 14 weeks, the previous record and a seeming cap on the American public’s tolerance for a totalitarian pop regime. Especially with new iTunes-influenced chart trends favoring shorter runs at the top (though not quite short enough, as evidenced by the ’08-starting hydra of “No One” and “Low”), it’s unlikely that “One Sweet Day” will see its record toppled any time soon, if it ever conceeds it at all.

Yet for all this chart history–“One Sweet Day” remains an oddly anonymous song in the greater scheme of pop music. No doubt, it was a mega-hit–about a half-year before I really started paying attention to pop music, but residual enough throughout the next year or so that I certainly am no stranger to it. But I doubt it would rank as the best-remembered song by either artist, and it’s a song you barely ever hear on the radio (OK, admittedly, I don’t listen to enough soft-rock or AC top 40 to really vouch for that, but I’ve listened to the XM 90s station a ton, and skipped around plenty elsewhere, and can’t remember the last time I heard it). I was even listening to it on a mix I had made recently, and I couldn’t recognize it until the dulcet opening tones of That Guy From Boyz II Men dawned the revelation on me. Can you name a single movie, TV show or other song to reference it? It just doesn’t seem to happen much.

To explain why this is, it’s important first to address why “One Sweet Day” was such a chart smash to begin with, and the biggest reason for that is simple math. Individually, to say that Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men were the two biggest pop powerhouses that Billboard saw in the 90s would be an egregious understatement. Mariah notched a #1 hit in every year that decade, another chart feat she can claim as solely her own, while with “One Sweet Day,” Boyz II Men eclipsed a chart-topping record that they themselves had achieved with the 14-week run of “I’ll Make Love to You,” which only beat by one week the record they had set earlier that decade with “End of the Road”‘s 13 weeks on top. Mariah and the Boyz had already lodged 69 weeks on top of the charts by the time of “One Sweet Day,” or roughly 30% of the decade thusfar. For these two super-powers to team up at the respective peaks of their chart successes…frankly, 16 weeks practically seems like a lowball estimate.

But to say that starpower was the only reason for this song’s success would be to sell it incredibly short, especially when considering the underwhelming #15 peak of “When You Believe,” Mariah’s 1998 duet with Whitney Houston that the pro chart analysts (assuming such a profession exists) expected to be “One Sweet Day” redux in chart terms. To me, serendipity has a lot to do with it as well. The story behind “Day” is that supposedly Mariah was writing a song devoted to late deceased collaborator David Cole (of C&C Music Factory fame) while the Boyz were also writing a tribute to their recently murdered manager, and the songs happened to be similar enough to be combined into “One Sweet Day.” It seems like the kind of song to me that couldn’t really be planned, that it just had to come about as a sort of miraculous confluence of circumstances and talents–watch the video, which essentially portrays the song as the product of a bunch of friends hanging out and becoming overcome with the power of song.

Listening to it, you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. In all this talk about chart statistics, you forget there’s a reason why Mariah & the Boyz were as big as they were in the mid-90s–vocally, both were almost completely without peer in the pop and R&B world. Both occasionally recorded middling material, but when they were given great songs to work with–Boyz with “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and “End of the Road,” Mariah with “Vision of Love” and “Emotions” (and countless others, really)–the results were simply staggering. “One Sweet Day” is that rare collaboration between powerhouse artists that not only compromises neither, but actually enhances the appeal of both. Listening to the Boyz twisting their gorgeous harmonies around Mariah’s high-register belting, especially in the song’s climax…it’s every bit as awe-inspiring as it should be.

And lest we forget, they got a great song to work with. It was almost destined not to age well, for several reasons, not the least of which is the super-90s production (which is starting to make stuff like Phil Collins and Mr. Mister sound timeless by comparison)–the lite piano, reverbed and echoed drums, airy synths…all that’s missing in the Definitive 90s Big Ballad checklist is the “Un-Break My Heart”-style flamenco guitar seasoning. But perhaps more detrimental to the song’s legacy is the subject matter, which kind of gets it stuck in a thematic pop music black hole. Generally, huge big-name ballads like this best endure in one of three forms–graduations, slow dances and choirs. Graduations can’t really touch it because it’s not that inspirational or blankly nostalgic, slow dances can’t go anywhere near it because generally eulogies make for lousy make-out music, and choirs…well, if you’re gonna even consider rolling the dice on “One Sweet Day,” you better make sure you got a world class fucking group of singers behind you, because otherwise it’ll sound unbelievably embarrassing.

But even though it’s not gonna be a daddy-daughter wedding dance anytime soon (or at least it definitely, definitely shouldn’t be), it’s definitely one of the more powerful ballad hits of the decade. When it comes to conveying hurt, there is really no competing with Mariah Carey (in fact, the only decent criticism I ever heard of “We Belong Together” was someone essentially complaining that she can’t honestly expect us to believe that her love was really good enough to deserve a song that emotional) and the Boyz can certainly hold their own, so they can take a line like the opening (and closing as well–underused tactic) “Sorry I never told you / All I wanted to say” and make it sound not only unbelievably heartfelt but completely personal and even sort of surprising. This isn’t an eye-roller Whitney Houston ballad, it’s a song where the lyrics actually have the potential to help the song’s appeal.

Really, though, “One Sweet Day” is your classic GTTC (Get To The Chorus) song. And boy, is it a doozy, kicking off immediately in full gear (“AANNNNDDDD IIIIIII KNOW YOU’RE SHINING DOWN ON ME FROM HEA-VUHN!!!”) and doing a shockingly satisfactory job of being weighty enough to anchor a song with aspirations this huge. It strikes a tone both extremely saddening and impressively life-affirming, which was probably the point of the song all along, so good on them for that. The fact that it modulates up (goes to a higher key–y’know, like in “Living on a Prayer”) for the end as the song goes into overdrive, Mariah and the Boyz’s vocal calisthenics becoming almost physically exhausting in their emotional outpouring, is too perfect–this isn’t a song worried about shying away from cliche and sentimentality, and it’s all the more powerful (and was all the more successful) for it.

It’s not my favorite song by either artist by any means–for me, that’s quite a distinction to begin with, and the song’s occasionally cringe-worthy production hurts it too much in the end when compared to superior productions like “Fantasy” and “Water Runs Dry”. But it still sounds to me today how it always has–an almost magical one-off collaboration that does indeed sound like it was blessed from beyond, and an entirely worthy record chart-topper that has, against all odds, become severely underappreciated.

Posted in Songs We Take for Granted | 2 Comments »

Listeria: Ten Most Underappreciated Pieces of Dialogue from Bottle Rocket (1996)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 7, 2008

“You’re pretty complicated, huh?”
“I try not to be…”

To ascribe the word “underrated” to just about anything Wes Anderson has touched is a relatively useless statement; Anderson has been so lionized by the critical community (as well as by the generation of semi-devoted filmgoers coming of age when Rushmore hit it semi-big) that the relative scale of the movies’ quality is pretty unimportant. Still, if there’s one thing that the increasingly overbakedness of his later movies makes you really appreciate, it’s just how loose and unassuming Bottle Rocket is. The elements are there, certainly–the quirky preciousness, the montages set to 60s underground rock, the immature adults and overly mature kids–but it just feels more organic, more…innocent, I guess. The script feels appropriately meandering (the whole thing with Bob, his brother and his weed-growing farm is among film’s all-time great “what was the point of that?” sub-plots ), the dialogue feels more natural than it ever would again (Anthony’s declaration of love speech to Inez, while far from being quotable enough for this article, is brilliant in its sheer incoherence), and hell, it’s got Owen and Luke Wilson in that all-too-rare stage of their careers where they had no idea they could ever be considered celebrities.

Though I’m not sure I could say I enjoy it more than Rushmore and Tenenbaums (movies with recipes that brilliant are allowed to be so obviously cooked, I suppose), I do feel a certain level of comfort catching Bottle Rocket on TV that I don’t necessarily get with the others. It never feels stale, or cloying, or nearly as self-indulgent as his other works, and for those reasons, the movie’s few but legitimate moments of genuine drama (the scene where Dignan finds out that Anthony tricked him into giving away all their stolen loot money to Inez, especially) always strike me more than they do in his others. Plus, as should be obvious by now, it’s got a hell of a lot of great quotes–the kind that don’t jump out as obvious punchline quotes, but are insiduous in how gleefully unexpected they usually are, and in how much of the character they usually reveal. Here are ten reasons why I’d probably call Bottle Rocket my favorite Wes Anderson movie:

10. Anthony: “This is great! Sitting here in the laundary room, you working on your vocabulary, and we’re sharing these tamales…it’s just how I’d expect it.”

9. Bob (Driving): “I hate to interrupt your conversation, guys, but I think I know what you’ve been going through, man. ‘Coz I’ve been through some pretty heavy shit myself. If you’re feeling alone, like nobody in the world cares, and nobody in the fucking world gives a shit, then I’m here. I’m ready to listen, man–”
Anthony (Interrupting, not listening): “…that was a stop sign…”

8. Random Bathroomgoer: “Hello, my friend!”
Dignan (at stall): “Hey, hola amigo! Como estas?”
RB: “You are in the army, yes?”
Dignan: “No, I just have short hair!”

7. Anthony: “Don’t call her a housekeeper!
Dignan: “Don’t threaten me. That’s what she is. She is a housekeeper, right? People are housekeepers!

6. Anthony: “Dignan, you know what’s gonna happen if you go back there.”
Dignan: “No, I don’t. They’ll never catch me, man…‘coz I’m fucking innocent!

5.Dignan: “BACKYARD! RIGHT NOW! LET’S GO!
Bob: “Backyard? This is my house!”

4. Grace: “When are you coming home?”
Anthony: “Grace, I can’t come home. I’m an adult.”

3. Dignan: “He’s out. And you’re out too. And I don’t think I’m in either. No gang!

2. Dignan: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE??
Worker Hostage 1: “We work here!”
Dignan: “YOU’RE ALWAYS AT LUNCH NOW!!”
Worker Hostage 2: “…not always.”
Dignan: “YES, ALWAYS!!

1. Anthony (Explaining how he “went nuts”): “One morning, over at Elizabeth’s beach house, she asked me if I would rather go water skiing or lay out. And I realized that not only did I not want to answer that question, but I never wanted to answer another water-sports question…or see any of these people again…for the rest of my life.”

Posted in Listeria, Popcorn Love | 9 Comments »

Blog Hiatus: 4/4/08 – 4/6/08 (TRASHionals ’08 Tourney Break)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 4, 2008

I know, right? I mean, seriously.

Posted in Blog Hiatus | Leave a Comment »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap: 20 Things I’d Like to See in the MLB This Year

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 2, 2008

For old time’s sake: 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.

Predictions are boring, and I’m terrible at them even when I do know what I’m talking about. But, y’know, we do have a baseball season going, and that’s a pretty cool thing, so let’s do some wishful thinking.

1. Priority #1 for this season: The Phillies finishing ahead of the Braves in the East. Not expecting to beat the Mets, not even necessarily expecting to get into the playoffs (though odds aren’t terirble), but this is a must. Not that I can really claim any sort of grudge-based animosity against them (or any team, for that matter), but all this recent insider prognosticating about the Braves actually being the team to beat in the NL just fucks with my common sense.

2. Priority #2 for this season: The Rockies finishing ahead of the Diamondbacks in the West. I’m definitely still on the hook for these guys since I got swept up in Rocktober ’07, and I’d really hate for all those assholes claiming it was a total fluke (not that it really wasn’t, but still) to be proven right. And the D’backs have to prove that they have at least one player capable of hitting over .300, or hitting 35 home runs, or at least growing some interesting facial hair, before I consider them as anything but the most boring team in baseball.

3. Or, if the Diamondbacks really want to earn my interest, let’s see this Micah Owings guy become the first legitimately two-way player in…how long? If he did, would you be able to draft him twice in fantasy leagues?
4. The Tigers actually scoring some runs. I’ve never really had the pleasure of following a team deigned a Murderer’s Row, and the descriptions of the Tigers’ O-9 (and mostly workmanlike pitching staff) had me salivating at the thought of Baseball’s equivalent of the Golden State Warriors. But, uh, scoring four runs combined in two games against the Royals…not the most auspicious of beginnings for a supposedly 1000-run lineup. I guess Golden State lost their first six, though…

5. The Orioles showing signs of progress. I was raised a Baltimore fan, and there’s definitely still some residual affection when I see that Orange and Black. I’d like to be able to keep some rooting interest in seeing them play without it being like watching Heat games on TNT.

6. Joe Borowski leading the AL in saves for the second straight season, thus forcing the retirement of the “save” statistic altogether.

7. Steve Levy making some variation on the statement “What Ezra Koenig is to Vampire Weekend, [Josh Hamilton] is to the [Texas Rangers].”

8. A continuation on the rollercoaster ride that is sure to be having Eric Gagne on my fantasy team, the Ottawa Obfuscators. So far–27.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP…and a 1-0 record! Hey, if his $10 million contract turns out to be a bust (NO!) at least he can always find work as a Seth Rogen stand-in in Knocked Up 2: Knocked Upper.

9. The San Fransisco Giants winning at least 75 games. Not because I particularly care about their fortunes (aside from Aaron Rowand, who I’d like to see continue to flourish), but because in the heat of the moment, I made a $20 bet with IITS friend Andrew Weber that they would. Did I mention that I’m not very good at predicting things? Whatever, I’m a sucker for teams who put on Guitar Hero tournaments.

10. Speaking of Guitar Hero, who else is excited for the possibilites of Joel Zumaya graduating to Rock Band?

11. Seeing either the Nationals or the A’s function as Baseball’s equivalent of the Trailblazers–a young team with no stars exceeding expectations and logic to end up over .500 (but not far enough over .500 to screw up the post-season eco-system).

12. A Frank Caliendo-free post-season. Those still-recurring ads with him as G.W.B. have me waking up in a cold sweat.

13. The burgeoning Rays-Yankees bad blood continuing to fester, until a surprisingly race for the AL Wild Card spot between the two (which the Yankees of course end up winning) gives credence to the idea that the two teams are worth being compared qualitatively. As long as there are no new developments in Boston, in five – ten years…could we have a replacement doiminant AL East rivalry?

14. The Cubs finishing outside the post-season. If not for the series drought, why should we even care about this team at all?

15. Speaking of The Cubs, though, I just want one moment–just one–where an MLB announcer forgets about the league’s international pact to pronounce Kosuke Fukudome’s name “foo-koo-doh-may” and says it the way it’s (probably) actually pronounced, “fuck-you-doh-may.” C’mon guys, who are you kidding? The 12-year-olds are gonna catch on sooner or later.

16. Big years for Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Matthews, Jr. and Richie Sexson. YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING BASEBALL PROSPECTUS

17. The Pirates rolling the dice and signing Barry Bonds to a Glavine-esque one-year homecoming contract. They have what to lose, exactly?

18. Scott Olsen discovering religion and suddenly turning into one of the dominant aces in the NL. The Rockies wondering on how they missed out on such a “high character” player.

19. Kyle Kendrick getting his revenge on Brett Myers. And I don’t mean something like “ha-ha, I changed the presets on your car radio.” I’m talking motherfucking REVENGE. I mean tricking him into eating an energy bar laced with salvia 20 minutes before taking the mound. I mean getting him blackout drunk at a strip club and sending pictures to his wife. I mean faking a kidnapping and ransom of a close relative, complete with bloody appendages and the like. In my mind, nothing short of a felony would be too strong a response to what big bad Myers did to poor little Kyle. Wait, is fake-kidnapping a felony?

20. The Red Sox either winning the World Series, or falling far, ar out of playoff contention. Anything else would be woefully uninteresting.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap | 1 Comment »