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Archive for November, 2008

100 Years, 50 Losers: #45 – #41

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 25, 2008

#45.

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Stewart Stevenson, Beavis & Butthead

Voiced By: Adam Welsh

Born to Lose: Beavis and Butthead weren’t exactly kings of the hill themselves, but they were still at least one step higher in the pecking order than poor little Stewart. A nice, mild-mannered mama’s boy, Stewart for some reason made the questionable decision to make hanging out with B&B his greatest social aspiration, a judgement call which resulted all too often in him either getting in trouble when B&B framed him for their misdeeds or getting his ass kicked by associaton. If we could’ve seen him grow up for a few years, no doubt Stewart would wisen enough to realize how little B&B cared for him, make friends with one of his science teachers and run out the High School clock in a life of dignified loneliness before getting into a good school and learning that the only thing better than watching The X-Files at 3 AM by yourself is doing so stoned with a bunch of friends. Too bad the show was animated, I guess.

Little Known Fact: Stewart’s legendary Winger t-shirt–permanently sealing the band’s metal punchline status–was created out of vindication. Had Kip Winger not so incensed Mike Judge by bitching about the boys’ cruel disregarding of his band’s videos, “Miles Away” and “Headed for a Heartbreak” might at least currently be karaoke perennials. As is, I think we need at least another 20 years.

#44.

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Roz Doyle, Frasier

Played By: Peri Gilpin

Born to Lose: A relatively smart, sneakily attractive and comparatively earthy working girl, Roz might’ve been an unqualified winner if she had better luck (or taste) in dudes. Forever harboring a penchant for ex-frat boys, Roz was perpetually in and out of bad relationships, including glorious scumbag co-worker Bulldog, a college student that ends up knocking her up, and on at least one regrettable occasion, ol’ bossman Frasier himself. Not that Frasier and Niles always had impeccable taste either, as the latter especially flirted with romantic loserdom over the course of the show, but somehow it was always Roz who ended up on the losing end of the bad jokes. She ends up relatively successful as a station manager and single mom, but while everyone else on the show seemed to couple off by the end, Mr. Right never did quite show up for Roz. Maybe she ended up giving Noel a chance after getting drunk on her 50th birthday or something.

What We Almost Lost: Before she went on to frolic around a fountain and listen to The Rembrandts, Lisa Kudrow was famously groomed for the role of Roz. Ironically, the actress who would go on to define aggressively quirky sitcom acting in the 90s was cut from the show because Grammar “overpowered her” in scenes together.

#43.

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Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, LOST

Played By: Jorge Garcia

Born to Lose: It wasn’t just that Hurley was a loser by nature–nature made damn sure at every possible turn that Hurley never actually won. With a ~400 lb gait, a slacker’s demeanor and Cheech Marin as a father, he was never going to be much of a go-getter, but even winning the lottery turned out to be nothing but a huge curse for Hurley. Maybe he thought he had escaped his bad luck on the Island, making some friends, going on some nifty missions and even getting a little girlfriend for a little while, but there’s no escaping The Numbers, and not only does his belle ends up getting murdered by one of his friends, his potentially automatic weight loss is offset by bountiful rations of food getting dropped on the island (DAMMIT!). And though we don’t know why yet, the fact that he ends up back in the mental hospital, haunted by his dead islandmates, probably doesn’t bode too well for Hurley’s fortune turning around any time soon.

Moment of Triumph: In the proud tradition of fat guys everywhere, Hurley turns out to be a master ping-pong player, schooling a predictably cocky Sawyer in a Season Three episode. Too bad there are no bowling alleys or bar trivia contests on the island.

#42.

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Trent Lane, Daria

Voiced By: Alvaro J. Gonzalez

Born to Lose: “Hey Daria.” God bless the 90s for allowing a show where a character like Trent could not only avoid being comic relief, but could actually be a veritable pixilated heartthrob–girl losers wanted him, and guy losers wanted to be him. A post-adolescent with no considerable aspirations beyond singing and playing guitar in his band Myystic Spyyral (but they’re thinking about changing the name), Trent was the animated poster boy for the soy un perdido decade. He was scruffy, he was rail-thin, and he was laid back to the point of near-sonnambulism. Unlike live-action slackers-in-arms like Jordan Catalano or Daniel DeSario, though, Trent was actually a pretty cool guy, not nearly as emotionally inept as the former or as insiduously manipulative as the latter. He was just sapping up the glory of those last few years of youthful aimlessness before 25 squelched his passion and he ended up as a “townie doing Doors covers.”

Legacy of Loserdom: The similarly guitar-fixated, van-driving, lax-demeanored (not to mention exceptionally more talented) Dwayne from Home Movies owes much to Trent’s shining example. He’d merit a place on the list himself were he not amidst such stiff competition from his co-stars.

#41.

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Andrea Zuckerman, Beverly Hills, 90210

Played By: Gabrielle Carteris

Born to Lose: Oh, Andrea. There’s not a single character on this list less enjoyable to watch than Andrea Zuckerman–she was shrill, she was boring, she was an impediment to just about everything good that 90210 had going for it. But it would be heavily remiss of me to not at least pay some low-seeded respect to the first loser girl of the teen soap genre, a tricky archetype that almost 20 years later, has arguably still yet to be perfected. And oh boy, was Andrea a loser–stressing about safe sex while remaining a virgin herself, taking her high school newspaper far too seriously, and harboring a (mostly) unreciprocated infatuation with co-writer (and in many ways, co-loser) Brandon. But rather than being cute and endearing for her dorkiness, Andrea was just kind of a wet blanket, looking and acting like she should be handing out tardy slips or Scarlet Letter lesson plans instead of pretending like she was one of the gang–unsurprising, given that in real life she was about a decade older than many of her co-stars.

Breaking the Cycle: Ironically, Andrea would appear to reverse-age as the show went on and she started dressing and getting into soapy entanglements more like the rest of the cast, evolving her character from irritating to redundant. Whether this was an upgrade is (possibly) a subject of great debate.

(Prev: #50 – 46 / Next: #40-36)

Posted in 100 Years 50 Losers | 3 Comments »

100 Years, 50 Losers: #50 – #46

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 22, 2008

#50.

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Matt McNamara, Nip/Tuck

Played By: John Hensley

Born to Lose: Unlike many on this list, Matt McNamara was not actually a natural born loser. Good-looking, bright, moderately resourceful–there’s no doubt that in the proper set of circumstances, Matty could’ve led a healthy, fulfilling life in the silent majority. Unfortunately for him, he happened to be born into the most fucked up TV universe in primetime soap history, and his first two major relationships were with a lesbian and a psychotic MTF transsexual. Oh, and his father turned out to be his faux-father’s best friend from an affair his mom had 18 years previously. Cults, religious zealotry, hard drug use–all just a season or two away at this point. Last I saw, Matt was in the hospital for blowing his motel up doing meth, and apparently since then he’s fallen in love with his biological sister. A fascinating piece of evidence in the Nature vs. Nurture loserdom debate.

Ultimate Low Point: Hard to choose for Matt, but I think getting beaten up and then pissed on by a group of vengeful trannies would have to at least be in the top five.

#49.

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The Dog, Foghorn Leghorn Cartoons

Voiced By: Mel Blanc

Born to Lose: To be fair, it’s possible that The Dog (or Barnyard Dawg, as he is apparently officially known) has a very rewarding homelife, with a loving bitch and obediant pups, where he lays his hat every night and that allows him to sleep easy with a light heart. But in the daylight hours, he couldn’t be too much more of a sap, perpetually at the receiving end of banzai assaults from one Foghorn Leghorn, jogging him from his slumber in the cruelest ways possible (pictured above is the most frequent form of attack, that of the wooden plank upside the ass). It’s not entirely clear why FL decided to play the tormentor with regards to The Dog, and often times he pays the price for it, since BD usually comes back to whoop Foggy’s ass tenfold after his rude awakenings. But such victories are pyrrhic at best, since it never dissuades Foghorn from smacking him in the nose during the next day’s naptime.

Unknown Depths and Complexities: According to the Wikipedia entry, The Dog might not be as innocent a pawn in the rooster’s game as it would seem. “Although Dawg is normally potrayed as the straight man for Foghorn’s pranks, in Mother was a Rooster, he is potrayed in a very negative light, as he not only steals an ostrich egg (he justifies this by explaining that it’s been kind of dull round the farm lately, giving reference to his four year peace between him and Foghorn between “Weasel While You Work” and “Mother Was A Rooster”), he mocks the hatched ostrich, which Foghorn has adopted, and cheats in a boxing match with the rooster.”

#48.

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Xander Harris, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Played By: Nicholas Brendon

Born to Lose: Xander was never really the most loveable of losers–even his best friends seemed to just sort of be humoring him a lot of the time. Still, he earns a place on this list due to having one of the more potent unrequited crushes in TV loserdom history, as his feelings for Ms. Buffy remain perpetually unreciprocated, as she goes out with a seires of some of the blandest dudes on the planet (including those who are not even human). Xander eventually gets with enough hot chicks over the course of the show that he can not be much higher than #48, but his never-consumated passion for Buffy makes him forever at least an honorary loser. Plus, his gabbiness, nerdiness and nervous twittering make him the unofficial precedent for a loser to come significantly higher on this list.

Moment of Triumph: In “The Zeppo,” after helping her fight off some demons, Xander swiftly loses his virginity to Faith (Eliza Dushku, at the very peak of her formidable hotness). Later, in the midst of planning how he’s going to stop a group of undead from wreaking havoc on Sunnydale, he takes the time to remark, “I can’t believe I just had sex.”

#47.


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DeAndra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Played By: Kaitlin Olson

Born to Lose: Sweet Dee was originally planned in Philly to be a tempering influence, to be the sort of voice of reason among the lunacy of the rest of the Paddy’s gang. This was stupid for a number of reasons, one being that it fell in line with the common TV misconception that females were somehow incapable of being as scummy as males, and two being that Sweet Dee was more likeable the more pathetic and despicable that she got. She was always a good loser, crushing on gay guys, teenagers and felons, but you could say that the episode towards the end of the second season, where she tempts Rickety Cricket away from his life in the church with vows of her love and then suggests that maybe he should try to go back, was sort of her official indoctrination into the gang’s nihilistic universe. From that point on, she was as miserable, evil and unsympathetic as anyone else on that show, and certainly all the better for it.

Real-Life Retribution: Kaitlin Olson has apparently found real-world happiness with Rob McElhenny, who plays the similarly hapless Mac on Sunny.

#46.

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Cassidy “Beaver” Casablancas, Veronica Mars

Played By: Kyle Gallner

Born to Lose: Remember, kids–sexual dysfunction = mass-murderer. From the torrents of abuse he received from his older brother Dick (the impressively detestable Ryan Hansen), and his apparent lack of interest in girlfriend Mac (the suitably cute Tina Majorino) it was always obvious that something with young Beaver was not quite right. Still, props to Rob Thomas (show creator, not M20 mastermind) for taking it as far as he did with Cassidy, making him not just a troubled young soul but the veritable criminal mastermind behind the grand msyteries of season two. It’s almost difficult to classify Cassidy as a loser because he was clearly prodigious in his villainy, manipulating his family and friends into making his schemes possible, but his misdeeds were not out of a desire to get rich or take over the world, but just to cover him his own sordid past, as well as his alleged homosexuality. Plus, he doesn’t get away with it at the end. Loser.

All’s Well That Ends Well: Apparently Gallner goes on to play a High School student accusing a teacher (played by Melissa Joan Hart) of statuatory rape in an ep of Law & Order: SVU. Niiiice.

(Next: #45-41)

Posted in 100 Years 50 Losers | 3 Comments »

GDB Essentials: 100 Years, 50 Losers

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 21, 2008

You call THAT a list?

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Things have been slow around here lately, I know. My creative energies are being sapped by a new job and another blog, no doubt, but I’ve also just been sort of short on inspiration in general lately. However, there is one thing that never fails to inspire me, and that is the long-form list format. And this–the top 50 loser characters of all-time–is one I’ve been planning for about as long as I remembered. As a card-carrying loser myself, this is obviously a subject very near and dear to my heart, as these are the characters I’ve looked up to over the course of my TV-watching life, measured myself against loser-wise, and found solace with when my loserdom occasionally got me down. I just wanted to make sure I could come up with 50 concrete entries before I actually set out to write it, to properly give the subject the treatment it deserves. But now I think I’ve come up with a good bunch, and it seems like as good a time as any to start unveiling it.

What makes for a loser, you might ask? Well, as with a villain, there is no concrete definition. Generally speaking, though, they are a character whose station in life would be perceived in common wisdom to be lacking or unsatisfactory, either due to lack of professional success, personal success, or success in the achieving of other desired goals. Perennially single, often unemployed, disrespected by their peers, domineered by their betters, always a step behind in their main objective and outpaced by the competition–these are all fairly telltale signs of loserdom. Unsurprisingly, many of these characters are unhappy, frustrated and/or anger-filled individuals. However, the loser appelation need not always be seen as a negative, as several of these characters have found comfort in their life’s status, learned to work within their limitations, and made the wise decision to not question why or ask for more.

As for the more precise qualifications, I generally tried to stay away from show protagonists, so while Adrian Monk or Lindsay Weir may have compelling loser credentials, we see a little too much of their worlds for such a branding. Also, while characters need not either revel or despair in their loserdom, they need to at least be slightly aware of it, so completely oblivious characters like Leopold “Butters” Stotch would be disqualified as well. For the interest of diversity, I put the limit of losers per show at two, though a remarkable few could have fielded at least four or five worthy Top 50ers. And generally speaking, it has to be a show I know pretty well to make the list, so a lot of 70s and 80s sitcom characters will be MIA, and the list will probably have a fairly disproportionate amount of cartoon characters–kiddie, adult and in-betweeners.

Unfortunately, my list is also extremely heavily skewed towards the male. I attribute this to several things–first and foremost, to the fact that before Square Pegs, I’m not even sure if TV realized that girls had the capability to be losers, and then after that continued to rend them an extremely under-represented minority group. Second, I think girls are held to a different standard for loserdom than guys are, since the primary exit from loser status is usually sexual prowess, which it seems most girls are assumed to at least possess in some capacity by mere virtue of having tits. Thirdly, as a male loser myself, I can’t help but tend to identify the obvious qualities in other males, likely easier than I would in a female loser. Ladies, feel free to holler if you hear me and let me know where I’m missing out when it’s all over. I’ve at least included a couple from your ranks than can certainly hang with my guys any day.

Five a day, starting tomorrow and continuing sporadically. Prepare to get crazy with the cheese whiz.

(Next: #50 – #46)

Posted in 100 Years 50 Losers, GDB Essentials | 1 Comment »

Commercial Break: FreeCreditReport.com (It Just Gets Worse)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 20, 2008

There is no Santa Claus. Also, “go” and “home” only sort of rhyme.

Posted in Commercial Break | 7 Comments »

Eugoogly: King of the Hill

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 19, 2008

Yep

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All right, so I’m pretty late with this, since it’s already been a couple weeks since FOX announced that it would be cancelling King of the Hill after the end of its 13th season. But then again, King of the Hill never was a show of particularly much urgency. The show’s pace was generally as lethargic as its down-home locale and conservative bent would dictate, without much in the way of major plot arcs, unforseen character transformations or mutations in the show’s style. Similarly, after its 1997 debut, it never really peaked or waned in popularity, just trucking along like the rapper Common–never dominant, but always in the discussion. I imagine the reaction of many to the news that King of the Hill would be removed from the FOX lineup–if indeed, it could even really be considered news–was something along the lines of “that show is still on the air?”

Not to say that there isn’t a place for King of the Hill on TV–there is, and it’s called syndication. I probably say this more than I should, but like no other show in the past 20 years, the Hill family were made for re-runs. It should be played eight times a day on three different channels, and it is–I couldn’t even tell you what times and channels they’re on, but there’s rarely a week that goes by that I don’t up flipping past at least one episode. Meanwhile, the show’s been long enough that you could conceivably watch every episode that’s aired for about half a year without catching a repeat. I’ve probably seen over a hundred, hundred fifty episodes of King of the Hill, but unlike peer shows like The Simpsons and South Park where there are episodes I’ve seen enough quote beginning to end, I doubt there’s a single episode of King of the Hill that I’ve seen more than three times. Consequently, I’m not sure if you could really say that there are any “classic” King of the Hill episodes–the kind that rise above the rest to have a reputation all of their own–the way you would with those shows.

But the flipside to that sort of lack of classic material is that, unlike with Simpsons or South Park, there are no cringeworthy episodes of King either. In fact, whereas I can barely make it through a modern day episode of either of those shows, I don’t think I’d even realize it if I was watching a King of the Hill episode that had been made in the last few years. You’re not going to find people who say things like “Oh, the fourth season of King of the Hill, that was the real peak of the show, it was all downhill from there.” There’s no real way to tell the difference between seasons of the show, except that the early episodes were maybe slightly cruder (though not to the degree that early SP or Simpsons eps were), and occasionally when watching re-runs of the early episodes, I actually remember watching them when they were on the first time around.

In any event, despite a consistency that should bely averageness, there’s no real denying that King of the Hill was a great show. Most live action attempts at King of the Hill‘s general plot line would probably look disarmingly close to The Bill Engvall Show, but Beavis and Butthead mastermind Mike Judge was brilliant at making simple plots work on multiple levels, and pulled off the tricky act of making the Hills’ behavior often mockworthy without ever actually seeming like it was mocking them. Meanwhile, it was a show whose numerous pleasures were so subtle that they could only really be identified in retrospect.  It was a show that spawned catch phrases without you even realizing it, that had countless guest stars without ever really drawing attention to their presence, and that built rich, involving characters, even though if hard pressed to actually describe them, you could probably only identify a couple defining characteristics.

There was a tremendous supporting cast, from Hank’s friends (mumblingly brilliant Boomhauer, paranoidly clueless Dale and loveably miserable Bill) to his neighbors (I always secretly suspected that Khan Souphanousinphone was the show’s greatest achievement, especially in the episode where he sings “She Blinded Me With Science”) and his family (the story of how Hill patriarch Cotton lost his shinsin the war was a definite high point). But the heart of the show to me was always about Hank and Bobby. It’s a cliched set-up–conservative father doesn’t understand modern son–but it wasn’t so much that Bobby was just too young for Hank to understand him, he was an unintentional threat to just about everything Hank stood for with his lazy disposition, foolish antics and ultra flamboyant demeanor. Hank clearly loves and wants to get along with Bobby, but is so perplexed by everything about him that it usually takes him a while to figure out how. IITS friend Victor Lee says the relationship is virtually identical to the one he has with his father, which to me at least says everything that needs to be said about the show’s brilliance.

At the very least, I always appreciated that Peggy was a world-class Boggle player. Very underrated game, that.

King of the Hill

R.I.P. King of the Hill, 1997-2009

Posted in Eugoogly | 2 Comments »

Say Anything: Bad Lieutenant

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 17, 2008

“I’ve done so many BAD things…”

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Bad Lieutenant is a fascinating lesson in how a one-time polarizing, controversial art house success can become a movie mostly remembered for its middle-aged star showing his junk if you don’t actually bother to make the movie any good. Starring Harvey Keitel as the titular Bad Lieutenant (more on that later), the film shows a portrait of a corrupt, despicable man’s descent into the worst aspects of humanity, and his search for some sort of redemption before his excesses swallow him whole. Unfortunately, the movie is less a disturbing, cathartic update of Mean Streets for the 90s, as some critics/apologists have claimed, as it is an exceptionally hilarious piece of under-scripting and over-acting. Did I say unfortunately? I meant thankfully. We progress:

  • What. A. Title. It’s rare that a movie just lays its intentions so bare with its appelation, but Bad Lieutenant is really all you need to know about Bad Lieutenant. That’s the movie, right there, in two words. And as you watch Keitel throughout the movie (and his character doesn’t even have a name, avoiding any sort of confusion), abusing power, doing hard drugs, stealing and threatening and doing all sorts of nefarious shit, you just gotta say to yourself “WOW, that is one Bad Lieutenant!
  • Why, oh why, was their such a demand for Harvey Keitel’s dick in badly dated early-90s art house cinema? Between his work in this and The Piano, you could actually refer to “that kind of shitty indie movie from like 15 years ago where Harvey Keitel goes full frontal” and the person you’re talking to could say “Which one?” How the hell does that happen?  Was it just a case of supply and demand in terms of critically respected actors in their 50s willing to go buffo? Do Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson get gunshy?
  • The scene where Keitel pulls over a couple girls without drivers licenses and blackmails them into performing sexual favors for him….yeah, it’s sort of disturbing, yeah, it’s sort of shocking, but mostly, it’s just impractical. He makes one of them physically mime oral sex, while he talks dirty to himself and jacks off by the side of their car. I mean, as long as you’re going to take the time and effort to ghost-violate an underage girl, why not actually get in the car with her and remove the middle man? I mean, I’m sure this isn’t the first time he’s done this, so I guess he knows what he likes while sexually harrassing vulnerable lawbreakers, but still.
  • In his All-Movie Guide review of the movie, Brandon Hanley observes: “In 1992, Keitel was making quite a diverse career statement, starring in this movie, Reservoir Dogs, and…Sister Act.” Good point. Never really understood what Whoopi and Harvey saw in each other in that movie anyways.
  • The most fascinating sub-plot in this movie has to be the Bad Lieutenant’s gambling on the 1992 NLCS…between the Mets and the Dodgers. Watching this movie for the first time I kept saying to myself “wait, when is this movie supposed to take place?” Then the Mets came back from 0-3 to beat the Dodgers, and it became pretty obvious that this was a fictional playoff series. In reality, the Dodgers and Mets were two of the worst teams in baseball in ’92, the Dodgers going 63-99 (with Darryl Strawberry, the team’s star in the movie, having a miserable and injury-plagued season) and the Mets finishing fifth in their division and getting branded The Worst Team Money Can Buy.  Talk about your stories of redemption. Props to the movie for actually manufacturing realistic fictional radio broadcasts and editing pre-existing game footage to make it seem like the series actually happened.
  • Even more impractical than the masturbation-harrassment scene is Bad Lieutenant’s final plan, his hope for redemption by getting rid of the two jerks who raped the nun at the beginning of the movie. Rather than kill them, he decides to morally do right by the nun (who has since forgiven them, and taught BL about the importance of faith and open-heartedness) and simply force them to leave town. But all he does is make sure they get on a bus out of town, not even really doing any “if you ever come back” type threatening. Does he think they won’t be able to figure out that they can take a bus back? Or just say to the bus driver “yeah, that guy with the gun sorta forced us to get on here, can you just let us off at the corner or something?” If this is your grand shot at redemption, BL, maybe try a little bit harder.
  • The sounds that Harvey Keitel makes at the end of this movie must be heard to be believed. The obvious “whale-humping” comparison doesn’t even scratch the surface. Some can be heard here.
  • Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans starring Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes and Xzibit, directed by Werner Herzog, coming soon! I can’t think of anything I’m looking forward to more.

Posted in Say Anything | 5 Comments »

Taking Sides: “If I Were a Boy” vs. “Like a Boy”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 15, 2008

2008: I think it’s time we switched role-switching songs


“If I Were a Boy,” the first single off Beyonce’s new album I Am…Sasha Fierce, is no doubt one of the more interesting hit songs out there right now. In her solo work as well as her Destiny’s Child discography, Ms. Knowles has certainly been no stranger to the angry chick song–I think between “No, No, No,” “Bug-a-Boo,” “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name,” “Girl,””Me, Myself and I” and “Ring the Alarm,” there’s enough scrubs, liars, cheaters and thugs to fill Waiting to Exhales two through seven (B even kills a dude in the “Me, Myself and I” vid). There’s something markedly different about “If I Were a Boy,” though–a greater thoughtfulness, maybe, definitely a greater maturity in emotion and songwriting. It’s not as affirming as “Girl,” not as self-righteous as “Bills, Bills, Bills” and certainly not nearly as furious as “Ring the Alarm,” but it feels a little deeper, more experienced. It’s a good song, and a pretty good video, too, despite the hokey intro. Just one problem: they already did it last year.

Ciara’s “Like a Boy” was one of the more underrated singles of 2007. It felt sort of unlikely coming from CC, whose previous hits were ultra lightweight (albeit supremely catchy) fare like “Goodies” and “1,2 Step,” none of which pointed towards the grittiness, attitude and originality of “Like a Boy.” But even in her crossover hits, Ciara always seemed a little bit less polished than some of her megastar counterparts, a little closer to street-level, which is why she could also get away with grimier, sultrier sounding hits like “Oh” and “Promise,” and why her sappy, super-sentimental hits like “Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone” and “And I” never really took off (I’m probably one of only ten people in the world who remembers the latter). In retrospect it probably shouldn’t have been so surprising a career evolution, but I doubt I ever would’ve expected her to take it as far as she did.

Both “If I Were a Boy” and “Like a Boy,” obviously, follow the same premise–in implied response to a deceitful, inconsiderate lover or two, the ladies pontificate on what life would be like if they happened to have penises. Naturally, the assumptions are not terribly complimentary–both seem to envision malehood as a non-stop hot mess of slobbing around, hanging out with your bros, and most importantly, cheating on your better half. Aside from having remarkably similar lyrics and titles, the songs also share several video motifs, both being in black and white, and both being based around the singer acting out their fantasy of conscienceless male sollipsism. Not to say the songs are carbon copies, though–they’re actually fairly different for two songs with so many superficial similarities. And while neither is without its merits, I think Ciara sort of nailed the way this song should be done the first time.

“If I Were a Boy” is about as textbook an example of a Take Me Seriously song as exists in pop music. Most major pop icons eventually get tired of all the frivolity and come up with one of these somewhere between five and ten years into their pop career–a song that shows that they’ve gone to the next level as a singer and icon, that they’re beginning their transformation from star to artist (major examples throughout pop music include Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and Janet Jackson’s “Again”). The song is amped up to maximum drama, complete with show-stopping emotional climax (“If you thought that I would wait for you / YOU THOUGHT WROOONG!!!“), and every element of Beyonce’s vocal is masterful in its control and dynamics (the way she barely ekes out the final “…but you’re just a boy” is impressively affecting). No doubt Beyonce had Grammys in her eyes when she first heard the final product.

However, the song’s a little wallowing for my tastes. Any song with a “oh to be male and an asshole” subject matter is bound to be at least a little sexist, but the anger and sort of vengeful slant on display in “Like a Boy” at least feels mildly self-aware in its irrationality. There’s no real self-pity in “Like a Boy,” just a whole lot of spite and frustration. If “Like a Boy” is a girl ranting to her friends at a bar, then “If I Were a Boy” is a girl crying to herself at home, trying to write a letter to her ex explaining exactly how she feels. Both are real situational emotions, no doubt, but Ciara’s irate sexism is at least explicable due to her impulsive and temporary fury, whereas Beyonce’s feels like a lifetime’s worth of pain coming out in a catharsis of misguided bitterness. And musically, “Like a Boy” just feels more appropriate–anger about differences in gender expectations doesn’t really seem like a subject worthy of the grandiose treatment of “If I Were a Boy,” but Ciara’s gravelly minor groove sounds about right.

It’s a surprising subject to get two hit songs written about it in as many years, and I’m definitely all about unconventional content in my pop music. It’s just a shame that “If I Were a Boy,” and its fast track to Record of the Year honors, seems destined to be the one that people will remember. Anything that washes the “Before He Cheats” taste out of our nation’s collective mouth is good news, though.

Posted in Vs. | 5 Comments »

In a Perfect World: Every Band Would Have a Bob Nastanovich

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 13, 2008

I’ve got a message for you

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Want to save rock and roll? The music industry? The economy? He might not look like it, but Bob Nastanovich is the key. As the odd man out in 90s indie rock stalwarts Pavement (or, if you’d like, The Fifth Pavement), Nastanovich and his group provided an example that all rock bands in their wake should have followed, though few actually chose to do so. But if the millions of groups tooling around in their garages and recording studios right now took the time and expense to find themselves an extra member to fill in all the little gaps missing in their sound, personality and performance, all would certainly increase their sales close to exponentially, while giving much-needed employment and time occupation to millions of directionless and largely talentless slackers. Rock/music industry/economic crisis solved.

Think of a band as an NBA team. (Hey, I said I’d be writing about sports less, I didn’t say anything about sports analogies). Having a good starting five (or four, as the case may warrant) is the most important thing, sure, but you need some sort of relief coming off the bench, right? Someone to spell your starters a little, someone to keep their cool under times of enormous pressure, someone to do all the little things right and keep your team in the game until it’s time for the starters to swoop back in and do their thing. Not the most naturally gifted guy on your team, sure, and not the guy who’s going to get the big endorsements or the magazine covers, but maybe the most composed, and certainly one of the most essential. Going by those standards, Bob Nastanovich was basically the James Posey of 90s North American indie rock.

You know your favorite Pavement song? Yeah, that one, the catchy one with the enigmatic lyrics and the out-of-tune guitar and weird outro. Well, it wouldn’t be half as good without Bob Nastanovich. “Rattled By the Rush”? Who do you think it is doing the monotone title chant at the end? “Silence Kit”? That classic rock cowbell certainly isn’t pounding itself. “Summer Babe”? Do I really need to talk about the three-note hi-hat punctuation mark at the end of each measure? Basically, whenever you hear a Pavement song and can’t immediately mark it as being performed by Malkmus, Kannenberg, Ibold or West(/Young), chances are it’s Nastanovich all over. What’s he doing the rest of the time? Who knows? Who fucking cares? Songs are barely even songs without those little fill-in parts, and how many bands can claim to have one guy behind nearly all of ’em? I even read a SPIN back-cover article a while back talking about how Nastanovich was the most important member of the band, which is probably true and almost certainly false.

And as much of the Pavements of the world need their Nastanoviches, the Nastanoviches of the world badly need their Pavements. Some people aren’t songwriters, aren’t virtuosos, aren’t even really musicians by any true measure. They’re just the guys who can hear an already completed song and say to themselves “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…?” In other words, they’re absolutely nothing on their own. They can’t even claim to be a core enough member to start or organize a band themselves–they need previously existing bands to ask them to join up. Now, in exchange for not really contributing to the songwriting or processes or expending their full energy on stage, they should also probably have to fill in other miscellaneous roles in the band, as Nastanovich did–peacekeeper, coin-flipper, lighter-carrier, to name a few–and that’s fair enough. But imagine if that creative-minded-but-not-specifically-creative cousin of yours got offered a role in a band in which he performed no specific function but was nonetheless a critical member of the group. It’d have to make his life, right?

It’s the right thing to do. You could even sign ’em like free agents if your band had a problem with their original. Hell, you could make a temp agency for ’em if you got enough applicants, which you certainly would. And name me a band that wouldn’t be improved by some additional backing vocals, cowbell and lighter-security?

Posted in In a Perfect World | 4 Comments »

Geek Out: A New Order for New Order Fans

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 11, 2008

I used to think that the day would never come

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New Order are one of the greatest bands of all-time. They’re also one of the most heavily compiled, their 25+ year-long discography inspiring a seemingly endless stream of attempts to aurally pay tribute to their greatness. There’s Substance, of course, the 1987 double-LP assemblage of all their 12″s up to that point (including the b-sides on CD) and probably their most famous and well-loved musical document. There’s (The Best Of) New Order, the 1995 compilation intended as a compliment to Substance, including more of their late-80s/early-90s work and only overlapping with Substance on new edits of a couple tracks. Both are essential New Order documents. Less so are (The Rest of) New Order, the band’s largely useless remix collection, Retro, the band’s thoroughly incomprehensive and depressingly underwhelming four-disc box set, and Singles, the band’s completely superfluous third Best Of. Oh wait, fourth, I forgot about International. Don’t even ask about that one.

Point is, it would seem like the band needed no further tampering with its back catalogue. That’s not entirely true, though, since the band’s albums–you know, those 40-50 minute-long things where so many of those nifty songs originally came from–were in desparate need of revival. For despite their staggeringly impressive singles resume, New Order were also an incredibly underrated albums band, with no less than three stone classics, and with a solid run of second-tier LPs as well. And now Rhino has had the good sense to repackage the band’s first five, Factory-era albums–none of which are officially out of print, but many of which have largely since disappeared from CD shelves–with bonus discs of goodies from the albums’ time period that did not appear on the original albums.

Of course, this idea was much better when I envisioned it six years ago as The Perfect Kiss: A Monument to New Order, my 16-disc tribute to the band including all of the band’s albums, with the songs from their respective periods sprinkled around them, as well as a number of discs consisting of super-rarities, live tracks, remixes, covers, and other good stuff. But hey, it’s a start. And in case you’re wondering which of these, if any, you actually need, here’s how I break it down, one time:

  • Movement. Despite what a couple fanboys may insist, the band’s 1981 debut album is largely a miserable, gruesome chore of an affair, spare the slightly foreshadowing “Chosen Time” and the surprisingly sprightly “Dreams Never End.” However, when assembled, all the stuff that didn’t make the cut for Movement would have made for one of the most auspicious debuts of the 80s, songs like “Ceremony,” “Temptation,” “Hurt” and “Procession” remaining among the group’s all-time classics. Of course, all those songs can be found on Substance, which should be your first New Order purchase no matter what. What can’t be found on Substance (but can be found re-issued here), however, are “Mesh,” the group’s lost classic from the period (not the mislabeled “Cries and Whispers” from disc 2 of Substance), and the original version of “Temptation,” the group’s best song. Worth investigating for those two alone.
  • Power, Corruption & Lies. My personal favorite of the band’s, an emotionally stunning, ingeniously structured, shimmering synth-pop gem that permanently lifted the group out from under the weight of Ian Curtis’s suicide. The re-issue removes “Blue Monday” from the track list (it was never on the UK edition) and puts it on the bonus disc, which is a shame, since the song still makes the most sense as PC&L’s center-piece. Besides that, all the songs on the bonus disc, though largely brilliant (“Confusion,” “Lonesome Tonight,” “Thieves Like Us”) can be found on Substance, save the original version of “Confusion,” which is good but probably inferior to the Substance edit. Only worth purchasing if you’ve never heard the album before, in which case you better have bolted for your local CD store by the end of this sentence.
  • Low-Life. The most consistent of the bunch, and by far the group’s most confident, comfortable album, though possibly with lower highs than PC&L. Why “Lonesome Tonight,” “Murder” and “Theives Like Us” would make more sense on the bonus disc here, which instead features three of the band’s least memorable singles (“Subculture,” “Shellshock” and “State of the Nation”), which together make up the final corner to the home-stretch of Substance. You get a couple of unimpressive rarities with “Salvation Theme” and “Dub-Vulture,” and “Let’s Go,” which is pretty good, but available on (The Best Of) New Order. The main draw here is the 17-minute version of the album’s breathtaking emotional low-end “Elegia,” which somehow doesn’t end up as amazingly epic as you think it would. Once again, only for those who haven’t heard the album before.
  • Brotherhood. The band’s most enigmatic album, somehow both simultaneously underrated and overrated. Essential nonetheless if only for “Bizarre Love Trinagle,” possibly the most perfect pop song of the 80s, and interesting for the band’s first true ventures away from the post-punk/synth-pop molds. The bonus disc contains another version of “State of the Nation,” for some reason, but also has the little-heard 12″ version of forgotten classic “Touched By the Hand of God,” as well as the excellent “Blue Monday” remixes “Blue Monday ’88” and “Beach Buggy,” as well as “Evil Dust,” the superior version of Brotherhood‘s “Angel Dust.” Definitely worth buying, especially if you don’t have (The Best Of) New Order yet.
  • Technique. Many a fan’s favorite NO album, and indeed a great one, the band’s much-ballyhooed Ibiza record that most end up remembering better for the contemplative, guitar-led songs that showed that Bernard Sumner hadn’t turned into a completely shitty lyricsit just yet. The bonus disc here would be viewed by most as the least essential, since by this point in their career New Order stopped paying as much care to their non-album material, but you still get the little heard apocalypse anthem “Don’t Do It,” the deleted 12″ version of “Run 2,” and something called the Cabinieri Mix (never heard this one, I’m ashamed to say) of the band’s amazingly WTF World Cup anthem “World in Motion.” For the New Order fan who (thinks he) has everything, you could do a whole lot worse.

Here’s hoping Rhino gets around to reappropriating the band’s cruelly misunderstood should-have-been-swansong Republic at some point, and then deletes the depressing Get Ready and the utterly horrific Waiting for the Sirens’ Call from press alotgether.

Posted in Geek Out | 5 Comments »

Eugoogly: Commerce Bank

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 9, 2008

C u when you get there

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All right, so this isn’t really within in the realm of stuff I tend to write about on this blog, and for my non-mid-Atlantic brethren here, it’ll probably be downright meaningless. But I had become extremely attached to my Commerce Bank since I started having semi-independent finances some four or five years ago. I went there today to cash a check, and my bank was gone–replaced by a TD Bank, the Toronto-based banking coporation that recently brought Commerce under their umbrella. I remembered hearing about a year ago that such a changing of the guard was imminent, but I hoped it was one of those things that would just sort of go away once I forgot about it. Not so, unfortunately, and it appears that Commerces all over have been replaced. Bummer.

I guess I don’t really have much of a point of comparison with other banks to really be objective in my putting Commerce on a pedestal, since I’ve never belonged to another bank. But I can’t imagine there’d be too many other banking franchises as friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and supremely efficient. Commerce was founded back in the 70s as the banking world’s answer to fast food, and it showed-everything was quick, easy and extremely unstressful. And there were the added perks of the bank refunding your ATM charges from other machines, providing automatic coin-counting machines (with free fisbees as prizes if you guessed near the correct amount!) and uh, free dog treats if you brought your mutt on a banking field trip. Their blue-and-red color scheme was all class, and their logo of choice–that big red “C,” which I even have a piggy bank shaped like–could barely be more iconic.

Of course, what most people will really remember Commerce by, the way it most left its mark on the outside world, was the free pens. They weren’t the most long-enduring of pens, but they were nice-looking enough, they were clicky, and you could grab one or two of ’em every time you went there without so much as attracting a dirty look from the security guard. My apartment is littered with the things, at a certian point in my college career I just stopped buying new pens altogether and figured I could always swing by a Commerce and find some official business to fake on the way to class if I needed something to write with. One of my friends would rely on their friends in a similar fashion, but he didn’t even belong to Commerce–he’d just walk in, grab a handful of pens, and walk back out. It’s terrible to think that once my last current Commerce Bank pen runs out of ink, I’ll never be able to rely on just finding one of those dark-blue beauties just lying around the apartment anymore.

Of course, they still have the free pens at TD North, and they presumably perform their pen functions just as well. But with a dark-green, pine-tree looking base, and without that big red C, it’s just not the same. Oh well. Hope they still have the Fast Cash $60 option at the ATMs at least.

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R.I.P. Commerce Bank, 1973-2008

Posted in Eugoogly | 2 Comments »