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Archive for April, 2009

TV OD: AMTV Rips It Up and Starts Again

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 29, 2009

lady-gaga_mtv-amtv

After all my lamentations on the death of the music video over the last few years, it’s almost unthinkable for me to writing about something that appears to be taking steps to reverse this trend. When MTV trotted out “FnMTV” about a year ago–Pete Wentz’s attempt to bring the vid back to national prominence–I was somewhat skeptical from the getgo, and it quickly proved my worst fears right, as Wentz seemed more interested in hob knobbing with the celebrity guests than actually playing the videos in their entirety, and as fascinating as it was to see Nas commenting on She & Him videos, it was just a recipe for inevitable disaster. This hullabaloo wasn’t what the music video medium needed to re-introduce itself to a new generation of MTV watchers–what it really needed was just a regular, consistent block of time where MTV played new, quality videos in their entirety.

And so, hallelujah for AMTV. Currently airing on weekday mornings from either 3:00-6:00, 6:00-9:00, or occasionally throughout both blocks, AMTV is pretty much everything I could have hoped for in MTV attempting to reintroduce their one-time signature programming construct to their regular lineup. How exactly is that, you ask? Well…

  • It Plays (Mostly) Full, Uninterrupted Videos. Even when FnMTV used to have reruns of its content throughout the week during early-morning programming, they never seemed to show more than two minutes of a video at a time–which got infuriating, especially because they would often repeat those two-minute sections multiple times in the same hour-long block. But on the episodes I’ve watched/taped of AMTV thusfar, only one or two videos an episode have been cut short, the rest played in their glorious entirety. And perhaps more importantly, they’re not distracted from by any on-screen gimmickry–honestly, I never much cared that 70% of viewers liked Beyonce’s outfit in “Single Ladies,” or that SashaFierce1234 thought it was her hottest joint eva.
  • It Premieres Videos. Hey, I don’t mind a little bit of fanfare when the big guns are coming out with some new hot ones. Green Day hasn’t had a video out in over three years, and they’ve been one of the biggest acts on the channel for the last decade-and-a-half. It’s only appropriate that a new clip should be advertised for throughout the week, with making-of footage spliced throughout, all leading up to a solid premiere event. I don’t need an MC telling me what a big deal the premiere is, or a lot of screaming fans behind them to confirm it. Let the channel and its content speak for themselves.
  • It Shows Good (Or Unexpected, At Least) Videos. I still can’t believe some of the artists and videos that have been getting played on this program. Glasvegas’s “Geraldine.” Silversun Pickups’ “Panic Switch.” Friendly Fires’ “Skeleton Boy.” Bat for Lashes’ “Daniel.” Underground bands that barely even get played on the most modern of FM rock stations, and their weirdo vids? It used to be that I would have to troll the MTV2 schedule on late weeknights in the hopes of catching the once-a-week, hour-long 120 Minutes successor Subteranean if I wanted to have any chance to see videos like this on any major network–now they’re getting played along with Jesse McCartney and Kelly Clarkson on MTV? Say what you jaded fuxx may, I still think that’s some pretty cool shit.
  • It Shows Old Videos. Hey, the kids have to learn about Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” somewhere, right? Back when I first started watching music videos, the only way I had to really learn about the history of the medium was to sniff out the older videos that MTV mixed in with their regular rotation, since traditionally only the most important videos continued to get played at all past their expiration date. To see AMTV reach into the vaults to give classics like Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,” or even more recent clips like Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly”…well, it may not be digging particularly deep, but least it shows that the channel is willing to acknowledge that the music video does in fact have a past, and one worth remembering–something the channel has simply not done at all in close to a decade.
  • It Has Cool Little Inter-Video ID Clips. MTV used to seem to be having fun with its video programming, and they would have seemingly pointless but surprisingly well thought out inter-video clips to act as station and program IDs. The ones for AMTV–showing clips of tired, frustrating looking people in the morning hours while poorly dated pop songs of the past (“Ice Ice Baby,” “Hangin’ Tough,” “What’s Up?”) blare in the background–probably weren’t exactly labor-intensive, but they’re marginally cute, and have that kind of fun spirit that the old IDs used to. I’ll stop to watch ’em in between vids just to see if there’s one I haven’t seen yet. It’s the little things, you know.

Yes, I’m aware that showing unglamorized music videos at hours where only the damned are actually awake doesn’t exactly mark a paradigm shift. But it’s more of a step in the right direction than the reurns of From Gs to Gents and The Girls of Hedsor Hall that would be in their place, certainly.

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Posted in Seen Your Video, TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

Don’t You Forget About Me: The Alan Parsons Project – “Sirius” / “Eye in the Sky”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 23, 2009

I found the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky in a 3/$10 rack recently, and given my appreciation of the few songs of theirs I know (and my recent issues with my mp3 player, necessitating recent CD listening), I decided to give it a shot. It’s a pretty cool album, actually, and it’s about as hard to put a finger on as I had expected. It’s impossible to get a read on exactly what the Alan Parsons Project’s deal was from their hits, since none of them really sound alike, and likewise, the album comes across as a weird hybrid of the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile, Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (the last one being appropriate enough, I suppose, since Parsons engineered the thing). But though the album’s pretty solid throughout, if more than a little dated, all I want to do while listening to it is go back and listen to the first two tracks over and over again.

“Eye in the Sky” was the big hit, getting all the way to #3 back in 1982, and it is a beaut. A chugging, atmospheric maybe-love song (if you consider “Every Breath You Take” to be a love song and/or 1984 to be a great romance, anyway) with a heartbreaking lead vocal (not by Parsons himself as I previously believed, but by forgotten hero Eric Woolfson) and a truly knockout chorus (those harmonies, man, those harmonies), it’s one of the more underrated singles of the 80s. It actually kind of sounds like it could have been one of Lindsey Buckingham’s better, more lovelorn songs on an 80s Fleetwood Mac album. Contributing to its underratedness is the fact that, like every other Alan Parsons Project single, the song has completely vanished from radio–a little too weird for soft-rock, a little too dreamy for classic rock, and not quite kitschy enough for 80s retro. It’s hard to think of who today would come up with a modern equivalent to “Eye in the Sky”–after all, how many rock engineers turn into rock stars these days, anyway?

Anyway, despite the fact that it was just a two-minute intro meant to lead into “Eye in the Sky” on the album, the song that you’re far more likely to know if you weren’t around in 1982 is “Sirius.” As far as That Songs go–songs that just about everyone knows, despite not knowing their titles or the artists behind them–“Sirius” has got to be an all-time top tenner. It first came to national prominence during the Chicago Bulls’ championship runs in the 90s as the team’s intro music, but has since been co-opted by teams in just about every major sport as the go-to music–along with “Eye of the Tiger” and the Requiem for a Dream theme–for building tension and suspense during pivotal game moments. (Apparently it was used even earlier as the entrance music for forgotten wrestler Ricky Steamboat–seems slightly less iconic). If you don’t think you know it, trust me, you know it–listen if you need proof.

It’s actually a pretty stunning piece of music when separated from the cheesy entrance sequences–the sparkling, mysterious guitar riff and widescreen production make the song sound positively spectral, so it’s difficult to imagine a time when people could hear the song and not picture a big, dark room full of flashing laser lights accompanying it. It’s going to be kind of hard to hear the song without “Eye in the Sky” coming after it now, though. “Sirius” flows so naturally into the album’s title track that it’s impossible for me to see why the two of them were ever separated in the first place, really–combined, they make for a damn amazing six and a half-minute minute classic rock epic, along the lines of classics like Elton John’s “Funeral For a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding” and uh, John Mellencamp’s super-long version of “I Need a Lover”.

Looks like the follow up to this album was called Ammonia Avenue. Just a little too ahead of its time, I guess.

Posted in Don't You Forget About Me | 5 Comments »

TV OD: Breaking Bad Going Next Level

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 20, 2009

breaking-bad

I’d like to say that my initial prejudices against Breaking Bad were due to bad/misleading advertising, but thinking about it, there really might not have been a way to properly advertise for this show. Because you hear the concept—the dad from Malcolm in the Middle becoming a meth dealer to provide for his family after his imminent death from cancer–and it sounds like a bad joke. In fact, in the aftermath of fellow square-turns-pusher comedy Weeds (which has become something of a top-tier show in its own right), it seems like a bad, highly unoriginal joke. I even watched the first couple episodes, and wasn’t that impressed–I had absolutely no idea what kind of tone the show was going for, since it wasn’t really funny enough to be a comedy, and it felt too off-kilter and ridiculous to really be taken seriously as drama either.

I picked Breaking Bad back up at the beginning of the second season, and while I’m not sure if it’s because the show has changed or if I’m just watching it with different expectations, my perspective on it has become totally different. I still can’t pin down the tone, but now I realize it’s not due to confusion or inconsistency on the part of the producers–it’s because there’s never been a TV show like this before. It’s not a comedy, but that’s not to say it’s not funny, and it’s not really a drama, but that’s not to say that it can’t be suspenseful, moving, and even deeply disturbing. It’s a show that, in terms of tone, style and yes, even subject–is almost completely without precedent–a fact made all the more impressive by it being a basic cable program.

For one thing, I’ve become extremely impressed by the way the fact’s central conceit–that of a high school chemistry teacher using his formula skills to rise up the ranks of the Southwest drug underworld–has become something of a given. A lesser show would have milked this culture clash for all its worth, playing it for endless petty comedy–having Walt (Cranston’s character) using the wrong hip drug lingo, mixing in slinger talk with his in-class lectures, maybe starting to listen to Notorious B.I.G. or The Clipse…it would have been a mess. If I remember correctly, the show did do a little bit of this towards the beginning of the series, but now, Breaking Bad treats its ridiculous premise as seriously as any other show on TV–and gradually, you forget how unlikely the whole thing even is in the first place, and instead can focus on the actual characters and storylines.

And speaking of the characters–this is far from a one-man show. When first introduced to Jesse, Walt’s ex-student partner-in-crime, I thought his character was going to be positively unbearable. A late-20s wannabe hustler who talks in faux-gangsta, dresses like one of the characters in The Big Hit…and this is going to be one of the main chracters? Well, give credit to the writers and actor Aaron Paul for making the character believably pathetic–almost painfully so at times–but also sympathetic, heartbreaking, and oddly endearing. He’s a natural burnout–great stoner eyes, a seemingly congenital twitch, and an overriding paranoia that can only come from a decade and a half of dealing with hard drugs and the people who sell them. Rather than make him be Walt’s wacky sidekick–which would have been very, very easy to do–Jesse’s been made into a legitimate character with his own life, his own problems, and as of recently, even his own love interest, in a subplot that has shocked me with its inherent sweetness.

But the real thing that I think is really drawing me to this show is how much faith it has in its audience–easily more than any other show on TV since the heyday of The Wire. It almost reminds me of a Coen Brothers movie in the way that some scenes will be going on for a whole minute or longer before you even realize what they’re about, or what their relevance is to the story at hand. Last week’s episode even began with a fictional latin music video, detailing the rise of Walt to power and how the New Mexico cartel would likely not stand for it, but presented like a completely non-fictional, low-budget video, with cheaply gimmicky camera work and bad acting and everything. Its presence was never explained, and it had no real impact on the storyline as it were, but it set the tone perfectly for the surreal, uneasy episode that was to follow.

That’s a recurring trend for Breaking Bad–it never explains more than it has to. In one of my favorite scenes from this season, Jesse’s parents have him kicked out of his house, and he’s forced to ask an old bandmate of his–one who’s now married, has a kid, and is living a comfortably middle-class lifestyle–if he can stay with him for the weekend. The two of them are jamming in his kitchen, reminiscing about the old times, when his wife comes home. One look at Jesse, and we know what’s going to happen–the old cliched scene of the wife yelling “No WAY is that drug-dealing loser friend of yours staying anywhere near our kid!!,” the husband arguing back but eventually conceding, and eventually giving the friend some lame excuse and giving him the boot. Rather than putting the audience through that, Breaking Bad doesn’t show us the husband and wife as they go through the first two parts of the scene, instead focusing on Jesse as the inevitable outcome of the situation becomes obvious to him, and not only will he have to find a new place to sleep tonight, but he’ll probably never be able to hang out with his old friend again. It’s a heart-wrenching scene, made all the more so by bypassing all the unnecessary parts.

Ultimately, I really have absolutely no idea what to expect when I watch this show. And that’s probably what makes it the best show on TV right now–until seasons four and five of Friday Night Lights, anyway.

Posted in TV O.D. | Leave a Comment »

A Brief List: People Who Are Not Funny

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 17, 2009

1.

poehler

Poehler, Amy

Posted in A Brief List | 7 Comments »

Listeria: Ten Moments When Eminem’s Reign Was Officially Over

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 16, 2009

Have you seen the new Eminem video? If you have, don’t worry, I won’t spend too long recounting how awful it is, and if you haven’t, you might as well take a gander now (above) and get it over with. Suffice to say, Em cuts down such sacred cows as Jessica Simpson and Tony Romo, Samantha Ronson and Lindsay Lohan, and worst of all, Brett Michaels. There was a time when Eminem coming out with a video like this might have seemed the definition of fresh, in 2009, it is the definition of, uh, something else. I actually think the beat and hook are kind of decent, but Marshall’s got no tricks left up his sleeve lyrically, and his delivery sounds more demented than ever–and not in that youthful, just-don’t-give-a-fuck way, but in that sad, post-nutso, I-got-too-famous-and-lost-all-touch-with-reality way.

Eminem’s fall from grace has been a tragic and shockingly rapid one. It was as recently as a half-decade ago that Slim was considered to be the most relevant artist in all pop music, selling millions, earning critical raves, even winning an Oscar or two. A mere year or two later, the man’s career was done and done–a truly spectacular flame-out that was only fortunate in that it didn’t (to my knowledge) involve any sex scandals or racist radio interviews. How did this all happen? Well, let’s examine the ten moments that transformed Eminem from seeming like the Bob Dylan of his generation to making a feud with Brett Michaels seem like something close to a fair fight.

  • August 29th, 2002: Feuds with Moby and Triumph the Insult Dog at the Video Music Awards. Arguably the first true sign of the inevitable onset of madness, Eminem took things personally when Triumph the Insult Dog made a couple cracks at his expense during the ’02 VMAs, getting as close as you can to a physical altercation as one can with a hand puppet. And Moby, long of Slim’s shitlist for knocking his music as violent and homophobic, countinued to draw his ire, as Em made the immortal threat that he “will punch a man with glasses.” For a man who always seemed to be in on the joke, it was the first time I can remember where Marshall seemed to be the one putting himself in the position to get laughed at. Sadly, this was not the last time Eminem and Triumph the Insult Dog would cross paths.
  • February 23, 2003: Releases “Sing For the Moment” Single. The first Eminem single that was greeted with…well, not much of a reaction at all. No significant controversy, no real acclaim, nothing. Lyrically all over the place and built on a largely uninspired sample of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” it seemed like Em was just treading water with this one, cranking out another top 20 single just because he could. It’s not nearly as bad as some later atrocities, but throw in that the video was that dreaded staple of the beginning of a musical career’s downslope–the lazily-assembled Look How Many Fans I Have Concert Video–and it’s hard not to see “Sing for the Moment” as being a pretty significant turning point for Slim.
  • May 9, 2003: Pulls the Plug on “Weird” Al Yankovic’s “Couch Potato” Video. In another early, disturbing example of Eminem not being able to take a joke, Em forbade Weird Al to release a video for “Couch Potato,” Al’s parody of the previous year’s “Lose Yourself.” Weird Al planned on doing a pastiche of various iconic Eminem videos–in the style of, say, every Weird Al video ever–but Slim put the kibosh on the clip, worried that the video would somehow tarnish his rep as a serious hip-hop artist.  What happened to “Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” Em? Plus, ever heard of a rapper named Puff Daddy? Coolio? You don’t see anybody questioning those legacies, do you? (Interestingly, four years later, Weird Al would have a top ten hit with “White and Nerdy,” a parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” for which even Cham would acknowledge that Al could actually flow a little bit).
  • April 23, 2004: Has “Ghetto Pass” Revoked By Steve Harvey. Nobody really knew what to make of “Just Lose It,” Eminem’s sexually confused, meta-puerile,  stream-of-consciousness comeback single released to lead Encore in 2004–five years later, and I feel like it still might be five years ahead of its time. But several key members of the black community had very definite things to say about the video, which parodied Michael Jackson, among other out-of-date targets. For its cruel treatment of MJ–“kicking a man when he’s down,” claimed Stevie Wonder–comedian Steve Harvey made the honorary gesture of revoking Eminem’s “ghetto pass,” meaning he was no longer welcome in the hearts and homes of our country’s African-Americans. It was a statement that was arguably even more ridiculous than “Just Lose It” itself, but it showed that Em, previously untouchable in the hip-hop community in a way no white rapper had ever been before, was losing his footing a little.
  • November 23, 2004: Feuds With Benzino on “Like Toy Soldiers” Single. Previously, Benzino’s feud with Eminem was treated as the one-sided joke that it was–the guy from The Source, whose career as a rapper was so laughable that he had to resort to putting his own “hits” on otherwise legitimately smash-stacked Source compilations? Feuding with the biggest rapper in the world? Yeah, Ja Rule probably had a better shot against 50 Cent. But Em still rose to the occasion, respondingto the bait on “Like Toy Soldiers,” where he recounts the amnesty between himself and the rapper/editor (“I heard him say Hailie’s name on a song and I just lost it,” Slim explains). Em took the final verse to be the better man and walk away from the feud, but the fact that he even acknowledged that there was a feud there was extremely discouraging, as this seemed to signify the beginning of Marshall’s Scarface period–paranoid, seeing threats from every possible corner, and (possibly) coked out and lusting after his sister.
  • June 7, 2005: Releases “Ass Like That.” I don’t even know where to begin. He lusts after JoJo. He mocks Pee Wee Herman (again). He uses the word “pee-pee” (or “slinky,” depending on what medium you’re hearing the song) in the hook. He quotes Arnold Schwarzeneggar for no reason. He raps the entire song from the perspective of Triumph the Insult Dog–replete with mock accent. And to cap it all off, he gets the Crank Yankers assholes to do the video. If you wanted to look at one moment in Em’s career as the official Jump The Shark moment–the moment from which there was absolutely no coming back–it’d have to be this one.
  • January 3, 2006: Releases “Shake That” from Curtain Call. Bad enough that Em was already releasing a Greatest Hits album–nothing says “my career isn’t over yet” like releasing a pointless hits comp less than a decade into your career–but a basic, run-of-the-mill strip club anthem as the hit single? Really? I mean, normally any strip club anthem with Nate Dogg singing the hook is a positive cause for celebration, but coming from Eminem, it just felt off-puttingly rote. A half-decade prior, an Eminem song about a strip club would either involve him getting arrested for exposing himself to a dancer onstage at one, taking a girl to one on a date just to see her reaction, or burning the place down because why the fuck not. You knew he could be doing so much more, and it was infuriating to watch him go through the motions like this. (Side note: “When I’m Gone,” the unfathomably overwrought other single from Curtain Call, was arguably even worse.)
  • January 16, 2006: Marries Kimberly Anne Scott for the Second Time. Uh, what?? The same Kim from, uh, “Kim”? You’d think that after a man cuts your throat and stuffs you in a trunk on record, you’re pretty well purged from his life, but evidently Slim still carried a torch for his ex-wife, and remarried her for all of 82 days in the winter of 2006. It’s hard to explain why this was upsetting, but I guess you could say that it made the vitriol of those early kiss/kill-offs seem retroactively inauthentic. I think they might ahve even gotten engaged a third time after that, officially reducing Marshall Mathers to being a character on Sex and the Trailer Park.
  • August 16, 2006: Appears on Akon’s “Smack That”. Arguably the worst single of 2006, “Smack That” certainly didn’t need Eminem’s help to make it a low point in 00s pop, but he showed up anyway to deliver a miserable, almost surreally phoned-in verse to punctuate the insult. “Shake That” was boring (and similar) enough, but Em seemed determined here to deliver a verse that was as replacement-level as Tim Thomas, sucked completely dry of any of the humor, originality, or even the unhinged craziness that made Eminem so irresistible earlier in his career. This is what he had been reduced to–a completely unemorable 12-bar-for-hire. The fact that it came as the first we’d heard from Eminem since his initial maybe-retirement seemed like a double nail in his coffin.
  • February 21, 2009: Tops the Charts With “Crack a Bottle”. After three years of being almost completely out of the limelight, I was willing to give Eminem one more chance to redeem himself with “Crack a Bottle,” the non-official-single which nonetheless topped the US pop charts on the strength of nearly a half-million digital sales. Needless to say, my faith was not rewarded, as the song was another snoozer of a party anthem, with a non-sensical chorus to boot (“Don’t be a sloppy model / you just won the lotto”???) It even lied on the crutch of guest appearances from 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, neither of which are really the kind of rappers you want if you’re trying to take your comeback song to the next level. Mostly, I had just wanted it to be about something–anything, of minor or major importance–and was very disappointed to find yet another Em effort with no purpose whatsoever. Of course, after seeing “We Made You,” maybe writing about something isn’t the best idea either anymore.

Understand it all a little bit better now? I wish I did.

Posted in Listeria | 9 Comments »

IITS Goes to the Movies, April 2009

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 13, 2009

We here at IITS don’t make it out to the theaters much–co-ordinating with friends can be a major hassle, going by yourself feels kind of embarrassing, and $12.50 in New York seems a price too high to justify for a transient piece of entertainment that I could probably watch on my computer for free. So when we do go, we try to make it more of an event–and since I had the day off last Saturday, for example, I decided to kill five birds with one stone (or, technically, three stones, since I had to switch theaters a couple times) and catch up on all the movies that I had sort of wanted to see, but not badly enough to dedicate a single trip out to any one of them. Friend of the blog Lisa Berlin was kind enough to join me for the experience, and we went down the checklist. Some notes on those viewed:

  • I Love You, Man. Three things about this movie were very relieving–that Jason Segel played a character that didn’t cry once, that Jon Favreau proved to still be fatter and less likeable than ever, and that Leslie Mann was absolutely nowhere to be found (though luckily for fans of grating, unsightly shrew characters, Mann will be appearing in hubby Apatow’s upcoming Funny People, previewed in at least two movies I saw Saturday). Besides that, and the fact that the movie wasnt actually directed by Judd Apatow but some no-name, non-Wiki-entried dude named John Hamburg, no real surprises to be had here–it’s pleasant (though do ALL these movies really need to take place in California?), mildly clever (bromance presented like actual romance, with same ups and downs, will-he-or-won’t-he’s, etc.), cameo-strewn (David Krumholz, Lou Ferrigno, and Rush, together for the first and last time), and easily forgotten about. This concept now thoroughly exhausted, however, no more Apatow-verse comedies about affectionate male-male relations unless actual gay sex happens in them.
  • Taken. Who would have guessed that three and a half months into our fair new year, the top two grossing movies in the country would be Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Taken? When I first saw the previews I thought it was lucky to escape straight-to-video hell, but apparently America was really in the mood to see Liam Neeson take on an entire country’s underworld–I suspect that our failing economy and pervasive xenophobia are somehow to blame. Anyway, there’s worse fates to be had than watching Liam Neeson in pure Darkman form playing The Transporter for 90 minutes, especially since he actually gets fairly down and dirty in the process (my favorite was probably the triple-kidney-punch he lays on the first baddie he gets his hands on). Only complaints would be that Maggie Grace is about ten years too old and ten times too annoying to still be playing 17-year-olds, and that Famke Janssen’s character is basically the worst mother ever (“God, Liam Neeson, that is so like you to not want our teenage daughter to go follow U2 through Europe for a month with her slutty best friend and no adult supervision!”) Small price to pay.
  • Observe and Report. Though fact of there being two Mall Cop movies released in the calendar year seems to automatically be at least one too many, it seems to me that the release of Paul Blart a few months earlier is probably the best thing that could have happened to Observe & Report, since it gives O&R an undeserved satirical edge it would never have had if there was no Mall Cop genre to satirize. And the two movies are, obviously, very different. Props to Seth Rogen for playing a character that doesn’t ask us to like him, since Seth Rogen is clearly at the point of his acting career where being liked is no longer really an option, and props to director Jody Hill for making the movie teeter tantalizingly close to genuine malevolence. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite have the guts to follow through with it, and pussies out a little with a too-easy ending that makes the whole movie feel like a cheap parody and not the impressively straight-faced portrait of a titanically fucked-up individual that it had promised to be for the previous 100 minutes. Nonetheless, Michael Pena is kind of the man, Little River Band is seriously underrated, and it is somehow poetic and just that this movie will come nowhere close to achieving that Paul Blart dollar.
  • Adventureland. This movie seems destined to go down as the most poorly marketed movie of the decade. Its previews and posters basically led me to believe that it was going to be a cross between Waiting and Sexdrive, and instead it ended up being more like Garden State filled out with the cast of Superbad (and in case you’re still harboring stupid prejudices against Garden State, yes, that is a good thing, and I even liked Waiting pretty well). In any event, it’s probably the best movie about 20-something suburban angst since, well, SubUrbia, and the only people who are likely to see it are going to be 15-year-olds who will be inevitably disappointed by the lack of bare tits on display. Seems like it’ll have to settle for cult status, but it’s at least more or less guaranteed that–no movie with a script, soundtrack, and pair of lead performances this good will stay on the shelf for too long. I don’t think I can remember a movie about young people that had two actors as obviously talented and likeable as Jesse Eisenberg (Michael Cera, you have officially been repalced in my heart) and Kristen Stewart (You are much more adorable when lounging in Husker Du t-shirts and not hanging with lame vampmires, Kristen), and their scenes together are riveting–the fight scene between the two where neither can muster a complete sentence is a fucking clinic, especially. And I definitely can’t remember a movie whose soundtrack–The Replacements’ “Unsatisfied,” Big Star’s “I’m in Love With a Girl,” the ACOUSTIC VERISON of Jesus and Mary Chain’s “A Taste of Cindy”–had me swooning as much from beginning to end. Ryan Reynolds plays a great (and believable) asshole, Martin Starr is a stellar downer of an addition to any cast, and even the obligatory Wacky Characters played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig were vaguely loveable. If I like another movie more this year, 2009 will be an unqualified success. Yes, that’s right, I say that about a movie with this poster:
  • Shudder.

  • The Watchmen. Missed the first hour of this mistiming my Adventureland viewing, but I think I got the gist from the last two hours–I was smart/bandwagony and read the graphic novel for the first time a few months ago, so I didn’t have to worry about following the plot or anything. Nothing too much to say here, since who cares anyway–liked it, seemed like a faithful adaptation, looked cool, Dr. Manhattan is creepy as fuck, Kelly from Bad News Bears certainly grew up to be a badass, Malin Ackerman looks better as a brunette, whatever. Mainly, I wanted to focus on the two extremely unlikely Seinfeld alums that showed up in this movie–the guy who played Elaine’s svengali-ish psychiatrist boyfriend as Hollis, and the guy who played Kramer’s dwarf friend Mickey as Big Figure. I never imagined I’d see either of these people doing anything outside of Seinfeld reruns ever again, yet here they are, in the same magical movie. By the end, I was on the lookout for appearances from Jack Klompus and Sue-Ellen Mischke, but I think the overlap unfortunately ends there. If there was a third one I missed in that first hour, though, be sure to let me know. Also, I’m not sure if I’d ever heard Leonard Cohen’s original version of “Hallelujah” before, and I realized why–it kind of sucks. I mean, thank God I didn’t have to sit through another emotional scene set to the Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright version, but goddamn, that song was not meant for someone with Leonard Cohen’s voice. “First We Take Manhattan” over the end credits, though–too awesome.

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I Sez: Not Quite Good Enough, Courtney Paris

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 11, 2009

louisville-oklahoma

I actually a fair amount of Courtney Paris’s final tournament run as an Oklahoma Lady Sooner, even flipping away from the Phillies’ home opener (not that that turned out to be particularly riveting television exactly) to see the game against Louisville, where Paris’s $64,000 wager of good faith came to a head. The really amazing thing was that it ended about as dramatically as I had had semi-predecited, with Okie guard Nyeshia Stevenson popping a potentially buzzer-beating and game-winning three off a missed Louisville free throw, setting up what could have been one of the most exciting moments in NCAA history–had it not popped out. Should Stevenson have tried to drive for a layup to tie the game instead of pulling up for the go-ahead three, especially after going 1-7 from long distance earlier in the game? It’s a question that she will, no doubt, be mulling over for the rest of her life–although not as much as Paris will, who stood to lose a cool 64k as the indirect result of Stevenson’s actions.

Well, thanks to IITS reader A.J. for pointing out that Paris has, predictably, wilted somewhat from her guarantee, insisting that the Oklahoma athletic department refused to accept her scholarship money back. Instead, Paris will be setting up a community fund of an indeterminate amount for the needy of Oklahoma. No surprise here–after all, that 7th pick WNBA money might not have been the windfall Paris had expected, as apparently her base salary will be somewhere in the low 40ks, and Court’s a little too old to still be doing the Ramen noodles diet (especially in a cultural hotbed like Sacramento). Besides, OU probably isn’t like the sixth-grade math teacher I had that gleefully knocked my test grade down ten points after I owned up to having a question marked correct that I had actually gotten wrong (no, Mrs. Machnichi, I have not forgotten), and doesn’t need the bad PR of forcing their legendary alums to go into hock
to pay back their ill-conceived delusions of grandeur.

Nevertheless, I feel like a great opportunity for the whole sports world was lost here. Paris seemed willing to put her money where her mouth was, and like 85% of the athletes who make such poorly thought out guarantees, she failed to deliver on her promises. OU could’ve made huge strides for all of sports fandom by holding Paris to her word, and invoicing the center for every dime that she promised. This would perhaps have been a too-great punishment for a merely overly-ambitious top-tier competitor, but the precedent it would set for bigmouthed athletes who think no one will remember when their outrageous claims fail to come to fruition would be damn near historical. Hell, they arrested kids for downloading music off of Napster to try to make an example–is that really any less reprehensible than making a high-profile college grad with an ex-pro football dad shell out a couple thou?

And it’s the kids who end up paying the price, really. Who will comfort the young Hornets fan after Rasual Butler guarantee a first-round victory over the Lakers, only to put up 6 ppg in a 4-0 LA sweep? Who will restore the Padres fan’s faith in humanity, after San Diego ends up a whole 30 wins shy of Chase Headley’s playoff promise? Not Courtney Paris, and not Oklahoma University, that’s for sure.

Posted in I Sez | 1 Comment »

Take Five More: Second Hits of VH1’s Top 100 One-Hit Wonders of the 80s

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 6, 2009

dead-or-alive

As is all too rarely the case on this blog, I actually had more to say about the two-hit wonders shoehorned into VH1’s Top 100 One-Hit Wonders of the 80s list than I could fit into last night’s post. So here are five more classics (and, uh, near-classics) that VH1 is conspiring to have written out of the history of pop music:

  • Will to Power – “I’m Not in Love” (#7, 1991). Everything about Will to Power screams one-hit wonder. “Baby I Love Your Way / Free Bird (medley)” (#97 on VH1’s list) was one of the more ridiculous #1 hits of the late 80s, a relatively purposeless cramming of two AOR radio staples into a pillowy soft-rock medley groove, and the band itself set off all sorts of OHW red flags–named after a Nietzschean philosophical concept, masterminded by a biker-looking guy with a ridiculous moustache, etc. But remarkably enough, there was a second top ten hit to come out of the whole mess–“I’m Not in Love,” a cover of 10cc’s gorgeous, singular 70s anti-love song. You could argue that it kind of nullifies what was so amazing and unique about the original version, but in a way, that just makes me respect 10cc’s version more, because “I’m Not in Love” still works beautifully given the Will to Power treatment as a wispy, MOR-ish torch song. It even hit in 1991, meaning Will to Power can claim to being an integral part of two decades of adult contemporary music!
  • Patrice Rushen – “Haven’t You Heard?” (#42, 1980). Patrice is known to most sane people as the chick who did the song that Will Smith sampled for the “Men in Black” theme (which, looking back on it now, might have been the very last truly ridiculous smash hit to be inextricably tied to the movie it comes from–can you imagine Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean having a mega-hit theme song like that?), and some might also know that “Forget Me Nots” (#86 on the VH1 list) is a pretty good song in its own right. Props to ex-Stylus co-writer Tal Rosenberg, however, for hipping me to “Haven’t You Heard?,” Patrice’s older hit from the tail end of the disco era. It’s one of the most burstingly exuberant songs I’ve ever heard, and the piano hook–that simple, little two-note tease that runs throughout the song–is one of the most inexplicably infectious hooks of an era absolutely packed with ’em.
  • The Outfield – “Since You’ve Been Gone” (#31, 1987). One-hit wonder? Uh, try five top 40 hits between 1986 and 1990. Of course, none of them were as unforgettably soaring as “Your Love” (#59 on the VH1 list), and consequently that was the only one remembered. But I definitely dig “Since You’ve Been Gone” (which I first heard, strangely enough, as the representative choice for The Outfield on the otherwise front-running Like, Omigod!: The 80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)) almost as much–it’s another immaculately produced, anthemic love song that sounds like a power-pop / arena-rock hybrid (or, in other words, a combination of the best things about the mainstream rock from the first half of the decade). Coming during the time of Girls, Girls, Girls and Looked What the Cat Dragged In, however, it’s not too hard to see why it slipped through the sands of time.
  • John Waite – “Change” (#16 Mainstream Rock, 1982). Actually, John Waite did have two other top 40 hits–“Tears” (#37, 1984) and “Every Step of the Way” (#25, 1985)–but his second best-remembered song is probably this adrenaline-pumper from two years before his #1 “Missing You” (#33 on VH1’s list)–which, for the record, is still one of the greatest love songs to ever top the charts. Written by Holly Knight (who wrote or co-wrote similarly invigorating 80s classics like Animotion’s “Obsession,” Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” and Scandal’s “The Warrior”), “Change” never hit the pop charts, but was a deserved rotation staple in MTV’s early days, and even became part of that rarified canon of cheesy 80s soundtrack montaging due to its use in Vision Quest a few years later. Oh yeah, and Waite also had about a half-dozen other hits during his years with The Babys and Bad English. “Missing You” wouldn’t be a bad legacy to leave on pop music, but truly, it is but a mere chapter in the epic John Waite story.
  • Dead or Alive – “Brand New Lover” (#15, 1987). Not that “You Spind Me ‘Round (Like a Record)” (#19 on VH1’s list) isn’t about as much Dead or Alive as one could possibly need for a lifetime (and given its recent regurgitation in Flo Rida’s largely unbearable “Right Round,” that in itself might already be too much). But growing up, I remember hearing “Brand New Lover” on 80s radio and archival VH1 stuff about as often as I heard “You Spin Me ‘Round,” and assumed that the two were about on equal footing cutlurally. And really, the two songs are about equal in their virtues and faults, so if you wanted to swap one’s place in history out for the other;s, I doubt anyone would mind terribly. But nevertheless, an interchangable two-hit wonder is still not the same thing as a one-hit wonder. Take note before the 90s list, VH1—you can’t just pretend that songs like “Real, Real, Real” and “Wifey” don’t exist.

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Take Five: Second Hits from VH1’s Top 100 Hit Wonders of the 80s

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 6, 2009

haircut_100

VH1 recently made my week by trotting out their list of the Top 100 Hit Wonders of the 80s over the course of five nights, hosted by the irrepressible Judah Friedlander. “Now hold on a minute,” you’re undoubtedly thinking to yourself. “Hasn’t VH1 already done this countdown, like, a dozen times already?” Or so you’d think. But while they’ve indeed put forth their selections for the Top 100 Songs of the 80s, and the Top 100 Hit Wonders of All-Time, this is the first time to date that they’ve combined the two for a list. And while the selections towards the top–Toni Basil, Soft Cell, Dexy’s Midnight Runners (who grabbed the #1 with “Come on Eileen”)–were predictably predictable, it was fun to see some of the more forgotten one-offs that just scraped their way onto the list. I mean, when was the last time you heard Nik Kershaw, Paul Lekakis or Robbie Dupree discussed by anyone, let alone Amanda Diva and Hollywood Steve? A guaranteed recipe for quality television in my book, now and always.

But as with all discussions on the topic of one-hit-wonderdom, there were issues to be had with the question of eligibility. Naturally, there were artists who had critically successful careers that belied their one-hit-wonderdom–Midnight Oil, The Church, XTC (and how big of a hit was “Dear God,” really?) But the choices that really irked me were the ones where the artists really did have legitimate second pop hits–just ones that weren’t as well remembered, for whatever reason, as their first. In some cases, these songs were pretty fucking good, too, so it sucks to see them completely written out of history like this. Here are some of the more egregious examples:

  • Club Nouveau – “Why You Treat Me So Bad?” (#39, 1987). Club Nouveau are, no doubt, best remembered for their reggae-fied #1 hit cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (#94 on Vh1’s list)–a cover which, to be perfectly honest, makes me far happier than the original. But their most lasting contribution to pop culture might actually be its follow-up, the tortured “Why You Treat Me So Bad”? The song in itself is a little awkward, but its main hook–that eerie, hypnotic keyboard part–would be a recurring theme over the next two decades of hit pop music, appearing as the basis of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It,” Puff Daddy and R. Kelly’s “Satisfy You” and Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Gonna Be Alright.” The song’s bizarro intro was even copied by Ashanti for the beginning to her underrated “Only U.” Wiki entry even claims that the song was the inspiration for Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (for, I suppose, better or worse). Not bad for a second hit.
  • Tommy Tutone – “Angel Say No” (#40, 1980) A highly respectable slice of early-80s power pop–perhaps lacking the unforgettable sort of hook that would eventually propel them to OHW infamy, but catchy and youthful and all those good things as well. More interestingly to me, it’s actually the band’s first hit, coming a full two years before “867-5309 / Jenny” (#4 on VH1’s list). That means for two whole years, Tommy Tutone were known to the public as “That ‘Angel Say No'” band, and people likely assumed that that was all they would ever be known for. There would be worse fates, anyway, but I’m sure it’s a better sell on the nostalgia circuit to list your peers as Bow Wow Wow and Thomas Dolby than Bram Tchaikovsky and The Records.
  • Neneh Cherry – “Kisses on the Wind” (#8, 1989) The success of Neneh Cherry seems like such a period fluke in retrospect–a beneficiary of that weird era in dance music between freestyle and diva house, maybe–that it seems only logical that Neneh Cherry would be a one-hit wonder. But indeed, the effervescent “Buffalo Stance” (#50 on the VH1 list) was just one or two of the top ten hits that Miss Cherry produced, the second being “Kisses on the Wind,” a similarly irrepressible dance number (about reaching puberty, of all things). Both songs are kind of obnoxious, but decently catchy, and certainly fascinating for their time–I have a feeling people will say similar things about M.I.A. 20 years or so down the road. (Regrettably, brother Eagle-Eye Cherry did in fact have just the one hit).
  • Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock – “Joy and Pain” (#58, 1988) OK, so #58 isn’t very high, but in reality, “It Takes Two” (#18 on VH1’s list) wasn’t that huge a chart hit either, peaking at #36 in the era when Tone-Loc was the only rapper hitting the top ten. And “Joy and Pain” is a pretty well-remembered Golden Age party jam, which you still hear fairly frequently on old school nights on hip-hop stations and classic dance stations and the like. It’s clearly not as good as “It Takes Two”–not many things are–but it’s a more-than-worthy follow up. I can’t get enough Rob’s ceaseless shouting (“PUMP IT UP! PUMP IT UP! HERE WE GO! HERE WE GO! WHAT ELSE?? WHAT ELSE??”) over what could have otherwise been a rather unremarkable chorus hook–rap songs just don’t talk to themselves like that anymore.
  • A Flock of Seagulls – “Space Age Love Song,” “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” (#30 and #26). I find the placing of “I Ran (So Far Away)” (#2) particularly insulting, especially given that it finished just one out of the top spot. Not just because the band had two other top 40 hits, both of which still get play on 80s weekends and the like (though obviously nowhere near the levelof “I Ran”), but because both of those songs are actually considerably better than “I Ran.” Don’t believe me? OK, it might be an over-exposure thing–maybe. But check those other two songs out first, becuase they’re fucking dynamite–shimmering, soaring, absolutely glorious synth-pop anthems, part Soft Cell, part Big Country, all 80s. And people wonder why I like Angels and Airwaves so much–watch the videos for “Wishing” and “The Adventure” back-to-back and tell me Tom DeLonge wasn’t a megafan as well.

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Commercial Break: Twothingsism

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 4, 2009

If the GEICO dynasty has taught us one thing about the nature of TV commercials, it’s that any concept for an ad campaign–really, just about anything–will eventually become hilarious if you just take the concept way too far. My brother used to believe that if he heard any pop song often enough, he’d invariably come around to liking it, no matter how dreadful, and sometimes I think the same thing is true with ad campaigns. If a commercial conceit seems strange and alienating upon first arrival, give it a hundred viewings in its half-dozen different permutations, and soon enough you will actually pause in the middle of a commercial break to crack up watching it the 101st time. It’s scary, it’s a little bit pathetic, but it’s pretty undeniable.

Case in point: The Old Spice “Two Things in One” campaign. The first one was simple enough–a showering centaur talks about how he appreciates Old Spice making a product that’s two things in one (Body Wash + Moisturizer), because he’s also two things in one (“A man…and a pretty smart shopper.”) I always suspected that I sort of liked the commercial–it had a very strange vibe to it, vaguely satricial and mildly surreal (plus I always found that the interspecial nudity felt at least somewhat subversive). But amid the great Old Spice campaigns of recent years (Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris, “I have hair here…but not here…,” “That was me…before I started using Old Spice”) it sort of got buried, possibly an amusing curiosity but not really notable enough to make the year-end highlight reel.

Now this one. Building off of the first, the same centaur appears, now vaguely offended by the notion that Old Spice would automatically assume that he would like their LiveWire product. “Why, Old Spice?” he pleads. “Because it’s two things…and I’m two things? THAT’S TWOTHINGSISM!” End commercial.

I don’t know, everything about this ad–and there really isn’t all that much to this ad–just knocks me out. The little glance centaur guy does over his shoulder to the super listing the two things that Old Spice LiveWire is. The fanatical gleam in the guy’s eye as he decries the product’s numerical prejudice. The emphatic way he places the product down on his horse-ass. All great, though they are mere details when addressing the commercial’s real appeal–that Old Spice took a barely popular ad punchline, and not only assumed that it was worthy of a sequel, but that it needed to be taken that extra mile further into near-inaccessible absurdity. I mean, we all know what’s coming next, right? Twothingsism trials with centaur guy as the plaintiff and Old Spice as the defendant. News pundit debate shows on the root cause of twothingsism. Centaur guy dating a girl only to discover that she only digs him because of her two-things fetish. Before you know it, it’s got its own racially offfensive TV show. Soon, you’ll even know the actor who plays centaur guy’s name–and maybe even be able to relate a funny backstory about the horse. I’ve seen this movie before–and hey, I liked it pretty well the first time.

By the way, I used Right Guard out of necessity for like the first time ever this week and it kind of sucks. There’s really very few areas in which Old Spice is not dominant.

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