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Archive for May, 2009

10 Years, 100 Songs: #100. “I Don’t Feel Any Shame, I Won’t Apologize”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 31, 2009

The list of bands that so successfully evolved or reinvented their sound that they could be considered as one of the most important bands to two entirely different generations of music fans is not a long one. It goes: The Rolling Stones, The Who, U2, Green Day. (And OK, maybe Metallica and R.E.M.) 99.9999% of bands cultivate a fanbase, peak creatively and commercially, and then either provide diminishing returns in one or both respects for the rest of their careers, or just break up altogether. A lucky few can score a comeback hit or album a few years down the line, but they’ll know that they’re living on borrowed time, and that once they’ve crested, there’s no getting back to that level ever again. For Green Day to come back with a smash like American Idiot (maybe the last legitimate Blockbuster Rock Album, and one that would’ve certainly gone diamond at the least in any other decade), a whole decade after what was supposed to be their zenith–it’s practically unprecedented.

But here’s the thing–the singles weren’t really that great. The title track had the energy and the topicality (sort of), but it felt like a complete retread musically, and most of the lyrics (“Now everybody, do the propaganda”) were pretty tough to swallow. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” despite being the band’s biggest hit to date, was almost aggressively mediocre, a hobbling together of cliches both musical and lyrical that felt self-pitying and pretentious. “Holiday” was better, but could still be a little much to take, especially with the almost spoken-word breakdown section (“The representative from California now has the floor…”) “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was actually the best of them, a show-stopping power ballad with one of the best song titles of the decade, which was nonetheless hobbled in its commercial potential by its jaw-droppingly ridiculous music video, and just general Green Day overkill.

So why was it all so successful? Well, it’s hard to believe that such an old, tired truism could actually be true in this day and age, but I think you really do need to hear the songs in their proper context on the album to really appreciate them. Because of my general apathy towards the song’s gigantic hits (and they were utterly unavoidable for a good 18 month period in my Freshman and Sophomore years of college), I didn’t actually listen to American Idiot until just a couple of weeks ago, and I was stunned by how much better all the boring singles, which I’d heard about a hundred times each and figured I’d never want to hear again, sounded as parts of this monolith of a modern rock album. What’s more, the other songs on the album–“Letterbomb,” “Give Me Novocaine,” “Extraordinary Girl”–were all about as good, and arguably better than the megahits. I don’t necessarily buy there being a linear plot, any more than there was in Zen Arcade or Ziggy Stardust, but there’s no question that this was an actual album, and one whose success as an LP undoubtedly helped the success of the singles it spawned–no small feat for an album released in the age of iTunes.

To me, “Jesus of Suburbia” is the key song on the album, and from Green Day Mk. 2 in general. Billie Joe has in general credited the song as setting him on the American Idiot path (“After you write a song like that, it was like, ‘I can’t turn back now.’ You can’t all of a sudden say, ‘I want to write a normal record'”), and as the second track on the album–risky placement for a nine-minute, five-part epic–it certainly let listeners know what they were in for as well. But the song’s grandeur wasn’t just in its length, its musical complexity or its lyrical grandstanding (and admittedly, the whole “Jesus of Suburbia” / “St. Jimmy” character dichotomy attempted by Armstrong came off as a little bit ham-fisted), but in the way the song seemed to slot itself into rock history with all of its musical references. Of course the song’s multi-part nature, with its different sections intersecting continuously, smacked of The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away,” but the guitar riff late in the song was also a nod to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and the song’s intro was straight out of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” and even healthy chunks of the video smacked of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” and Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979”. This was bold stuff for a band whose last album was stocked with personal acoustic numbers and unassuming Kinks rip-offs.

Of course, it helps that the song was good. The thing that really impresses me about “Jesus,” as well as with the album’s other five-parter “Homecoming,” is the way all the different parts of the sung seem to sort of crash into each other, switching tempos and chords at a moment’s notice, while avoiding seeming jarring and even keeping some semblence of fluency. The effect is like that of a great episodic movie that you can catch on cable 20 times over the space of a few years and still be pleasantly surprised by certain scenes, either because you forgot how good they were, forgot that they were there at all, or just forgot how it was that the movie arrived at them. My personal favorite of the five parts is probably “Dearly Beloved,” with its gentle shuffle, cooing backing vocals and gentle xylophone part, but it wouldn’t be half as good as it is if it didn’t end up colliding head-on with the rattling bass line that opens “Tales of a Broken Home,” the climactic section. All five parts could possibly have been Green Day songs on their own, but what fun would that have been?

Despite being released as a single, and having a big, Samuel Bayer-directed video to go with it, “Suburbia” was just a little too impenetrable for mainstream audiences for it to approach the commercial success of the album’s first four singles. Nonetheless, the song, and the spirit of the album that it encapsulated, showed the rest of modern rock that even at the height of insular pop-punk, emo and nu-metal, it was still OK to be ambitious when the moment called for it–lessons that bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park would certainly take to heart as their sounds got bigger, their song topics got broader and their aspirations got loftier. And while it’s not hard to occasionally miss the band that once had no ambitions beyond spending the day jerking off, getting high and ignoring their parents–well, everyone has to grow up sometime, and at least Green Day showed that they were good enough to merit just as much acclaim, adoration and impossibly high sales numbers for being angry, confused and self-righteous adults as they did as angry, confused and self-righteous kids.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #120 – #101

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 29, 2009

#120. Trick Daddy – “I’m a Thug” The most irrepressible of the many smile-inducing statements of intent from Southern Rap’s most gregarious figure. You can’t even hate on the kiddie chorus in this one, really, and how many hip-hop songs can you say that about? (And I like Nas’s “I Can,” for the record).

#119. The Arcade Fire – “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)The Great White Hope of 00s indie rock is lagging a little behind schedule if they really were destined to be one of the biggest bands in the world (you know, if they cared about that sort of thing), and whether they were ever worthy of that distinction in the first place is somewhat up for debate. Less arguable, however, is that songs like this (as well as the relatively underrated “Wake Up“) were righteous and electric enough to prove that they could chest-beat and flag-wave with the best of them. And hey, it took U2 nearly a decade to get to The Joshua Tree. Hell of a video, too.

#118. Rich Boy – “Throw Some D’s That hook.That sample. Ten seconds into the first listen and you would have bet your life savings on it being a smash, even before you got to the “Every freak should have a picture of my dick on they wall” line. Never grated, never wore out its welcome. Usually you can spot hip-hop one-hit wonders miles away, but I’m still not sure what the hell happened here.

#117. Afroman – “Because I Got High …and this one was slightly more predictable, but no less captivating. Like all great stoners throughout various media in pop culture history, Afroman possessed a sort of gravitas-laden awareness and resignation to his ambition-thwarted, blazed-out fate (although most of them have at least avoided becoming homeless and paralyzed in the process), but responded to the tragedy of his stituation by smiling and taking another hit, making his misadventures imminently relatable. Gets a run for its drug money from Styles P’s “Good Times (I Get High),” but has the edge for containing the best rawkus in-the-studio crowd noise since the Swingin’ Medallions’ “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)“.

#116. N Sync – “It’s Gonna Be MeAlong with “Bye Bye Bye,” put so much distance in the race between them and the Backstreet Boys that there wasn’t even a debate anymore. Of course, a mere 18 months later, that argument couldn’t have been less relevant anyway, but this was crucial in at least ensuring that one of the great pop talents of the decade could still be taken at least somewhat seriously once he went solo.

#115. Johnny Cash – “Hurt” A recording and video of such unbelievable weight–with or without the circumstances of Cash’s actual death surrounding it–that the rest of the pop world seemed to temporarily be put on pause for it. Lost to “Cry Me a River” for Best Male Video at the 2003 VMAs, and JT was properly apologetic.

#114. Junior Boys – “Birthday The first dozen times I heard it, I kept waiting for it the song to break out into a soaring disco number, and got frustrated more each time that it didn’t. I’m not sure when I realized that it was that very frustration that made the song’s nocturnaler-than-nocturnal loneliness so powerful–more so maybe than any band since New Order–but I’m pretty sure it was shortly thereafter that I also realized that Last Exit was one of the best albums of the decade. Interestingly, they would let us know on the next album what it would sound like if one of their songs did go the floor-scorching distance, and that was pretty cool too.

#113. U2 – “Beautiful Day In which U2 looked back on a long, turbulent decade of experimentation with pop-art, Eno-produced soundscapes, high-concept stage shows and European genre-hopping, and decided that being the biggest band in the world had been much more fun. To their credit, it takes a very good, instantly memorable song to make the general public forget about the “Discotheque” video so quickly and completely.

#112. Ciara f/ Petey Pablo – “Goodies Weird how much this video feels like a history lesson now, but back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was nothing cooler than an unassuming whistle-and-synth hook, a Petey Pablo guest verse (at both the beginning and the end of the song–and both great), Matrix-inspired breakdown choreography, and Jazzy Phe showing up to mime the “goodies stay in the jar” motion. I never understood why CC’s (CiCi’s?) sleeves-only-shirt look in this video never really caught on with the general public, by the way, I always thought that was kind of a hot look.

#111. Linkin Park vs. Jay-Z – “Numb / Encore In terms of far-reaching cultural cachet, it might not have exactly been Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith breaking down the walls, but man did it make 2004 a whole lot more fun (not only did I buy the album, I watched the bonus DVD–multiple times!) Might not have legitimized the mashup in the mainstream world as much as it killed it forever in the underground, but c’mon–this shit was awesome! Plus, nothing better demonstrated the divergent paths that rock and rap stars had taken in terms of cool since 1991 than that clip of Chester Bennington joking about wanting a frappucino while Jay-Z chuckled politely and pretended not to be embarrassed.

#110. Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk Sweaters, Peter Gabriel, Ivy League, Africa, whatever. This song was the most skankable thing to hit MTV in decades.

109. David Banner f/ Lil’ Flip – “Like a Pimp A thankfully to-the-point chorus to complement one of the bluntest beats of the decade. Banner is great and all, and he probably had the better career over the course of the deacade (including last year’s criminally underrated “Get Like Me“), but for me, Lil’ Flip (back when he was chubbier than Levance Fields) blows him out of the water here with the hypnotic drawl and matter-of-fact egotism of his verses. “Me, I’m a pimp / I ain’t payin’ for no sex! / I’d rather buy a car / Or a new Rolex.” Fair enough. Subtly effective vid, as well–flashing isolated words on the screen and having the rappers mysteriously float over their appreciative crowds are always quality hip-hop vid techniques. And Banner wearing a Montreal Expos cap!

#108. Nirvana – “You Know You’re Right Those Nirvana boys, jumping on the nu-metal bandwagon, just as they did for industrial, ska, and even that ill-advised swing single they did back in ’99. Is there any way these dudes could possibly have left to sell out further?

#107. Modjo – “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)If Eiffel 65 hadn’t pushed a generation of potential dance music fans to the point of oblivion, pop music really could’ve gone in this direction in 2000. Would it have been such a terrible thing, I ask you? Look at how much fun they’re having in the video!

#106. Muse – “Knights of Cydonia Friend of the blog Lisa Berlin put it best: “At first they sounded like they wanted to be Radiohead. Now they just kind of sound like Muse.” And hey, as it turns out, that’s actually a kind of cool thing. Props as well to “Starlight” and “Supermassive Black Hole,” the other two excellent singles from Black Holes and Revelations, as well as “Hysteria,” which almost single-handedly justifies there benig a bass option for the Rock Band series.

#105. Limp Bizkit – “My WayArguably the biggest band in the country at the dawn of the new millennium, “My Way” was the Biz’s last and probably best true statement of defiance, crystalizing the band’s (and, at the time at least, the genre’s) Us Against the World outlook that so endeared them to so many of our nation’s easily-incited idiot youths. But Freddie was already starting to sound a little mentally shaky, a little too far gone (“Someday you’ll see things my way”–as if he already knew he was on his way out), and sure enough, not long thereafter he was making out with Thora Birch, releasing ill-advised Who covers and eventually abandoning music altogether to reinvent himself as a (supposedly not half-bad) indie filmmaker. I felt vindicated at the time, but now I wonder if pop music is truly a better place without their lovably (and occasionally not-so-lovably) puerile antics, cringeworthy (but fascinatingly self-revealing) lyrics and uniquely awful music videos. And the scratching. The scratching was cool.

#104. Gwen Stefani – “Hollaback Girl Nothing about this song made sense. The beat was completely schizophrenic, the lyrics were non-sensical to the point of inanity, and Gwen appeared to have undergone the same amnesiac trauma in the video as Nadine from Twin Peaks. And I should probably say something here like “but somehow, it all worked,” except that five years later, I still have no idea whether the hell it all actually worked or not. But…#1 hit…established Gwen as a solo artist…marching band…I know all the words…B-A-N-A-N-A-S…it must have done something right, right? Maybe?

#103. Ashanti – “Foolish” / Colbie Calliat – “Bubbly I know, I know…nothing lamer on a best-of list than a tie entry, but I forgot “Bubbly” in my brainstorming and I couldn’t leave it off entirely, so I figured maybe I could slot it here with Ashanti under the pretense that they were both very nice young ladies that wrote two very, very, very, very, very, very nice songs. I’m not sure how “Foolish” got as forgotten as it did as quickly as it did after staying #1 for as long as it did–maybe the public consciousness only had room for one song using the DeBarge sample–but man, that was one quality heartbreaker of a song, with Ashanti’s gentle, sighing, almost naive-sighing voice making her the perfect singer for a ballad about being put upon (and the perfect star of a video that spun the cliche of the rap video recreating a mob movie by re-doing Goodfellas from Karen Hill’s perspective). And Colbie…well, her song was so sweet and likeable that even CMT tried to claim it as their own, putting her in truly rarified air as a country-approved West Coaster. That recent duet between her and Jason Mraz made a ton of sense, because you feel “Bubbly” is the song that Mraz has spent his career trying to write–so simple and irresistible, all smiles and no teeth. What else woud you expect from those Fleetwood Mac-producer genes, though?

#102. 50 Cent – “I Get Money The evil cackle from the closest thing 00s pop had to a Bond Villain. Sure, “In Da Club” is the one that people will remember, and likely the best example of Curtis actually possessing God-given talents as a rapper, but even that song’s once-unassailable beat now smacks to me of a lazy sort of arrogance. Fact is that Mr. Jackson did us a favor here by simplifying his true raison d’etre to an easily comprehended three-word statement of purpose. 50 Cent does not get Grammys. 50 Cent does not get five-mic ratings in The Source. 50 Cent does not even get street cred and the respect of his peers. 50 Cent Get Money. And if you don’t know, now you know.

#101. Missy Elliot – “Work It I know, I know, this deserves to be higher. I’m just not up for writing a whole article about it.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #140 – #121

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 26, 2009

#140. The National – “Mistaken for Strangers” The kind of song that dozens of dolorous, dislocated indie bands this decade would’ve killed to have the songwriting chops to pull off. Being kind of old helps, I suppose, as does originating from outside of New York.

#139. Alicia Keys – “Fallin’At first it had that classic, timeless ballad feel to it–the kind of song that you never really get sick of. Then, American Idol. Still, almost infinitely preferable to the myriad leser torch songs that followed in its wake, which always seem to be getting worse. By the way, if you’ve never heard the reggae remix of “You Don’t Know My Name,” you owe yourself the experience of hearing what Alicia sounds like freed from the cruel imprisonment of her box of wood and ivory.

#138. Ricardo Villalobos – “Dexter So distant, fascinating and strangely disquieting that it’s amazing it was composed years before (and presumably has nothing to do with) the TV show. Points to Villalobos as well for his stunning remix of Beck’s “Cellphone’s Dead,” which shreds not only the original, but the totality of Mr. Hansen’s hugely disappointing artistic output for the entire decade.

#137. At the Drive-In – “One-Armed Scissor Maybe the most enigmatic hard rock song of the decade–I know ATDI has a gigantic cult and all, but I can’t imagine who belongs to it. Anyway, its energy is incredible, and I kind of hope that I never know all the words. (You know what was seriously underrated, by the way? Sparta’s “Breaking the Broken.” Miles above those execrable Mars Volta semi-hits.)

#136. Bloodhound Gang – “The Bad Touch. You and your guidance counselor probably don’t want to admit it (and neither did I, at first), but this song is actually pretty clever–two years later and it could’ve easily been a (slightly nerdier) Ludacris smash. Inspiration for more cringe-worthy fratboy karaoke performances than any song since “Baby Got Back,” but we can’t very well hold the Gang accountable for that, can we?

#135. Hot Chip – “Ready for the Floor” You’d be hard pressed to find a dance song with a better opening half-minute than this all decade. The lack of a real chorus (“why don’t you open up, we talk”? ) is the only thing I can think of preventing this song from turning Hot Chip into the Information Society of the 00s.

#134. Puddle of Mudd – “She Hates Me Displayed the one quality that no other nu-metal besides Limp Bizkit dared to fuck around with–an actual sense of humor. Truth told, the song has far more in common with 90s quirkfests like “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “I Got a Girl” or “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe” than any of their significantly more dowry contemporaries (or than with any of their hits for that matter, which were all terrible with the possible exception of “Blurry.”)

#133. Nelly – “Country Grammar (Hot Shit!)Nelly was maybe the first truly new superstar of the 21st century, and watching the video now seems almost prophetic in its prediction of 00s hip-hop trends, from the super-regional focus to the preponderance of shiny rims to the use of a children’s song as the musical basis (on which fellow St. Louis native Jibbs apparently took careful notes). Nelly would go on to give us enough memories throughout the decade (“Hot in Herre,” “Over and Over,” “Grillz,” his cameo in The Longest Yard) to last a lifetime, and appropriately, he’ll never make it into the 2010s.

#132. Hoobastank – “The Reason The 80s had “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” the 90s had “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” and the 00s had “The Reason”–shame that Hoobastank weren’t Canadian, I guess. I still have no fucking clue what’s going on in the video.

#131. Freeway f/ Jay-Z  & Beanie Sigel – “What We Do Such a perfect musical encapsulation of everything that made The Wire such a visceral and emotional TV show that it positively kills me that I never realized how much of the show’s cast is in this song’s video.

#130. Ratatat – “Seventeen Years” I still have no idea where this song comes from, or how to even begin to describe it. Daft Punk covering Iced Earth? DJ Shadow remixing Mogwai? Kevin Shields trying to make a blues record? Of course, the fact that almost every other song on the first Ratatat album sounded like a lesser version of it kind of dulled the thrill a little bit, but still..how many other songs this decade could you say you’d never heard anything like before?

#129. Wilco – “Heavy Metal Drummer It’s hard to tell what effect Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had, if any, in the real world, but in the rock crit community it was maybe the biggest Event Album of the decade, a maelstrom of dramatic backstory, record industry significance, and yeah, extremely high quality music. “Heavy Metal Drummer” was the centerpiece and maybe the best pure rock/pop song that Jeff Tweedy ever wrote, a gem of sighing nostalgia, summery synths and other excessively pleasant stuff that probably has a much more cynical undercurrent if you look further into it. If classic rock radio exists 25 years from now, this should be a permanent fixture on Memorial Day countdowns.

#128. Jet – “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?Jet were an almost insultingly uncreative band, but it wasn’t a coincidence that they would become practically synonymous with the iPod–like most of the other bands that would be used for the Apple commercials, they were the perfect group to exist for the sake of just one song’s worth (or hell, even just thirty seconds’ worth) of music, making them ideal fodder for the Shuffle Generation. No one cared that they were from Australia, or that they ripped off Iggy Pop, or that they named themselves after a Paul McCartney song–the thing just sounded fantastic in half-minute chunks, and why worry about the rest of the nonsense when you can just hit “Next Track” once you start to realize how stupid it all is anyway?

#127. Gorillaz – “Clint Eastwood When you took away all the gimmicks–the alternate identities, the ridiculous back stories, even the “Thriller”-meets-Planet of the Apes (SPIN’s description, I think, not mine) video–this was just such a cool song. Though arguably the group’s creative mastermind, the better Gorillaz songs are the ones where Damon Albarn’s contributions were kept to a minimum, so they were wise to keep him to singing the song’s hook while Don the Automator laid the spooky, drug-hazed groundwork and Del tha Funkee Homosapien tore the song up with his two verses.

#126. Mario Winans f/ P. Diddy – “I Don’t Wanna Know Who saw this song coming? A long-time R&B songwriter and session musician, sampling the same Enya song that The Fugees had already claimed as their own, and hobbled by a guest appearance from P Diddy? It’s proof that writing a good love song from a unique perspective–in this case, the unusually honest and un-self-consciously meek viewpoint of a man scorned, who’s OK with being scorned as long as he doesn’t have to find out about it firsthand–is enough to get some pretty improbable songs to spend eight weeks at #2 on the charts. Apparently there was even a pretty good response song we didn’t get in the States, just more proof that the Brits are still much more on the ball when it comes to building a pop music culture.

#125. Shop Boyz – “Party Like a Rock Star Southern rap’s endearingly awkward love letter to hard rock, complete with surreal references to Marilyn Manson and the Osbournes and a crowd-surfing and devil-horned-replete music video. Good thing they had the riff and the chorus hook to pull it off, and then some. Most notably, it got Freaknasty (of ’90s classic “Da Dip” fame) back on the charts for the first time in a decade, as listeners mistakenly paid for thousands of downloads of his “Do It Just Like a Rockstar” looking for this song–a uniquely ’00s-ian pop malfunction.

#124. Eamon – “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)Give Puddle of Mudd credit for cursing in the hook of their megahit, but they didn’t have the stones that Eamon had to put the word “fuck” not only in every single line of the chorus, but straight in the title as well. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked in the slightest if the rest of the song hadn’t sounded like a 1994-postmarked All-4-One ballad, and if Eamon himself hadn’t looked like a white-trashier Jimmy Fallon. Unsurprisingly, follow-up single “I Love Them Ho’s (Ho Wop)“–sampling The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You”!!!–failed to make much of an impression on anyone, as Eamon turned into the most predictable one-hit wonder since the days of Taco and Buckner & Garcia.

#123. T.I. – “Rubberband Man He would get much bigger from here–both in sound and stature–but in my mind TI crystalized what he was about so perfectly with this song and its exuberant production, that most of his future efforts along the same themes just sound kind of lazy to me. “Check my resume, nigga / My record’s impeccable.” True enough, at least before “Whatever You Like.”

#122. Juvenile – “Back That Azz Up Ended up foreshadowing nearly the whole first half of the decade in hip-hop, in terms of production, subject matter and personnel. I mean, in the outro alone, you’ve got a still-in-his-child-prodigy stage Lil’ Wayne, imploring girls to drop it like it’s hot–how’s that for a song technically written in 1998? And unlike, say, B.G.’s “Bling Bling,” it’s still actually highly listenable a decade later.

#121. Chris Brown – “Forever I can’t even talk about this guy anymore. Whaaaaaatta waste.

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Commercial Break: Hating on the Frosty Posse

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 25, 2009

What decade is this that’s coming to an end, again? Hey, Wendy’s execs–you can throw a little auto-tune in there to give the illusion of being contemporary, but if you throw out a bunch of (mostly) caucasian males wearing all white and have them sing in uninspiring harmonies over orchestral-stab-based backing tracks, what you’ve got is a decade-out-of-date boy band parody. (Plus, the name? C’mon). I mean, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t catchy, or that it wasn’t a gigantic step up from the maddening “Threeconomics” series, but even compared to the new Taco Bell “Rappers at the Drive-In Window” ad…not so good.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #160 – #141

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 24, 2009

#160. DJ Casper / Mr. C the Slide Man – “Cha Cha Slide” Strange as it sounds, I’m almost disappointed that this song wasn’t more ubiquitous. Every decent decade needs one dance craze song to drive everyone under the age of 55 absolutely nuts, and this otherwise respectable entry never quite got to that territory.  

#159. The Knife – “Heartbeats It’s probably not actually true, but I feel like all the hype and acclaim that the Knife got after “Heartbeats” was just a make-up call for how long it took people to realize how great this song actually was. That Jose Gonzales cover kinda sucked, by the way.

#158. Asher Roth – “I Love College Does Asher Roth really have to move on to the 2010s, or can he just stay in the 00s for the rest of his life?

#157. Simple Plan – “Perfect No song really personified the commercial peak of emo quite like this–all you have to hear is “Hey, Dad,” and you say to yourself “Ah yes, I understand where this song is going.” The rest of their career could not have been much more abhorrent, but the 00s absolutely needed this song to exist.

#156. Regina Spektor – “Us Another thing every decade needs–a nutty redhead to get behind a piano and pronounce vowels strangely. Somehow I don’t think she’s been used in an Apple ad yet, but give it time, I suppose. (For the record: There is a frighteningly large number of YouTube covers of this song.)

#155. DJ Sammy – “(We’re In) Heaven” The point at which America at large apparently decided that any electronic dance music that wasn’t a skittery, sped-up 80s cover was strictly for Europeans and homosexuals. Don’t understand why we couldn’t have had it both ways, really.

#154. The Shins – “New Slang This is such a nice little song (and video) that it makes me so upset that I ever had to hear The Shins (or hear about The Shins) beyond it. Oh, and it’s time to give Garden State another chance–unlikeable characters and this scene aside, it was actually quite good.

#153. Lupe Fiasco – “Kick, PushI’m still not really sure what Lupe’s ceiling is–we might already have seen the best of him–but this was about as promising a debut single as could be found in hip-hop this year. That said, I can never get past the fact that the trumpets on this song sound ridiculously out of tune–as a former fourth trumpet in my middle-school jazz band, I can’t help but take minor umbrage.

#152. !!! – “Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard (A True Story) Hard to overestimate just how much this song blew my mind back in 2003, but unlike some of its discopunk brethren, time has scraped away a good deal of its luster. Still, none of their class had the sheer passion and unbridled enthusiasm for dancing itself as !!!–in fact, they might have been better off bridling it a little–and “Me and Guiliani,” with its cowbell, handclaps/kneeslaps, organ, bad puns, questionably politics and peerless energy, was unquestionably their finest nine minutes. Props to Out Hud’s “It’s For You” while they’re in the building, as well.

#151. Jim Jones – “We Fly High” You only need one word to explain the presence of “We Fly High” on this list, and if you don’t know what it is, then my condolences on your being comatose for the great majority of 2006 and 2007.

#150. “Weird” Al Yankovic – “White & Nerdy It’s hard to decide what about “White & Nerdy” was more improbable–that it would give “Weird” Al Yankovic a top ten hit in the year 2006 (his first ever, by the way) or that it would be good enough that even Chamillionaire himself would kind of have to give it up for Yankovic’s rap skills.

#149. Animal Collective – “Who Could Win a Rabbit? If more freak folk ended up sounding like this–you know, both legitimately folky and legitimately freaky–it might not be my #1 “OK, guess I won’t be checking these guys out” music descriptor for this decade.

#148. Gnarls Barkley – “Crazy Yeah, the seven weeks this song spent at #2 on the charts were quite fun (FURTADO!!!!!!), as were all the goofy movie pics. But really, I can think of at least two other hit “Crazy”s that I still prefer.

#147. P.O.D. – “Boom The “nu metal-as-Jock Jam” thesis put forth by this song (and perhaps moreso, the Crystal Method remix) was an interesting one, and one I wish more of their contemporaries had done research into. Not to be confused with Saliva’s satisfactory and remarkably similar (but markedly inferior) “Click Click Boom.”

#146. M83 – “Run Into Flowers Nu-Gaze didn’t quite have the hype potential of Nu-Rave, but it likely produced exponentially greater amounts of quality music. Close call here with “Don’t Save Us for the Flames” (and its excellent Superpitcher remix), but “Flowers” gets the nod for starting the whole thing.

#145. Basement Jaxx – “Where’s Your Head At??” I dunno. Fun one.

#144. The Libertines – “Time for Heroes In the UK, the sound of youth revolution. Over here, the sound of American Wedding. Great song, regardless.

#143. TV on the Radio – “Wolf Like Me Man, if only more of the indie rock of this decade could sound this…apocalyptic? Always good to see a band with such promise end up living up to it unreservedly.

#142. Amerie – “One ThingCalling it the “Poor Man’s ‘Crazy in Love'” would sound too much like an insult, so I guess “The Upper-Middle Class Man’s ‘Crazy in Love'” will have to suffice. And a lesson to be learned by aspiring hip-hop producers out there–when in doubt, sample The Meters.

#141. Spoon – “Everything Hits At OnceA half-decade later, their songcraft became so immaculate that it was almost creepy in its claustrophobic perfectionism. No other Spoon song would ever hurt, love, or show any such emotion like this again, and no song by anyone this decade had an opening line as good as “Don’t say a word / the last one’s still stinging.”

Posted in 10 Years 100 Songs (00s) | 5 Comments »

10 Years, 100 Songs: #180 – #161

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 22, 2009

#180. Queens of the Stone Age – “No One Knows” Not too many stone classics (no pun intended, surprisingly) in the QOTSA back-catalogue, but they provided mainstream hard rock a huge boon during the 00s by putting out solidly, reliably above-average radio hits for pretty much the entire decade. “No One Knows” gets the nod over “Little Sister,” “Go With the Flow” and the hugely underrated “Monsters in the Parasol” by virtue of being the biggest and the grooviest, and for the absolute hell its solo section put me through trying to get a grasp on the “Hard” difficulty level on the original Guitar Hero.

#179. The Fratellis – “Flathead I feel like the Fratellis still have some sort of greater potential to be living up to (one one side of the pond at least), but even if not, there are worse fates to be had than settling for immortality through iPod and Amstel Light commercials. Go Blackhawks, apparently.

#178. The Dropkick Murphys – “I’m Shipping Up to Boston. Speaking of Go Blackhawks, note to professional sports teams: If You Are Not Playing In Boston, You Can Not Use This Song In Any Capacity. I don’t care if you grew up in Boston, I don’t care if your last name is Murphy, I don’t care if you just love the sound of bagpipes (accordian?)–this is absolutely a one-city song, and anyone else using it should be ashamed of themselves. You don’t see “I Love LA” getting played outside of the Staples Center, or, uh, Will Smith’s “Miami” getting played outside of Dolphins stadium.

#177. Bubba Sparxxx – “Ugly It should say something about Mr. Mathers that Bubs was probably about as close as the 00s got to producing a decent rival to Eminem’s otherwise completely unassailed throne as the Best White Rapper Alive. In retrospect, we were lucky to get the one cool song out of it (even if producer Timbaland had to end up ripping off his own song to make it possible).

#176. Against Me! – “Thrash Unreal Credit American Idiot for making arena rock credible again, I guess–I would never have imagined that Against Me! would’ve been capable of something this legitimately anthemic, at least not based on my unreasonable prejudices against them for having a name like Rise Against and for my cool friend in college being embarrassed to still be going to their live shows. “No mother ever dreams that her daughter’s gonna grow up to be a junkie / No mother ever dreams that her daughter’s gonna grow up to sleep alone” was one of the choruses of the decade.

#175. Death Cab for Cutie – “Transatlanticism” Death Cab for Cutie were always one song away from true greatness. Thing is, this was the one song–except that it was eight minutes long, and more importantly, was released before The O.C. was around to properly take advantage of it. I can think of at least a dozezn huge scenes in the first season alone in which this song would have absolutely slaughtered. Instead, it had to make do with being used in a throwaway scene in Six Feet Under where Claire and her annoying friends tripped on mushrooms and made stupid art. “Soul Meets Body” was poor consolation.

#174. Amy Winehouse – “You Know I’m No Good The real-life drama, the tattoos, and the awful paparazzi photos will always dwarf the songs. But the songs were very good.

#173. The Klaxons – “Atlantis to InterzoneThis is the way it always seems to be with UK hype bands and mini-movements these days–by the time you even hear about them in the States, you’re supposed to already be sick of them. Nu Rave, I’m still interested in what you have to offer, hit me up sometime.

#172. Weezer – “Island in the Sun The true halfway point between Weezer mks. 1 and 2–still catchy, cute and sunny, but with a slowly emerging undercurrent of complete mental breakdown. Hip hip.

#171. Natasha Bedingfield – “These WordsThis was such a nice, sweet, clever little song that just makes it so tragic that Natasha refused to go gently into that good night, sticking around long enough to be responsible for two of the most deplorable songs of the decade (one of which is still among the primary reasons I’ll never get completely into The Hills). And the video! Ugh, what a waste.

#170. The Ting Tings – “Shut Up and Let Me Go” Best use of the word “Hey!” in 00s pop, hands down. And definitely one of the top two “Constantly Zooming Into Triangles” videos of the decade, to boot.

#169. Wolfmother – “The Joker and the Thief Because the first minute and a half is phenomenal, the Aussies need representation, and the Minutemen’s “Corona” is still technically an 80s song.

#168. Bloc Party – “I Still Remember The best gay love song of the decade not engineered by cynical Russian pop svengalis.

#167. Kevin Rudolf f/ Lil’ Wayne – “Let it RockThe logical successor to the “Remember the Name” mantle of Song That Can (And Will) Be Used To Hype Up Any Athletic Competition Currently Available. Fun fact: Rudolf’s album In the City, despite being released well into the “Let it Rock” radio run, peaked at #94 on the charts, meaning that it sold approximately 52 copies. You mean that people thought that Lil’ Wayne might have actually been more of a reason for this song’s success???

#166. Chamillionaire f/ Krayzie Bone – “Ridin’So many things to be thankful to this one for. One of the best choruses this decade to sing along to. The resurrection of the careers of both Krayzie Bone and Tiny Lister (without which, we might not have had that godawful scene in The Dark Knight). The endless debates over whether the fact that Cham and Krayzie both seem to admit to being legitimately inebriated behind the wheel during this song undercuts their anti-racial profiling message a little bit. And of course, another song still yet to come on this list.

#165. Lily Allen – “Smile” Lily’s smug dismisiveness gets closer to being completely intolerable with each passing Too Cool for School single. But this one went a long way towards justifying the hype, with its bouncy reggae beat making its (at the time, anyway) surprisingly chipper tale of heartbreak and revenge imminently palatable, and with Lily’s singing still seeming more cute than obnoxious. And again, kids, I can’t stress it enough–without the Sophie Muller video, I think Lil’ ends up meaning about as much to Yanks as Jamelia or Anastacia.

#164. Lady Gaga – “Poker Face Seeing the “Lovegame” video on TV last night confirmed what I’d already long suspected, that we are closer to the end of the Lady Gaga era than we are to the beginning (and if we aren’t, then God help us all). Still, if the first two singles were the totality of her contributions to pop music, the Lady Gaga experiment was still a relatively worthwhile one, and “Poker Face” was probably the better of the two. You can never say no to a good stutter-hook.

#163. Papa Roach – “Last ResortAnd to think, back in the 80s, The Replacements’ “The Ledge” was all MTV had to get all up in arms over. I’d love to sing this in Rock Band sometime, but I still don’t think I’ve ever even heard this song all the way through without half the lyrics getting censored out.

#162. Cobra Starship – “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It!)Like the movie that birthed it, a fascinating, unforgettable failure.

#161. Madvillain – “All Caps132 seconds of great one-liners and better flute hooks. If all underground hip-hop was half this much fun, the lame civil war its serious fans so often seem to be fighting would be a completely moot point.

Posted in 10 Years 100 Songs (00s) | 3 Comments »

10 Years, 100 Songs: Intro & #200-181

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 22, 2009

2000s
(Note: Blu Cantrell will not actually be appearing on this list)

In case you didn’t notice, the decade is over. Like, done. As in, a little over seven months from now, we’ll be into the 2010s. Crazy, isn’t it? It feels like just yesterday that we were making jokes about hanging chads and Hollow Man, and now we have to start gearing up for the 10th Anniversary Deluxe Reissue of Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. Maybe it’s just because of all that millennial/Y2K nonsense last time we switched decades, but I felt like I was preparing for the end of the 1990s since 1996. Now, the decade is winding down, and we still haven’t even really figured out what we’re going to refer to it as (though I imagine consensus we’ll go with the “oughties,” just because that’ll give us the added opportunity to further label them the “Naughty Oughties,” regardless of whether or not that descriptor is actually applicable). It just feels a little bit too soon.

What it’s never too soon for, though, is a big fucking countdown to commemorate the lord’s decade coming to a close. You might have noticed things being a bit slow around here recently, and while I’d like to pretend that my jetsetting lifestyle has cost me priceless minutes in front of the computer, truth of the matter is that I’m still staring at screens for the majority of my life, now occcasionally even getting paid to do so. What I’ve been lacking for more is in the inspiration front (blame the NBA playoffs, perhaps) and since nothing gets me back on track like a large-scale list project, I figured it might be time to provide my definitive take on / gushing love letter to the rich, heady subject of the pop music of the 2000s.

So, how to crystalize the decade in 100 songs? Well, it’s hard to say exactly what qualifications I used to come up with this list–they’re not necessarily the most important songs or biggest hits of the decade, though the great majority of ’em were either popular or significant in some way. And they’re not necessarily my favorites or my picks for the best songs, though I certainly love ’em all and would defend them to anyone. Basically, its a countdown of the songs that I think best define the decade (or the good parts, at least), and the ones that I think I’ll most look back on ten-twenty years from now when trying to come up with a mental picture of what this decade was like for pop music. Or, if you don’t buy any of that, fine, then they’re 100 unordered songs that I happen to like and want to write about.

Of course, 100 songs isn’t really enough to properly cover 120 months’ worth of quality tunes, so I’ve extended the list to 200, the first half of which I’ll be running through 20 at a time in significantly more abbreviated form, before I start the full one-at-a-time entries–which, lord willing, I will be finished with before the calendar reads 2010.

#200. t.A.t.U. – “Not Gonna Get Us” 10.0 for concept…maybe like an 8.2 for execution. This was as close to perfect as it got, certainly.

#199. MIMS – “This is Why I’m HotAccurate enough for as long as it lasted. I don’t know if MIMS should be credited or berated for not following this up with any number of sequel songs, however. “This is Why I’m Cool As Well”? “That Was Why I Was Hot, This is Why I’m on Fire”? “Still Hot After All These Years”? Still has seven months to go, I guess.

#198. OK Go – “Here It Goes Again You know, the song was pretty good too.

#197. Tweet – “Oops (Oh My) The inspiration for several awkward mock-stripteases at my high school’s talent shows, and also for a surprisingly good Ladytron cover. Plus, hip-hop videos that take place in ice palaces are always awesome.

#196. Norah Jones – “Don’t Know Why Maybe the mellowest, least imposing song to ever hit pop music (and its many meaningless award shows) with tsunami force. I dunno, I like it.

#195. Elvis Presley vs. Junkie XL – “A Little Less Conversation” The rebirth of The King, and/or the final nail in the big beat coffin. As far as junky dance music more fit for GAP commercials than dancefloors, it narrowly edges out The Wiseguys’ “Start the Commotion” and the Fatboy Slim remix of Groove Armada’s “I See You Baby“.

#194. Los Campensinos – “You! Me! Dancing!There were a good number of indie-pop songs written about dancing in the 2000s. I’m pretty sure this was the only one that wasn’t even slightly terrible.

#193. N.O.R.E. – “Nothin’You know the Neptunes had a pretty good decade when a classic like this is maybe their seventh-highest rater on my list. Also notable for (presumably) being the only hip-hop song in history to reference both Creed and Smash Mouth.

#192. Nickelback – “Figured You OutYes, they were assholes. But I maintain that they deserve points for just how little they attempted to disguise that fact.

#191. Akon – “Right Now (Na Na Na Na)No question that Akon’s biggest contribution to 00s pop were the “WOOOOOO-OOOO….YEEEEE-OOOOOO!!!“s he provided Gwen Stefani for “The Sweet Escape,” but as far as solo efforts go, this was certainly the most delightful of his late-decade offensive barrage.

#190. Annie – “Chewing Gum” Hard to count the number of female pop stars in this country whose career Annie was far more deserving of. Better luck next decade, girl.

#189. E-40 f/ Keak da Sneak – “Tell Me When to GoFor a few months, Bay Area was supposed to be the next big thing in hip-hop. Feel like this song was more than enough for me.

#188. Fabolous – “Young’n Considering that Fabolous was never anything more than a replacement-level rapper, he ended up on an impressive number of decent hit songs. First was best, though, with the call-and-response hook, the subway-set video (always a good idea, guys), and the foreshadowing of the ringtone-rap era by about half a decade. WOOO WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

#187. Jonas Brothers – “S.O.S.For one of the biggest pop phenomenons of the decade, the Jonas Brothers have left surprisingly few enduring crossover hits–Fabian and Leif Garrett can relate, no doubt. “Burnin’ Up” might be the closest, but this song is a little better, short and sweet and with just the right amount of synth. While we’re here, though, shoutouts as well to Aly & AJ’s “Potential Breakup Song” and Miley Cyrus’s “7 Things.”

#186. KT Tunstall – “Black Horse & Cherry Tree Dared to play the guitar in an era when all her other pasty VH1-approved compatriots were sitting behind pianos, much to the delight of Grey’s Anatomy viewers and American Idol contestants. Of course she’d been big in the UK forever, they’re probably thrilled to have dumped her on us. Let this be a lesson to you, kids–getting Sophie Muller to do your video is a very solid first step towards transcontinental domination.

#185. Scissor Sisters – “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” If it had been on their first album–before everyone who didn’t already hate them got sick to death of them–it could’ve been huge. As was, still their finest, least cringe-worthy moment by some distance.

#184. Hot Hot Heat – “BandagesYelpy, repetitive nonsense, but who doesn’t love a good organ hook? My roommate’s sister allegedly once pissed herself out of excitement at a Hot Hot Heat show, somehow that seems infinitely more embarrassing than doing so at a Kajagoogoo or Dead or Alive concert would have been twenty years earlier.

#183. Five for Fighting – “SupermanThe 00s turned out to be a pretty decent decade for self-pity, and Five for Fighting got them off to a hell of a start. Took me years to be able to even listen to it, but it seems quaintly charming to me now. Are they Canadian? They must be Canadian, right?

#182. Liam Lynch – “United States of Whatever The last gasp of the slacker generation, courtesy of the guy who was in some capacity responsible for Sifl & Oly. I haven’t listened to it in about seven years, so if it somehow stopped being funny somewhere along the line, please don’t tell me.

#181. Peter Bjorn & John – “Young FolksIn 2006 and into 2007, “Young Folks” was the little indie single that could, coming from humble beginnings to eventually get sampled by Kanye West, covered by Nena (yes, that Nena) and tapped by Josh Schwartz to introduce Gossip Girl to the world. Personally I think the song’s out of mysteries after the first minute, but a truly great whistle hook will scratch its way to the surface every time.

Posted in 10 Years 100 Songs (00s) | 6 Comments »

TV OD: Breaking Down Lambert v. Allen Before the Finale

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 20, 2009

Lambert - Allen

Well, credit America / the judges / Simon Fuller with this much–they got the final two right. Danny had as good a voice but was a little too vanilla, Allison had the talent but was still a bit raw, Lil Rounds peaked early, the blind guy was never really that good to begin wit and Anoop wasn’t quite funny enough to be a good consensus VoteForTheWorst selection. It’s been obvious for months now that these guys were the two best dudes in the competition, and it’s good to see them avoid getting upset by some unfortunate crowd favorite or less interesting virtuoso. Of course, as Clay Aiken, Kellie Pickler, Chris Daughtry and plenty of others have now proven, getting this far (or close to it) is now definitely good enough to build a career off of, and as Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Taylor Hicks have proven, winning isn’t really good enough to ensure any kind of long-term pop success. So the question isn’t just who’s going to win tonight, but which of the two has the better prospects for the prop world.

There’s no question, to me at least, that Adam is the deserving winner here. Admittedly I’ve seen only one full other season and bits and pieces of the others, but I’ve never seen a talent as electric as Adam’s on the show before. Watching him do “Black or White” during the Michael Jackson week a few months ago was the first time I’ve actually been somewhat stunned watching the show, where I actually stopped what I was doing and went “Wow, who is that guy?” There were no nerves, no sense of trying to find his voice or personality, no cheap rock star imitations as he pranced around the stage and nailed impossibly high notes–he was already there, fully-formed and magnificent. It was like watching Vince Carter at the 2000 Slam Dunk contest, where you can sense the rest of the contestants sort of looking at each other and saying among themselves, “Well yeah, I guess we still get to go too, but…is there a point?” He hasn’t disappointed since, taking whatever challenge the show’s given him (soul, pop, ballad, whatever) and nailing it. He turns Randy into a gushing fanboy, he gets Kara apoplectic, he makes Paula speak in tongues. Even Simon can’t find anything bad to say about him except occasionally criticizing his outfits.

On a lesser season, however, Kris might’ve just as easily been a clear victor. Kris’s talent is far less captivating but no less apparent–give the man a guitar, put him behind a piano, and he’ll do his thing every time, always sounding assured, in command and vocally spot-on. More impressively, he possesses an enviable ability to be able to locate the coffee house potential in any song, doing accoustic’d renditions of Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” and Kanye West’s “Heartless” that would have you absolutely convinced that they were written by guys named Mayer and Mraz if you didn’t already know better. If this hadn’t become a competition for second place back when there were still 13 contestants left, I’d be more than OK to have him as the season winner, but he seems to be resigned to his fate as runner-up–especially after the judges basically gave him a “Good effort, thanks for preventing this thing from at least being a total blowout” speech last night.

But here’s the thing. Even if Adam does win–and I’d be shocked if he didn’t, regardless of what any projection says right now–is he really in a better place to be a star coming out of the show? Moreover, has there ever been a star like Adam before? Vocally I guess he’s vaguely reminiscent of Steven Tyler and Freddie Mercury, but Tyler was never so feminized and Mercury was never so…emo, I guess. What’s his primary career track going to be? Lead singer of an arena rock band? Musical theater star? Torch singer balladeer? He could do any of them, probably, but it’s hard to say which he’d be best or most natural at, and pop music can be kind of unkind to people who seem unsure of their core musical identity. I think it was Paula who said last night that Adam would end up being “iconic,” and I think he’s got a chance at it, but it’s probably going to end up being all or nothing for Mr. Lambert. Is he going to be the golden-throated, make-up-wearing, stage-scorching rock/pop star of the 2010s? Or is he going to crash and burn and be a novelty act within months?

Meanwhile, Kris has the unbelievable career crutch of having one of the easiest-to-please, longest-lasting and most forgiving musical genres to just sort of slot himself into once his Idol tenure has finished–Adult Contemporary. There are any number of singer/songwriters or WGWPs (White Guys With Pianos) whose career Kris could  pretty much just slot himself into at the moment, and while both contestants are unquestionably good-looking, Kris’s Jamie Walters-meets-adult-Jesse-McCartney dorm-heartthrob getup is probably much more marketable than Adam’s brooding, near-goth sort of sexual ambiguity. While Adam’s ceiling is unquestionably higher, and it’s unlikely that anyone will accuse Kris of approaching “iconic” anytime soon, for the short-term at least, I’d say that Kris’s chances of becoming a regular force on radio and MTV are probably better.

Much will be told by the first non-Idol single that both dudes release. In the meantime, though, I’ll definitely be tuning in for the last five minutes of the show tonight–if Kris does somehow pull off the upset, it’ll be a bigger tragedy than The Cougar.

Posted in TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

I Sez: Ouch on The Goode Family

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 17, 2009

Look, there’s no question that there’s a derth of quality animated programming out there right now. Adult Swim’s lineup has been mostly running in place for years, South Park is almost at the same level as The Simpsons in terms of being past its expiration date, and the only thing really keeping Family Guy at a decent level of watchability is comparison to the other shows it made possible (or soon to no doubt be the case with The Cleveland Show, spun off directly). I even watched an episode of King of the Hill for work tonight, and dear lord–for the better part of a decade, that show was as reliable to give you between a 6 and 8 for every single episode as a classic-period Matchbox 20 hit, but now its cancellation is starting to look more and more like a mercy kill. There needs to be a new show from someone, somewhere, to pick up the slack.

Mike Judge, he behind King and Beavis and Butthead, among other quality non-animated fare, would seem as good a candidate as any to be the cartoon creator to step up and fill the void. But man, does The Goode Family look to be a huge, huge fucking whiff. I mean, a show about over-zealous liberals that satires political correctness? Being near-militant about recycling and veganism? Gawking at homosexuality? Making embarrassing gaffes while attempting to avoid being racist? This is really what’s being counted on to bolster FOX’s once-dominant lineup, to replace a show that’s been as sure a thing as there’s been on TV for 12 years and 252 episodes? It still makes me cringe most of the time when they do this kind of humor on otherwise relatively solid shows like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm; to build an entire show around it…it’s almost unfathomable.

And not only is it brutally unfunny, it’s also mind-blowingly out of date. Has this show just been in development hell since 1996? I mean, replace the shit about hybrid cars and Al Gore with some nonsense about hemp or saving the rainforest, and this show–especially with its staid, Judge-trademarked animation style–absolutely looks postmarked from a decade and a half ago. Why aren’t the characters also wearing beanies and tye-died shirts? Are they going to be kicking around a hackey sack instead of drinking in front of the fence? Will there be episodes centered around going to the HORDE festival? Jokes about how difficult it is to pronounce the coffee names at Starbucks? Who’s psyched for the Ani DiFranco and Jeanine Garofalo  guest appearances? And I thought Parks and Recreation was a dangerously unimaginative retread.

Worst of all, though–you’ve got a brand-new show to market to the McFarlane/Parker/Stone generation, to be one of the new rocks of your Animation Domination lineup, and the song you use to introduce it in your new audience is…“Two Princes”? The fucking Spin Doctors? Even back in 1996 that would have been a borderline unacceptable decision, to use the song in an ad in this day and age–and the year is currently 2009, unless we’ve lost sight of this–it ends up satirizing themselves better than it does their subject. I mean, nothing against the ‘Docs and all, and I like “Two Princes” as much as anyone (which is to say, a very small and pretty much negligible amount), but to use this song to promote a new edgy show is basically to run a disclaimer across the bottom of the screen that says NOTE: NO ONE INVOLVED WITH THE GOODE FAMILY IS NOW OR HAS EVER BEEN UNDER THE AGE OF 45.

Hey Judge and company–are you sure King of the Hill doesn’t have another couple seasons of fumes left to run on? Might not be the worst thing after all.

Posted in I Sez | 2 Comments »

Commercial Break: LeBron & Kobe, Kobe & LeBron

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 15, 2009

Well, I guess it has been over a decade since Lil’ Penny was dominating the airwaves. Whether or not the lack of loud-mouthed, hyper-enthusiastic hype-spewing puppet representations of superstar NBA players really left a gap in the leaves of TV viewers since then is a matter for debate, but I guess Nike figures that a classic formula never really goes out of style. Hence this pair of ads, sure to become timeout staples for the rest of the NBA post-season. The premise, in case you’re too lazy to click above, is of puppet forms of the two most dominant players remaining in the playoffs and probably the two most famous ballers on the planet at the moment, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, jawing at one another as they prepare for their respective championship runs. LeBron, having been there only once and yet to emerge victorious, plays the role of the excited young’n, while Kobe, having won three times already, sits back and lets his rings do the talking (and then talks about them a whole lot more just in case).

First off, these commercials are great. It’s been a relative dry spell for quality ads during these playoffs thusfar (minus the already classic Most Interesting Man in the World and the obligatory captivating failure of a Taco Bell ad campaign–I swear, EVERY year, without fail), but the actually NBA-related ads have been phenomenal–first those great slow-mo, B&W “Where Will Amazing Happen This Year?” playoff moments of years past, and now these Nike spots. They’re funny, they’re catchy, they’re technically impressive, and they’re going to be imminently quotable by the 75th time that I see ’em. Most importantly, they follow my #1 rule for commercial campaigns–they take an inherently ridiculous concept much, much too far (although not without a sense of humor about it, as when after Kobe goes through his big to-do about his championship rings, LeBron semi-rhetorically asks “Why do we live together?“)

The most brilliant part of ’em is probably that they make no effort whatsoever to capture the personalities–or even the voices–of the original athletes. I guess the Nike people figured that as long as they weren’t going to get LeBron and Kobe themselves (or that they wouldn’t be able to handle the acting assignment) for the ads, they might as well not even attempt the difficult (and potentially insulting) task of trying to replicate their mannerisms in puppet form. So instead we get these caricatures of Kobe as some sort of 60s-style jazz hipster (I venture to guess that real-life Kobe has never worn a hat like that before in his life) and of LeBron as a nine-year-old getting to go to Sea World for the first time. Hey, maybe this is what Kobe and LeBron are really like when they step off the court (although none of the reviews I’ve seen of Kobe Doin’ Work lead me to be leave as much), but I can’t help but picture the two of them watching these commercials from their mansions and nervously hailing their PR guys–“Hey…that’s not really what people think I’m like, is it?”

My one reservation about these commercials, however, is the assumed implication that LeBron vs. Kobe will end up being the story of the playoffs, as the two will invariably lead their respective teams to a showdown in the finals to once-and-for-all determine which of the two is the dominant player in the NBA at the moment. Personally, I’m rooting for it, especially on the highly outside chance that Kobe ended up winning the thing (I’m still fascinated by the dude, and have something of a great disdain for Mr. James), and obviously, so is the NBA. Bulls vs. Celtics in the first round showed that a classic match-up could still capture the public’s imagination, and now Crosby vs. Ovechkin over in the NHL showed how much a personal rivalry at the forefront of such a closely fought fight could galvanize the series, and the public watching it. Lakers/Celtics last year was great and all, but on a superstar level, it kind of had a three-on-one gang-up feel to it, given the C’s trio of marquee players. Kobe vs. LeBron..fans won’t have seen anything like it in decades.

But you know what? It might not happen. Lest we forget, the Lakers are still struggling through the semis, and for all we know they might not even get out of there, facing potential elimination in Game 7 at the Staples Center on Sunday. And even if they get through that, they’ve got the Nuggets–8-2 so far this post-season, with an equally potent star in Carmelo and an arguably superior supporting cast in Billups, K-Mart, JR, Birdman and company–to worry about. And hey, while we’re at it, the Cavs still gotta get through either the defending champs (Garnett-less yes, but still a team that has proven to be a tough out for anyone-) or the Magic (who don’t seem too intimidating, but for some reason seem to have Cleveland’s number in recent years). Kobe’s on thinner ice at the moment, but both still have a ways to go before they can start concerning themselves with personal vendettas. And this isn’t even the only ad campaign featuring the two’s rivalry to be circulating this post-season. If one of ’em doesn’t make it, it’s gonna be the Dan & Dave debacle all over again, no?

Well, if you see Ron Artest get called for a flagrant two and ejected on Sunday for flashing Kobe “menacing glances”…you know what shoe company to blame, I guess.

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