Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Archive for May, 2010

Request Line: “I Got You,” “Hurts So Good,” “Another Girl, Another Planet,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 30, 2010

Reader Jonathan writes:

I’m a huge fan, have been for many years. My requests: “I Got You” by Split Enz, “Hurts So Good” by John Cougar Mellencamp, “Another Girl, Another Planet” by The Only Ones and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something.

Good to hear from you after all these years, Jonathan. And some fine choices, if I may say.

Maybe the tensest love song ever written. Which is a little odd, considering if you looked at some of its lyrics on paper–namely, the classic opening line “I got you / And that’s all I want”–it’d seem sentimental almost to the point of sap. Even that starter couplet carries a wave of unease to it, though–the way singer Neil Finn seemingly jumps into the measure a step too early with the “”I got YOU!!,” reeking of over-anxiousness, before catching his voice betraying him and settling into the by-comparison disarmingly reversed “…and that’s all I want.” Of course, with that musical backdrop–the creeping minor guitar chords, the slinking drum shuffle, and those endless layers of twilight synths–even the first verse and chorus of “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” could probably be made to send like something off Disc 2 of The Wall. Read the rest of this entry »

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Take Five: One-Hit Wonders Behaving Badly

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 27, 2010

Pop music is all about knowing your place. Legacy can most easily be defined as intentions divided by results, with the return being better the closer the two quantities are. If you foisted just one song on the general public over the course of your career, and you didn’t try particularly hard after that, chances are you will be looked favorably upon in history–assuming the song was at least half-decent and didn’t stick around too long past its sell by date. But try to stretch that one hit into four or five lesser numbers, refusing to go quietly into that good night, and the image starts to corrode, as we begin to wonder why we ever even let you hang around in the first place. Not everyone gets to be Madonna or Michael Jackson, and frankly, if you ask me, it’s a lot easier and not particularly less noble to shoot for Stacey Q or Rockwell instead. Learn it, live with it.

This could have been one of the great eras for one-hit wonders in popular music. The last three or four years have featured an impressive stream of quirky pop hits by largely disposable pop artists–as most chart-watchers will tell you, this is a good thing, a trend that should be both celebrated and protected. Yet a couple troublemakers in this class of up-and-comers-and-then-goers simply refuse to be team players, attempting to stretch their fifteen minutes into half-hours and longer with lesser follow-ups and uninspired reinventions. They pollute our airwaves and cause irreperable damage to their lingering memory. Of these recent fugitives from pop justice, here are the five most wanted subjects. Read the rest of this entry »

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That Guy Salute: Unimpressed Girl in Greyson Chance Video

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 27, 2010

By now, you have no doubt seen or at least heard about the video of one  12 year old Greyson Michael Chance, a.k.a. Little Lord Gaga, performing Ms. Gaga’s 2009 smash “Paparazzi” on piano at some sort of sixth-grade music festival. (I feel comfortable assuming you already know about this, because I know about it, and these days it takes a long fucking time for the YouTubes to trickle down to my level.) It is of course a stunner of a performance, and Chance is obviously an incredibly musically talented individual (it’s hard enough for me just to figure out how to sing and play Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” on the guitar at the same time), as well as something of an odd duck–I imagine the number of Oklahoman middle-schoolers who believe it would be in their own best interest to perform an operatic cover of a Lady Gaga song in front of an audience of peers to be a relatively small one (and even smaller would be those whose own musical compositions included a song about an old couple taking turns dying of cancer). If he goes on to challenge The Bieb for pre-adolescent hearts and BET Awards, more power to him.

But it’s not Chance that I’m interested in for the purposes of this article. Rather, I am fascinated with his rapt audience, a cadre of young females (was Greyson the sole male representative at this music festival? Or was the church it took place in separated by gender, and an equal number of drop-jawed happened to be on the other side of the camera?) unaware of the fact that they were about to become part of music history. I hope that as much celebrity has been afforded Chance as a result of this video’s success, a fraction of it goes to the girls who helped make it happen as well. Mostly, I hope it goes to Unimpressed Girl.

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Request Line: “Rock and Roll Friend,” “Relief,” “Mr. November,” “Delirious”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 26, 2010

Reader (and one-time Stylus co-writer) Ian Mathers writes:

Here’s my four songs request:

The Go-Betweens – “Rock and Roll Friend”
Sam Amidon – “Relief” (it’s an R. Kelly cover, by the way)
The National – “Mr. November”
Vistoso Bosses – “Delirious”

Some new faces to the program in that bunch. Cool by me.

Not sure why I don’t know more about the Go-Betweens than I do. As one of the more beloved of 80s alternative bands, they’ve certainly never been too far from my wheelhouse (and at one point in my life were undoubtedly smack dab in the middle), but aside from scattered singles here and there, I’ve never really delved to deeply. Maybe it’s just the sound. The Go-Bees (fans call them something like that, right?) really seemed to master that whole wistful, pained, sublimely sad kind of feeling with their mid/late-80s sound, and my heart can only take so much of that in one sitting. For whatever reason, I have a much higher guttural tolerance for music that’s cartoonishly miserable or just unapologetically pathetic than the kind of sepia-toned yearning that these guys seem to be selling. Not that it’s not great, or that it can’t be great– I at least like all the songs I’ve heard of theirs, “Part Company” probably being my favorite–but man, if I had to sit down for a 42-minute LP’s worth of it, I just don’t think I could make it through without collapsing to the floor in a twitching ball. No logical explanation, just how I’m built. (Maybe I should stick to the early stuff instead–“People Say” and “Lee Remick” are splendid.)

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Request Line: “Is This Love?”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 25, 2010

Reader Kevin Writes:

Hey, longtime reader here. Following up a reference in a previous “Request Line”, how about four songs of the same name:

Bob Marley “Is This Love”
Whitesnake “Is This Love”
Survivor “Is This Love”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! “Is This Love?”

Few things I love more than comparing random songs that happen to have the same title, Kevin. By all means.

Few artists are as hard for critics to talk about as Bob Marley. That’s because for a guy who probably should inspire the same kind of reflexive reverence as Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer, Marley comes with the weightiest of musical-discourse albatrosses around his neck: The Fratboy Seal of Approval. In just the three decades or so since his death, Marley’s legacy has been reduced in American culture from that of a political figurehead, musical innovator and cultural ambassador to a poster in a head shop and a copy of Legend in the CD binder of your high-school classmate with the tie-dyed t-shirts and the ratty hair. (The Onion brilliantly summed up this phenomenon about a half-decade ago with their classic “Bob Marley Rises From Grave to Free Frat Boys From Bonds of Oppresson” article–sample Bob quote: “Professor, he flunk you all the time. Policeman, he ticket you for the noise. Board of Regents, they make so many rule, try to keep the fraternity music down.”) It’s not Marley’s fault, and really, it isn’t even the fratboys’ fault–it’s not their fault that Marley’s rebel rock and songs of freedom happen to sound very, very good at Saturday morning wake-and-bakes. But it can make it distressingly difficult to talk seriously about a song like “Get Up, Stand Up,” when in the back of our mind will always be an image of a twenty-year-old bearded and beaded white male, cup of beer in one hand, pointing to nowhere in particular with the other one, chanting “Don’t geev up da fiiiight!” (I understand the appeal–I did it myself when I saw the sans-Marley Wailers open for 311 in concert once. It’s fun.)

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Friday Request Line: The Andrew Bujalski Filmography

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 21, 2010

Hey–it’s been too long, I know. There’s been family crises and NBA/NHL playoffs and other stuff that gives me too much of an excuse not to write more. But you guys have been giving me really good stuff to write about recently, and I do appreciate that. Over the course of the next week I’m going to knock off a whole bunch of the requests, and hopefully try to sprinkle in one or two originals as well. I can’t go every day on this blog like I used to, but I shouldn’t be missing whole weeks at a time. Hope you can forgive and forget, and continue to give me great shit to work with. Speaking of which…

Longtime friend of the blog Garret writes:

I just watched “Beeswax,” the predictably very good new Andrew Bujalski film that starting making the rounds last year and became available on DVD a few weeks ago. I know you’re a fan of this guy and understand why his films are treasures of American independent cinema. What I’m getting at is that the Intensities tribute to Andrew Bujalski’s filmography is long overdue. Consider it.

I am most certainly a fan, and am glad that you gave me the necessary motivation to finally watch Beeswax, which I’d been putting off watching, as I put off watching all movies that aren’t shown in multiplexes for months on end or appear on my parents’ endless stream of pay movie channels the few weeks I stay there each year. Consider it considered.

The first Bujalski movie I watched was Mutual Appreciation. I saw it in the theaters with my friend and a couple of girls he knew. I can’t recall ever having my mind blown by a movie like that–at the very least, it was the first time I could actually feel my brain squirming uncomfortably at what I was seeing and hearing. Usually when one testifies about a revelatory experience, it’s the tale of experiencing something that they’d never experienced. In the case of Mutual Appreciation, my shock and awe was at experiencing something that I actually experienced just about every day of my life, but in the context of watching a film instead of, well, living. One of the girls I saw it with didn’t care much for it–“I could’ve just hung out with my friends for two hours instead,” she explained. She was right, probably, but to me, that was sort of the whole point.

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Friday(-ish) Request Line: “Bad Romance,” “NY State of Mind,” “Plateau,” “Go Your Own Way,”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 8, 2010

Reader Dan writes:

Here is my request:

“Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga
“NY State of Mind” – Nas
“Plateau” – The Meat Puppets
“Go Your Own Way” – Fleetwood Mac

Kinda dispensing with the formalities, huh guys? Anyway…

The crazy thing for me with regards to Lady GaGa is that when she first came out, I totally thought she was just another faceless pop chick. (I also thought for months that she was black–not entirely sure why.) “Just Dance” was a good song, sure, but it wasn’t the kind of song that really screams New Horizon–it was just a highly above-average song about loving pop music. I actually liked that song a lot, and “Poker Face” might have been even better–it had a couple really original-sounding, ear-worming hooks that absolutely screamed mega-hit, and it surprised me little when it quickly reached that fate. But by then it was starting to get clear that GaGa had loftier goals in mind. Her videos, her interviews, her wardrobe…it all started to stray off the beaten path a little. Then, the 2009 VMAs happened, and it was clear that there was no going back: GaGa was weirdo performance artist first, disposable pop musician a distant second.

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