Saturday, July 30, 2005

Being Bobby Brown

When I first heard that Bravo was going to presenting the "reality" show Being Bobby Brown, my first question was "why?" Now that I have sat through some of the sometimes-compelling, sometimes-ghastly bits and pieces of the show, I kinda understand. Brown (above with his wife Whitney Houston and their daughter Bobbi Christina) is an interesting TV character...he and his family at times shamelessly mug for the camera and other times seem to forget that somebody is documenting the minutiae of their lives (which, if this series is to be believed, is an endless, often loud, often crass, self-indulgent party.)

At times it's like watching the results of a particularly gruesome car wreck, you know you shouldn't look at it because it really creeps you out but, for some awful reason, you can't look anyway. I'm not sure what the Browns expected this show to do...Bobby is an affable enough fellow but he seems to spend an inordinate amount of his time drinking and smoking and acting like an overgrown child; Ms. Houston comes off as a shrill, spoiled, glassy-eyed diva (she reportedly went into rehab right after filming this series) with no patience for any fans who cross her haughty path...but I can only guess they're living under the adage that "any publicity is good publicity".

One thing that I have had answered is the reason why Brown and Houston got together...and have stayed together for so long. In spite of everything else, they seem genuinely smitten with each other...two like-minded soulmates who found each other and have persevered despite all of those who predicted that they would not. They indeed have something in common.

A little bit of Being Bobby Brown goes a long way for me...but, that said, more power to them (and to Bravo for giving them another outlet to act out in public.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I've never had much patience for book series. Don't know why but even the best series...Isaac Asimov's Foundation, for example...loses it appeal for me after 3 books at most. But I...hardly alone, of course...have happily gone along for 6 volumes of the Harry Potter series and will, in however many months or years it takes J.K. Rowling to finish it, be patiently waiting for the 7th and final book in this charming series.

Perhaps that's part of the reason I haven't lost my enthusiasm for the fantasy series, Rowling has sworn that there will be an ending...a tale told in 7 engaging volumes...and I am more than interested to find out how the expansive, touching, comic, darkly adventurous story turns out.

While I quite liked it, on some levels I had found the 5th book...Harry Potter and the Order of the be my least favorite of the series (it was oppressively gloomy, it also felt padded [perhaps too long by 100 pages], and the titular hero was, teenage angst will do that to a boy sometimes, ill-tempered throughout most of it) so I approached this one with wary, lowered expectations.

I needn't have worried. The Half-Blood Prince is as dark and foreboding as Phoenix but the story fairly crackles off the page through the portents, betrayals, revelations (some of which will probably turn out to mean something other than seem to at first blush), and death. It's a grand yarn.

Rowling downplayed some of the bits that, after 5 books, had started to get a bit rote: the Quidditch games were a minor part of the story and, just as importantly, the increasingly tiresome "Cinderella"-like relationship between Harry and his cartoonish...and apparently irredeemable...aunt, uncle, and cousin was given short shrift. Instead she steamed ahead telling a compelling story here while, at the same time, deftly setting up the climatic final conflict between Harry and his arch-nemesis in the concluding book of the series.

They say that these books are getting kids to read and I hope that that's true (we certainly need as many avid readers as we can cultivate.) If I were a child when they first came out, I would have thoroughly enjoyed them too (just like the child in me...safely and happily ensconced in this cynical old adult body...does here and now.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rock Star: INXS

American Idol meets Survivor with a rock'n'roll edge? (Maybe AI's much touted rockers Bo and Constantine should have waited for this competition :-) Is this anyway to pick a new lead singer for an established hit rock band?

Well nowadays, I guess so. (Survivor honcho Mark Burnett and CBS certainly hope that we least enough of us to keep the ratings up.)

Fifteen aspiring young rock stars sing their young hearts for a chance to step in the frontperson role in INXS vacated by Michael Hutchence's death back in 1997 in a competition being hosted by Brooke Burke and judged by the band and Dave Navarro, erstwhile member of Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Judging by the first show some of the candidates are interesting in a good way and others are interesting in a "what the hell are you doing?" kind of way (the kids should probably steer clear of the Nirvana songs in future episodes.)

Hey, it gives the singers a shot they wouldn't have otherwise had and if it works for INXS, it's all good too. We'll see how it all sorts out in coming weeks.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Live 8

MTV and VH1 are taking a do-over on Live 8. After getting taken to school by, of all things, AOL last week, the "music" networks are trying to make amends this week.

I don't have that many good things to say about AOL (I'm still praising my cable TV company for getting high speed internet service so I could kiss the big A goodbye years ago) but their coverage of Live 8...with simultaneous feeds and, as far as I could tell, no service problems...made MTV look like a dinosaur (the same way MTV made radio seem hidebound and old-fashioned in the early 80's.)

On the other hand MTV's "coverage" (simulcast on VH1)...with its incessant commercials, the neverending blather from their insipid talking heads, and, worst of all, the truncated performances...was all but un-watchable.

Having been slammed all week (as well they should have been) by critics and viewers, today (Saturday) MTV and VH1 are presenting 10 hours of Live 8 highlights...10 hours of commercial-free, VJ-free music with complete, uninterrupted sets by various singers and bands that performed.

Better late than never, folks.

On a related note, I'm glad that Bob Geldolf and Bono were pleased with...and kind of taking credit for*... the 50-billion dollar aid pledge that the "G-8" nations promised for Africa over the next 5 years (double previous pledges) but I reserve the right to remain skeptical until those pledges are turned into actual aid on the ground. We shall see.

Personally I'm dubious that President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and the rest of the leaders really took Live 8 all that seriously though if they did pay some attention it's all good.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Trapped in the Closet

Having now seen all 5 parts of R. Kelly's "urban opera" ( pun intended...soap opera is more like it) series of videos, I have to say that it begs the question of whether our man R is a certified genius...or just certifiable :-)

Personally I think it's a real hoot...but your mileage may vary. The acting is suitably overwrought, the cliffhangers and "surprise" twists are perfectly silly, and, your better judgment notwithstanding, the climax (you'll pardon the expression) leaves you wanting more of this gloriously insane story (there be plot points dangling over all the place.)

"Trapped in the Closet (Parts 1-5)"...genius or madness? You be the judge...

For my part: hey R, bring on parts 6-10! :-)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Out-of-State Plates

When most of us clean out our closets we mostly find junk...odds and ends, stuff that should have thrown away and forgotten years ago...but when some bands clean out their closets they find cool music that slipped through the cracks (or didn't get the exposure it should have.)

Fountains of of the best "power pop" bands going...has cleaned out their closet (yeah, we're done with that metaphor now :-) and put together a remarkably tight, enormously entertaining 2-disc collection of b-sides (mostly from internationally released singles), live tracks, covers, demos, and other previously released tunes.

Fountains of Wayne are probably best known for "Stacy's Mom", that irresistible ode to boyhood infatuation, but they are not a one-hit wonder. They make the kind of delightful music...melodic guitar-powered rockin' pop with sometimes quirky, sometimes-sweet and heartfelt, always well crafted songs...that (almost) makes up for a whole lot of the crap that comes out under the umbrella of pop.

Out-of-State Plates manages to deftly sidestep two pitfalls of collections like this: a lot of bands' unreleased material deserved to be left unreleased and most artists can't sustain creative momentum over two CDs. A lot of the original tunes here...written by Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger...are of such quality that it is remarkable they didn't make the cut on other Fountains discs...and the overall quality of the 28 selections (some are inevitably better than others but there's not a real clunker in the bunch) makes the discs breeze by.

The covers here are up to the task of standing by the original songs. From a crunchy live version of ELO's "Can't Get it Out of My Head" to a rockabilly-tinged "Today's Teardrops" (a Gene Pitney song made famous by Rick Nelson) to lovely readings of Jackson Browne's "These Days" and Burt Bacharach & Hal David's "Trains and Boats and Planes" (immortalized by their muse, Dionne Warwick.)

There's also a subdued version of "...Baby One More Time", the Britney Spears hit that others have covered (with varying degrees of irony) of late. It works fine.

It's a wonderful collection if you're a diehard fan or even if all you know about Fountains of Wayne is the cheeky chorus of "Stacy's Mom".

Friday, July 01, 2005


As I've said before, I am not a hardcore hip hop fan...I like some and can do without a lot of it. Common is one hip hop artist who does command my attention and appreciation. Common's last disc, Electric Circus, was a wildly eclectic affair audacious in its genre-hopping ambition. Not all of it worked but you had to admire the sheer creative breadth of it (well, I did anyway.)

Be, mostly produced by Kanye West, brings the focus back on tight mid-tempo beats and funky hooks (along with judiciously chosen samples) that keeps the attention on Common's smooth flow and his vibrant raps about love, faith, respect, and empowerment.

There are the seemingly mandatory guest spots (no hip hop album seems complete without them for whatever reason)...West on a couple of tracks (including a live track recorded on "Chappelle's Show" with an intro by Dave himself), John Legend, John Mayer (singing backgrounds on the feisty "Go!"), Bilal, and the legendary Last Poets (on the gritty "The Corner")...but Common never surrenders his rightful place in the spotlight (except for when he gives over the second part of the inspirational closer, "It's Your World", to a chorus of children telling dreams of what they want to be when they grow up and to his father reciting a poem about being all you possibly can be over a subdued beat and lovely piano accompaniment.)

Be is taut (clocking in at a shade over 42 minutes), soulful, uplifting, clear-eyed, and intoxicating slice of hip hop wonderfulness.