Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Am I a big fan of the Beatles? You betcha! Am I a fan of so-called “mash-ups”? Not so much. Those two things together let me to believe that I might not like Love…Beatle classics re-worked, remixed, and re-imagined by producer George Martin (arguably the best candidate for the title of the “fifth Beatle”) and his son Giles Martin for the Vegas Cirque de Soleil Beatles show of the same name…but I was wrong.

Once the gorgeous a cappella vocals (aided and abetted with the singing birds from “Across the Universe”) of “Because” led into snippets of “A Hard’s Day Night” and “The End” just before the always-rocking “Get Back”, I knew that this disc…which took over two years to complete…was indeed a labor of love and not the abomination that it could have become in lesser hands.

The sound on this disc is utterly glorious (“Revolution” and “Back in the USSR”, for example, both explode out of the speakers with fierce fire and bite.) The only new music here comes from strings (beautifully arranged but a tad ovewhelming) added to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”…everything else is taken from the original recordings (which George Martin, as the original producer, knew quite intimately, of course.)

The vocals and backing tracks are sometimes chopped up and put back together in intriguing, entertaining ways (the rhythm track of “Drive My Car”, for example, becomes the seamless foundation for a rocking medley featuring that song along with “The Word” and “What You’re Doing”…while “Sun King” is run backwards for the oddly compelling “Gnik Nus”.)

The medley of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy”), and “Helter Skelter” is dense and psychedelic while the guitar from “Blackbird” flows sweetly into and through “Yesterday”.

Not everything works. There’s a hodge-podge of snippets in “Strawberry Fields Forever” (including the trumpet from “Penny Lane”) and it is, admittedly, a bit of a misfire. Sometimes I got the feeling that some of the tracks would make more sense if I had seen the Vegas show (this is basically a soundtrack album after all) but those feeling were fleeting (probably because the music is so familiar and cherished already.)

Some purists are already crying “heresy!” (some of the comments about this disc on Amazon, for example, are downright vitriolic and totally unforgiving) and that’s their right, of course, but I think it’s a bit of an overreaction. Love is an interesting, and often successful, experiment…it doesn’t supplant or blaspheme the original classics (which are still out there to be enjoyed in all of their undeniable original glory)…it’s just a bit of heartfelt fun that is at once wonderfully familiar and, at the same time, a fine new experience with the Fab Four.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The All-Time 100

Time Magazine has thrown out the discussion gauntlet with their All-Time (hah! I get it!) 100. The 100 is their list of the “greatest and most influential records ever”. There is, of course, no way that any pop music fan will look at their choices and not feel that classic albums have been left off the list (and, at the same time, also feel that unworthy picks made the cut.)

The list runs from the 50’s to the 00’s. The 1970’s were, going by this list anyway, the most influential period as 29 of the 100 records where released during that decade. There are 4 from the 50’s, 22 from the 60’s, 18 from the 80’s, 18 from the 90’s, and 9 from 2000-2005 (no 2006 releases made the final cut.)

The list is skewed by the inclusion of boxed sets and greatest hits collections (including the monumental Phil Spector box set Back to Mono 1958-1969, Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Legend, and Chuck Berry’s The Great Twenty-Eight.) 4 of the 9 choices from the 2000’s fall into one of those categories (and those albums…Elvis: 30 #1 Hits, Sam Cooke’s Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964, Muddy Waters’ The Anthology 1947-1972, and The Essential Hank Williams Collection: Turn Back the Years…all showcase music that is decades old.)

The Beatles are, not surprisingly I suppose, most heavily represented on the list with 5 albums (Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, “The White Album”, and Abbey Road.) John Lennon is the only Beatle to place a solo album on the list (Plastic Ono Band…no love for Paul’s Band on the Run or George’s All Things Must Pass….)

Others with multiple entries include: Frank Sinatra (In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers), James Brown (Live at the Apollo, the Star Time box set), Miles Davis (Kind of Blue, Bitches’ Brew), Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Time Out of Mind…but not Blood on the Tracks!?), Aretha Franklin (I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Lady Soul), Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, Moondance), the Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street), David Bowie (Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust), Stevie Wonder (Talking Book, Songs in the Key of Life), Paul Simon (Bridge Over Troubled Water with Art Garfunkel and Graceland), Prince (Purple Rain, Sign o’ the Times), U2 (The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby), REM (Document, Out of Time), Elvis Presley (Sunrise, 30 #1 Hits...both of which were released a couple of decades after he died), and Radiohead (OK Computer, Kid A).

A lot of the other “usual suspects” are rounded up for the list: The Velvet Underground and Nico, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Clash’s London Calling,

Led Zeppelin IV, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Nirvana’s Nevermind, etc.

Hip Hop is well represented…Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Run-DMC, NWA, OutKast (though with Stankonia rather than Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), A Tribe Called Quest, the Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West)…as is rock…Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Black Sabbath, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, AC/DC, Metallica, Pavement, PJ Harvey, Hole.

There are nods to country (Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks), jazz (John Coltrane's wondrous A Love Supreme), and the blues (Robert Johnson).

This wouldn’t be my list (though I do own a fairly large percentage of Time’s choices)…nor yours I expect…but it is an interesting conversation starter. The entire list, broken down by decades, is here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


“Everything happens for a reason in season 3”, eh? Okey-doke.

Personally I’m not seeing it yet…the “plot” is murky and seemingly aimless (the optimist in me wants to believe that the writers and producers really do have an overall plan that they’re working towards…the cynic in me believes that they do not and they are, despite any protestations to the contrary, just making this stuff up as they go along)…and I’m getting bored waiting.

As the “fall finale” rolled out on November 8, I realized that nothing was going to be resolved soon (Lost doesn’t answer nearly as many questions as it continues to manufacture) and that I’m starting to not care one way or the other.

When we left off last season, Locke, Eko, and Desmond were caught in the implosion of the hatch (Charlie had gotten out before everything went to hell) while Michael (who had already murdered two of his fellow castaways) had lured Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley in the hands of the “Others” (seemingly led by “Ben”, a prisoner who had been tortured by Sayid and who was freed by Michael) in exchange for freedom from the island for himself and his son Walt. Michael and Walt sailed off into the sunset while Hurley was sent back to tell the rest of the gang to stay away. (We won’t bother with the guys in the polar monitoring station or the woman…Desmond’s paramour…who showed up at the end of the last episode of last season since they make no return appearances in the fall episodes.)

In the new season, Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were prisoners of the Others (Jack apparently in an underwater facility, Kate and Sawyer in cages that apparently used to hold the polar bears that had been sighted on the island) while the rest of the gang (none of whom seemed to care enough about the weird lights and noises to go check out the hatch…even Charlie who KNOWS something bad happened there) chilled on the beach. Locke, Eko, and Desmond ended up in the jungle despite the fact that the hatch imploded (Desmond lost his clothes, Eko got taken by the bears, and Locke almost got bonked on the head by Eko’s prayer stick which must have been hovering in the air for a long time…I’m sure there’s a good reason they were thrown out of the IMPLODING hatch rather being crushed but, of course, we are not privy to that information as yet) Locke and Charlie rescue Eko from the bears’ den while Hurley crosses paths with Desmond.

Sayid, Sun, and Jin sailed around the island looking for the missing folks (while en route they saw a giant statue that also went unmentioned in the new season) eventually coming into conflict with the Others (who wanted their boat) with Sun shooting and killing one of the Other women. Last we saw, the Others had taken the boat leaving Jin and Sun bobbing in the ocean. Sayid shows up back in camp in time to join Locke’s expedition to find Eko (who left the camp after seeing a vision of his dead brother)…no sign of Jin or Sun (and, as is par for the course with this show, no explanation from Sayid about their whereabouts.)

Ben has a life-threatening tumor he needs Jack to operate on…Sawyer and Kate finally become romantically involved…Eko has a final confrontation with the smoke thing…yet another mysterious guy (excuse me while I yawn…), this one with a sporty eye patch, is seen on one of the monitors in the monitoring station under the place where the plane crashed…Locke has rediscovered his faith and his resolve…Desmond seems to have some kind of precognitive abilities…the Others are building something (Sawyer and Kate are conscripted to work on the mysterious project)…there’s a second island…character flashbacks continue to abound…Jack’s holding Ben hostage on the operating table until they release Kate…Sawyer’s about to be executed in retaliation for the woman Sun killed…yadda…yadda…yadda…

It’s all supposed to mean something but increasingly it seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors signifying nothing (if the show is just supposed to be a somewhat spooky soap opera that just goes on and on then they should just say so and stop pretending that there’s really an over-arching story being told.) Lost is due to return in February (after the 13-week run of the déjà vu thriller Daybreak starring Taye Diggs) for 16 more new episodes to finish the season (but probably not answer as many questions as it poses along the way.)

Some of the characters are interesting…though the high body count among some of the potentially interesting regulars (Boone, Shannon, Ana Lucia, Libby, Eko) and the long stretches of invisibility among others (where in the heck were Rose and Bernard this season?) makes it hard to stay engaged with them.

For some reason, I still want to like Lost more than I do these days…and I hope that when it comes back on February 7, 2007 it does so with a vengeance and a purpose. I hope so…but I’m not gonna hold my breath on it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Happy Feet: Music from the Motion Picture

Happy Feet is another animated movie about delightful animals having charming adventures (we’ve had a few of those this year, haven’t we?…2006 must going for the record) that I will not be seeing until it hits DVD (nothing against animated movies about delightful animals having charming adventures…I’m just not willing to pony up 9-10 bucks for the experience.) This one seems to be about singing/dancing penguins (see? I told you…delightful…charming…it’s all there.)

This soundtrack is, like so many others, a compilation of pop songs that may or may not fit together without the context of the movie. On the CD, they don’t flow all that seamlessly but, that said, the individual tracks are a lot of fun.

The disc opens with some dialogue from the film which flows directly into the beat of a fun, inspirational, snappy new pop song, “The Song of the Heart”, by Prince. The song features a smooth beat, tasty horns, and sweet female background vocals (and a vocal break by, I can only assume, one of the animated penguins from the movie.) It’s a charmer all the way around.

17-year-old Gia Farrell makes her recording debut with the spunky “Hit Me Up” (which is featured in the commercials for the movie.)

The rest of the new recordings here are covers. Pink takes a funky stroll with “Tell Me Something Good”, a Stevie Wonder song originally recorded by Chaka Khan and Rufus. Another Stevie Wonder song, “I Wish”, is given the full-on gospel treatment by Fantasia, Patti LaBelle, Yolanda Adams, and a gospel choir (the choir could have pushed a bit further down in the mix for my tastes but the ladies cut loose and the thing still works anyway.)

Some of the actors lending their voices to the movie take turns at the mike with varying degrees of success. Brittany Murphy is more than up to the task of covering Queen’s gospel-flavored classic “Somebody to Love” (she’s no Freddie Mercury on the tune but she has a strong, soulful voice) and later she has fun with “Boogie Wonderland” (originally recorded by Earth, Wind, and Fire with The Emotions.) Robin Williams cheerfully mugs his way through Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” (sung in Spanish.)

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, get a bit lost in a strange mash-up of Prince’s “Kiss” and Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” (they sound okay together but the arrangement and vocals, despite a promising beginning by a breathy Kidman on “Kiss”, end up seeming more suited to a Broadway show than in the same company with the sprightly pop tunes that dominated this CD.)

Another strange mash-up, Jason Mraz covering Steve Miller’s “The Joker” mixed together with Chrissie Hynde’s take on Bread’s “Everything I Own” (???), actually works against all odds. It’s a loping, fun pop song.

(Again, I’m presuming these mash-ups will make more sense when seen in the context of the film.)

The disc also features the Beach Boys’ chestnut “Do it Again” and the Brand New Heavies’ propulsive “Jump n’ Move”.

K.D. Lang closes the disc (well, before an instrumental piece from the soundtrack) with a version of the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers/The End”, which is pretty enough (of course…it’s K.D. Lang) but kind of a somber way of ending the record (like the Kidman/Jackman offering, it seems a poor fit with the rest of the performances here…but, yet again, I’m presuming it makes more sense in the context of the movie.)

The Happy Feet soundtrack will indeed make you want to get up and dance…and there’s nothing wrong with that in my book.