Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Black Donnellys

Man, that Martin Scorsese is something else. One day he’s finally winning that elusive Oscar and the next day he’s presenting a new TV series on NBC. The Black Donnellys has all of those classic touches you’d expect from a gritty crime drama by Marty: the wiseguy narrator (complete with the…um…”cool” nickname of “Joey Ice Cream”), the freeze-frame cuts into and out of flashbacks, the hustling thugs trying to make a living on the mean streets, the tough guy dialogue (“What did you do with the body?” “You don’t wanna know”), the lovingly atmospheric cinematography that makes the hardscrabble streets look nostalgically inviting and only vaguely threatening, the staccato bursts of violence (lots of bullets and baseball bats and kicking…gotta have the kicking), the soundtrack featuring a blend of classical/operatic music and pop music (interesting choice to replace some of the classic rock Marty usually favors with the kind of emo pop that would feel comfortable on any given episode of Grey’s Anatomy…that Marty is a flexible guy, I guess.)

I presume that the result…an admixture of Goodfellas and (a low rent) Entourage with a heaping helping of the Irish-American vibe from the old soap opera Ryan’s Hope thrown in for good measure…is still a work in progress (the characters are all one-note ciphers thus far, for example, and the overall feeling is a bit more soapy than I expect from a good Marty crime drama) but I’m sure that Scorsese will…huh? What’s that? Marty didn’t do this? The guys who wrote Crash and Million Dollar Baby are responsible for it?


Allrighty then.

Nevermind. (Sorry, Marty.)

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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 79th Annual Academy Awards

Well that show was…something, wasn’t it…yikes…

(Every red state fear about Hollywood was confirmed as Al Gore…I kept expecting the crowd to break out into a chant of “Gore ‘08! Gore ‘08!” at any moment…got thanked [and lionized] more often than God did :-)

The show started off slowly…the cutesy self-congratulatory opening film…some tepid jokes from Ellen DeGeneres…the gospel choir bit that would have worked well on Ellen’s talk show but seemed more than a bit forced and out of place here…the first Oscar of the night for art direction (??) followed by a recap of the tech awards…and that was all before the first commercial break.

And things didn’t really go anywhere interesting from there. Certainly the only mildly amusing production number about comedy’s lack of representation in the Academy Awards didn’t help (no matter how hard Will Farrell, Jack Black, and John C. Reilly worked to try to sell it.) By the time the special effects “choir” hit the stage my eyes were glazing over.

The show was poorly paced…too many montages, too many shadow dancer things, too many Ellen bits that went nowhere near funny (she and her pantsuits tried hard, bless her heart, but it was only sporadically funny)…and something of a slog to get through.

Kudos to Martin Scorsese for finally getting one of the little golden guys (we can put that particular story to rest now) as well as to Melissa Etheridge and the Dreamgirls cast for breathing a little musical life into the proceedings.

The 79th annual Academy Awards show was not a winner…hopefully they’ll get their act together for the 80th and hit higher notes.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pop Culture News and Notes

Despite Axl Rose’s promises late last year, Chinese Democracy, the eagerly (?) awaited Guns ‘n Roses CD (10+ years in the making!) will NOT be out on March 6th (and in other news: water is wet.)

A new release date has not been set.

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Hey kids! If you’re 12 to 15 years old and want to be a performer (and someone who loves you is willing to pony up about 3,000 bucks), you too can attend American Idol Summer Camp! Idol Camp, a performing arts summer program sponsored by the production company that created American Idol, will feature classes in singing, dancing, and acting taught by entertainment industry professionals (including former American Idol contestants.) Each session of the camp, which will be held in Massachusetts, will run 10 days (the $2,900 tuition includes room, board, classes, and souvenirs.)

Idol campers, who are not required to audition to attend (if your check clears, kid, you’re in) will not be given any special advantage should they choose to tryout for Idol when they reach the proper age to do so (currently you have to be 16-28 to be allowed to take a chance to become the next American Idol.)

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Meanwhile, on the Idol mothership: the field was narrowed to 20 as Rudy Cardenas, Amy Krebs, Nicole Tranquillo, and barefoot Paul Kim (and his lucky underwear) were all sent packing. The women were, as a group, stronger than the men during this first week but it's still early in the process.

(And every time I start to think that Ryan Seacrest can’t possibly get any more insufferable, he goes and proves me wrong…)

This year’s star mentors will include Tony Bennett, Jon Bon Jovi, Barry Gibb, Jennifer Lopez, Martina McBride, Diana Ross, Gwen Stefani, and Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits (a band I’m sure all of the contestants know intimately…I hope there’s not too much struggle over who gets to sing “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” on the show…)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

City Beach

From the opening infectious lope of “Lazy Girls” to the wistful closing of “Disconnection” (featuring harmony vocals by the incomparable Emmylou Harris), Jill Cunniff’s solo debut is an engaging blend of tasty guitar picking, tropical and electronica beats, intriguing samples, shimmering, sweetly soaring harmonies, and, most importantly, her own luminous voice.

Cunniff, founding member (and lead singer) of Luscious Jackson (who have a new greatest hits collection out), has crafted a record that is sunny without being cloying (the throbbing “Love is a Luxury”, for example, is witty love song that artfully steps around love song conventions while the equally-compelling “Exclusive” is a heartfelt plea for monogamy)…a collection of songs that makes you sway your hips and move your feet without neglecting the kind of lyrical content that makes you think…makes you smile…makes you nod knowingly.

(And if your head isn’t bobbing during the propulsive, horn and guitar driven, “Future Call” you might want to make sure you still have a pulse J )

City Beach is, quite simply, a dreamy, delightful, rapturous pop record that washes over you like a cool, bracing breeze on a soft summer’s afternoon.

Jill Cunniff's MySpace is here

Luscious Jackson's MySpace is here

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More MKW blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dancing with the Stars 2007

Paul McCartney’s estranged wife, activist Heather Mills (above), is one of the contestants on next edition of Dancing with the Stars (which debuts on ABC on March 19th.) Mills, who lost part of one of her legs in a motorcycle accident, will try to put her increasingly messy divorce proceedings with Sir Paul (who apparently never heard the term “pre-nup”) on the back burner while she learns to do the tango and the other dances. Dancing producers say that she will be judged exactly the same as the other contestants despite her artificial limb.

The other contestants are:

Muhammad Ali’s daughter, boxer Laila Ali

Country singer and actor Billy Ray Cyrus

Former NBA star Clyde Drexler

Actor and former 'N Sync member Joey Fatone

Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey

Former Entertainment Tonight co-host Leeza Gibbons

Olympic gold medal winning ice skater Apolo Ohno

Actor Vincent Pastore (who is, perhaps to his chagrin, best known as “Big Pussy” from The Sopranos)

Model Paulina Porizkova

And Beverly Hills 90210 actor Ian Ziering

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Amazing Race All-Stars

The 11th time is apparently not the charm for me. I used to really enjoy The Amazing Race…it was fun and it breezed through exotic locales (and past mostly perplexed and/or patiently bemused citizens of the various countries the game barreled through) but watching the first episode of the “all-star” edition left me feeling an undeniable sensation of déjà vu (and not in a good way.)

Contestants running through airports and parking lots? Check. Contestants making snarky comments about each other while proclaiming themselves as the team to beat? Check. Contestants speaking pidgin English to non-English speaking taxi drivers and other bystanders? Check. Competitions built on silly (and somewhat condescending) twists on some aspect of the host country’s culture? Check. “Wacky” scenes of contestants getting lost on highways or in the wilderness? Check. Teammates snapping at and getting exasperated with each other? Check. Host Phil Keoghan standing inscrutably at the rest stop next to some one in colorful native garb? Check.

Been there, done that…and the return of former contestants really doesn’t make it any fresher (how many times do we really need to see professional reality show contestants Rob and Amber again?) or any more interesting. I’m probably not going to watch any more of The Amazing Race All-Stars but, acknowledging the good times from the past, I wish them well.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pop Culture News and Notes

The murder trial of rock 'n' roll producer Phil Spector (and, presumably, his hair-see above) will be televised, a judge ordered on February 16th, saying it is time for the justice system to get beyond the O.J. Simpson trial. “We have to get by that case,” said Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler. “There's going to come a time that it will be commonplace to televise trials. If it had not been for Simpson, we'd be there now.”

Spector, the legendary producer of such immortal rock & roll hits as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers and “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, is on trial for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson four years ago. Jury selection, which begins March 19th, is the only part of the trial that will not be televised…we presume that Court TV will be there for everything else.

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Matt Buckstein, an American Idol aspirant who made it to Hollywood (but no further) for the past two years (including his memorable performance as one of the “Brokenote Cowboys”...see below...during the Hollywood round and at the AI finale last year), has decided to run his own shadow competition on his MySpace page. As the “Lost Idol”, Buckstein will tape himself performing a song based on the weekly themes of American Idol at karaoke bar in his hometown of Denver and post the video on his MySpace page and on YouTube…he will use feedback to the performances as a gauge of if he should move on to the next week. If the reaction is sufficiently positive, he will continue…if not, he’ll stop just as if he had been voted off on the show.

Buckstein’s MySpace has some of his music…including “We’ll See”, a charming, heartfelt love song that he wrote…available for listening.

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Anna Nicole Smith has been embalmed but not buried. She joins James Brown in dead celebrity limbo…both of them unburied while their would-be heirs and keepers of their flames sue and counter-sue and make an avaricious mockery of their lives (of course, both of them could have avoided a lot of the lunacy by having their affairs in better order but like a lot of people I guess they both thought they had plenty of time to do that…turns out they didn’t.)

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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Thursday, February 15, 2007

American Idol '07 Semi-Finalists

After spending so much time on the audition rounds, American Idol blew through the Hollywood round (reducing the field from nearly 200 to 24) in two fast-paced hours. The judges culled through the would-be Idols and came up with the semi-finalists who will start competing for the votes of viewers starting on February 20th.

The gentlemen: Chris Sligh (28, Greenville, SC); Sanjaya Malakar (17, Federal Way, WA); Brandon Rogers (29, Los Angeles); Philip Stacy (29, Jacksonville, FL).; Blake Lewis (25, Bothell, WA); Rudy Cardenas ( 28, Los Angeles); Paul Kim (25, Saratoga, CA); A.J. Tabaldo ( 22, Santa Maria, CA); Nicholas Pedro (25, Taunton, MA).; Chris Richardson (22, Chesapeake, VA); Jared Cotter (25, West Orange, NJ), and Jason "Sundance" Head (28, Porter, Texas.)

The ladies: Melinda Doolittle (29, Brentwood, TN); Gina Glocksen (22, Naperville, IL); Haley Scarnato (24, San Antonio, TX); Jordin Sparks (17, Glendale, AZ); Stephanie Edwards (19, Savannah, GA); Leslie Hunt (24, Chicago); Alaina Alexander (24, West Hollywood, CA); Sabrina Sloan (27, Los Angeles); Lakisha Jones (27, Flint, MI); Nicole Tranquillo (20, Philadelphia); Amy Krebs (22, Federal Way, WA)., and Antonella Barba (20, Point Pleasant, NJ).

Some fans are grumbling about the capricious way the judges made their picks and indeed some people who seemed to be struggling through what little they showed us of the Hollywood round made it through while others who appeared to be ready for the show were cut…but these things are always subjective and I guess we’ll see how it shakes out.

The list of semi-finalists is interesting for a couple of other reasons. First, only 3 teenagers made it through (9 of the 12 men are age 25 or older.) And even though all 5 of the previous winners hailed from the South only 7 of the 24 semi-finalists come from the region (10 come from Western states…including 6 from California.)

What does it all mean? I dunno. Viewers won’t get a real look at how good most of these people are until the semi-final performance shows begin next week and the cream hopefully rises to the top as America picks the final 12. Game on, American Idol fans, game on.

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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pop Culture News and Notes

This year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model is, as you can see, Beyonce. She's wearing a bikini designed by the House of Dereon, the fashion label created by the Dreamgirl and her mom. SI says that Ms. Knowles is the first Swimsuit Issue covergirl who is neither a professional model nor an athlete.

The annual Swimsuit Issue also doubles as the Music Issue and it features models posing with Aerosmith, Kenny Chesney, Gnarls Barkley, Panic! at the Disco, and Kanye West.

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Man, that Robyn Troup (above performing at the Grammy Awards with Justin Timberlake and T.I.) is...well...a trooper. The 19-year-old Texan got bounced from the American Idol competition (as seen during February 13th's Hollywood round broadcast) but she picked herself up and went out and won the "Grammy Moment" competition to perform before millions during the show.

(Not good enough for Randy, Paula [who has been quoted as saying she's "never been drunk"] , and Simon but good enough for Justin? I'm not sure what that means...but hey, it worked out for everybody so it's all good.)

More MKW blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Monday, February 12, 2007

Random Notes (Grammys '07 Edition)

Nobody remembers who wins the Grammy awards. Okay, that’s an exaggeration…but not by much. I am lifelong fan of popular music and the Grammy Awards are one of only two televised awards show that I watch most years and the winners do not linger long in my active memory after the show ends.

With the Grammys, it is indeed the show…and not the awards (the Grammy voters are woefully out of touch most years) nor the winners’ insipid acceptance speeches…that is the thing (see recap of the 2005 show here and recap of the 2006 show here…jeez this is Neverending Rainbow’s third annual Grammy piece…we’re getting old :-)

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The last time I saw Sting on television he was playing the lute on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip…he was a little more interesting opening the show with the reunited Police on a potent version of “Roxanne”…

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Apparently, the Dixie Chicks are still not ready to make nice…hey, that’s cool (hey, nice dress, Natalie.)

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That Prince…ever the soul of brevity: “One word: Beyonce”…that’s cool, too. Then the Dreamgirl belted out “Listen” like the soulful pro she is.

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Damn it, they played Mary J. off before she could thank me (my name MUST have been somewhere on that seemingly endless list of “thank yous”...)

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Justin Timberlake's hand-held nostril-cam…yeah, that was good idea…

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Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend, and John Meyer sounded good together...they should form a band or something...

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Gnarls Barkley looked resplendent in their airline pilot uniforms and “Crazy” sounded cool even slowed down.

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What the hell?? Ludacris didn’t give me a shout out either? He name checked everybody including Oprah and Bill O’Reilly but not me…what’s up with that? :-)

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Okay, Mary J. (whose awards were apparently thanks to God) is forgiven for dissing me after the powerhouse medley of “Be Without You” and “Stay with Me”.

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Huh? Oh sorry…I must have dozed off…have Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts finished their Eagles tribute yet? (To be fair, Ms. Underwood acquitted herself well on the Bob Wills’ classic “San Antonio Rose”.)

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Somewhere in Smokey Robinson’s attic there has to be painting of himself as a very old man (hah, an Oscar Wilde joke!…I kill myself sometimes :-) And dude, who knew Nicole Richie’s dad could sing??

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Christina Aguilera doing James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”? It’s a bit over the top (of course) but it works (I think Mr. Brown would have given a thumbs up…especially when Xtina went down on her knees in her snappy white suit.) Diva of the night award by a hair over Mary J.

Nice touch draping the “Godfather of Soul” cape over the mike stand at the end of the memoriam clips.

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Ah yes, this year’s hip hop spectacle: Ludacris with Mary J. Blige, Earth Wind & Fire, and a bunch of girls carrying candles. Um, okay…

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Oh good, James Blunt got to sing the horribly under-exposed “You’re Beautiful”…maybe now it’ll get some more airplay.

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Contest winner Robyn Troup made the most of her “American Idol...I mean, Grammy Moment” with Justin Timberlake; she looked a bit lost every now and again but mostly she held her own.

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Chris Rock sez the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the “best band in the world” so I guess it must be true. (Chris also drew the only bleep I heard when he said the name of Timberlake’s infamous Saturday Night Live bit.)

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Coolest presenting team of the night? Queen Latifah and Al Gore, of course (that Gore guy is everywhere…you’d think he was running for President or something…)

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Ah, those lefty Grammy voters poured the accolades on the Dixie Chicks…Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Country Album of the Year (it really wasn’t a country record but whatever works…)

The Chicks seemed a bit embarrassed by the end of the show…they shouldn’t have been, Taking the Long Way is an excellent record…and more than a bit tongue-tied every they came to the podium to pick up another award.

Interesting enough show…it kept moving fairly well (these things always screech to a mind-numbing halt during the acceptance speeches but I’ve made my peace with that…it’s a good time to go to bathroom or to go grab a handful of grapes…)

More MKW blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Short Takes: Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, Rickie Lee Jones

Norah Jones – Not Too Late

Norah Jones’ new CD is much like her last two…filled with tasteful, mid-tempo playing and sweetly burnished with her sultry, smoky, delightfully-luminous voice. For the first time Jones had a hand in writing all of the songs…the themes don’t vary much (love and loss mostly) but for a gently-chiding tune about politics and patriotism (“My Dear Country”) and a soft, sober lullaby (“Rosie’s Lullaby” with harmony vocals by co-writer Daru Oda.) Not Too Late loses steam before it runs its course (the basically-unvarying tempo makes some of the songs bleed into each other rather than establish identities of their own) and a lot of it does not linger very long after its finished playing (there’s nothing here as indelible as “Don’t Know Why”, her shimmering breakout hit) but it is a soothing, charming, mostly entertaining musical journey just the same.

Patty Griffin – Children Running Through

Okay, with all due respect to (and continuing affection for) Ms. Allen, this is now my favorite CD of the year so far. If there were any justice in the music world, this passionate, beautiful, eclectic (sometimes it rocks…sometimes it soothes…sometimes it soars high through country skies….sometimes it sails deep into the welcoming waters of the blues) collection of grand songs…imbued with thrilling depth and soul by a earnest, undeniably lovely voice…would shoot to the top of the charts and make Patty Griffin a star. There’s not much justice in the music world so Griffin (whose songs have been recorded by talents as diverse as the Dixie Chicks and Jessica Simpson) will probably have to settle for being a compelling singer/songwriter who has produced a gem of a record. (Special kudos for the soft but urgent gospel of “Up on the Mountain (MLK Song)” and for having the ever-wondrous Emmylou Harris singing harmony on the bittersweet “Trapeze”.)

Rickie Lee Jones – The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard

Discordant and tenderly melodic…pious and acerbic…folksy and funky…rambling and focused…this CD is the sum of its contradictions, a “gospel” record that challenges and rewards its listeners. Rickie Lee Jones’ quirky, engaging vocal phrasings are in full effect and the songs…full of stream of consciousness lyrics and stripped down, sometimes engagingly ragged but always heartfelt playing…invoke Biblical images and ideas without ever becoming preachy. Jones is in fine…if sometimes decidedly odd…voice throughout (including and especially when channeling her inner Tom Waits on the raucous “Tried to Be a Man”, slipping into the Astral Weeks-era groove of Van Morrison on the rambling, evocative “I Was There”, or giving free reign to hopeful joy on the exuberant “Elvis Cadillac”.)

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Other MKW blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pop Culture News and Notes

Prince’s halftime show at the Super Bowl was a lot like the game: more than a bit ragged (and drenched from the constant rain) but entertaining just the same. With his set bracketed by “Let’s Go Crazy” and a wholly-appropriate (given the weather) “Purple Rain” with generous dollops of "Baby, I'm a Star", “Proud Mary”, "Best of You" and “All Along the Watchtower” in-between, you had to tip your hat to the guy…the little fella knows how to put on a show (and, to the delight of CBS’ censors, the now pious Purple One left his ass-less pants at home.)

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And, dude, who knew the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had so much power and influence? I mean, David Lee Roth getting back together with Van Halen for an upcoming tour…come on, all hail the power of the Hall! (And I'm sure the Hall had something to do with the long-estranged Police reuniting to open the Grammy show this weekend, too :-)

Now if the Hall can heal the rift between Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Melle Mel yet another of my rock and roll prayers will have been answered (and yes, Very Anonymous Mike, I’m still holding out for that Patti Smith/Ronnie Spector duet…maybe a medley of “Because the Night” and “Be My Baby”…or maybe a new version of “Take Me Home Tonight” with Patti taking Eddie Money’s place on the tune…)

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In “All You Need is Love” (and a couple of armies of attorneys) news: Apple Computers and the Beatles’ Apple Corps have settled their trademark dispute. One supposes that this might mean that the seemingly digital download-phobic Fab Four’s catalogue will be popping up on iTunes at some time in the very near future.

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More MKW blog stuff: Bread and Roses

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Alright, Still

I love Lily Allen…not in the pervy way (I’ve got shoes older than this precociously talented 19-year-old Brit) but because her music makes me smile…and laugh out (the devastatingly frank “Not Big”…including the titular reference to the guy’s manhood… is so deliciously wicked that any guy will be glad that the song is not about him)…and nod knowingly; because she paints vivid portraits of people and places she’s seen (“Nan, You’re a Window Shopper” is a devastating portrait of a woman shuffling through, rather than living, her life), and loves that have gone wrong; because her music enthralls me with its clever, acerbic, occasionally profane lyrics and its infectious, ska/reggae-flavored beats and potent melodies.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, my favorite CD of the year thus far.

The sunny music will make your toes top and beckon you to the dance floor but it’s the lyrics that pack the biggest punch here. “LDN”, for example, lopes along amiably (after opening with bright calypso horns that accent the rest of the song) even while turning an unblinking eye on pimps and crack whores and mugged old ladies on the streets of London. “Alfie”, a sprightly shuffle, is about a sister trying to kick-start her ne’er do well brother who spends his time sleeping, smoking dope, and playing computer games. The rap-inflected “Knock ‘em Out” is a jolly bit of business about fending off unwanted advances from skanky guys.

Cheeky kiss-offs abound (Allen seems a bit young to have had so many bad experiences in love…but, then again, who’s to say…I had my first heartbreaking crush in the 5th grade and it was real to me) from the insanely catchy “Smile” (about a former boyfriend, who cheated on her with the girl next door, futilely trying to get back with her), the aforementioned “LDN”, and “Friend of Mine”, a loping rebuff of a former love trying to get back in her graces after having badmouthed her in the wake of their breakup.

On the other hand, the sumptuous ballad “Littlest Things” is a bittersweet remembrance of all the small but indelible things that made up a love that was once magical and is now over.

On “Take What You Want”, Allen is at her sassiest when blowing off clichés rained down on her by elders (‘’good things come to those who wait”, “as one door closes, another one opens”) with a defiant declaration of self-empowerment:

Say what you say,
Do what you do
Feel what you feel,
As long as it's real.
I said take what you take
And give what you give
Just be what you want,
Just as long as it's real.

Well, Lily Allen is certainly real…and Alright, Still is a real pop gem.

(Lily Allen's MySpace is here)

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More MKW blog stuff: Bread and Roses