Friday, July 18, 2008

Considerations: Warren Zevon's "Desperadoes Under The Eaves"

I was listening to Warren Zevon "listening to the air condtioner hum" at the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel this morning, a nice reminder of the genius of this tune. The narrator has just woken up from what would appear to be a regular routine - a lot of drinks, some girl, who knows what else. But the morning offers time to reflect, and even vow to rise up anew. By the end of this short but poignant song, we know it's not gonna happen.

"Still waking up in the mornings with shaking hands / And I'm trying to find a girl who understands me / But except in dreams you're never really free / Don't the sun look angry at me"

He then proceeds to sit there and listen to the air conditioner hum for the rest of the song's duration. This ending comes, of course, after the narrator (Zevon himself?) has already admitted that "if California slides into the ocean / Like the mystics and statistics say it wil / I predict this motel will be standing / until I pay my bill." So he never really was going to try and fix things.

This is the best-written cynicism I think I've ever come across.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Considerations: Mama Told Me (Not To Come) by Three Dog Night

Who doesn't love a good one-shot? By this I mean a tune that is popular solely by dint of being odd, strange, weird or offbeat? This isn't to be confused with one-hit wonders, which are bands that hit the charts once and never do so again. I'm talking about stuff like Neil Young's "This Note's For You," in which he rails against being sponsored by Pepsi or Coke, or, well....I'll keep working on it.

But I went to a concert last night and the singer referenced "Mama Told Me (Not To Come) - originally written by Randy Newman, made famous by Three Dog Night - and now it's running round in my brain. The stoner narration, the goofy lyrics, the creaky zombie musical backing - it's quite a fun song, all about showing up at a wild party that's just a little above the comfort level of the person who walked through the door.

"Want some whiskey in your water / Sugar in your tea / What's all these crazy questions they askin' me /This is the craziest party there could ever be / Don't turn on the lights, 'cause I don't want to see / Mama told me not to come / Mama told me not to come / That ain't the way to have fun, no."

This song for me has always been a sonic touchstone, of sorts, something to pull out of one's head whenever the situation at hand gets to be just a little too much. As you might guess, it's a song that gets a lot of use

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If Bruce Springsteen married The Faces....

....I supposed you'd get a band like the Star Spangles. I'm listening to a lot of WRXP these days - the New York station with a playlist that actually includes interesting music, both old and new - and these guys' song, "Take Care of Us," hits a good spot.

They've got a dense, early-Springsteen musical sludge going on - too many instruments for the mix, perhaps? - but sound a more sprightly than Bruce might have when he was warbling fare like "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?". I'd like to hear a second song before making the judgement call as to whether these guys are worth following.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Great Summer Songs (first of a series?...)

I couldn't say for sure that Van Halen's "I'll Wait" was a summer song per se (I bet "Panama" was), but I hereby nominate it for "Great Summer Song." The (now primitive) "Haunted Mansion" synth washes, the galloping drum beat, David Lee Roth's kooky lear.....a great beach tune. Any other candidates? Send em along....

Sunday, July 6, 2008

No Fat On This Pork

People who know me will be surprised by this one, but I'm quite taken with Weezer's new single, "Pork and Beans." Clever little hooks and the usual whiny narration explode into a heavy Korn/Staind/whoever guitar riff that sounds a little too perfect to be done without any irony to it.

Rivers Cuomo sings about how bad off and nerdy and unattractve he is, and wonders if he got Timbaaland to produce his next album whether he'd be as popular as Justin Timberlake. Then the song dissolves into the kind of proto-metal guitar hook that ought to snare any kid between the ages of 15 and 21 - which goes completely against anything else I've heard by Weezer, so i makes me wonder if the band isn't simply taking what has quickly become a musical cliche and subverting it to its own melodic ends. This article makes me think that's so.

Eugene Edwards is the new Marshall Crenshaw

I just heard this song by a guy named Eugene Edwards and was immediately transported back to Marshall Crenshaw's debut disc. Simple but crisp drums, bass and guitar with the same kind of power-poppy sounds you've come to know and love from Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, Matthew Sweet or any of those other folks who treasure a good melody over shredding a guitar. I'll need to do some more research, but the song sounded good to these ears.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

WTF, My Morning Jacket?

I'm having some problems with this one tune by My Morning Jacket (watch it here).

I've come to know the band as a ersatz Buffalo Springfield meets Pearl Jam, a hybrid rustic/roots band with a little metal on the brain. So the latest release includes "Highly Suspicious," which uses Prince falsetto and backing vocals that sound like they came straight out of Styx's "Mr. Roboto." I'll be blunt: This stuff takes some getting used to.

In a recent issue of Paste, MMJ lead singer Jim James got his nose of joint about the idea of people always trying to compare new music to old. Why try to label his work rather than just listening to it, he seems to ask (I'm paraphrasing. I can't bear to go back and read a looooong story in a music magazine). But when you trot out stuff like "Highly Suspicious," complete with a lyrical nod/sexually-tinged reference to "peanut butter pudding surprise," you're gonna get people saying, "Hey that sounds like....."

I'd like to agree with Jim James. In a sense, he's right. Lazy listeners try to describe what they hear in the context of what they've already heard. But when a band wears its influences on its sleeves, or just steals outright, it's gonna draw comparisons to work that came before.

Petty's Angry

Just saw Tom Petty play Madison Square Garden ten days ago. It's funny that the only new music he has out is from what is essentially his college-years band (don't think he went to college).

The band's name is Mudcrutch, and is essentially the Heartbreakers plus two other guys (anything Petty does, even his solo work, typically includes his keyboard player Benmont Tench and his guitarist Mike Campbell. There have been other Heartbreakers, but only these two have made it through all the years with Tom)

Anyhoo, I can't get this song from their only album out of my head. It's "Scare Easy," and it's vintage Tom Petty - snarling, ticked off, filled with the usual "watch it there buddy" tone that is so much a part of songs like "I Won't Back Down," "Even the Losers" and "You Got Lucky." Most of Petty's narrators seem to be folks that you wouldn't want to catch you trespassing on their lawn, for fear they'd show up with a shotgun pointed at you.

Back to "Scare Easy": It's the usual defiant melodrama. "My love's an ocean/You better not cross it," warns the singer. We find that he's tired, he's hurt, but in the end, "I don't scare easy /Don't fall apart when I'm under the gun / You can break my heart / And I ain't gonna run /I don't scare easy / For no one."

A good Tom Petty song is like a raised middle finger with backing by a great garage-rock band.

I'm Back, I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide

Yeah, yeah, I stopped posting for a long while, but want to give this one more try. Won't you be....won't you be....won't you be my reader?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jason Minus The Scorchers

Here's a review I just wrote of the latest compendium (there are many) of the work of Jason Ringenberg, who has labored mightily to show there's life after his beloved hard-rocking Scorchers (They came up with what is to my mind the best goddamed Bob Dylan cover ever with their take on "Absolutely Sweet Marie").

I once met Jason and his guitar player Warner Hodges, a great thrill. They were really nice guys and indulged me as I asked them about rare songs they played in concerts I had seen. Anyway, give Jason the benefit of the doubt. In a better world, he'd have a much bigger career