Thursday, February 25, 2010

Whose Reality Is It Anyway?

Here's a brief roundup of snap judgments and potential overstatements.

Radio On The TV: Say what you will about The Who's performance during Superbowl XLIV - I say it was a damn sight more musical and vital than anything on the 52nd annual Grammy Awards. I leaned on the fast-forward button so hard through that travesty that I practically broke the remote. I felt so disconnected from what was going on during the show that it felt like I was viewing an alternate reality. Jeff Beck's homage to Les Paul was a treat, but where did he fit in? When a giant of music like Leonard Cohen is dismissed with a quick sentence, you can be sure it is not a reality I want to be a part of. 

The person who seemed to enjoy it the most was Beyonce, cheering and grinning from her front seat. Considering that what is really being rewarded at the Grammy's is salesmanship rather than musicianship, this is not surprising. That there were 35% more viewers this year than last was a bit surprising, however. Maybe they were tuning in for the Michael Jackson tribute, which featured a song some have called egregious but that I actually think is great.

As for The Who, or the Two, or whatever you want to call them, I have definitely heard them sound worse. While I hated the medley-like aspects of the set list and would like to see another bass player take the place of polite Pino Palladino, I enjoyed the rough and ready passion displayed by Roger and Pete. Considering that there might not be very many U.S. stadium shows left for the quadropheniacs, it seemed a fitting swan song.

Snap Judgments: I listen to lots of podcasts, read magazines, follow tweets, etc., in an effort to keep up. Of course it's overwhelming but what tends to happen is that through repeated exposure, certain names rise to the top and I am driven to seek out the actual sounds under discussion. Sometimes the result is simply: "Why?" For example, lots of talk about Midlake and their new album, The Courage Of Others (**). Four stars and lead review in Mojo, etc. I went to trusty Lala and listened to a previous album - wait, didn't we already have Fleetwood Mac? Then the new one. As one dreary song followed another, I renamed the band Middling. Like Fleet Foxes without the unearthly harmonies or iron-clad songwriting. Next!

And what of indie landfill like Beach House (**)? Why the excitement? If you think your little brother or sister will have their lives changed by finding this on your computer in 5 years, please let me know.

Then there is Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM (**)- stories everywhere, all about her scandalous parents, her accident, her outre performance in Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, her collaboration with Beck, the rhythm track created from an MRI recording. I was psyched! The title track (****), with it's MRI groove, was fascinating. Unfortunately, after a few more songs, I realized she can't really sing. It's just a breathy near-monotone on every song. She gets a lot of credit for her past and personality - if she and Beck had released just IRM as a single, it would have gone down as a classic one-off. Too bad they felt obligated to make a whole album. 

Same goes for Sade . When you go away for 10 years, expectations grow high. I have liked some of her stuff in the past, so I gave Soldier Of Love (**) a shot. Again - what a title track (*****). Best thing she's ever done, all jabbing strings and guitars set to a quasi-military beat, voice in fine form. Bring on the remix EP! As for the rest of the album, if I could remember any of it, I would let you know what it sounded like.

Speaking of icons on hiatus, I couldn't resist pre-ordering Heligoland (****1/2), Massive Attack's latest after a seven year absence. Even though 100th Window was a little ascetic, they're a very important group for me so I made the investment. This is beyond a return to form - it is a complete and intense work of art. My mental soundtrack is completely overtaken with fragments of these stunning songs. They have moved into a realm some distance from their earlier work, to a place that makes them neighbors with Scary Monsters and Remain In Light. This is art rock, even art songs, for the 21st Century. As brilliant as the original songs are, they have outdone themselves by curating a mind blowing set of remixes, included with the deluxe edition for a couple bucks extra. Not the time to be stingy, people. I would go on, but sample for yourself. Start with the the paranoid landscape they create out of the old reggae classic, Girl I Love You. For good measure, compare it to the source material and check out the remix  for the full experience. Horace Andy sings thrillingly on all versions and the haunting melody will stick with you, yes, forever. While it may lack some of the umami of Blue LInes (****), Protection (*****) and Mezzanine (*****), Heligoland is still a major statement from the newly reinvigorated group.

Some critics, bloggers, podcasters, etc., may rate these records in a way entirely opposite from the way I have. They're welcome to create their own reality. I just don't live there.

In two weeks: Mysteries of The Agora

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