Was it really almost 30 years ago that Siouxsie & the Banshees, along with their buddies in The Cure, defined what it means to be goth? Just imagine: if they had decided to wear orange instead of black, how different the club scene would be today. Fashion choices aside, the Banshees, like Blondie, always seemed subsumed under the sheer force of their singer's personality, and their music naturally evolved towards pop, with the success of "Peek-a-boo" the greatest evidence of that transformation. But even that was 20 years ago. Does Ms. Sioux survive the transformation into a one-name persona?
Well, thankfully, her voice is as unique and captivating as ever. Check out "About to Happen," where she struts and teases her way over a beat somewhere between the retro-rock of Wolfmother and the glammy electro of Goldfrapp: "Tension mounts / about to blow." "Here Comes That Day," with its trumpets and loping beat, could be straight out of the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse school of updated R&B, but in Siouxsie's hands, it takes on a kind of vampy, cabaret-style appeal. That cabaret sound emerges full force by track 5, "If It Doesn't Kill You," where you can almost see the well-dressed patrons in a smoky lounge, drinking martinis as Siouxsie drapes herself over a piano.
Mostly, though, the sound is definitely current, but still idiosyncratic: it never tries too hard, and despite Siouxsie's longtime absence from music, there's nothing desperate about Mantaray. There's also nothing that urgent; if you never cared about Siouxsie and the Banshees, you probably won't discover yourself falling in love with Siouxsie now. It's the way of the world: a solo record, 30 years after your band helped ignite a whole movement, will probably be a more sedate, professional affair. But if that's a given (and considering how embarrassing these late-career "returns" can be), Mantaray is often very good, both as a tribute to Siouxsie the image, and as a purely enjoyable listen.
Mantaray is out now on Decca. MP3s: "Here Comes That Day," "Into a Swan," and "If It Doesn't Kill You" from Nine Bullets
And now, we turn with the usual trepidation towards those thermometers up the wazoo of our nation's zeitgeist: music sales charts. What are we buying, how sick are we? Let's take a look at today's iTunes top ten songs, and for added multimedia enjoyment, open up your iTunes program and listen to the 30-second excerpts of each song. It's 1/6 of a song, for free!
1. Britney Spears – "Gimme More"
Well, as I've said before, there are good things about this song, but none of those things involve Britney Spears. The track's climb to #1 seems to be evidence of some sort of scientific breakthrough: no matter how far an American celebrity dives down to the quantum level of supposedly career-ending debasement, the axiom of "no publicity is bad publicity" still holds true. It's a unified field theory of celebutards!
2. Soulja Boy – "Crank That"
Still hanging around near the top of the charts, I still believe this is a hit only because of the "youuuuu!" part. It's not bad, there's just so little going on: some inoffensive steel drum noodling and a car-commercial-style orchestral stab. But people sure like saying "youuuu!" along with it.
3. Kanye West – "Stronger"
Mr. West apparently not greatly damaged nor greatly assisted by his goofball SNL performance; still a great song.
4. Feist – "1234"
Does everyone at Apple touch themselves when this kind of thing happens? "Look, we put Feist in our commercial and turned the song into a hit! Our power is unlimited! We are so pretty, so very very pretty!" Well, I resisted Feist's charms to no avail: I now love this song.
5. Timbaland – "Apologize" (feat. OneRepublic)
One of the three tracks on Timbo's new album to feature alt-rock dudes in an ill-advised crossover attempt, this isn't even the worst of them. It's still pretty terrible though: a maudlin emo ballad laid awkwardly over a D-level Timbaland beat. You apologize.
The controversy over anti-gay lyrics in reggae music continues: performances by Sizzla and Elephant Man in Toronto have been cancelled following an outcry from Canadian organizations who came together under the "Stop Murder Music" flag. Police had already intended to monitor the concerts for "hate speech," but then promoters pulled the plug on the events, scheduled for September 28 and October 6th.
Stop Murder Music Canada founder Akim Larcher told the Toronto Star that the reggae stars "shouldn't have been allowed to get visas to perform in the country it's not about censorship or artistic freedom. That stops when hate propaganda is involved."
We've covered the controversy over anti-gay lyrics in reggae music here before, as well as the current kerfuffle over sexist and generally nasty language in American hip-hop. While I'm inclined to side with artists, since offense and shock has always been a part of art's power, is there a qualitative difference between calling for the murder of "batty boys" and calling women "hos"? Why do white artists seem to get a free pass, with the whole "I'm singing in character" defense? And when does exercising your right to free speech by protesting another's speech interfere with their right to, um, speak? Answers to all these questions coming up tonight at 11.
It's been nearly 25 years since the movie Wild Style brought New York's burgeoning hip-hop culture to a wider audience (and blew this little Nebraska boy's mind). Now, director Charlie Ahearn has compiled a book of photographs and stories about the creation of the now-legendary film. Called, appropriately, Wild Style: The Sampler, the book features luminaries like Fab 5 Freddy and shots of their early graffiti work; check out a gallery of pictures from the book at The Guardian.
It's kind of crazy to see all these pictures from 1983; the colorful style, nutty short-shorts and skinny ties could not be more hot right now. Where can I get a Fab 5 Freddy baseball cap?!
Anyway, here's a clip from the original movie. Look at Grandmaster Flash go, and in the kitchen no less. As hard as I've tried, I've never been able to do that thing where you go back and forth between two records, creating a one-measure loop; it's still awe-inspiring to watch.
Bruce Springsteen's new album is getting some good reviews (5 stars from Rolling Stone, "A" from Entertainment Weekly); I put its Magnetic Fields-reminiscent "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" in my Top Ten on Monday, but I couldn't find a good online sample for you to listen to. Now New York's Q104.3 has posted a stream of the entire album on their Web site here. Thanks, New York's Classic Rock! One more quote: The Guardian says Bruce is "a bulwark of artistic vision in a culture obsessed with youth." Wait, are you calling him old?!
With a career making songs about the working class and rural America, country/folk/pop singer John (Cougar) Mellencamp has similarities to Woody Guthrie, a guy who, in 1941 was singing for Dust Bowl refugees. Mellencamp even received the 2003 Woody Guthrie Award for "exemplifying the ideals" of the man. In his newest song, "Jena," Mellencamp appears to be embodying his hero's ideals again.
"Jena" is a quiet, restrained folk song written about the Jena 6, a group of six black teenagers that were arrested in December after an attack on a white student in Jena, La. Racial tensions have since flared.
The song is one of nearly 20 that Mellencamp recorded in August for a new album with T Bone Burnett that currently has no title, no label, and no release date, according to his publicist. But Bay Area folks might get lucky and hear "Jena" performed live this week when Mellencamp sits in with Burnett at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
A Huffington Post blogger suggests that Mellencamp take his politics to the next level and run for governor of his home state of Indiana. Um, I'm thinking Woody Guthrie would say stick with the guitar, sir.
Radiohead's Web site slows to a crawl after fans start pre-orders of the band's new album, In Rainbows. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood wrote a kind-of apology on the site, saying it was "busier than they expected," I guess referring to the rest of the band, but not himself, is he pulling an "I-told-you-so" here? Incidentally, the Billboard story refers to the magazine's "Buzz" chart that measures, er, blog popularity. I didn't know they had a chart for that. More "High School Musical" posts coming right up.
The Policewere honored with the Order of Arts and Letters at a ceremony in Paris on Monday. French Culture Minister Christine Albanel presented the high honor to the band, saying she expressed "France's full admiration and recognition." Sting, replying in French, said "we are very happy to be among your knights." That's right, he replied in French. Gotta love that guy.
Ugh. In the saddest development yet in a pretty sad story, Britney Spears has lost custody of her kids in a hearing Monday. Kevin Federline will take care of Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, "until further order of the court." Is this even music-related in any way?
10. Bruce Springsteen "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" (from Magic, out 10/02 on Columbia) (Listen to excerpts and compare to the Magnetic Fields at Vulture here)
Don't get me wrong, I think Bruce is great (especially Nebraska, since I'm from that state, go Huskers). But when I heard people were accusing Mr. Springsteen of stealing from my fave New York cabaret/experimental popsters The Magnetic Fields, I had to investigate. Turns out, yes, he's definitely doing a Stephen Merritt, and it's eerie, and actually pretty good. Over a simple violin melody and strummed guitar, Mr. Born-in-the-USA gets dramatic: listen to him hit that note on the line, "lovers they walk byyyyy." The day Merritt and Springsteen duet, no price is too high for that ticket.
9. Klaxons, Live at the Fillmore, Friday 9/28/07
I do not get this whole "new rave" thing that people throw at Klaxons. They're not even rave at all! There's a keyboard in like three of their songs! But people insisted on bringing glowsticks to this show and whipping them around on strings like I remember from 1993. Not that I did that even then. There was even a crazy guy dressed up like a dalmation-man or something, with giant-soled shoes. Anyway, the band. They were pretty good (despite the half-empty venue), but much more in the spirit of punk rock than rave: edgy, raw, intense okay maybe it was kind of rave-y. Bleep bleep!
8. Various Artists DJ Dub-4 "September '07 Mix" (grab an mp3 at mashit)
More genre-melting DJ mixes, this time focusing on "Kuduro," an Angolan dance music, mixed with more typical dancehall and breaks. The generally foreign-language lyrics make this a slightly edgier set than most, but with the syncopated bass drum keeping things from getting too mental, it's more easy to listen to than you'd think.
7. Matt Hite "Me & You & Yazoo" (Cassie vs. Yaz vs. The Art of Noise) (grab an mp3 here)
Oh, the cutthroat world of mashuppery! I've been wanting to put something together with "Situation" for a while and then fellow-SFer Matt beats me to it with this near-perfect combo. I'm not familiar with the Cassie song, but I can't imagine it's any better than this: a silky-smooth mashup that's both funkier and easier to listen to than the Yaz classic.
6. Iron and Wine "White Tooth Man"
(from The Shepherd's Dog on Sub Pop)
It's hard to pick my favorite song on this album, but right now the weird Fleetwood Mac-via-India vibe of this track is grabbing me. Is there a vaguely political bent under the trippy music? There's lyrics like these: "We all got sick on a strip club meal / While the statehouse was fryin' all the witches again." Hmm.
In this day and age, with cynical tweens skimming past ads on their Tivos, it's tougher than ever to come up with advertising that actually reaches the target consumer. Not surprisingly, movies and TV shows are at the forefront of a kind of viral internet promotion that's almost an extension of the creative work itself: the fake Web site for a fictional organization. ABC's "Lost" was one of the first to try this out, creating a site for The Hanso Foundation as part of the show's mythology; the site's calming turquoise palette and new age-y music struck a perfectly creepy tone.
Now, two upcoming films have created fake company sites, with varying degrees of creative success: first of all, the highly-anticipated "Cloverfield" project (from "Lost" producer J. J. Abrams) which may or may not be a new Godzilla movie, has spawned a website for the Tagruato Corporation, a deep-sea drilling concern whose subsidiaries include, bafflingly, the Slusho! drink company, or as they put it, "Slusho! brand happy drink is a icy cool beverage [that] contains a "special ingredient" that customers can't get enough of." Hmm, what could this have to do with Godzilla? Even though the movie's hand-held trailer (watch it below) was pretty awesome, I'm not obsessed enough with this to really understand what's going on here.
Trailer for "Cloverfield" ("1-18-08")
A little more entertaining for the casual fan is Pixar's fake site for its upcoming robot movie, "WALL-E". The film is set some time in the future, and a single corporation apparently builds and owns just about everything. The company is called, awesomely, "Buy n Large," and its Web site is hours of fun. From the perfectly-calibrated corporate-speak (" by visiting the Buy n Large web site you instantaneously relinquish all claims against the Buy n Large corporation ") to the "World News" stories about floating cities and ads for the mood-altering drug "Xanadou" ("effortlessly feel like you've just purchased that once-in-a-lifetime item!"), the site is both a stand-alone parody of corporate America and an intriguing teaser for the movie. There's a couple places you might want to call David Foster Wallace ("Buy n Large to brand direction 'North'") but the story on "Pix-Vue" Animation Studio's new "4-D" film is priceless. And I totally need that laundry robot and the 1,000,000-zettabyte hard drive, like, right now. Considering the movie looks like another cutesy romp with big-eyed creatures on some sort of quest, this site might be the best part of the whole deal.
I know some of my recent posts have been a bit anglophilic, but anyone interested in the history of radio (or the swingin' 60s) will enjoy this. BBC Radio One is celebrating its 40-year anniversary, and while I've already mentioned my annoyance at their lily-white "legends" schedule, the shows themselves have been fascinating: Fatboy Slim's reminiscences included the story about getting sued by his heroes in The Clash when he pilfered the "Guns of Brixton" bassline for his first #1 hit, "Dub Be Good To Me" (under the name Beats International). Remember that one?
Good times. Anyway, today's Daily Mailfeatures a personal history from Radio One's first morning show host, Tony Blackburn, detailing his experiences as a DJ whose celebrity eclipsed many of the stars whose records he was playing:
The opportunities to let this go to your head were manifold. There was an endless stream of record pluggers eager to wine and dine you, invitations galore, flattery from all sides - and a generous supply of women ready to throw themselves at you. Even at the height of my fame, though, I was well aware that my Mr Nice image - complete with catchy jingles and corny jokes - wasn't going down well with everyone. At the Radio One Roadshows, there would be a bit of ribbing from the more drunken elements of the crowd - and it was never very pleasant to hear the occasional chorus of "Tony Blackburn is a w*****" from a few blokes at the back.
I guess he means "wanker" there. Or, um, "wookie"? Anyway, Blackburn's commercial style was anathema to John Peel, Radio One's champion of the underground, and the two were enemies from the start:
Our strained relationship was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in the pop world. John was on the side of the long-haired, the drop-outs, the students - all those who regarded the three-minute pop single as a blot on the face of culture. I was the happy-go-lucky dispenser of the kind of song that an audience only had to hear once before rushing out to buy it. Fortunately, I've never given two hoots about street cred. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'd say that seeing Bobby Vee perform was far more enjoyable than watching The Beatles in their prime.
Bobby who? While Blackburn still seems to carry some resentment for not being as canonized as the late John Peel (and I have to admit I'd probably take Peely's side in the argument), on the whole he looks back at his wild times with a bemused "how did this happen to me" attitude. It's kind of like reading about a flesh-and-blood Austin Powers.