Archive for June, 2014


Off the Wall

I found this CD last month in the used bin for $4.99 at Magnolia Thunderpussy on Record Store Day (they didn’t have any of the RSD exclusives that I was searching for…nor did any record store in town).  Now Magnolia’s is one of the few surviving campus record stores from my undergraduate days at Ohio State (Used Kids and Johnny Go’s are the only others), and it was one of my favorite places to go back in the day when they were on south campus.  They used to have quite an inventory of bootleg concert videos on VHS, and I remember being excited to find Nine Inch Nails’ still un-officially released “Broken” video there (it has the “Help Me I Am In Hell” video blacked out, so it is likely a bootleg of one of the copies Trent Reznor gave out to his close friend Gibby Haynes).  Lord Bacchus had a Pearl Jam concert that he bought there, and since it was shot by a fan in the crowd, all of the faces of the bandmembers looked pretty much green, red, and blue from the stage lights…but it was still watchable.  Unfortunately, even though Magnolia’s (by the way, the name “Magnolia Thunderpussy” refers to a San Francisico bulesque performer) has managed to survive the digital download MP3 revolution of the 2000s, they couldn’t survive Campus Partners in their original south campus location.  Campus Partners was a group of evil yuppie scum that formed in the late 90s (and was no doubt a part of the International Wolverine Conspiracy) and who decided to “clean up” south campus…and by cleaning up I mean they ran out all the independently owned bars, shops, and restaurants and replaced them with a bunch of overpriced national chains (of which most have already gone out of buisness and are now vacant storefronts).  So Campus Partners pretty much ruined south campus and kicked Magnolia’s out, but they relocated to the Short North (actually, the Short North has expanded north to them) and they have a place right next to another relocated campus institution, Skully’s Music Diner.

So enough Columbus history.  Let’s talk about Michael Jackson.  I still struggle with MJ.  I don’t know what he did or didn’t do with young children on his Neverland ranch, but it’s all really creepy to me and it certainly tarnishes his image in my mind.  But it’s now been five years since his death, and people seem to be forgetting all of that stuff and refocusing on his music.  In fact, he seems more popular than ever with the kids in school, and I heard more buzz from the kids about the Michael Jackson 3D hologram on the Billboard Music Awards (I did not see it personally) than just about anything else all year (with the possible exception of Beyonce’s super secret album release).  So in the spirit of things, I will try to just focus on the music on this album, which was his first record with Quincy Jones pulling the producer strings.  And the truth is, I don’t really dig it.  There is a fine line between funk and disco, and this album crosses that line all too frequently (maybe MJ was already starting to explore his inner white guy).  And it seems like MJ hadn’t really discovered that mid-range voice that he used so well on the Thriller album (although the gutteral interjections are already in full effect here), and so he spends most of the songs in a really super high range that just kind of bugs me (especially on “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”).  But there is an amazing ballad on the second side, “She’s Out of My Life” (which apparently Quincy was going to give to Sinatra, but MJ wanted a crack at it first and nailed it), and a Stevie Wonder penned song, “I Can’t Help It”, that is the funkiest thing on the album.  Oh, and there is a Paulie song too (what is with all the Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson connections?) called “Girlfriend”, but it’s not that great.

Other lists: “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” is #3, “Rock With You” is #10, “Workin’ Day and Night” is #14, “She’s Out of My Life” is #19, “Off the Wall” is #22, “Burn this Disco Out” is #27, and “Get on the Floor” is #33 on the very newly published Rolling Stone list of the Top 50 Michael Jackson songs.  See the Thriller entry for other accolades Rolling Stone has given MJ.

Ch-ch-changes: By leap-frogging Zeppelin IV and The Stranger, this album has somehow remained in the same spot as it was on the original list, despite the addition of Chronicle and the rise of Kid A.

My favorite track: “She’s Out of My Life”

Honorable mention: “I Can’t Help It”

A word from the Princess: “The beat goes on”

Quote: “Do what you want to do.  There ain’t no rules, it’s up to you.”

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#67: “Kid A” by Radiohead

Kid A

 

Radiohead is my favorite band.  But this is not my favorite Radiohead album.  Actually, I rank it 6th out of the 8 studio albums (only Pablo Honey and The King of Limbs rank lower).  But that’s not to say that Kid A is bad.  Quite the opposite, and I think that being the 6th best Radiohead album still makes it better than 99.9% of the best albums by any other band.  Kid A is Radiohead at their most experimental, which is probably why it’s the critical favorite. The complete lack of song structure and total free form approach, not to mention the movement away from guitar-rock, came as quite a shock after their previous three guitar-driven records.  But Radiohead collectively decided to take a new approach in the 2000s, and this was the jumping-off point.  More than anything else, the band decided to create textures and tone paintings on most of these songs.  Vocally, Thom Yorke because an integral part of that texture by turning his voice into an instrument and making the sound of his voice more important than the content of the lyrics.

I can honestly say I’ve been with Radiohead since the beginning.  Well, maybe not all the way back to the Drill EP (although I do own a CD copy of that Hail Grail to Radiohead collectors) or the On A Friday demos, but I can say that I was one of the few people I knew who bought the “Creep” single (on cassette, no less!) when it came out and then took a chance on Pablo Honey.  And actually, I really liked Pablo Honey, and I thought it had several really good songs on it and some great teenage rebellion lyrics (“I am not a vegetable, I will not control myself!”).  I remember at the time saying that other bands had songs with the same titles as Radiohead songs (Stone Temple Pilots had a huge hit with their “Creep” and Candlebox had a song called “You”), but the Radiohead songs were better.  And I remember that after seeing my very first rock show, Pearl Jam at the Cleveland State Convocation Center, the Artistic One and were blasting some Pablo Honey through the ghettos of Cleveland while we were having out “Judgement Night” experience while trying to find the 0n-ramp for Route 90 in his mom’s blue mini-van.

So fast-forward to college, and Lord Bacchus was the first one to get The Bends.  I remember hearing it at his place and thinking that these guys had really taken a step forward.  The guitars on that album were tighter and the songwriting was miles ahead of where they had been on Pablo.  Even so, I wasn’t at all prepared for OK Computer, which totally blew my mind when it came out in 1997.  A space-rock masterpiece, to this day I still consider that record to be my favorite Radiohead album.

Then this record came out in October of 2000.  I remember buying it new at the Target at the Lennox Town Center (I have an early copy with the hidden lyric/art book under the CD tray).  It was a strange point in my life, and I was in the midst of several major transitions.  I had just started teaching in Columbus after a year of teaching in Newark, and to be honest I hated my new job and was having serious doubts about my desire to teach.  I had spent the summer dating the Art Therapist, but she had moved to Cleveland at the end of August to start graduate school, and even though we were still seeing each other on the weekends, we had already agreed that the distance thing just wasn’t going to work.  And on top of that, I had just moved from a spacious apartment on the northeast side of town to a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Victorian Village so I could be closer to my new job (I stayed at the job and at the apartment for the next 7 years).  And I remember going on long evening walks exploring the Victorian Village and the Harrison West district while listening to this album (and Moby’s “Play”) on my headphones (with a Sony CD Walkman…no MP3 players or Ipods yet!).  And I remember this album being the perfect soundtrack for those long walks, as it made everything seem surreal and shapeless…the lights, the trees, the old Victorian houses all just seemed to blend together into a beautiful autumn picture.  Those walks helped me to think through everything that was going on in my life and helped me to make sense of it all.

I stayed with Radiohead for the remainder of the 2000s and into the 2010s, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them 5 times live.  Four of those shows have been at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls (the greatest music venue on the planet) and one was down at Riverbend in Cinci.  Three of those shows were with Lord Bacchus (one time Black Cloud tagged along and managed to spill a roadie in the back seat of Bacchus’ new car), one was with the Princess, and the other was with the Conspiracy Theorist.  All of them have been awesome and the first three rank among the greatest concerts I have ever seen.  To me, what makes them special is they manage to recreate every sound live…even the stuff that sounds like electronica on the albums.  So on stuff from this album like “Everything In Its Right Place”, Thom Yorke actually records the loops live and mixes them on the spot.  All the drums are live, and it’s not uncommon for Jonny Greenwood to put his guitar down and play other percussion instruments like a xylophone (for “No Surprises”) or extra toms (for “There There).  Actually, Radiohead is one of the few bands from the 90s to stay together without any line-up changes  (sorry Pearl Jam, but 5 different drummers is just a tad too many), and I think that contributes to their musicality as a band…they have been playing together for so long that they just seem to always click.  And some of the songs on this album and its sister release “Amnesiac” are a whole lot better live…especially the version of “Idioteque” on the I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings EP.

Other Lists: Radiohead is #73 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Thom Yorke is #66 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and Jonny Greenwood is #48 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  Rolling Stone also lists Kid A as the #1 album of the 2000s.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up a whopping 361 spots from it’s original position of #428 on the 2003 list.  In all fairness, it hadn’t been out very long when the original list was released, which is probably why it wasn’t ranked very high back then.

My favourite track: “Everything In Its Right Place”

Honourable mention: “How to Disappear Completely”

A word from the Princess: “Radiohead?  That’s who this is?”

Quote 1: “If you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough”

Quote 2: “I’m not here.  This isn’t happening.”