Worst Songs Ever: Radiohead’s “Creep”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Radiohead’s “Creep”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #34 in September 1993

Fortunately TLC released a creepier song with the same title two years later, saving the rest of us from listening to this thing again. When Radiohead first lumbered onto the scene, they opened for Belly, and there was no question that Tanya Donnelly’s material and twin guitar attack produced indelible songs whose gossamer productions were as, well, creepy as Radiohead wanted to be in 1993 or any age. As much as I respect forthrightness, “Creep” is one of those numbers that tells more than it shows. I don’t feel the band’s self-loathing. And it had a most dreadful influence, more than “Smells Like Teen Spirit” because Thom Yorke embraced directness of expression. Yet “Creep” is in his range, which is more than I can say about his hair length and color; so many of the putative anthems collected on OK Computer, Kid A, and Hail to the Thief are anthems before they turn into anti-anthems.

Like much of the Smiths’ catalogue, “Creep” works because the cool straight population against which it was supposed to position itself embraced it, and the power chords and famous guitar stutter are what I expect from a band that wants  a crossover. Radiohead knew too: they avoided this template for the rest of its career. #Nerdgate won, so why I push? “Don’t get sentimental — it always ends up drivel,” he wrote, in a line we’ll see on Yorke’s tombstone.

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The best singles of 2017

In a miserable year whose conclusion promises even worse for 2018, I sought pleasure in onomatopoeia, bold colors, and well-wrought angst. Outside adult R&B cirles Sevyn Streeter remains an unknown. This singer-songwriter of exquisite finesse released a disappointing album from which I’ve extracted a single going on four-million-plus YouTube streams, three million of which date from my obsessive listening in September. I’ll have more to say elsewhere.

The notable omission: Paramore’s “Hard Times.” Followers of this blog may understand the omission. Again, I’ll have more to say in due time. Enjoy Cardi B, Playboi Carti, Ibibio Sound Machine, and Red Velvet as much as I have.

1. Sevyn Streeter – Before I Do
2. Cardi B – Bodak Yellow
3. Playboi Carti ft. Lil Uzi Vert – wokeuplikethis*
4. Migos ft. Nicki Minaj & Cardi B – Motor Sport
5. Sun-EL Musician ft. Samthing Soweto – Akanamali
6. Toni Braxton – Deadwood
7. Future – Mask Off
8. Red Velvet – Red Flavor
9. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming
10. Daley ft. Jill Scott – Until the Pain is Gone
11. Lana Del Rey – Love
12. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill – The Rest of Our Life
13. Tee Grizzley – First Day Out
14. Midland – Drinkin’ Problem
15. Charly Bliss – Percolator
16. BGA – Who’s It Gonna Be
17. Ibibio Sound Machine – Give Me A Reason
18. Nine Inch Nails – Less Than
19. Romeo Santos – Imitadora
20. Mondo Grosso – Labyrinth

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Singles 12/8

Her name is Putochinomaricón, the biggest discovery for me in one of the better Reader’s Weeks in recent memory: take a look at those shimmering 7s. I may have underrated Thea & and the Wild and the excellently titled “Every Day’s the Weekend.”

Click on links for full reviews.

Putochinomaricón – Gente de Mierda (7)
Thea & The Wild – City of Gold (7)
Taemin – Move (7)
Billie Eilish – Bellyache (7)
Alex Lahey – Every Day’s the Weekend (7)
Darin – Tvillingen (6)
Mabel Matiz – Ya Bu İşler Ne (6)
Rina Sawayama – Cyber Stockholm Syndrome (6)
Kim Petras – I Don’t Want It at All (5)
Clipping. – The Deep (4)
Pabllo Vittar – K.O. (4)
Laurel Halo – Jelly (3)
Bleachers – Hate That You Know Me (3)
Kirin J Callinan ft. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis & Jimmy Barnes – Big Enough (2)

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Vaulting off the edge of no escape: the best of Joy Division and solo New Order

Discovering Joy Division at the same time as New Order called for, unbelievably, solomonic choices. If you were serious — young male (always male) music fans during the Poppy Bush Interozone were very serious — you gave New Order some shade. To learn that three-fourths of Joy Division comprised New Order and recorded that music astonished me. I didn’t listen to Joy Division often. Still don’t. It is impossible for me to re-listen to “Decades” — it works like a sand dredger.

1. Transmission
2. Decades
3. Isolation
4. Shadowplay
5. Heart and Soul
6. Love Will Tears Us Apart
7. Atmosphere
8. She’s Lost Control
9. Disorder
10. Atrocity Exhibition

1. Electronic – Get the Message
2. Quando Quango – Love Tempo
3. Electronic – Getting Away with It
4. Monaco – What Do You Want From Me
5. The Other Two – Selfish
6. Electronic – Forbidden City

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Starving the punditry class

“If we listen to those who wail that taking someone’s punditry gig and book contract is the same as if you “kill a guy,” Ana Maria Cox writes, “I suspect we’re in for a whole rash of reincarnation.”

Franken will leave the Senate quite alive, and with little threat (at this moment) of legal damage. He might have been denied “due process,” but that’s not because he won’t appear in front of the Ethics Committee, which will drop its recently opened investigation if he leaves the Senate; it’s because he’s not being criminally charged. His life won’t just not be over, it won’t even be ruined — he’s a wealthy man with many friends who show no sign of desertion. And I can’t see a man with Franken’s sizable talents and ego ever totally disappearing from the national stage.

I haven’t written much about the accusations, counter-charges, and resignations; I have nothing to add to matters that seem, to my eyes, self-evident. But watching even a nanosecond of cable news — I know, bear with me — creates the impression that losing a guest commentator spot on Chris Matthews’ show is the equivalent of the pillory post. I roll my eyes at Charles Pierce’s also self-evidently obvious warnings about asymmetrical warfare. Let fucks like Newt Gingrich and Hugh Hewitt whine about the Democrats’ moral high ground. Whether men in Congress accused of sexual assault wait for an ethics committee investigation (rigged against the victim, I know), resign, or endure a punishment that still leaves them comfortable doesn’t concern me. Now, if Dems want to play politics, they can let victims of sexual assault denounce the men in the GOP and their own party. The GOP doesn’t have a monopoly on swinish men. That’s, to use the jargon, a better look than imitating Ruth Marcus.

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These fists, will always protect ya: the best of Miguel

On a Friday afternoon before leaving work, anticipating our strongest cold front in almost two years, I listened to “Told You So” and realized, Holy shit, I’ve never listed Miguel. No performer today conveys the joy of performing as palpably; he loves to sing and doesn’t project a scintilla of self-involvement either — not like duet partner Alicia Keys at any rate. I’m still taking in War & Leisure, but I had three songs that belonged.

In a way, I’m glad people who don’t own the Art Dealer Chic EPs that first made Miguel’s Pitchfork reputation must seek “…ALL.”

1. Adorn
2. Arch & Point
3. Sure Thing
4. …ALL
5. #Beautiful (w/Mariah Carey)
6. Do You…
7. Coffee
8. Face the Sun
9. Don’t Look Back
10. PrimeTime – Janelle Monáe featuring Miguel
11. Leaves
12. Kaleidoscope Dream
13. Banana Clip
14. Waves
15. Pineapple Skies
16. What’s Normal Anyway
18. Told You So
19. Use Me
20. My Piece

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Redundant, ersatz ‘The Disaster Artist’ is James Franco’s bid for respect

The Disaster Artist asks a question about which no one outside Hollywood cares: can we tolerate another movie about a terrible director and disturbed man? Happily, James Franco’s film about Tommy Wiseau, director of the widely accepted farrago The Room, is a bore, and only those who follow the politics of awards season need care. Franco and the long-haired Wiseau, who affected an accent that crossed Eastern European cadences with Foghorn Leghorn, are doppelgängers, and not in the way Franco expects. He may think he’s made a film about a uniquely untalented creature whose devotion to ci-ne-mah nevertheless makes him worth commemorating; what Franco has done instead is reveal his own affinities for crap art.

From the diegetic use of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations” and Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night” to the golly-gee line readings of brother Dave Franco, cast as Wiseau collaborator/sucker Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist satirizes this crew of terrible wannabes yet gives them affectionate hugs too. Scott Neustadter and
Michael H. Weber’s script based on Sestero’s memoir proceeds on the usual tracks as Sestero, another pretty young actor of uneven ambitions, meets Wiseau (James Franco) at a staging of A Streetcar Named Desire in San Francisco where Wiseau’s ludicrous line readings and garbled theories exasperate everyone except Sestero. Flattered by Wiseau, perhaps even sexually flattered (Wiseau’s sexuality is unknown and left closed to speculation despite homoerotic impulses), Sestero agrees to move in to his new bro’s L.A. apartment (“My pied-à-terre,” Wiseau proudly croaks). As if to punish Sestero for minor successes like landing an agent and scoring with a bartender, Wiseau force feeds him a script of his own composition. A cast and crew of the unemployed and the hungry assemble, among whom are assistant director Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen, whose exasperation grounds the film in some reality), responsible for treating The Room as if it were Stalker while at the same time projecting the unblinking sincerity without which camp is impossible.

What’s onscreen remains firmly in the “So what?” category. I don’t need a movie to affectionately depict the peripatetic career of a terrible director. But Franco does worse. The Disaster Artist is a dumb, obvious movie about a talentless artist who, the script and Franco’s performance suggest, had genuine pathological tendencies, most of which are waved aside. A scene in which Wiseau berates an actress during a sex scene for her blemishes is edited and played for queasy laughs (when Sandy asks for a closed set, Wiseau barks, “Life is not a closed set!”). For five minutes, we’re tossed out of the movie into a grimmer one, a movie in which Franco has no interest. Instead, like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood and Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion, Franco the director goes for the stuff of which Oscar clips are made: he emphasizes the ephemeral camaraderie between cast and crew, epitomized by the old actress played by Jacki Weaver who faints after a day’s work without water or air conditioning (Wiseau provides neither). She chirps, “Even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day anywhere else.” By the last third of The Disaster Artist, Franco has taken his cue from this bon mot; the soundtrack and editing wring the nuance out of the picture, insisting on audience empathy for Sestero and the other wretched souls.

Shaking our heads with warmhearted disapproval at these deluded gargoyles making their gruesome film, we might ask ourselves how The Room is supposed to be a worse picture than The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Silver Linings Playbook, or any half-dozen Academy Award favorites you name. Franco films the disastrous screening of The Room, careful to catch audiences weeping with laughter at the unintended jokes. How many of us watched The Iron Lady and didn’t also howl with mirth? As for the entity I’ve called The James Franco Project, smart enough to spend a few years teasing audiences into believing he has constructed a career out of deconstruction, he’s playing at respectability politics after teasing audiences with wretched, uninhabited projects like Interior. Leather Bar. Redundant, stuffy, and ersatz, The Disaster Artist is Franco’s mea culpa, his way of saying, “I’m one of you, take me.”


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Social Security survivor benefits beneficiary aims

The Speaker of the House, who paid his tuition at Miami University in Ohio thanks to Social Security survivor benefits, thinks it’s a propitious time to kill the sick and starve the old:

In a sign of their confidence, Republicans are already looking past taxes to their next priority: gutting safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” the speaker of the House, Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, said on Wednesday during an interview with the radio host Ross Kaminsky.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump opposed cutting Medicare and Medicaid, but Mr. Ryan said that he was working to persuade him to change his mind.

“I think these reforms that we’ve been talking about, that we’re still going to keep pushing, that will help not just make Medicaid less expensive and health care itself, but it will help Medicare as well,” Mr. Ryan said during the interview. “And I think the president’s understanding choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare.

All the horrible shit we envisaged after the election is coming, and Democrats can do nothing except raise holy hell. This used to be easy. Tip O’Neill frightened enough seniors in 1982 to give the Reagan Revolution a sound beating, eliminating its working majority in the House. For decades Democrats could summon the ghost of Herbert Hoover. Even Bill Clinton roused himself for the sake of poor children.

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Worst Songs Ever: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #2 in March 1984

“I’m just an average man with an average life,” Rockwell lies in the opening lines to this smash, which peaked just shy of #1 for three weeks at the same time that Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” goosed its parent album for a final unprecedented run as the biggest selling record in American more than year after release. Rockwell is Kennedy William Gordy, the son of the Motown scion. He chose the moniker because he thought he “rocked well.” Well enough, at any rate, to record demos under the aegis of Berry Gordy’s ex wife. But if Rockwell benefited from nepotism, don’t blame his parentage. The Motown avatar’s contribution, at the peak of his charting power, to the admittedly indelible chorus and the way its keyboards approximate a B-movie horror film in the same way that “Thriller” approximates “sophisticated” horror like Repulsion or something — these things helped.

However, the rest of “Somebody’s Watching Me” is crummy, terrible even. Even in 1984 the synth programming was stiff and outdated; had Rockwell released his debut in 1982 and gotten Rick James to produce it would have been credible. Worse is Rockwell’s voice: the worst British accent ever recorded until Kevin Costner wooed the very British Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I’ve heard better accents from cafeteria women.

Speaking of accents: I didn’t understand Bob Christgau’s George Harrison remark until I realized Rockwell covered “Taxman,” complete with symphonic synths, hyperactive bass line, and histrionic vocal straight out of Visage or Ultravox. I could make the stale joke targeting the son of a Motown scion bitching about taxes but the track is too amorphous for anybody to give a damn.

Emboldened, Rockwell managed one more paranoid followup: “Obscene Phone Call,” unable to rise above #35 on the American pop chart, and, boy, is this a gob-stopping kind of bad: more British accents and Rick James-indebted synth accents in the service of a precursor to Eddie Murphy’s Party All the Time.” Watch the video, if you dare, and get to 3:40, when a male bellhop transforms into an attractive white woman and the intercutting suggests that Rockwell likes it. But you knew that.

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‘The sun comes/Like a god into our room’

Longtime readers know my affection for INXS’ singles. Last week I had the chance to write a few hundred words about Kick, reissued in an absurd multi-disc edition but with a phenomenal sound. Here’s the list I drew up last April of their best tracks:

1. Original Sin (Extended remix)
2. Shine Like It Does
3. Don’t Change
4. Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)
5. What You Need
6. Devil Inside
7. Listen Like Thieves
8. Not Enough Time
9. Disappear
10. Bitter Tears
11. The One Thing
12. Suicide Blonde
13. This Time
14. Same Direction
15. Need You Tonight
16. New Sensation
17. Guns in the Sky
18. The Swing
19. Biting Bullets
20. Just Keep Walking

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Worst Songs Ever: Bertie Higgins’ “Key Largo”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Bertie Higgins’ “Key Largo”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #8 in March 1982

In 1982, a white dude worked himself into a lather praising the kind of romance that happened amid sun-kissed waves and palm trees, the scent of jasmine and tanning butter tangled in her hair. No doubt about it – every MTV kid knew where he or she was when Duran Duran’s “Rio” wagged its cherry ice cream smile at them.

Fear not, parents: Bertie Higgins had something that smelled like July for you — a July that smells like cigarette butts in an ashtray and feels like the scrape of a gold chain against exposed chest hair. “Key Largo” conjures the spirit of the late seventies that persisted well into the putative eighties, a decade which in my reckoning didn’t start until perhaps Human League hit #1 with “Don’t You Want Me” or MTV’s becoming a household staple in early 1983 (the eighties ended sometime in late 1992 or early 1993, in case you wondered).

A fellow Floridian, but the white Florida of Tarpon Springs and St. Petersburg, Higgins passed the Nixon-Ford-Carter era as a drummer in a second- or third-tier band until he said enough. Then he found a patron in — get this — Burt Reynolds, who many of my readers may not know has done dinner theater in my state even when he was still Hollywood’s most in-demand star. He moved to Atlanta and recorded Just Another Day in Paradise, on which “Key Largo,” the ripest fruit on this tree, was found. Released in fall 1981, “Key Largo” took its time climbing into its eventual top ten position. It also peaked at #1 for two weeks on the adult contemporary chart, its true home, on whose stations you can to this day hear this valentine indebted to the onscreen image of the cinema’s most iconic tough guy, who in 1981-1982 still had the post-Godard resonance to which Bryan Ferry and Woody Allen had responded.

An allusive product then, and “Key Largo” is among the last of the ballads and mid tempo numbers released by men too late for the hippie era and who record songs that are sung through beards. The uncanny success of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers gave these dudes a toot of coke as record companies, in a post-disco funk, signed up wannabes. Robbie Dupree, Rupert Holmes, Pablo Cruise, and Benny Mardones you know (please note the interchangeable names. I like Benny Dupree; call him if you need a personal injury attorney). What about Robbie Patton? Kansas’ “Play the Game Tonight”? Sneaker? Stephen Bishop? So many of these tracks peaked outside the top twenty too: one hit wonders that rode a bit of AOR play and whose polyester made them unfit for Martha Quinn’s scrutiny.

“Key Largo,” however, stretches back further for an influence: Jimmy Buffet, of course. By the time Michael McDonald would record his own fake calypso in 1986 he could finger the trop beat presets. But Jimmy Buffet sounds like Randy Newman compared to “Key Largo.” Benumbed by the depths of his affection, Higgins kinda forgets that Bogart was letting wise cracks out with every exhalation of smoke. “Tryin’ so hard to stay warm,” Higgins sings in a breathy high voice over an ash-covered quilt of acoustic guitars and bongos and for fuck’s sake mandolins. What makes “Key Largo” grotesque is Higgins’ penchant for putting the stress on the last syllable of words: “You were my hero/You were my leading la-DY” and “Sailin’ away to Key Lar-GO.” It’s not creative singing — not with the backing track generating the frisson of a toupee in a bucket of water — he just sounds drunk. And Higgins’ cinematic education with Burt apparently didn’t get him past the fact that Bogie and Bacall “didn’t have it all.” All their movies, including Key Largo, ended with piles of bodies and the couple figuring out what to do next, hopefully with a full pack of smokes. If Higgins had used Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, it would’ve been slightly more imaginative but left him gasping over a rhyming dictionary.

I expended many words on a slight song, but ubiquity is iniquity, man: I hear “Key Largo” at least twice a month. I like to think of Bertie in Tarpon Bend, his boat tied at the pier, a long-sought prize won thanks to “Key Largo” royalties, sipping a rum runner and listening to that British band that made his kind obsolete, a river twisting through a dusty land.

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On the Cake Artist and the gays

After reading the transcript of the oral argument for Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, I was sure we who want the gay couple to prevail had lost Anthony Kennedy, the Most Important Man in America. Before I reach the despairing portion of this post, though, please note the following exchange, the first time “sandwich artist” has appeared in the annals of American jurisprudence unless John Jay and William Story had more fascinating exchanges with counsel than Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Kristen Waggoner, lawyer for the baker offended by having to endorse pederasty because the nice gay couple down the street wants a wedding cake:

MS. WAGGONER: Certainly not all cakes would be considered speech, but in the wedding context, Mr. Phillips is painting on a blank canvas. He is creating a painting on that canvas that expresses messages, and including words and symbols in those messages.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: You know, the other night I had some people over and one of them brought a box of cupcakes and one of the cupcakes was smashed against the box. That was
the only cupcake not eaten. Now, I suspect that one of the reasons is the others were so much more attractive whole. There is creation in serving food, increating any type of edible product. People — there are sandwich artists now. There are people who create beauty in what they make, but we still don’t call it expressive and entitled to First Amendment protection.

After Justice Samuel Alito and Waggoner debate whether architecture is “functional” versus “expressive,” Stephen Breyer returns for yuks:

JUSTICE BREYER: Well, then, what is the line? That’s what everybody is trying to get at, because obviously we have all gone into a Mexican restaurant. They have this fabulousMole specially made for the people at the table to show what important and wonderful evening it was, which it did import — impart. There are all kinds of restaurants that do that. And maybe Ollie’s Barbecue, you know, maybe Ollie thought he had special barbecue.

Maybe Ollie did have special barbeque – alas, we’ll never know!

What I do know is that Kennedy recoiled from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s brusque treatment of the baker, Phillips. Mark Joseph Stern is correct about the best possible outcome for progressives: a 5-4 decision siding with the Cake Artist in the most narrow manner possible.

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