A Second Thought: 2010

The relatively sane people who don’t dedicate themselves to criticism must assume we’re born having listened to, watched, and read everything. The reality is more banal: we’re constantly playing catch-up. I don’t think we do a good enough job reminding our readers about discovering older stuff that we overlooked or for which we once had no sympathy.

Here’s a couple of  “classic” artists I finally paid attention to this year:

Harry Nilsson. Other than “Coconut,” “Jump Into the Fire,” and Mariah Carey’s cover of “Without You,” I hadn’t heard a note of the Beatles’ favorite hellion until I said the hell with it and bought Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson in rapid succession a couple of months ago. Tunes and attitude I expected and got; what grabbed my collar was Nilsson’s voice, a protean thing that could howl (“Jump Into the Fire,” “You’re Breakin’ My Heart”) and moan (“Down”) with a precision I associate with another piano-playing weirdo named Kate Bush. As a fan of aesthetic dissolution, I now need recommendations for the tread-carefully post-Pussycats records. Anyone?

Merle Haggard. Same story. 2006’s superlative one-disc compilation Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard held my appetite for a few years, until a combination of guilt and loving Jason Fine’s “The Fighter: The Life & Times of Merle Haggard” in a 2009 issue of Rolling Stone led me to Keep Movin’ On, Serving 190 Proof, Big City, Back to the Barrooms, and If I Could Only Fly. Plenty of bathos, self-righteousness, and failed attempts to prick one’s seriousness, and also fantastic songs sung by a musician whose voice has aged better than Willie’s — enough to justify my reviewing with confidence this year’s I Am What I Am, an excellent minor work.


This year’s singles ranked, from top to bottom.


Brad Paisley – American Saturday Night


Ciara – Ride
Aeroplane – We Can’t Fly
Sade – Soldier of Love
Brad Paisley – Water


Javiera Mena – Hasta La Verdad
Tim McGraw – Felt Good on My Lips
Vampire Weekend – Cousins
Cali Swag District – Teach Me How to Dougie
Rick Ross ft. Ne-Yo – Super High
Rick Ross – B.M.F.
Ne-Yo – Beautiful Monster
3OH!3 ft. Kesha – My First Kiss
I:Cube – Falling
Nas ft. Damien Marley – As We Enter
New Boyz – Cricketz
Vampire Weekend – Giving Up the Ghost
Erykah Badu – Window Seat
Big Boi ft Gucci Mane – Shine Blockas
Hurts – Wonderful Life


Corinne Bailey Rae – Paris Nights/New York Mornings
Taylor Swift – Back to December
The Thermals – I Don’t Believe You
KT Tunstall – (Still a) Weirdo
Brad Paisley – Anything Like Me
Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams – Shame
Kylie Minogue – Get Outta My Way
Jens Lekman – The End of the World is Bigger Than Love
Usher – There Goes My Baby
Miranda Lambert – Only Prettier
Sleigh Bells – Tell’em
Sunny Sweeney – From a Table Away
J Cole – Who Dat
The-Dream – Make-Up Bag
Trey Songz – Neighbours Know My Name
Sade – Baby father
Laura Bell Bundy – Giddy On Up
Eminem – Not Afraid
Dizzee Rascal – Dirtee Disco
Chris Young – The Man I Want To Be
Sade – Baby Father
Lady Gaga – Alejandro
Toni Braxton – Hands Tied
Big Boi – Shutterbug
Band of Horses – Compliments
Monica – Everything To Me
Scissor Sisters – Fire With Fire
T.I. – I’m Back
LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls
Example – Kickstarts
Kelis – Acapella
Courtney Love – Pacific Coast Highway
Fucked Up – Year of the Ox
Pill – Hear Somebody Comin’
Miranda Lambert – The House That Built Me
Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring
Angie Stone – I Ain’t Hearin’ U
Martina McBride – Wrong Baby Wrong
Spoon – Written in Reverse
Gorillaz ft. Mos Def and Bobby Womack – Stylo
Shiny Toy Guns – Mayor Tom
Estelle ft Kardinal Offishall – Freak
Kylie Minogue – All The Lovers


Elzhi – Deep
Margaret Durante – Mississippi’s Crying
Kanye West ft. Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z & Nicki Minaj – Monster
Rihanna – Only Girl (In the World)
Robyn – Hang With Me
Chrisette Michele – I’m a Star
Nas & Damian Marley ft. Lil Wayne – My Generation
Lauryn Hill – Repercussions
Ne-Yo – Champagne Life
Dinosaur Pile-Up – Horses and Trees
Cee-Lo – Fuck You
Taylor Swift – Mine
Eric Church – Smoke a Little Smoke
Big Boi – Follow Us
K’Naan – Wavin’ Flag
Luke Bryan – Rain is a Good Thing
Janelle Monae – Cold War
Wavves – Post-Acid
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Mighty Sparrow
Diddy Dirty Morning ft. T.I.  – Hello Goodbye
Crystal Castles – Celestica
Keith Urban – I’m In
Robyn – Dancing On My Own
Christina Aguilera – Not Myself Tonight
Plan B – She Said
Esmee Denters ft. Justin Timberlake – Love Dealer
Janelle Monae ft. Big Boi – Tightrope
Aloe Blacc – I Need a Dollar
Drive-By Truckers – Birthday Boy
DJ Khaled ft. T-Pain, Ludacris, Rick Ross, and Snoop – All I Do is Win
Love and Theft – Dance in Circles
Ludacris ft. Nicky Minaj – My Chick Bad
Estelle ft. Kardinal Offishall – Freak
Gil Scott-Heron – Me and the Devil
Alex Gardner – I’m Not Mad
Tim McGraw – Still
Owen Pallet – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt
Jay Sean ft Sean Paul and Lil Jon – Do You Remember
Ke$ha – Blah Blah Blah
Mary J. Blige – I Am
Lady Gaga ft. Beyonce – Telephone
Kelis – 4th of July (Fireworks)
Dennis Ferrer – Hey Hey
Chiddy Bang – The Opposite of Adults
Vivian Green – Beautiful
The Band Perry – If I Die Young
B.O.B. ft. Bruno Mars – Nothin’ On You
Alphabeat – DJ
MGMT – Flash Delirium
Pitbull ft. Sensato, Black Point, Lil Jon, and El Cata – Watagatapitusbury
Kele – Tenderoni


Broken Social Scene – World Sick
Gucci Mane ft. Swizz Beatz – Gucci Time
Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. ft. Kyle Falconer & Spank Rock – The Bike Song
Katy Perry – Teenage Dream
Faith Evans – Gone Already
Crowded House – Summer Sun
Natasha Bedingfield – Touch
Mike Posner – Cooler Than Me
Josh Turner – All Over Me
Kid Cudi ft. Kanye West – Erase Me
The Roots ft John Legend – The Fire
M.I.A. – Born Free
The Pipettes – Stop the Music
Robyn – Fembot
T-Pain ft. Rick Ross – Rap Song
Drake – Over
Kenney Chesney – Ain’t Back Yet
Black Eyed Peas – Imma Be
Duck Sauce – Barbra Streisand
Fantasia – Bittersweet
Jason Derulo – In My Head
Royksopp – The Drug
Usher ft. will.i.am – OMG
Daisy Dares You ft. Chipmunk – Number One Enemy
Black Eyed Peas – Imma Be
Pixie Lott – Broken Arrow
Gucci Mane – Lemonade
Dam-Funk – Mirrors
Josh Turner – Why Don’t We Just Dance
Jimmy Eat World – My Best Theory
Josh Turner – All Over Me
Martha and the Diamonds – Hollywood
Fake Blood – I Think I Like It
Melina Fiona – It Kills Me
The Knife – Colouring of Pigeons
Alicia Keys – Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart
Wiley and Chew Fu – Take Five
Lady Antebellum – American Honey
Powderfinger – Burn Your Name
Nick Jones & The Administration – Who I Am
Lil Wayne – On Fire
Gold Panda – Quitters Raga
The Raveonettes – Bang
Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union
Ellie Goulding – Guns and Horses
Black Milk ft. Royce Da 5′9 and Elzhi – Deadly Medley
Grinderman – Heathen Child


Kris Allen – Live LIke We’re Dying
Faith Evans – Gone Already
Ke$ha – Take It Off
Trey Songz ft. Nicki Minaj – Bottoms Up
Carrie Underwood – Mama’s Song
Pulled Apart By Horses – High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive
Flo Rida ft. David Guetta – Club Can’t Handle Me
Devlin – Brainwashed
Jerrod Nieman – Lover Lover
Alexis Jordan – Happiness
Skepta – Rescue Me
Jessica Jarrell – Up and Running
Diane Vickers – The Boy Who Murdered Love
Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP – We No Speak Americano
Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars
Katy Perry ft. Snoop – California Girls
Mark Ronson and the Business Int’l – Bang Bang Bang
Fyfe Dangerfield – She’s Always a Woman
Pink – Raise Your Glass
Gary Allan – Today
Melissa Auf der Maur – Out of Our Minds
Avril Lavigne – Alice
Corinne Bailey Rae – I’ll Do It All Again
Adam Lambert – Whadya Want From Me
Justin Bieber ft. Luda – Baby
Rihanna – Rude Boy
T-Pain – Reverse Cowgirl
Gabriella Climi – On a Mission
Zola Jesus – Sea Talk


R Kelly – When a Woman Loves
Miley Cyrus – When I Look At You
Justin Bieber – U Smile
Willow Smith – Whip My Hair
Chris Brown ft. Tyga and Kevin McCall – Deuces
Darin – Lovekiller
Soulja Boy – Pretty Boy Swag
Hanson – Thinkin’ About Somethin’
Eminem ft. Rihanna – Love The Way You Lie
Nicky Minaj – Your Love
Carrie Underwood ft. David Guetta – Commander
Drake – Find Your Love
Swedish House Mafia ft. Pharrell – One
Jason Derulo – Ridin’ Solo
John Mayer ft. Taylor Swift – Half of My Heart
Sean Kingston ft. Justin Bieber – Eenie Meenie
The Futureheads – Heartbeat Song
Frightened Rabbits – Nothing Like You
McLean – My Name
Tinie Tempah ft. Eric Turner – Written in the Stars
Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
Iyaz – Solo
Jonsi – Go Do
The-Dream – Love King
Timbaland ft. Justin Timberlake – Carry Out
Rihanna ft. Young Jeezy – Hard
Trace Adkins – Ala-freakin’-bama
Carrie Underwood – Undo It
Mariah Carey ft. Nicky Minaj – Up Out of My Face
Diane Vickers – Once
Enrique Iglesias ft. Pitbull – I Like It
Chris Brown ft. Tyga and Kevin McCall – Deuces


Loick Essien – Love Drunk
Kings of Leon – Radioactive
Alexandra Burke ft. Laza Morgan – Start Without You
Pendulum – Water Color
a-ha – Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)
Uncle Kracker – Smile
Interpol – LIghts
The Wanted – All-Time Low
Daughtry – September
B.O.B. ft. Rivers Cuomo – Magic
Colbie Caillat – I Never Told You
Linkin Park – The Catalysts
Scouting For Girls – This Ain’t a Love Song
Brandon Flowers – Crossfire
Fugative – Bad Girl
Miley Cyrus – Can’t Tame Me


Owl City – Vanilla Twilight
The Ready Set – Love Like Woe
The Saturdays – Missing You
Train – Soul Sister


Professor Green – Need You Tonight
The Dirty Heads ft. Rome – Lay Me Down

More holiday reviews: Carlos and True Grit

In brief:

Carlos. I should point out that I am evaluating the two and a half hour “theatrical” cut, not the five-hours-plus version. Whether the longer version fills in motivational lacunae for the revolutionary known as Carlos the Jackal (Edgar Martinez) I’ll have to wait until DVD; but Oliver Assayas, my favorite working director,  mixes the ruminative and the kinetic. He may not endorse or, to use the current vulgarism, “glorify” Carlos, but his filmmaking endorses what one character calls “the pleasure of doing one’s duty in silence.” The tour de force is obviously the OPEC hijacking; the film’s surest triumphs though are Assayas specialties: men and women smoking and drinking, relating to one another in tight enclosed spaces which Assayas nevertheless clearly defines. The arc of this chronicle of a life proscribed reminds me of The Last Emperor, about another semi-historical personage whose self-mythology compelled no one but the sycophants with whom he surrounded himself. Before his arrest Carlos, condemned to boozing in second-rate Syrian terrace bars, already looks imprisoned, in the body and mustache of Freddie Mercury. Appropriate: as the post-punk that served as the movie soundtrack appears less and less (adroit use of Wire’s “Ahead” and the Feelies), Carlos’ life becomes a version of “The Show Must Go On.”

True Grit. A couple of reviews have quietly complained about how un-Coen like it seems, but that’s its most attractive feature: a relaxed, extraordinarily sure genre piece for which the writer-directors relied on a strong novel (I haven’t read it)  and the collective memory of John Wayne’s Oscar-winning 1969 film. Ten minutes too long (an early courtroom scene dawdles), and Jeff Bridges’ slurred voice and mumbles are getting tired, but a few well-staged sequences caught my breath: a hanged man, dangling forty feet in the air from what looks like a birch, in air so cold I shivered in the theater; a tertiary character, dressed in a bear suit and with puzzling speech patterns, who wanders into the film like an extra from McCabe and Mrs. Miller; and a confrontation/shootout in the last third, in which Barry Pepper and Hailee Steinfeld compete to see who blinks first. Steinfeld manages a real miracle: she’s at ease with the spitfire dialogue (I’d hate to think what the metallic Abigail Breslin would have done with it). The other surprise is Matt Damon, who’s become so confident that he can play a prig with enough adroit distance so that we laugh at his character yet respect his accomplishments when he’s earned them.

The best of the rest

1. Taylor Swift – Speak Now
2. Vampire Weekend – Contra
3. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
4. The-Dream – Love King
5. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
6. Rick Ross – Teflon Don
7. Curren$y – Pilot Talk 2
8. Against Me! – White Crosses
9. Javiera Mena – Mena
10. Four Tet – There is Love in You
11. M.I.A. – MAYA
12. Diddy Dirty Money – Last Train to Paris
13. Merle Haggard – I Am What I Am
14. Elizabeth Cook – Welder
15. No Age – Everything in Between
16. Robyn – Body Talk
17. Jayce Everett – Red Revelations
18. Tracy Thorn – Love & Its Opposite
19. Lindstrøm & Christabelle – Real Life is No Cool
20. Jerrod Niemann – Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury
21. Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite
22. Laurie Anderson – Homeland
23. Vaselines – Sex With An X
24. Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do
25. Shabazz Palaces – EP’s

#1. Taylor Swift – Speak Now.

My poptimist reputation notwithstanding, I was unmoved by Speak Now‘s predecessors beyond a handful of singles. Then I played this, and for eight songs in her singing, critical eye, and arranging skill (how easy to fuck up a hook as clean as the one in “Mean”; the banjo makes this s0ng. Things only get soupy towards the end, when said arrangements start to resemble Grammy productions (e.g. “Enchanted”).

“It’s not your fault”: The King’s Speech

American audiences were introduced to Colin Firth in The English Patient, in which Firth’s cuckoled husband aimed a plane at Ralph Fiennes and misses, blowing himself up. In 2003’s Love Actually Firth’s doughy hips and doleful mien blended perfectly with the dozen English thespians charged with incarnating various kinds of English suffering. He got an Oscar nomination last year for playing a gay professor of literature mourning the death of his partner in the worthless adaptation of A Single Man.

See the trend? As the go-to guy for chic restrained grief, Firth has become a male Greer Garson. I’ll say this though: he suggests deep reserves of lust and anger which no film has yet tapped (his Mr. Darcy in the 1994 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice came close). In The King’s Speech, Firth does get to yell often as the stammering king in waiting George VI; as an added bonus he unleashes a torrent of profanity at speech therapist Geoffrey Rush that made the geriatrics in the audience titter, as if congratulating Firth for such an uncharacteristic outburst. How delicious!

With its wide-angle closeups and dim interiors, The King’s Speech looks crummy, like a TV movie blown up for theatrical release (examine screenwriter David Seidler credits). Harry Potter regulars Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Gambon and wannabes Guy Pearce and Derek Jacobi either do little with underwritten roles or wander through immense interiors as if the casting director hadn’t  introduced them to their fellow actors. Geoffrey Rush, at his silken, sardonic best (and looking smashing in a pinstriped suit), invests the film with fitful life; he and Firth’s dart-and-bait routine has enough dramatic portent to work on its own as a two-character drama. But The King’s Speech is too comfortable with merely existing as Mrs. Brown meets Good Will Hunting. Of course Oscar will come calling: no Academy voter can resist a film in which a warm, sweater-wearing Robin Williams/Judd Hirsch type coaxes a  tight-assed English patrician into confessing adolescent miseries. George VI (“Bertie”) would never have stammered, the film argues,  had his father and brother loved him. I assume the scene in which Rush, hugging Firth tight in cardiganed arms, whispers, “It’s not your fault” ended up on the cutting room floor.

Teena Marie – RIP

If this is true, it’s a loss. Although she experienced a commerical resurgence a few years ago, it didn’t reflect how batshit her best work sounded. Thanks to Chuck Eddy, I got Emerald City several years too late, with no idea that “Lovergirl,” her biggest pop crossover, represented her safest concession to mass taste. This is a woman who didn’t blink at slathering synthesizer slime over purple prose detailing Wizard of Oz fantasies and trips to southern Spain; a woman who thought Rick James was Prince. While Teena wasn’t one of the immortals, she was one of the weirdos. Buy a copy of Emerald City, if you can. Read Frank Kogan and Eddy’s panegyrics too.