Monthly Archives: November 2016

Where I am today: the best of Brad Paisley

Until 2013 Brad Paisley was the most liked male country star by critics who didn’t write about country. His politics were right. He was easy on the eyes. No one disputed his guitar prowess. He wrote songs whose jokes didn’t put pathos on the curb. “And then he wrote that stupid song about racism,” as Al Shipley wryly put it. That song is “Accidental Racist,” on which I won’t spend a syllable longer criticizing.

Although he still does moderately well on country radio, he no longer scores instant #1s. To my ears his natural sharpness has dulled: where once an inexhaustible talent for writing songs about stuff like toothbrushes, water, and camouflage lent his albums some welcome suspense — I wondered what he’d get away with next — now I see the wrinkles and seams. I suspect critics who embraced him as a token because he wasn’t Toby Keith (whose own momentum has stalled) have moved on and it’s made Paisley sad. Meanwhile country has moved on to Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett, whom I like with caution but whose commitments to hip hop and R&B come more naturally because they’re sluts who’ll hire any tunesmith who’ll guarantee hits that’ll pay the gel bills. But don’t count Paisley out.

In the list below I emphasized the Songs About Stuff, including a newly minted hit called “Today” that’s inspirational without the embarrassment of seeing The Power of Now on your lover’s nightstand.

1. Water
2. The World
3. Toothbrush
4. She’s Her Own Woman
5. Mud on the Tires
6. If Love Was a Plane
7. The Cigar Song
8. American Saturday Night
9. Whiskey Lullaby
10. A Man Don’t Have to Die
11. Some Mistakes
12. Time Well Wasted
13. Celebrity
14. I’m Still a Guy
15. I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)
16. Remind Me (w/Carrie Underwood)
17. Shattered Glass
18. Easy Money
19. Out in the Parkin’ Lot (w/Alan Jackson)
20. Letter To Me
21. You Do the Math
22. All I Wanted Was a Car
23. Beat This Summer
24. Today
25. The Pants

Taking the Electoral College to school

My man James Madison explained in 1787 why we’ve got an Electoral College:

The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.

In twentieth century English, Madison meant to say that to counter the majority of Northern votes the South had to count its slaves as part of its total population, hence the origin of the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Blight, er, Clause.

Scott Lemieux joins the growing list of intellectuals (I remember Hendrik Hertzberg as a loud partisan) who over the years have called for an amendment that eliminates the Electoral College and leaves the popular vote count as the only legitimate means of tabulating winners in presidential elections. “There is a certain dark irony to the fact that a system designed to prevent the people from choosing an unqualified demagogue has resulted in the election of an unqualified demagogue not chosen by the people,” Lemieux writes. The trouble is, since 2000 the Democrats have lost two of the last five electoral counts; it would take a GOP defeat for any serious discussion about reform to start, let alone to propose any constitutional amendment. I’ve cooled off on the grumbling at friends who hang on to Hillary Clinton’s considerable popular vote lead as a, ahem, mandate to oppose Trumpism. This presidential election was no “referendum” on liberalism; forty-five percent of voters said in exit polls that they wanted the next president to be as or more liberal than Barack Obama. The election is a hockey stick across the face of complacent Democratic leaders who have had no interest in shoring up candidates at the state level.

Lemieux again:

In the meantime, the Democrats need to emphasize that Donald Trump was not the people’s choice. Paul Ryan has already claimed a mandate for a radical and deeply unpopular policy agenda. More people voted for Clinton’s agenda, which should be a good reason for Democrats to unite in opposition to put pressure on wavering Republicans in the Senate. The Democratic Party cannot normalize the Trump administration.

I trust Chuck Schumer like I do myself around Hendrick’s Gin, but yesterday he sounded like had some fight in him. Here’s how I know the next four years will be difficult: I have to keep my own party in line.

Looking for clues: the best greatest hits

Below are the greatest hits and compilations that have most shaped my listening. By no means is it complete. Several of the Essential and Gold entries supersede much fêted predecessors in breadth and, less often, cohesion.

Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder’s Original Musicquarium Vol. 1
De La Soul – Timeless: The Collection
Psychedelic Furs – All of This and Nothing
Merle Haggard – Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard
King Sunny Ade – King of Juju
Roxy Music – Street Life: 20 Great Hits
Sly & The Family Stone – The Essential Sly & The Family Stone
Tears For Fears – Tears Roll Down: (Greatest Hits 82–92)
Pet Shop Boys – Discography
Youssou N’Dour – Rough Guide to Youssou N’Dour & Etoile De Dakar
Al Green – Greatest Hits
Donna Summer – Gold
Gang of Four – A Brief History of the Twentieth Century
Funkadelic – Music For Your Mother
Dolly Parton – The Essential Dolly Parton
The Velvet Underground – VU
Luther Vandross – The Essential Luther Vandross
George Jones – Cup of Loneliness
Kate Bush – The Whole Story
Aaliyah – Ultimate Aaliyah
The Cure – Standing on the Beach: The Singles
Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty-Eight
Morrissey – Bona Drag
LL Cool J – All World: The Greatest Hits
George Michael – Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael
Rosanne Cash – The Very Best of Rosanne Cash
The Stylistics – The Best of The Stylistics
The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs
Robert Palmer – Addictions, Vol. 1
Elvis Costello – Girls Girls Girls
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Chronicle Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
ABBA – Gold
Talking Heads – Sand in the Vaseline
Earth Wind & Fire – Greatest Hits
Janet Jackson – Design of a Decade: 1986-1996
Various Artists – MTV Party To Go Volume 3
Gap Band – The 12″ Collection and More
Loretta Lynn – Gold
Duran Duran – Greatest Hits
The Go-Betweens – 1978-1990
Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend: 1951–1964
The Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady
New Order – Substance
David Bowie – Changesbowie
XTC – Fossil Fuel
Aretha Franklin – 30 Greatest Hits

You’re so gorgeous I’ll do anything: The best of The Cure

Although Robert and the Smiths scored only two American pop hits, ubiquity has given them the profile of a Foreigner or Coldplay. I saw this myself at a June live show. We’ll be hearing “Boys Don’t Cry until Robert Smith hobbles on stage with his black-painted walker.

1. A Night Like This
2. Boys Don’t Cry
3. Pictures of You
4. Shake Dog Shake
5. This Twilight Garden
6. High
7. Inbetween Days
8. Primary
9. Just Like Heaven
10. Why Can’t I Be You?
11. A Hundred Years
12. Throw Your Foot
13. A Forest
14. Close to Me
15. Jumping Someone Else’s Train
16. The Baby Screams
17. Sinking
18. 10:15 Saturday Night
19. How Beautiful You Are
20. All I Want
21. Speak My Language
22. A Man Inside My Mouth
23. Let’s Go to Bed
24. Open
25. Lullaby (Single Remix)
26. The Lovecats
27. The Hanging Garden
28. Snow in Summer
29. Just One Kiss
30. The Funeral Party
31. Friday I’m in Love
32. The Top
33. Faith
34. The Caterpillar
35. M
36. To Wish Impossible Things
37. A Short Term Effect
38. Primary
39. Push
40. Icing Sugar
41. Never Enough
42. Give Me It
43. Lament
44. The Upstairs Room
45. Like Cockatoos

America, we’re in for it

Ezra Klein on the president-elect’s hysterical tweets last night (to which I won’t link):

I’ve noticed a lot of people on Twitter seem to think Trump’s tweet is scary because it’s false, but the actually scary interpretation is that he believes it’s true, which he probably does. It seems likely that Trump got his “information” from conspiracy theorist site, or someone else retweeting or rewriting Infowars — a lot of weird things Trump says later prove to emerged in the pro-Trump, conspiracy theory-corners of the internet. The problem with Trump isn’t the lies he tells as much as it’s the information he chooses to believe.

Consider the difference between a world where Trump is lying to us, and a world where Trump has fooled himself. Trump lost the popular vote, and he lost it by a wide margin — more than 2 million votes and counting. A wise man would take that information seriously and think about how to staff his White House, set priorities, and moderate his message to win over a majority of the public. Instead, Trump appears to have convinced himself the vote count was riddled with fraud and that he won a majority of the legitimate vote — and thus he can govern like a man who won the popular vote, and holds the mandate that carries.

Meanwhile in my state many Trump voters worry that the GOP may do exactly what their vote for the GOP candidate portended:

More vulnerable are people like Gerardo Murillo Lovo, 44, a construction worker who never had health insurance before signing up for a marketplace plan in 2014. He pays $15 a month and gets a subsidy of $590 for a plan that covers his wife, as well. When he renewed his coverage last week at the Epilepsy Foundation, he learned that the price would not increase next year.

“I’ve heard that what he wanted to do first is get rid of Obamacare,” Mr. Murillo, a Nicaraguan immigrant who is a citizen but did not vote, said of Mr. Trump. “But my personal opinion is that he will discuss it with other people who will convince him that we can’t get rid of this. I think it’s going to be maintained one way or another, and I’m going to keep it as long as I can.”

My personal opinion is that the president-elect will surround himself with people who, taking advantage of Mr. Murillo’s apathy, will use the congressional advantage to sell the Murillos up the river.

Last week, Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito cracked up a Federalist Society gathering with the wit independence of mind that are his trademarks:

Justice Alito peppered several shots at college students into his remarks, such as when he recalled Scalia’s diverse upbringing in Queens.

“Nino said he grew up in a melting pot,” the justice said. “I will not say that, because I know that, according to the powers that be in the University of California university system, the phrase ‘melting pot’ is a microaggression. But the people of Nino’s Queens didn’t know it was a microaggression.”

While discussing Scalia’s transformative influence on oral argument, Justice Alito mocked the campus trend of designating physical “safe spaces” free from thoughts with which liberal students disagree.

“It became a contact sport,” Justice Alito said of oral argument. “The courtroom was not a safe space when Nino was on the bench.”

No, it certainly wasn’t when Nino was in the majority: not for women, female workers seeking redress, homosexuals wanting to marry. And it says little about Alito’s education if all he learned from watching the late Scalia at work was thinking What Would Scalia Do.

America, we’re in for it.

Our life together: The best of John Lennon

I’m far enough away from December 1980 to say that John Lennon, like his misbegotten mate George Harrison, peaked in the early seventies and spend the rest of the decade recording albums because he had to, in the same way that a janitor has to take out the trash before clocking out. Even Double Fantasy, the first boomer album acknowledging that hey-I’m-forty, boasted too many production reins and corsets to be what The Blue Mask and Freedom later were (for those who think “corsets” is sexist, Yoko’s Season of Glass and her songs on Milk & Honey convey the doubt of an independent mind compelled to play a role — like Lennon did). Yet the songs below form a solo career to be proud of. The guy sang and played guitar like no one else and took himself no seriously than a sixth grade teacher with a bald spot. Smarter than your sixth grade teacher though: his last interviews are a joy.

1. Instant Karma!
2. Working Class Hero
3. Crippled Inside
4. God
5. Well Well Well
6. #9 Dream
7. Watching the Wheels
8. Bless You
9. Cold Turkey
10. Nobody Told Me
11. Going Down on Love
12. I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier
13. Mother
14. I Don’t Want to Face It
15. Stand By Me
16. Woman is the Nigger of the World
17. Mind Games
18. Look at Me
19. How Do You Sleep?
20. Oh Yoko!
21. Why
22. Cleanup time
23. I’m Losing You
24. Serve Yourself
25. Jealous Guy

Singles 11/25

Swede Sabina Ddumba earns my highest score this week in part by showing up every would-be dance track I’ve heard in the last month, including an even worse than I thought Charli XCX track, also reviewed. It’s the sort of week when Keith Urban making like Chris Isaak sounds good over turkey.

Click on links for full reviews.

Sabina Ddumba – Time (8)
Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color (6)
Letters to Cleo – Can’t Say (6)
Charli XCX ft. Lil Yachty – After the Afterparty (5)
Victoria Kimani – My Money (5)
Sofía Reyes ft. Reykon – Llegaste Tú (4)
Louisa Johnson – So Good (3)
Andy Grammer – Fresh Eyes (3)
Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter (1)