Monthly Archives: May 2018

Worst Songs Ever: Counting Crows ft. Vanessa Carlton’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’

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.

Counting Crows ft. Vanessa Carlton’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’
PEAK CHART POSITION: #5 on US Adult Contemporary, #30 on Mainstream Top 40 in 2003.

Paving paradise and putting up a parking lot was to Joni Mitchell a thing of unmitigated delight, the better for her to appreciate the paradise behind the pretty veil of memory. Love affairs bloom most poignantly in the recollection; wasn’t this the wisdom of Blue, For the Roses, and the other remarkable albums Mitchell recorded through 1977? Unlike her sententious peers and rather studious followers Mitchell had a sense of humor in those days. This jovial approach to the silent spring was unexpected during the Nixon era’s nascent environmentalism, but it ain’t enough to transform “Big Yellow Taxi” into a song I wouldn’t touch except as a reference point. For pure yuks the host album’s title track is better: Mitchell, refining the vocal swoops that Prince would study like a first-year law student does torts, writing with affection about the hippie women in gypsy shawls baking brownies for Stephen Stills types who don’t know what they got til it’s gone. Continue reading

Running and jumping in place: Pusha T, Parquet Courts, Wussy, Arctic Monkeys

Pusha T – Daytona

The Paul McCartney of coke rap returns with another model of taut smarts likely to be forgotten by year’s end (I top twentied his 2015 album, apparently). Kanye’s much praised solo production (with help from Mike Dean and Andrew Dawson on more than half the album) incorporates Yes, “Twelve O’Clock Satanial,” and “Bumpy’s Lament,” giving Pusha’s boasting quasi-spiritual overtones. Hence the symmetry of the collaboration: Kanye’s solo schtick is to inflate what once were self-help maxims and since 2010 incoherences veined with self-pity and persecution mania. Continue reading

Worst Songs Ever: Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Learn’

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.

Alanis Morisette’s “You Learn”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #6 in August 1996

Many readers wondered when the hell I’d get to at least two Alanis Morissette numbers. Well. Important, crucial even, to the range of self-expression allowed to women working in pop, Morissette has sounded okay to me for years. Liz Phair never enjoyed a song with the cultural ubiquity of “You Oughta Know.” Pretenders didn’t ship almost twenty million units of a single album, let alone cumulatively. Continue reading

Worst Songs Ever: Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’

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.

Lionel Richie – “Dancing on the Ceiling”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #2 in August 1986

Because Lionel Richie has never been a person whose career suggested he danced at discos or the bathroom, let alone ceilings, his last top five pop smash has the pull of good fiction. The former Commodore had had an excellent early eighties: productions and songwriting assists for Alabama and Diana Ross; a smash eponymous debut; and the onslaught of 1983’s Can’t Slow Down, an eventual Grammy winner for Album of the Year that exploited MTV’s insatiable appetite for product and radio’s acquiescence to this new order. With a gate fold sleeve flaunting Richie’s sartorial entry into the world of pop high finance, Can’t Slow Down might’ve been Thriller if Thriller hadn’t been Thriller; “All Night Long (All Night)” was scary-ebullient as much as “Thriller” was, and the synthesizers on both didn’t scare Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather. Like Thriller, its handful of non-single tracks (“The Only One” and the title track) got enough airplay to fool listeners into thinking they were. Continue reading

Claire Denis: ‘Solitude is something very special…’

The New Yorker‘s Alice Gregory interviewed Claire Denis as the French director works on High Life, herEnglish-language début starring Robert Pattinson and André Benjamin of Outkast and set in space. Among many fascinating bits are the following:

After buying coffee and taking her seat, Denis began to talk about her mother, who had died, at the age of ninety-four, six months earlier, during the filming of “High Life.” Still in mourning, Denis seemed incapable of avoiding the topic, turning to it in many of our conversations, with little or no segue. “When she was pregnant with my little brother, she had a bad pregnancy and had to stay in bed,” Denis said. After giving birth, her mother became depressed. “I remember very well, this little boy was my son, for a long time, until she recovered and took over. I remember when she was an old lady and she would say, ‘My son, my son!’ She was really in love with her son. And I had to tell her, ‘You know, in the beginning, he was mine!’ And it’s true that at that moment I realized how beautiful it was to see a new baby born, the changes every day.”

Denis, who never remarried, also never had children. Earlier, when we spoke about the decision, or nondecision, she told me, “It was a pain, and then it was a memory, and now I have accepted it.” She added, “Maybe this is just convenient for me, but I never thought of being a mother as an accomplishment for a woman.” At the same time, “loneliness, independence, solitude—it’s heavy,” Denis said. Since her divorce, a half century ago, she has had two long-term companionships. One lasted for twelve years, and the other, with a man whom she would not identify beyond confirming that he’s “also in film,” is, as she put it, “still going on.” She continued, “It’s also heavy to be a couple, but solitude is something very special that clearly tells you at some moments, in the day or night, that if you were to die in the next moment you wouldn’t ever again see a human face.”

I’ve written about solitude — aloneness — as a queerness. Friendships and lovers offer deepening, and the work is the satisfaction.

All this, and Let the Sunshine In you should watch.

Singles 5/26

Suspicious of the young man because he styled his hair before he’d lived a little, I approached “Bloom” with caution. When I’m cranky it sounds wan. So rarely do we get songs about being on the receiving end of anal sex — a pretty song! — that I’ve made a couple allowances.

Not giving a damn whether he’s old enough to live mars the debut of Mason Ramsey, an exploitative number that’s the worst song of 2018 to date.

Click on full links for reviews.

Troye Sivan – Bloom (7)
Taconafide – Tamagotchi (7)
(G)I-DLE – Latata (7)
Darius Rucker – For the First Time (6)
Hatchie – Sleep (6)
Jess Glynne – I’ll Be There (5)
Florence + The Machine – Hunger (4)
Shawn Mendes ft. Khalid – Youth (3)
LSD – Genius (2)
Rita Ora ft. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX – Girls (1)
Mason Ramsey – Famous (0)

The best final studio albums

Listening a couple weeks ago to The Go-Betweens’ 2005 Oceans Apart, I got to thinking about final studio albums  as opposed to albums assembled after an artist’s death. LULU wasn’t going to make it. Too many people were still alive. Cut the Crap, Tin Drum, Naked — nope. I’m not convinced by Back to Black or Strangeways, Here We Come either. I cheated a bit by including Closer andIn Utero, for obvious reasons, and Second Chance, especially the latter — Eldra Debarge may surprise us yet; and Abbey Road constituted the last sustained Beatles recording despite the release of Let It Be. Continue reading