Here’s hoping the album sounds as hard as this looks:
Archive for the ‘albums’ Category
There’s a song on the upcoming Pet Shop Boys album, Elysium, called “Your Early Stuff”. Following previous leaks “Invisible” (which I like), and “Winner” (which I don’t), this doesn’t sound promising. Will it be an album length version of “Samurai In Autumn” (boo) or an album length version of “Yesterday When I was Mad” (yay)? Keep your fingers crossed.
Back in January, American Idol alum Kellie Pickler released her third album,100 Proof. Opening with “Where’s Tammy Wynette”, the album’s a fascinating throwback to the country style of the late 60s and early 70s. Despite being the best country album of the year so far, it doesn’t fit stylistically with country radio at the moment, and it hasn’t sold well. So today, in their infinite wisdom, and just as Pickler is coming into her own as an artist, Sony Nashville dropped her (and people wonder why Sony has been losing so much money lately). Here’s hoping that some forward looking label, like Big Machine, picks her up. I just hope she doesn’t end up on some sleepy “Americana” label—her music’s too vital for that.
I can understand people (even deadmau5) being upset by Madonna’s reference to ecstasy at the Ultra Festival—casual endorsements of drugs, especially ones as appealing on the surface and as insidiously damaging as MDMA, are always worthy of attack. And I agree with Philip Sherburne that it’s the worst kind of pandering. What I can’t understand is how surprised everyone seems to be. Didn’t they notice the title of her new album? It’s not just a vanity license plate, you know. To keep it in mind, just remember my preferred subtitle: MDNA: A Letter Beyond Ecstasy. Everyone got it now? Good. Now stop being so stupid. Especially you, MDNA.
Now that the speculation as to why Arcade Fire managed to win the Album of the Year Grammy has died down a bit, and all the “indie is dead” jokes have been made, I would like to offer my own theory, which can be summed up in a very few words: U2 didn’t make a record last year. The academy, in it’s basic leanings, has not changed one bit. The Suburbs is the sort of album that has always appealed to them, at least over the last twenty or thirty years: a concept album packed with serious intent put together by an actual band that plays, for the most part, traditional acoustic and electric instruments instead of turntables and sequencers, has a solid footing in the good-old ideas of rock and roll, even if they often deny it, and puts on a great, let’s-make-the-audience-feel-like-they’re-really-a-part-of-the-action live show. Awarding Album of the Year to Arcade Fire was the conservative move, not a daring step into indie land. The fact that the band is on Merge instead of one of the major labels is meaningless. Merge, along with Matador and Sub-Pop, may technically not be a major label, but it’s a major player, in a position not unlike that of 60s labels such as Atlantic and Elektra. People in the industry pay attention to them, and give them far more respect than the indie community itself, if there is such a thing anymore, seems to realize.
At the same time, can we finally put aside the idea that the Grammy voters are all tasteless idiots who care about nothing but pristine studio craftmanship and commercial success? This canard was most obviously in evidence this year in the way so many people began predicting a Lady Antebellum sweep once “Need You Now” had picked up the Song and Record of the Year awards. “Need You Now” is a very good record, maybe even a great one (it certainly has at least one great moment), and it’s the sort of thing that’s catnip to Academy voters. But it’s also far superior to anything else on the album, and the members of the Academy knew it. Now that they can buy them separately, even they can remember the difference between a great single and a great album.
The old-fashioned way: they promo-ed the thing to death and practically gave it away. Works every time.
Politics, autoharp, and Eddie Cochran. The new PJ Harvey album, Let England Shake, is beginning to sound like something both amazing and sublime (so what else is new). The background vocals on the latest release are going to run through my head for days, if not the rest of my life.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, etc. now. Album comes out Valentine’s Day.
And just for the hell of it, here are the other leaks.
In a Los Angeles Times piece about new ways to release music, Ann Powers reprints a quote from Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips that sums up in a sentence one of the things I like most about the new world created by digital singles: “We want to try to live through our music as we create it, instead of it being a collection of the last couple years of our lives.” Which is to say that instead of the grand statements that albums represent, he wants to carry on what might best be described as a conversation with his audience. That doesn’t mean grand statements aren’t worthwhile, just that for too long we lived in a world where that was all that was available, almost all that was allowed.
I think I’ve gone over this before, but once a month, or once every six weeks, strikes me as the ideal time span between singles. Once a week, as Kanye West recently proved—and that many others are about to learn—is too often. I got bored with G.O.O.D. Fridays after about a month, not because the music was poor (it wasn’t) but because the conversation was too one-sided. West did all the talking, and we were barely given time to absorb one statement before he was launching into another one. It was exciting at first, but then it got wearing. West may be better suited as an album artist: he thinks he has a lot to say (and sometimes he does), and he likes to say it all at once. I have no problem reflecting on his ego with almost as much attention as he gives it himself, provided I have a chance to breath once in a while.
The same is true, though, even for the most mindless pop singles. I want time to enjoy them, to squeeze all the fun out of them I can, to make the good ones a part of me. A week just isn’t enough time. That’s also why I dislike the current practice of previewing albums by releasing a single every week for the month leading up to the album’s release date. Either space them out over a longer time period as real singles, or give me the damn album. Back in the day, the labels wanted to delay the release of new music by a successful artist as long as possible, trying to squeeze every last bit of sales out of them and whet the audience’s appetite for the next one; now they think they can’t release them fast enough, because they’re afraid the audience will disappear in a heartbeat. Can’t these guys get anything right? You know the answer to that one.
Ta-Nehisi Coates lays out the main problem with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy far better than I ever could. Despite all the great music, the casual sexism and hints of racism that fill the album undermine whatever other message West may be trying to deliver. If he really is wrestling with his demons, it seems as if he has half a mind to throw the match before it even starts. Much of this is rooted in hip-hop, and even earlier black culture, and didn’t originate with West, but it’s obvious now that his idea of being the King of Hip-hop doesn’t include any actual desire to reform its moral view point—he’s just trying to cover it in more style and musical sophistication. Which makes it difficult to take much of anything he says anymore seriously.
I’ve been noticing more and more anomalies in record pricing lately, especially in terms of downloads. A lot of people brought up the fact last week that with a little tweaking of special offers, you could buy Kanye West’s new album on Amazon for 99 cents, but I’ve found even odder differences that, if not quite on the level of that deal, will at least save you a few bucks. I’m mentioning these not as a consumer service, but just as an illustration of how confusing things are right now, for both consumers and sellers.
Example 1: Let’s say you want to buy the new Black Eyed Peas album (I know, I know, but let’s just say, all right?) There are something like six different versions available on Amazon (including one that features a “second disc” (sic) of all the singles from The E.N.D.—just in case you’ve been in a coma for the last two years and are trying to catch up quickly, I guess), but I’m only going to consider two of them: the regular edition, which has twelve songs, and the deluxe edition, which has fifteen. The regular edition is currently bargain priced at $4.99, the deluxe at $9.99. Individual songs are priced at $.99. Do I have to do the math for you? If you buy the regular edition, and then the three other songs that are included on the deluxe edition, you get the whole thing for $7.93, two dollars less than if you made your life easier and mathematics-free and just bought the deluxe edition.
Example 2: The BEP savings are minor, I admit, so how about this for a deal? On iTunes, and also on Amazon, you can buy Frank Sinatra’s The Best of The Columbia Years, a four-CD set, for $34.99 ($32.99 on Amazon). Not a bad deal, but consider this: you can also buy The Columbia Years (1943-1952): The Complete Recordings, a twelve-CD set, for only ten dollars more. I realize that there’s probably a lot of crap on that complete set, and the best of is the better listening experience, but isn’t that what playlists are for? Besides, it’s Sinatra. If completism is going to be this cheap, consider me a completist.