Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Not the Same" / Ben Folds / Rockin' the Suburbs

Well, here I am with a repeat performer, as I reviewed The Ben Folds Five's "Army" back a ways. I promised myself no repeats unless they are in the pantheon, the Mount Olympus of the B.Mo performers. Mr. Folds most definitely qualifies (although technically, this is a Ben Folds solo song whereas "Army" was with his old band...but I digress).

So, "Rockin' the Subrubs" came out in 2001 and rather than relegating Folds into obscurity, actually made his career skyrocket. It's not often you see an artist leave a successful (even semi-successful) outfit and become biggger, but it happens (Timberlake, Stefani, etc.)

Out of a stong, strong CD, this is actually my favorite tune. I have a pretty vivid memory of this song from a trip to Chicago with my buddy Stephen and Merk (another memory from the same trip was recounted earlier). At one point, Stephen was driving, Merk and Stephen's boy were sleeping in the back, and we were somewhere in the endless cornfields of rural Indiana.

So this CD was playing, and as Stephen and I are huge Ben Folds geeks, we were both digging it. When this particular song came on, we both started singing right along, then we talked about how it was both of our favorite. Then we looked into each other's eyes, leaned a little closer, and...

Nah, not really. But we did play the song two or three more times in a row, singing at the top of our lungs each time. And neither Merk nor the tot woke up. A little memory, but a very happy one.

What I really like about this song is the subject matter. It's pretty much about the big , life changing moments in your life that effectively change it forever. The first line - "You took a tip, and climbed a tree / at Robert Sledge's party / And there you stayed / 'Till morning came / And you were not the same after that" was, according to Folds, inspired by a true story in whcih one of his buddies dropped acid, stayed in a tree all night, then came down and was a born again Christian ("You gave your life / To Jesus Christ"). He always tells this story live (you can hear it on the "Ben Folds Live" CD) and gets a good chuckle out of it. Later on, though, there's a line that goes "'Till someone died / On the waterslide / And you were not the same after that" that hits pretty close to home for your humble author, as I myself had a life-changing moment invoving a death on the water (and I'm not sure what Folds is alluding to here, but hey, we all bring our own experiences into art, don't we?).

Musically, it's a pretty serious sounding tune, broken up by a bright, cheery chorus. I LOVE the deep opening notes on the bottom end of the piano after those three drum beats. That 8th note mostly stays at the bottom of the song through its entirety. There's a nice part right before every chorus (first time is at 1:10) when there is a two note "Ahhh-ahhh" vocal in the background, which Folds makes sure the audience sings in his live shows (check :45 into this clip). My favorite part, though, is near the middle of the song when that background vocal comes in during the verse, instead of before the chorus. It's very subtle, but just so, so cool. It's from about 2:15 to 2:25, and it coincides with the "waterslide" lyric from above. It's hard to describe unless you're listening as you read, but...chills. Every time I hear it. Chills.

Sorry to screw you on the video clip again, but every clip I found was a live version from a cell phone with people singing all around (not that I do that during his concerts, you see *whistles, looks around room*). Plus, the album version is so much better than any live one I've heard.
Click it!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Feel" / Big Star / #1 Record

What a curious band Big Star was. Led by pop mastermind Alex Chilton (immortalized in The Replacements song of the same name)and named after the old grocery store chain (there was one in East Athens when I moved here long, long ago), they really were never popular during their inital run.

Somewhere along the way, however, they were rediscovered and enjoyed a completely out of the blue Renaissance in which they became to be regared as one of the godfathers of alternative music. It happened gradually in the late 80's and 90's, beginning with the aforementioned Replacements song. When Pavement first came out in 1991, they really played up their debt to Big Star. Then there was the pre-Nirvana alternative band Teenage Fanclub who titled one of their CDs "13" after a Big Star song. Shit, there was even a Bangles cover of one of their songs, too. This rebirth culminated in Big Star reforming and playing a pretty famous show at the University of Missouri (?) in 1993. You may also know Big Star as the original composers of the theme song to "That 70's Show".

My own exposure to them was gradual. Back in 1993 there was a great, great Athens band called Magnapop who I would catch live whenever I could. They put out a CD which included a cover of Big Star's "13", (which I didn't know at the time). Then, there was the Engine room influence. Many of you (er, both of you?) remember The Engine Room, one of the classic Athens bars of my college years. This was THE bar for me and my crew. I went there on opening night and spent many, many years after that drinking $3 PBR pitchers there and shooting pool with hot Asian design majors. Anyway, they played Big Star's "#1 Record" over and over. The awsome song "Way Out West" just ineascapibly got stuck in my head, so one night when it was being played again I finally asked the bartender who it was. Then it all made sense...oh, that's Big Star. I went out and bought this CD, and loved it.

This song is the first on the CD, and it has a nice, quiet picked guitar intro before exploding into the verse. The first time I heard Chilton's voice on this song, it sounded harsh, honestly, but then it settles down by time the lush chorus kicks in. I love the harmonizing "Ahhhhh"s in the background of the chorus, too. The best part, though, happens at 1:25. After the guitar solo, they suddenly go into this extended, revved up instrumental jam with horns blaring a whole new riff, a saxophone solo, and I swear to God I hear some harmonica in there. Then right at 1:50 it smacks right back into the chorus, and it's awesome.

It's kind of a cliche to say a band was ahead of it's time, but I really think that's the case here. "#1 Record" sounds like it could have been released in 2007 on Matador records, and I'll bet no one would think twice about it. Good stuff.

Sorry I couldn't find a clip of this song on YouTube, so you'll have to click the link to get the MP3. It's worth it, though. Instead, I leave you with my favorite tune on that CD, "The Ballad of El Gordo"

And here is the link for "Feel"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Cherub Rock" / Smashing Pumpkins / Siamese Dream

OK, I'm not really sure why this song is on my itunes library. I don't really fancy the Pumpkins at all, and I consider them to be one of the most horribly overrated bands ever with one of the most egomanical, annoying singers ever. I must say I fall in with Steven Malkmus of Pavement, who once famously sang in "Range Life"? (3:39 in): Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins / Nature kids, they don't have no function / I don't understand just what they mean and I could really give a fuck."

All that aside though, I must admit I really like their song "Drown" ever since I heard it way back on the "Singles" soundtrack. I just can't do much more than that. Part of that is Corgan's voice (which probably sounds strange coming from a Geddy Lee fan), and part of it is the whining. Like in this song : "Let me out!" Oh boo-fucking hoo. You got famous and now you are disillusioned with fame. What a novel concept. Stop releasing CDs then! And whatever you do, don't give us more shit like Zwan. "Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage". Are you shitting me? That type of crap lyric belongs on the lit notebook of some tortured high school sophomore.

Having said all that, the first :39 seconds of this song absolutely rock. Maybe that's the whole reason this song is on here to begin with. The only other Pumpkins song on my playlist is "Christmastime" from "A Very Special Christmas", which isn't too bad. And I guess you could say the music he wrote, um, excuse me "produced" for Hole's Celebrity Skin CD was pretty good too. BUT OTHER THAN THAT...shut up, Billy Corgan.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

"Shake Hands WIth Beef" / Primus / Brown Album

"Shake Hands With Beef". Just think about that a minute. Les Claypool and the Primus boys got together to record a new song, found a little groove, banged out the track, then someone said, "Hey, what should we call this one?"
And someone else says, "Uh...Shake Hands With Beef?"

Of course, if you have any experience with Primus, you can expect this sort of thing. One of the more oblique, strange bands to benefit from the early 90's alternative boom, I came across Primus pretty randomly. During my first year of college, I believe, "Sailing the Seas of Cheese" was released. As I was an avid reader of both Rolling Stone (yeah, I know) and SPIN magazine (subscriber, even!) back then, the reviews of this band sounded pretty good. In print, they read like a mix of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rush. So I picked up the CD and the first thing I hear is:

When the going gets tough and the stomach acids flow
The cold wind of conformity is nipping at your nose
When some trendy new atrocity has brought you to your knees
Come with us we'll sail the seas of cheese

I wasn't very pleased with the music.It was not at all what I expected; it was very odd to me. However, I gave it some time and it did start growing on me. Also, MTV picked up "Jerry Was a Racecar Driver" and it became a semi-hit. My buddy Marty (That's Dr. Murthy to you) and I became full on Primus fans, buying up the back catalogue and even going to see them live in Atlanta on tour (at which I bought a T shirt with the "Cheese" cover and the very words earlier in this post on the back.)
I guess the clincher for me being a Primus fan then was hearing Rush's YYZ intro before one of their songs on their live album.

Primus became a pretty popular band, as a matter of fact. I gave up on being a big follower after the next couple albums (though Marty kept at it, to his credit). It's not that I don't enjoy them, it's just that a whole Primus album at, it's a little much. The singles are great, though, and one evening I went and bought my favorites on itunes, this being one of them.

The main thing I enjoy about this particluar song is the groove. That nasty, funky, crazy groove that only could come form the mind of Les Claypool. Whatever you think of Primus, it's hard to deny the genius of this dude. He plays bass like it's never been done before, an innovator in every sense of the word. So, that's what gets me about this song - the slap-happy riff, and the utter ridiculousness of the title. What's it about? I'm hoping one of you might know.