Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One Down, At Least Nine More To Go

While Paste writes a lot of words about a lot of people, Tom Brokaw waxes poetic about 1948, 1968, 1238 B.C. and practically every generation but the present one, Bobby Petrino calls the hogs as convincingly as Hillary Clinton, some band named Boys Like Girls (buoyed by MTV's commercial-break-pimp-act) gets 90,000 more plays a day on Myspace than The Killers and White Stripes combined...earnest and insular citizens like myself sit and watch from home asking not the question Time magazine poses ("Where is it all headed?") but rather "How did the Planet Earth camera-supermen get THAT CLOSE to the bloody alligator?"

Last week I watched Floyd Mayweather coldly beat someone up just to feel a sense of normalcy and order.

I know, I know, this is already off to a disjointed start. But 2007 was the year of fragmentation and cultural disarray. Newsweek (and its sister publication, US Weekly) have minced enough words about the Age of You--Myspace, YouTube, Facebook, shared experience becoming obsolete while 6 billion people carve out 6 billion cyberniches, there-is-no-universal-when-every-person-creates-their-own-tiny-universe, and all that nautical talk. And, as much as I'd like to assume that all that swill is disingenuous and pessimistic and fundamentally untrue, there's no denying that the past 12 months have given little in terms of, well, America's pop cultural reawakening. Everyone's talking about something going on, but (outside of sexy coming back), I haven't seen a whole lot of anything.

Which brings me to two thoughts:
1) Even the best television shows use "tweener eps" ("in-between episodes") to pace their biggest plotlines and properly build drama over the course of an entire season. "Oh, no, we can't have them get back together until Episode 20...let's have them go to a party and stare longingly at each other in Episode 19." Episode 19 is then the tweener ep. And it's likely that 2007 was as well.
2) I blame the Counting Crows. Say what you want about Duritz and His Merry Band, but when they make a record that thing is unavoidable. People love it, people hate it, but everyone (freaking everyone) is aware of it. And, right now, that's oddly reassuring.

Of course, the Counting Crows didn't release a record this year. They were supposed to, but postponed the release for 2008. Because, really, who can put out one record every five years? The Iraq war is younger than Adam Duritz's sabattical.

My Morning Jacket didn't release an album, either. Theirs is also due in 2008.

Neither did Pearl Jam, or Outkast, or Dylan (really) or The Killers (really) or U2 or Lucero or Cory Branan or The Strokes or The Anyone Else Like That Either.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss did, though. And that was (alright, yes, I guess) really pretty nice and good.

So did (shockingly) Ryan Adams and the Band of Easy Cardinals. I "interviewed" him about it and we both agree that it's not his best work, but then again neither was his best work.

Kanye released some new stuff with a lot of hype and bluster and he says it's good, but I liked him better (and so did America) when his jaw was shut.

Jay-Z released something without a lot of hype and bluster, but with a lot of jazzy arrangements and Reasonable Doubt lyrics. And that never (really) got anyone anywhere, except platinum.

Josh Ritter sang "To the Dogs or Whoever." There were other songs on that record, I'm sure of it, but for the life of me I can't remember them.

Bright Eyes did, too, prompting someone to finally write, "well, the kid's grown up now and it looks like the classic album isn't coming." One day they'll copy and paste that for Ryan Adams.

Radiohead would be Earth's Greatest Rock Band, if only they came back from space.

Feist reworked a Coolio song, sold it to Steve Jobs, and made fat girls everywhere dance (and good for them!).

Band of Horses had enough, moved back to South Carolina, and wrote some of the best Blind Melon songs ever written.

Jack and Meg came back thumping and, yeah, they're still awesome and yeah, they're still rocking, but even the biggest Stripe-heads can't call this record better than anything besides (maybe) De Stijl. But that's still something, right? Right???

A lot of emo bands did a lot of emo things and a lot of emo kids thought it was emo-rad and this will all happen until next year, when the 10th grade is collectively "over it." But you HAVE to give them credit, doing that much with songs that bad. They're like Wojo, from those old Duke teams--all hustle.

And quietly--very, very quietly--the retarded stepson of the garage rock revival might very well have put together the best record of 2007, only it's not socially acceptable for ANYONE to call Kings of Leon the best at anything these days. Emo kids hate them because they like girls (worse, attractive ones!). College kids don't think they're smart enough. Music snobs keep waiting for the jazz break, or at least the electronic drums. Pop-hounds can't name you their songs (only they've heard them before).

Christ, the guy's voice sounds like Scrappy-Do-Through-A-Can-Opener! One of their songs is called "Ragoo!" "Charmer" is indefensible! What gives?!? Yeah, but just listen to it, and all of it, and several times. These are rock songs, played by a rock band, which is completely contrary to the Shins-dominated-easy-listening-Sunday-morning-coddle-me-more-please Top 40 aesthetic. But every song is about a very specific aspect of a very specific relationship in this narrator's own tiny little universe--it doesn't so much reject the outside world as genuinely ignore it.

Fifty seconds of escapist-sexy bass thump, then finally, "I don't care what nobody says/we gonna have a baby." That, folks, is emo I can support.

The end result is a record (Because of the Times) which places a band in the center of a pop cultural mini-philosophy, while providing an alternative to its prevalent aesthetic. All the insularity of the You Generation with none of the spoon-feeding. A band that is (almost by accident) of the times, but doesn't sound like it. And maybe that's all I need from a tweener episode like 2007.

Taken all I have to take,

P.S. I wrote earlier about Kings of Leon's "Arizona," if you want to check that out.


ross k. said...

I almost forget sometimes, with all the friendly digressing, that this is a blog about music and bands. Yeah, it hasn't been the best year for music. As with politics, is it 2009 yet?

It hasn't been the best year to watch Floyd Mayweather either, he threw a lot more combinations at the lower weights, but at least he put Ricky Hatton in his place, and hopefully now people will quit overrating the guy. Hatton might make a good wrestler, since he loves to hug and smother men without throwing punches at them, but boxing is not wrestling. You do have to throw punches. If you want to be the next Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales, Arturo Gatti, etc., you won't do it by running into a guy and holding him as long as you can. Those dudes didn't clinch, they punched.

Given Hatton's style, there was really no way Mayweather could have been in a fight that looked good and was easy to watch. But finally somebody knocked Hatton out. Thank you, Floyd. I taped only the tenth round with the perfect left hooks, and chose not to tape the preceding nine rounds of wrestling. I'm hoping that now they'll put Sam Soliman and Ricky Hatton in a ring together with no time limit, and let them grapple and rugby each other to death, taking them both out of the sport with one match. If only.

Michael said...

I know nothing of boxing.

But I agree with you, I can't think of a better new album from this year than Kings of Leon's. I also really liked Icky Thump...maybe better than their first album...maybe...but hey that's me.

ross k. said...

Hey, Mayweather is thinking about moving to mixed martial arts. Check it out:


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