Archive for March, 2010

SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Sonic Boom (2009).

Kiss has been kicking around in one incarnation or another for the last few years: original line up with make up, another line up with no make up and now this new line up: original makeup with two new people in the Peter and Ace positions (I wonder what happened to Bruce Kulick?).

There’s something disingenuous about having a fake Ace and a fake Peter, because in the past they always changed makeup for new members. So, this gives the impression that the original members are here (even though you can see that they are different men under the makeup).

But, Gene says it’s about the band, not the people.  So, whatever.  The first song, “Modern Day Delilah” is as good as any song they’ve done in two decades.  It’s heavy and catchy and the band sounds great.  But I feel like each song produces diminishing returns.  “Russian Roulette” loses me because the lyrics are seemingly for two different songs: one in the verses, one in the chorus (not that one should ever look too deeply at Kiss lyrics).

“Never Enough” sounds like a pretty typical 90’s Kiss song (except the melody is totally Ozzy’s “Flying High Again.”  “Nobody’s Perfect” is one of those poppy Gene songs that’s kind of throwaway but works well as a light-metal song.

The most egregious errors on this disc are the two anthems.  If ever there was a band who thrives on anthems, it’s Kiss.  But their best anthems are about partying and rocking.  These anthems are about standing united together (and we’ll ask the former members of Kiss about that).  “Stand” is about being there when you’re down. “All for the Glory” is a similar theme (we’re all for one), but it fares better musically.  It is weird though that fake Peter sings it in  voice that sounds a little bit like real Peter.  It’s also weird that “When the Lightning Strikes” features fake Ace that sounds a wee bit like real Ace.

On some better notes, I rather like the silly pun of “Danger You, Danger Me, Dangerous.”  And, “I’m an Animal” sounds a like Creatures of the Night era Kiss, which is a good thing.  The final song is an anthem that they got right.  It’s about partying and features a silly “Say Yeah!” chorus.  And that’s what Kiss does best.

The bonus disc is this new lineup re-recording classic Kiss songs. It’s a weird thing and  number of  bands seem to be doing it lately. I’m not entirely sure why.  Most of the songs sound exactly the same, but where they deviate from the original I don’t think they work as well (yes, I’m  traditionalist).  Although I like the less disco-ey version of “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”  But if you’re not going to radically change anything, then why bother?

And to hear the by now 60-something year-old Gene Simmons singing about a 16-year-old is just majorly creepy (before it was statutory, now it’s statutory and gross) if he keeps going, he’ll be living the lyrics of “Goin’ Blind,” “I’m 93, you’re 16.”

So, this is a good effort from the band.  It has received pretty rave reviews, which I don’t think it quite deserves.  But it’s better than a lot of their middle period discs.

[READ: March 20, 2010] School of Fear

I ordered this book for our library’s Spanish collection.  When it arrived it looked intriguing, so I found an English copy and set out to read it.  I enjoy this sort of children’s book: adventure, schooling, fears, books that don’t insult kids’ intelligence.

And this book doesn’t.  I’m not even sure exactly what the age range is supposed to be because some of the jokes are quite sophisticated.  However, as I will get to shortly, the older the reader is, the less likely that she will fall for the “surprise” of the book.

But let’s start at the beginning.  The premise of the book is that if you have a terrifying, crippling fear, The School of Fear will cure you of it.  But the school is incredibly secretive, so secretive, in fact, that no one knows about it (except for the precious few who can help you get help there). (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: RUSH-A Farewell to Kings (1977).

Although I recently said that Caress of Steel is one of my favorite Rush albums, I’m really torn between a number of their albums from the 1970s.  I’ve loved A Farewell to Kings since the time I got it: it’s over the top, and it showcases all of the band’s strengths.

The opener “A Farewell to Kings” features a wonderful classical guitar intro that morphs into a heavy rocking masterpiece.  There’s time changes galore and it’s all over in just about 5 minutes.

It’s followed by “Xanadu,” one of Rush’s all time great epics.  Tubular bells, cool guitar effects, Rush’s first great use of keyboards-as-effects, even a cowbell solo all open this song with sufficient grandeur for what’s to come.  A slow vocal intro leads to a super fast exploration of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.”  Whenever people wondered why Neil’s drumset was so big or why Alex (and Geddy) had doublenecked guitars, they needed only listen to this to be amazed that three men could play it all.  11 minutes long and not a wasted second.

One of Rush’s biggest hits and perennial favorite “Closer to the Heart” comes next and it still sounds pretty fresh all these years later.  “Cinderella Man” is an overlooked track on this disc, but it showcases Rush’s drift away from the individualism vs state of 2112, and move toward the individualism of doing what’s right for all: “he held up his riches to challenge the hungry.”  It also features a blistering solo from Alex.  “Madrigal” is a very short acoustic song, quite a departure for the time but a nice delicate track before….

“Cygnus X-1.”  The other epic on this disc.  And right from the start you know you’re in new territory here.  A fully distorted voice, bells echoing like they are floating at sea (or in outer space), all kinds of build-up lead to a noisy bass line coming from far away in the depths of space.  And after 2 and a half minutes of build up, the whole band kicks in with this off kilter heavy rocker.  It’s basically the story of a space ship flying into a black hole. It also features some of Geddy’s most screechy vocals.  I wish I could remember the exact quote, but my friend Joe’s bandmate had a wonderfully derogatory description of the end of this song.

But aside from the end, the main body is great.  From the 5 minute mark, the song is a catchy, driving song as the Rocinante flies through the galaxy.  From the 7 minute mark, the song is seemingly caught in the black hole, as the song drifts about, compressing the song into a manic session of fast fast fast riffs and Geddy’s tortured screams.  It’s pretty intense, and guaranteed to alienate as many people as it wins.

The album features so much experimentation, and it’s wonderful to see a band with so much creative energy release a disc with so many fantastic moments.  Very few records take risks like this anymore.

[READ: March 21, 2010] The Color of Heaven

This final book of the Kim Dog Hwa’s trilogy is a wonderful conclusion to this sweet story.  If you’ve read my previous two posts about these books, you know that this is the story of, Ehwa, a young woman as she matures in rural Korea several generations ago.  By this third book, she has turned 17 and has met the love of her life.  Sadly for her, Duksam has had to leave suddenly.  At the end of book two, he set sail in part because he was fleeing an angry mob, but also in an attempt to make money as a fisherman so that he can save up for his beloved Ehwa. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-KISSology: The Ultimate Kiss Collection, Vol. 2: 1978-1991 DVD (2007).

In addition to containing Kiss Meets the Phantom, this DVD contains concert footage, music videos and some interviews.  We see Peter Criss being interviewed on CNN (!) by a woman in a tank top (ah, the early days of 24 hour news) about leaving the band.   Of course, this doesn’t hold a candle to the actual music video for “Shandi” one of the cheesiest of cheesy Kiss videos.

This early 80s period is one of disco, operas and unmasking, and it is generally considered their low point.  I however, happen to enjoy this weird period.  While I acknowledge it’s not very “good,” I enjoy it much more than their mid-80s makeup-fee period.  (The often maligned The Elder has a weird kind of charm of the over-extended-effort).  So, I am of course sad that it is so under-represented here.  Although we do get a few clips from the long defunct show Fridays (I wish they would have shown more of the show itself, as it bought us Larry David and Michael Richards (and is mentioned in Black Flag’s “TV Party”, but that show seems to be locked away in a vault somewhere).

Disc 2 features an Australian tour during 1980, where the Aussies go crazy for them, and the band plays accordingly.  There’s also the final (or one of the final) shows they did with makeup.  And then the first show the did without makeup (1983).  And, naturally we see the highly undramatic “unmasking” on MTV, a hilarious attempt at TV news by the ever-flappable J.J. Johnson.

The concert in 1987, (The Crazy Nights Tour) is pretty bad.  This was a time when the band still played the early makeup songs, but they seemed to care so little about them, that it’s kind of embarrassing (Paul’s contempt for singing “Love Gun” in a way that even vaguely resembles the original is rather shocking).  Even Ace is phoning it in at best.  (Of course, Gene is a ham from the start so he’s always on).

After watching that last show I was not looking forward to the final Detroit show (The Hot in the Shade tour–a disc I liked more than most of the late 80s discs, even if the cover conceit of a sphinx with glasses is about as lame as you can get), but I was surprised at how great the band sounded.  They seem energized and like they were having a lot of fun.  Bruce Kulick definitely rocks hard (although I am a little disappointed that he felt compelled to change some of Ace’s signature guitar solos).  And it ends the disc on a very high note.

The collection ends with the death of drummer Eric Carr.  Which is certainly a downer, but seeing the shows that he played in are definitely a high point.  I’m fairly certain, however, that I can’t bring myself to watch Vol. 3 of this collection.

[READ: Week of March 22, 2010]  2666 [pg 513-564]

More deaths. I am starting to get worn down by all the murders (and I can see that I am. not. alone.) and by the cavalier attitude of the police (which is either a coping mechanism for them or just a case of simply not caring).  I am very much looking forward to Part 5!

However, there were some breakthroughs this week! One of the murderers was captured and found to be a member of Los Caciques [blackbird?] gang.  [UPDATE: 6/27/2012:  Thanks to Oscar in the comments for the update on what <<cacique>> means.]

Amidst the usual murders was a suicide.  Perla Beatriz Ochoterena, a teacher, wrote that should couldn’t take it anymore.  Juan de Dios Martínez talks to Elvira Campos about it, but they didn’t come to a valid explanation.  Was it because of the dying girls? Would that drive anyone to kill herself? (more…)

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A few weeks ago on the Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson began inviting his guests to engage in an awkward pause with him.  Awkward pauses have been somewhat de rigeur in popular culture for a number of years now.  In fact, Ricky Gervais has pretty much built a career on them–and we have him to thank for such brilliant fare as The Office and even Modern Family.

But those sitcom awkward pauses were scripted, designed as responses to someone saying or doing something so bizarre that no response was even possible.  Craig Ferguson, who says that being Scottish has given him a lifetime of awkward pauses, is doing something a little different.  He asks his guests (most of whom are actors) to sit, silently, awkwardly with him.  Never has silence been so funny.

I think the first person I saw do this with him was Adam Greenberg (a master at awkwardness).  There have been many more since, including the awesome Lauren Graham, Topher Grace (another awkward man) and most recently John Cusack.  With Cusack, nearly the entire interview was an awkward pause, and it was hilarious (see the clip below). (more…)

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It’s not often I have a disc with the same name as a book.  But lo, here they are.  I’ve no idea if the album inspired Hannaham at all (or if he even knows of it) although the title track song does rather work well with the book, with lines like:

You won’t get caught if you don’t get queer/And you’ll be ready for a new frontier  You try and live And God says no.

I had loved Monster Magnet’s Powertrip quite a lot.  So, I was more than willing to get this follow up.  I’m a little disappointed in the disc overall, but I’m not entirely sure why.  It’s not quite a sharp as Powertrip, but it’s also not quite a trippy as their earlier stoner rock releases.

Having said that, there’s some great tracks here.  It opens very prominently with “Melt” and the phenomenal heavy rocker “Heads Explode” which features delightfully obscure lyrics like “I am a pillar of salt.  You’ll never be worse than me.”  And then comes, “Medicine 2001” another fast, chunky rocker.

There’s also some other way-out (for Monster Magnet) tracks, like the bluesy slide guitar sleaze of “Gravity Well.”

I think it’s the tracks at the end that kind of drag the disc a little bit “Queen of You” is an interesting slow track, but at nearly 7 minutes and coupled with the 7 minute “Cry,” it’s a bit too much all at once.  The final track, “Take It” is a weird, weird (for Monster Magnet) keyboard and drum machine track. It’s very mellow (and sounds like early Depeche Mode), and works as a weird experiment.  The actual final track is a bonus track, “Silver Future” which rocks once again.

I’m pleased that Monster Magnet experiments so much, but it feels like a full disc of MM songs with an extra EP of experiments tacked on.  I’m not sure what they could have done differently, but for some reason the disc falls a little short.

[READ: March 18, 2010] God Says No

This is a very simple tale of an overweight black man struggling with life in the 1990s.  The twist on the story is that he is not struggling because of his race or his size.  He is struggling because he is a good Christian man who is, without question, homosexual.

The book is written in first person and as such it reads like a memoir (although the main character has a different name than the author).  You can’t help but wonder how much of this book is true (although really it doesn’t make any difference), especially when one of  the characters dies.  It feels like tribute to an actual person.

The book opens with Gary Gray living in a dorm at a Christian college.  He is completely obsessed with his roommate, a hunky white guy who walks around in his boxers.  The roommate is clearly not interested in him, in fact he goes so far as to say he is repulsed by Gary (for being fat and black, in addition to anything else he may find flaw with). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLUE ÖYSTER CULT-Curse of the Hidden Mirror (2001).

It’s something of a shame that BOC has fallen off the radar so much.  While never a big seller, they’ve been a surprisingly good singles band.  And on this disc, they have a couple of songs that could have been big hits if anybody still cared about them.

“Dance on Stilts” is their most interesting song in quite some time.  It’s catchy, it’ got a cool riff and it’s got a great keyboard sound that you could easily hear on rock radio.    “Here Comes That Feeling Again” could also have been a pretty huge hit, even now on a mellow rock station, it would work very well.  In fact, the whole disc plays wonderfully within the classic rock style.

Cyberpunk author John Shirley (who wrote a song called “Transmaniacon” based on a BOC song) wrote most of the lyrics for this disc.  And the band seems inspired by the subject material because throughout the disc, the riffs are solid and catchy and the songs are great.  “One Step Ahead of the Devil” has the great BOC keyboard sound that punctuates the chorus, while “I Just Want to Be Bad” is a silly song that surpasses it clichés with a  cool unexpected minor key riff.

Since the band has only released two albums since Imaginos, it’s faint praise to say that this is their best album in that time.  But this album is definitely one of their best released.  Whereas Heaven Forbid sounded like a standard collection of BOC songs, this one seems like a collection of superior tracks based on the classic BOC format.   BOC fans who were unsure if it was worth tracking down these latter day discs would do well with this one.  The final track, “Good to Feel Hungry” is pretty silly and is definietly something of a throwaway, but aside from that the whole disc is very solid.

[READ: March 20, 2010] “Just Before the Black”

This is the second story by Franco that I’ve read.  I’m torn about whether I think he ought to be a good writer or not.  I’ve enjoyed his acting, but when an actor switches to another medium, it’s always tough to know whether he’s serious.  Of course, Franco has gone to writing programs, and is in pursuit of his PhD, so I think his writing motives are pure.  It’s also interesting to wonder if there were any writers who inspired him to want to write.  In the two stories I’ve read, his style has been terse, and I’ve wondered if Hemingway was an inspiration.

This one started off short and brusque (typical of Esquire fiction), and I was afraid I wasn’t going to enjoy it.  But after a few paragraphs, the heart of the story came to light and I found it really fascinating; the story morphed from a tough guy story about two dudes hanging out in a car to an introspective story bout two dudes hanging out in a car. (more…)

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After Imaginos, it seemed like Blue Öyster Cult was all wrapped up.  (Of course, they tour all the time, so I guess they’ll never officially go away).  So it was something of a surprise to hear that they had a new album out back in 1998.

The album cover is dreadful, but the music is actually pretty good.  It sounds like a good compendium of BOC styles, all updated with a late 90s sound.  You get heavy songs, light ballads, and even a cover of an old BOC hit.

The album opens with “See You in Black” a really heavy chuggy guitar sound, much heavier than anything BOC has done before.  (And lyrically, he wants to see her in black because that means her husband is dead).  And yet by the time of the fourth song, “X-Ray Eyes” we’re back in familiar keyboard-heavy poppy territory.

The second song, “Harvest Moon” is actually quite nice, and would likely have been a hit single a decade or so earlier.   By the time we get to “Damaged” we’re in the pretty traditional heavy boogie sound of their earlier discs.

“Cold Gray Light of Dawn” sounds like late period BOC.   And “Real World” offers one of the first tweaks of the BOC sound: acoustic guitars in a rocking song. The disc ends with a reprise of the earlier hit “In Thee.”  It’s live and sounds good in this all-acoustic guitar format (and since Allan Lanier plays on the disc, it’s okay that they re-recorded it).

There’s very little in the way of mind blowing songs here, but if you’re a fan of BOC, and you’re not sure what you’ll be getting with this disc, fear not.  Bloom’s heavy songs are typical of the heavy BOC sound and Buck Dharma has hit his stride with his poppy tracks ala “Burnin for You.”

[READ: March 21, 2010] “The Return”

I intend to read the other Bolaño books once I’m done with 2666, but the publishing world seems to be conspiring to make me read them all before that.  This story is another one from the forthcoming The Return, translated by Chris Andrews.

And whether it was the unusual subject matter or the translation itself, this is one of my favorite of his short stories so far.  The premise of this story is quite simple, and it is set up in the first paragraph.  The narrator has recently died, and he shares two pieces of news: there is life after death and Jean-Claude Villeneuve is a necrophiliac.

The story follows the narrator after his death (he died on the dance floor).  His spirit leaves his body (like that scene from Ghost) and floats around following the body as it goes through the process of post-death existence.  The narrator is funny, with snide comments about himself and the workmen who are caring for him (and how he can’t watch his own autopsy).  But it’s when his body is carted off the premises that things get really interesting. (more…)

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