Monthly archives: November 2008
Liveblogging Chinese Democracy
Perhaps the most anticipated and near-mythological album of all time is now out, at least over at MySpace Music. (I'll try not to bag on that too much, but the experience is terrible there.) So with the reviews starting to come, I decided to give it a first listen and give my initial impressions. Chuck Klosterman's review hits the big question - "Throughout Chinese Democracy, the most compelling question is never, "What was Axl doing here?" but "What did Axl think he was doing here?"" I'm not going to even try to answer or even contemplate that here. I just want to listen and react to what I think is presciently being called "The Last Album." Let's work through the narcissism, overdubs, and see if there's any 'there' inside this:
Chinese Democracy - the first "single" from the album is pretty classic neo-GNR. The lyrics are nonsensical and if China is a metaphor, is it one from the early 90s or now? In 1995, this one's damn good, but now, it's almost like a time capsule or an unreleased B-side. It's the problem with the whole album - do we judge it as an album that came out in late 2008 or one that sort of spans eras? It's an album encased in amber and I think where you put it depends on how you hear it. It's a Jurassic Park of an album if you can ignore the back story
Shackler's Revenge - This song debuted on Guitar Hero and seems almost built for it. Some odd breaks and a high difficulty Buckethead-style (I'm not sure if this *is* Cousin Bucket or if his work ended up on the finished product) solo. The overdubbed high-low vocals don't really add much and it's a decent enough, but not substantial song. If someone can tell me anything about Shackler or who the bleep he is, I'd appreciate it.
Better - This was leaked by Antiquiet earlier this year and for all the talk about those being demos, I can't see any big differences. Great riff, interesting bridge, and a very rockin' but very busy arrangement. The solo here is going to be one where people take sides on the loss of Slash. If you like the new stuff, you're in for some of the same arguments that came at Sammy Hagar. But wait, there's a second guitar solo that's much more Slash-ish, if a bit more fluid than his cutting blues riffs.
Street of Dreams - Another of the leaked songs, this comes with a bit of Elton John piano at the start and then changes into something else. There's obvious changes from the leaks. There's some Brian May-style riffs and ... horns? Axl's in "November Rain" mode, going from balladeer to screaming Katherine Hepburn rocker (yeah, really) in the same line. By the time the strings come in, it's obvious that he's thrown the kitchen sink at this song. If there's fifteen years of overdubs to be found, it seems they're here. Again, we have two disparate solos and a long falsetto leadout from Axl that takes the song that's already over the top deep into the uberindulgent.
If The World - Damn you, Klosterman. Comparing this song to a lost James Bond film tune is perfect. It really does sound like that and once you get it in your head, well, the song becomes almost parody. We've got some nylon guitar, some Middle Eastern sounds, and Axl nonsensically screaming. Fact is, the lyrics through the first songs make as much sense as mud. I guess I wasn't expecting deep insight from a GnR album.
There Was A Time - Another of the leaks, this one has a strong Queen feel to it, which to me isn't a bad thing. The strings are excessive, but do we have to look at "excessive" in a different way with this? Again, we're caught judging this album as much on backstory, but it can't be credibly separated from that backstory without changing the album. While excessive and indulgent have to be used here, the way it builds from the solo up to the multiple overdubs, strings and yet another second solo out, with Axl screaming over it actually seems reasonable. It's a huge cinematic song that reminds me that Axl might have had some idea here that he kept putting more and more into until he got close. Someone called it an "Appetite for Construction", a great play on words that effectively sums up the album so far. Brian Wilson says he knew exactly what Pet Sounds would be like before he ever started recording and just had to get everyone else to hear it. The problem here is that I think Axl knew too - the problem is that he heard the song in 1994 and was trying to reconstruct it from an increasingly vague memory. This one, he got close.
Catcher In The Rye - Only Axl would name a song this. If that's not Izzy Stradlin playing at the start, it's a very convincing imitation. His solo work is dreadfully unnoticed, by the way. The lyrics here are obviously about the album and Axl himself, but you can ignore the narcissism and focus on a great solo (seriously, someone get a guide to who did what on this, assuming someone knows!) Groupies everywhere are going to be quoting this song, saying Axl wrote it for them. The end is ... well, how many times can I say "excessive" or "over the top" without it losing the edge. It's a horror movie ending, where you think Jason is dead, but he comes back that one extra time to give you a shock. Axl always has to go one more time, it seems.
Scraped - The most straightforward song on the album has two vocal tracks that have slightly differing sounds from Axl. WIth this, you have to wonder - were they recorded years apart? At least he didn't autotune it, which is about the only tool he didn't seem to use. The solo here sounds like A Perfect Circle and I know there's some overlap between the bands, so ... who knows? It's a nice enough rock song that would have really rocked if this was a couple years after Use Your Illusion rather than a couple generations, musically. I almost want to call it filler, but not quite.
Riad N The Bedouins - Umm ok. Axl's going for another Middle Eastern feel and, honestly I can't tell why. He abandons it a couple times in the song. The "Immigrant Song" style scream that functions as a chorus doesn't really work for me and the strings under the solo are (you guessed it!) excessive for where the song is meandering along. There's a nice melody at places, but the song is so choppy, going in ten directions at once that the center never holds.
Sorry - Apparently Axl found his Pink Floyd albums over the past couple decades. It's a shock here in that it's relatively straightforward. There's some wavy psychedelic guitars and he does his best to channel Roger Waters in both spirit and vocals. This one is allegedly an early song written for someone from the original band, either Steven Adler or ... well, there's a list of possibilities. It's the most obvious of the hundreds of F**k You's in the album. Axl seems both obsessed with making an important album and in reminding people that they all tried to stop him to no avail. It gets really meta in places and none more here in a song that just doesn't fit with the album or the catalog.
I.R.S. - Yet another in the F**k You genre, the song loses itself in the slower middle. The falsetto misses where the growling "Gonna make this a federal case" chorus hits. "What you think, I'm doing this all for my health?" sums up everything else on the album and his soaring scream into a Bumblefoot solo (I think ... correct me here if I'm wrong) are vintage. The lyrics work here better than the song, a flip of most of the rest of the album.
Madagascar - When he started this album, I wonder if anyone could have imagined that Chris Rock would be doing a sequel to a kiddie animated film with the same name as the song. The open has horns ... real or synth? I'm not sure, but it's Beatlesy without being good. The vocals start out low and ... well weird. While the lyrics talk about being lost, Axl's voice is just a step lower than he's ever been and he does his snaky winds that seem as if he's trying to get back to where he normally sings. Again, without knowing which Axl sang this it's tougher to put it into context. By the bridge it's less weird and actually fits into the song. And then ... Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" and Strother Martin meet in the middle of some less clear quotes, a couple I think also from "Cool Hand Luke" just ... well, I have no idea what he's doing here. "Free At Last?" Kids in colleges across the country are going to debate the meaning of this song a lot while smoking pot and trying to get laid. And that might be the problem - no one had to think about "Appetite For Destruction" and even "Use Your Illusion"
This I Love - Tom Keifer, is that you? No, no, it's just Axl, a piano, and strings. Oh and a million overdubs. It's a Cinderella song, not a GnR song. I guess if the kid with the soul patch worked his magic on the last song, the girl he was explaining the lyrics to might give it up during the solo here. Otherwise, it's forgettable. I mean, who besides Axl remembers Stephanie Seymour anymore?
Prostitute - Following a straightforward love song with a title like "Prostitute" is natural here, right? But even Axl has to get the irony of starting a song with "It seems like forever and a day." It's a nice culmination, clearly about the album again and powerfully narcissistic while he tests the boundaries of ProTools more than he tests the boundaries of rock like he did *cough* twenty years ago.
You know, that kid with the soul patch in college now wasn't even alive when Appetite came out and as the guitars, drums, strings, ten vocal tracks, and six tracks of pure angst ring out as the album finishes, he's just as likely to say the old GnR was better. He's right, but while Chinese Democracy isn't a great album, it is a very good one. It opens with a laughing siren and voices that make you wait nearly a minute and then a killer riff through a crunchy Marshall stack. It closes with a lingering string quartet that just fades on a chord. There's a lot that happens inbetween, but that difference is about as effective a summary of this album as exists.
I spent the last ten minutes looking at a prospect list. There's a ton of them out there. Some are good, some are bad, and all to me are like stock analysis. There are reasons that they're written that are very valid and yet the outcome might be completely different for a number of reasons. For me, they're entertainment at a point in the season where there's not much else. Baseball America has done them for years. John Sickels and Kevin Goldstein do a nice job. The others? Well, I come back to the thing I realized a couple years ago.
I wrote about this somewhere, but can't find it. I remember a January or February day at the local grocery store. Just before the frozen aisle, just this side of the bandages and antacids, is the magazine rack. I always check to see when the preview magazines are out and pow, there was one. I forget which one but I parked the cart, walked over and started glancing through. I flipped to the contents and was looking at the articles, at the teams and realized -- wait a minute. I don't know any of these writers. It really doesn't mean anything, but I know a lot of people in the industry, especially the fantasy industry and I'd never HEARD of these guys. Why would I spend seven bucks on this?
A lot of prospect lists are like that. Guys I've never heard of talking about players they've never seen. Maybe they have, but they don't say that. Maybe they talk to people like Goldstein does, but it doesn't come out in their writing. I don't see quotes from scouts. Essentially, I think many of these are meta-rankings, lists of lists, made from reading lists, not seeing players. At one end it's worthless apart from the components and on the other, it's simple plagiarism.
But then again, I give them the benefit of the doubt if they're well written, informative and entertaining. I'm sure that someone picked up a Rotowire magazine at some point and wondered who the bleep this "Will Carroll" character was. Or maybe he's still wondering. Or she.
But inside the industry, there are a lot of people I do know. Mostly, it's because I've done radio with them in either direction. I've met them at the Winter Meetings, at least a lot of the beat writers. They're actually considering BP for membership in the BBWAA this year, which should be interesting. I don't think we'll get in, but it's nice to at least get a foot in the door. With newspapers collapsing, I wonder where the BBWAA will be in ten years. Someone I really respect and admire talked with me on the phone today about whether there might be a fit for him at BP. I wish I could hire the guy, because he's the top in the field, but I don't have that kind of influence at BP and he won't come cheap. In this economy, it could be anyone. Murray Chass isn't at the Times, Gordon Edes isn't at the Globe, and who knows who's next.
There's a lot of great writers out there, solid writers and thinkers and hard workers. In a crowd like this, you probably wouldn't say "who?" if I mentioned Alex Belth, Matthew Leach, Aaron Gleeman, Eric Seidman, or Sam Mellinger. But is anyone the next Peter Gammons, or is that like asking who the next Sandy Koufax is? The next Tracy Ringolsby? The next Michael Lewis? (I have an idea about that ...) And moreover, where will they be writing?
Who will I say "who?" about next? And who am I missing?
Basking in the Glow of Hitting My Game of the Year
Hard to see how I can top last week's EASY 5-star cover with Cal, but we will see if I can get on another hot streak.
Michigan (-3.5) Northwestern
Arizona (+6) Oregon
Stanford (+24) USC
San Diego St. (+30.5) Utah (3-star)
Utah has its big rival up on board (BYU), with a BCS bid on the line. I suspect they will be flat in Chuck Long's last major game as a head coach.
Houston (+8.5) Indy
Minnesota (+4) Tampa Bay
Kansas City (+5.5) New Orleans (3-star)
Jacksonville (+3) Tennessee
St. Louis (+6.5) San Francisco (3-star)
The NFL goes to the dogs this week. Does someone really think the Saints are that good at this point? Chief QB Thigpen might be the biggest positive surprise of any player in 2008. Does anyone think the 49ers are more than 6 points better than anyone at this point? 2 interim coaches are pushing their pathetic teams in hope that they get the full-time gig in 2009. Expect a bad game to go down to the end.
A Tangle of Wires
I hate wires. One of the reasons I bought my Macbook Air was the push towards "pure" wireless. I don't need a lot of ports, I don't need a lot of size, and up to a point, I don't need a lot of processing power. I took a peak approach to deciding whether or not an Air would work for me, though I did it blindly, pre-ordering after lusting on it during a Stevenote.
Somehow, along the way, I've ended up with a tangle of wires. This is my current desktop:
Yeah, that's a four-port hub I have there, stuck into my Air's one USB port. I have an external hard drive (for Time Machine and media storage), my iPhone cord, and my Turbo.264 video conversion thingie. That leaves me with an open port for ... well, anything else. It was a $29 port, so anyone who says one USB port on the Air isn't enough just isn't trying. I did learn that video conversion was painfully slow on the first-gen Air, so the $89 Turbo fixed that. (It's slow on the Macbook that was available at the time, though I'm hearing fast on the new unibodies.)
Still, why so many wires? I can do file transfers via wi-fi, download from the Internet, but I can't transfer to a hard drive? Yes, it'd be slower, but would the tradeoff of a bit of speed for a wire be worth it? Maybe. There's been talk of wireless USB or some variant for years and if it worked, I'd be all for it. It's not just my computer -- it's the miles of wires connecting my Tivo to my receiver to my tv. It's the speaker wire running under the carpet. I'm ready to ditch the wires if someone will just let me.
A lot of people in a lot of places are telling Barack Obama what his first act as President should be. Obama shouldn't listen to any of them, but I'll toss mine into the ring.
On January 21st, President Obama steps to the lectern at his first press conference as President and begins:
"I would like to announce that I am pardoning President George Bush for any and all crimes that he committed while serving as President of the United States. I am doing the same for Vice President Richard Cheney. We are closing a chapter and moving forward. We do not have time to look back, but merely to say 'never again.' We will now get on with the business at hand."
Cal is The Juice Blog's College Pick of the Year
Cincy (+7) West Virginia
(5-star Game of Year) California (+22) USC
Vandy (+24) Florida
I think the two most talented teams in the colleges are USC and Florida. Despite this I think there are too many points involved with them this week. This is Cal's chance to prove that the Pac-10 isn't just a conference of teams that are USC's bitches.
Buffalo (+4) New England
Indy (+4) Pittsburgh
Kansas City (+15) San Diego
All about the dogs.
This article gives some great examples of what this tax increase on the wealthy really looks like. To a player making $10 million a year, the proposed change of the tax rate would cost them about $400 thousand a year. That means Derek Jeter will pay about $900 thousand on his $20 million '09 salary. That's six games worth of pay, more or less.
Continuing to use Jeter as the example here, he now pays a 35% tax rate. Ignoring the deductions and other methods of reducing the tax burden as well as his other income, Jeter pays $7 million in federal income tax. That's a LOT of money, no doubt about it. I'm sure, somehow, Jeter will be able to make it without too big a hit on his lifestyle. Instead of pocketing a post-tax $13 million, he'll have $12 million.
But what if you're a normal American, not a Yankee. Well, you probably have more range, but that's another discussion. If you make $50,000, you'd be taxed at the current 28% rate, giving $14,000 to the IRS, again before deductions and other reductions. So you tell me, is it fair that someone making more is being taxed more? I'm not sure, but I'd guess that the effect is less. That $900 thousand isn't going to keep Jeter from eating, from buying a house, from paying his heating bill, or from jetting off to the Caymans with his hottie du jour. I'm not buying that it's patriotic, as Joe Biden suggested, but it's logical.
With the call of New Mexico for Obama, it's over. With the currently called states and near certainties in California, Washington, and Hawaii, Barack Hussein Obama has crossed 270. Theoretically, and stranger things have happened.
Congratulations, President Obama. Now, deliver.
The iPod Effect
Watching the political coverage today and talking with some covering it, I've noticed one thing and it appears that exit poll numbers is capturing it as well. I'm calling it the 'iPod Effect.' With younger, more affluent voters and long lines around the country, it seems that those same voters, which tilt to Obama, are prepped and enthusiastic. By taking their iPods (or books, magazines, or anything), they prepared to wait it out, no matter the wait time. Older voters seem more unwilling to wait. Many are saying they've never seen lines like this, can't stand this long, and some number, which polls suggest could be as much as 5%, are just bored and leave. There are a million things in play, but the iPod effect is in full effect. Next time HDNet* shows video of the lines, try and count how many white cords you see.
*Nate Silver will be providing his analysis for HDNet on tonight's coverage, anchored by Dan Rather.
Reexamining What I Wrote 4 Years Ago
With the election on the eve of destruction for the Republican Party, I thought I would publish again what I wrote 4 years ago. The only criticism I have of my analysis is that I wasn't harsh enough on the dire circumstances that the Bush administration and Republican Congress (especially the House) could bring to this nation.
For the past few years, I have had this piece linked on the side under the title of Kerry Losing Good.
The Loyal Opposition
I voted for Barack Obama.
That comes as no surprise to those who remember my staunch anti-Bush attacks of the last five years -- five?! -- at this blog. But where I worked for Kerry's victory in 2004, all along much more of a vote against than a vote for, I could never quite bring myself to believe in Obama's brand of hope. Sure, I wanted to believe, but I never did. In fact, it was John McCain who held me back.
Not that I could vote for McCain, a near-criminal and at the very least a co-conspirator in the ineffective Congress of the last two decades, a man who's best qualification was failure. Being shot down is no resume line and McCain is no more (or less) deserving than, say, Admiral James Stockdale, another former Vietnam era POW but who was roundly seen as undeserving even as a Vice-President. On this fact, any of the nearly 600 Vietnam-held Prisoners* are as qualified. McCain, of course, ran on his record in the Senate (undistinguished compared to others) and his wife's money, which is what got him to the Senate in the first place.
(Off topic here, but did anyone notice Cindy McCain wearing a "Navy Wife" brooch during her appearance on Saturday Night Live? I doubt Carol McCain felt good about that.)
So if my vote is once again more a tick of "against" than "for," it leaves me at a political crossroads. While my hope is that Obama will become the President and leader everyone so fervently hopes he will be - and there's that word again - I have no real basis for that hope beyond promises. I am brought back to my Christian school education and reminded to build my home on rock, not sand. (Matthew 7:24-27.)
So what am I for? What is my political rock? If I am not for many of Obama's policies and goals, it leaves me with one choice and that is to articulate myself as the loyal opposition. America's style of republicanism (form, not party) doesn't allow for this, but it is something that has strengthened them. If you've never watched the Prime Minister's question time on C-SPAN, imagine any recent President standing to question, then ask why we don't have a similar function. Yes, the press might, but doesn't.
As we elect a President tomorrow, it's time for all of us to become strong soldiers for his cause or to be in the best sense of the words, the loyal opposition. Over the next few months, as Obama or McCain establishes his government, I'll be establishing the principles by which I will stand. I hope you'll join me in examining the important issues of the day, one by one.
* Yes, I acknowledge discrepancies with the numbers, but let's not get into that here.
Zack and Miri Don't Make A Great Movie
First, let me be clear -- I love Kevin Smith movies. I love the concept of most of his movies and what he's done for a new generation, including Judd Apatow. That said, I was very disappointed by "Zack And Miri Make A Porno." We have a great cast, a great concept, and yet ... it just never comes together. As I walked out of the theater, I realized that in his third attempt to make a "commercial" movie, Smith had once again missed the mark. He simply doesn't have it in him to be anything but himself.
If you haven't seen him do a speaking engagement or the videos of these (I think there are two), you'll miss why his commercial movies don't work. It's because the guy simply can't be anything other than completely honest. The term "brutal" honesty is often cliche, but with Smith, it's who he is. From the subtle in-jokes about Bryan Singer and Judd Apatow to the dialogue that makes up most of the movie, it's pure Smith. He talks about being fat, his health problems in detail you wouldn't want from someone you knew, and the problems of his life because that's how he deals with it. In those moments, the film is true.
In others, it's not. The tacked on ending only reminds you of the line that "a film needs an ending." The presence of actual porn stars Katie Morgan and Traci Lords only reminds you that it's not an actual porn. The scenes of Pittsburgh only remind you that ... well, that something's just not right with this Kevin Smith film. It's not Jersey and therefore not really Smith. Hockey scene? A veritable deus ex machina for almost no payoff. Indian coffee shop owner? Same thing.
Nothing comes together, ironic in a film about coming together, in both senses. Is it a raunchy Apatow/Smith hybrid curse-fest comedy or a post-modern hard-luck love story? Smith didn't seem to know either. It is a great concept, on paper, but not on film. As I walked out, my friend said "I wish Judd Apatow had made it." For me, I wish Kevin Smith had.
Also, I did not need to see Jason Mewes like that. At all.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
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