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All reviews - Movies (957) - TV Shows (89) - Books (2) - Music (126)

Blonde and Beyond

Posted : 8 years, 1 month ago on 5 January 2010 08:42 (A review of Blonde & Beyond)

Blonde and Beyond is not a greatest hits, a best of or an anthology of any kind. It’s a combination of rarities, live tracks, remixes and demos. If they had dropped the obvious filler of album-track favorites I would have loved it much more. Throw both early demos of “Heart of Glass” (“Once I Had a Love”), their earliest recordings (like “Platinum Blonde”), and a few other disco versions (“Rapture”) and live covers (“Seven Rooms of Gloom”), remove the album-only tracks, and this would have been a great collection. As it stands it offers some wonderful rare moments which have since been recycled for their album reissues and other compilations. All except for the carbon monoxide punk of “Underground Girl,” which proves that Blondie have always been and will always be a garage-rock art-pop band, and the foreign language versions of “Sunday Girl” and “Call Me.” The trashy too-punk-for-words cover of “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” shows that even the proto-punks had a love for a solid dance groove. “Once I Had a Love” grooves along not on the shimmering disco groove it would become, but on something approaching a rock steady/ska beat. And “Poets Problem,” a b-side from the Plastic Letters-era is a wonderful piece of their trashy-pop. Not essential for the non-obsessed, but worth a listen for the die-hards (like myself). DOWNLOAD: “Underground Girl,” “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” “Once I Had a Love”

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Get It

Posted : 8 years, 1 month ago on 27 December 2009 06:06 (A review of Get It)

The Lashes debut album, Get It, is an infectious romp, but unlike their contemporaries Hot Hot Heat, the Strokes or Rooney, the Lashes sound like they’re aping their own generation and not playing the previous group’s grooves with their own jittery abandon. It’s not terrible; it’s harmless and very safe, but a lot of fun. And while the Strokes and Hot Hot Heat play alternative music with a pop sensibility, the Lashes are pop hipsters who add a few guitars into the mix. And they never developed as lyricists beyond high school (“Sometimes the Sun” features an epic eye-roll of a chorus). Again, it’s not terrible, except for maybe the cliché ridden ballad “Dear Hollywood,” but it’s instantly forgettable fluff. Think of this as the perfect sugary rush to groove along to on your way towards the beach. Or as the latest thing that your thirteen-year-old sister is in love with. DOWNLOAD: “Yesterday Feels Like a Year”

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Is This It

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 17 December 2009 01:24 (A review of Is This It)

The Strokes’ debut is all at once a combination of the Velvet Underground and Frankenstein-like assembly of the CBGB’s crowd, yet they always sound like themselves and never like they’re pretending. Is This It is a deliciously lo-fi neo-punk classic. Julian Casablancas’ vocals sound like they’ve been recorded in a subway payphone. They’re also shredded, tough and tender. “Last Nite” plays like a Ramones tribute, “Is This It” is slightly Television-esque, “Hard to Explain” bounces along on a nearly Blondie-esque bit of punk-pop. And the entire package is given a grimy sheen that’s reminiscent of White Light/White Heat. It’s no wonder that when they debuted in 2001 they became the indie pin-ups de jour. I remember rushing out to get this right after I heard “Last Nite” for the first time. I still love this record. DOWNLOAD: “Take It or Leave It”

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Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 17 December 2009 01:23 (A review of Heathen)

Yes, Heathen is probably the best Bowie album since Scary Monsters, but it’s not quite the instant classic that album proved to be. It is, however, a damn good collection of covers and originals. There is no grand character concept, this is probably the most vulnerable and honest Bowie has been on an album, and he is in excellent voice throughout. Pete Townshend’s guest guitar work on “Slow Burn” creates absolute magic. A neo-Bowie classic? Quite possibly. I love the song. And the three covers are amazing, stunning really. “I Would Be Your Slave” is particularly moving to me. I believe that it has something to do with his vocal performance. Same goes for “5.15 the Angels Have Gone.” The way his voice moves up and down and works around the chorus gave me chills the first time I heard it. Heathen does have an overarching concept: in our dark, isolated reality there must be a real connection and higher spiritual awareness out there. Somewhere. Bowie doesn’t need to Ziggy razzle dazzle to keep your attention, he’s managed to do that for decades. Instead, like a great author or filmmaker, he focuses on crafting a subtle, solid, satisfying new work. I found it alluring and enticing on my first listen. I still do. DOWNLOAD: “I Would Be Your Slave”

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Freedom of Choice

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 17 December 2009 01:23 (A review of Freedom of Choice)

Devo’s third album, Freedom of Choice, is still a hyper-caffeinated, jittery, nerdy art-punk sci-fi shlock party, but it’s got more pop song craft grafted on. It works and creates an exciting and highly influential New Wave document. Freedom of Choice effectively works as a second volume greatest hits selection after their debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.

Everyone knows the big singles: “Whip It,” “Gates of Steel,” “Girl U Want,” and the title song, but every cut on this record is aces. I love the keyboard-and-synthesizer stomp intro on “It’s Not Right” as much as the video game noises of “Snowball” and the riotous punk drum-and-keyboard loop of “Ton O’ Luv.” If the first album was all about devolutionary theories and yellow jumpsuits then this album is all about red flowerpot hats and disconnected sexual relationships and Cold War paranoia. “Cold War” summarizes the entire theory behind the album in a robotic dance party. But let’s talk about the singles for a minute. “Freedom of Choice” is steeped in irony and social angst. “Whip It” can be read in a few different lights, but I’ll always think of it as an android’s S&M tryst (much of that has to do with the video). And, of course, my favorite Devo song: “Girl U Want.” A giddy account of teenage love which sounds like it has been processed by a Mac. Next to their cover of “Satisfaction,” I can think of no more perfect a synthesis of their human desires/robotic delivery dynamic.

I thought that they sounded like robots who just wanted to dance and sneer like punks on their debut, but this takes into an entirely new level of computer programmed, machine made futurism that makes the debut seem like singer-songwriter confessionalism. That’s not a swipe at the band, it’s why I adore their music and nerdy glory.

I firmly believe that Devo is an underrated and underappreciated band. Their ironic detachment and angular approach to music has always interested and inspired me. This is probably the album that formed the casual listener’s ideas about the band, their music and ideology. And that is not a bad thing. This is a great album. DOWNLOAD: “Girl U Want”

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Blank Generation: The Birth of Punk

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 17 December 2009 01:21 (A review of The Blank Generation)

Blank Generation: The Birth of Punk is an exciting film for me to watch as someone who has grown up with much of this music since I was in utero. Once, and only once, my family took a trip to New York City. I wore a Blondie t-shirt that I found in a vintage shop in Melrose. I begged and pleaded with my parents to take my CBGB’s. I didn’t have to go inside, just seeing the outside and taking pictures was enough for me. I even dubbed it my holy pilgrimage since the alternative rock music that I love so dearly was sprung from the head of that club. I was never able to go, but Blank Generation has allowed to me to take a trip inside. I am eternally thankful.

I love that a film about a music genre so fully birthed by the underground art community refuses to play it safe. Anyone expecting a normal concert documentary, like, oh I don’t know, Woodstock need look elsewhere. The film infamously uses grainy black and white 8mm footage and overlays it with live recordings or demo tapes. The sound and vision often have nothing to do with one another. That is highly punk rock. In fact, it’s best to not think of this as a documentary. An art instillation could work, or perhaps a video scrapbook? Whichever you prefer.

I just wish that Suicide got some love as well, but it’s fantastic to see the New York Dolls, the first of the group to have any kind of ‘success,’ included in the proceedings. It’s also great to see that the ‘punk rock’ movement included wildly different sounds. You can’t tell me that the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads and Wayne County have anything sonically similar with each other besides being rough around the edges and different from what was popular at the time. And God bless them for it.

Seeing Patti Smith just starting isn’t very jarring, just update the wardrobe and she’s still the same. But seeing a trio version of the Talking Heads is. Same goes for seeing the original four Ramones, which has more to do with the fact that three of them have now passed on then how much their look updated over the years. Naturally since Debbie Harry is involved, she remains the most beautiful image in the entire film with her Cleopatra makeup, purposefully bad dye job and bored Nico-like stare. But Jimmy Destri pops up shirtless and Richard Hell appears at the very end – they were the closest things that punk rock ever had to pin-up boys. At least, I think so. I also love the ending roll call where every band’s name is spelled out on a leather jacket. How fitting.

I realize that much of this review has been from the point-of-view of someone who idolizes this specific movement, these specific performers and this specific sound/look/ideology. But I am probably the target audience for this. I get it, I understand it so instinctively that I can’t help but love it. I am such a pretender to their effortless cool that this allows me to have a brief glimpse into mid-70s underground avant-garde rock scene.

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The Men Who Stare at Goats

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 17 December 2009 01:19 (A review of The Men Who Stare at Goats)

I don’t demand that all of my political satire be deep and thought-provoking, but I would like it if it contained some teeth. The Men Who Stare at Goats desperately needed some bite. It also needed to choose a tone and stick with it. It bounces along between fluffy comedy, flirts with darker and edgier tones and never quite grasps for what is hopes to achieve. But George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey are obviously having a grand old time in their contradictory roles: hippies in the military who want to be Jedi warriors, basically. Scattershot might work in actual wartime, but it hinders a film. It’s not awful, but it could have been much better.

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American Life

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 8 December 2009 07:35 (A review of American Life)

American Life is an album about what it is like being, arguably, the world’s most famous woman. Dark, complicated and insular, it’s not an easy album to work through the first, second or even tenth listen. Yet, I find that it offers more than a few rewards once you submerse yourself throughout the work. It’s far from her worst album (hey Hard Candy).

Yes, too often the songs detour off into clumsy, awkward and downright ridiculous experimentation – the raps on both “American Life” and “Mother and Father” are embarrassing, the nursery rhyme of “Nobody Knows Me” takes the sting out of the song, the chorus of “Easy Ride” is awful – but tracks like “Hollywood” and “Nothing Fails” are dark and beautiful, respectively.

But let’s go back to the moments that make some of these songs less than they should have been. “American Life” is an awkward song to begin with, even if the rap is exorcised from the track. Yet there’s still something daring about the world’s most famous woman and reigning Queen of Pop making a folk-tronica song about the regrets, isolation, temptations and compromises of becoming the artist, icon and figure she is today. It could have been better though. “Mother and Father,” however, is a great song that only stumbles once she tries to do the schoolyard chant-rap. That child-like voice she opts for makes the entire song slightly demented, but it’s a glimpse into her psyche. I can relate to the song’s themes, images and lyrics. And “Nobody Knows Me” sonically merges the minimalist punk-disco of “Burning Up” and the electronica of “Ray of Light,” but lyrically it’s an embarrassment. Once again, the world’s most famous woman is blasting tabloid culture – arguably the very thing that she helped create, manipulated to make her this famous, and the regrets that she is now grappling with in doing so.

“Hollywood” was unjustifiably a flop though. It’s a great track, one of my favorite songs from her entire career. “I’m So Stupid” shows the influence that early punk bands like Blondie, Pretenders and the Stooges had on her growing up. While the stretch of songs from “Nothing Fails” to “Mother and Father” offer up some of the most personal and introspective songs since Like a Prayer.

While it never quite reaches the artistic and musical highs of that album, she’s obviously given as much of herself here. And that stretch of songs reveals an even more interesting influence: Joni Mitchell. That’s right, she might have used the same producer as her previous effort, Music, but most of the songs feature layered vocals, bare guitars and a distinct lack of vocoders. Her vocals have been left bare on much of the album, only rarely are they tampered with. And her entry into the Bond franchise, “Die Another Day,” was the only hit on the album. It remains one of the wilder and weirder Bond themes, and a hell of a good time.

American Life is an album that I respect more than I love. I listened to it constantly wondering how Madonna, the Queen of Pop, could make such a grand artistic statement and go so far out of her comfort zone? How could she fight against what she helped to create? American Life is about her midlife crisis, and while it’s a rough listen to get through, it has its own rewards. DOWNLOAD: “Hollywood”

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Land (1975 – 2002)

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 6 December 2009 07:31 (A review of Land (1975-2002))

The only thing missing from Land (1975 – 2002) is the song that this compilation takes the title from. If it had been included as either the album track or a live track, I wouldn’t have cared. That’s the only thing missing from an otherwise flawless greatest hits-and-more package.

The first disc, a non-chronological run through her studio albums for Arista, never lets up with all of Smith’s inventiveness, poetic genius and sheer force of personality, will, artistry. The only new song, a cover of then album-mate Prince’s 1984 hit “When Doves Cry,” is another great cover from Smith. Naturally, it barely resembles its original presentation, but it moves along with Smith’s alternative folk arrangement nicely. Since Smith has never really charted, “Because the Night” being her only hit, she wasn’t bound to include the obvious. She has opted instead to offer up fan favorites, personal favorites and the few songs she is well-known for. Personally, I would have traded out “Ain’t It Strange” for “Ask the Angels” or “Pumping (My Heart),” but that’s just my opinion and personal preference.

The second disc is where she gives her fans the real treats. “Piss Factory,” her first single ever recorded (although “Hey Joe,” that single’s b-side is nowhere to be found), makes its debut on an official Smith release. The rest is an assortment of studio outtakes, demos, live cuts and previously unreleased material. While the first disc leans heavily towards material from her 70s output, the second disc leans towards her 90s and early 00s material. Not a bad thing since these songs sounds fuller, richer and more punk than their studio versions. I don’t mean that as an insult to the studio versions, which rank amongst my favorites but the polish has been removed and the songs can breath deeply now.

This is not the only Smith release you will ever need, far from it. Land is not a summary, it is a great introduction. If you’re a fan and already own most of the albums that these songs are culled from, get this anyway for that second disc of rare material. It’s well worth it. DOWNLOAD: “Piss Factory,” “When Doves Cry,” “Higher Learning/Contemplation,” “Come Back Little Sheba”

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New York, I Love You

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 6 December 2009 07:27 (A review of New York, I Love You)

New York, I Love You is mostly peaks and valleys, but never less than entertaining or interesting. Since this is a collection of short films by different production teams some of them are more interesting than the others. As is to be expected, honestly. The lowest lowlight for me was the short featuring Christina Ricci, a talented actress whom I adore, in a glorified cameo trying to generate some chemistry with cardboard cutout Orlando Bloom. The surrealistic trip with Shia LeBeouf, Julie Christie and Jon Hurt was intruiging, puzzling and moving in equal measures. Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach as a married old couple celebrating their sixty-third anniversary ranked very high on my favorites for the comedic and emotional notes it managed to strike so effortlessly. And Natalie Portman’s writing and directing debut was amusing and full of promise. As a whole I’d highly recommend giving it a try.

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