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Every Little Step

Posted : 9 years ago on 13 September 2009 08:10 (A review of Every Little Step)

Dancing is both an art and a sport. Every Little Step is a documentary about two things: a look into the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line and a history of the show. Yes, it’s a bit of a snake that eats its own tail, but it’s fascinating to see how willing some people are to sacrifice and suffer for their art. The auditions are the best part. Some of these people are veterans – their bodies are in peak form, their abilities as well – but when the new comers perform, the veterans get nervous and start to steal from the new comers. Even in dancing there’s ageism! Yes, there’s even a bit of a point teetering on a real-life dancing Margot Channing-style meltdown. There’s a huge interest in dancing right now, but with the exception of So You Think You Can Dance? very little of it shows you the reality. Watch this and see the phrase “suffering for your art” played out before your eyes.

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The Best of Missing Persons

Posted : 9 years ago on 13 September 2009 08:09 (A review of The Best of Missing Persons)

A greatest hits collection should always make your band appear better than they actually were, or showcase how great your band was to begin with. This collection of Missing Persons songs does the former. They were as plastic and relentlessly chirpy as anything else associated with the Hi-NRG/synth-pop New Wave scene.

Dale Bozzio barely had a voice – it was mostly nasal vocal ticks and hiccups – but she had an impressive group of musicians backing her up. From the early almost punk-dance hyperkinetic beginnings, like “Mental Hopscotch,” to the funkier sound they adopted, like “Color in Your Life,” Missing Persons was a group of talented musicians. The Los Angeles New Wavers could deliver on the singles front – “Words,” “Destination Unknown,” “Walking in L.A.,” “Give” – but the album cuts get a little iffy towards the end. They deserved a better vocalist, but there’s some charm in Bozzio. Her shockingly sky-high pink hair and brazen outfits spring to mind. She aimed to be like a more accessible, and artificial, version of Debbie Harry. But no one else could squeak out a semi-decent New Wave cover of The Doors like she could.

But the problem with anything related to Missing Persons is that they never really evolved as a band. They tried to be punk, they tried to be funkier, but they never adapted their plastic sound to a more mature beat. It was all manic energy all the time, and this collection does wear thin after a while. But no one can deny that when they put everything together and made it work they could create great alternative dance-rock singles. DOWNLOAD: “Walking in L.A.,” “Words,” “Mental Hopscotch”

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The Hits/The B-Sides

Posted : 9 years ago on 11 September 2009 09:21 (A review of The Hits/The B-Sides)

Prince’s three-disc collection, The Hits/The B-Sides, is definitely career-spanning and a great assortment of singles and rarities. However, if you’re looking to buy a cheaper single disc collection of all the biggest hits, this is not your collection. If you’re looking for a document of Prince at the height of his musical powers, this is what you should be looking for. The two greatest hits discs are wonderful, but I’d rather focus on the real reason to buy this compilation: the b-sides. I’ll review the two greatest hits collections on their individual pages.

The b-sides range in quality from the absolutely sublime (“Erotic City”) to dreadful (“La, La, La, He, He, He”). At times these songs are just as great as any of the album cuts on Dirty Mind, 1999 or Purple Rain. But “Another Lonely Christmas” is just a bad song, and a clumsy mixture of the sacred and profane which Prince does so brilliantly elsewhere. “God” is a great song showcasing that at his heart Prince is a very spiritual songwriter. And “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” and “Irresistible Bitch” rank just as high as any of the greatest hits collections choices. Same goes for “She’s Always In My Hair.”

But the greatest b-side cut is also one of the absolutely filthiest. “Erotic City” is one of the best songs that Prince has ever done. That bump and grind beat is a classic. The mixture of male and female voices outranks “U Got the Look” and meets “1999.” “Erotic City” has lyrics which would make the titular “Darling Nikki” blush. That’s why it’s fantastic. Prince is always at his best either being absolutely filthy or laying bare his soul. Why this song was cut from Purple Rain completely baffles me. It would have made the record, which is already one of my favorites and I think one of the greatest things ever, even more stellar. DOWNLOAD: “Erotic City,” “Irresistible Bitch,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”

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The Genius of Ray Charles

Posted : 9 years ago on 11 September 2009 09:20 (A review of The Genius of Ray Charles)

The Genius of Ray Charles is just a sublime example of the early talents of Ray Charles. This is before the Modern Sounds experiments, but no less stellar. Truly, this is just a fantastic album.

The first half is all bouncy jazz-pop, and the second half is all ballads. Charles is fine voice throughout, but the last string of ballads reveal ever nuance, crack and feeling in his voice. To hear him sing “Am I Blue?” is too hear a master vocalist at work. More proof that vocal bombast, screeching and trying to do as many vocal runs as possible, mean nothing if you can’t deliver the story and emotion behind a song. Charles might not have had a voice full of octaves, but his was a rich and lived in voice, a voice that had life and character, a voice that could tell and sell a story better than anyone else.

But, arguably, the greatest moment on the record is “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” To put it simply: it’s a beautiful piece of music. Everything comes together – the strings, the soft piano, the vocals – and creates a perfect song. If you have not heard “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” well, shame on you. Other great moments abound on the album, but there is none greater. “Deed I Do,” the previously mentioned “Am I Blue?” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” also stick out as highlights. DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”

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The Notorious K.I.M.

Posted : 9 years ago on 2 September 2009 06:10 (A review of Notorious K.I.M.)

While too sample heavy and relying on too many guest stars, The Notorious K.I.M. is still a solid retro-hip-hop album. Lil’ Kim is just as nasty and bitchy as ever, but there’s a new somber and reflective attitude accompanying most of the songs. While “How Many Licks” is hilarious vulgar and disgusting, “I’m Human” tries to hit at a deeper and more revealing level. This contrasts with a majority of the album, even the album artwork, which is garish and gaudy. With the fake blonde hair, fake blue eyes and oversized breasts, Lil’ Kim is either parodying mainstream female sexuality or embracing it and willfully becoming a caricature. Either way, it’s best to just enjoy the ride. Any album that features a guest spot from Grace Jones can’t be all bad, right?

“How Many Licks,” “Right Now,” “No Matter What They Say”

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Essential Collection

Posted : 9 years ago on 2 September 2009 06:07 (A review of Essential Collection)

The Motels were the least plastic of the Los Angeles New Wave scene. While the Missing Persons sounded like a synthesizer run amok, and Oingo Boingo were too busy trying to fuse ska and New Wave into some kind of punk spiked hybrid, The Motels were bent on keeping as many real instruments on their records as possible. Martha Davis was a charismatic frontwoman – often sounding like a female vocalist from an older generation – who wrote consistently dark material. She followed in the tradition of The Doors and X and exposed the dark side of sunny southern California in three minute singles. “Only the Lonely” could be about the trappings of fame, could be about the death throws of a relationship, that ambiguity serves the song well. “Total Control” is an acidic ballad with a slightly cliché chorus (“I’d sell my soul for total control over you”), but Davis delivers it. “Kix” and “Mission of Mercy” find the band thrashing out punkier singles and leaving behind the stylized and brooding sonics they were known for. Often dark, troubling, melancholy and artsy, The Motels were a solid band that had an unfortunately short shelf-life. Don’t be afraid to add The Motels’ Essential Collection to your record collection. These fifteen singles are so L.A. in the best possible sense. DOWNLOAD: “Suddenly Last Summer,” “Mission of Mercy,” “Only the Lonely”

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Posted : 9 years ago on 2 September 2009 06:06 (A review of Shine)

After nearly ten years in a self-imposed retirement, Joni Mitchell came roaring back with a vengeance on Shine. Yes, at times Mitchell sounds like she’s wagging her finger and saying that she’s knows better and is better than you, but when an artist sounds this reinvigorated and alive on record certain flaws can be ignored. This is the return of Joni Mitchell the singer/songwriter. The folk-meets-jazz arrangements are still there, just like her heydays with records like For the Roses and Court and Spark, and her voice sounds strangely beautiful in its new smoky contores. Years of smoking and aging will do that to your voice, along with whatever else caused some damage to her vocal chords. She no longer sounds like the folk-pop-jazz sprite of the 70s, but the regal Queen of them all filled with a life lived and experience. “Big Yellow Taxi” returns in a rearranged form, and its no longer a warning about ecological problems – it’s become a prophesy fulfilled. “Night of the Iguana” is a retelling of Tennessee Williams’ play of the same name, and is without a doubt an album highlight. But the title track is possibly the worst offender, not the only offender mind you. It’s filled with “I know better than you”-ism, and tells the sun to continue to shine down on all of us who sin against the planet…by using cell phones. Luckily for us, and for her, the music never sounds anything less than astounding. The newly discovered electro-folk on “Hana” points to a great new future, and it’s a wonderful character sketch. If Shine had more moments like that, it would have been a neo-classic. But, as is, it’s a most welcome return. DOWNLOAD: “Hana”

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Posted : 9 years ago on 2 September 2009 06:02 (A review of Autoamerican)

AutoAmerican is a very difficult album for me to talk about. I love so many of the songs, but as a whole I don’t think that the album every really comes together. The pieces are great, the musical experiments yield some beautiful pieces of music, but something is always off about the whole affair.

If “Rapture” didn’t include the embarrassing rap section I might just love the song more than I do. The music and vocal delivers are just top-notch stuff. “The Tide Is High” is a glorious mid-tempo reggae cover. It’s almost impossible not to think of it as a Blondie original by the time the song reaches its close. But not every experiment is a success. The orchestral arrangement that opens the album is just bizarre. And when Harry comes in towards the song close and starts to ramble off something or another about a post-apocalyptic world, I just get lost. It makes no sense and it just doesn’t work on any level. The two jazz styled songs are hit and miss. “Faces” isn’t a good song, but “Here’s Looking at You” has its charms. It’s when Blondie goes back to the disco-rock hybrids that they sound at their very best. “Angels On the Balcony” and “Live It Up” are just as great as any of the album tracks off of Eat to the Beat or Plastic Letters. Debbie Harry never stopped growing as a vocalist, and by the time AutoAmerican was released, she had reached the peak of her prowess during Blondie’s original heyday. And Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri were always fantastic musicians. The problem was that the band was either running out of ideas, or being forced by the recording company to churn out too many albums too close together. I think that it’s the latter. Even to this day they can turn out a great single when given some time to work through their ideas.

For me, AutoAmerican is an album that I respect more than I like. I love that Blondie found so much AOR success with “Heart of Glass” and Parallel Lines and rebelled against by releasing albums with difficult songs. AutoAmerican is not the product or sound that one would think would follow a massive success like Parallel Lines or Eat to the Beat, but this is why I love Blondie. Even when their music doesn’t totally work, you must respect them for trying and never giving up their art-school credibility. It’s just a shame that their last few albums have turned out more misses than hits. DOWNLOAD: “The Tide Is High”

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All Summer Long

Posted : 9 years ago on 31 August 2009 11:45 (A review of All Summer Long)

All Summer Long is the best pre-unofficial Beatles rivalry album. Naturally, it was also the first Beach Boys album to be released during the Fab Four’s American takeover. It should surprise no one that the Beach Boys were the only group who could put a dent in the Beatles’ chart success.

With the one-two punch of “I Get Around” and “All Summer Long” you know you’re in for a good album. And it is. “Little Honda” is one of their greatest car songs, and “Girls On the Beach” is a great good-times-and-party song. There are just two problems with the album, luckily they’re buried on the second half of the album, but they do dock the album a few points. “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” is fun as a novelty, but questionable as a time waster on an LP. Why was this included? There doesn’t seem to be any point. It should have been left off and another song added on in its place. And “Do You Remember?” is just plain awful. It’s a little kiss-ass and comes complete with a shit-eating grin. They rebound themselves with “Drive-In,” which is pure fun and a silly teenage story, and the aforementioned “Girls On the Beach.”

All Summer Long is, without a doubt, their best pre-1965 album, and in the glorious pop moments that cover the album you can hear the beginnings of Today! and Pet Sounds. DOWNLOAD: “I Get Around”

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With the Beatles

Posted : 9 years ago on 31 August 2009 11:44 (A review of With the Beatles)

With their second album The Beatles continued with their tradition of mostly-covers-and-a-few-originals. They could pull some great material – Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and a few girl groups – and delivered some even greater originals.

This was before Bob Dylan started to influence John Lennon and Paul McCartney got into a one-upmanship with Brian Wilson, so their originals are very simplistic little pop-rockers. That doesn’t make them any less influential or even any less fantastic than the later psychedelic Beatles. In fact, I think this is pound for pound just as great as any of the post-Rubber Soul albums.

From the opening “It Won’t Be Long,” which aimed squarely at a teenage girls heart, to the closing “Money (That’s What I Want),” an oddly out-of-character song giving the later Beatles penchant for ranting against materialism, With the Beatles flies by at too quick a pace. You’ll want to hear more of the songs. Especially the singles recorded around the era that weren’t included on the disc. Imagine how much more wonderful this album would have if “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You” were placed on the album. But for the purity of their innocent good time rockers you can’t do any better than their second album. It’s almost impossible to believe that this was just their second album. DOWNLOAD: “Hold Me Tight”

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