Hellfire and bustification, it’s about damn time I came back. For those who didn’t read 411, I’m Ryan T. Murphy; I used to write this column over there in 2003, as well as the Murphy Mondays news column. I’d like to thank good ol’ J.R. Fernandez and Johnny ‘Dro for bringin’ me back. For the noobs, I like to call Short Attention Span Theater an e-zine rather than a column. As the name suggests, I jump all over the place, with short opinion pieces on music (and possibly a sliver of movie opinions; not to step on the collective toes of Popcorn Junkies, it won’t be a main focus). I cover all genres of music although I have a healthy bias toward punk, reggae and Southern rock. And I’m an unbelievably opinionated prick, so if I say something that offends you or that you disagree with, good.
Oh and don’t expect pictures, I’m still in the fetal stage of these fancy computer writin’s.
Poppin’ Off on the Top
This is my take on the Top 10 downloaded songs of the week as reported by Top10songs.com:
1. “Low” by Flo Rida feat. T-Pain. Saturday night I had to hit the club early because a girl I was with had to get there first to avoid someone with a restraining order out on her. “Low” was the first song I heard, around 10pm. By closing time I think I’d heard it play a good five times, which speaks as ill of the DJ as anything but my point stands. This song was good the first couple times, but it’s become near ubiquitous, and the simple lyrics in the hook really show their ass when you have to hear them every 20 minutes. Something needs to be said in support of T-Pain though. R&B with a hip-hop steez has been circling the drain the last few years, with R. Kelly becoming more and more like Barrett Rude Jr. in Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude and Alicia Keys making estrogen war cries like “No One” (more on that one later). T-Pain is the first in a while to start making uptempo danceable R&B tracks into memorable pop hits that stand on their own as songs rather than as a body of work (à la Kells). Also, props to the dude for keeping his wang in check when it comes to the lyrics—it’s cool that a dude can write some sexy songs that still give proper respect to a lady. One truly great album (produced maybe by Danger Mouse or the Neptunes) and T-Pain can get the kind of historical respect afforded, say, Sly Stone or George Clinton.
2. “Don’t Stop the Music” by Rihanna. Speaking of which… When I listen to anything out of Rihanna’s insanely catchy string of hits, I think, not so much that nowadays Rihanna is anything to remark about as an artist, but that 20 years from now I’ll dredge up “Umbrella”, “Pon De Replay” or this track and think about how many good songs she sang. “Sang” is the operative word there, though, because being another pop princess, she’s just a raw template for producers to staple a hit onto. She’s got a decent voice and she looks really good, but she’s just been lucky enough to have been assigned all the good teen-ish dance songs of the last few years. I’ll look back in 20 years and remember Rihanna as a brand more so than an artist.
3. “Love Song” by Sarah Bareilles. Every time I see this poozwack bobbing along to this obnoxious trifle in those Rhapsody commercials, I want to hitch across the border and yoke up Alanis Morrisette. “You see what you did? Did you even think about this? Was pissing at Uncle Joey from Full House REALLY worth the inevitable outcome—that a million other horse-toothed cum dumpsters playing piano would start to rape our ears with their own estrogen-poisoned sugar cubes? COME ON, Alanis!”
4. “Apologize” by Timbaland feat. OneRepublic. They actually used this song in an ad for the Atonement DVD. I don’t keep up on the chick flick tearjerker du jour but isn’t that movie about the Holocaust or something? It’s kind of apropos because hearing this overplayed drabity 90 times a day on Sirius is akin to… the torture of sitting through some sappy chick flick. Get your minds out of the gutter, chillun!
5. “No One” by Alicia Keys. I love Alicia Keys otherwise—I think “Karma” is the most underrated pop single in the last 10 years at least. The first time I heard “No One” I’m on the dancefloor and surrounded by about 20 drunk women pushing thirty and a paucity of other guys in the bar to take them home. This track comes on and I get a full surround-sound, as hormonal as it was atonal, of booze-addled chicks screeching “no one NO one NO ONE NOOOOO WUH-HUHUHHUUUUUUUUUHNNN!” I’ll see you next album, Alicia; right now I need some time away from you.
6. “See You Again” by Miley Cyrus. Disney’s got a weird foothold when it comes to singles for their cross-branded kiddie pop singles. I thought that if Avril Lavigne or someone had performed “Into the Rush” rather than Aly & AJ, it would have been the hit to bring her back before the diabetic “Girlfriend”. That one I thought was kinda squandered because no one is gonna take a Disney act seriously. Obviously I didn’t predict the super-charged marketing power of Hannah Montana, because this song is all over the place lately. And it is bizarrely addictive, in an “Yvan Eht Nioj” way. The lyrics are kinda cutesy but somehow the epic over-production makes this trifle sound like an anthem.
7. “Love in This Club” by Usher feat. Young Jeezy. Mea culpa, I kinda forgot about Usher when I was talking about T-Pain earlier. This song is no “Yeah!”, but it’s not too bad. The music kinda sounds like a score from General Hospital in the ’80s as performed by Kajagoogoo, but it’s a good hook.
8. “With You” by Chris Brown. Everyone’s harping that Chris Brown might be the new Michael Jackson, but let’s see where he is in five years when success has hardened him a little. “With You”? It’s no “Kiss Kiss”. But thankfully it’s no “Excuse Me Miss”.
9. “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley. Isn’t he dead?
10. “Feedback” by Janet (Ms. Jackson if you’re everyone else on the chart). Jesus, Janet, time to go to Vegas with your brother. How did the badass teenager of “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” turn into the insecure basket case who needs to keep pumping out a new single every few years to remind us that she still thinks she’s sexy? Go away, woman.
The new Black Keys album should be phenomenal. For those who like the White Stripes retro-vintage blues side but don’t tolerate Jack’s eccentricities, the Black Keys are a lot more straight-forward, keeping the sound rooted in lo-fi blues and letting the music do the mindbending. Every Black Keys song sounds like it starts out as a piece of sheet metal and by the end of the track that sheet metal’s been hammered into a barnyard sculpture. Their next album, due out April 1, and titled Attack & Release, features production by Danger Mouse, who I’m ready to crown as today’s answer to Phil Spektor. “Psychotic Girl”, off the new album, is a corpone shitkickin’ groover; a kind of hayseed-hippie dirge that could have opened a Dead show 40 years ago. “Stranger Times” comes straight from the crotch, a lo-fi riff piece that’s all ’70s in its intentions and keeps its sex-grind going at a steady tempo all the way through. No wonder Rod Stewart wants to work with these guys, they’re like a soundtrack to a Baby Boomer’s Cialis weekend.
The Public Trial of Against Me!
A few months ago I was chagrined to learn that to really be the bee’s knees with today’s au courant punk squids, it’s not cool to like Against Me! anymore. Their latest album, New Wave, was released on Warner Bros., yuhsee, and any punk act on a major label is a real flat tire, brother. Why, there was even this guy named Tom Gabel who fronted an outfit that compared the music biz to “unprotected sex with multiple partners.” Anyone remember what they were called again?
Don’t get me wrong, minions, anyone who is still harping about what’s punk and what isn’t is missing both the point and the boat, because punk’s been dead much longer than anyone who cares about it has been alive. And I’ve swam in those waters my damn self, because when you’re young, dumb and full o’ cum Malcolm McLaren’s cult creation squeezes right into the void that religion and capitalism invariably leave. Punk, for all its outdatedness and hypocrisy, still matters to the kids who figure out that they’ve peaked before they’re old enough to buy lotto tickets. Their peers will get there in a few years when they go through the college grist mill and sink like a stone, but Joey Fucktone & the neighborhood punxXcru hit on it early; lacking the necessary maturity to deal with this constructively, they shave their heads and scream vaguities against authority. Problem: the authority nowadays is the corporations that have their big toe in every facet of our lives and all our elected officials in their pockets. A suitable target for rebellion, if I say so muhselves. But todays punk squids can’t eat breathe or shit without having their brains turned to goo by the Microsoft corporation and their ilk with video games and incessant Web-surfing. Joey recognizes the hypocrisy involved in shouting down “the man” and then letting themselves be more pulp for the grinder, so he turns on his perceived peers and pisses at bands for “selling out, maaan.”
In the case of Against Me!, is this criticism valid? Maybe. Not because they’re a punk band; remember, punk died forever and a dog’s age ago in any form other than as a style of music, which it always was whether anyone wanted to admit that that was what it’s all about. Strictly in that sense, they’ve consistently pushed the boundaries of the genre and made tuneful anthemic songs that wear their politics as a badge of distinction without (usually) haranguing those who aren’t down with them. On New Wave they pay their props to Gang of Four and late-era Clash on “Stop!”, to X on “Americans Abroad” and to good songwriting, period, on the mainline-dope-as-radio hit “Thrash Unreal”. Poisonally, I’m not really concerned with what record label anyone’s on, inasmuch as I rarely know what label anyone’s on anymore. Record labels are like the dried up bar whore in “Thrash Unreal”, the glory days have ground to a halt and now all the kids in the club are getting younger and moving onto new forms of distraction, and paying for music just doesn’t fit into their plans. Within the next ten years I think the music business will dry up completely, and bands can go the Radiohead route and/or tour their everlovin’ asses off to make a living. Until then, let’s call a moratorium on bitching about who’s jumping on a major label and encourage every band you like to try and milk these miserable pricks for every last dollar they have.
So what’s the problem with Against Me!? They started it. Gabel & Co. have been intensely critical of the music business long before and since “Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners,” and in the process more than a handful of chillun looked to them to lead the way in a revolt against the whole industrial-marketing machine. One reporter said something to the effect of, “You can’t speak up as a voice of your generation and then all of a sudden decide you didn’t mean it.” Granted, none of us have Against Me!’s personal interests in mind. I paid my shekels for the Americans Abroad: Live in London CD, but other than that, I stream all my music on Rhapsody and have no need to spend any more than that on any band until they visit my vicinity and I can buy a ticket to the show. Joey Fucktone & the punx don’t even go that far, because buying CDs is for geeks and most of them don’t even understand the concept of a live music performance. When an artist makes their bacon being young and cynical it doesn’t leave them an out for when they get old and the real cynicism seeps in. Eventually it’s gonna become nigh impossible for Tom Gabel to come up with more things over which to engage in personal outrage. Eventually they’re just gonna break up, and Gabel will start making obtuse music with a small act and touring coffeehouses and churches, à la Ian MacKaye. Eventually we’ll all forget that Against Me! ever existed, busting out “Pints of Guinness Makes You Strong” on St. Patrick’s Day and then filing it for the rest of the year. As a fan, this is depressing. Historically, signing to a major is shit-or-get-off-the-pot time for a band. The first album on a major is a last gasp of creative output before they start making redundant sophomore slump records or they get chewed up and spit out as something different than what they ever were to begin with. Some bands, like the Offspring, will soldier on for years until all semblance of relativity and respectability has been sapped out of them like so much… well, sap. Some just implode under the pressure, and as much of a walking tension wire as Gabel evidently is he could end up pulling a full Cobain and toast himself into immortality. New Wave is pretty much gonna be their good major label album, and it’s sad to see a band we once respected putting themselves in a position to go down the tubes.
I could be wrong, and the money that the Warners are throwing at Against Me! could result in them honing their sound into something triumphant and revolutionary. They’re certainly talented enough to do it, and the production quality on New Wave could be taken by the less cynical than I to be an omen of better things to come. In closing, I hope that someone from Against Me!’s camp is reading this. I’m challenging you, Gabel. I’m challenging you and your band, as you put it in song “laugh at danger and break all the rules”, to take the business opportunity of being on a major label and not let it corrupt you or swallow you whole. I don’t doubt that you can do it, which is why I still admit to being an Against Me! fan despite your act of treason against me and my childhood religion of punk. Just don’t f*ck it up, guys. Don’t f*ck it up.
Song for the Bong
My favorite song to get high to as of lately: “Murderer” by Barrington Levy. I first heard this on the Stories, Tales, Lies and Exaggerations Sublime DVD, with Levy performing this track live with Long Beach Dub All-Stars. Levy uses vocal effects that would later be popularized by T-Pain, as well as reggaefied scatting and a buckwild melisma to make this track one of the strongest vocal performances in all of dancehall. The dub scratch beat and trippy echo effects add to the aura of mellow, while the lyrics are foreboding and dark. This song sounds like smoking a joint out front of the club—you might be relaxed but you’re still on your guard because you don’t know if there’s pigs or a drunk ready to pop off at any moment. In the comfort of your own home, though, this is one killer Song for the Bong.
Aight kiddies I’m out for now, feel free to leave comments here, emails at email@example.com, get at me on AIM at MurphToTheMax, or send carrier pigeons and smoke signals telling me how unworthy you are to even read my column. Till the next, support your local scene and tip your bartenders.
Tags: Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, Hannah Montana, Janet Jackson, miley cyrus, Rihanna, T-Pain, Timbaland, Usher