Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere (Downtown/Atlantic)
From the very opening, where a film projector starts to unspool into a vibrant Middle European hora that sounds like Gogol Bordello doing “Hava Nagilah,” only to segue into a Danger Mouse mash-up techno jam, with preacher Cee-Lo leading the charge, this hipster record of the moment makes you feel cool just listening to it.
Argue all you want whether it’s alternative or hip-hop; it’s that rare album that straddles genres like a tightrope walker, seguing from the Marvin Gaye-like plaints of the one-listen “Crazy” to a spot-on rendition of Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” that evokes the spirit of ’80s new wave pop in all its hook-happy glory. “The Boogie Monster” is just a 21st century update of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, while the closing “The Last Time” plugs into the sheer hedonism of great dance music, abandoning the head to seize the gut with “All work and no play that’s the way it is, ain’t it/There’s a rhythm deep inside of you and you must get reacquainted.”
No larger truths or big messages, just an admonition that pop music can be a comfort in an age where nothing else seems to go right. Finishing off with a flapping reel, it’s all a movie of the mind, with the remarkable Cee-Lo playing as many roles as Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, and Danger Mouse providing the musical mise en scene a la Kubrick – at once threatening, seducing, haranguing, kibbitzing and cajoling, but never less than entertaining as they summon up the Id and give it a welcome workout.
The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers (V2)
Be careful what you wish for. All those who wanted to hear what Jack White would sound like sans the stringent aesthetic he applies to his work with the White Stripes now have their answer, and while this is truly a collaborative effort, it lacks the visceral thrills of our man at his best… or worst, as the case may be. The album starts off promisingly enough with “Steady as She Goes,” a Motown-by-way-of-Elvis-Costello bass beat, followed by the line, “Find yourself a girl and settle down/Lead a simple life in a quiet town.”
And if that seems to echo Jack’s own current marriage to supermodel Karen Elson and subsequent move from Detroit to Nashville, it was originally written by partner Brendan Benson, who provides the McCartney to White’s Lennon on several songs, including “Hands,” the tender ballad “Together” and the Move-meets-“I Am the Walrus” psychedelia of “Intimate Secretary,” with their voices coming out of either speaker.
White is truly just a member of this band, like Eric Clapton in Derek & the Dominos, with the Zeppish title track the only nod towards his patented vocal wail and screaming guitar solos. Recorded and mixed in just three weeks, it has a shambling, laid-back feel and a comfort level brought out in Benson’s seemingly shiny, happy ode to the ’60s, “Yellow Sun,” though it ends with White intoning, “It’s not sunny anymore.” Let’s just hope Jack’s not mellowing too much, with a wife and now a baby on the way. His neuroses are precisely what make him so fascinating in the first place.
Rebel Meets Rebel (Big Vin Records)
Talk about your genre mash-ups, this collaboration between outlaw country singer David Allan Coe, the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, is a raucous good time and not as unlikely as it might seem when you consider the Akron, OH-born Coe got his start as a performer opening for Grand Funk Railroad.
It’s all about drinking (“No Compromise”), drugging (“Cowboys Do More Dope”) and sex (“One Nite Stands”), but also loss of innocence (“Arizona Rivers”) and even Native American rights (“Cherokee Cry”), where Coe belies the charges of racism that have followed him around since his notorious 1982 song “N*gger F*cker,” which he always denied.
The title track adds in a mean sawing fiddle and some pumping keyboards, while “Get Outta My Life” features a cameo by yet another genre-buster in Hank Williams III. It’s a posthumous showcase for ace axe man Dimebag’s snake-winding riffs, which wrap themselves around Coe’s hell-bent persona, as the one-time Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy is right at home with the metallic crunch at the heart of his rebel country yell, as the contemplative “N.Y.C. Streets” adds a somber expletive-laced epitaph to a left-field project that turns out to be right over the middle of the plate.
Drive-By Truckers and Son Volt at House of Blues
I certainly like the idea of both these bands, taking the harder end of the alt-country sound, blending the twin- (and in DBT’s case, triple-) guitar interplay of southern boogie bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allmans and grafting it onto the buzzing acid-washed garage-thrash of the Byrds and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.
Son Volt remain an interesting case, as many would have picked former Uncle Tupelo Jay Farrar’s band to succeed before ex-partner Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco, and that was the case until the latter took a left-hand stylistic turn to become America’s answer to Radiohead, while the former are now seen as bearers of a No Depression neo-roots tradition that has lost momentum and cred over the last few years.
In fact, Son Volt now veers perilously close to the jam-band genre, though they still work up a fine maelstrom of electrified country-blues live. Atlanta’s four-men-and-one-woman bassist Truckers sport a front line featuring a trio of singer-guitarist-songwriters, the most riveting being the bearded Patterson Hood (Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell are the others), who brings a Band-style down-home Americana to the group’s metier.
And while the extended forays tweak the clichés of the genre and defy expectations, they bury the hooks and melodies in the process. The live shows use the songs as blueprints for the instrumental interplay, which is suitably raucous but precise in a Replacements kind of way – it’s no wonder that the Mats’ original mentor, New West A&R exec Peter Jesperson, signed ’em. It’s hard to resist, but DBT’s enthusiastic following remains a cult at a time when rock bands like this seem positively quaint.
Unorthodox, What I Like About Jew (WILAJ)
Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman, meet Rob Tannenbaum and Sean Altman, who drag the concept of good old-fashioned Borscht Belt shtick into the present, where it belongs, rhyming tuchus with Succos in “Hot Jewish Chicks” alongside the rocking “JDate” (“Did you know that there’s a website for lonely Jews?/It’s easy to remember and it’s easy to use”) and the finger-snapping barber shop joo-wop harmonies of “Hanukah With Monica” (“She put that age-old myth to bed/About Jewish girls not giving head”).
In “Jews for Jesus,” they croon, “I never was the most observant Jew/After my bar mitzvah, I was through.” But hidden beneath the Jackie Mason paeans to circumcision (“A Little Off the Top”) and bar mitzvahs (the Beach Boys-like “Today I Am a Man”) is a hebe-pop version of the B-52s (“Taller Than Jesus”) with sprightly Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band melodies and hooks laced in Randy Newman irony put to the service of middle-class white Jewish pride as they tackle the goyishe majority on songs like “Reuben the Hook-Nosed Reindeer” (“It’s a bitch to finagle lox and a bagel at the North Pole”) and their own answer to Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, “(It’s Good To Be) a Jew at Christmas.” Who said vaudeville was dead? Not these Jews.
Rolling Stone 1000th Issue
Rather on the self-congratulatory tip, Jann Wenner’s tribute to his journalistic institution sports a 3-D cover of cover subjects based on the famous Sgt. Pepper portrait – and just to illustrate the chasm between the ’60s and now, neither of my teenage kids got the reference. Still, you have to admire how Stone has continuously managed to reinvent itself, just like MTV, as the Time cum Newsweek for the eternally, if self-consciously, hip, even if the sex, drugs and rock & roll credo it was built on has gone the way of patchouli oil.
There’s plenty to admire in this look back at how far we’ve come, especially Greil Marcus’ reminiscence of the magazine’s start and early days in San Francisco, as well as tales behind some of the most memorable covers. Sure, they’ve traveled a long and winding road from the revolutionary zeal of Ralph J. Gleason and Hunter Thompson — one need only look at the 3-D Target ad on the back cover to measure the distance — but there’s nothing wrong with taking stock of where you’ve been.
The true test comes in where you’re going, and with Wenner insisting he’s not retiring soon, it will be fascinating to see how Rolling Stone continues to chronicle the times as its Boomer legacy fades into mortality.
A deadpan Steve Martin tries to reach for the quietly desperate midlife crisis angst of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers in this adaptation of his novella by Thai TV director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie), but ends up merely bemused.
The problem is with the nature of first-person narrative, so effective on paper in conveying a character’s interior monologue, but incredibly difficult to pull off on the screen. The entire film could be read as taking place in Martin’s head, which leaves the characterizations by the lovely Claire Danes and the effectively empathetic Jason Schwartzman (basically reprising his slacker role in I [Heart] Huckabies) as frustratingly opaque.
That’s not to say the movie fails to capture the anomie of finding a real connection in a city as diffuse as Los Angeles, nor the difference between material comfort and true need; it’s just that a film like Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know does it so much better. There are a number of effective moments, but they never coalesce into the transcendent experience this slight film promises, but never quite delivers.
Behind the Music: Ratt (VH1)
If ever there was a band made for this revived series’ well-worn formula of bands coming out of nowhere to explode, burn out and fade away, it is Ratt, one of the last of the Sunset Strip hair bands to get signed – by Doug Morris to Atlantic Records, no less. The typical excesses rear their heads, given poignancy by interviews with guitarist Robbin Crosby, who died of a drug overdose in 2002 after being diagnosed with AIDS, which he contracted from using a dirty needle.
Crosby holds no anger toward the group, which basically abandoned him when he was no longer able to play, while the rest of Ratt, including a non-repentant Stephen Pearcy, muse about where it all went wrong. There’s remarkable live footage of a concert in Japan where Crosby picks up the wrong guitar and plays out of tune as everyone in the audience, as well as his bandmates, stare on in utter disbelief, shortly after which he splits the group.
What makes BTM so fascinating is the fact that every picture tells a story, one that ends tragically more often than it does happily ever after, leaving you to wonder why anyone would take the risk in the first place. As the band’s first manager Marshall Berle puts it, rock and roll’s a dangerous profession, with its own trail of casualties, some of them on display here.
Crank up the live audio from your hometown station (available for the whole season for just $14.95 plus a free Sports Illustrated subscription), pull up the simulated game and it’s almost as good as being at the ballpark. In some ways, it’s even better as you can constantly check batting averages, ERAs, number of pitches thrown and lifetime statistics with a click of the mouse.
I actually prefer the simpler GameDay to ESPN.com’s more three-dimensional GameCast, which can be a tad confusing when it shows balls going into the outfield as to whether they’re hits or not. I find myself sitting raptly waiting for the tell-all “In play, no out recorded,” “In play, run-scoring play” or the dreaded “In play, out(s) recorded,” like a high-tech version of the old cigar stores back in the pre-TV days which used to hang up large placards with the scores every half-inning.
Gripe of the Week
Yeah, I know I should be concerned about third-world debt, global warming, AIDS in Africa and a cure for cancer, but this week I’m more worried about my increasing addiction to technology. I’m beginning to feel like Julie Christie in Demon Seed, with my appliances turning against me. When the Internet went down in the office last week, we all stared at one another and wondered what to do with ourselves until the boss took us out to a long lunch, prompting the thought that the Online Age is a little over 10 years old.
Earlier this week, getting set to hunker down for some channel-flipping between David Blaine, 24 and the Clippers’ playoff game against the Suns, my Adelphia cable went down for the night at 7 p.m. — as it did for the entire Tarzana-Woodland Hills area — and didn’t return until the next morning, leaving us to haul out the tiny emergency TV with its 6” black-and-white screen and antenna, which needed readjusting every few minutes.
Throw in the annoyance at the constant drop-offs from Sirius Satellite as I try to listen to Howard (a complaint echoed by a number of fellow subscribers I’ve talked to,) and you can see why our reliance on high-tech devices and modern-day conveniences has me not only frustrated but anxious. Maybe I should just unplug for awhile.