Although it’s been much maligned, and pointedly ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until now, heavy metal is a remarkably resilient genre, both commercially and artistically, its appeal spanning the ages, exemplified by these two albums, made by guys in their 40s and 20s, respectively. Although headed by the increasingly visible Sully Erna, Godsmack has been virtually faceless, flying below the radar through their almost decade-long career, despite two straight #1 album chart debuts and more Rock radio hits than anyone this side of Metallica.
Their latest finds them trying to satisfy their loyal following at the same time as they attempt to tweak out the sound – the wailing harmonica on “Shine Down,” the acoustic guitar, mandolin and female vocal on “Hollow,” and the aural ambience of “One Rainy Day” are all unmistakable signs of a veteran band expressing its maturity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And while Sully explores personal demons on songs of infidelity like the first single, “Speak,” “Livin’ in Sin” and “Temptation,” the self-proclaimed pagan isn’t afraid to express his faith in both the divine father (“Shine Down”) and mother (“Mama”).
Meanwhile, critically acclaimed Aussie power trio Wolfmother, fronted by Afro’ed vocalist/guitarist Andrew Stockdale, flex the muscles of youth, with a glorious updating of the psychedelic tradition of Zeppelin, Sabbath and Hendrix by way of Detroit grunge progenitors Grand Funk and the MC5.
You could almost imagine them performing at Bill Graham’s Fillmore back in the day. What makes the band so special is the songs, stupid, which are anything but, from the sensual “Stairway to Heaven” build of “Mind’s Eye” and the jaunty White Stripes garage-rock exuberance of “Joker & the Thief” to the Jethro Tull flute blasts of “Witchcraft” and the Zep-meets-Doors-meets-Sabs acid flashback of “White Unicorn” and its biblical hippie refrain, “And I know it’s on your mind/We’ve been drinking on the wine/That we drank from the serpent’s vine/Now we live in another time/We could live together.”
Better than neo-revivalists The Darkness and Jet because their tongues aren’t planted firmly in cheek, Wolfmother are serious but playful… which is why they’re so much fun. It almost makes me wanna trip again.
Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner
The Daily Show faux commentator’s controversial performance before Dubya and the Washington press corps gets off to a promising start, as he sarcastically skewers the Prez with the unctuousness that apparently characterizes what I have to guess is his onstage persona, since I am a devout non-fan of Jon Stewart and company’s brand of dry political satire.
The rest of the routine peters out quickly enough, leading into what is apparently an interminable filmed comic bit about a presidential press conference presided over by Colbert featuring real-life correspondent Helen Thomas. On the ABC News footage of Colbert’s bit streamed on AOL here, the camera focuses entirely on Bush watching the segment, as the President’s face starts to tighten and his lips curl in an incredible display of annoyance, disgust and, then, seemingly blank incomprehension, the same look Michael Moore captured so well as George sits in front of that classroom after hearing about the World Trade Center attacks in Fahrenheit 9/11. It is at once more chilling and darkly humorous than anything in Colbert’s routine could ever be.
Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy” video
A remarkable song and an even more amazing video, this Rorschach blot of a clip perfectly captures the fluid, elusive soul of the music, melting and changing shape before your eyes, with Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse’s visages forming in and out of the drops on the screen. Irresistibly psychedelic, watching this piece of eye candy is almost like getting high and gazing at that picture which can appear as a skull or two ladies facing each other at a table, depending on your perspective. Does that make me crazy? Possibleee… Check it out here.
Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam/IDJ)
If you need any more proof as to how hip-hop has trumped rock & roll as a cultural phenomenon, look no further than this full-length epic by one Dennis Coles, better known as Wu Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. As Christopher’s movie pal tells Ben Kingsley in The Sopranos, it’s all about the “specificities,” and this densely packed narrative is full of them.
Childhood bed-wetting (“Whip You With a Strap”), watching Larry King Live (“Crack Spot”), male-pattern baldness and the quality of the Knicks’ jump shots (“Barbershop”), Fat Albert (“Big Girl”) and Spongebob Squarepants (“Underwater”) might not seem to fit into the gangsta rap mold, but for Ghostface, it’s all part of a seamless whole with drug dealing and Glocks. Highlights include a Wu Tang reunion on “9 Milli Bros.” and several classic soul samples, including Freda Payne on the Sopranos-meets-Shaft noir “Crack Spot,” Marvin Gaye (“Jellyfish”) and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Family Affair” (“Dogs of War”).
And the Killah is not nearly as misogynist as many of his peers. Though he comes down on his mother for being an alcoholic and beating him on “Whip You With a Strap,” he forgives her on “Momma,” while also singing the praises of women on “Beauty Jackson” and “Big Girl,” pausing long enough to appreciate a beauty mark, the way she smokes a cigarette and her penchant for Louis Vuitton and Versace. And you wonder why rock is dead.
Peggy Lee Sings Leiber & Stoller (Hip-O Select/A&M)
A reworking of the classic songwriting team’s 1975 album Mirrors by sons Jed Leiber and Peter Stoller, this is the belated follow-up to their unlikely 1969 hit with the chanteuse, “Is That All There Is?,” certainly one of the strangest songs ever to crack the Top 40.
And if you thought that tale of ennui shot through with Brecht-Weil irony was weird, wait until you hear this collection, which has the great Miss Lee crooning her way through such unlikely choices as “Kansas City,” along with hard-to-categorize nuggets as “Some Cats Know,” “I’m a Woman” and “Professor Hauptmann’s Performing Dogs,” which has more than a passing resemblance to the under the big top theatricality of Sgt. Pepper’s “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”
The album’s love of Americana is reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s Smile or Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle, but the arch arrangements can’t disguise the pain of Leiber’s Freudian self-analysis in songs like “The Case of M.J.,” an oblique reference to the time he almost fell into his father’s grave when he was five. It’s a far cry from the Leiber & Stoller of “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown,” more Broadway than the raucous R&B that fueled their best work, but no less passionate or committed to expanding the popular musical form and its ability to express our innermost fear and doubts.
Lakers vs. Clippers
If you listen to conspiracy theorists, this is the match-up the NBA is hoping for when the Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash seemingly got jobbed (and fouled) trying to call a time-out at the close of Game 4, right before Kobe Bryant made like Michael Jordan with a pair of buzzer beaters that put things into overdrive. The beauty of this first-ever all-L.A. battle — if and when the Lakes get past the Suns — is that the entire series will be played in one arena, which has never happened before, meaning the so-called home court advantage will be reduced to whichever team’s fan base has tickets for that game.
As a longtime underdog Met and Jet fan from a city where those two teams are second-class citizens to the Yankees and Giants, I’ll be pulling for the Clips, who should actually be favored, while my wife and son will be pulling for the Lakers, so it should be fun. At least it’ll somewhat alleviate the misery from suffering with my pathetic Knicks all season.
Linda Ronstadt with Ann Savoy, “Walk Away Renee” (Vanguard)
A guilty pleasure back from my Top 40 days, The Left Banke’s winsome ode to lost love always stood out as a sharp departure from most of the disposable fare that surrounded it, at once dark, brooding and wistful. This version, recorded by Ronstadt with Cajun music historian and performer Ann Savoy, is from the pair’s upcoming Adieu False Heart album.
It captures the original’s romantic feel in the joined harmonies of Ronstadt’s soprano and Savoy’s alto, turning the song into an intimate expression of female longing only hinted at in the original, its mournful strings a stirring fusion of the American folk and Euro chamber music traditions.
Death of Rock Criticism
The Voice’s Chuck Eddy, L.A. Times’ Robert Hilburn, Boston Globe’s Steve Morse and Jim Sullivan, Cleveland Plain-Dealer’s Jane Scott… And now even the self-proclaimed Dean of American Rock Critics Robert Christgau is under siege as the Voice is taken over by philistine New Times publisher Michael Lacy. Then there’s the rise of bottom-up, everyone-has-an-opinion blogs like Blogcritics.org and Amazon.com, in which quantity trumps quality.
And it’s not just the beleaguered boomers jumping ship, but even a thirtysomething scribe like ex-Washington Post writer David Segal admits he’s growing tired of judging music meant for those 10-20 years younger. Still, to look on the bright side, some of the best and smartest writing about music is taking place online at sites like the Velvet Rope and www.rockcritics.com and countless MP3 blogs that allow you to sample what’s being written about, not to mention semi-autobiographical tomes by brash iconoclasts like Chuck Klosterman, Jonathan Lethem and Marc Spitz.
Gripe of the Week
Listening to Howard Stern on Sirius has me more pissed than ever at the FCC’s ever-increasing vigilance over so-called obscenity on the airwaves, culminating in Senate Majority Leader/Tennessee Republican Bill Frist’s current bill that would increase the fine for broadcasting “obscene, indecent or profane material” to a maximum of $500k from the previous $32,500.
Observers think the legislation has a good chance of passing, especially with conservative and parents groups pushing for its approval. Personally, I’m sick and tired of the government telling me what I can and can’t hear, and at this point, I’m willing to fork over subscriptions for satellite radio and cable TV so that I’ll be treated as the consenting adult I am. I mean, isn’t that what the on-off switches on your radio, television and computer terminal are for?
Do you really want to relinquish your right of free speech to a political agenda? Isn’t the First Amendment what America is supposed to be all about; what we’re fighting for in Iraq? Thank God for Stern and The Sopranos.