Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hank Steinbrenner Is A Big Fat Idiot, And I Hate The Yankees!

With Spring Training getting under way and a new season of baseball on the horizon, I just want to say one thing: I hate the Yankees and Hank Steinbrenner is an even bigger idiot than his father was. No, I'm not all worked up about Hank's perceived slight against Derek Jeter. He can whine about Derek Jeter building a mansion to his heart's content as far as I'm concerned.

What bugs me is listening to a guy like Steinbrenner complain about "socialism." Here is a lesser heard quote from Steinbrenner taken from the same interview, speaking of MLB's current revenue sharing program:

"We've got to do a little something about that, and I know Bud wants to correct it in some way...Obviously, we're very much allies with the Red Sox and the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cubs, whoever in that area....At some point, if you don't want to worry about teams in minor markets, don't put teams in minor markets, or don't leave teams in minor markets if they're truly minor...Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer."

Oy. Where to start? It's a pretty rich statement from a man who owns one of the most profitable franchises in professional sports and yet had no problem accepting $1.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies to build his team's (hideous) new stadium. You see, when the Yankees take money from New York's taxpayers, it's not "socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it," it's Hank Steinbrenner getting what's coming to him. But when the Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates take money from Hank Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees it's "communism," and that's never the answer. Right. And I won't even touch on the fact that MLB operates a monopoly thanks to an anti-trust exemption from the U.S. government.

Also, once MLB cuts loose all those "minor market" deadbeats Hank complains about, who are the Yankees going to play? How entertaining will it be to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers and the Cubs forty times every season? Will people still pay regularly pay +$2,000 per luxury seat to watch the Yankees play the same teams over and over again? And how many games will the Yankees win when they no longer have minor market teams with tiny payrolls to pad their schedule?

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think MLB's current revenue sharing system works particularly well. I don't see much evidence that the smaller-market teams who benefit from the system put the money back into payroll, which is the way the system is supposed to work. I'm certain there are dozens of better solutions to baseball's current payroll imbalance. I just don't particularly enjoy being lectured on the evils of "socialism" by the likes of Hank Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner is your typical "born on third and thinks he hit a triple" spoiled brat. He has the intellect of someone who figured out he was set for life in third grade and stopped paying attention in school around the same time.

Oh, and one more thing: Go O's!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Feelies - Here Before: Now Available For Pre-Order

The upcoming new Feelies album, Here Before, is now available for pre-order from Bar/None Records. The album is due to be released on April 12, 2011 as a digital download, on CD and on LP with a digital download card (which is how I will be ordering it). Bar/None did a fantastic job with the recent reissues of the Feelies first two albums, Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth. I bought both on LP and the albums were mastered extremely well and pressed on quiet vinyl. The digital download cards even gave you the option of downloading the albums plus bonus tracks in lossless audio quality (if you don't know what that means, don't worry about it, but trust me, it's a good thing). If you don't have those already, I can't recommend them highly enough.

Record company spiel:

After a 19 year break, the Feelies are back with Here Before an album of all new original material on Bar/None Records. The new album touches on different styles from the Feelies’ long history while adding new grooves and musical ideas to the mix. Electric and acoustic guitars melt together in archetypal Feelies fashion on songs like "Nobody Knows" and "Should Be Gone."  Elsewhere there are slabs of driving garage rock like "When You Know" and "Time Is Right" and the down-tempo "Bluer Skies," and harmonically rich "Later On."

Here Before was recorded at Water Music in Hoboken, New Jersey produced by Feelies founders Glenn Mercer and Bill Million. Besides Glenn on rhythm/lead guitar and lead vocals, and Bill on guitar and vocals, the album features Feelies mainstays Brenda Sauter (bass, vocals), Stanley Demeski (drums), and Dave Weckerman (percussion).

My pre-order says the album will ship "on or before" April 12th. Here's hoping for before. Granted, I've waited nearly 20 years for a new Feelies album, but I'm feeling a little impatient nonetheless. I'll see if I can get some info on the mastering and pressing of the new LP for my fellow audio obsessives.

Update for fellow audio obsessives:

According to Bar/None, the LP was mastered at Tangerine by Andreas Meyer (who also did the first rate LP mastering for the reissues).  The master he made specifically for vinyl was then sent to Paul Gold at Salt Mastering to make plates.  The plates were sent to Rainbo Records to be pressed. This is the exact same chain that was in place for the Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth reissues, so this is very good news. The LP should be sonically excellent.

This time the download card will allow you to get the album at 320k MP3, which I regard as more than sufficient for iPod/portable use.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Girl, You'll Be Drinking A Coca-Cola Soon (Neil Diamond Coke Jingles)

I remember a long time time ago, when such things seemed really important to me, having a debate with a friend of mine over whether there there was some objective criteria for calling music "good" or "bad." My friend's opinion was that there were objective grounds for making such statements, even if he lacked the ability to articulate the criteria explicitly. He pointed to music that appeared in commercials as an example of music that is "objectively bad." My own take was that there was no defensible objective criteria for judging music. In my view, there was only power. I argued that those with access to power have historically been able to subject their notions of "good" and "bad" on those with less access to power. "Taste" in my view was nothing more than an instrument of social control, and I viewed championing music judged to be in "poor taste" as a heroic act of resistance against a repressive society. (You see, I couldn't just like Cat Butt and Mudhoney because they rocked out righteously, there had to be some deeper reason.)

In retrospect I can see that both arguments are hopelessly naïve. But I also think a better rejoinder to my friend would have been to play these Coca-Cola jingles by Neil Diamond, because they're awesome.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mudhoney - Head On The Curb (New LP Only Release)

I just put in an order for this because, well, how could I not?
This vinyl-only release is Mid-period Mudhoney at its RAWEST. Original Bass Player Matt Lukin is in top form, as is the rest of the classic line-up, blasting out songs and ideas, some of which went on to be studio-fied for their Warner Bros debut PIECE OF CAKE, while others got lost to the dark crevices of time…UNTIL NOW. Besides the cover of SCTV classic I HATE THE BLOODY QUEEN, these recordings have NEVER been released, and represent a sonic assault that is pure Mudhoney. Raw, unabashed, and sometimes down-right no-fi. HEAD ON THE CURB writes a new chapter into Mudhoney’s legendary past.

Side A
1. Ritzville
2. I Want To Live
3. King Sandbox
4. 13th Floor Opening
5. Living Wreck
6. Acetone

Side B
1. No End In Sight
2. Underide
3. Fun And Games
4. Confusion
5. When In Rome
6. I Hate The Bloody Queen

All Songs By Mudhoney except for I HATE THE BLOODY QUEEN by The Queen Haters. Recorded in various garages, studios and caves in remote parts of Seattle, WA during the last decade of the 20th century. Photos by Charles Peterson

Wow! That is a lot of CAPS for an archival release, but dare I say it sounds like something worth SHOUTING about. I know Nirvana is the grunge band that everyone worships, but Mudhoney will always be my favorite. It's $18 shipped from Birdman Records. I'll report back when my copy arrives.

Update: I got my copy and can heartily recommend this release to any Mudhoney fan with a turntable. Don't buy it thinking you'll get one of those MP3 download cards--you won't. Sound quality is good enough not to detract from how great the music is. Mudhoney were not exactly known for burying their albums in studio gloss, but there is still something refreshing about hearing these songs in such a raw and direct way. The cover of "I Hate The Bloody Queen" is particularly brilliant.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Pure Joy

I first became aware of Pure Joy when they released their 1990 LP Carnivore on the Popllama label. Carnivore is a nice slab of power-pop with a healthy dose of Cheap Trick influence. Pure Joy leader Rusty Rusty Willoughby's subsequent band Flop also mined the power-pop vein and gained enough attention to land on a major label (who subsequently did nothing to support them). In my mind I very much slotted Pure Joy into the power-pop ghetto (and I mean that in both a good and bad way).

So when I borrowed their 1986 self-titled EP from my friend Adam, I was a little surprised at the sounds I heard as the diamond vibrated in sympathy with the record groove. I expected a rougher version of what the band delivered on Carnivore, and what I heard instead was a band that sounded much more like The Chameleons UK, Echo & The Bunnymen or The Mighty Lemon Drops than any of the usual power-pop touchstones. It was only after listening to this that it dawned on me that the band obviously took their name from a track on the second The Teardrop Explodes album, Wilder.

After this revelation, I went back and listened to their fantastic 1988 LP Unsung [buy it!] that was not widely distributed until it was reissued by Flydaddy in 1994.  The fixation with British neo-psychedelica is evident on this album, if not as obvious as it is on the EP, but since I approached the album from a power-pop frame when I listened to it previously, I hadn't noticed it before.

The other thing that surprised me about the EP was that despite the fact that it was self-released by the band, and predates their first widely distributed album by a good four years, the recording quality is very professional and the band's playing is polished. So not only does the EP not sound like a rougher version of Carnivore, it actually sounds slicker both in terms of production and performance than their later work. In fact, when I threw Carnivore on my turntable for the first time in many years, I was somewhat disappointed by the muffled sound of the recording which holds back the very energetic performances somewhat.

Pure Joy reunited for new albums in 1997 and 2003, and I plan on tracking those down soon. And if you ever come across a copy of this EP, pick it up!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Where Is The Love...For The Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl Halftime Show?

So it seems like The Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl Halftime Show is being nearly unanimously panned and mocked. Being the contrarian that I am, I'd like to say a few words in defense of their performance.

I'd like to preface my comments by saying that personally I don't like the music of The Black Eyed Peas. From "Where Is The Love" in 2003, to "My Humps" in 2005, to "Imme Be" in 2009, right up to their current smash "The Time (Dirty Bit)," the music of the Black Eyed Peas could have been created by a complex and constantly improving set of algorithms designed specifically to annoy the heck out of me.

Insofar as this is the case, I have a grudging respect for the band. I'm a white man in his 40s, and it's my personal opinion that  if the popular music of the day doesn't leave me saying "everything was better back in my day," then it is doing something very wrong. In a perverse way, I almost look forward to hearing how much more annoying I find the next Black Eyed Peas song than I did the last one. I feel like we have some personal contest going on, and just when I think their next song can't possibly annoy me as much as their last, they pull out a trick like interpolating the song from Dirty Dancing and drenching it in Auto-Tune. I'm pretty sure is a genius of some sort, and I mean that sincerely.

With all that said, I felt like The Black Eyed Peas delivered more of what I think a Super Bowl performance should deliver than many of the recent Halftime shows. Ever since Janet Jackson bared her bejeweled nipple for a fraction of a second, the NFL has gotten pretty conservative with their choice of entertainment, leaning heavily on aging classic rockers like The Who, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul McCartney. I guess they figure the worst "wardrobe malfunction" that might happen in these cases is someone will lose their dentures, or a toupee will blow off. While that would be embarrassing, it wouldn't risk offending those extremely sensitive Americans who fear a microsecond peek at Janet Jackson's nipple might permanently scar their child's psyche.

While I like (even love) the music of many of these old geezers, their performances are very short on the sort of over-the-top glitz and showmanship that I think should be part of a good Super Bowl Halftime show. (I was only half-kidding when I said they should bring back Up With People). The other problem I have with these rockers' performances is that, by necessity while the vocals can be performed live, the music must be canned. Logistically, it's just not possible to get a good live sound set up in a stadium given the time constraints. Anyone who disses and crew for not performing their music onstage should be aware that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did the same thing, and believe me, it's not because they can't play. But the central problem here is that rock music performances are uniformly dull when the music is already in the can. Pop music can compensate for this shortcoming with synchronized dancing and other forms of razzmatazz (it just wouldn't work to have a troupe of dancers in light up suits dancing in time to "Born To Run," although I'd like to see someone try).

Okay, there were some obvious problems with The Black Eyed Peas performance, starting with the obvious fact that even with the help of Auto-Tune none of them other than Fergie can come close to singing on key. But as a show, I didn't think it was that bad. Those LED blockhead guys dancing onstage with the band at the end were pretty cool, and almost made me think of DEVO and the way they deconstructed popular music as spectacle. Slash appearing from the void in all his junkie glory wearing a light up top hat was totally bizarre, and kind of awesome in a really strange way. And it sounded like the crowd in that stadium loved every second of it.

So despite the fact that I don't like their music, I give The Black Eyed Peas credit for actually putting on a show with lots of flash and dazzle and showbiz schmaltz, and some pretty weird shit to boot. Personally, I think Super Bowl Halftime shows are better with a healthy dose of bad taste, and on that front The Black Eyed Peas more than delivered.

Where is the love people?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Super Bowl XLV - Where Are Up With People?

It's a shame those positive, young go-getters sponsored by Halliburton, General Motors, Exxon, Searle, and others known as Up With People weren't available to perform at this year's Super Bowl Halftime Show. Instead we will be treated to a performance by a new musical combo called The Black Eyed Peas.

Can, Fergie and friends scale the heights of Up With People's epochal performances in Super Bowls X, XIV, XVI and XX? Only time will tell. Will they be asked to perform at three more Super Bowls in order to match Up With People's record? Unlikely. Only three teams in NFL history have won as many Super Bowls as Up With People have performed Super Bowl Halftime shows (a feat they accomplished without the aid of performance enhancing drugs or Auto-Tune). 

I recently scored a copy of Up With People's 1979 masterpiece, People Are The Energy, in VG+ condition at my local Goodwill (with a copy of 1982's Encore shoved in the sleeve for good measure). Better yet, the album cover had been signed by the entire cast (or a large portion of it in any case). I'll never understand what would drive a person to drop such a valuable treasure off at Goodwill, but their poor judgment is my gain.

I suppose tastes have changed a bit since 1986 when Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears featuring Jim McMahon, Walton Payton and William "Refrigerator" Perry defeated the Raymond Berry's New England Patriots featuring Tony Eason Steve Grogan, Craig James and John Hannah by the score of 46-10. Maybe I should get with the times and learn to enjoy the music of and crew, but I'll probably turn the volume down on my TV and rock People Are The Energy during halftime instead. Better yet, maybe I'll hook my computer up to the TV and relive the golden age of Super Bowl Halftime entertainment by treating myself to Up With People's 1986 performance of "Beat of the Future."