April 29, 2005

overrated albums III: Bat out of Hell [updated and all revved up]

Ok, I'll be honest with you here. I bought the album. I bought the hype that went with the album. I thought it was brilliant, amazing and a work of art. It was 1977. Elvis had just died. I was momentarily blinded by heartache. No, I was trying to revolt against the constant crush of Eddie Money songs being played on 99X. I was trying to drown out the disco craze. I was looking for an alternative to my friends' constant playing of Billy Joel's The Stranger. My local department store where I bought my records didn't have Elvis Costello's My Aim is True. I was suckered in by Meatloaf's amazing turn as Eddie in Rocky Horror.

I could come up with a million more excuse, you know. But the fact is, I liked Bat out of Hell when it first came out. Don't look at me like that. Like you didn't lay in the dark with the headphones on and just wait for the part...

Then Iím dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun
Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike
And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell
And the last thing I see is my heart
Still beating
Still beating

That was beautiful, man. Genius. See..he was telling a story. But set to music. It works on two levels! And you had to sing it just like Meatloaf, as if you were on a high school stage in the midst of some overwrought musical about love and loss and umm...motorcycle accidents.

Ok, that one hasn't really stood up to the test of time. What about...

On a hot summer night.
Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
Will he offer me his mouth?

I'm sitting here wondering how I ever thought that was good. Maybe when you're drunk on Boones Farm wine at a party in someone's basement that's decorated to look like some kind of art deco cave and that Canadian kid you have a crush on is mouthing the words to you...well, that's hot when you're 15 and stoned on fermented strawberries. Now, in 2005 - even with a glass of Chardonnay down the hatch - it's cringe worthy.

But it's not even those two songs that relegate this album into the annals of Insipid Moments in Rock History. No. It's the song I hate more than any other song that has ever been written, performed or copyrighted since time began and will always, forever continue to be the one song that can make me run screaming from a wedding, bat mitzvah or block party. The song that can reduce grown men and women to pantomiming actors in a surreal line dance of lust.

It was at my sister's wedding ten years ago when I realized that Paradise By the Dashboard Light was my kryptonite. As soon as the first note emitted from the speakers, the dance floor was flooded with revelers. All the people who sat on their asses for the great dance songs of the night (oh, like you don't want to dance every time you hear Funkytown) were suddenly lined up on the floor, males forming a line down one side, females doing the same on the other side. It was reminiscent of a movie musical, where somehow everyone knows the words to the song and all the lines to sing. Maybe I hadn't been to enough weddings or bars lately, but I had no idea that Paradise had become a line dance/interactive favorite. It was the new Hokey Pokey!

Let me tell you, even with a couple of shots of tequila under my belt, and even with the giddiness that comes with complete exhaustion, there was no way I was loopy enough to join that crowd on the dance floor. No, I just stood back and watched as grown men and women - including town councilmen and judges and the president of the local Kiwanis - took turns singing the boy/girl parts and totally acting the part of lust filled teenagers in a steamy car. One couple actually stood in the center of the two lines during the whole baseball announcer verse and acted the whole thing out. I kid you not. When my jaw dropped and a cousin realized I was stunned, she told me that this went on at every wedding, in every bar, every night of the week and I needed to get out more. No, no, I told her. I need to never leave the sanctity of my house again.

When my kid's religious ed teacher did a sliding split into the middle of the dance floor, holding up her hand and singing "STOP RIGHT THERE!" and my uncle twirled his way beside her and responded with the "let me sleep on it" verse and then all of them did the whole back and forth thing and this went on until the very end, where they all did some bizarre dance as they whispered glowing like a metal on the edge of a knife, I thought I had been transported to the ninth level of hell and Satan himself was going to rise out of the dance floor.

Yes, that was ten years ago and I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday (sorry, couldn't resist). It was such a horrid experience that not only is it etched in my memory forever, but it has made me loathe the whole Bat Out of Hell album and even Meatloaf himself (his man tittie turn in Fight Club notwithstanding), as they are all part and parcel of one of the most nightmarish experiences of my entire life.

So I got off on a tangent there and probably failed to convey why Bat Out of Hell is overrated, but that doesn't even matter anymore. I have Paradise stuck in my head and I have to go find a way to get it out of there.

[cross posted at Blogcritics]

: So maybe the whole album is worth it just to sing the last minute of All Revved up With No Place To Go (download)

April 28, 2005

Overrated Albums: Poll Winner

I finally closed the poll. And the winner of the coveted prize for most overrated album is:

White Stripes - Elephant

View final poll results here.

Now, I'm sure there was some rigging of the vote by one single person who is so offended by the sound of the White Stripes that he alone counted for 225 of the 226 votes. But that's the nature of polls (see, American Idol last night, for proof of that) and those are the results we shall go with.

wsel.jpgThat's not to say I disagree. Somewhat. I think. The whole White Stripes/Strokes/Hives thing baffled me. I suppose one could make the argument that the embracing of garage rock was in direct response to the proliferation of overproduced teeny bopper bands and flaky, yet hot, blonde singers and/or the rise in popularity of 30 year old men in nu-metal bands writhing in agony, still angry at their mothers for grounding them when they were 12. Who knows?

The thing is, after bitching and moaning for months about how much I hated the Stripes and that whole stripped-down-rock sound, they kind of grew on me. Not so much that I started to actually sing their praises, but enough so that I didn't turn "Seven Nation Army" down when it came on the radio. In fact, songs like "Ball and Biscuit," "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" and "The Hardest Button To Button" remind me of what I first liked about rock and roll all those years ago and yes, the sound is quite reminiscent of sitting in Pat Henley's garage on summer evenings in the 1970's, listening to the band with no name play the same songs over and over again, but enjoying every chord, every beat. The simplicity of "Seven Nation Army" is it's beauty; there's hardly anything to the song, but yet it makes me want to do something - dance, or drum my pencil on the desk or tap my foot at least, much like the repeated chords in the Henley garage did. The band with no name's sound was born of pure desire to just play some music, and that's what I get with the Stripes.

However (there's always a however with these things), White Stripes are not the saviors of rock and roll. They are not the greatest thing since MC5. Elephant isn't so much a triumph of the simple sounds of rock and roll as it is a triumph of style over substance. The album is too simple to be anything more than a big, fat candy bar. Jack White's efforts to be everything to everyone in the re-emergence of pure rock bands is admirable; but his reliance on Meg White's mediocre drumming skills and his penchant for trying to do too much with too little overwhelms the sincerity within. It's a good, fun album. It's good background music for cleaning the house or pretending to do yardwork while you're just drinking beer and neighbor-watching or driving through rush hour traffic with one hand out the window and one hand on the horn. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's good music. It's rock and roll. But it's nothing that's going to change the world. Not even the music world.

I don't think Elephant is the most overrated album of all time. Not even close. But I just surprised myself here by what I wrote about it. I didn't know I liked the album so much until now.

You learn something new every day, even about yourself.

[Just because the poll has ended doesn't mean I'm done - I'll be "reviewing" some of the other overrated albums later today]

Update: Again, don't shoot the messenger! I'm only doing these albums because you people nominated them! If it was up to me, I'd just list every Dylan, Beatles, Eagles, Nirvana, Madonna and Stones album and be done with it. Maybe we should be doing underrated albums instead? Or just underrated bands in general? Anyone?

April 27, 2005

update on the album poll

I'm going to leave it up a while longer. I think Kid A may take the lead away from the White Stripes some time this afternoon.

In answer to emailed questions:

  • Radiohead's OK Computer was not on the poll because it's one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Gosh.
  • Weezer's Blue Album? Overrated? Are you serious? Get off my website, dorkass.
  • Stop asking me about stupid albums. This isn't the Dumbest Album Ever Made By A Good Band poll. It's the OVERRATED poll. Which means an extraordinary amount of people had to actually think the album was born of jesus or something. No one thinks Use Your Illusion was a masterpiece. That's why it's not in the poll.

Interesting discussion of The Wall post over here.

Which overrated album should I write about next? I could do Hotel California, Bat out of Hell, Nevermind or something not even on the list that may be overrated (as long as I also think it's overrated, so stop it with the OK Computer already).

Overrated Albums II: The Wall

Before I get into The Wall, I need to clarify something in order to hold the pitchfork and torch crowd at bay. I did not randomly choose the albums that went into this poll. I pulled them all out of the comments here. Personally, I love London Calling - I wore out three copies (cassette tapes) in my car alone - and I feel nothing but pity for the people who can't understand what's so great about that album (and maybe later I'll do a post extolling the virtues of London Calling). Anyhow, White Stripes is currently holding a giant lead, so if you are really eager to see The Eagles win, get over there and vote. I'm closing the poll this afternoon.

thewall.jpgI love Pink Floyd. My relationship with that band goes way back. I mean, I was seven years old when I first heard Careful With That Axe, Eugene. And all these years later, I'm still listening. My 12 year old son is listening. My 66 year old mother listens obsessively. I guess PF is somewhat of a family tradition. So I feel comfortable in sitting here explaining to you why The Wall is overrated. I'm not some PF play hata throwing rocks at Roger Waters. I'm a fan who can admit when an album just over reaches.

First, I'm not a big fan of double studio albums (see, Frampton Comes Alive). More often than not, you end up with six or so good songs and lots of filler. Most of the time, that filler is a songwriter's narcissistic exercise in hearing himself think. And so it goes with The Wall.

Most of the album is an acid-fueled ego trip for Roger Waters. It personified angst before Cobain put on his first flannel jacket. It was emo before the guy from Dashboard Confessional ever shed his first heartbroken tear. It was the epitome of mother issues set to music before all those nu-metal bands made parental abandonment a niche market. It's a group therapy session at a drug detox center set to music.

And it is the music that saves The Wall from being nothing more than a pretentious, self-absorbed LiveJournal entry. From the frenetic pace of Run Like Hell to the sheer poetry of Gilmour's solo on Comfortably Numb, it is the sounds and not the words that held this album together and kept it from falling into the cut-out bins of record stores everywhere. Yet even the music in some parts contribute to the "what the hell were they thinking" aspect of this album, most notably the disco background of Another Brick in the Wall. The whole song is tedious - it's as if their goal was to come up with an anthem that the kiddies would sing along to, that would resonate with them and make them believe that this album was about them, too. "We don't need no education" was the Pied Piper line of The Wall. It suckered in millions of teens and young adults who shouted along with the lines and bopped their heads to the disco beat and never gave thought (at least not until their later years) to the fact that Waters and company were pounding out the disco beats (also on Run Like Hell and Young Lust, which makes the "dirty woman" line feel somehow justifiable) just a year after disco was declared dead. Was he being ironic? Was the whole album ironic? Who knows. The message sort of got muddled in between the Oedipal odes and the admonishments of eating your whole meal before you have dessert.

Don't get me wrong. I love Gilmour's work on this album. Comfortably Numb contains one of the greatest guitar solos in the history of guitars - Gilmour is able to evoke more emotion with the movement of his fingers than Waters managed to eke out in all the words within the album. I listen to The Wall mainly because I still get a rush from the inherent violence and anger unleashed in the short, yet powerful, Happiest Days of our Lives; but that's from the way it's set up musically, and not from the lyrics - which really hammer home the point that Waters had some deep seated issues with authority figures.

thewall2.jpgIt was when I finally saw the movie version of Waters' nightmare that I started to go from "what a work of genius" to "what a load of narcissistic crap." My god. Two hours of sitting through someone else's bad acid trip. That's what the movie was. I had enough of my own, thank you, without watching someone else have the freak out of their life. Not even the wretched depression of Brian's Song could top the depths of despair one feels when watching The Wall.

When taken apart, rather than listened to as a whole, The Wall fails on so many levels. Sure, when I was 17 and still finding genius in the lyrics of Genesis and the gaudy masterpieces of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Wall came off like a brilliant novel, a work of art, an anthem and a stoner's delight all in one. But years later, with the blinders of youth gone and the last joint stubbed out too many years ago and the knowledge that Roger Waters is a prick, The Wall just doesn't hold up like I thought it would. Oh, I still listen to it. Just not with the same awe I did in 1979. And that's not because I'm so far removed from that time that I can no longer appreciate it, because I still listen to Dark Side of the Moon with the same jaw-dropping awe I did when I first heard it at the tender age of 12. Which, coincidentally is the same age my son first heard DSOTM and fell in love with it. When I asked him how he likes The Wall, though, he said "I only listen to it for the guitar" in much the same way, a few years from now, he will say "I only read it for the articles."

So, did anyone else sit in their friend's basement with the headphones on and the bong water gurgling and try to find the deeper meaning in "if you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding?" No? Ok.

[cross posted at blogcritics]

April 26, 2005

Overrated Albums I: The Poll

[I put the poll below the fold because it was killing the load time on the page.]

Continue reading "Overrated Albums I: The Poll" »

Overrated Albums I: Frampton Comes Alive

[see here for reference]

On my 14th birthday I received Frampton Comes Alive.

A few friends had chipped in to get me the album. They didn't have enough money left over for wrapping paper, so they wrapped it in tin foil.

fca.jpgAs usual for a late summer afternoon in 1976, we met that August 25 behind the local 7-11 to drink beer (hidden in Slurpee cups) and smoke cigarettes. They presented the foil present to me and I unwrapped it, knowing what it was, relishing the moment I had been waiting for all week since Lori spilled the beans about my present.

And there it was. The blonde curls, the look of holy ecstasy, the blue lights; I was finally holding the prize of my collection in all its vinyl glory.

I didn't let on that I didn't really like Frampton's music. I liked his hair. I liked his smile. I liked him. I held fast to the lie that I was all into his music, but at that point in my life I was really into Kiss, Zeppelin and Genesis and Frampton was, for me, just a pretty face.

Ok, I went crazy over three songs on the double album ("Show Me the Way," "Do You Feel Like I Do," "Baby I Love Your Way") and two of those songs I only liked because of the "couples only" potential at the roller rink, but the rest was crap.

However, I was cool for having it because everyone wanted a copy. So the troops gathered and we went back to my house and listened for hours to the stupid wah-wah pedal thing.

When you are 14 and you just smoked some pot and the record player is emitting sounds of "do you feel like we do" played through some voice synthesizer, all you think about is some Charlie Brown special where the teachers are doing that wah-wah-wah voice and you keep saying to yourself, if I had just asked for Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak instead, I'd be rocking out to The Boys Are Back In Town instead of pretending to like the music of just another pretty face.

Yet, for some reason, Frampton Comes Alive makes an appearance on every list of top albums EVER. It's not. It's two albums consisting of three overplayed songs, a bunch of crap and some pictures of a really hot guy.

And that's why FCA makes my list for most overrated albums ever (you can still make your nominations). Next up: Why The Wall isn't as grand as people make it out to be (and a big middle finger to those who think Dark Side of the Moon is overrated).

[cross posted at blogcritics]

April 25, 2005

do you feel like i do: overrated albums poll [updated]

So an offhand remark in this post about Framptom Comes Alive sparked a flurry of emails from people either begging me to do a "most overrated album" poll or people wanting to lynch me for calling the album a piece of overrated crap.

I'll write tomorrow about why I think FCA did not hold up well over the years. For now, I'll take your nominations for Most Overrated ROCK Album Ever poll. I'll put up a poll type thing tomorrow, and add some of my choices - with some downloads - later on this evening.

Update: Here's two songs from albums I think are overrated:

Radiohead - Optimistic
Led Zeppelin - The Ocean