Monday, January 29, 2007

Spaceship (2005) – Kanye West

(Part Six of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

Like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Kanye’s tale of escapism
takes us back to the past through a black-colored prism
Mall job, face accusations of theft and embezzlement
He ain’t robbed nobody, don’t know where the cash and them khakis went
He workin’ them late hours reserved for the black folks
Ignoring rules, hittin’ chronic and nicotine smokes
They won’t fire him, tho’; management need a bro’
to fill a racist racial quota for the front of they sto’
A disgruntled Gap employee who just biding his time
‘till the day Jay-Z gon’ need inventive beats for his rhymes
And when that day come, Kanye gon’ bid them goodbye
GLC singing ‘bout when his spaceship arrives
Mr. West at his best when concocting the tracks
that sell records. Got signed, now he drivin’ Maybachs

Consequence takes the mic
talks about street knowledge and strife
and the constant motivation to achieve more in life
Hard work, overtime to keep the pain off his mind
of losing loved ones, of why he ain’t signed
And educational shortcomings lead to lifestyles of crime
Hip-hop culture ain’t forgiving when you run out of time
Just waiting for your options to materialize
is like waiting for that spaceship to emerge from the skies

Kanye’s back. When no one wants to hear your music
it can damage your frail self-esteem
but success is circumscribed by how boldly you dream
So excuse Kanye West if his ego has grown
‘cause when his raps were unwanted he kept folding them clothes
for a wage. Now he gettin
We speak of his music in appreciative tones
So, it’s clear his metaphorical spaceship has flown. . . .

  • Listen to "Spaceship" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Agenda Suicide (2001) – The Faint

    (Part Five of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    The Faint’s implements of demoralization—ominous bass synth, fidgeting scrapes of guitar, mechanical beat, snide vocals—approximate a gothic Duran Duran grown intolerant of bourgeois materialism. The Faint mean to admonish that being a slave to an agenda as a means to the end of affording a quaint home in the suburbs is tantamount to spiritual death. Emboldened by the discharge of grainy sawtooth synth and hissing hi-hats, vocalist Todd Fink sneeringly pronounces his ideology: working primarily to sustain an idealized standard of living is foolish, and living solely for one’s job is ultimately futile; accepting one’s fungible role in a characterless workforce renders one’s life no more substantial than a “cast shadow.” There’s a fine line, though, between senseless burnout and industrious virtue. To the extent Fink means to disparage a productive work ethic, his hyperbolic assailment probably deserves all the credence of an unemployed career guidance counselor’s advice.

  • Listen to "Agenda Suicide" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Synchronicity II (1983) – The Police

    (Part Four of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Beginning with the interminable racket he endures every morning at the breakfast table before trudging off to the job he loathes, Daddy is teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He’s grown numb to the nerve-racking discord that permeates his day—at home, during his commute, at the office. Nowadays, even the comely secretaries no longer stimulate his prurient interest, his desires having long ago been squashed by the periodic degradation he suffers at the whim of his domineering boss.

    In this tale of foreboding, Sting’s impassioned vocals peal over his solid no-frills bass fortification; Andy Summers campaigns the consciousness with economical guitar phrases; Stewart Copeland cracks his snare and beats his kick drum with authoritative aggression, his crispy hi-hats and pinging ride cymbals punctuating the air like efficient stenographers.

    Having reached his breaking point, Daddy returns home with a migraine and a surly disposition. Meanwhile, the Loch Ness Monster (hey, Sting’s idea, not mine), which has slowly been surfacing from its lake in Scotland, emerges upon the shore, about to reveal itself to the world, symbolic of the major paradigm shift that is about to transpire in synchronicity. Beginning tonight, Daddy’s dominion and Nessie’s existence will no longer be subject to debate.

  • Listen to "Synchronicity II" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues (1973) – Jim Croce

    (Part Three of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Although he envisions inevitable white-collar success if given the chance, his daily grind is strictly blue-collar tedium. Such is Jim Croce’s plight in “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues,” the grousing of a man who paints a not-so-sympathetic picture of himself with a palette of country blues boogie: he’s shirked his spousal/child-support obligations; he’d loaf as an executive and hassle his secretaries. To be sure, he’s incredulous that his untapped genius is wasted doing such menial work, that his just deserts elude him for the time being. But, despite the fanciful outlook of his reveries, it’s the string of adjectives he strews in the song’s hook that convey the depths of his “steadily depressin’, low-down, mind-messin’, workin’ at the car wash blues.”

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, January 27, 2007

    I’ll Take Anything (1990) – Blake Babies

    (Part Two of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Ennui and inertia are on the day’s agenda for Juliana Hatfield as she surveys the stagnation that has become her lifestyle. Disheveled and down to the last dollar her parents sent earlier in the month, she thinks a lot about getting up off her duff to look for a job, but soap operas, sulking and sleep are currently much more inviting. While she professes a growing desperation, she still practices slothfulness. Those days not long ago when she had ambition were days she knew she was destined for greater things than her friends and family could even imagine. But now she hides her head under the covers of John Strohm’s blankets of ringing guitar, springing an array of buoyant full-toned notes that reveal Hatfield’s underrated sensibilities as a bassist. Freda Love’s pounding floor toms are a throbbing hangover headache; her tumbling drum fills, an inelegant stumble out of bed. Eventually, Strohm attempts to perk up the pity party with a solo of the variety that inspires an afternoon drive to clear one’s head. Together, the trio concoct just enough of a palliative to stave off the doldrums for another day.

  • Listen to "I'll Take Anything" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Father To Son (1985) – The Alarm

    (Part One of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Mike Peters portrays the angst of a teenager whose father expects him to find a sensible job, perhaps in the steel mill that paid the family’s living wage for so many years. The boy refuses to accept the same dead-end routine that eviscerated his father’s spirit. Instead, with dreams of making a name for himself, he plans to move to the big city. However, his family expects him to provide financial support, especially in light of his father’s impending retirement and the dire state of the economy. Impetuously, the boy leaves town against his father’s wishes for the auspicious embrace of metropolis. Once there, he finds his opportunities meager; his future, less than stellar. So, he heads elsewhere. This soon becomes a pattern of pavement-pounding futility and itinerate frustration. Realizing that his aspirations of fame and fortune were overambitious, he’s now desperate to find anything that would approximate even the modest standard of living to which he was accustomed back home. With Dave Sharp’s restless guitar protesting in the right channel, and a piano/bass-heavy march that would do Madness proud, “Father To Son” soberly cautions risk-takers that the old adage, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” sometimes proves to be the stuff of old wives’ tales.

  • Listen to "Father To Son" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, January 26, 2007

    His Lamest Flame (1998) – Mary Lou Lord

    Arguably, “His Lamest Flame” is Mary Lou Lord’s catchiest song (“His Indie World” being her wittiest), largely because of its irresistible chiming jangle-guitar/“na na na na na na na na na” refrain. The song’s title is a play on Elvis Presley’s “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame”: Lord, whose delicate voice sounds similar to Juliana Hatfield’s, acknowledges that she shares the same black hair and green eyes, but not the name, as the lass Elvis lost. This time, however, it’s the girl who fails to stoke the fire of passion. She senses that there is not much fuel left in the flicker, as the outlook on her romantic future grows dim. In fact, her woefully low self-esteem and passive acceptance of her beau’s waning interest all but ensure that the flame—effete and lame—will be extinguished by her own suffocating self-pity.

  • Listen to "His Lamest Flame" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame (1961) – Elvis Presley (Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman)

    “His Latest Flame” finds Elvis burned by the bane of every small town’s quasi-incestuous circle of acquaintances who recycle partners amongst themselves. (And, as evidenced on The SmithsRank, it segues quite seamlessly into “Rusholme Ruffians.”) The bustling beat, the catchy melody, the words of congratulation—all belie his envious heartache as he attempts to keep a brave face despite learning that a former love has recently hooked up with an old friend. There’s a palpable sense of loss and resignation in his voice; he remembers the goodness of what once was his to enjoy.

  • Listen to "(Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    American Terrorist (2006) – Lupe Fiasco

    Adding to the flurry of post-Katrina salvos, Lupe Fiasco takes Kanye West’s infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” gripe a step further, accusing the U.S. Government of practicing terrorism against the disadvantaged throughout history by hoodwinking or outright bullying, and then supressing, certain segments of society: steal their land, deprive them of quality education, quash their protests, create distractions to occupy them, exploit ‘em and keep ‘em down. He suggests that manipulation of the economy has inflicted unintended collateral damage across racial boundaries: even the blue-collar Klansman ain’t whistling Dixie as loudly anymore—the price of gas has made cross-burning a costly pastime.

    Although his flow at times lacks fluidity, Lupe’s indictment runneth over with bile as he charges the White man with transporting over the smallpox epidemic which eradicated some Indian tribes, importing and lynching slaves, and now bringing terrorism upon the U.S. because of foreign policy regarding Israel. Also, in his eyes, a byproduct of racial injustice has been the stratification of rich and poor, as a government designed to protect its wealthy injects poison, either overtly or insidiously, into certain communities to perpetuate the oppression: casinos and liquor spell gambling addictions and alcoholism for the Native Americans; guns and drugs facilitate the Black man’s unknowing quest to destroy his own people.

    It’s unclear why Lupe included the reference to mid-1800s era Chinese railroad laborers and gold miners—they came to America in search of a better life. But in doing so, he missed out on an opportunity to chime in on the current illegal immigration debate. He could’ve dropped a couple more lines in the coda like: “Give brown man keys, park the car / Keep grass short, clean the yard / Raise them kids, mind the crib / but don’t sneak past Border Guard.” Feel free to use ‘em for the remix, Lup!

  • Listen to "American Terrorist" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Monday, January 22, 2007

    If I Had Only Known (1991) – Reba McEntire (Jana Stanfield/Craig Morris)

    Consider a day when someone you love perishes suddenly: no prolonged illness or suffering, no death bed farewell, not even a coma or life support limbo—just snatched from your life. Then, imagine that you were given a chance to go back to the day before their passing to say goodbye. Reflect upon what you would share with this person, their qualities and traits you would remember as a lasting impression, the place you would want to spend your final moments together. Yes, it’s heart-rending to think about. Amazing then is the fact that, indulging this notion, Reba McEntire was able to record without a crack in her voice this ballad in memory of eight members of her musical family who died in a plane crash earlier that year. (Hey, Michael Jackson couldn’t even keep it together for “She’s Out Of My Life,” and, knowing what we know now, he probably wasn’t even all that sad about it.)

    With her feelings of regret laid bare, Reba’s grace in bereavement reminds us that the opportunities to cherish those in our lives are too often opportunities squandered, chancing inevitable regret.

  • Listen to "If I Had Only Known" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, January 21, 2007

    365 Days and 162 Songs Later. . . .

    On this 21st day of January, three posts to celebrate one year of existence.

    I Broke Up (SJ) (2002) – Xiu Xiu

    A voice whimpers feebly in schizophrenic delusions over the steady throbbing of synthetic percussion and strummed bass chords until Jamie Stewart, so epicene in his petulance, shrieks with maniacal abandon, “Don’t fuck with me! DON’T FUCK WITH ME!” thereby unleashing a brief torrent of discordant pings, screeches and bleats drenched in distorted saturation that stabs the brain with shards of sonic shrapnel. The whole debacle reprises in a seething froth of dementia, Stewart throws another hissy fit, and the hemorrhaging cacophony is sewn up with a hasty suture.

  • Listen to "I Broke Up (SJ)" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Chemicals React (2006) – Aly and AJ

    One might be quick to dismiss any musical offering by Disney-songstress sisters Aly and AJ Michalka as teeny-bopper fluff. However, one would be careless in doing so. “Chemicals React” is the song that has been hinted at for quite some time now by the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne. But this blows away anything Clarkson or Lavigne has offered in terms of emotional impact. “Chemicals” is superior in terms of lyrics, musicality and structure: the guitars here ring sweeter and buzz heavier, the hook kicks harder and the melody resonates deeper, the words speak poetically and more convincingly, and the dynamic arrangement impels to the verge of wooziness this burst of energy that savors the disorienting thrill of a new romance. Consequently, the apparent pitch-correction slathered on their voices can be forgiven. And if you can admit you like “Since U Been Gone,” then why discriminate against these Cow Belles?

  • Listen to "Chemicals React" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2) (1977) – Television

    Little Johnny Jewel was a victim of the duality: the creative icon who was “just trying to tell a vision” (pun obviously intended), encouraged to go for it without the restrictions of responsibility; the strung-out drug addict whose wealth of avant-garde ideas came at the expense of his lucidity. In this tale of an artist going vacant, Tom Verlaine champions JJ, whose drug habit has him living permanently in flux between consciousness, hallucination and dreams.

    In batches of intermittent punctuation between Verlaine’s atonal yelps, Fred Smith’s drooping three-note bass riff dollops in chunky clicks over the drizzle and hiss of hi-hats and jittery kick drum palpitating with arrhythmic rapidity, as prickles of guitar teeter and lurch errantly. As the band hits its stride, Richard Lloyd’s ambling guitar chords strike a counterbalance to Verlaine’s soloing paroxysms—symptomatic manifestations of an obsessive compulsive disorder, feverishly scrubbing and scraping the fretboard clean of its notes before yielding for the moral of the story.

    In the end, all Johnny Jewel wants is for us to acknowledge his sacrifice in the name of art. “[H]e’s paid the price,” the least we can do is count the cost.

  • Listen to "Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.