Saturday, January 16, 2016

ABC covers Radiohead's "High & Dry"

Although I did buy their "pick your own price" album in 2007, I never got into Radiohead. I'm a sucker for interesting remakes, though, so ABC's cover of "High & Dry," part of the recent 80's Re:Covered album with "80s" artists doing other people's later songs, brings the 1995 single to my attention. Like Beethoven flogging a Blur album track, ABC pulls out all its trademark New Romantic flourishes for the slow-paced alt-rock tune, which was a high point for Radiohead in terms of commercial exposure. It's a fantastic cover; ABC sounds as vital as ever, and it begs the question why they haven't released an album since 2008.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Kylie Minogue's "Only You" with James Corden

One of the last things you'd expect on a Christmas album is a cover of a Yaz (Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet) tune, but that's what Kylie Minogue served as the first taste of her Christmas album in a surprising (in several ways) duet with James Corden, the Brit host of The Late Late Show on CBS. Who knew that Corden could sing? He acquits himself better on this lush cover of the 1982 synthpop classic than he does as a late-night host. The Christmasy-orchestral makeover of the bouncy original lends heart to the lovelorn lyrics, making for a welcome gift to 80s fans from the enduring Aussie.

Favorite songs and album of 2015: The Weeknd and Madonna

SONG OF THE YEAR: Can't Feel My Face • The Weeknd // This is the one that stopped me in my tracks the first couple times I heard it to say, Who is that? Those moody, ominous synths and dark lyrics had me at, "And I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb. And she'll always get the best of me, the worst is yet to come," which make me smile. I was surprised to find that Max Martin is one of the songwriters, given his pedigree, but this one could earn him a slot in my top 10 of the decade.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Rebel Heart • Madonna // With some careful editing of the track list, we get the best Madonna album since Ray of Light — a worthy successor loaded with mature and sophisticated pop songs like the title track and the brilliant stomper "Devil Pray." It figures that the only song from the album to crack the Hot 100, "Bitch I'm Madonna," is the first I excised from my iTunes. Now that radio has fully dismissed her, it's time to leave those pandering efforts behind and grow old gracefully with the rest of us.

Fifteen more favorite songs released in or around 2015, not necessarily in order of preference:

Ghosttown • Madonna // My most-played song of the year, this scorched-earth ballad would have been number one for weeks during her imperial years.

Rebel Heart • Madonna

High on Love • Class Actress

Hold Tight • Madonna

Devil Pray • Madonna

Déjà Vu • Giorgio Moroder (Featuring Sia)

Living for Love • Madonna

Talking Body • Tove Lo // Hypnotic and blissful pop.

Geronimo • Sheppard

Dead Inside • Muse

Boom Clap • Charli XCX

Baby Don't Lie • Gwen Stefani

I Can Change • Brandon Flowers

Recreational Love • The Bird and the Bee // Sounding nicely like an extension of their Hall & Oates tribute.

Can't Deny My Love • Brandon Flowers


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A farewell to Jim Perry

Jim Perry was one of my favorite people from the 1980s. Born in 1933, he'd probably find that amusing. Humor and kindness were the hallmarks of his hosting turns in two of NBC's classic game shows, Card Sharks (1978-1981) and $ale of the Century (NBC 1983-1989; concurrently in syndication 1985-1986). $ale is an underappreciated format that had countless incarnations around the world (sometimes known as Temptation), most notably in Australia, where it became the kind of game show juggernaut that Wheel of Fortune is in the U.S. GSN recently ran $ale for a couple of years — something of a surprise treat as the cable net sadly continues to move away from the golden age of the genre. Although his resume is much shorter, Perry, who died Nov. 20 after a long battle with cancer, deserves recognition alongside game show greats like Bill Cullen. R.I.P. Jim … and I'll buy any instant bargains you have to offer.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Chiller's Psycho marathon

As a cable network, Chiller deserves credit for being one of the few that has stayed true to its theme, even if its steady menu of direct-to-DVD caliber movies grows tiresome. The channel is getting well outside that box on Thursday, however, with a lovely Psycho marathon that will include not only the original Hitchcock masterpiece but also Gus Van Sant's 1998 scene-for-scene remake (with the addition of bizarre flashes of cows) and the sequels — Psycho II, Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning.

Even though the sequels are not particularly well-regarded films, it surprises me how rarely (pretty much never that I can recall) they show up on TV, given the endless hours of airtime filled by C-level movies. These nuggets should be of at least passing interest to fans of horror and Hitchcock. Psycho II (1983), a moderate success, offers Vera Miles and Meg Tilly in the cast; Psycho III (1986) is directed by Anthony Perkins; and the made-for-cable prequel Psycho IV (1990, Showtime) could be considered an extra rare treat: It wasn't even available from Netflix on disc when I still subscribed a couple years ago.

Each year, I anticipate the arrival of October and what few surprises the cable channels might have in store for us in terms of fun old (and by "old" I mostly mean 1980s) horror movies. And, each year, I'm disappointed when AMC's Fearfest trots out the same dozen movies it has shown for the last 10 years. Take note, AMC — Chiller is schooling you with this marathon.

(The Psycho-fest begins at 11:30 a.m. central. Bonus: If you really want to make a day of it, David Fincher's The Game and Hitch's The Birds precede the marathon. Go, Chiller!)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A farewell to David Letterman in late night TV

I was nine years old when David Letterman's Late Night premiered on NBC, and I think he was really hitting his stride around the same time I was becoming aware of the world and getting interested in television.

I fondly remember staying up late on summer nights when school was out after my parents went to bed around 1985 to watch television, perching myself right in front of the living room's wood-cabinet 25-inch Zenith in the dark with the volume turned up just loud enough so as not to awake the parents but also to be audible above the steady hum of the wall-unit air conditioner. Carson was fun, but Letterman was something else entirely; I immediately felt a connection to his sardonic and self-deprecating style. And who wouldn't love watching people throw watermelons and televisions off the roof of a steep New York building?

In later years, we also have Letterman to thank for fine Late Late Shows with Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson (Ferguson had the best late night show of the last 10 years, hands down). It's hard to believe there won't be any Dave in late night after tonight, and it feels like a piece of my life is going away.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Is it too late to tell you my favorite album of 2014?

I shouldn't let another month slip by without some mention of my favorite music from last year — something I've done here more often than not for the last decade. Pulling a bit of an upset over La Roux's sophomore effort, Information Society's _hello world emerged as my favorite of 2014. 

The '80s survivors' self-titled 1988 major-label debut is one of the best synthpop albums ever released. Much of it is melancholy sentiment mixed with contemporary dance grooves, which is the recipe for many of my favorite songs. A handful of other albums followed over the years, but there were no more big hits like "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)" and "Walking Away." _hello world is the first album in many years with the full involvement of all three key players — Paul Robb, Kurt Larson and James Cassidy — and the result is their best album since the debut. Except for the Star Trek samples, all of the familiar elements are in place, not least of which is their ability to craft sweeping pop hooks, although fans of '90s album Don't Be Afraid may find some nods to its darker sound here (the aggressive and irresistible stomper "Where Were You?" being a prime example). Other highlights include first single "Land of the Blind," which gleefully references "What's on Your Mind;" second single "Get Back," a steamroller somewhat of a piece with "Where Were You?" that is even better in the form of the DeathProof Remix; and an excellent cover of Devo's wry "Beautiful World" with Devo's Gerald Casale contributing vocals.

While InfoSoc's songwriting has particularly shone in past synth ballads like "Repetition" and "Fire Tonight," this album's closing ballad, "Tommorow the World," doesn't quite equal those peaks. But, most of the way, there's an energy in these songs that is perhaps unexpected at this late date and simply … pure.