Monday, April 07, 2014

Something new in the air from Information Society

Ironically, just a day or two after deciding to dig through my hundreds of CDs for my copy of their 1992 album Peace and Love, Inc., I stumbled on a new Information Society single release, "Land of the Blind." It's out there on iTunes and Amazon along with remixes and a worthy extra track, "Me and My Rhythm Box." Fans should really get all tingly over the A-side, which is instantly catchy and heavily references their classic signature hit "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)." It really feels like turning back the clock.

As for Peace and Love, Inc., it certainly has its advocates, but I've never been able to get into it. I really want to like it, because I love their first two albums, but it feels mostly half-hearted from start to end. My favorite track is easily "Crybaby," which illustrates again how synth ballads showcased their knack for songcraft, as did "Repetition" and "Slipping Away."

Did the commercial letdown of previous album Hack take the wind out of their sails? Perhaps. But Hack is a real gem, an underrated platter loaded with polished, radio-ready hooks. I never tire of going back to songs like "Fire Tonight" (another scorching ballad), "Move Out" and "Come With Me."

Can't wait for the new album after hearing this new tune:

Monday, March 03, 2014

Me and Elton John in Tupelo

I've been to just a handful of concerts in my life, and one of them was Elton John. Some 17 years later, I'm set to see him again in the same venue in Tupelo. That show back in the '90s was stellar, a non-stop three-hour romp from a master. Now, I'm older, and more curious about the set list. Elton isn't trying to make pop albums anymore, so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, makes the cut from latter day albums like The Diving Board and The Captain & the Kid, where the focus is back-to-basics artistry. Back in the '90s, it was a huge thrill for me when he opened with "Simple Life," a modest hit that was and is one of my all-time favorites. 

I hope to be thrilled again.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jeopardy! and Crackle and the Decades Tournament

Jeopardy! is in the midst of its Decades Tournament, with the '90s segment coming up next week. In conjunction with this tournament, a bunch of old Jeopardy! episodes featuring the participating contestants, with notable names such as Chuck Forrest and Frank Spankenberg, are currently available on the streaming service known as Crackle (available via Roku and many TVs and Blu-Ray players). I've never used Crackle for more than watching about two episodes of the Dana Carvey Show, but this nostalgia trip for an iconic game show has piqued my interest. The picture quality is superb, and the '80s episodes, in particular, remind us how much the presentation and tone of Jeopardy! have evolved through the years. It's a clever use of a new mode of content delivery, and it makes me wish streaming would offer everything on demand (for a price, no doubt), so I can watch a random episode of Jeopardy! or $ale of the Century from 1984 anytime I want. As for the tournament, I can't help thinking it's going to come down to something we've seen before: Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and somebody else who doesn't have a chance.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A note to WeatherNation

Dear WeatherNation,

Now that you have acquired 20 million potential new viewers since DirecTV added you to its lineup about a month ago, please consider stepping it up a notch. 

I know it's tempting to sit back and watch with a bucket of buttery popcorn while the corporate slap fight between DirecTV and The Weather Channel plays out, but I'm finding your coverage a bit slight. I keep seeing your meteorologists reciting six-day forecasts for city after city followed by the drought monitor map every five minutes. How about some analysis and extended prognostication for the whole country?

On the plus side, your graphics and presentation are pretty sleek. Some people probably haven't even noticed that you aren't The Weather Channel since DirecTV slyly put you in their slot at 362. Fate has smiled upon you: DirecTV chose to make an example of The Weather Channel, and AccuWeather didn't have their channel ready to go yet. It's your moment; don't fumble.

Thanks and good luck,

Thursday, January 30, 2014

American Horror Story and Fleetwood Mac's "Seven Wonders"

Kudos to American Horror Story for putting the spotlight on one of witchy woman Stevie Nicks' best efforts with Fleetwood Mac, "Seven Wonders," in the opening sequence of the final episode of the Coven season; the enchanted #19 hit from 1987 was the perfect fit for the competition for supremacy that filled the final episode:

I wish this show a long life, but it has yet to come up with a season that doesn't grow tedious before it wraps things up. Jessica Lange is magical, however, and I'm afraid her presence will be sorely missed when she hangs it up after the next installment. It was a hoot to have Nicks participate in the show, and props to Kathy Bates for a great turn, as well.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

No sympathy for The Weather Channel in its fight with DirecTV

I've always been a Weather Fan, and I've watched more Weather Channel through the years than I'd care to admit. Not so much in the last 10 years or so, however, when the channel's relevance has been dimished by the immediacy of weather information via the Internet and iPhone apps. Still, I remember one long summer day in the '90s of following the channel when two lines of storms were bearing down on north Mississippi — one moving east and one moving west — putting the two on a collision course. The meteorologists warned of the dangers of a "merger" situation. I've never seen anything like that before or since. If you tuned in today to get a radar view, however, you might be greeted with a reality program instead of weather coverage. Such is the bitch of cable television, in which channels carve out a niche and then systematically set about abandoning it in favor of the ratings chase.

Now, in the storm of carriers of versus content creators, The Weather Channel is kicked to the curb by DirecTV. The reality is that channels are asking for obscene amounts of money each year from the service providers — satellite, cable, fios, etc. — resulting in my bill going up each year. So, I don't mind if DirecTV plays a little hard ball. Dish did it with AMC Networks, resulting in AMC being off for months. I think the best interest of the consumer generally rests with the satellite/cable companies in these corporate spats.

These disputes always turn ugly, but The Weather Channel has taken it to new levels of stupidity. In addition to getting posterboy Jim Cantore fired up, they began a campaign to get irate consumers to contact their congressmen. This is where The Weather Channel incinerated any credibility it ever had — to suggest that it is some sort of public utility, and anything other than a business out to make money — is marketing manipulation of the lowest kind.

WeatherNation, which DirecTV fiendishly added just ahead of the contract dispute, is no great shakes. But, still, good riddance to utter bullshit.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The songs that moved me in 2013

I feel pretty removed from current music these days — I rarely listen to the radio at all anymore, because who really wants to hear another Katy Perry song — so I'm sharing the songs I played most during the past 12 months as tabulated by rather than trying to formulate a "best of" list. The result is a mix of everything, with songs going back as far as the early '80s, and three songs that were actually released in 2013. Notably just scraping into the list with one entry is my venerable favorite, the Pet Shop Boys, whose Electric album is quite good but unjustly hailed as the second coming, in my view, perhaps as an overreaction to the rather tepid Elysium that preceded it by less than a year.

Anyway, here's the list:

1) "Maybe I'm Crazy" - Monarchy // The electronic duo Monarchy is perhaps my favorite new find this year, and this 2011 song is a soaring triumph.

2) "Somebody's Knockin'" - Terri Gibbs // This country-pop crossover gem from 1980 is sadly unavailable for purchase in its original version. Lord it's the devil / Would you look at him …

3) "Sacred Heart" - Shakespear's Sister // A lovely ballad from their first album; it's better than the album's minor hit "You're History."

4) "Instant Attraction" - Garçon Garçon // This duo is only getting better with their intoxicating retro-now jams.

5) "Love Me Like You Used To" - Class Actress // Retro influences also abound here; I'm addicted to this one, along with "Keep You" and "Weekend."

6) "Losing You" - Solange // Happened to catch the video for this on Palladia and wouldn't know it existed otherwise. It's a gorgeous synth-infused R&B ballad, and it's a crime something this good doesn't crack the Hot 100.

7) "Break It Down Again" - Tears for Fears

8) "Seduction Surrender" - Grace Jones // Creepy dance-pop from the 1986 movie Vamp.

9) "Another Minute" - Cause & Effect

10) "Cast Away" - Strange Talk

11) "Inside a Dream" - Pet Shop Boys // My favorite from Electric.

12) "I Won't Let Go" - Monarchy

13) "Fever (Edit One)" - Madonna // The hard-to-find mix used in the video; it's superior to the album version.

14) "Burn" - Ellie Goulding // Would have been a better lead single than "Anything Can Happen," in which she sounds like she's about to bust a vocal chord.

15) "You Surround Me" - Erasure

Guiltless pleasures, or, 2010's top albums 
Most played artists, 2009 
Most played songs, 2009