Saturday, September 21, 2019

RIP Eddie Money

Eddie Money does not hail from the genres that I write most about here, but it occurred to me as I played some of his songs on Spotify that his smoky voice was often pleasantly around during the time frame in which my obsession with pop music emerged, which coincided with his later period as a hitmaker. Beyond the obvious tracks are numerous worthy listens, like "Walk on Water" (#9, 1988), "Endless Nights" (#21, 1987), "The Love in Your Eyes" (#24, 1989) and "Peace in Our Time" (#11, 1989, and originally recorded by Jennifer Holliday for the One Moment in Time Olympics album). Pressed to choose a favorite, I quite like "I Wanna Go Back" (#14, 1986), but I might have to go with the somewhat uncharacteristic and softer-than-usual ballad "I'll Get By," which was his final top 40 hit, peaking at #21 in 1991. It's got an appealingly dark quality with lyrics like Lately I've been thinkin' / I should move away / No reason left to stay / This house is haunted anyway

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

RIP Ric Ocasek

While most of the Ric Ocasek obits are understandably focused on the importance of The Cars and his role in their success, it’s one of his solo songs, "Emotion in Motion," that is one of my all-time favorites of the 1980s and among all pop tunes in general. There's a magical quality to the synth-driven ballad that really takes me somewhere. Released in 1986 as the lead single for his second solo album This Side of Paradise, which largely sounds like a Cars album, it was Ocasek's only U.S. top 40 single as a solo artist (#15 pop, #8 AC, #1 rock tracks). It's a sweetly romantic track, in a good way, and it sits at #16 on my all-time Last fm scrobbles chart. Ocasek's final drawing/doodle that has been featured in the news says "Keep on Laughin'," which is the title of the opening track on This Side of Paradise. It's a good tune, but the second-best track on Paradise is "Mystery."

Elsewhere among his solo albums, "Hang on Tight" from 1997's Troublizing, which featured some collaboration with Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins (not on this track, however), is also highly recommended, with an interesting evolution of the synth-pop-rock sound.

As for The Cars' body of work, the moody ballad "Drive" and "Magic" are divine slices of pop music.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Pet Shop Boys drop surprise single Dreamland with Years & Years

While giving this its first spin this evening, a distinct feeling emerged: This sounds like one of those Pet Shop Boys B-sides in which they are aping a specific artist, song or genre, or some combination thereof, such as in "The Ghost of Myself" (Britney Spears' "…Baby One More Time") or "Betrayed" (jungle). In this case, the imitated object would be the popular synthpop recording artist known as Years & Years. My first impression is that this new A-side is pleasant enough but not destined to be a favorite.

While it was known they'd been working with Olly Alexander of Years & Years, bonus points are in order for dropping the lead single from out of nowhere on a non-standard release date, accompanying the news of a greatest hits tour and the January release date for the upcoming studio album (it's been a long wait), which will complete the Stuart Price-produced trilogy. Here's to a new era of PSB.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Some things about the return of Press Your Luck

ABC is the new game show network …
Who saw that coming? Faithful reproductions of Pyramid, Match Game and, now, Press Your Luck. To Tell the Truth is a bit of a different vibe than the older versions, but it is quite good, as well. It's interesting to see ABC dipping deeper into the genre with Press and Card Sharks, and these are a real gift to classic game show fans as well as reminders of so much potential mostly squandered by GSN / the Game Show Network.

High tech is better?
The new "big board" is a stunning set piece, to be sure, and modern technology eliminates the possibility of anyone "cracking the code" like Michael Larson did on the old show. But that old big board was a marvel, with individual slides for all of the prizes and dollar amounts in each square. The slides in each square switched in unison and had kind of a cool morphing effect that is completely lost in the new computerized big board. Once in a while, some of the individual squares would get out of synch with the others, making the board look even more dynamic. It also had more stylized representations of the prizes compared to the somewhat generic look of the new board's graphics. The old board still rules.

We get the somewhat obscure and pointless "Across the Board" space but not the iconic and game-rocking "Double Your $$$ + One Spin"? Seriously? Doesn't seem like it would bust the primetime budget. At least "Pick a Corner" is there.

The hostess
Elizabeth Banks is giving it the ol' college try, but she's not a game show host. Peter Tomarken occasionally got a bit too goofy, but he had gravitas and knew how to run that game. "Roll the board!"

No deal
The new end game is a too-long drag that feels influenced by the overblown drama of Deal or no Deal (although I admit that I like the "chosen just for you" prizes). ABC should have stuck to its usual approach of not fixing what ain't broke. The ideal outcome for all this would be to drop the end game and give us a daily morning or afternoon network or syndicated show with returning champions, the way it's meant to be.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

'It' is not a very good movie

Is it the extreme anticipation associated with a cultural touchstone? 

Something has to account for mediocre movies getting a critical pass — I'm thinking of The Force Awakens, for one, and a more recent example is the 2017 adaption of the classic Stephen King horror novel It, which is about as much of a holy grail as Star Wars for King fans. It's stunning to me that this movie sits at an 85/84 on Rotten Tomatoes, and I think a lot of horror movies in recent years — Insidious and The Conjuring among them — have been pretty grossly overrated. I mean, we know going into a horror movie that most of them are bad, but have we set aside all expectations at this point? 

Here, Andy Muschietti's big-budget treatment gets off to a quite promising start in the opening scenes as the paper boat floats down the street in the heavy rain and Georgie pursues it; when it goes down the drain and Georgie comes face to face with Pennywise for the first time, it's captivating to see the solicitous monster trying to push just the right buttons to lure in his prey. Bill Skarsgard nails it in that moment, and I'm ready to go along for the ride. Sadly, though, the movie quickly descends into the usual jump scares, noise and nonsense of modern horror movies; long before the silly final confrontation mercifully arrives, I just wanted it to be over (my viewing partner wholeheartedly agreed). As plenty of others have pointed out, a real bright spot in the movie is Sophia Lillis as Beverly; she displays a gravitas beyond her years that hints at great things to come. 

If I had to watch one of the two adaptations of It again, I'd opt for the slow-burn TV version. I recall that King once said he should have called the novel "sh*t." I don't know about that, but, when it comes to this movie, if the clown shoe fits …

Monday, December 31, 2018

Music that moved me in 2018

Top Song
Foster the People claims the most-played song trophy with the sublime "Sit Next to Me," which has a really appealing, dreamy quality. This rekindled my interest in earlier single "Doing It for the Money," which lands at #21 in my year-end recap of most-played songs, new and old, as tallied by Last FM. The runners-up for songs released in or near 2018: "My My My!" by Troye Sivan and "Your Song," Lady Gaga's outstanding Elton John cover.

A year without scorchers
It was a cycle lacking in artist and album breakouts. My core artists didn't have new albums, and things that could have blown up, like Thompson Twin Tom Bailey's solo debut Science Fiction, failed to fully ignite. My most played "current" artist was Troye Sivan ("My My My!" #3, "Strawberries & Cigarettes," #51 and "Better Now," #83 for the year and currently in my top 10).

Double A-side
I loved that Paul McCartney called the lead single from his 2018 album a double A-side, as if that kind of thing still exists. Both excellent tunes, "Come on to Me" and "I Don't Know" (love that piano intro on the latter), finish in my top 50, along with one of his oldies, "Say Say Say." It's a tad surprising to find him thrice in my top 50.

What's so hot about the Hot 100?
Last year, my non-mainstream tastes yielded only two instances of crossover between my music of the year and that of popular consumption. Not to be outdone, 2018 has literally no crossover at all. It's not surprising, considering the Billboard Hot 100 of the year is a chart heavily infested with songs by Drake and Imagine Dragons. A close call, though, is Bruno Mars' "Finesse," finishing at #14 in Billboard and a bit outside my top 100 in the non-Cardi B version. Mars has become a bit boring, but I loved the overt musical references to Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" in that jam. Also worth mentioning is Troye Sivan's cover of Post Malone's "Better Now," which is currently charting in my top 10, while Malone's original finished at #13 for the year in Billboard.

// Go here for recaps from 2017 and prior years.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

RIP Aretha Franklin

The mid to late 1980s was a great time to be a teenager getting into music. While there were all of those new sounds happening, it was a time when radio was kinder to veteran artists, and the likes of Roy Orbison, Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin could still chart a hit. When I think of Aretha, I think of those '80s hits like "Freeway of Love," "Through the Storm" (with Elton John), "Jimmy Lee," and particularly the Narada Michael Walden collaboration "Who's Zoomin' Who?", a fine pop jam that hit #7 in 1985. Good times with the Queen of Soul, a great American, and one of those people who it seemed would always just be there.

There was no music video for "Who's Zoomin' Who?" …