Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cassingle rewind: Will to Power • I'm Not in Love

Label: Epic
Hot 100 peak: #7 in December 1990
"What was I thinking" index: 0 (none), although the parent album is at least a 3 (could live without it)

// A SIDE // Still basking in the glow of their 1988 number one, "Baby I Love Your Way / Free Bird Medley (Free Baby)," Will to Power went with another sleekly produced ballad for the first single from the 1990 follow-up album, Journey Home. Covering the psychedelic 10CC tune, the duo achieved another top 10 hit on the strength of the plaintive and evocative melody and Elin Michaels' strong vocal performance, although this version doesn't approach the trippiness of the 10CC version.

// B SIDE // This almost-four-minute reprise of "Fly Bird" soars on an instantly catchy, anthemic chant of "We've got to turn it around to see what's goin' down" delivered by a high school chorus. Curiously, that bit doesn't even appear in the song "Fly Bird" on the album, making it less a reprise than another song sharing some of its melody.

// C SIDE // Will to Power was well-positioned to extend its run of pop hits, but it wasn't to be. Journey Home's second single, an awful cover of "Boogie Nights," deservedly missed the Hot 100 altogether. The other potential hit was "Fly Bird," a rather blatant attempt to recapture the glory of "Baby I Love Your Way / Free Bird Medley (Free Baby)," and I'll wager that it would have at least charted had it been tapped as the second single. The rest of the album is quite bad, failing to recapture the easily listenable dance-pop spirit of their self-titled debut, which spawned the solid mid-chart dance hits "Dreamin'," "Say It's Gonna Rain" and "Fading Away."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Halloween hangover

With nothing recent of interest on the video store shelves (Dead Silence or The Invisible just weren't going to cut it), our Halloween viewing this year consisted of three vintage 1980s titles (no, not all on the same night). At least then when they're bad, they're '80s bad. Here's a recap, and I'm also throwing in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which I just caught on TNT on my lazy Sunday evening.

Witchboard (1986)
For a movie that includes a little Ouija board inside the DVD case, there's precious little Ouija action in the film, and what there is isn't scary. Tawny Kitaen ("infamous '80s vixen," the box copy says) gets pestered by a demon and ultimately possessed, but much of it feels more like a high school grudge movie than a horror film as her boyfriend (Todd Allen) and former squeeze (Stephen Nichols of General Hospital and Days of Our Lives) butt heads. Verdict: &&

The Evil Dead (1982)
The best thing about The Evil Dead is its authentic backwoods location in eastern Tennessee. The movie goes for visceral shocks as a young party of five, looking to enjoy a weekend in the woods, conjures up death and demons by reading from a "book of the dead" found in the impossibly huge basement. Early on, one of the squealing girls runs through the woods in the middle of the night and is held down by limbs and vines for what appears to be a sexual assault. Everything else here is pointless blood and gore, and the characters are as blank as the cabin's furniture, but this somehow propelled director Sam Raimi to a career. The DVD booklet includes a fairly lengthy interview with the three screaming lasses, while the dts-ES soundtrack is utterly wasted. Verdict: &

The Entity (1981)
Easily the best of our Halloween batch, The Entity boasts a strong concept backed by potent performances. Barbara Hershey is single mom Carla Moran, who one evening notices things moving around in her bedroom and then is molested (common theme!) by an unseen force. The subsequent haunting activity is low-key (it was smart not to try to outdo The Exorcist) but completely effective, and the movie smartly pits the phenomena against the world of psychiatry as a doctor (Ron Silver) tries to convince Moran, who is tormented by fear and shame, that the experiences are not really happening. Ultimately, parapsychologists attempt to lure the entity into a trap. Based on a "true" story as novelized by Frank de Felitta, who researched the case, it is thoughtful and engaging in a way that few horror films ever try to be anymore. Verdict: &&&

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Fusing a sedate legal drama with exorcism horror, this one, based on a "true" story (common theme!), is competently made and certainly more sophisticated than the flood of teen-oriented horror dominating the mid-2000s. Anticipating climbing the ladder at her firm, defense attorney Erin Brunner (Laura Linney) takes the controversial case in which a priest (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with negligent homicide after performing an exorcism on Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). The movie delivers a few chills here and there as Rose first encounters the entity in her room and later becomes a screaming, wall-clawing banshee, but the most effective moments are arguably those in which the skepticism of Brunner is shaken. It's mildly entertaining on an idle evening, but the court scenes begin to drag between the high-energy demon scenes. Verdict: &&1/2

Monday, November 19, 2007

Radio Me at

If you're anything like me, you need to know that your number 20 most-played track in your digital library is "Forever Live and Die" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

OK, maybe you're nothing like me, and that's probably a good thing. But if having loads of statistical data about your listening habits tickles your fancy, you should run, not walk, over to, sign up and download the Audioscrobbler. I've always had a bit of a fetish for music charts — I think they appeal to the obsessive side of my mind — and now I can endlessly pore over my weekly, rolling and overall charts, as well as those of others. Of course, looking at Last's weekly charts compiled from all users just reminds me that I'm old and far from hip, because there's nary a Radiohead song in my library (although I am vaguely tempted to download the "pick your price" album just out of curiosity), and the kids today don't have multiple (or any) Roxette albums in their top 30.

It's true that iTunes charts your music, but Last does it with more flair and in far more ways. Plus, it counts plays from CDs as well as anything you listen to on the radio. I also like that I can tell it when to count a play of a tune — a minimum of 75 percent of the song, 90 percent of the song or 58 percent. Whatever rings your bell.

Last also has free downloads — I snagged a good one by Under the Influence of Giants — and blogs. And while its music offerings are a helluva fun playground for music nuts, Last deftly weaves that into the context of social networking. That is one aspect of the Internet that has failed to set me on fire; MySpace couldn't be clunkier and less inspired in function and design if it tried. It's a compliment to Last that the site has piqued my interest in linking to more friends.

So go add me and see what's number one or number 118 this week. I'll be grateful.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

DVD: The Reaping

The Reaping's harvest is a mixed bag.

Genre: Horror
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Hillary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea
DVD released: Oct. 16, 2007
Verdict: &&1/2

This biblical plagues tale is far from immaculate, but neither is it the complete abomination most critics deemed it upon its theatrical release. Theology professor Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank), whose faith was squashed by the sacrificial murder of her daughter and husband while the family carried out missionary work in Sudan, now gleefully debunks alleged religious phenomena. Summoned to the tiny Louisiana backwater of Haven, where Something Mysterious is afoot, Winter sets out on a Skeptics R Us road trip with her assistant and plunges headfirst into a river of blood. Literally. The local river has gone blood red, and all the fish have died and washed ashore. While investigating and shacking up in a nice guy's plantation house, she witnesses a series of apparent plagues — the cattle die off; the kids get head lice; locusts descend. While Winter goes down her list of possible explanations, the local populace is all too willing to be swept up in the apocalyptic signs and channel their rage at a young girl — isn't it amazing how often it's a young girl? — who seems to be connected to the events. The Reaping at times reminds of various other works: The whole premise is rather X-Files; the scenes in Sudan and the ravings of the priest (played with expert skittishness by Stephen Rea as the character attempts to warn Winter of some bad Signs) bring to mind The Exorcist; the glimpses of the little girl evoke Don't Look Now and, if we want to get especially cynical about it, the remake of The Wicker Man; and the scenery and culture of rural Louisiana make this a suitable companion piece to that recent hoodoo movie, The Skeleton Key. The first two-thirds of The Reaping successfully engage, however. The plagues are well-choreographed, and it's always fun to watch skepticism collide with the hysterical will of the masses. But what tension the movie sows in the early going is squandered on a complete fumble of an ending that goes insanely over the top with biblical mumbo jumbo and pyrotechnics. // DVD notes // If you care to go there, a featurette explores the plagues.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

This week: Seinfeld on DVD wraps; The Gunslinger exposed

• Notable releases in stores Nov. 6 and movies in theaters Nov. 9.

Stephen King, "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born" // Essentially a comic series collected in hardcover, this story delves into the past of Roland, King's Dark Tower protagonist and arguably one of his finest achievements. I fell off the train and didn't read the last few volumes … what does he expect when they come out 18 years apart? This title is out Wednesday rather than the normal Tuesday.

Seinfeld: Season Nine // Aching to relive that tedious series finale? I didn't think so.

Seinfeld: The Complete Series // For the true Seinfeld obsessives, here's a 32-disc set that includes a new roundtable discussion with the complete cast. Now, that's something.

Wings: Season Five // Must-see Thursday memories, although this show eventually wore out its welcome.

P2 // A woman (Rachel Nichols) is stalked in a parking garage on Christmas Eve. Deck the halls!

Pet Shop Boys, exclusively

Christmas has come early for PSB fans: Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are apparently feeling in a generous mood, digging into the vault to share some unreleased material that leans toward Fundamental demos and alternate versions. To stream the songs, go to the official site, select "product" from the navigation menu, and then select "exclusives." A few thoughts on the previously unheard (by legal means) material:

God Willing (rough mix) // It has a long intro that precedes the starting point of the version that appears on Fundamental and includes a section in which the reading of junk e-mails is played backwards. It was intended as the opening track of Fundamental, and I've always felt it should have been, in either form.

A Powerful Friend // From the Disco 3 sessions, it's a down-tempo track with some lovely guitar accents.

Sorry (PSB minimal mix) // Brings to mind some of the disappointing remixes of PSB songs by other mixers — this was best left unreleased in favor of their amazing maxi-mix.

Indefinite Leave to Remain (demo) // This mid-tempo shuffle sounds like what you'd expect them to do with this song as opposed to the lush masterpiece that found its way onto Fundamental. I could listen to either version of this ballad all day; it's absolutely worthy of single release.

The Sodom and Gomorrah Show (Unreleased single mix) // This sounds exactly like the version performed on The Late Late Show, right down to the lovely pizzicato strings in the bridge.

Tall Thin Men // Originally slated to open the Closer to Heaven musical, this, on the surface, is exactly the kind of camp thing I don't want my PSB doing (although I do enjoy "If Love Were All" and "Can You Forgive Her? (Swing Version)", but this gets bonus points for the sly Madonna reference and cleverly scathing lyrics.

I Made My Excuses and Left (Demo) // The demo of this meticulously crafted winner doesn't sound far removed from the Fundamental version.

Love to Love You // A solid cover of the Donna Summer tune with Sam Taylor-Wood (aka Kiki Kokova) doing some of the same obscene groaning she does on the brilliant and underappreciated "Je T'aime … Moi Non Plus."

Bright Young Things (Demo) // No major differences here from the "Numb" b-side version.

Luna Park (Rock mix) // The differences here, as well, are rather subtle, although the description says this take was deemed "too rock." I don't see it, particularly alongside songs like "Sodom."

No Time for Tears (Orchestral Mix) // Potemkin is one of those PSB sidetracks that just doesn't engage me.

Jack and Jill Party (Extended Dance Mix) // Odd lyrics, and the whole thing sounds rather menacing.

Now, if only we could get these on CD, I'd set this up as my alternate version of Fundamental:

God Willing (rough mix) / Psychological / The Sodom and Gomorrah Show (Unreleased single mix) / I Made My Excuses and Left / Minimal / Numb / Luna Park (Rock mix) / I'm with Stupid (Melnyk Heavy Petting Mix) / Casanova in Hell (Live with Rufus Wainwright) / Integral (PSB Perfect Immaculate 7-inch) / Twentieth Century / Indefinite Leave to Remain (demo)

// Also see // Review of Fundamental