Monday, September 01, 2014

Erasure's The Violet Flame artwork and buzz

When I first saw the regular edition artwork for Erasure's new album The Violet Flame, which is due out in a few weeks, I thought they'd finally jumped the shark for good in terms of cover art. But it's amazing what a change in color scheme can do … the black and gold motif of the limited edition box transforms the combination of skeleton and vintage English wallpaper into something rather stunning. I'm looking forward to one of those arriving in the mail with its exclusive disc of the entire album remixed and other goodies.

I was really excited to hear that the duo worked with producer Richard X on this one. Although first single "Elevation" is a rather subtle number that doesn't stir a great deal of excitement, my feeling is this album has got to be better than its predecessor, Tomorrow's World, which was a slight and disappointing effort after such a long wait from the release of Light at the End of the World.

Erasure is doing a Pledge Music campaign for The Violet Flame, but it's been disappointing in terms of extras, with little more than a download of the album art being offered to pledgers.

Seeing Elton for the second time (Tupelo concert, March 19, 2014)

[Five months later, I've managed to finish my thoughts on seeing Elton John in concert again … ]

It was a weeknight and a work day, and I really wasn't feeling up for it. We arrived to the packed venue later than we should have and eased into our seats barely 15 minutes before Elton John took the stage. What followed was an Elton '70s fest, as you'd expect with this tour focusing on the anniversary of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Although the '70s is not my forte, I was surprised by how many of the songs I couldn't identify. I was born in the '70s but grew up in the '80s, so I'm drawn more to Elton's later body of work, which barely gets a tip of the hat in the legend's current tour. I'd rather hear "I Don't Wanna Go on With You Like That" or "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" than "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" — so sue me. The highlight for me was his defiant early '80s anthem "I'm Still Standing." The only thing that would have been better would have been Elton breaking out "Too Low for Zero" with an extended keyboard solo in that wonderfully synthy bridge.

The songs:

Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding // Had no idea what this was, but the lengthy instrumental bit made for a nice moody opening.

Bennie and the Jets

Candle in the Wind // You’d think Elton and piano alone on this one, but the band joined in.

Grey Seal

Levon // My first real exposure to this song was when Bon Jovi massacred it on the 1991 Two Rooms tribute, and thus I can’t muster much enthusiasm for it.

Tiny Dancer

Holiday Inn // John talked about this one being inspired by touring small towns that all looked rather the same.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

Believe // One of only two nods to the 90s. Certainly a better choice than those Lion King songs.

Philadelphia Freedom

Roy Rogers

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road // Inspired me to put this song in my current playlist, cause this boy's too young to sing the bluuuuuuuueeeees.

Rocket Man

Hey Ahab

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues // Without the harmonica, sadly, but glad it made the set.

The One // This was the single instance when the band left the stage, putting the focus solely on John and the piano.

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Sad Songs (Say So Much) // An 80s gem that perked me up.

All the Girls Love Alice

Home Again // The only nod to anything post-2000.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me // Yep, I learned this one via the George Michael duet.

I'm Still Standing

The Bitch Is Back

Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll)

Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting


Your Song

Crocodile Rock // What, no "Healing Hands"?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Netflix is out to lunch

If, as a business such as Netflix, I did not provide Raiders of the Lost Ark on Blu-Ray, I would throw in the towel and write a letter of apology to customers.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Haunted by the late Garçon Garçon

There's not much music that matters to me anymore that is discovered via old-fashioned radio. A prime example of this is Garçon Garçon, perhaps my favorite artist of the last couple of years, who came to my attention via a blog post about a remix of their song "Stay in Touch." I'd have never heard of them otherwise. They released an EP of songs and later, in 2013, an incredible single, "Instant Attraction." They have a sound that's hard to quantify, but wiki comes reasonably close with "a nostalgic blend of modern electropop with an inherent 80s teen spirit." But there's more than that; many of the tracks have a haunting quality juxtaposed with incredibly sharp pop hooks.

So, it put a dagger through my heart when the duo announced their split via social media. Especially after such a stellar new release.

This is how their tracks stacked up for me in total plays, per

Stay In Touch (Son of Vader Remix) // 32
Instant Attraction // 27
Save Our Souls (EP)  // 23
Maybe Tonight (EP) // 21 
Take Me Out (EP) // 21
Hollywood Song (Sveta & Tokoloshe Midas Touch Remix)  // 21                                                 

It's a new Pseudo Echo album called Ultraviolet

A treat has surfaced in the form of a new Pseudo Echo album called Ultraviolet. Many '80s fans know that Pseudo Echo amounted to much more than a clever cover of the disco hit "Funky Town" … their 1984 album Autumnal Park is a masterwork of synthpop.

Over the past year or so, a couple of new tracks appeared on iTunes: "Suddenly Silently" and "Fighting the Tide." Both are excellent, retaining the old sound and knack for melody; the latter, in particular, could have been released in '84. With new tracks coming to light, I had a feeling a new album might be in the offing, and here it is, their first proper album since Race (1989), which took an unfortunate turn toward hair metal territory.

For whatever reason, iTunes and Amazon MP3 have totally different sequences for the tracks on the new set; the first and last songs are reversed, among other differences. I have yet to digest it, and I just hope it captures some of the brilliance of Autumnal Park.

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