The Freelance Mentalists.
JUKEBOX JURY: April 25, 2004
Subjects: Emma C. (age eight, third grade) and Sammy C. (age five and a half, kindergarten).
Dani Siciliano, “Walk the Line”
Emma: It’s a very very good rhythm and beat, and good singing with the echo. It sounds more like a Jamaican beat. But it doesn’t sound like a song that would make you dance. If she wanted you to dance, she would stop the music and just rock out. Overall, I really really like that song.
Sammy: Well, that song was pretty good.
Paulina Rubio, “Perros”
Sammy: We’re doing five or three? I only want to do one more song.
Emma: It’s really funky. Even though you don’t understand the words, cause they’re in Spanish, you don’t care. ["Any guesses as to what she’s talking about?"] It sounds like she’s saying “dog.” I really like this song.
Sammy: It’s good. Dad, I just came in to hug you.
Usher f Lil Jon and Ludacris, “Yeah!”
Emma: I’ve heard this song before. Ying Yang Twins? I remember the duh-nuh, duh-nuh part. It sounds like the tune on “Need for Speed: Underground.” (“Get Low”)
Sammy: It’s good. Very very very good.
Tweaker f Will Oldham, “Ruby”
Emma: No. I can barely hear what he’s saying. [Rocking part begins, rocking part ends.] Still no. When can it stop?
Gretchen Wilson, “Redneck Woman”
Emma: Sounds like the Dixie Chicks. [Mimes along, saying “Hell, yeah!”] It rocks!
Sammy: It’s good, still.
Some Albums Are the Very Newest Orleans Available
Little Georgie and the Shuffling Hungarians, Roll Up the Rugs and Crank It: Live from Styleen's Rhythm Palace, Syracuse, NY
(Queen Bee Brand Records), 1996
Reasons for bad people to hate this record:
1 There are eleven musicians in this band.
2 They play New Orleans-influenced blues and blues-influenced funk and funk-influenced r&b and r&b-influenced spirituals and spiritual-influenced rock and rock-influenced prog and prog-influenced New Orleans music. It is a live album.
3 It is a long album: "Over 2 hours of music on 2 CDs!" It features a long-haired stand-up piano player with a major Dr. John/Bruce Springsteen fixation.
4 The bass player's nickname is "Big Daddy," and he gets to solo.
5 One of the songs here is "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Reasons I love this record:
1 I found it in all its two-disc glory for $1.00 at the Frugal Muse Annex.
2 The band is split into three sections: "The Mighty Men" (guitar bass drums percussion), "The George-O-Lettes" (three background singers), and "The Hungarian Horns" (sax sax brass).
3 George Rossi, the "Little Georgie" of the band's name, has a whole bunch of soul for a jheri-curled white dude.
4 Styleen's is located in Syracuse New York, which apparently is nicknamed "Salt City" for some undoubtedly awesome reason.
5 There are covers of "Thank U Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin" and "Low Rider" and "Jim Dandy" and "Come Together" (Beatles version) and "Hey Pocky Way" and "Let's Go Get Stoned" and Allen Toussaint's "Hang Tough."
6 It begins with some creepy deepy voice going "You really must try...the sweet potato pie..."
7 At the end of "Gutbucket," trumpet player Jeff "Love God" Stockman quotes "Rhapsody in Blue" during the group riffage.
8 There is some HARDCORE GOSPEL HEAVEN on the original number "(Working on My) Addictions," which gets a free pass for the parenthetical title thing alone, but which is really a slow-burn slowdance blues piece. Hey come on, blues people gotta slowdance too.
9 Mick Walker's frightful heavy-metal look and skillful metal guitar runs.
10 Rossi's pronunciation of "Brassy Bessy" as "Brawsih Bahseye" while the George-O-Lettes show him up by pronouncing it correctly. Later in the song it sounds like someone's put on a Chuck Mangione record. But they haven't.
11 The close of Disc One (called "Chance," Disc Two is called "Desire," no idea what that means) features The Single Greatest Prog-Blues Song Ever. It's called "Ballade of Little Georgie," and it's kind of a voodoo beatnik "St. James Infirmary" with lots of interweaving of other stuff, like jump blues and Tom Waits interjections (Satan's vacuum cleaner sucking yr toes?) and...oh man, I'm gonna have to give this its own review someday. It's almost 13 minutes long.
12 "Tear It Down" sounds like "Gimme Three Steps" by T.Rex.
13 "You Like It" sounds like Boz Scaggs giving a deposition in a Southern Baptist church, sexy and God-haunted and angry. Except he's really talking about sneaking up behind someone and hitting her/him with a shoe and biting her/his lips until they bleed. This love object has some serious freaking problems and it unnerves him, he's not in favor of all this masochism, but what can he do? That's the way uh huh uh huh.
14 The cover of "Low Rider" links that song explicitly to "Come On Ride the Train" by Quad City DJs. Tell me that ain't genius.
So the good points outweigh the bad, obviously, and I haven't even pulled out the biggest pro- yet: None of you have heard it, or ever will probably. So I can claim Best Album Ever status on it and you can't say me nay. TOTAL CRITICAL BEATDOWN.
Some Songs Traffic in the Ontology/Cosmology Recapitulation
"Stupid Little Love Song," Fefe Dobson (Island), 2003 on the album, maybe it'll be released as a single in 2004 if we're pure of heart and we say our prayers at night
It's not just that this song features the greatest couplet in the history of teengirl pop in "You're on your way to Harvard Law / I'm on the bus to Arkansas."
It's not just that this song recapitulates the entire history of silly pop music because it sounds like No Doubt (metal and ska) sloppily making out with Avril LaVigne (punk and pop) while watching Saturday morning cartoons (Archies pop & Lieber and Stoller in the jokes here, dude's brother found the cure for morning breath omg wtf?) and cranking someone's parents' 8-tracks (doo-wop and 5th Dimension harmonies on the bridge, which is just Bangles after all) and writing self-pitying nobody-loves-me-I'm-an-outsider entries on LiveJournal (he's a jock, she's a nobody, very John Hughes and Janis Ian) and an agonized phone call to friends right afterwards (that's Sweet in her mid-bridge howl, Sweet and Lizzy and T.Rex).
It's not just that no one knows what to do with her because she's black but she doesn't sing r&b. She could, but she doesn't, that STILL freaks people out, Music-critic's editor thought she'd be like Beyonce/Aaliyah and when he heard the opening scratchy SoCal-punk skritching guitar thing to open it he did a spit take in my kitchen...and he hadn't been drinking anything.
It's not that I think she at least had a hand in writing the song, I know that doesn't really matter to anyone but me. But she might have, she shares writing credits on all songs with "Jay Levine from Lefthook Productions," no idea what kind of Matrix skullduggery this is or who the hell he is, doesn't matter if I think maybe the whole "your mother's a diplomat / Senator from Connecticut" is a little too perfect for a Canadian teenager to have written. In my mind, she wrote the whole thing, hooks and all, cleverness and all. They're making teenaged girls cooler these days anyway.
It's not that the whole conceit of the song is something I adore in music: You have everything, I have nothing...but my song. Leon Russell, Macy Gray, Paul McCartney, it's all gravity, baby, I love this notion, I felt like this many times. I was not blessed with hot looks like Fefe Dobson but I've pulled some babes in my time because I wrote cool stuff, sure this could happen to her, yeah right but still I love it as a trope, it gives me hope, it makes me smile. But that's not it.
It's not really anything I can put my finger on. All I know is that it's 80 degrees outside in Wisconsin in April and this sounds like the best song in the world. All other songs are here in this song, they all speak to me, birds are chirping, my wife and kids like me, I have no idea what the future holds, I don't care as long as there are Fefe Dobsons in the world with their stupid little love songs, their loving sneers, their casually foxy hair and rawk attitudes concealing a big fat beating heart, their love for all humanity.
Emo bubblegum is a concept whose time has come, and The All-American Rejects' self-titled debut is probably as good as such an album could get without transcending the concept. Tyson Ritter's lyrics monomaniacally obsess over heartbreak with standard yelps, whines and rhymes (what follows "please stay"....ah! "Don't go away!") but where every other 20-something white male crybaby is focused on expressing lyrical content or sheer frustration, it's the NOTES that matter more than anything else for Ritter. Unless you can't stomach so much of the one emotion he has any desire to express ("This probably isn't the end of the world but, oh, it hurts! It hur-hur-hur-hurrrts!"), his consistency allows you to focus on the cornocupia of hooks that Ritter and his "guitarist/programmer" Nick Wheeler offer.
That's right, despite what their videos on MTV tell you, The All-American Rejects are a studio duo
. Frankly I wish they'd acknowledge this in their videos so that they'd be compared to groups like Savage Garden, The Pet Shop Boys and Wham rather than the other pop-punk dillpickles they resemble when joined by a drummer and second guitarist (Ritter doesn't just whine, he plays bass too! It's as if Andrew Ridgeley sang AND held an instrument barely heard on the song, leaving George Michael to focus on the music). Wheeler has a Spector-esque sense of arrangement, surrounding Ritter's blue-eyed sulk with oodles of harmonies, LATE '80s keyboards (think "Here I Go Again" and Hysteria
rather than the Cars) and other shamelessly non-punk studio trickery (they use the same bells on "Happy Endings" that thrilled me on classics like Urge Overkill's "Bottle Of Fur," Rocket From The Crypt's "This Bad Check Is Gonna Stick" and Smashmouth's "Your Man").
Where most groups would rush to note their obscure favorites and ignore the obvious mainstream influences, these guys ONLY talk about INXS, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi in interviews, leaving it up in the air where they picked up so much EMO. Seeing as how this album first came out on the blandoid indie Doghouse before Dreamworks realized that these crybaby blues were designed for late night Discman spins and Ritter's baby blues were meant for MTV rotation, maybe hanky-cranky Hot Topic stop-starts and lyrical monomania was just naturally picked up from basement shows and their peers. Anyhow, the important thing is that these guys have not shied away from the innate vacuity of so much pop-punk by upping the pretentiousness, but instead have incorporated the sonic sweetness of the music that actually sated them in childhood and made those studio gimmicks their raison d'etre. This isn't pop-punk, this is punk pop.
Some Songs Just Don't Work
"You Dropped a Bomb on Me," the Gap Band (1982)
Oh I loved that girl so bad, so much, so unrelentingly
that eventually she had to dump me or be swallowed up;
actually it's more pathetic than that.
She was horny but I didn't know it, I thought she wanted to slow things down,
I suggested we cool the whole handjob thing,
she was about to graduate from high school,
she just wanted y'know something
and didn't want to defile poor little squeamish me, which I wasn't,
it was all very ironic.
And it tore out my heart, I was very public about my heartbreak,
walking for days in a muddle;
when me and Jello saw her making out with Rich he tried to shield my eyes
but I knew what was going on, knew it was too late.
But still I wanted to get back together or punish her or something,
I reminded her that we'd agreed to go to the May Day Dance,
it wasn't my finest hour. She said she'd meet me there,
I said sure fine no pressure it's cool.
God damn I was passive aggressive.
So we meet there but she's all over Rich,
everybody knew it but me and I knew it anyway but didn't want to know it
but like those truths it was self-evident now.
I didn't even care about being embarrassed,
I just missed her, missed her smile, missed her flirtiness
and her intelligence and her air-headedness and the burdens she carried
and the way she and my mom liked each other.
And I knew she had broken up with me for the wrong reason,
she should have just been honest and said she wanted to get laid,
but maybe she thought then I'd want to, cause I did.
So then I heard the beat of this song and I walked across the gym floor
and I pointed at her and smiled "nicely" so she knew she'd have to dance with me,
it was "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" which was one of our songs
(along with "Little Red Corvette" and "Eres Tu" and 50 more)
but this time I tried to fix her with THE EYE
so she'd know that she had actually dropped a bomb on me
that I was mad at her, that she'd hurt me, that the hurt wasn't going away.
She used to pick up all my looks but this one just bounced off,
she knew she'd hurt me but she had already rationalized it away,
it was gone, I was over.
So I stopped giving her the eye and just danced.
I kind of closed my second eyelid, I could still see her
but I wasn't seeing her, I was just dancing.
I got so far down inside the groove that it was my spine.
I danced and I danced and eventually I disappeared.