Justin Bieber – Under The Mistletoe

Well, the first 5 words that you read on today’s entry should indicate to you that today we are going to talk about the BAD of Christmas. Yesterday we talked about the good, so you should understand that, no matter how bad things get in THIS entry, there is always the good.

Today though, things are going to get really bad:

A look that screams 'Hello teenage girls, I AM HERE FOR YOUR SOUL *HISS*'

Justin Bieber (or Justice Beaver, a crime-fighting beaver, if you prefer) is very popularly, VERY understandably, both a target of lust for women of all ages (no matter how creepily young or old) and absolute, deserved ridicule from just about everyone else.

Still, this isn’t about hating Justin Bieber himself, because come on, everyone does that and they will continue to do that and it’s a lot better than any insults a mere blogger like myself can throw. This will be about hating his music, as soon as I actually listen to it.

The thing is, I have only heard maybe the one song that he did on his last album, which some wealthy rappers produced for him for his 13th birthday (all I got was a Ninja Turtles action figure and Mega Man 3 on the Nintendo… in many ways I still win). Basically, I am the world’s expert at avoiding music I know I’m not going to like,  but in this seedy world of practically anonymous journalism, sometimes one have to make sacrifices, and I am no exception.

So, in the spirit of something I did before that was fun, I am going to listen to Justin Bieber’s dubious holiday classic, Under The Mistletoe, for the very first time while blogging about the experience. I have never read a review on the album, and I have only Wikipedia’s dubiously factual page about it for fact-checking.

And away we go!

(Author’s Note: it should be noted that, the very second I picked up my mp3 player to press “play”, I suddenly started choking on my own spit and have just finished a monster coughing fit, so yeah, looks like we’re getting into something heavy here)

Track 1: “Only Thing I Ever Get For Christmas”

Well, busting out of the gate is pretty much exactly what I was to expect from a modern teenage demographic pop song, it’s an auto-tuned disaster of this kid singing while simultaneously trying to sound “breathy”, complete with actual heavy breathing hiding in the percussion which is really creeping out this 29 year old blogger, let me assure you. I think about 5 choruses have passed by while I was busy writing that last sentence and attempting to extract that last bit of phlegm from my gullet, and now the song’s over! Praise the lord, at least that was short, only the rest of my short life to go!

Track 2: “Mistletoe”

The very instant that the acoustic guitar starts this plastic reggae piece of sterilized pop nonsense, I began vehemently cursing Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and just about any other douchey college bro who figured out that upstrokes are the easiest thing to play on an acoustic guitar while you’re drunkenly trying to hit on women, and thus made it the standard for modern romantic music, probably until the day I die, which may be today if this chorus doesn’t go away soon. Seriously, is he saying “shawty with you”? Is he even legally allowed to use the word “Shawty?” where are his parents through all this?

Wow that was bad, I may have made a terrible mistake…

Track 3: “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) feat. Usher”

Oh man, that sprinkly bell thing that all pop songs have had since the 90’s. I don’t even care that that last sentence is a fragment, it says more about this song than I needed to know. The only thing more predictable than this song appearing on this album, besides the almost obscene amount of singing “around” the notes, Mariah-Carey-style, is that it features Usher. Yeah, well, so do my nightmares, and you don’t seem me making millions off of them, just an ill-advised blog entry. Wow, Justin Bieber cranks out a pretty mean guitar solo half-way through this using his speak-and-spell, not too bad at all.

Track 4: “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”

JUST when I was about to remark on how this track appears to be spitting on the grave of the Jackson 5 (if all 5 Jacksons were replaced with robots), Bieber comes in with this “SANTA CLAUS IS COMING GURL, WOO” and I had to stop the recording to sit here and HATE THAT with all my concentration. Otherwise, yeah this song is pretty much spitting on SOMEONE’S grave, because I can’t imagine who would do this to anyone in the name of love, though I guess that guy that shot John Lennon thinks he was doing a good thing? Anyway, this song also features one of those horrible R&B talk-downs half-way through, and I am pretty sure I’m losing the vision in my left eye.

My fingers are now poised over the phone, having dialed 9 and 1, and if this next track doesn’t pick things up I am going to have to put this review on hold and hit that other 1.

Track 5: “Fa La La feat. Boyz 2 Men”

Speaking of things that killed Motown, Boyz 2 Men make an appearance on this complete mess of random syllables (which makes sense since “Fa La La” aren’t technically words) making Bieber sound like a eunuch version of the Decepticon Soundwave. Understand, however, as someone who was watching Transformers at the age in which Bieber made his first billion dollars, that the actual Soundwave is all man.

Track 6: “All I Want For Christmas Is You (SuperFestive!)” feat. Mariah Carey

Well! Speak of the devil and the washed up singer he stole his vocal vamping and upper octave range from, Bieber does a duet with Mariah Carey here about how much they want to bone each other (no surprise there, that’s what every single other song in this album has been so far), and I shouldn’t have to point out that he is 17 and she’s 41 and that’s really creepy, so instead I will point out something even better: Mariah Carey’s own best-selling Christmas album called Merry Christmas was released November 1st, 1994, the year Justin Bieber was born. In fact, THIS VERY ALBUM was released on 11/1, the 17th year anniversary of her album, which might be considered creepy and sinister, but in fact most Christmas albums come out around that time so yeah. I just really needed something to distract me from the rest of this song because this is truly awful.

Track 7: “Drummer Boy feat. Busta Rhymes”

Now, being a bit of a Christmas music hater, so I don’t have any special attachment to “The Little Drummer Boy”, especially since it’s not really a hymn, despite what people may think. Thus, I am not mad that Bieber does his stupid auto-tune vocal scale warmup on the traditionally staccato “Parumpa pum pum” (which is supposed to emulate a drum, you idiot, drums don’t do scales!), nor am I even upset at the inclusion of a rapper doing some truly awful things to the institution of rhyming and shouting in between lines pretending the other vocal track can hear him, as I have always theorized that Justin Bieber is a tool that the R&B/Rap community are using in order to get revenge on white people. No, what upsets me about this song is that it’s supposed to be about a kid who drums because he’s too poor to do anything else for Jesus, and so Bieber doing this song implies that, having a similar background, the original drummer boy must have struck it big on Youtube and become an evil prepubescent millionaire for the his act of percussive generosity, when really he probably just remained poor for the rest of his life and had to tell that Jesus-smiling-at-him story to his disinterested grandchildren as the only thing interesting that ever happened to him. It just makes me mad that it couldn’t have been the reverse, is all.

Track 7: “Christmas Eve”

Now that we’re done hearing Bieber rap about how great he is at the drums and how he should be canonized into the damn Bible, we’re back to a confusing mess of notes about how much he wants to get laid on Christmas. I’m sure you can work that into your schedule of featuring formerly popular musicians and appearing in court for Paternity suits, kid, so buck up! I love the line “I don’t need no presents, gurl, you’re everything I need”, as if Justin Bieber would otherwise require presents. What would you even get a 17 year old kid who’s been given a free ride to the top? An abortion of the illegitimate fetus of his choice?

Wow I’m getting mean; that means the album must almost be over!

Track 8: “All I Want Is You”

We’re now at the 3rd song (or is it 4th? or All Of The Above?) about how all Bieber wants for Christmas is YOU, person who purchased his album. Seriously, remember that line I quoted above? Here’s the first line from this chorus: “Any I don’t care if I don’t get anything; all I need is you here right now”, exactly how much do you need to pound that point in Bieber? I had to check Wikipedia to make sure that this album wasn’t written by Rick Derringer and they just replaced all the references to America with Christmas and Gurl.

Track 9: “Home This Christmas feat. The Band Perry”

I don’t know who The Band Perry is, but they really should win a Grammy for “band that somehow managed to completely un-change a Bieber song”. About the only thing I can tell that separates this song from the previous 8 is that there’s a live drum set being played flaccidly by a drummer who will probably do nothing else in life except tell his disinterested grandchildren about how he drummed once for Justin Bieber… for a smile.

Track 10: “Silent Night”

I am starting this track up and hearing a sedated Bieber singing what seems like a straight version of this song (except he does an intentional pause after the word “virgin” and I don’t know what to make of that). I am expecting there to be some kind of rap segment or auto-tuned background singers singing about how he’s totally going to get some on this silent night yo gurl.

COME ON SONG, how could you fail in your task this fantastically? Well, at least each line ends abruptly so Bieber can try and pronounce the next word on the page and let the echoey bits trail off and remind all of us that this is still part of a terrible pop album and not some random, displaced bit of sincerity in this monster of an album.

AND IT’S FINISHED! PRAISE THE LORD (no I didn’t get the special edition, I’m no fool!)

Now that I’ve made it through to the other side of that train-wreck, I am now able to confirm a suspicion I’ve had ever since this Bieber kid and Lady Gaga and all them became the biggest economic forces in music:

Basically, the world as we know it is ending.

Oh, we’ve heard about it for a while, but with the world economy treading thin ice, the music industry collapsing, the world of retail cannibalizing its own limbs in an effort to stay alive for just one more holiday season, we’re staring straight into the face of an entire world of entertainment that was meant to  provide us with a good, general distraction from our daily lives, panicking and flailing under the pressure of today’s internet-based culture, where we can be entertained by anything we want, whether it was recorded in the past or in the present at the great expense of some rappers who are on their way out anyway.

In the face of that, the entertainment industry is trying its hardest to manufacture anything that will sell, and can no longer take any risks or do anything interesting that might be less popular than the last thing. Thus, we have “safe” Justin Bieber crooning his thinly veiled songs about getting laid, we have “safe” Lady Gaga who rakes in millions by cultivating a shock image without actually doing anything shocking, we’ve got retail stores and Starbucks hanging up their Christmas decorations/shopping reminders on Oct. 1st, and we’ve got all the soul and sincerity and warmth of what’s supposed to be a single day of loving your family, thinking of Jesus (if that’s what you do), and eating a lot of food and giving/getting gifts, completely stripped away and set aside until the world feels comfortable with celebrating love instead of money. When that day comes, maybe someone who sings about Christmas and really means it will go to the top, but until then, we get to either laugh, cry, or hate on artists like Bieber until they too get swept under the rug.

Or alternatively, we can just forget about all that and have a kickass party, so stay tuned for TOMORROW’s entry when we leave this depressing ghost of Christmas Presents and bring the hope back to Christmas. Stay tuned, and happy holidays!

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King Crimson – Lizard

Greetings, fellow persons!

Sorry about the delay in updates, but this whole week was spent doing some awesome stuff like “modding” my Mp3 player to do amazing things like play video game soundtracks and Bejeweled on top of its already awesome audiophilic capabilities (I’m totally a FLAC fiend now). Also I had to do holiday shopping, attend parties and, oh yeah, finally obtain some gainful employment, since this blog doesn’t pay for itself unfortunately.

Thus, it’s been a hectic, confusing, yet ultimately rewarding week for me, so I have decided to top it all off with an album that… well ok I selected this at random, but here you go, King Crimson’s Lizard:

Yeah keep telling me you miss the olden days of album covers. I'm listening.

While looking back at old entries of this here blog, I was surprised at first that I never wrote about this album, but then I remembered the very important reason why: I had no idea what to say about it.

All I could remember about my first listen to Lizard was NOTES and then NOOOOTES (Notes). I really don’t think any coherent thought entered my mind in the 42 1/2 minutes of the album’s run-time, which is odd because this blog might show you that I have a lot of thoughts about music usually.

Fast-forward a year or so, and something magical happened: a guy from a prog group called Porcupine Tree decided to work with Robert Fripp to painstakingly remaster, from the original master tapes, ALL of the King Crimson catalogue. Despite this being a very good idea, since master tape remasters are practically the only way to get these ancient albums to sound good on modern mp3/vgm/Bejeweled players, it was also kind of a predictable idea, since King Crimson had already issued 30th AND 35th Anniversary remasters of their old material. Still, from the master tapes, maaaaan.

Among the first albums to be remastered, quite mysteriously, was Lizard, so this is where I gave Lizard what I would consider my first true listen. Then again. Then again. Then again… to be honest, I’m not done listening to it, but at least I’ve finally formulated enough opinions to write a blog entry!

Fact is, I had so much trouble coming up with a single coherent thought about the album because there isn’t a single coherent thought IN the album. I have now listened to the album dozens, possibly hundreds of times, and I know every single note by heart, but I can’t begin to try and guess why any two of them are put together the way they are.

Of course, the 40th anniversary re-issue of the album comes with some  pretty interesting liner notes (penned by Fripp himself) which, when paired with the Internet, paints a rather interesting story about the album’s production.

Without going into too much detail about the band’s personnel problems in those early days between 1967 and 2009, I will say that King Crimson were basically like watching a typical teenage garage band go through the motions of getting together, going nowhere, and breaking up, except instead of that middle bit, you’ve got “becomes the biggest rock band in the world for a while”. Despite having the world in the palm of their hands through a combination of VERY quickly cultivating a uniquely complex sound the likes of which had never been heard, showcasing extraordinary musicianship with even more extraordinary focus on music rather than image, and as Fripp put it himself, being in the right place at the right time, King Crimson simply could NOT get started on that crawling thing before they were already running.

At the time that Lizard was being recorded, they had already lost vocalist/bassist/donut fiend Greg Lake to a little-known band whose name escapes me at the moment, and that was after losing everybody else as well. Basically, Fripp was a man without a band (but his non-musician lyricist remained, more on that later), so he decided to rebuild from scratch.

Apparently Fripp didn’t get the memo that you’re not supposed to include a jazz pianist and four woodwind/brass players in your hard rock band, so that’s exactly what he did. Still, if you were the only member of a garage band that left you and the only other musicians you know from school are in the marching band, are you going to say no?  Also joining the fray is, not kidding, his actual highschool bandmate/roommate Gordon Haskell on bass and vocals, and the only drummer he could find who would take part in this mess, a hero by any standard named Ian McCulloch.

With this motley crew of masterful musicians, Fripp finally had a force to be reckoned with; a band that would record an album that, maybe this time, would not sound quite so much like a repeat of In The Court.

Well, it sure wasn’t a repeat of In The Court, in sound or amount of success, but the fact that the album even happened is perhaps even more a miracle than the huge success that was the band’s first album. Basically, let’s just say that collecting such an assorted cast of kids did not lead to a lot of civilized agreement of ideas, and when your vocalist/bassist is only good at one of those things and doesn’t even like the music, well… let’s talk about the music!

It starts off with some synthy kind of harp strumming sounds, which is not bad, and then Haskell’s voice kind of staggers into the door spilling cough medicine (the type that they ban in most countries) all over the place, and your first thought might well be “Dude, do you need to lie down or turn on a humidifier or something?” And then he punches you and you can hear the wail of ambulance sirens as the paramedics revive you and, oh wait, that’s just Fripp’s guitar playing brash, diminished bits on his guitar as Gordon’s voice comes back in with all the clarity of a wet shoe.

Still, it’s hard to tell what’s more congested, Gordon’s voice or Peter Sinfield’s lyrics. The first track is called “Cirkus” (back before Mortal Kombat made it decidedly un-cool to replace c’s with k’s willy-nilly), and is full of rather obnoxious words strung together by pure pretense, which would seem like faulty songwriting if not for the fact that the same can be said about the music itself.

The material gets even more ridiculous afterward, in fact the song “Indoor Games” ends with a genuine burst of laughter from Haskell as he attempts to figure out how best to emotionally deliver the line “Hey ho”. An understandable bemusement, to tell the truth. Add to this some rather intriguing clean guitar riffs trading off with the saxophone, and you’ve got a song that is by no means bad, if bad songs are something you like.

The next song, “Happy Family“, doesn’t feature any corpsing, but does contain some thinly-veiled allegorical statements about The Beatles, a somewhat well-known rock band from whom Fripp apparently derived the idea to make an entire band around recreating the musical shock that was the ending to Sgt. Pepper. To be honest, the lyrics might be terrible in this piece as well, but Gordon’s voice is so well hidden behind a rather tasty synthesizer effect (plus his own natural store of phlegm and wintertime nuts) that, mercifully, not a word can be understood by humans.

After all that fun nonsense, we go into WHOAH WHERE DID THAT FLUTE COME FROM… I mean, “Lady of the Dancing Water”, a song that calms the storm of weirdness either to prepare the listener for what is to come, or to try and make up for the rather melody-free events that had previously transpired. It’s a very pretty song, but I wish anyone other than Gordon Haskell had sung it, because seriously somebody give him a shot of adrenaline; I think he’s had some kind of reaction.

Finally, the fifth and final track of the CD (or the entire B side to the record) is a 23 minute opus called “Lizard”, wherein Gordon Haskell was kindly shuffled off the roster to make room for a real singer, Yes’s own castrato sensation Jon Anderson. Funny enough, after several songs’ worth of passages go by, Gordon breaks back into the studio to sing for a bit before disappearing forever and ever, missing and presumed eaten by bears.

So I have written all of this to kind of give you a sense of the chaos that has unfolded in this album, but did you see that bit up there where I said I listened to it again and again? That’s because I completely love this album.

Seriously! Sure I may idolize strong melodies, and some of my very favorite songs can be played within a single octave on a piano, but something in my brain simply becomes obsessed when weirdness, the abstract, obtuse, endlessly and needlessly complex musical ideas come into play, and boy do they come in with this album.

Your average music listener, even one who otherwise enjoys King Crimson and their razor’s edge approach to pushing the envelope into the seat of their pants, will probably detest Lizard for any number of good reasons. It sounds out of tune, it hunkers down into rather long passages of go-nowhere note tinkling, hell, it sounds like Jazz in places, but the confusion and befuddlement is what keeps me coming back for more. The anticipation of another sequence of bewildering notes is a rush to me, and thanks to the amazing remastering job in the most recent re-release, the textures and tones really sing out in a good set of headphones. All 23 minutes of the album’s ending track keeps me thoroughly entertained, which turned out to be really good training for becoming an actual Yes fan, turns out.

I truly can’t knock this album for what it is, because it really shouldn’t have been, and I am so glad it was anyway. Apart from being musically one of the most interesting things I’ve heard, it’s also a rather clear window into a band that was falling apart before it even came together, and sure enough, only 1 member of the band remained to help Fripp through the next album, and it was the damn flute player.

Also, in true garage band fashion, when drummer Ian McCulloch left the group, he was immediately replaced with his ex-roommate, who could also play the drums. God bless King Crimson.

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Bob Dylan – Christmas In The Heart

Bob Dylan, at least in my eyes, is an institution. I have never heard a single album or even full song by the man*, and I could not recall a single line of music he has ever done, unless it’s something that’s been covered by someone else, yet I know exactly what his voice sounded like in all his various eras, I know his history as the reluctant hero of the musical protest era of the 60’s, and I know that he is the most respected songwriter, comma, period. That was an incredible run-on sentence, and I knew I couldn’t let this wondrous Christian holiday without talking about the god-damned Bob Dylan Christmas album, also known as Christmas In The Heart, also also known as holy crap what is this:

I suppose before I undertake what will undoubtedly be a rather sparse writeup of the actual music contained herein, I should make a few admissions. For one, I hate Christmas music. It’s not that I don’t love Christmas, I think it’s a nice holiday despite the expensive gift exchange that brings about a month of retail hell on earth, but there’s something about the music that just bothers me. There are only a few pieces of music I can think of that only have occasional business being heard by anyone; the “Death March” by Handel (or the 3rd Movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35) for funerals, Pachelbel’s “Canon In D” for graduations (or the more popular “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” by Pachelbel protégé Greenday) for graduations, and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” for when you want to commit a drug-fueled suicide in the bathtub. So yes, there’s a song for every occasion, but the thing about Christmas is that it has thousands of songs for just one occasion which amounts to mainly eating oneself into a coma after receiving gifts that somehow always seem to be worth about half of what you gave out, all while burning enough electricity on lighting houses and trees to power all those villages in Africa we keep hearing about, all with a sort of bastardized, commercially sterilized version of vague spiritual back-patting, all the while making sure not to offend people who don’t believe in the same Christmas Tree (sorry, “Holiday” Tree, right?)

So yeah, Christmas is fun but is generally meaningless except to serve as a cultural institution that reminds us that it’s “that time of year again”. In that way, Christmas and Bob Dylan are very similar, except one contains a lot more booze and used to actually be relevant. I will leave it up to you to decide which.

I really can not fault Bob Dylan for wanting to make a Christmas album. After all, his contemporaries have all done Christmas albums (heck, Johnny Cash did at least three), and Bob Dylan tends to bring with him a touch of class, no matter how goofy the idea is, and certainly a prominent Jew singing about the birth of Jesus is already stacking the odds against our aging songster. Still, Dylan is undeterred, after all, he claims to have grown up with the music, and songs speak louder than sense to our man, so onward he presses.

I picked up this album and began listening to it and indeed it is a treasure. Being someone who’s not particularly into Dylan and especially against Christmas music, I still found a lot to love here. For one, the instrumentation is lovely, and I mean that in all seriousness. Aside from the cheesy use of bells of the church and reindeer variety (the oldest Christmas cliche), the music is kind of a blend of old-style Country and the “less is more” sensibility of contemporary folk music. Songs like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is colored by clean, reverby jazz guitar chords and piano, with the drums set to “brushes”, with some angelic background singers. Then we have Bob Dylan singing.

It seems unfair to talk about this album without talking about Bob Dylan’s singing. Again, being totally opposite a fan of Dylan as what I am of Johnny Cash, I know next to nothing about the man or what life has done to him, but I will tell you that it has left him with a voice that sounds something like a chainsaw perpetually trying to start, and he has a lot of the same intonations, too. I will admit, even as someone who appreciates “off” singing, it is next to impossible for me to take this kind of music seriously when Dylan’s got a voice that would make Harvey Fierstein stop and offer him a cough drop. It should thus be no surprise that this is my very favorite Christmas album, not just for its sheer impossibility, but because Dylan’s earnest, straight-forward, and absolutely ridiculous performance is the antidote to everything that currently upsets me about Christmas.

This whole focus on clean-cut consumerism that has ruined the holiday and turned the month of December into a perpetual joke is only getting worse as times go by and the economy gets worse. Maybe it’s my 5 solid years of retail selling that has opened my eyes to this, but it really is a problem. From literally the day after Thanksgiving, when we’re all parked outside of stores waiting for cheap laptops and “early bird” deals, to the day after Christmas when we’re sluggishly cleaning up decorations (or leaving them there until August, why not), the entire month just runs on auto-pilot. We have twice as much traffic, often twice as much work to do, and try as you might, you can not escape the Christmas music. It’s so robotic and soulless, it’s no small wonder that the suicide rate tends to spike just before the big pay-off.

This album serves well as a reminder that this music used to actually be music, and Dylan inserting his classiness into the music and doing his best, with a voice that sounds like it was designed by a joint venture between Pall Mall and Cuisinart, for a genuine love of the music, and without accepting a penny for his troubles (all royalties go to an anti-starvation charity, awwww), strips the gloss away and adds just a glimmer, albeit a fleeting one, of life into a holiday that needs it desperately. Hence, this is still not music I’ll be listening to in March, but next time December rolls around, perhaps I’ll be shut in and will once again avoid the retail rush (my temporary joblessness has allowed me to sit out of this holiday retail season for the first time in half a decade), and will spin this album again and feel the warmth of what Christmas is all about, and that is Bob Dylan, aging folk icon, croaking his way clumsily through “Hark, The Herald Ages Sing”. I fully plan on being very drunk at this point.

If all of that isn’t enough of a testament to this album being not so bad, check out the video to “Must Be Santa“, featuring Bob Dylan looking like a cross between Tom Petty and Tom Waits. I legitimately love this song and video, especially the line “Who laughs this way, Ho Ho Ho”, man that kills me.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

*I have rectified this, by the way, because on the same ticket as this album, I purchased Dylan’s most famous album, Highway 61 Revisited, and will be enjoying that once I get back to Austin.

 

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The Immortals – Mortal Kombat: The Album

Since we’re close to the end of the year, I figure maybe it’s about time I expanded the scope of music I wish to talk about, and touch briefly on one facet of music that’s rather interesting to me: video game music.

Of course, this isn’t music contained within the video game Mortal Kombat, as that music is rather sparse and not worthy of really mentioning. No, instead this is music inspired by Mortal Kombat, that is completely terrible, yet went platinum within less than a week. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

MORTAL KOMBAAAAAAAAAAAT *cough*

Yes, that infamous roar followed by pounding synth bass and that oh-so familiar riff will be emblazoned in the minds of everybody around my age as we think fondly back to the year 1994. Oh sure, it was a year that had its bumps; in April, disgraced vocalist Kurt Cobain had an unfortunate mishap with a firearm, ending his brief career in making music that would annoy me forever, and exactly one month later, Weezer would release their first album. Yes, it was a dark time in music, but kids like me, around the age of 12, couldn’t give a crap about music. There were video games to be played.

One of the biggest games to come out the previous year (besides Color A Dinosaur, of course) was Mortal Kombat. Combining the new, insanely popular “Street Fighter II” style of face-to-face fighting gameplay with bad spelling and a grittier, more “realistic” representation of violence:

Super Nintendo Graphics!

…The game was a legend. In fact, it’s the game that more or less singlehandedly unleashed the torrent of lawsuits directed at video games for screwing my generation up, and in that respect, is the video game that best represents rock n’ roll.

 

You know, besides this one.

Anyway, as would become the tradition for ultra-successful video games, the entertainment industry (a bunch of evil guys in suits) saw the success in this contemptible form of entertainment, which caused their eyes to turn into dollar signs as they rubbed their hands greedily. These guys in suits were Virgin Music, and they wasted no time in contacting… get this… a moderately successful techno group in Belgium to produce an album of music based on this game (there was also a movie involved somewhere starring The Highlander but whatever), so that they could have an official soundtrack without having to pay Midway or Acclaim much more than the price to use their dragon logo and ridiculous misspelled name to make piles of money appear. Well, that’s my theory anyway, but doesn’t that just sound like something evil guys in suits would do?

So the group, at the time called Lords Of Acid and fronted by an artist called Praga Kahn (Maurice Engelen), decided to call themselves The Immortals for this album, presumably under the wise decision to not associate this album with any of their other stage names (which is why I’m doing that right now). Besides Maurice was long time compatriot Oliver Adams, who wrote the songs, and an ex-roadie of his (but very important to our cause) called Dieter Troubleyn who is apparently a well-known Belgian soap opera star (he looks it), and a girl called Julie Wells.

Now, most of you are going to know this album just by its most popular track, “Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)”, which you would probably know better as the “MORTAL KOMBAAAAAAAAAAT” song. True story: I used to do karate back when I was a teenager, and some of the younger kids would put on performances and do a bunch of fancy moves with nunchucks or whatever, and this was almost always the soundtrack to said performances, even though this would be somewhere in the late 90’s.

Anyway, that theme has been well established, but what about the rest of this album? Well, I’m glad you asked. Basically, using nothing more than a Sega Genesis with a copy of the game that Virgin sent them, songwriter Oliver Adams had to write some kind of lyrics to go along with the terrible techno music that they apparently love so much over there in Belgie-land. Shouldn’t be a problem for this guy:

The only problem with the music in this album is everything. Despite the obviously terrible techno music going on here (well I don’t know, maybe it’s supposed to be good, I don’t care for techno, but I know cheese when I smell it), these guys don’t have the strongest grasp of English, much less the intricacies of these ridiculous video game characters.

Take the first song, for instance, a synth-blatting tribute to Mortal Kombat, disguised as a tribute to the game’s supposed hero, “Johnny Cage“. The chorus kind of has nothing to do with anything but some kind of lyrical mad-libs where Mortal Kombat is the noun:

Prepare yourself, the Mortal Kombat’s on today
Prepare yourself, Mortal Kombat all the way
Prepare yourself, Mortal Kombat’s here to stay
Ooh, Johnny Cage is not afraid to die

And yeah, there’s kind of a rap in the song that describes Johnny Cage’s moves, but the main point of the song is that he’s not afraid to die. Sure, this isn’t really a point that’s driven home at any time in the game, indeed most of the characters shouldn’t be afraid to die, they do so at the end of every match if you know the fatalities, but still, the song remains.

The song about “Kano” is even more perplexing, partially because a song about a hardened criminal should maybe not have “Woo!” being shouted on every bar, but also because all the lyrics are sung by a woman (the same woman who sings Sonya’s song, thus is sounds like Sonya’s singing a love song to her supposed bitter enemy and… please excuse me, my coke-bottle glasses just slid off my face), and go something like this:

You are wanted, and you’re haunted
You’re the Bad Guy, but I feel for you
You’re the danger, a fallen angel
But I like you, you’re the strongest of them all

Kano Wins
Use your might, Kano fight
The world is at your feet
Fight, use your might
I’m on your side

Well, I applaud the song for wanting to take a stab at some depth to the character, but seriously? His “fatality” move is that he punches a hole into the chest of the other guy (or girl) and rips out their still beating heart, exactly how much can you empathize with this guy? (Woo!)

Still, if you want to talk about classics (sorry, “Klassics”), there is only one song that wears the assless chaps around here: “Sub-Zero (Chinese Ninja Warrior)“. Featuring epic piano and an admittedly catchy beat, this is one of the songs I’m convinced is using Dieter Troubleyn’s singing voice, because there is no way those “WHOOOOAAAOH”s are coming from anything but a guy that looks like this:

Dieter, your life is a mystery.

Indeed, the song makes absolutely no sense, but it is the funnest thing to sing to at the top of your lungs, if you can suppress the laughter long enough. True story: I heard the female “FREEEZING VIBRATIONS” line (what?) in a song on the radio a few times, and though I haven’t found out whether there was some kind of sampling going on, apparently that particular line sounds very similar to one by Marky Mark, but I have not found out which song because I’ll be damned if I’m going to go looking for Marky Mark material to find Sub-Zero material. That’s lose/lose for everyone.

The song “Liu Kang (Born In China)” is another song that also amounts to little more than a Belgian guy spouting off facts about the character that he read in the instruction book. The real pay-off in this song is in a section that starts off with someone shouting “FIREBALL!”, as that is one of Kang’s moves, and then a sample of the game character’s voice, which is a bad Bruce Lee impression in itself, going “WWWEEEHH HEHHH!” in every beat, and then, presumably to note the character’s “flying kick” move, instead shouts out “FLYING CAKE!” I shouldn’t have to explain why that’s hilarious, but the best is yet to come.

Basically, if you took Sub Zero and colored him yellow, you would have an equally ridiculous ninja called Scorpion. His song is called “Scorpion (Lost Soul Bent On Revenge)”, and Scorpion is generally a favorite among players for his super easy Fatality and the fact that his face is really a skull, so you’d think it would be a pretty killer track, right?

Well give it a listen and come back, I can wait.

Yes, this is perhaps the most ridiculous track on the album. It sounds like a drag queen singing against a new agey kind of tuneless thing, and the whole thing is followed up by repetitions of Scorpion’s famous lines “COME HERE! GET OVER HERE!”, which in the game is what he shouts when he throws a harpoon into your sternum and drags your bloody body over to meet with his cheap uppercut. In the song, it just sounds like he really wants you to come over to him, and his insistence is unyielding. So yeah, that and nature sounds, this album went Platinum folks.

The other half of the album is ridiculous as well, what with a feature-length rap about Sonya (again detailing her special moves and other information they got from the instruction booklet) and Raiden, where they insist that, because he’s a thunder god, he can’t be killed and is thus immortal (which kind of makes him a bit out of place in “Mortal” Kombat?) Another point they  make in a very matter-of-fact way is that he has no eyes; apparently the songwriter was just done by this point.

Speaking of, I have milked enough writeup out of this disc that cost me $2 and some shipping. It’s a fun disc, but don’t actually buy it, you can just hear it all on Youtube and forget you ever heard it, that is until you’re at work someday and suddenly you break into a round of “WHOOOOOAH CHINESE NINJA WARRIOR, WITH YOUR HEART SO COOOOOOOLD, SUB ZEROOOOO”, then you too will be affected with the plague that beset my entire generation, and you too may seek legal action against Midway (despite their going bankrupt this year) and the nation of Belgium.

 

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The Rolling Stones – Dirty Work

So yesterday’s entry was a little phoned-in, I feel. I knew this was going to happen, because I knew taking on this project that I wasn’t always going to give 100% in my writing, no matter how much I love the album (and I do love that album). Today, I am feeling not any more journalistic, so I decided on a different approach. I put my Zune on shuffle and the first album it came across that piqued my interest, without actually reading the songs as they came by, would be the album I would listen to. I know for a fact that it would happen soon, because I now have over 9300 songs on the Zune and a total of 7200 plays in total. Anyway, as soon as I got to a very strange but compelling song indeed, I whipped the player out of my pocket and saw this:

Keith am I high on trillion-dollar heroin or are we all dressed in delicious candy, Keith? Keith? .... Keith?

Wow.

So today, using only Wikipedia’s citation-needed-packed entry on this album for fact-checking, I am going to be giving a first time run playthrough on this album.

Track one: One Hit (To The Body)

Ok, this track isn’t so bad so far, we’ve got sloppy electric guitars, kind of boring drums with an emphasis on the irregular bass hit (I guess the drums are punching you in the body). The guitar was apparently done by Jimmy Page, so uhh nice job there, I guess he needed someone to play guitars for at this point in the 80’s. You can tell just from the cover and from the way the vocals are reverbed that this is definitely 1986, and imagine this, the album was a bit of a flop!

Holy moley, the vocals just started. This sounds less like the soulful, bad-boy Mick Jagger that sang his heart out in 1969 on the wonderful Let It Bleed. It actually sounds like he didn’t have a microphone, and just screamed all his vocals right into the needle while the records were being scratched. Citation is needed on this, but Wikipedia says it’s a bit rough.

I’d tell you what this song is about, but my only synopsis so far is that it’s about Mick being punched in the body and trying to sing about it whilst vomiting. Nice guitar solos, though.

Track two: Fight

Whoah, as soon as the beat turns on you can tell that this is vile 80’s music. Somehow, the vocals have gotten even worse, too, as if Mick was singing through an oscillating fan. The chord progression is very typical bluesy-rock with that glitzy 80’s reverbed drum and flaccid bass tone. It’s not really “bad”, it just sounds more “contrived” (that means “bad”), as if they’re trying to quickly recreate their popular sound at gunpoint or something. Thankfully it’s only 3 minutes.

Track Three: Harlem Shuffle

This is apparently the first single off the album, and is a cover that Keith Richards discovered, presumably while travelling in outer space. It’s a single, all right, since the only discernable part of the song is where they’re like “Do the harlem shuffle!” The other parts are a mess of chord changes and uninteresting bits that really don’t bother capturing the imagination or anything. I do like the presence of a really deep, almost timpani-sounding drum on the upbeats, but that is not enough to save a song, particularly one that hit #5 on the charts. Why couldn’t Michael Jackson have taken away all the rights to THIS music?

Track Four: Hold Back

Oh no here are those 80’s drums again, only this time they’ve been mixed all the way to the front, so that machinery-sounding snare drum hits you right between the eyes. You may wish for the rest of the band to save you from this oppressive beat, but the guitars are too busy fighting with each other, and Mick’s voice has raised pitch to where it sounds like he’s been transformed by voodoo to a 3 foot tall Tom Waits. I swear to you he isn’t singing in English anymore, unless it’s like homeless people English.

Track Five: Too Rude

Well at least this a change. The drums are being played somewhere in the echo of the Grand Canyon, and there’s some kind of reggae thing going on with the bass. The vocals are not rough at all, just kind of weird. It’s a strange track, everything has so much reverb on it you’d think you were hearing it from inside an empty tank.

Track Six: Winning Ugly

Well we’re opening with a bassline, which is promising. WHOAH nevermind, this track has those 80’s good-feeling-synthy strings, you know the ones. It’s the kind of sound that makes you think about wearing clothes like the ones in that image above. Oh wow, those keyboards are torture. Mick is back to singing like he’s gargling battery acid. This song doesn’t stray very far from that one chord they’ve got going, until about 3 minutes in when the thing goes a little nuts with the random chord changes, and then we hit a kind of “standard guitar solo no. 2” and back to where we were. Holy man is this track still going? How long has it been… only 4 minutes? Wow, we’ve only got like a minute left, thankfully.

Track Seven: Back To Zero

Ha ha ha so now we’ve got funk and clavichord along with undistorted funk guitar and a standard non-funk beat. I must have gotten used to the vocals by now, because I barely even noticed that Mick Jagger sounds like he’s singing in some kind of shower-bathtub thing. There is this crescendo about 2 1/2 minutes in that makes no musical sense except that the instruments are playing seemingly random notes as Mick builds up to a WOOOO that reminds me much of Michael Jackson. I’m so glad I wasn’t into rock music in 1986, this is not my kind of music, clearly.

Track Eight: Dirty Work

All right, the title track! It’s, well, still 80’s-sounding, but it’s got that kind of fast-paced 80’s sound that is not so bad. The guitars are all kind of plastic-sounding, and the beat is again being played in the middle of Death Valley so by the time the echoes catch up you are already listening to another song. Mick might be getting tired of singing in general by this time, so he’s more or less going “BEH BEH BO GRRRR BETTY” by now, with about as much gargle as you can muster. Strangely enough, however, eventually some perfectly ungargly vocals come in and start talking some jittery reverb nonsense about 3 minutes in and then a WOOOOO again and then the “regular” vocals come back in.

Track Nine: Had It With You

Ok here’s the song my shuffle picked that intrigued me so. The guitar tone is so strange, it almost sounds like a distorted keyboard, but it isn’t. The drums are also free of reverb, which is a welcome “thank you Jesus” kind of moment I’ll tell you. The vocals are still hopeless, but now we’ve got harmonica and a saxophone to kind of distract from it. Speaking of, though the “I Had It With You” message might be Mick talking about Keith Richards, since they were apparently fighting a lot at this point (citation needed), but really this song reflects my true feelings about this album, and there are two more tracks to go! JOY!

Track Ten: Sleep Tonight

Some wonderful little cheesy piano comes in to welcome this track in, and some people going “woo” in the background and impersonating cats. Kind of strange, but then the over-reverbed drums come in and make you think this is going to be a Celine Dion track. Sounds like Keith Richards is singing this one, presumably in a heroin-induced stupor, as he does that kind of Bob Dylan-esque drone in his singing. Also the instruments try to do interesting weird things with the timing, but it all sounds really messy, like Charlie Watts is trying to hit a mouse that landed on his drums while playing, and the rest of the band just kind of follows along. I can’t believe this song is 5 minutes long, I ran out of things to say about it like 2 minutes ago. It definitely suffers from “too many damn choruses” syndrome like so many songs from the 80’s onward.

Track Eleven: Key To The Highway

The best song on the album! It’s just a piano playing a ragtime blues number for 34 seconds. Apparenly this was a tribute to their keyboardist/pianist Ian Stewart, who had died just after this album was issued. Man, what a way to go. Still, the man had a great legacy with the Stones, and I’m sure his tickling of the ivories had bought the band many pounds of fresh cut long grain heroin with which their minds were turned into the kind of pulp that would allow an album like this to happen. So, while I appreciate the sentiment in dedicating the final track to Ian Stewart’s legacy, a much better favor would have been done by taking his parts out of the album entirely.

Oh I’m just being mean. This wasn’t a very good album, but was not as “80’s-tastic” as others I’ve heard, but given that this is the same band that gave us Let It Bleed, Aftermath, and so many other great albums, it really begs the question, why do we consider it a good thing that the Stones have endured for so many decades?

 

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Warren Zevon – Preludes: Rare And Unreleased Recordings

Ok ok, so I know this probably breaks a bunch of unspoken rules. For one, I JUST wrote about Warren Zevon like TWO DAYS AGO. For two, what I’m writing about isn’t exactly an album, in that it’s a posthumous release of collected rarities and demos and a second disc of an interview with the man, the legend, the sandwich-enjoyer, Warren Zevon.

Well, in response to these self-inflicted objections I say:

1. Deal with it
2. I have decided that this album is enough of an album because the recordings are all from the same time period, and none of the songs appear on other recordings, since they were all recovered long after being recorded. Anyway, if I wasn’t able to write about this collection, I wouldn’t be able to write about Personal File OR Unearthed, two of my favorite posthumous releases from Johnny Cash. So I have decided to concede that I CAN write about posthumous “discovered” period collections, because this blog is about what *I* want to write about, and it’s all music anyway, right?

Right. On with the show:

This picture is SO COOL I want to have babies with it

This collection is sold both as a one-disc and a two-disc version. I really recommend the two-disc version, as the second disc is an excellent eye-opening interview with Warren in one of the strangest periods of his life you could have picked to talk with him. It was recorded in 1999, which was about 3 years before he found out he had terminal cancer, but right as he released one of his most death-related albums, Life’ll Kill Ya. I’ll get to that in a moment, first some of the demos on Disc 1:

It starts off with a solo performance of an early song of Warren’s called “Empty Hearted Town”, which features L.A., a city about which Warren sang but didn’t like to be considered part of, musically. It contains the line “Shoulda done, shoulda done” that would become one of the lines from the album version of “Accidentally Like A Martyr”. It’s a beautiful song, and I particularly like the line “I’m walking through the streets of L.A./Wishing I had a warmer jacket”.

The next song is a demo featuring a full band, and contains some very interesting instrumentation. It’s called “Steady Rain” and opens up with a metronome (or maybe some other ticking instrument) and a 12-string guitar riff that sounds really spacey, in fact the whole thing kind of sounds spacey, with the organs and reverb and everything. In fact, I would say the minor-key bridge is a 20 year precursor to Radiohead’s sound. I often wonder what would have happened if Warren did more of the Radiohead sound while Radiohead were still in diapers.

We then get treated to an acoustic guitar/vocal rendition of “Join Me In L.A.”, which is fun to listen to, because Warren liked to party with this song even when it was just clearly him in a room by himself. Right after that is a beautiful solo performance of “Hasten Down The Wind”, which I nearly prefer to the album version, since it’s so sparse and his vocal performance is actually a little more emotional-sounding in this particular performance.

Then a sample from Shakespeare opens up a really strange rendition of “Werewolves Of London”, which features almost none of the crashy dynamics of the album version. The piano is replaced by an organ, the guitar is just reverbed staccato notes playing rhythm as if in a reggae setup, and the “A-HOOO’s” are pushed way in the background and are sung in 2-part harmony. Also there’s a lot of gutteral growling, snarling and panting in the background, ALSO the choruses are cut roughly in half. Quite an eccentric performance, and definitely worth hearing for the novelty, or if you wanted to hear what the song sounds like on heavy medication.

The next song, “Tule’s Blues”, is a different version than the demo that appears on the CD remaster of Excitable Boy, and is a pretty good song about love lost between the performer and another musician named Tule. That is then followed up with an acoustic guitar performance of “The French Inhaler”, which is a pretty interesting take, since I didn’t even think you could adequately play it on guitar. Warren was really an underrated guitarist, he could really pound it out on the 12-string.

One favorite of mine in the collection is “Going All The Way”, mostly because it is such a standard song for something Warren wrote. Well, the piano/glockenspiel melody played through about half of the song is really creative, but the whole song is half-finished anyway, so I guess there’s no sense wondering what might have come out of this track.

We’re then treated to a particulary screamy demo of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, which starts out with a line that Warren didn’t sing in the album but did sing in the live album Stand In The Fire:

Well, I met a girl from the Vieux Carre
Down in Yokahama
She picked me up and she throwed me down
I said, “Please don’t hurt me, Mama”

Which, really I do prefer the song to start out with the album version’s lyrics, and I guess Warren felt the same way.

Then there’s a great song called “Studebaker” that I really would have liked to hear a finalized version of. It’s about having a Studebaker and regretting the fact that it breaks down all the time, and it unfortunately ends with a near-flub, so if there are other parts written, I guess we’ll never hear them!

We then are treated to an early, much wordier version of “Accidentally Like A Martyr”. It’s a bit more bitter and less sentimental, which would be the prevailing attitude in many more of his love-lost songs, but I’m kind of glad he went with the more sparse arrangement with the final album version. The song is also considerably faster in this demo version, and features some motown “hey hey hey”s at the end, which might have derailed the song in its slower arrangement. However, like with all the other demos, it’s great to hear how this stuff started out and what became of it.

It’s followed by a less-refined version of “Carmelita”, and then a very un-Zevon-like original called “I Used To Ride So High”. The latter doesn’t even sound like it’s sung by Warren for the most part, and it’s about 70% choruses, which would be a “thing” in Warren’s later albums, but still, it’s kind of a 70’s rock du jour song with falsetto to spare.

We’re then treated to a bit of a country song called “Stop Rainin’ Lord”, which is just a good song all around, though I can see where it wouldn’t fit on all but the later of Zevon’s albums. It references a town called “Mechanicsburg” which I really hope is a real town.

“The Rosalita Beach Cafe” is a really good song about being stuck in a cafe with an impossible to pay off tab, even though the singer “has a million dollar bill and they won’t let me change it”. Pretty great all around, but probably didn’t make it onto the album because it is rather close, lyrically, to “Desperadoes Under The Eaves”, which is the next song, actually! I don’t care how raw this version sounds, I always love hearing this song.

Next is an acoustic guitar song called “Workin’ Man’s Pay”, which is a very minory song about just what you think it’s about. Great song that quite reminds me of a Gentle Giant song called “Working All Day”, which I’m sure I’ll talk about later. This song is about half-finished on this collection, which is a shame. Also relatively unfinished is the silky smooth “Frozen Notes”, which I think is also a bonus on Excitable Boy. I am too lazy to check this.

Finally, we have the extremely scratchy and lo-fi “Some Kind Of Rider” which, despite its rough fidelity, has some really excellent harmonies. It sounds a lot like an old country record that has been buried in a pile of nails for centuries.

And with that, the collection’s first disc of 19 tracks comes to an end. Overall, an excellent collection, and really makes one wonder what might have been, and excepting the final few tracks, has excellent sound quality throughout.

The second disc, as I mentioned, is an interview Warren did for KGSR, Austin’s fancy-pants radio station. The interview is great to listen to, since Warren speaks with such articulation and everything he says is so genuine. Without giving away too much of the facts I’m sure to mention when I talk about Life’ll Kill Ya, I’ll reveal some things I learned about Warren:

1. He was a big Radiohead fan, and considered them “a favorite, which means out of 2 or 3 bands ever”.

2. He wrote a song from that album while driving to the Wal*Mart I live really close to!

3. He never considered himself an “unsuccessful rock singer”, but rather a “really successful folk singer”.

4. He played some songs at the inauguration of Minnesota Governor/ex-Wrestler/Actor who has no time for pain, Jesse Ventura. Ventura himself sang a rendition of “Werewolves Of London”.

And there are many more topics spoken of including mortality, being a “song noir” songwriter, and his views on music in general. Great stuff.

 

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Black Music For White People

So I guess today is the first day of Black History Month, and I only realized that after deciding to make today’s writeup about an album that black people may very well want to strike from their history: the late Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and one of his “revival” albums, Black Music For White People.

What I wouldn't give to have met this man and shaken his skull-on-a-stick

Now, the one thing that ANYONE knows about Screamin’ Jay (besides my loyal readers that know Jeff Buckley covered one of his songs) is that he wrote the “horror” R&B hit “I Put A Spell On You“, and the more adventurous of you may even know that his live performances were known to be a bit… eccentric. He was known for his wild and crazy original compositions, as well as his butchering of the classics, and indeed the 1991 album Black Music For White People is at least one of those! Good luck finding a Youtube video of any of this, at least you can listen along in glorious Rhapsody.

The album starts off, innocently enough, with a decent cover of “Is You Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (I consider the best cover of that song to be Tom’s), which introduces the super-cheesy plastic-sounding guitar that is present throughout the album. One thing NOT present on this track is Screamin’ Jay’s actual screamin’. What gives?

The next song is a fast-paced boogie woogie called “I Feel Allright”, which is indeed all right, but again fairly lackluster. There is one scream right at the end, but you have to get through the extended plastic guitar and saxophone solos to get to it. I’m quite fond of the lyrics, at least. The end of the track has a very erotic and short blues number, I think it’s called “Shell and Fin”? Oh well.

Then we have…

Oh my.

I… just can’t believe this.

Ok, ok, are you ready for this?

Right, well I’m not going to tell you until you’re ready.

Ok, I assume no liability for any injuries you may receive from the misuse of this information I am about to bestow upon you, but the third track of this album is the “Dance Version” of “I Put A Spell On You”. The 80’s style rap beat kicks in, and then the funk bassline, and then the samples of Jay singing his signature song, only without ANYTHING present that ever made this song good. You think “ok this is just a really terrible remix of the song”, but hold on there, honey cakes, it gets worse.

Yep, there are rap segments in this song.

Rap segments ala early 90’s rap, the very worst kind! It happens at least twice, I kind of lost count, this song is quite long compared to the minute and a half up to 2 minutes of the original. It’s really quite the highlight of the album in a way, as you will probably be pushed to react to it, somehow. My particular reaction was violent laughter followed by depression. The man just had to be put up to this… really thoug, it happens way more than it should in music, best to just keep moving on, if we can force ourselves…

The next song is a song that I shouldn’t have to look up to see who wrote it, “I Hear You Knockin'”. This is an all right cover of a very dull song, and features pretty much the same stuff you already heard, only a bit more shouty, which bodes well for the future.

The future is, strangely enough though staggeringly fitting, a cover of a Tom Waits song, “Heartattack And Vine”, which contains Jay trying to sound like he’s completely drunk, but really he just sounds like he just had some dental work done and his mouth is still numb. He clearly doesn’t care about singing the words clearly, or even at all, but he does replace the line “no devils here, just God when he’s drunk” with “no devils here, just Screamin’ Jay when he’s drunk”. That’s right, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins believes he’s God. Ok, not really.

The next song, if you want to call it a song, is entertaining but bizarre. It’s called “Ignant And Sh*t”, and it’s basically some really articulate verbal abuse he is shouting to some woman. He utilizes a lot of black stereotypes in this rant, so it’s up to you to interpret whether he’s just talking to a black girl, talking about black people in general, or if he’s just trying to appeal to white people in entirely the wrong way. I couldn’t find any information on the song, so your guess is as good as mine. It’s 6 minutes of this, by the way, and I hate to admit that it’s pretty awesome, but it is.

We then get into a jungle swing beat as the song “Swamp Gas” brings us to the second half of the album. It’s not too bad a song, and fits right into Screamin’ Jay’s voodoo persona. I really wish the guitars weren’t all straight from the 80’s, because with proper instrumentation and the total exclusion of that dance remix of “I Put A Spell On You”, this might be a fairly decent album.

The next song, “Voodoo Priestess”, doesn’t really matter in the sense that it’s an actual song, but does matter because it starts with Screamin’ Jay explaining the concept of ghosts to a confused Japanese woman, possibly during an interview. It’s wonderful. The song itself is actually quite nice, but more of a tame version of the previous track. We then move on to “Ice Cream Man”, which is a song containing sexual innuendo if I ever heard one. It was also written by Tom Waits, on one of the few albums by Waits that I’ve actually heard, Closing Time. Perhaps less “innuendo” and more straight-up “sexual” is the antepenultimate “I Want Your Body”, about which the less said, the better.

Second to last on the album is  “Ol’ Man River”, which starts with a jazzy piano intro, and then cools down to a slow jazz ballad. Prepare yourself, however, because it’s a trap. The song basically explodes shortly after the 1 minute mark and then calms right back down for a bit before exploding again and the whole thing becomes a tug-of-war between Screamin’s unusual style of crooning and his quite usual way of shouting. It can be quite the stressful thing if you’re trying to sleep while listening to this album and trying to do a write-up and keep falling asleep at your desk. Blah.

The final song on the album is called “Strokin'”. It’s an upbeat funky blues number, and before you go thinking dirty thoughts about this album’s title, let me put those vicious rumors to bed right now… it’s a song about masturbation.

Good night, everyone!

 

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