Saturday, July 05, 2008

Oh, boy, Shanley's cranky again

After I posted the previous entry, I wrote a few reviews for Blurt as promised. One was the latest Juliana Hatfield album, How to Walk Away. I'm not going to go into my thoughts on the album because that would defeat the purpose of the Blurt review. And I want you to go online and check it out. (It's not up there yet, but my Modey Lemon review is.)

While writing the review, I did the usual things I do to make the process take forever: listen to the songs over and over. Which I must say was a bit of a challenge because - as the industry trend goes these days - I guess I contacted the p.r. folks too late to get a tangible copy of the disc, so I got, um, special access to a streamed copy. This wasn't your average "Download here so you can make a CD-R and listen to it while you're doing dishes or driving or changing the baby" stream. Hoo noo. This was a "click here and go to the page with one song on it, which will always be cranked up really loud before it starts, so brace yourself for loud opening chords, or else keep your earbuds out of your ears before the song starts, so you'll have time to turn it down."

So in addition to each song being loud as hell, each song was on a separate webpage, so there's no way to get a good feel for how things flow as an album. "Use your imagination, you lowlife hacks," is the message it sends. "We'd rather have you do that than take a chance on you letting your friends listen to this CD and decide they don't like so they won't buy it." Tell ya what they ought to do. Buy some old shellacs and an old record cutter and press up promo copies and mail that out to us. We music critics love everything on vinyl, so you'd be doing yourself a big favor. (Yeah, I know the last part is ridiculous and stupid. I just don't feel like deleting it all now.)

But I didn't start this entry to opine about that.

I started because as I was looking stuff up on the web, I came across the allmusic.com entry for Juliana's band Blake Babies' second album, Sunburn. I was thinking as the review came together in my head that Juliana became a much better songwriter post-Blake Babies, at least as far as hooks were concerned. "Super Model" and "My Sister" seemed infinitely more catchy to me than anything on side two ("the second half" to all of you who never owned on vinyl) of Sunburn. In fact, most of that album seems pretty dull to me; verses without chorus, or if they have a real chorus it has the same quiet-to-a-loud-E major chord transition. (That in turn reminds me of another irritating and extremely overrated band from that same time period - Slint. But I'll talk about the green light they gave to inarticulate indie elite boys some other time.)

So imagine my incredulous surprise when the allmusic guy says that not only was Sunburn the best Blake Babies album, but the last great college radio album, leading up to Nevermind. Geez, now I know what so many people my age don't mind blandness. WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? DON'T YOU KNOW HALF-BAKED WHEN YOU HEAR IT?

Okay, "Out There" is a great song. And it really hits an emotional chord with me since it deals with that coming-to-grips-with-disillusionment feeling. And a few of the other songs on side one are good too. But that stupid "Girl in a Box" song, oy. "Gimme Some Mirth" has the same climax as "Sanctify" on the other side.

I hear a lot of songs at work on satellite radio by people who probably came of age when that album came out, as well as other nice, safe but unadventurous college radio bands. And these bands don't have a hook or a clever lyric to save their lives. And they owe it to bands like that.

...and another thing, you goddam kids stay outta my yard. (Figured I should end on a lighter note before I start going off about everything that's wrong with music.

2 comments:

todd underwood said...

Mike: i don't think your idea about vinyl for reviewers is dumb at all. in fact, i commented on this idea over at rustvalley.com saying why i think it's not crazy.

it probably won't happen, but it makes a ton of sense. i don't have any record player (i have never owned one--went straight from tapes to CDs to files and never looked back) but i understand the appeal to people who care a lot about music and have for a long time.

shanleymusic said...

Todd, thanks for vindicating me. Yeah, I know it won't happen but isn't it pretty to think so. Been away from this blog for longer than I thought. I'm about to resurface.