Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Singles Jukebox

[This is posted one day late, which makes it near useless, but Blogger wouldn't let me post yesterday and since I took the time to write this thing it's sure as heck going up.]


I am now a contributor to the Stylus Magazine Singles Jukebox. I'm really happy about this as it is one of my favorite weekly columns. Anyways, it's no longer gonna be a weekly column but a daily blog or whater. Anyways, whenever it converts over I'll let you know and link it up. In the meantime, this week's entry is featured here. Here's the director's cut. Only one of my blurbs was not run, and probably wisely:

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - "Catch You": This sounds appealingly like an electro cover of a great Blondie song that never was. Nice lyrics/music synergy here as this song just SOUNDS like the soundtrack to a high-energy chase. The catchiest melody and music of the brief year to this point and great stalkerish lyrics make this a refreshingly original pop tune that puts a good start on 2007, after British pop's rather weak 2006. [8] <--- I was glad to see somebody else make the Blondie comparison as it confirmed my ears were not broken.

Additionally, two of my comments were cut, so here they are in full:

Augustana - "Boston": This has a really nice tinkling piano line to start off, which made me hope for the best. Unfortunately, when the dude starts singing, it instantly starts losing points, and by the time it gets through the first chorus, it's lost all the goodwill and more that it ever built up. Augustana have wisely decided to rock this song out at the end, but it's well lost by then. Whiny rock of the worst sort, I wish this song would just go away forever. [2]

Ania Szarmach - "Silna": It's got a really nice, really weird beat and a catchy chorus. Even the verses aren't bad. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels a bit overfamiliar, and the whole is less than the sum of the parts. It goes into a great instrumental bridge in the middle of the song that almost propells the song to greatness, but there just isn't enough here. [6]

Again, both cuts were probably good things. I gave a below average rating for 5 of the 6 songs I blurbed, the exception being Sophie Ellis- Bextor, which apparently some people do not love. Even then all of my ratings were very close to consensus, almost depressingly so. Was surprised, though delighted to see Norah Jones so high. I had it as an [8] up until the very last second when I bumped it down to a 7 because it felt better. I think I'm a tougher grader than most of the other people, but in any event, it's a very good song. New Gwen Stefani way too low, that song is a 7 or an 8, in my opinion. We'll see how things go with this, once it goes to a daily blog. Anyways, that's enough self-promotion for one post.

Still low on ideas for posts and still busy with non blog things, so posting will probably continue to be light, at least until the new music season kicks in for real, American Idol heats up, new season of Unfabulous starts, etc. New Hannah Montana episodes have been v. good so far and I'm glad I stuck with it. Still needs Jake Ryan back.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Songs That I Have Been Listening To...

As always, the early part of the year is a rather dire time for music. In a couple of weeks, Jordan Pruitt's and Ashley Tisdale's albums will be released. Soon enough Hilary Duff will release the full single version of "With Love", and a debut single from Kelly Clarkson's album is probably not too far off in the horizon. So, the dry spell will not last long. But, for now anyways, I've been listening to a bunch of older music in order to pass the time.

Jimmy Ray - "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Frank Kogan over on the teenpop thread says it defies easy categorization. Jimmy Ray is a 50's throwback himself, but this isn't. And he's kinda rapping but kinda not. xhuxk says it sounds like George Michael's "Faith". Both are right. It's like a weird "Faith" mixed with awkward white rap or something. In any event, it's absolutely great, just an incredibly catchy song. Funny self-referential lyrics add to the quality, although they are rather silly. Jimmy was a one hit wonder in the late 90's, so I don't know how any of his other songs are, but this is a winner. 9/10

Aqua - "Lollipop (Candyman)"

Thanks to Frank Kogan, I recently rediscovered this great followup to "Barbie Girl" by Aqua. "Barbie Girl" and "Tubthumping" (by Chumbawamba) were both novelty hits around the same time, and I loved and still love both. That being said, this followup single is just as good as either of those. Of course, having been branded as a novelty act forever, this song had no chance of success, but it totally deserved it! Again, very catchy, though slightly annoying, as all Aqua songs I've heard are. The man's voice and woman's voice are both initially jarring and they sound nothing alike, but I still think they sound good together, in an odd way. "Oh my love I know you are my candyman" has to rank as one of the catchiest hooks of the entire decade of the 90s. 9/10

A*Teens - "Floorfiller"

This song comes off of A*Teens' second album, which is generally inferior to the first, but it's probably my favorite A*Teens song. A truly great song about going to the club and dancing, and indeed it does have a nicely danceable beat. Not only that but it features one of the catchiest vocal melodies I've ever heard in a song. The whole thing is a bit juvenile, and the lyrics aren't anything great: "A bomb diggy drum coming at me with the groove" -- ugh. But it makes up for that and more with the incredibly energy and catchiness that permeates the whole thing. And the kids, as always, are great pop singers. Everything great about being a kid encapsulated in one song. One of my 10 favorite singles of the decade to this point. 10/10

Martina McBride - "This One's For the Girls"; Martina McBride - "Independence Day"; Martina McBride - "When God Fearin' Women Get the Blues"

Three of the greatest country pop songs of all time. I absolutely cannot stop listening to them because they are so catchy and awesome, but yet all three fairly different. "When God Fearin' Women Get the Blues" is probably the most musically original. Lyrically it is of the middle aged women going out and getting crazy and having fun segment that is fairly prevalent in country pop. The lyrics are nothing special. "Indpendence Day" is the real showstopper. With really powerful, sad (but also really great) lyrics about domestic abuse, and a truly soaring and powerhouse chorus, this is one that'll bring tears to your eyes. But it's also really catchy and upbeat too! "This One's For the Girls" is pure fun. A standard, completely unoriginal, but completely awesome country pop songs that stands out for it's great pro-grrl power lyrics and catchy melody. None of the other Martina McBride songs I listened to were up to this level, and none of her albums seem consistently great, but this is a top 3 songs that contends with most other artists in music history. All 3 are 10/10, and right now I'm inclined to rank them 1. "Independence Day" [probably one of my top 10 singles of the 90s], 2. "When God Fearin' Women Get the Blues", 3. "This One's for the Girls"

Sheryl Crow - "If It Makes You Happy"; Sheryl Crow - "My Favorite Mistake"; Sheryl Crow - "A Change Would Do You Good"; Sheryl Crow - "Leaving Las Vegas"

Other than Martina, the other artist I've been really loading up on lately is Sheryl Crow, who released two truly great albums in the 90s, Sheryl Crow and The Globe Sessions that I have been listening to just nonstop. The more of her songs I listen to, and rediscover, and put on repeat over and over, the more inclined I am to say that she is at least a contender for the best singles artist of the decade of the 90s. Not even sure who else would compete with her for that, though I'm sure I could think of one if I tried. Mariah, maybe. Anyways, all 4 of these songs are awesome, and all for different reasons! "If It Makes You Happy" is just a high energy song about a messed up relationship, with a real edge to it. A great shrieking chorus. "My Favorite Mistake" is much more standard musically, but still a great melody and guitar, and it has excellent codependent lyrics. "A Change Would Do You Good" sort of like a cross between the last two, like a "My Favorite Mistake" but with a more screwed up relationship and more of an edge. "Leaving Las Vegas" is the pretty ballad, and I love it. All are 10/10, and I'd rank them as listed in the outset. "If It Makes You Happy" and "My Favorite Mistake" are contenders for top 25-ish singles of the decade.

OK, that's all I have time for tonight. Hope you enjoyed. Just because I mentioned it for "Floorfiller", I recently compiled a list of my top 20 favorite singles of the 2000s so I maybe will post it here soon, though maybe I won't too. I'll follow my heart. "Everywhere" is number one.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Song Analysis: Natasha Bedingfield - "Stumble"

The Song: Featured on the American release of her Unwritten album, Natasha Bedingfield's "Stumble" was never a single. But yet, it's a rather lovely little acoustic rock number that would have contended for top 50-ish single of the year had it ever been released. It's the only song on the album not cowritten by Ms. Bedingfield, which may make it seem like I'm slighting her. But I'm not! Her songs are great too, and some are even better than this one ("Unwritten", "The One That Got Away")! But this was the one I felt like analyzing, so that's where I'm going with it. No offense intended TashBed, you are a great songwriter!!

Youtube: "Stumble" [Not that anybody does what I say, but listen to this before you read the review if you don't know the song. The song depends on misdirection so it's better if you are "unspoiled"].

I'm not the kind of girl you bring to mother
I'm not the kind of girl you kiss in public
My manners leave a lot to be desired
At least i'm not a liar

And I'm not about the subtle innuendo,
More likely to throw rocks up at your window
We'll walk on eggshells so you don't hear
The crazy things I'm saying when you get near me
I'd rather disappear than be faking it, anyway

You like me, yeah, I know it
You're so transparent
How you stumble 'round those words so well
You like me, there I said it
Don't need a dictionary helping me
'Cause I can spell

My foot was in my mouth the day I met you,
All my friends they said I'd never get you
But they don't know it when they see it
They need glasses to believe it
They dont understand, so be it
What can I say, anyway?

You like me, yeah, I know it
You're so transparent
How you stumble 'round those words, so well
You like me, there I said it
Don't need a dictionary
Helping me, cause I can tell

By the way you turn me on to your favourite band,
By the way you pour me coffee when I'm too tired to stand,
The way you lift me up when I'm fading,
Breathe me in when I'm suffocating
Don't say that it's just because you can

Don't be stupid, thinking I've misjudged you
I know enough to know when someone trusts you
Why fight it now, It isn't gonna hurt you, anyway


Song Analysis: I love a good misdirection based song, and this is one of the ones I've been listening to a whole lot lately. The general story is about a girl who likes a guy, and thinks she likes him back too. Does he really like her back or not? It's unstated, but I have my thoughts on the matter. The story itself is nothing special, what I'll get into here is how it's told, and I'll get a little bit into how the music helps the story along.

The song opens with a rather plucky piano line and a breathy, light tone to Natasha's voice you'd expect from a love song. The first half of the first verse details all the ways in which she is imperfect, but, the verse ends, at least she tells the truth always. The next half of the verse confirms this, she is up front with her feelings and doesn't hide them in. But she's bursting; she likes this guy and she can't keep it in any longer. She can't "walk on eggshells" and just sit around being coy and quiet. She's exploding trying to fake it and has to let it out, so we get to the chorus and...

Rather than the declaration of love, as we would expect, it's a declaration of how much HE loves HER. Ha, a nice little switch up there, and one that changes the complexion of the song entirely. "You like me, there I said it" -- so what's been building up all this time, is not that SHE likes HIM (as one would naturally assume from the first verse), but how obvious it is that HE likes HER. Hey, you stumble round words and whatnot, so let's get it out into the open. Of course, the whole first verse was saying/implying that she was stumbling with words around him. But, at this point all her feelings for him are just implied, never actually stated. Note that nowhere in the chorus does it contain any response as to how she feels about him loving her. Interesting. There's a nice bit of musical misdirection here too. Like I said I don't know music theory at all, so maybe I lack the tools to properly describe it. But, from the "rather disappear than be faking it, anyways", it sounds like it's building up to a really big chorus, the big declaration of love. But the chorus is almost some kind of small breakdown. It really comes out ouf left field, just like the declaration itself! Nice synergy there. The song continues...

Verse 2 makes her feelings for him explicit, where it was only implicit from verse one. So now at least that much is unmistakeable. In fact, verse 2 is a nice bit of misdirect too, as it calls into question the very issues brought up by the declaration in the chorus. The chorus is a nice little unequivocable statement that she KNOWS that he likes her. In verse 2 we reveal that none of her friends really think that he likes her. They all know that she loves him, and think he's out of her league and that she's deluding herself. She remains undeterred. "They need glasses to believe it", kind of a weird line, but the point of this verse is clear. She likes the guy and wants to be with him, but her friends doubt the possibility of that. Verse ending line of "What can I say anyways?" is I guess supposed to be the response to her friends. She can't say anything to convince them, but she knows what she knows, as far as she is concerned. "So be it", she'll go on without them. Chorus continues with no change, except that "spell" is changed to "tell" in the last line, so as to lead into the bridge.

The bridge details all the ways that she knows he loves her. And, once again, it starts out with a nice misdirect. The line "By the way you turn me on to your favorite band" contains a brief but definitely noticeable pause between "turn me on" and "to your favorite band". Not too long as to kill the effect, but just long enough so you think the line ends at "By the way you turn me on", which would be an odd line and had my mind racing with possibilities for about a half a second before the line continued. Right, so he tells her about new music, pours her coffee when she can't be bothered to do it on her own, these are standard flirting items, though they are also gestures of simple friendship. But then it goes off onto "By the way you lift me up when I'm fading", which honestly sounds to me more like a sign that she loves him, but whatever. Then we get the immensely weird line "Breathe me in when I'm suffocating". I like this line because it sounds creepy and stalkerish (actually it sounds like a Kelly Clarkson lyric), but I don't have the first clue what it's supposed to mean. "Don't say it's just because you can" -- I know you love me and nothing you say will change my mind. Actions speak louder than words. Last chorus then song over.

Based on verse 2 and the end of the bridge, I'm going to go ahead and make the call that this is a song about how when you really, really like someone, you tend to read way too much into their actions and become convinced they like you back. A deadly, and I think fairly universal, cycle. As I see it, and stripped from all the misdirection in the song the story is as follows: TashBed sees this guy and likes him a lot. Really really likes him; a love at first sight kind of thing. Not normally accustomed to holding her feelings in, but she doesn't want to screw this up! She's friends with the guy and he does nice stuff for her and she assumes he likes her. These feelings bottling up are killing her and she wants to let them out. But rather then put herself out there on the line by saying how she likes, she couches it in terms of HIS feelings rather than HERS. So it's not like "Hey I like you tons lets go out", which makes herself vulnerable. It's "I KNOW you like me, and sure since you like me so much I'll go out with you", which allows her to maintain her cool. Whether her really likes her or not is never known and is immaterial to the song. We never do get to hear his response. But anyways, I'd run run away if I was him, this girl sounds like a creepy stalker to me. I love this story because I think a lot of us have been there before and I'm not sure if I can think of another song offhand that tells the same story. And great musical misdirection too because it just sounds, based on the instrumentation and TashBed's tone like a cute little love song and it's totally not!

FINAL RATING: The song has a nice little catchy melody to it, although it's very musically simple, and features a truly stellar vocal performance by Natasha. But the clear standout in the song are the lyrics. Constantly taking you in new directions, and featuring several surprising twists, but always grounded in a central story that I think is interesting and insightful. For a simple, silly little love song this has quite a few layers of depth to it. Should have been a single, it's a better song than "Single", at any rate. 8/10.

META COMMENTS: OK, way shorter than the Charlotte Church song review, which I think is better for everybody. Still haven't received any feedback about this, but as long as I don't receive really negative feedback I'm going to keep going ahead, because I enjoy writing these. Probably will grow less and less frequent due to laziness but whatever. Next song in the queue is "So Yesterday" by Hilary Duff, so be on the lookout for that, probably within the next couple weeks.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Thoughts on Jump In!

I'm not going to do a full, formal review of this because there'd be almost no point, but here are some general thoughts on the newest DCOM Jump In! in no particular order:

1. Corbin Bleu, as annoying as he may be in Flight 29 Down and as little as he may have brought to the table in High School Musical, has a great deal of natural, easy charm. Keke Palmer, as expected, did a great job with the material she was given. They didn't have a crazy amount of on screen chemistry or anything, but then again they didn't totally fizzle either. They were cute together. Corbin is incredibly easy to root for as a main character, no matter how thin his character is written.

2. Having a real life father and son play father and son in a movie can be a good thing if it creates a realness to their interactions and allows the actors to be more comfortable with each other. See also Hannah Montana where Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus are both at their respective bests when working with each other.

3. You expect a certain amount of cheese and over-sweetness when watching a DCOM. And yeah, this did have some of it, but I do believe this was the least saccharine Disney Channel Original Movie that I've ever seen. There was a true sincerity and earnestness to this that is rare from one of these movies and was kind of refreshing. Even among my favorites, Life-Size was one of the silliest, cutest movies I've ever seen, High School Musical had not a single sincere or earnest bone in its body (which was its appeal in many ways), Read It And Weep certainly had some sincerity to it (probably not as much as I implied in my initial review), but was also packed with over-the-top, ridiculous comedy. Jump In! had about as little saccharine-ness as a completely cliched DCOM can have.

4. Main character is well known for doing one thing. But he really wants to do something else. He starts to secretly do it, but it's detracting from his primary skill! He must make a choice, oh no! Will he go with his friends or his heart? I'm really glad there was a DCOM with this general plot because it's so, so rare to see one.

5. I really underrated the music for this before, whoops. I took it off the hates list. "Push It to the Limit" is a good song and "Jump to the Rhythm" is just as good as the rest of the non-"Outside Looking In" Jordan Pruitt songs. Robyn Johnson and Kirk Fitzpatrick (who wrote "Jump to the Rhythm") are legit songwriters, and I'm so glad to see Diz going outside its stable of songwriters for a change (Not that Matt Gerrard and Jamie Houston aren't legit songwriters, of course). Anyways both of the songs are really catchy, 7/10 type songs. The Keke Palmer song isn't bad either.

6. The choreography in the jump ropes scene was fun.

FINAL COMMENTS/RATING: Despite an incredibly cliched plot and thin, one-dimensional characters, winning and charming performances from the leads, fun choreography during the jump rope scenes, and an overriding sincerity and earnestness make Jump In! eminently watchable as a movie. 6.5/10 and one of the better DCOM's. But below the upper tier of the movies, which still consists just of RIAW, HSM, and Life-Size as far as I'm concerned.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mariah Carey - MTV Unplugged

Sorry for the lack of substantive content lately, I just haven't felt inspired. This post will have the same flaw. Don't forget, Disney watchers, that Jump In! starring Corbin Bleu and Keke Palmer and featuring many mediocre songs which cloud the Disney airwaves debuts this weekend. New show Cory In The House will premier as well, and I plan to watch both, even if I don't expect much from either.

OK, now on to the post. Early period Mariah Carey is one of my all-time favorite teen pop (any kind of pop really) stars of all time. This post will document, via the magic of Youtube, her MTV Unplugged special, which was surely some kind of high moment in pop history. The special originally aired in 1992, right after the release of her 2nd album, and features great live versions of some of her best songs. [Apparently a DVD of this is available, but I've never seen it. I'm taking the tracklisting from the EP of the performance that was released.] Let's see, shall we:

1. First of all Mariah's dress and image are pure class here. And her hair looks so good long and curly! I tend to prefer this image to her current one, but whatever. The set opens with her doing a performance of one of her most recent hits at the time, "Emotions", which is one of my very favorite Mariah Carey songs. Right up there with "All I Want For Christmas Is You", and probably one of my 25-50ish favorite singles of the 1990s. The performance starts out with background singers, piano, and Mariah singing the words to the chorus of the song in a completely different melody. With plenty of melisma and gymnastics of course. On record this song absolutely pops, it's a totally joyful testament to new love. For the most part, the MTV Unplugged version is basically the same as the recorded version, except slightly worse. She still nails those high notes, and they still absolutely convey the joy she is trying to convey with them. Mariah is the best singer I can think of at using the super high notes and melisma and whatnot to great effect in a song. Great song, but not substantially different from the recorded version.

2. Mariah then goes into "If It's Over", which is one of the non-singles off her Emotions album. Although, this live version was released as a single in some international markets. I've never actually heard the recorded version of this song, just this MTV Unplugged version, and I have to say that I enjoy it a lot. Featuring a rather jazzy instrumental backing of strings, bass, and horns and interesting background vocals, this is a ballad that's really catchy and that is, of course, sung extremely well by Mariah. She utilizes her underused lower register for this song, and it's very pretty. Once again, many will criticize Mariah for her vocal gymnastics, but when she's so goddamn good at them, I see no grounds for complaint. The lyrics describe a dead relationship sputtering along. Mariah strongly suspects based on physical cues that her boyfriend wants to break up with her, and is begging him to just sack up and break up with her already if that's what he wants to do. Very simple story and lyrics, but they are effective.

3. We then get treated to "Someday", one of the 4 #1 hits off of her first album, and another of my personal favorite Mariah songs. Very catchy melody and f'n awesome, TRUE RAWK, lyrics. Somebody should do a rock cover of this song, because it could totally scorch if done right. Anyways, the story behind the song is that Mariah's boyfriend has just broken up with her. And she's telling him "You know what, you've made a huge mistake. One day you're gonna want me back and YOU CAN'T HAVE ME." Totally empowered, turning the tables on her pain. They do a relatively subdued version of this song, more of a slow burn, with liberal usage of the background vocalists. Substantially better than the rather cheesily produced studio version. Ass kicking.

4. Mariah's huge breakout hit, "Vision of Love" comes next -- her chart topper that put her on the map in the US and internationally. A lot of times a singer's big breakout hit is one of their better songs, since in order for it to become a hit for an artist who was unknown at the time, it must have an unusually high quality. Unfortunately, this ballad is a real snooze. The lyrics are rather cheesy and generic love song lyrics that really add nothing to the song. It's pretty and Mariah's still a good singer, but the whole thing is just kind of there, and nothing particularly stands out about it. Her voice is building to an explosion gradually throughout the song, but even when it comes it's nothing special. For all of Mariah's strengths, consistency is not one of them, and this falls squarely in the bland AC section of her repertoire.

5. After "Vision of Love" comes "Make It Happen" [not on Youtube wtf, well here's a different live version anyways], which was the third single off her album Emotions. To be honest, I have no idea if this was released as a single before or after this special, but whatever. Anyways, it's the worst single off of Emotions but still OK. Like emotions, the live unplugged version adds nothing to the song. The lyrics to this sound like the lyrics to a Hannah Montana song, about the personal power to bring yourself through hard times ("If you believe in yourself enough/And know what you want/You're gonna make it happen/(Make it happen)", "I know where I stand I know who I am I ain't gonna run away when life gets bad"). This song has never grabbed me like her best songs do, though it's plenty catchy. Inessential, but not BAD, per se.

6. This goes into her version of "I'll Be There", which is one of the most famous moments ever on MTV Unplugged. As far as I know, this is the only song from that show to ever hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. I'm sure you've seen it before, Mariah sitting nervously on the chair, then standing up, just belting the damn thing out with all her might. Nothing fancy to this one. And, well, it's a GOOD cover, but there's nothing particularly great about it. The original never really grabbed me, which is probably why the cover doesn't either. That being said, it IS a great moment in TV, even if not in pop music. Don't really know why this is THE famous moment from this special, since it's hardly the best part of it from a musical standpoint, but I do like this version at least as much as the original.

7. The set ends with her acoustic version of "Can't Let Go", which I presume was her current single at the time. And not only is this one of my very favorite Mariah Carey songs, not only is it one of the greatest R&B ballads of all time, but this is a (rare, for pop music in my experience) example of a song that is actually superior in the live version to the recorded version. God DAMN does Mariah absolutely bring it on this song, one of her greatest vocal performances of all time. In this song, the relationship is over, but Mariah just cannot let it go and move on. She really wants to, but the relationship just meant so much to her that she can't just do away with it like that. Starts with a cute and heartfelt thanks, acknowledging that this is hard for her since she didn't at the time perform live very much (supposedly due to stage fright). If "I'll Be There" is a great moment in TV history, this is one of the very great moments in pop history. 10/10, and yeah, whatever, Mariah has 3 of my 50 or so favorite singles of the 90s but she's just made a lot of great music. Of course, she's made a lot of crappy music too.

Thus ends one of my favorite TV specials of all time. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. I will be back this weekend/early next week with a new song analysis (I'm thinking "Stumble" by Natasha Bedingfield, though I reserve the right to change my mind), and I guess I'll have to put something down about my thoughts on Jump In!/Cory in the House.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Song Analysis: Charlotte Church - "Moodswings"

I don't know how much interest there is in stuff like this from my readers, but I love doing analyses of songs. It's one of my favorite parts of running a blog. So, I figured why not make a semi-regular feature out of this. It's my one man combat to try to prove that pop music can and does have some depth to it. I'm going to start with my #21 favorite single of 2006, "Moodswings (to Come at Me Like That)" by Charlotte Church. Just to say right off the bat, I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about music theory, so this is inherently a non-academic discussion. But if you have anything of an academic nature to say about the song, feel free to chime in.

This is a teenpop song because Charlotte was a teen when it was released, even if it sounds nothing like what we would normally thing of as teenpop. Maye one of my Brit readers out there can clue me in to how this was marketed (i.e. which demographic it was primarily marketed towards).

Youtube: "Moodswings" (You should really listen to the song before reading the analysis).

Now first of all I
Wanna let you know that
I've been known for some
Minor moodswings, now and then.
It all started back when
People were doing me wrong and
Because of my position
I would hold my tongue for them.
Bad relationships, and people I thought were friends and
People judging me, before they get to know a thing.
When you decided to step to me
It shows me so clearly
You just wanna see, see the other side of me.

Chorus: And you dont know what I'm going through and
You might think it's all about you.
But its everything, I've been holding back.
It's just bad timing
To come at me like that.

I try to keep my cool, thus,
That's what I try to do but
It's so hard dealing with
People just like you.
I try to walk away from
Situations that run
Into complications
That make me lose control.
If I give in to you then
It's what you want me to do
And if I lose my cool
Then I'm only pleasing you.
You know just how to push me.
My temperature is rising.
Blood pressure is building.
I'm about to lose control.


I'm sorry did I,
Did I cross the line?
I Tried to warn you away
Way ahead of time.
I'm so frustrated that I
Feel like I could cry.
This could be the time
But I'm not going out like that.

Chorus x 2
To come at me like that x3

Song Analysis: The lyrics describe a fairly simple story, where somebody who has been hurt by past relationships is not quite ready for a new relationship. And so while she rather likes this new guy she's met, she just cannot be with him, and is telling him that. This is a woman who is not completely devestated by their last relationship, it's somebody who is in that phase where they appear to be happy on the surface but can be touched off by any of the slightest old thing (the same phase of a breakup captured in "Behind These Hazel Eyes"). This is a guy who has caught her in one of her "good times" and thinks that she's always fun and light and happy. She's warning him that she's not always like that, and it's not worth getting into a relationship with her at this point. It's "It's not you, it's me" in song form. Except that I take the lyrics on the surface and presume she's being on the up-and-up rather than giving some kind of lame breakup excuse. And I really love some of the lyrics to this song, especially the beginning sentence "Now first of all I/Wanna let you know that/I've been known for some/Minor moodswings, now and then." Starting off in a very understated way, saying "minor moodswings" and opening the song seemingly in the middle of a conversation and relationship. So it's all a bit disorienting to start out, such as who is she talking to and why is she having moodswings, etc. OK, a simple story stated in sometimes great ways, but mostly with fairly straightforward lyrics. Most of all I admire the minimalism of the lyrics. No more is said than needs to be said. It seemingly picks up in the middle of a conversation, and precisely why this is "bad timing" is never referenced or stated. But it doesn't need to be! The song works perfectly well without trying to shoehorn in some kind of meaningless backstory.

What make this song truly great, is the way the structure and the sound of the song reinforce and enhance the meaning of the song. I love crap like that in music (see also, say, "Everywhere" or "Since U Been Gone" or "Friends in Low Places"). Notice how random the line breaks are in the lyrics above (I got these off of a lyrics website which are sometimes unreliable but those line breaks are accurate). They break totally randomly, not just in the middle of sentences but in the middle of thoughts and phrases and clauses. The verses are all sung at a very understated and rambling talking-style cadence, though she is singing. So even though she's completely singing, it has a really conversational feel to it. The last note of each line is dragged out which enhances the line breaks, making the sound of it all even odder. The lines in the verses are far from uniform in length, and there's even variations in the melodies. So there's no real set "melody" in the lyrics as each of the lines has a slightly different melody and cadence to the previous lines, due to the differences in length and rhythm in the lyrics. All of this is backed by an extremely out of place sounding plucky and cheerful piano line in the background. Strings and guitar riffs appear in the background at seemingly random points. It's all rather odd and disorienting. But, what makes it great is that it all serves to reinforce the confusion that she is feeling about the whole situation. She likes the guy and wants to go out with him, but knows with her brain that it's a bad idea due to the timing of the situation. Very confusing time, aptly captured by the melody.

This leads into the chorus which features an immediate and abrupt shift in the musical characteristics of the song. The plucky piano line and staccato instrumentation is replaced with no transition by a fuzzed out guitar line, and prominent percussion and bass line. While the verses are sung in a very wary, talking style voice, the chorus instantly starts with a more self-assured tone, with layered harmonies. Even the "What I'm going through" line, which features no harmonies as far as I can tell, is sung in a different voice than the verses. So while the verses project an air of confusion and uncertainty, the chorus projects an air of confidence in her decision. She's decided to blow this guy off and that's final. This isn't even something you will necessarily get from the lyrics, which is one way how the musicality of the song enhances the lyrical content. But there's no transitionary prechorus in this song, it instantly flips the switch from verse to chorus, which I love in this song. From a musical standpoint, I also love how the strings in the chorus enhance the drama and build-up in the music (surely there's some musical term for this), which all ultimately pays off with the "To come at me like that" line, which is the main hook of the song. Then it instantly and abruptly switches back into the verse.

Verse two. The second verse has basically the same lyrical backdrop and melody as the first verse (keeping in mind that there really isn't any consistency in the melody here. The second verse reads as her justifying her decision to herself. She tries to avoid situations where she might meet people that she likes. Which makes her "lose control" of her actions and "lose control" because she is letting her (constantly chaning and inherently unreliable at this time) emotions get in the way of what she KNOWS is the right decision. The verse ends, instantly, with several short lines. Whereas the rest of this verse and the entire first version contain lines that are small fragments of sentences broken up over several lines, each of the last four lines of the verse are complete, self-contained sentences. A drama addled string line is layed under these lines, which gains in slight intensity as the lines do: "My temperature is rising" and "Blood control is building" underscored, appropriately, with credscendo-ing music. The the last line in the verse is "I'm about to lose control". But before she totally loses control, it goes back into the self-assured chorus, rejecting him.

The bridge is between the chorus and verse in sound. The vocals are similar to the vocals on the verse, but the musical backdrop is nothing like it. Gone are the plucky piano and staccato instruments. It's backed by a "sad" sounding string and guitar sound which give off a feel of anguish. Maybe she's confident in her decision but that doesn't mean it makes her happy. The wildcard here is the line "I'm not going out like that." I just interpret that line as a brief moment of self-doubt, rather than negating the entire lyrical content of the song previous.

OK, but then why is the song called "Moodswings", when the word only appears once in the song and even then it's in the middle of a random line in a verse. The single release is officially titled "Moodswings (to Come at Me Like That)", presumably because "To come at me like that" is the central line and main hook to the song and the executives wanted people to know what song it was by the title. Anyways, "Moodswings" certainly seems like an absolutely perfect title for the song, given not just the lyrical content, but the way the "mood" of the song seems to shift rapidly and abruptly between the verses, chorus, and bridge. Think about it, if you've got a song named "Moodswings" it'd be silly to make the song have a similar musical backdrop and singing style throughout.

The music to this song, in the way it changes so frequently, gives the impression of somebody who is deeply confused and rapidly changing her mind, exactly like the lyrics imply. When the music and the lyrics match so perfectly, it really enhances my enjoyment of the song. So what's the final story and impression we get from the song, speaking generally? So, some fellow has broken up with Charlotte or hurt her feelings, or whatever. Some time after this, she meets a new guy, she's happy and the guy likes her. (This all happens before the song even begins). But then she's starting to feel confused. She doesn't know what to think or do, because this guy makes her happy but she knows she can't stay with him. She's not ready for a relationship yet, and he's not gonna like "the other side of [her]". Amidst all this confusion, she finally decides to break up with this guy. She feels good about the decision, justifies it to herself. But then starts to feel some self doubt. It makes her sad to lose this guy, but she knows what she has to do. Song over.

Final rating: This is one of the great singles of 2006, and the best song on Charlotte Church's first pop album ("Crazy Chick" also a great song). Possibly underrated in my year end singles list, but whatever. 9/10.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Album Review: Vanessa Hudgens - V

Back to normal content, for the first time in a while. Yay! I have surprisingly few ideas that I've stored up over the last month, but whatever. Here's a review of an album that I avoided reviewing for a long time. Did my fears play out, or was I pleasantly surprised? Read to find out!!:

Vanessa Hudgens - V

Based on the lead single, "Come Back to Me", I was strongly not looking forward to listening to this album, which is why I avoided it for so long. But I was in my year end album listening mania, and I figured what the hell. But, you see, "Come Back to Me" was one of my least favorite hit Disney singles of the year. It's in that faux, kiddie R&B style of the Cheetah Girls, and it's just so very, very bland. Though I do love the "Baby V!" part. Plus, Vanessa was my least favorite of the four main stars in High School Musical.

However, my opinion of the album quickly swayed. Upon a first listen I started to sweat it a bit "Hey, wait a minute, this isn't half-bad". Swaying to "Man, this is actually good!" After all, "Come Back to Me" is one of only 3 genuinely bad songs on this album ("Never Underestimate a Girl", "Let's Dance"), though a few others are of the bland, filler variety (e.g. "Whatever Will Be", "Psychic", "Drive [which sounds like a HSM reject]). The fact that those 3 bad tracks are 3 of the first 5 songs is what made me so surprised by how much I liked the album ultimately. And the album contains more pretty ballads (which I am still an absolute sucker for) than Cheetah style R&B rockers, and Vanessa's voice sounds great throughout the album. Rather than upbeat, "vacantly inspirational" (tm Village Voice) lyrics, most of the lyrics of this album are of the vaguely confessional variety, which I always appreciate. This makes for a genuinely enjoyable listening experience. And it's not just that it's consistently pretty good, this album could spawn multiple singles in my top 50 singles of the year next year, as long as they pick the songs I like best as singles.

And "Say OK", which is the next single off of the album, is a great start. Clearly the standout track on this album, this is the first great single of 2007, and will likely rank in my top 30-50 of the year at least, depending on how good of a year for singles it is. There are 6 songs on this album (out of 14) that I will legitimately characterize as good, compared to 3 I was characterize as bad. Which isn't a great ratio, but for a Disney tie in album, it's rather good. Here are the 6 songs in the order that they appear on the album:

"Let Go" IS a kiddie R&B rocker, but it has a REALLY catchy chorus. Maybe a little repetitive, but I love the chorus so much, that it can repeat itself as much as it wants. And it has an incredibly bizarre, jazzy bridge that totally works even though it seems like it shouldn't. The lyrics detail Vanessa desiring to go out and party with her friends after, apparently, some kind of particularly harsh breakup. The breakup is only referenced obliquely, so it plays as a pro-partying "Wake Up" style number, but the sadness is tangible in the lyrics. Top 50 contender for next year if released.

"Say OK" I love, love, love. I could listen to this melody for hours on end without getting tired of it, I think, and I love the percussion. In this song, Vanessa is wary of getting into a relationship with a guy because she's scared that he will hurt her and is unsure of how much he really likes her: "But I don't wanna be into you/If you don't treat me the right way/See I can only start seeing you/If you can make my heart feel safe (feel safe)". OK, hardly original lyrics, but it's done fairly well. And Vanessa's vocal performance captures the inherent uncertainty present in the lyrics in the way that somebody with a traditionally stronger voice would be able to. The chorus is washed out in beautiful harmonies that I absolutely love as well. The harmonies don't soar, like they do on HSM, they just kind of wash out, which is appropriate for the lyrical content

"Afraid" is of the pretty ballad variety. I guess some listeners will be bored by it, but once again I really love this type of song. Beautiful, washed out harmonies in the chorus to this one as well, giving way to unharmonized lines sung by Vanessa's little, beautiful voice. The lyrics detail trepidation to get into a new relationship in the face of a bad breakup from her last relationship: "Why am I so afraid to crash down and lose my heart again/I don't know, I can't see, what's come over me". Actually, this song is a lot like a worse version of "Say OK", which isn't exactly high praise, but I like it plenty on its own merits. Fairly simple production on this doesn't distract from the melody, but nevertheless manages to provide some nice instrumenation.

"Rather Be With You" starts out really well with some kind of synth riff and Vanessa cooing over it. The rest of the verses aren't really anything great, but it kicks up in the chorus a whole lot. This is one of the rockinest songs on the album. This is probably the worst of the proclaimed "good" songs on the album, but hell I love the intro/synth riff and the chorus is catchy enough. Plus it's one of the only (maybe the only?) songs on the album with truly original lyrics. In the lyrics, a boy who has a crush on Baby V sends over a friend to feel her out and see if Vanessa likes him back. But Vanessa secretly likes the messenger himself! And she's not afraid to tell him. Nothing too earthshattering I guess, but I've never heard it in another song before and it made me chuckle a little.

"Lose Your Love" is another of the kiddie R&B songs. Which makes me think that I don't inherently dislike the genre, it's just that the songs that have hit on Radio Diz of this style have been bad songs. The lyrics are nothing special, a person begging her boyfriend to stay with her. Bleh. But it has one of the oddest choruses I've heard on one of the Disney songs. Completely washed out in harmony so that it totally removes all the character from Vanessa's voice and seeming to go on for a little too long, mixing in melodies together, it makes for an odd experience. BUT, it's a good chorus, and the pre-chorus is really good too! You think the chorus is over after "Don't wanna lose your love", but it's not! Nice misdirection.

"Make Your Mind" ends the album on a rockin' note, and there's not much to say about this song except that it has a catchy chorus. That melody is almost all it has going for it, as the lyrics are nothing special, and the production is vaguely annoying. But the best pure melody on the album aside from "Say OK" (both in the verses and chorus) make this one of the standouts on the album nonetheless. This despite possibly the most inane love song lyrics on the entire album. Ends with a rather pleasant "Na na na" part.

Final Rating/Comments: This album shattered all my previous conceptions of it rather quickly. Despite all outside appearances, I think this is actually the best of the Diz tie in albums last year. Better than High School Musical, better than Hannah Montana (though clearly the HM soundtrack had better songs at their respective best), better than Cheetah Girls 2, well you get the point. That being said, the album was clearly rushed, and it shows. If they had taken the time to fill out the album with material on par with the best, it could have been really great. Heck, if they had taken more time to take the good material and turn it into great material, the album could have shown big improvement. But, still, this is nothing to sneeze at as a debut effort from the Baby V. 7/10.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Final Year End Listamania

Year End Miscellany:

Contrary to previous posts I've decided to forgo a top 10 albums list this year. The reason being that I am laughably behind in album listening this year. By the time I get around to processing all of the albums there's a good chance that I'll like from this year, it will be well beyond the point at which it would be reasonable to release a 2006 year in review list. There are about 5 albums this year that I am pretty confident will make my top 10 this year, when I've finally processed all the relevant albums. They are, in approximately this order, Amy Diamond's Still Me Still Now Marit Larsen's Under the Surface Gothic Archies' The Tragic Treasury Paris Hilton's Paris and Ciara's The Evolution. You could call that a top 5, I guess, except that there are in all likelihood at least one (maybe more) albums I have yet to listen to that might make the top 5, and I'm still processing Ciara, and she might move up. I'm pretty confident in declaring Amy Diamond's Still Me Still Now as the album of the year, at this point. Top 5 artists of the year: Aly & AJ, Miley Cyrus, Dr. Luke, Amy Diamond, Fergie. Fergie, not because she made the best music of anybody not above her, but because she managed to shatter my previous extreme hatred of her prior to this year, which was a remarkable accomplishment. I'm counting Miley's TV work, which may be unfair, but it is what it is. And it's better for Aly & AJ overall if I don't count Cow Belles. I do count Aly's work on Phil of the Future because as explained I consider that to be a key part of their image, but it doesn't matter because they'd rank number 1 without it anyways. And like I said before I didn't even see 10 movies this year, but my favorite movie that I DID see was, of course, High School Musical with The Departed being the best real movie that I saw.

So congrats to Lillix, The 4400, Amy Diamond, Aly & AJ, and High School Musical for winning all the TCR awards this year.

Top 11 Things to Look Forward to in 2007

OK with all year end content out of the way, let's look forward instead of backwards and see what we have to look forward to in 2007. Unlike all the prior year in review stuff, I will confine this to the theme of my blog. So it's solely things in the entertainment media that are in a broad sense relevant to teen culture. This is for entertainment purposes only, I'm just basing this on what I know for a fact is coming out in 2007, with little research to figure out what else is gonna be out. TV and movies, for whatever reason tend to take me by surprise more than music, so there is more music on this list than the other two. OK, with those caveats, here goes:

11. Ashely Tisdale
Coming out with a new album in 2007, starring in High School Musical 2 and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, 2007 looks like it may be an even better year for The Tis than 2006 was. She was always my favorite of the HSM stars, and while her new singles aren't outstanding, they are pretty good, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what she has in store for us in 2007. Her acting will, I'm sure, be excellent as always, though wasted on the cesspool that is The Suite Life

10. Jordan Pruitt - No Ordinary Girl
The full album by Jordan Pruitt promises to be a good one, as I've enjoyed all the songs she's released so far, though to varying degrees. I can only hope they are going more with the confessional sound of "Outside Looking In" than the R&B sounds of her other songs.

9. Natasha Bedingfield - Blank Canvas
Her first album, Unwritten, is not impossibly one of my top 10 albums of the 2000's, and it spawned several great singles. Including the title track, which was one of my 10 favorite singles of 2005. I have no particular reason to think that this one will be inferior to her debut, but for whatever reason I am not super psyched for this release. Still, for all my (possibly unfounded) doubts that this one will rise to the heights of her debut, I'm obviously looking forward to this release by one of my favorite current British pop stars (probably my second favorite, behind Rachel Stevens. [Hey when's her comeback gonna be?])

8. New Brie Larson Album
Contrary to the above, I'm actually not 100% sure that this is coming out in 2007. But I'm listing it anyways because I think it is and I love Brie Larson. Anyways, even though her last album wasn't great, the three tracks she's since posted on her Myspace ("Coming Around" [Greg's #28 single of the year], "Stilts and the Titanic" and a cover of "A Day in the Life") have all been better than any of the songs on her first album. This, plus the great writing on her blog, makes me extremely excited for the full new album to be released.

7. Hannah Montana
New season of the show and new songs? Awesome! I guess I'm not 100% sure that new Hannah Montana songs will be released in 2007, which is why this doesn't rank higher, but it's probably a safe assumption. The new season of Hannah Montana, presumably featuring the return of Jake Ryan and showcasing improved acting talents from the kids, promises to be superior to the first year of the show. My number 2 artist of 2006 may well by my number 1 artist of 2007 if she is able to keep up.

6. Nancy Drew
I've hardly seen a movie with more disparagingly negative comments about it prior to its release. Everywhere that I've read about it has been an attack on the proposed casting of the roles. Apparently they are cast too young or against type or whatever. I don't know and I don't care because I never have and never intend to read a Nancy Drew book. Mystery movies and books bore me. BUT, this movie stars Emma Roberts as Nancy, and Kay Panabaker and Amy Bruckner as her best friends, so I'm extremely excited for it. Kay Panabaker doesn't have much to make me excited for 2007, just this movie a mediocre looking horse movie called Moondance Alexander (that I surely will nonetheless see on opening day) and a likely straight to DVD release of an update of the Prince and the Pauper starring the Sprouse twins. A fairly weak slate, but she plus Emma make this movie one that I am marking in my calendar.

5. New Hilary Duff album
Hilary has yet to release a consistently great album, and I have no reason to think that this will be the one. But she has been a consistently great singles artist, and her two albums so far have all featured several excellent songs. Even Most Wanted had a great original ("Wake Up") and a pretty good original ("Beat of My Heart"). "Play With Fire" was amazing, "With Love" sounds pretty good, and there's no reason to think there won't be at least a couple other songs on this new album that I will absolutely love. I can't wait.

4. High School Musical 2
Well, I have my doubts that they will be able to re-capture the magic of the first movie, but how could I not be really excited for this film. Will it be as effortlessly enjoyable as the first movie? Will it spawn another single as great as "Breaking Free"? Who knows! Like I said, I have my doubts, but I certainly hope so, and I'm certainly looking forward to finding out. The whole main four of the cast is great, so if nothing else, I'm sure they will salvage entertainment out of the film.

3. Season 3 of Unfabulous
My favorite teen/tween TV show currently on the air returns for a third season this year, delayed way too long since the end of season 2. Season 2 ended on a high note with Addie and Jake getting together. I hope they can run with that and produce a season even better than they've gotten so far, propelling this into the list of the truly great shows of its type, such as Phil of the Future. OK, maybe that's not very likely. But as long as it's got Emma Roberts on board it's gonna stay one of the most entertaining shows on television.

2. New Aly & AJ album
You know what, I think I've finally written enough about them. Please though let this be their first consistently great album.

1. New Kelly Clarkson album
The number one slot on this list was a lock before the list was even drawn up. Breakaway remains, as I have noted several times before, my favorite album of the decade to this point (Come and Get It is close). The new songs that she's debuted on tour, including "Maybe" and "Anymore" have been absolutely amazing. So, I'll conveniently ignore that the most recent song she's released, a song called "Go" written for Ford, was completely mediocre. There is not a piece of entertainment media that I have ever looked forward to as much as I am looking forward to this.

Of course, I'm sure most of my favorites by year-end won't be represented on this list, but that's part of the fun! We can check how good my predictions were later.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Top 14 Shows on TV

As part 2 of my year-end content, I'm going to cover my 14 favorite current shows on TV (again considering all shows, not just those relevant to my blog). All that remains is my top 10 albums list, which will be coming soon. No movies list because I don't watch movies. I didn't even see 10 movies this year, if you don't count TV movies, which makes it rather difficult to make a top 10.

So here are my top 14 shows on TV. Counting mainly the "current" quality of the show (meaning the recent episodes and how good I expect the future episodes to be), with historical quality being used as a tiebreaker. And of course only shows currently airing new episodes are eligible for this list. Presented in convenient countdown format, as always, with some commentary.

(14, because I was having trouble narrowing it down to 10 and there was a big dropoff after 14. Didn't count because I don't know if they are gonna air new episodes: Beauty and the Geek and Darcy's Wild Life.)

14. Heroes (NBC)
NBC's new hit show has promise but moves a bit too slowly for my tastes. It's starting to show signs that it's all gonna pay off, and not totally fizzle out (like, say, Lost), but I have my doubts that it's all gonna end satisfactorily. Nevertheless, it's been a fun setup and I'm enjoying the show a lot as is. I won't feel comfortable ranking it higher until I see how the storylines start to ravel up. The last episode before the new year was a great start in that regard. This could move way up in short fashion.

13. Desperate Housewives (ABC)
I think this is the best of ABC's trifecta of hit dramas (this show, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost), because unlike those shows this show has compelling plots and likeable characters. And this last season has been the best one yet, even better than the first season. Extremely entertaining and watchable; just because it does not engage one intellectually doesn't mean it's bad. There's a place for brainless fun on television, and this does it better than most.

12. True Life/Made/The Real World (MTV)
This is cheating, but this slot represents the entirety of the MTV reality show catalogue. None of MTV's other reality shows engage me. Laguna Beach would have made it last year, but the last season sucked ass. But I do so love these 3 shows. The Real World has been down lately, but the Denver season looks to be the best one since San Diego, after a long string of mediocre seasons. True Life and Made are always entertaining looks into the real world. The problem with Made is that a lot of the kids are annoying and unlikeable, but when the kid on the show is likeable (as in, say, the "Girly Girl" or "Beauty Pageant" episode, or the one with the fat kid who wanted to be skinny and then struck out with his crush) it's one of the most entertaining shows on television. Similarly, True Life has many boring episodes, but it also has produced a lot of extremely compelling TV (like the "Friends With Benefits" episode or the one about dieting). A very underrated network. Inconsistency prevents it from climbing higher on the list

11. Entourage (HBO)
Entourage had a great first two seasons. The last season, season 3, was rather weak but I still hold high hope that this can find its voice again. Jeremy Piven is, of course, excellent and the rest of the cast is quite good as well. A funny show, and it can really crackle when the plots are working and pushing forward, as in season 1 and 2, but when the show is running in traction with Vince acting like a whiny baby all the time and Ari not given much to do but yell a lot it gets tedious, the show can really drag. One that would have ranked much higher a year ago, and that hopefully will rank much higher again.

10. Hannah Montana (Disney Channel)
As I've said several times before, its still a show I see great promise in. Yeah, it's got the same problems it's always had. The acting is poor, the plots and jokes are ridiculous, the physical comedy is over the top, the characters and drama are not handeld well. But it's also still incredibly cute and eminently watchable, the music is great, and the kids have great chemistry. Not exactly a classic, and Phil of the Future is still way better, but this is still wholly entertaining.

9. American Idol (Fox)
Speaking of shallow, eminently watchable, slightly guilty pleasures...Well, once again, I love this show. I guess that shouldn't surprise any of the readers here. But this show, among all reality shows, does a great job of getting people to root for their favorites and hate their least favorites. And they don't even develop personalities or anything! I can't explain it, but I find it totally engrossing. Maybe the talent's not the greatest, but that hardly even matters. And the show is still capable of producing great musical moments like Kelly C's "Stuff Like That There".

8. Shark (CBS)
The best of the new class of shows, in my opinion, this show seems on the surface to be a rote copying of the procedural crime/lawyer shows that currently permeate the air. And in a lot of ways it is. But James Woods is appropriately over-the-top as the main character, Jeri Ryan is great as always, and even the assistant DA's are all a lot of fun to watch. Maybe the crimes/mysteries aren't super engrossing, but the character interactions are always fun to watch. And, yeah, Danielle Panabaker as Shark's daugher certainly doesn't hurt. She does a really great job, and is starting to be pretty attractive. I would expect no less of a member of the Panabaker clan.

7. How Do I Look? (Style)
This show is a fashion makeover show, which makes it one of a hundred on TV. But I really love how every episode of this show tells a completed story. Everybody starts out confident in their style, gets torn down through meanness and sadness, and then is built back up from scratch, as a confident woman! Yay! Finola Hughes is great as the host, and the scene where all the family members tear into the main subject for their bad fashion is oddly compelling. Maybe it's one of a large type, but it's the best of that type by far.

6. House (Fox)
I still love this show, even though the format is getting a little stale. Hugh Laurie's performance, though great, is untested as he is always given the exact same things to do episode after episode. House's assistants are all growing to be a bit too one note as well. The episodes are too formulaic, and most of their attempts to break from the formula (e.g. the season finale for season 2 and season premiere for season 3) have gone really poorly (although "Three Stories" was, of course, a classic). The multi-episode arcs (Vogler, Stacy, Tritter) have all been disasters. That being said, all the actors have their characters nailed by now, and the formula IS extremely entertaining. This last season hasn't been too great, but it's still got those great actors and that great formula going for it. And Dr. Cameron is a hottie.

5. Unfabulous (Nickelodon)
Still the best teen/tween show on TV. Executed perfectly. Emma Roberts is great. For all this and more, see this post I already wrote, extolling the virtues of the show. Genuinely funny, and I love how they begin every episode with an out-of-context clip from later on in that same episode.

4. Monk (USA)
Although this show HAS become a bit weaker over time, it's still firing on most of its cylinders. I actually prefer Natalie to Sharona (or at least I like them equally), because even though Traylor Howard may not be Bitty Schram's equal, I love Natalie's cute and sweet relationship with "Mr. Monk" (I also like how she calls him "Mr. Monk") . And I like Julie a hell of a lot more than I ever liked Benji. The problem is that the plots to the episodes have become progressively more and more gimmicky and progressively less and less about any of the characters other than Monk. Not that I don't like Monk, and Tony Shalhoub is brilliant of course, but I love the supporting characters too! The actors and characters still make this show extremely entertaining.

3. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
The funniest show on TV, yet sadly it seems to be little known. There's no depth to the show, and no real characters or relationships, but that's hardly what a show like this is about. As much as I normally strongly prefer "clean" and simple humor to the more "adult" kind, and as much as I normally dislike humor based mostly around shattering taboos, every single episode of this show has several big laughs. But all this talk of "adult" humor or "simple" humor or "shattering taboos" is silly and lazy, because most of the humor of this show IS of the classic variety, based around hilarious dialogue and irony. To me, as always, humor based on hilarious dialogue is way funnier than humor based on characters being put in funny situations or acting self-consciously wacky or stupid. (Which is, by the way, why I still can't stand Meet the Parents, Will Ferrell movies, and the majority of modern comedies.) But the humor on that show rarely reaches this level.

2. How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
The best show on network TV today singlehandedly proves that the seemingly stale old sitcom formula still has plenty of life in it. I am a big fan of that old formula, and this show IS the modern day Friends, which I loved (although is it intellectual suicide to admit that?). While not quite reaching the heights of humor of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia there is an underlying sweetness that permeates this show, and that plus the great character relationships push that above this. Not that this show isn't hilarious, because it is. And the second season, currently in the middle of airing, has been a big step above the first season (see, for example "Ted Moseby, Architect" or "Slap Bet"). The first season had its share of highlights as well (in particular "Okay Awesome" and "The Pineapple Incident"), but it got worse towards the end. So I was totally unprepared for the complete awesomeness of season 2. If it keeps up the quality of the first half of the second season, we could be seeing a real classic unfolding here.

1. The 4400 (USA)
Like Lost or Heroes this show is a science fiction type show with long, epic storylines that unfold during the course of several episodes. Unlike those shows, this show maintains a strong interest throughout by moving at a breakneck pace. Multiple important events and revelations during each episode is a matter of course, with all the events leading to further interesting mysteries and storylines. Maybe it's because one season of The 4400 is barely more than half the length of those other shows, so they have to pack everything in much faster. Maybe it's just that the writers have better ideas. I dunno. All I know is that with all the questions that have been done on this show, few have been settled too slowly or quickly and few have been answered unsatisfactorily. Each season has been totally different from the last, and each has been better than the last. And the most recent season, season 3, ended last summer with an excellent series finale that left several interesting cliffhangers which may, in fact, change the entire nature of the show yet again. There's no way I could have seen this coming from the mediocre original miniseries, but I feel quite comfortable declaring this to be the best show on TV right now. And Heroes is totally a ripoff of this.

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