Saturday, April 28, 2007

Song Analysis: Aly & AJ - "Speak for Myself"

Intrepid readers: It's been a while, but my schedule has recently cleared up so hopefully that will give me more postin' time. I have a few ideas for posts in the works, that I didn't have a chance to do because of business. In the meantime, sure been a while since I've done a song analysis, so here's the newest entry in this occassional series:

Previous song analyses:
Hilary Duff - "So Yesterday"
Lee Ann Womack - "I'll Think of a Reason Later"
Natasha Bedingfield - "Stumble"
Charlotte Church - "Moodswings (to Come at Me Like That"

Youtube: "Speak for Myself" (ugh, accompanied to Zack and Cody content. I recommend you listen with your eyes closed.)

Do you see me, do you care?
You talk about me like I'm not there.
Don't get a word in when you're around.
I bet you don't know what I'm about.

'Cause I will, I will speak for myself
What you see isn't all I am
I need a place to stand
I will, I will speak for myself
There's so much you're missing
If you cared you'd listen

You suffocate me, you drown me out.
I'm tired of waiting without a doubt.
I feel I'm fading, I flicker out.
My heart is screaming without a sound

I'm not sorry for who I am
Take it or leave it
It's my time to take a stand
Throw it or keep it
Know that I don't mean to understand
Won't say it again

Song Analysis/Comments: This song contains the pained, pleading lyrics and the anguished, piercing voices that characterize much of Aly & AJ's best work ("Not This Year", "No One", etc.). The song has no immediately straightforward interpretation, other than that it's obviously a triumphant anthem to standing up for yourself. But as to who is keeping her down and whose grasp she is freeing herself from, I suppose there's no definitive answer, at least not one that I'm aware of. But that won't stop me from analyzing away!

OK, so where are we getting at with this song? First verse plays through pretty standard ignoring lyrics. She is not noticed, they don't care about her, they leave her on the outside (shades of Jordan Pruitt here, though it's worth mentioning this song predates "Outside Looking In" by a good year). And it obviously bugs them. Heck, when you care about somebody and want them to like you and you can't even get them to acknowledge that you exist, that rubs wrong. And the girls (believe it's AJ, but I could be wrong) sing it with just a heartbreakingly anguished and pinched tone to their voice. The very tone to her voice and inflections on the phrasing imply an intense pleading, as if they are pleading to be noticed. Then we go into the chorus, which is just one big kiss off of a "If you don't wanna notice me that's your own fault". Hey, their self esteem doesn't rest on what the popular people thing of them. They are their own girls, and they are gonna do their thing and screw anybody else who doesn't like them. Very triumphant thing to hear from the high school girls. Or, on the other hand, is it a triumphant kiss off to an inattentive boyfriend? I can speak for myself, and you don't really know me, and if you REALLY loved me, you'd want to get to know me.

The second verse plunges way deeper into the despair than the prior ones. It's so melancholy in fact, that it makes me doubt the certainty with which the chorus is presented. Really, she's "suffocating", her heart is "screaming without a sound"? I find the last line in this verse to be extremely fascinating, though I'm still not sure if it actually means anything. This very verse in fact, makes me doubt that it's an anti-bully sentiment, as it seems to be sung to a boyfriend who is treating her badly. That's an interpretation that I tend to reject because they don't seem to sing about relationships and love very frequently, but this really seems like a level of emotional pain that is beyond what we would typically expect from the schoolyard bullies. But on the other hand, it is still fairly consistent with that interpretation.

One way or another, in any event, the song is about getting yourself noticed in the fact of inattentiveness. And not getting yourself noticed by pretending to be somebody else, but of putting yourself out there, in the face of all who have done you wrong, and daring them to get to know the real you. Daring them to stare you down. Only, the air of anguish and of defeat permeates the entire song. The girls' voice just adds an extra layer of despair atop the whole thing that's almost crushing, even when it's triumphant. Even when they are kissing off their opressors, you never forget what they are standing up against. That they are standing up, but that they are still hurt. And that it's OK to let these people hurt you, as long as you are willing to do something about it. But just the decision to stand up for yourself doesn't take the despair away. That's what I think is really going on underneath this seemingly straightforward triumph here. This song is a perfect example of how the vocals can affect the interpretation of the lyrics.

What's the moral of the story here, after all that rambling nonsense: You need to stand up for yourself and never stop being yourself. But, standing up for yourself is hard, and the mere decision to do so doesn't take away all the pain people have caused you. But that's what makes it even more important to do so! This song makes me feel really bad for the girls. It makes me want to go out and slap whoever this song was written about.

Or is it just about trying to be religious in the face of a sinful world? Is it about being crushed and suffocated and ignored in the face of a world that glorifies sins such as violence and lust and turns its nose at the fundamentalists? In a nation where more than half of people say they are Christian but that turn their noses up at public Christian displays. Is it about being yourself, and rubbing it in the nose of that world, and triumphing over sin and not letting the world get what it wants. And I am gonna speak your mind and be myself, and if you only listened to me you would understand.

Aly & AJ's lyrics are constantly toeing the line between the religious and the secular and that is one of the things I find most fascinating about them. I mean, listen, I don't agree with any of the above sentiments, but I love the way that they have managed to integrate their evangelical Christianity into their lyrics without beating our head over them. These aren't explicitly Christian lyrics here, and they can't possibly be offensive to anybody, as they can just as easily be interpreted in a secular way. But if you listen to the song with that interpretation specifically in mind, it falls out pretty naturally, and I can't believe that's just a coincidence. And listen, again, just to make things perfectly clear here, I find their brand of evangelical Christianity (or at least what I know of it from their interviews, etc.) to be rather distateful, but at least they are being real. I get the impression from listening to Into the Rush that this album, this really is a document of Aly & AJ. A kind of sense I don't get from, say, Fall Out Boy or Hannah Montana or Paris Hilton or most pop stars. And if evangelical Christianity is clearly a part of who they are, then by gum, that's what I wanna hear.

Continuing on the above point, I've been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, and thinking about what it is exactly that draws me so heavily towards teen pop. I love pop music in general, and I love lots of different types of music, but lately it's the teen pop that's been drawing me in. And it's just the intense personal nature of it. I just get this despaired sense of real personal nature from Ashlee and from Jordan Pruitt and from Aly & AJ, like they are too young to know that you shouldn't really put yourself out on the record like that. And when I can listen to the album and really feel like I've gotten to know and love the singer/songwriters of that album, that to me is the height of the music listening experience. And I get that experience from lots of different genres, but I think teenpop is where I've found the most raw emotions, the most ebullient love and the most despairing sadness, and the most crushing loneliness, etc., etc. And you hear it all on Into the Rush: the high highs and the low lows (but, yeah, the low lows are presented a lot more convincingly than the high highs. The girls know how to pull off drama.) And you've got the explicitly relgious songs ("Protecting Me") and the explicitly secular songs ("Chemicals React") and the maybe religious, maybe secular songs (this song, "Rush"), and it all adds up to Aly & AJ. Or if it doesn't actually add up to who Aly & AJ really are, it all adds up to somebody and something, and who I love and identify with isn't really Aly & AJ but is "Aly & AJ", as an image they calculatedly present of themselves. Heck, I don't care. It's something.

The point being, of all this fractured prose, that there are a lot of different interpretations to this song, and I don't even know myself which one I'd lean towards. Is it an anti-bullying sentiment, or a kiss off to an inattentive boyfriend, or a song about remaining Christian in a secular world? It's all 3! I picked this song partly as an excuse to run that real emotions rant, but also to highlight a song with multiple interesting interpretations and to highlight a song where the vocal performance really adds to the lyrics.

Final Rating: A powerhouse vocal effort, truly anguished lyrics, and one heck of a catchy melody make this my favorite album track off of their debut effort and one of my top 5 favorite Aly & AJ songs overall ("Not This Year" --> "Rush" --> "Greatest Time of Year" --> This song --> "Chemicals React"). 8.5/10.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

American Idol Top 7 - Country Night

Well, readers, it's definitely been a while since I last chimed in on my thoughts about American Idol and with this being country week it seemed like the perfect opportunity. As always, I am making a concerted effort to get this all written down before I hear the judges comments, to avoid tainting. So awaaaay we go:

1. Phil Stacey - "Where the Blacktop Ends" (Keith Urban)
Comments: Phil still has a real nice tone to his voice, but this is pretty boring. He's got no life to this performance at all and seems incapable of injecting emotion to his performances. Martina was right, this sounds way too practiced and deliberate. He needs to let loose a little bit. He left out the soulful lick that Martina liked so much! It was a decent performance, but it sure wasn't anything great. Randy comes in with crazy over-praise. "You seem to be best in country" <-- They are quite clearly trying to shoehorn somebody into releasing a country album post-Idol, given the success Idol has had in that genre. Really surprised by the judge's reaction to this.
Phil's Performance in 7 Words: Nice Tone, Stiff, Bland, Decent, Ultimately Forgettable

2. Jordin Sparks - "Broken Wing" (Martina McBride)
Comments: This is not one of my favorite Martina McBride songs, but it sure is a singer's song, and Jordin seems kinda countryish, so let's see how she does with it. Jordan hilariously dwarfs Martina McBride. The low register on this isn't really doing it for me that much. I'm starting to realize that Jordin really doesn't have the chops that some of the better singers do, no matter how much emotion she sings with and how awesome her personality is. That being said, she's injecting a really nice heartbreaking twang into the chorus here, though her voice is going a bit out of control. Really nice glory note at the end there, but this was another relatively weak performance from Jordin. By which I mean not as good as her best, but I liked it. She's good at injection emotion into songs and interpreting them. Crazy overpraise from all three judges again, I have no idea what's going on this week.
Jordin's Performance in 7 Words: Emotional, Weak Verse, Good, She's Been Better

3. Sanjaya Malakar - "Something to Talk About" (Bonnie Raitt)
Comments: Rockin' the Willie Nelson bandana. Back to the old Sanjaya of nice tone to his voice but really, really boring performance! His voice is way, way too weak for this song, and there's really no singing required for it. This is really bad, it reminds me of what everybody hates about Sanjaya in the first place, after a few straight weeks of taking 100% of the media heat after being better than Phil and Haley. He seemed to go off tune there and didn't have half enough attitude to pull it off. Judges all hated the performance correctly. Simon: "Utterly horrendous", absolutely correct. This was an extremely bad performance, from a vocal performance maybe Sanjaya's worst (and not even in an entertaining way!).
Sanjaya's Performance in 7 Words: Boring, Boring, Boring, Boring, Boring, Utterly Horrendous

4. LaKisha Jones - "Jesus Take the Wheel" (Carrie Underwood)
Comments: A bit dangerous, of course, doing a Carrie Underwood song, but I really love this song. I know it takes a lot of heat from the intelligentsia, and I think most "intelligent" music critics hate it but I think it's great. She's playing this pretty much straight and with nothing but pure class here. She's applying the amount of drama you need to sell this song. The only problem is, I'm not sure how much I like the soul licks she's injecting into the chorus here, and then she's glory noting it to all get out at the end here. She is singing a soul ballad atop country instrumentation here. It was rather screechy in the chorus, but at least she sold the emotion. Way better than "Conga" at least. Judges pan it probably excessively, but I kind of agree, the glory noting clashed completely with the country instruments. We all know I'm a Simon hata, but I agreed with Simon 100% here. He is so on the money here that I am shocked.
LaKisha's Performance in 7 Words: Screechy, Shouty, Incongruous, High Emotion, Below Par

5. Chris Richardson - "Mayberry" (Rascal Flatts)
Comments: Lots of people hate Chris' nasally and thin voice, but I think he ("Smooth" aside) is OK. He's picked a really good song here where nasally and thin are actually kind of a good thing for the song here. He's piercing up in those high notes and it's putting a bit of emotion here. I even really like the runs and soul licks he's put in here. 'Twas a bit boring and forgettable, but I actually one of Chris's best performances yet. Randy says he lacked emotion, which is true, but since he never shows any emotion during his singing at all I don't see why they chose this week to nail him for it. Simon criticizes him for being nasally, tinny, and nondescript, which he also always is. This was a really unfair judge's reaction here.
Chris' Performance in 7 Words: Somewhat Bland, Nasally, Nice Tone, Above Average

6. Melinda Doolittle - "Trouble Is a Woman" (Julie Reeves)
Comments: I don't even know what to say about Melinda Doolittle at this point, but I'll give it the ol college try. She's doing a really upbeat, and actually fairly trad country song here. Give credit where credit is due: This song is from 1999, and sounds like a contemporary song. Like always, she's got extremely proficient technical chops here and she's doing really interesting things with the phrasing. And she's doing it with a style of music and singing that I actually CARE about! Further credit: Unlike LaKisha, she's actually adapted her singing to match the song here, rather than trying to shoehorn her singing on top of a song where it doesn't fit. This was incredible. By a huge margin the best of the night, and possibly my favorite Melinda Doolittle performance. Judge's are giving it super praise and she really deserves it this week. Simon tells Melinda to drop the humility after directly feeding it for 10 weeks in a row. Screw you Simon.
Melinda's Performance in 7 Words: Proficient, Fun, Interesting, Best Of The Night

7. Blake Lewis - "When the Stars Go Blue" (Tim McGraw/Ryan Adams)
Comments: I've been looking forward to this, because I think Blake is actually his best when he is being forced to reign himself in, as he will this week. He's playing this completely straight so far, and oh my he has a pretty falsetto. Wow, I never noticed that before. When he's not jumping around the stage like an idiot and trying to comtemporize and old song and Blakify the vocals, he's got a really pretty voice. He still has trouble capturing the emotions of the songs, but this is really pretty, and the song has enough natural emotion in the lyrics and melody that it carry through and wash over the performance with no effort from Blake at all. This was a really smart song choice. I thought this was a good performance. I like country night here, this was one of Blake's better performances.
Blake's Performance in 7 Words: Inessential, Pretty, Good Song Choice, Above Average

1. Melinda
2. Blake
3. Chris
4. Jordin
5. Phil
6. LaKisha
7. Sanjaya

I predict that many will call this a weak episode, but this was my favorite non-Leslie Hunt (screw you America, I still haven't forgotten!) featuring episode of the season. Peace out folks!

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Album Review: Martina McBride - Waking Up Laughing

I have been extraordinarily busy over the last 4 - 6 weeks which explains the lack of posting, and will continue to be over the next 2 weeks. Then it'll be back to normal, at least for the next four or five months before it starts back up again. Ah, the joys of being an actuary. As any writer/blogger knows, inertia takes over, wherein the less you write the much more difficult it is to start writing up again and the more you write the more good ideas you get. I continue to post on the Rolling Teenpop thread and ILX American Idol threads though. Anyways, I will post a review of the new Hilary Duff eventually, no matter how ridiculously late it will end up being. I haven't even had the time to really absorb it yet, much less think about what I will write for a review.

I have had time to more or less absorb the new Martina McBride and think it's pretty mediocre, apart from a few tracks.

The album starts out on a rocking note with "If I Had Your Name", which rocks and is a nice kiss off song, so who cares if the lyrics don't really make too much sense. But the whole album from there veers off into trite, treacly, unoriginal country melodies that are often pleasant and pretty but also not groundbreaking (not that we expected this out of Ms. McBride). "Independence Day" aside, Martina is at her best when she is light and flighty. When she gives into the fun and cheese entirely and screws originality lets loose an MOR country masterpiece like "This One's for the Girls" or "When God Fearin' Women Get the Blues". She does a great job seeming self-assured on songs like those, but the lyrics and melodies here veer into the overly sentimental which prevents her from really breaking out. Of particular note is "How I Feel" which is, I think, one of the worst country songs I've heard all year, and "Anyways" (the lead single) which is trite sentimental religious garbage, and I can't decide if that makes it better or worse than the secular kind. The problem is, that sentimental, unoriginal garbage is what sells, which is why, I've noticed, the singles released off country albums are often among the very worst tracks on those albums (see Montgomery Gentry - "Lucky Man" and Rodney Atkins - "Watching You"). Which is one of the main reasons modern country gets such an awful name.

She does let loose, musically at least, on "Beautiful Again" which is kinda brilliant, a bouncy-as-hell little country number that sounds like a throwaway song about dancing with your baby or something. But it is an extremely dark story about somebody whose parents abandon her, is molested by her uncle, gets pregnant young and loses her boyfriend, but the world goes on and gets beautiful again! Uh, only so that something else crappy can happen again, but whatever. It's got a really great bouncy and catchy melody and I kind of like songs that completely mess with your expectations like that. I think that it can actually afford greater lyrical punch to the song. The key comparison here is, I suppose, "Independence Day" (I hate to keep going back to this, but it is the highlight of her career and one of the major highlights of modern country). It's a big sad song, and it comes out blasting with a massive melody and music that instantly convey importance, which is what helps it to convey most of its pathos. Compare a song like "Beautiful Again", where you can just get washed away in it and forget what's going on. When you do take the time to pay attention to it, however, the stark contrast of the music provides a nice counterpoint for the lyrics that help it from all getting too much, just going too far off in one direction. It's a very hard line to travel and just because "Independence Day" travels it completely brilliantly doesn't mean it's always the way to go. I guess there's little hope a song like this will be released as a single, but if by chance it is it will be one of my top 10 country singles of the year.

This is a very unoriginal set by Martina here but it's a pleasant one too, so I kind of have two minds about it. Listening to it for a while at a time gets to be a real chore because the whole thing is just so trite and unoriginal that it really bears down on you. But on the other hand it's a pretty good collection of songs, Martina McBride can still knock em out of the park, and it's generally very pretty all throughout. I can't think of a single reason to recommend this album over several other, superior ones but if you are a big fan of this type of music you will like this one. And if, like me, you are a moderate fan of the genre, I suspect you will find that it's a perfectly pleasant listen, but fairly forgettable and nothing that demands special attention. Well, that's how I feel about it anyways. C+.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Random Notes

This is a Cure For Bedbugs homage post, it contains stuff that doesn't need its own post:

1) NEW KELLY CLARKSON NEW KELLY CLARKSON NEW KELLY CLARKSON!!! Yes, that's right readers, my current favorite musical artist, Kelly Clarkson, has released the debut single from her new album, titled "Never Again" (one question, anybody know the songwriting credits on this?). Thoughts: the normal kind of rockin, liberated, breakup lyrics we've come to expect from Kelly, but this is lyrically below some of the stuff on Breakaway (say "Behind These Hazel Eyes" or "Hear Me"), because it covers really familiar ground here. Unlike Breakaway, she's not tearing herself out of a co-dependent hole here, she just hates her ex's trophy wife. From a musical standpoint, the chorus is, I hate to say it, a bit comparatively weak. It could stand a bit more punch and power, though it is catchy. The verses are amazing though and I will be shocked if 2007 produces a better musical moment than the incredible bridge. After a few listens, my initial impression is that this is right up there with "Babies" for my favorite single of the year so far. This will presumably be huge and if rock stations had any brains in their heads they'd be playing the heck out of it. It fits on them more than it fits on top 40. Cannot wait to hear the rest of the album. [9/10 or so is my initial gut reaction.]

2) I guess it's been out for a while, but this is my first listen to "Me and My Imagination" by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, whose "Catch You" I previously loved. Much more disco than that previous effort, and it lacks the originality of the hook, but it's another great single by her. Initial reaction is that it is at least almost as good as "Catch You". One of my 10 favorite singles of the year to this point.

3) Now this is REALLY treading on C4B's terrain here, but this article on The Onion AV Club really pissed me off. MULTIPLE CHOICE TRIVIA TIME: Which is the most heinous assumption in this article: a) worthwhile, good popular music is only created by formerly indie artists, b) more recent fans of a band are inherently less worthy than longtime fans of the same band, c) the fact that a song was once covered on American Idol reduces the artistic merit of that song, d) it is a good and desirable thing to make blanket, overarching statements about the characteristics about all the fans of an obscure band, e) music likers listen to popular music, music LOVERS listen to obscure music.

That's right readers, the most heinous assumption is, in fact, e). Listen, I don't wanna pick on Steve Hyden, he makes some good points in the article and by all means seems to be a genuine guy. He brings up an interesting topic of debate. But assumption e) is one that underlies a lot of music writing that I've seen, and as a MUSIC LOVER who also loves pop music more than indie music I'm starting to get danged sick of it. Listen, I spend a lot of time thinking about music. I spend as much or more time seeking out new music now than I did back when I WAS indie. I think there's probably a slight positive correlation in the mass appeal of a song and its quality. I'm willing to bet I was as excited about the release of new Kelly Clarkson music as most people are about release of any music. I pay attention to lyrics, and love songs or hate songs based on their lyrics. Yes, I am a pop music lover and I wish people would stop implying that that makes me a lesser music fan, or that I achieve less emotional connection to music, than a fan of obscure music. Thanks a lot.

Why does it have to be about the social implications of what you like? Why can't it just be about the music? I could clearly and succinctly explain what it is I love about Hilary Duff or Kelly Clarkson or Fall Out Boy and why I think they are better than The Fiery Furnaces or Modest Mouse or whoever. I could explain why I think "Everywhere" is the best song of the 00's. Does this make me a worse person? Clearly, I have extremely selfish reasons to rebel against the social implications of liking certain music ("You like teenpop and the Disney Channel and Hilary Duff? You pedophile!"), but it is something that really bugs me.

4) OK, just 3 points today I guess. Haven't been watching much TV lately and no movies at all, so that's why I haven't posted on them in a while. Still anticipating new Unfabulous which has been pushed back about a million times now and it makes my blood angry to even think about it.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Nostalgia/They're All Gonna Laugh at You

I wanted to liveblog the Kid's Choice Awards, but I was out of town while they were going on...

In this new and hopefully ongoing series, I will pick one song, album, tv show, movie, whatever to review. But rather than do a straight review of it, I will use that document to launch into a general discourse about reviewing and how I evaluate things. Hopefully it will give some insight into the way I think about this kind of stuff. Anyways, I know it'll be interesting and fun for me to write out, and I hope you guys enjoy it too. As always, feel free to let me know.

The debut installment is about nostaliga, and the work in question is They're All Gonna Laugh at You by Adam Sandler. Just so that you know, two other installments I've basically planned out are Cultural Signifigance/"Macarena" and Musical Autobiography/"Behind These Hazel Eyes". Contingent on how this one turns out, of course. Enjoy.

Nostalgia/They're All Gonna Laugh at You

I hate Adam Sandler. I've seen almost every movie he's ever been in, and I hated every single one of them (oddly enough, one of the few I haven't seen, Punch Drunk Love, is the only one I had a fighting shot of enjoying) (Wedding Singer was OK). I hate his schtick on Saturday Night Live, and not only do I not find him funny, I abhor the very style of comedy that he exemplifies. That kind of silly, lowbrow, frat boy humor that seems to live on forever. But yet, I'd be lying if I said that They're All Gonna Laugh at You wasn't one of my favorite comedy albums of all time.

The album was released in 1993, and so it thus predates nearly the entirety of his film career, though not his Saturday Night Live career. But there's no real tangible differences in the style of humor between this and the rest of his work. So why is it that characters like "The Buffoon" manage to crack me up time and time again with such witty, well-written exchanges as:
Buffoon: I fed my snake beer once. He was slithering this way and that. It was all **'ed up [editor note: Family blog and all]
Admissions Advisor: Well, we discourage excessive drinking here, among both our students and pets.
Buffoon: F***'ing ****
Admissions Advisor: Yes, that's not an uncommon reaction to this policy.
His silly and annoying character, The Buffoon, appears in several skits all throughout the CD, and remains vaguely annoying but funny throughout. As I look down the tracklist, most of the skits are either just stupid ("Right Field", "The Beating of...", "Buddy") or overlong ("I'm So Wasted", "Toll Booth Willie") or both ("The Longest Pee"). But they make me laugh, even most of the ones I just listed. And at some point, I'm forced to ask myself to what extent this love comes from nostalgia as opposed to actual quality, whether it's possible to separate these two, and indeed whether as a reviewer I should even be trying to separate these out.

My older brother bought this album right when it came out. I was 11 and he was 13. And we would go into the basement and play video games, and put this on the stereo and laugh our heads off. And when we thought we heard our mom coming, we would turn it down real low so she wouldn't hear it. She wouldn't have approved of all the swearing, you see, and would surely have confiscated it if she know of it. And we'd listen to passing motorists telling Toll Booth Willie to go f himself, and listen to crazy moms tell their kids that they would all be laughed at and the assistant principal telling cheerleaders that they were required to shower in his office and janitors singing songs about mops and we would just laugh and laugh. Shortly after this, he got his friends and I got mine and we went our separate ways. We are still friendly with each other, but it's nothing like it was then. It can't ever be.

My younger brother and I found this album stored away somewhere in my parents house and immediately put it on. I was immediately flooded with a rush of happy memories. There I was listening to it, and I was 11 years old, and I was turning down the volume because I heard footsteps. I found funny voices and swearing to be the height of comedy. I was still best of friends with my older brother and we were playing Mario Kart and just having a blast. But not only that, I was amazed at how well some of the jokes held up. Even if the skits go on too long or have stupid premises, most of them have funny lines scattered here and there. Oh, and "At a Medium Pace" is kinda brilliant. But where's the line behind "actually funny" and "11 year old Greg funny"? I've listened to the album a few times again since then and I'm not close to knowing yet.

To what extent is nostaliga a positive or negative force though? Fred Bronson has said in his column several times that a person's favorite song of all time tends to have been released when that person was around 13 years old. That rush you feel the first time you hear a song that kicks your ass, the first time you are blown away by how great a song is, it cannot be replicated. My favorite song was released when I was 16/17. Close enough. I went through a long period, in college mostly, where I was pretty much crusading against nostaliga. I hated it. Things should be enjoyed on their own merits, not hazy memories!!! Plus it implies some kind of "things were better back then" kind of viewpoint that I find distasteful. I've backed off that stance considerably since then, but I still can't, for example, watch those BS VH1 nostalgia shows.

So the question is, how much DOES nostalgia impact my enjoyment of music? I mostly listen to current or relatively current music, so not too much, really. But I still have a real soft spot for the pop music of 1996-2000, when I was in high school.

Still, as a reviewer, I always feel the need to strip away nostalgia and context and everything else to just focus on the work itself. It's an instinct that goes against everything I like, since the reviewers who inject the most of their own personality and opinions into their works are the ones who I tend to enjoy most, but it's something I work against. Is there a duty to attempt objectivity on the part of a reviewer? There's certainly a responsibility to give everything a fair shake. A responsibility that I think most reviewers avoid (see my post on romantic comedies or Raise Your Voice). But, I tend to think that as long as a person does a good job of explaining what the work is like, and does a good job of explaining specifically why they enjoy it or not they've done their job. That's basically my philosophy with reviewing things. And there's not a whole lot of room for nostalgia there.

So it's a bit ironic (hypocritical?) that as a reviewer I'm trying to put all of myself and all of my taste out there but I try to strip away all nostalgia from my reviews and thoughts, when it makes up part of my listening habits. But this is what I think of it, after all this: I think people are too quick to attribute things they genuinely enjoy to nostalgia. This was a classic game when I was indie. "Pop music, no I hate that. I only like 'Steal My Sunshine' due to nostalgia!" I think when it comes to pop, there's an unreasonable need to try to justify your tastes, and nostalgia makes an easy scapegoat. I think it's an easy, bullcrap out when people don't want to admit to themselves they really like something or don't wanna examine why they really like something (I say "they" here and later, but this includes myself a lot of times). But I think it's harkening back to a different day in your youth. Music critics are jaded. I've heard thousands and thousands of songs, heard many I love and many I don't. I've almost become inured to the feeling of really loving something. I think people want to go back to the days when they were easier to impress. When music was just about love and enjoyment and not "Oh this is derivative crap, blah blah blah". It's their inner poptimist coming out! Attributing all this to "Oh, it's just nostalgia" is sidestepping the issue and is shortchanging the work.

So screw it, They're All Gonna Laugh at You is an album I loved when I was 11. Maybe though the years, it's become harder and harder to make me laugh. Maybe I've become too critical of comedy. I don't know. This album throws away all my guards and just lets me be silly and laugh. It's a great album, nostalgia be damned.


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