Saturday, August 25, 2007

Used CD Store Haul

Went to the local used CD store for the first time today (I had never noticed it before, tho it's only 5 minutes from my apartment!!!) and had a nice little haul. All albums I had never heard in their entirety before. Below is a list, the used price, and initial comments. Following the albums is a list of albums that were on sale which I could have bought. Let me know what seems worth it! The initial comments are very initial, I reserve the right to change my mind at any future time.

1. Sheryl Crow - Tuesday Night Music Club
Used Price: $5.99
Initial Comments: Considering how Sheryl Crow and The Globe Sessions are two of my favorite albums of the 90's, and that I enjoy the singles I've heard off this album, it's kinda weird that I've never heard this album. I've always heard that it's worse than those two and I guess I just could never get up the interest to actually go out and get it. "Leaving Las Vegas" is a classic, every bit as good as "My Favorite Mistake" and "If It Makes You Happy" and all her other great ones. And I guess the overplaying had just made me forget that "All I Wanna Do" is really a good song! But this album isn't just about "All I Wanna Do" and "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Strong Enough", it's filled with lots of great down-tempo acoustic numbers. There's a little musical bounciness here and there, but it's a mostly somber effort throughout. Not quite as good as The Globe Sessions, which this album clearly resembles, but it sounds pretty good on first listen. Initial listens revealed no standout tracks beyond those three hit singles, which means they did a good job picking singles out ("Can't Cry Anymore" is probably my favorite of the rest).

2. Fefe Dobson - Fefe Dobson
Used Price: $4.99
Initial Comments: I only ever heard "Unforgiven", which some people love but I never cared for too much. But I figured at 5 bucks it's probably worth at least giving it a check-over. A nice little teenpop-punk effort, with crunchy guitars throughout, though the up-tempo numbers are balanced out by a lot of ballads. The guitars have plenty of power, and these aren't bad songs, but none of the songs really grabbed me. "Rock It Till You Drop It" was particularly bad. Actually, I really liked "Stupid Little Love Song", I wish the rest of the songs had that kind of energy, but there are just too many ballads here, and few stand out ("Julia" is pretty and pleasantly Meg and Dia-ish). I'll give it another try or two, but I'm not too impressed by my first listen.

3. Shooter Jennings - Put the 'O' Back in Country
Used Price: $7.99
Initial Comments: The most expensive album I bought, and the only one in which I had not heard any of the tracks, but Rolling Country Thread raves convinced me to get it. I was really surprised to see this priced so much more expensive than the other stuff (3 bucks more than Come on Over for example, though it probably sold less than 1/10 the copies). I guess this had a bit more "hip" cred and is a bit tougher to find, so it can fetch a little more used. This is some cooking old school country rock! The most raves here were reserved for the single "4th of July" and man is that a great one. My initial reaction is that it's one of my favorite country singles of this decade. But this is really solid country rock throughout. I could have sworn listening to this that Shooter was some real old-timer, some 50 year old who'd been around since the 70's, but, no, this was just his debut album. This and pretty acoustic female are my favorite types of modern country and is it as good as Montgomery Gentry or Horse of a Different Color or Toby Keith at his best or etc., etc.? Okay, it isn't, but it's good enough as is, and right there with Eric Church in that second tier of good modern country-rock. Even though I expected to love "4th of July" based on the raves, I was surprised by how much I liked the album as a whole.

4. Lush - Lovelife
Used Price: $5.99
Initial Comments: Britpop, of which I've only heard "Ciao!", but figured it might be worth it to check out the rest. They didn't have any Pulp or Blur, otherwise I might have been tempted to go elsewhere for my Britpop, but I'm glad I heard this, even if I probably won't play it a ton in the future. It drones and drones and drones and it all kinda starts to blend together, but it's got nicely poppy melodies, and I really dig the groove, and it'll be perfect for when I'm in the mood for this type of album. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that if you had played me 4 years ago in my indie phase I would have positively eaten up, but I'm mostly tired of this music now. Every once in a while I get in an indie mood still though, so this can remain a guilty pleasure. "Ciao!" breaks up the monotony with a bang in the middle (and it still sounds great to me), but it's not remotely representative of the rest of the album. "Ladykillers" sounds particularly good.

5. The Veronicas - The Secret Life of...
Used Price: $4.99
Initial Comments: I love "4ever" but never bothered to check out the album since everybody was saying that the album itself was pretty mediocre. I mean it's got the two Martin/Luke songs, and it's got "When It All Falls Apart", but there's no real reason to listen to this all the way through. It's pretty boring. But, because I bought the album, I just now realized that "When It All Falls Apart" is a Steinberg/Alexander song, like "Too Little, Too Late" and McPhee's "Over It"! I should have realized, since it perfectly taps into that same kind of area that those two do. And it's a genuinely great song, as is "4ever", but there just are not enough highlights here to really justify a full value purchase. But it was a solid five dollar purchase. Like the Fefe Dobson album I like the album in theory more than I like the album actually.

6. Skye Sweetnam - Noise from the Basement
Used Price: $2.99 (!)
Initial Comments: Yes, sorry Dave Bedbug, until today I had never actually heard this album in full. Kinda weird that it was priced so much lower (percentage-wise) than the Fefe and the Veronicas ones, but I'm not complaining. While I'm not quite in the Skye fan nation like Dave, I do have to agree that this was far better than the similar Fefe and Veronicas albums. I still there's nothing on here which touches Avril at her best, but it's an enjoyable listen and, similar to the Shooter album above, it's solidly in that second tier of 00's teenpop. And there's nothing wrong with that. Initial rating is like an 8, and it could have gotten up over that "classic" hump if it had more memorable tunes or if it was less same-y sounding. First listen favorite is "Hypocrite". "Billy S" was a terrible choice as a single.

7. Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind
Used Price: $4.99
Initial Comments: I actually already knew 6 songs on here (out of 14) making it the album in this haul that I knew the most of already. So many great hooks on here that the album really should be better than it is, but it' s still pretty good and the singles are classic. Probably my favorite of the popular 90's alt rock albums, unless Sheryl Crow counts. Pretty much every song on here has a great hook on it, which is why it's kind of a shame that the songs themselves aren't all so great. I mean, like "Narcolepsy" has a great hook and all, but why do we need to take 1 and a half really boring minutes to get to it? And "Jumper" is a 10/10 chorus surrounded by a like 6/10 song. But there's still an awful lot of good stuff on here and this is probably like an 8/10 album or so (though "Side 1" is way way better than "Side 2"). "Semi-Charmed Life" is still a classic, and "Losing a Whole Year", "Graduate", "How's It Gonna Be" and a couple others are very very good.

I also bought Penguin, Heroes are Hard to Find, and Rumours, all by Fleetwood Mac. The first two I haven't heard and do not have high hopes for, but I've never heard any pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood, other than "Albatross", and I've always wanted to see how it sounds. As for Rumours, what can anybody even say about it at this point? The main criticism I can think of is that it's only arguably the best pop album of all time and not definitely the best pop album of all time.

Total price was $52, including tax, which I'm pretty happy about.


Ace of Base - The Sign ($1.99)
Roxette - Joyride ($5.99)
Britney Spears - ...Baby One More Time ($2.99)
George Michael - Faith ($5.99)
Deana Carter - Did I Shave My Legs For This? ($5.99)
Amy Grant - The Christmas Album ($4.99)

They also had nearly every Everything But The Girl and Pet Shop Boys albums there, for no more than 6 dollars an album.

They had a ton of 90's and early 00's popular country albums there if anybody has any particular suggestions I can see if they have it.

Any opinions on the above are welcomed, via comments or email.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

High School Musical 2

A day or 2 later than I hoped to report on this, but I surmise that by now nobody's come to expect timely, relevant content from this blog. Be warned that, as always on this site, the review contains spoilers.

High School Musical 2

High School Musical 2 was on the whole, as expected, a pretty big dropoff from the original movie. It was gonna be difficult to capture the kind of quirky, infectious charm the original film had, but there were several missteps along the way that impeded it here.

First and foremost there was way too much Sharpay and entirely not enough Gabriella. Tellingly, Gabriella's solo number "Gotta Go My Own Way" was in my opinion the best song in the film while Sharpa's solo number "Fabulous" was, in my opinion, by far the worst. Ashely Tisdale can't REALLY be faulted here cause she plays it the same she played it in the original HSM but over the course of a full move it really starts to grate. She really needed to tone it down given the greatly increased scope of the role. And what was with the lack of Gabriella? I would liked to have seen more scenes showing her pain of losing Troy and even some more scenes with her and Troy together, though I realize that the mechanics of the plot complicate this somewhat.

On that note, I thought everybody in the movie was being very unfair to Troy. The basic message of this movie is, what, don't forget your friends? Success means nothing if you have to step on your friends to get there? But, come on, Troy was being heavily recruited by what was, apparently, an excellent college basketball program. His teammates should have been incredibly stoked for him. But they were mad that he ditched their 2 on 2 game and mad that he didn't invite them to the college practice. A real friend would have been thrilled for Troy there, and I was shocked that when Troy and Chad reunited at the end this wasn't addressed. I thought that Chad was being very unfair to Troy and I really feel it was sending the wrong message. Friends should be supportive of each other! Similarly, he was offered a nice, cushy job. What was he supposed to do, turn it down to keep working with his friends? I'm sorry, that's not the way the world works and I highly doubt any of his friends would not have taken the same route he did. Gabriella did, indeed have legitimate beefs with him. He stood her up twice and ditched her in the talent show to sing with Sharpay. Though those are bad indeed, I wish the movie had better acknowledged the incredibly awkward and uncomfortable position Sharpay had put him in.

I guess my main problem, as highlighted by that previous paragraph, is that they didn't devote enough time to the mechanics of the plot. Everything had to be super rushed along so they had more time for Sharpay and non-story advancing songs, which meant the character motivations made no sense. I mean, they basically just said that Troy was being a jerk to his team, so I have to take their word for it, but the facts I saw on the screen did not support it. And, hmm, Ryan doesn't have a song and neither does Chad. I know, I'll give them a completely random duet. I know it's difficult to manage a cast of this size, but everything seemed oddly patched together and it seemed like they were straining to allocate enough time to the supporting roles.

The ending of the movie was genuinely emotional and uplifting, and I can't take that away. It was what it was. However, it was very rushed and I feel like the movie didn't "earn" it. There was no motivation or justification for Troy and Gabriella getting back together. All it would have taken would have been one scene with Gabriella, where she realizes she really loves Troy after all and blah, blah, blah. And the Sharpay redemption arc came out of nowhere entirely. And, wait a minute, wasn't there a Sharpay redemption arc which came out of nowhere entirely in the first movie too? A little continuity please? After acting like an irredemable jerk for the whole movie, there was absolutely no reason to believe she was going to turn around and start being nice. Absurdity! The problem is that the movie starts so absurdly slow that the ending redemption stuff has to be super rushed. About 45 minutes into the movie I was convinced this movie was a horrible bomb. The movie got much better as it goes along, but it took so long to get chugging that I wish they had cut a bunch of stuff off there and dedicated it to the redemption stuff at the end, which may well have allowed it to pack even more punch.

What bugs me, is that I think there might be a really nice message to make with a similar movie. The end of high school, planning for your future, all while trying to still have fun with your current friends and your current life. Planning a future completely separate from the life you've known and which may well tear you from your friends. It is a very scary and difficult time, and requires a tricky trade-off. I wish they had explored that more. Additionally, the idea that success comes at a price and success isn't worth it if you lose your friends and life along the way is a truly winning theme. I mean, lots of other movies use it, but it's a great theme in itself and I always like to see it showing up. I just don't think they displayed it well enough by what was happening onscreen.

All of this is not to say that this was a bad movie or that I did not enjoy it. I realize this post has been excessively negative, but there were several things to like about the movie. Ryan & Sharpay's parents were a hoot and I found them very funny. Lucas Grabeel as Ryan Evans was a particular highlight again. In fact, all of the actors and actresses in the movie, excepting Ashley Tisdale (and I still think it's mostly the writers at fault there) are skilled and do a nice job with the roles. They all have a winning charm, particularly Zac and Vanessa. The ending WAS emotional and a pleasure to watch. And, of course, the singing and dancing.

So what about the songs, which is the main reason to watch the movie in the first place? I though that on the whole the music was very fun, and about on par with the music of the first movie. "Gotta Go My Own Way", "Bet on It" (what an awful and bizarre dance sequence though!), "Everyday", and "You Are the Music in Me" were genuinely good songs. "You Are the Music in Me" and "Everyday" were written by Jamie Houston, who wrote "Breaking Free" in the first movie and has generally been hit and miss throughout his career. For example, apart from the High School Musical success, he has "Amigas Cheetas", a particularly mediocre Cheetas song, "Vertical", a mediocre Corbin Bleu song, and several mediocre Vanessa Ann Hudgens songs. But he knocks it out the park here. "Bet On It" was written by Antonina Armato and Tim James, who co-wrote half of the excellent Aly & AJ album and produced the whole thing, co-wrote many of the good Miley/Hannah season 2 tracks including "See You Again", and have generally owned music in 2007. What an outstanding year for them.

Final Review/Comments: The movie started out really, really slow but picked it up a lot at the end. Despite my many problems with it, the movie was better than I expected and I really enjoyed it, in no small part due to the music and dancing. On the whole it was definitely not as good as High School Musical but it was definitely worth a viewing and comes with my recommendation, contingent that you aren't expecting some kind of transcendent masterpiece. B MINUS.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Album Review: Hannah Montana 2/Meet Miley Cyrus

Really belated review of the new Hannah Montana soundtrack, but better late than never. Or so they say.

The new Hannah Montana soundtrack features two different disks, one of which is by "Hannah Montana" and the other is by "Miley Cyrus". From a musical standpoint, there's not too much of a difference, but from a lyrical standpoint, the first disk consists primarily of lyrics very similar to the first soundtrack: songs that directly reference the show/character, inspirational stuff, etc. Disk 2 seems to have lyrics that are more typical of a teen pop album of this era: boys, breakups, etc. But what they both have in common is their maddening inconsistency. Disney, for the life of them, just cannot seem to develop a whole album's worth of good songs for Hannah. In this case, going with the two disk format was probably a mistake, as a really solid album could be made from the highlights of the two disks.

The main problem with the Hannah Montana disk is the proliferation of really boring ballads that go nowhere ("Make Some Noise", "True Friend") and boring rock songs that go nowhere ("You and Me Together", "Bigger Than Us") and boring R&B songs that go nowhere ("Old Blue Jeans"). Three of the four Radio Disney focus songs to this point (namely "Nobody's Perfect", "We Got The Party", and "Life's What You Make It") are actually quite good songs, somewhat surprisingly. "Nobody's Perfect" is a song that I really disliked originally, but which repeated RD exposure has brought me around on. I really like it now! And "We Got the Party" is just such a fun little reggae rock song. Additionally, "One in a Million" is a really pretty ballad that I like a lot, and "Rock Star", though not quite as good as it could be, is still a good little song. Still, that's a hit rate of 5/10, which is not particularly impressive.

Meet Miley Cyrus opens with a bang, as the first two songs on the album are the 2 best songs on the entire 2-cd album. The opening track is "See You Again" and my God it's amazing. When was it released, 1986? It's got such an awesome retro sound and melody and great lyrics too! The album segues from that to "East Northumberland High", another really catchy number. "ENH" has really great teen lyrics and a fun melody. Unfortunately, it all noodles into pretty boring teen dance stuff and ballads after that, and it's off to snooze-land. There's a bit of interesting musical choices, like the latin tinge to "Let's Dance", but for the most part the melodies aren't too catchy and the sugar rush overload production is a bit too much and gets annoying. Which isn't too say the whole rest of the album is bad: "Right Here" is a good song, so is "Start All Over", just that it all tends to blend together and that it's tough to listen to in long stretches.

Inspired by Dave Moore Here's a one album condensation that might actually make an enjoyable listening experience:

Hannah Montana 2
1. "We Got The Party"
2. "Nobody's Perfect"
3. "Rock Star"
4. "Life's What You Make It"
5. "One in a Million"

Meet Miley Cyrus
6. "See You Again"
7. "East Northumberland High"
8. "Right Here"
9. "Start All Over"
10. "I Miss You"

As it stands, though the highlights are as high as any album released this year, I cannot imagine listening to this whole thing in one go, and I can't in good conscience rate an album like that highly. C+. (The one disk condensation would be like a B+ or something). But you have to at least listen to "See You Again", which is probably the best song the Diz machinery will ever produce. There's a pretty good chance it will end up my single of the year (I like both it and "Shut Up And Drive" better than "Sweet Temptation (Hollow)", my single of the year for 2006).

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Number Ones

My dad asked me to make him a CD of my all time favorite Billboard Hot 100 Number 1 singles for his birthday. I thought I'd post the tracklist here, with a touch of commentary. Note that the list skews pretty old because, well, I'm making it for my dad. If I were just listing my true favorites I'd probably swap out a least 3 or 4 of those 60s/70s tracks for 90s and 00s ones ("In Da Club", "Genie In A Bottle", and "Get Busy" seem promising).

1. Tennessee Ernie Ford - "Sixteen Tons" (1955): A great working class song and country classic. Really ahead of its time and it still sounds great today.

2. Domenico Modugno - "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)" (1956): A really pretty melody and unlike a lot of the great 50's pop classics this one isn't killed by cheesy production. It maintains a nicely understated musical backing and just lets Domenico let fly with that great melody.

3. The Shirelles - "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" (1961): Another track a bit ahead of its time. Not included here because of any influence or anything, I just love the melody and the lyrics. I like the desperate neediness a lot, it really comes through in both the lyrics and the vocals. This has been one of my favorites my whole life.

4. The Tornados - "Telstar" (1962): Well I had to include an instrumental on here, and I never seriously considered anything else, though there are several other instrumental number one songs I really enjoy ("Love Is Blue", "Happy Organ", "Romeo and Juliet"). Just so futuristic and amazing. All about the melody on this one too, like I've said several times before I'm really a melody guy. Replay value is huge!

5. The Beatles - "She Loves You" (1964): I debated for a long time which Beatles song to include. For a variety of reasons (stylistic and era diversity, mostly), I ended up going with this one, my favorite of their Beatlemania period. Really underrated lyrics on this one and great vocals. And this one doesn't have the best melody of the Beatles tunes ("Hello Goodbye" is better, so is "Paperback Writer" and a few others), but it's just so happy! And the music on this one is great.

6. Nancy Sinatra - "These Boots Were Made For Walking" (1966): So awesome. What attitude on this one! Not much of a melody to speak of here, but really amazing vocals and that bass line. "Truthin". One of the most enduringly popular 60s songs, and a karaoke staple, this one is almost impossible not to love.

7. Rolling Stones - "Paint It, Black" (1966): My favorite of the Rolling Stones songs to hit number one, this one was a no-brainer to include as there was no way I could leave off the Stones. It's unfortunate that my favorite of their number ones is probably not one of my 5 or 10 favorite of their songs overall, and I do wish "Jumping Jack Flas" or "Under My Thumb" had hit number one, but what are you gonna do.

8. The Four Tops - "Reach Out, I'll Be There" (1966): Definitely the best song Motown ever produced, in my opinion. I really wanted to include a Supremes song on this, but I just like this song and the Shirelles too much more than any Supremes single, so they got bumped. Note that "Be My Baby" and "The Tracks of My Tears" never hit number one, though I may well prefer this song anyways. Amazing melody. Even better than "It's the Same Old Song" (which never hit #1).

What an utterly absurdly good year for number ones 1966 was. In addition to the 3 on this mix, there's "96 Tears", "Wild Thing", "Last Train to Clarksville", "Paperback Writer", and "Good Vibrations", all 5 of which were seriously considered at some point. And one of which ("96 Tears") was the very last song cut.

9. The Turtles - "Happy Together" (1967): One of my favorite songs of all time, and an easy inclusion. Fun and summery, beats the British Invasion bands at their own game. Yeah it's cliched, and overdone, and etc., but I still love it.

10. The Box Tops - "The Letter" (1967): Classic melody and lyrics and great scratchy vocals. This one is kind of throwaway, but it manages to pack a good punch in 2 minutes, and it's the one #1 most prone to get hopelessly stuck in my head for hours. ("Crimson and Clover" was too long to include on the mix, and I figured the downgrade from that to this was less than the cost of deleting another song entirely).

11. Shocking Blue - "Venus" (1970): This one is my silly inclusion. It's a personal favorite, and I even like it more than the Bananarama version, but I'm not going to pretend to objectively defend it. It's got ridiculous, mannered vocals, but I think they work for the song and they melody/music are undefeatable.

12. Charlie Rich - "The Most Beautiful Girl" (1973): A slick country/pop classic, that I suppose gets noted as a country song 'cause of the slightly twangy guitar. But it's just a really pretty and sweet love song. Probably my favorite song on Charlie's country classic Behind Closed Doors and probably my favorite true country #1, so it sneaks in.

13. George McCRae - "Rock Your Baby" (1974): Such an amazing midtempo ballad. Once again, there was no point where I even considered not including this. Fun fact: I don't know a single other George McCrae song.

14. The Bee Gees - "You Should Be Dancing" (1976): I really wanted to include a disco song on here, in deference to it's chart domination, and this is definitely my favorite Bee Gees number one. While that would seem to make it a slam dunk, I debated seriously between this and "Don't Leave Me This Way", and I'm still not sure I made the right decision. In any event, really nice chorus here and some real powerhouse instrumental hooks make this an amazing song.

15. Kim Carnes - "Bette Davis Eyes" (1981): Awesome, underrated power ballad here. This is the slot that really should have gone to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (i.e. power ballad, scratchy throat female singer, drama), but man I just like this song more. Plus this came first!

16. Human League - "Don't You Want Me" (1982): Not impossibly one of my 10 favorite singles of all time. And, yeah, my dad prolly won't like it, but damnit I left "Genie in a Bottle" off for his sake and no way and I leaving both this and Xtina out. Plus it feels just wrong not to have an 80's upbeat synth song on here.

17. Prince - "Let's Go Crazy" (1984): Another easy inclusion. Like I'm gonna leave Prince off here. I really wish "Little Red Corvette" had made it to #1, and it was some debate as to whether include "When Doves Cry" or "Let's Go Crazy", but this song was picked due to a surplus of 80s ballads already otherwise included.

18. Wham! featuring George Michael - "Careless Whisper" (1985): Frickin' awesome ballad and George Michael is a really underrated songwriter. George Michael has several of my favorite number ones of the 80s but this one, with a killer downtempo melody, a powerhouse instrumental hook, and great heartbreaking lyrics is an all-time classic and a personal favorite.

19. Roxette - "Listen to Your Heart" (1989): Like "Venus", this is another silly personal favorite. But I love Roxette's female vocalist, and the music and melody is amazing on this song. This encapsulates why Roxette is one of my favorite singles bands of the late 80s/early 90s, and it's their best single to boot.

20. Mariah Carey - "Emotions" (1991): Once you get past the 80's, it's really unlikely I'll find a number one my dad will like, but it seems wrong to leave out the 90's entirely. This one is retro-sounding, which is good for my dad, and frickin awesome, which is good for me. That it's done by one of my 10 favorite artists of the 90's is just a nice added bonus. I thought picking out only one nineties hit would be hard, but this was a surprisingly easy choice.

21. Beyonce - "Irreplaceable" (2006): I've written plenty about this song on here before. I felt like the mix did need some 00's R&B representative, since I do love the genre so much, and of all my favorites, this one is the most dad friendly, so it's a pretty good default choice. Not to mention I'm loving this song more and more the more I hear it. Still hasn't gotten old.

Shocking omissions? Inexplicable inclusions? Comment, and I will defend myself!

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