Monday, November 21, 2005


Recently, I was asked, along with a number of other local musicians, to contribute some reviews to a new music magazine that was starting in Raleigh. Even more recently, I was told that the magazine was folding even before publishing the first issue. Here are the reviews that I wrote, but that were deemed to hot for financial stability (all songs rated on a scale of 1-10):

Ashley Simpson "Boyfriend" 5.5

How would you feel if your career took a backseat to your big sister's marital problems, to your own career miscalculations (or the miscalculations of your overbearing, totally scary ex-preacher father), or that time you got really drunk and made an ass out of yourself in McDonalds?

Have some love: Ashley is everyman. She's done nothing that we haven't done, we just weren't on TV when it happened. On "Boyfriend", Ashley has taken a cue from the far superior Kelly Clarkson and sings a rock song. Let's be honest: this song doesn't really sound any different than Franz Ferdinand? I can't tell the difference. It even has a little dubbed-out Andy Partridge yelp. But, unlike Kelly, Ashley is not a very strong singer, or a particularly charismatic personality. It isn't that her voice is weak or bad, it is just too clear, to characterless. It would be better if it were worse. That would be awesome.

Ahh, Ashley. Perhaps next time.

Madonna "Hung Up" 6.9

We are at the dawn of Madonna's sunset and don't we all wait, eagerly, for her to wake to her age and sing to us of her twilight? She told us how to feel about our youth and independence, about the nature of justice and sex. But where is the Madonna of our dotage?

"Hung Up" is good, good like a Kylie song, but shouldn't Madonna be good like herself, with others being good like her? Really, at this point, Kylie, among others, does dance music better than Madonna. The production here reminds me of a CGI dinosaur--it looks alive to me but the mind knows that it isn't, so I don't run away. I don't know what I mean by this. No, wait, I do.

There was a time when a Madonna song, any Madonna song, could break my heart. There was a time when her voice, imperfect, was evocative of my own internal life. This is what popular music should provide when done well--a mirror, a computer read-out of our inner-selves. I hear the galloping beat, I hear the throbbing synths, I hear her still voice and I want to feel, but do not. It is terrible when you are brilliant--we all expect so much more.

The Flaming Lips "Bohemian Rhapsody" 4.3

The joy of hearing a band cover Queen, and in particular this song, can only come from the audacity of attempting such a futile feat. Who can cover Queen? Who can sound like them? In fact, the mistake is to try to sound like Queen at all. I would have loved to have heard The Flaming Lips attempt this song 12 years ago, when they were still ragged, still wild, weeping smack into the gutters. That would have been something, because their attempt would have been unexpected and there success would have been total.

But now, they are the kings of studio magic. They play the song too straight, get it too right. Why listen to their version as opposed to the original? There is nothing new, nothing odd. But the real let down: the drums at the end. The whole song I waited, eagerly, for the rock portion, to hear Stephen Drozd's massive, clattering drums. When they came, they were muted and unimpressive. Where is the bass drum that made the Soft Bulletin so beautiful?

Ying Yang Twins ft. Mike Jones and Mr. Colliepark "Badd" 8.2

First off, having Mike Jones on a track instantly makes the song sound like it was recorded in a special education classroom. He gibbers his own name, over and over, as though his identity is slipping and he is afraid.

This song proves, I think, that music really matters and can change the world. As soon as it comes on I am possessed of a self-confidence that I have never known in my life. Sirens, sitars and bass drums. The string hits on the post-chorus: added-value. What more can one ask for in life?

This track is much better than "Wait." Let's admit it to ourselves. That song just wasn't that good. It was neat. It was novel. But it got old, very fast. We were in the thrall of profanity and the power of whispering. But "Badd" is a real song, heavy like an anvil dropped from a great height.

Three 6 Mafia ft. Young Buck, Eight Ball and MJG "Stay Fly" 8.5

Swooning strings and that beat: this song is fast, something I have been looking for in hip-hop for a long time. I feel that I am on the run, chased perhaps, sweat burning my eyes. "Stay Fly" exudes and apocalyptic vibe--I am reminded of "Quiet Running" by Mike + the Mechanics. The tabla breakdown crushes all competitors, it introduces space and breath into the track, a perfect break, a perfect pause.

This song throws the work of 50 Cent into an unflattering light. Fifty likes to play a "we all could die, but do we have love" angle, but his limp, careless delivery leaves me cold. Three 6 Mafia care. They know the score. They know what is at stake, what is to be lost. We have to stay fly until we die. The world is ending soon, I can tell.

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