Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I remain fascinated by the ambitious and goofy.

For the first time in months, I actually wrote some music reviews: John Mayer and Diddy for the Baltimore City Paper's crazy-underrated music section. It's currently the only rag I'll allow my magic to grace*.

*still accepting offers, though.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Brandon Flowers making fun of Craig Finn, whether or not he knows it.

One reason I haven't been writing much is that I'm planning a year-end wrap-up that covers almost all of the albums that I've found worthy of acknowledgement. Another reason is the depressing lack of pop singles that I enjoy, or, more honestly, the lack of pop presences that I admire. The most egregiously failing genre is rock, and I say this as someone who can wax poetic about Good Charlotte and Puddle of Mudd. Emo currently lacks hooks or emotional pull, though I hope that will change with the increasing financial reward: Taking Back Sunday's "MakeDamnSure" and AFI's "Miss Murder" have the acts' first Weezer-worthy choruses, even if the songs are about wanting to see hotties suffer. Nu-metal's on its last hemorrhoid, and early-00s hipster crossovers seem to have mistaken a label-shat gold record for the pinnacle of stardom, getting insular before they've even learned to look directly into a camera. I haven't seen the soap operas Coldplayers are promoting, indie-stoner-"respectable" metal just makes me want to give my Blue Oyster Cult albums another go, and Good Charlotte's next album won't be coming out till 2007. If not for retro-goofballs like Eagles Of Death Metal and rule-proving indie exception the Thermals (whose albums seem like transmissions from a planet where the Clash is still remembered as a worthwhile influence), I'd only care about keyb freaks, singer-songwriters and the occasional sex jam. And the Killers.

It's too early to tell whether their attempt at rock grandeur will resonate, but if America decides Duran Duran shouldn't have teamed up with Meat Loaf to cover Rattle & Hum, I won't hold it against us; I haven't even decided myself whether Sam's Town's pleasures outweigh its bullshit. But my fondness for silly sweethearts helps make "When You Were Young" the only Big Rock Single of 2006 that I've got unabashed love for*.

One of the benefits of the Killers' 80s fixation is that when they decide to make a Springsteen move, they think Born In The U.S.A. rather than Born To Run, reining the soaring ambition with a steady pulse and some tight verse-chorus-verse. The song's gradual emotional build is blessedly free of the metal-riff lurchabout that plagues most modern rock - it's pro-dance and unafraid of simple euphoria. Lyrics like "we're burnin' down the highway skyline on the back of hurricane" are inarguably insipid (the back of a hurricane?), and "every once in a little while" is a grammatical war crime. I'm almost surprised Brandon Flowers didn't throw the word "literally" in front of one of his metaphors, as he transcends the sophomorical and dives headlong into the asinine. But what makes this idiocy preferable to the original '70s rock showtunery is the influence of U2. The post-punk (read: post-disco) rhythm decreases the sagginess of the bombast, while Brandon Flowers' melding of Bono and the Boss creates one of the hootable hollers in rock history. That Flowers can bellow such obvious camp with a straight face is almost miraculous, but then so is the existence of a sober Mormon Duranee in Las Vegas.

Free of the weight of cultural hosannas, his earnest wail is easy to love. For under the bells and warbles of "When You Were Young" is a song of joy for young Rosalita, who's finally found the saint in the city whose Chevy '59 is going to take her hungry heart down Thunder Road. Acknowledging romantic compromise without shedding a bit of emotional hysteria, it attempts to wed sensitivity and fireworks in a time where most groups are strictly either/or. If you accept that rock died in the mid-sixties (which I sometimes do), then that means some sinister monstrosity of pap has been pretending to the mantle for the last forty years, for longer than most of us have been alive. Right now, nobody's getting more out of that post-apocalyptic oatmeal than these guys.


*Evanescence's "Call Me When You're Sober" could compete if the vocal was mixed to a clarity worthy of its title.