Sunday, September 13, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Once upon a time, there were these four lads from Liverpool... and, well, you know the rest. Pretty much, they conquered the world, and music hasn't been the same since. It's quite a testament that 40+ years later, people are still going nuts over them. (Could the same be said for one of today's contemporary artists in 2050?) This past week, Beatlemania swept the USA (and possibly the rest of the world) again.

While I only got heavily into them about 3 years ago albums-wise, I was immediately taken in by their depth and songwriting from songs I hadn't heard on the radio growing up. So my listening experience has been limited to the 1987 discs. Until the remastered albums came out this week, I had no idea how muddy the '87 discs were.

Tuesday night, I received a sampler in the mail featuring 32 of the songs (2 songs from each of the stereo discs) from the remastering project . Now I'm no hardcore audiophile, but it doesn't take one to hear how crisp the snares and hi-hats sound. Additionally, the bass and low-end is greatly enhanced. Did you know they had a bass player in the band?

Wednesday I was able to score a Stereo box set (even after a mix-up from the store I had pre-ordered from) and even more fortunately was able to get a hold of the Mono box set from a Best Buy on another side of town (a HUGE thank you to Stacey for holding it for me!). Aside from the Past Masters releases, I've made it through the rest of the stereo releases. So far I've only spot-checked a few of the mono mixes, but what I've heard so far - “Helter Skelter,” “She's Leaving Home,” “I Am The Walrus,” and “I've Just Seen A Face” to name a few – have sounded fantastic. While longtime collectors and listeners are still arguing the merits of the original vinyl releases versus the remasters, according to Allan Rouse, the leader of the project, these are the most true-to-form representation of the master tapes.

Aside from the music, the packaging is fantastic. The Mono set faithfully recreates the album covers and packaging even to the most minute detail such as a replica of the paper sleeve in each release (you even get the Sgt. Pepper cut-outs!). The Stereo set has never-before-seen photos as well as excellent liner notes on high-gloss paper in each release. Hands down it's the best packaging I've ever seen for a CD release, beating out Bear Family's “Blowin' The Fuse” series – my previous vote for best packaging of a set.

Barring an all-out remix to these tracks, these are the definitive versions of The Beatles. Unless you're a collector of all things Beatles, you can trade the '87 discs in for store credit toward the purchase of the new releases (or put them on your Christmas list) and not feel one bit bad about it. For those of you like me who have never gotten to hear the mono versions, we can hear The Beatles in a “new” way. Now is the most affordable time to hear them, but act fast as the Mono set is limited (although another small run is being manufactured due to the high demand) and was already on backorder from most retailers even before release day.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Say Say Say it isn’t so.

As I started to compose my thoughts for this piece, my jotted notes alone were close to a page-and-a-half, and I’m sure that even in those, I’m forgetting a couple of points I want to touch upon. Some people you just expect to live forever as they are almost larger than life. It’s perhaps, to me, my “where were you when you heard about Elvis’ death?” moment. With Farrah Fawcett - whose same-day death was only a matter of when given her ongoing struggle with cancer - or with legends such as James Brown or Isaac Hayes, whose careers were equally as defining and defying, but whose time out of their heyday was long gone, the announcements were not totally unexpected. Michael’s death, seemingly, came out of nowhere. There was Michael the person, and then there was Michael as a mythos, as bigger than life, as a FORCE, only one of which has expired.

A showstopper in any definition of the word, he transcended generations and racial barriers. From oldies fans who were there from the start of his career in Gary to today’s young teens, whose attention span and too-cool-for-even-last-week’s-number-one-hit musical tastes rarely wander from the MTV playlists, he rocked them all. Even as I talked to a co-worker today, she told me about her 6-year-old son who goes to bed each night playing the Jackson 5’s greatest hits CD. That’s what you call IMPACT.

He was from an ilk who could sing and perform a song with his own style and master it to a T. Perhaps most remembered for his performances, videos, and dance moves, he was a truly underappreciated singer. He sang songs with conviction (“Scream”), attitude (“Dirty Diana”), desire (“Heal The World”), a sense of longing (“Someone In The Dark”), and heartbreak (“She’s Out Of My Life”). His aforementioned style, shown in his vocal trademark hee-hees and grunts, was truly his own.

“Someone In The Dark,” an oft-forgotten song from the E.T. audiobook/soundtrack, is from his most fruitful period (the Thriller days) and may perhaps be his best vocal performance on wax as it is sung with such passion and longing of someone needing a best friend. Even today as I listened to it on my drive to work, it brought on goosebumps, the surefire sign of a remarkable performance. It was the ‘80s version to his ‘70s “Ben” in that it was based on a film whose characters, in an alien and a rat, respectively, were misunderstood creatures, not unlike Michael himself.

Even in the poignant, if a bit saccharine, “Gone Too Soon” (from Dangerous), you couldn’t help but marvel at his ability to take you to another place. The song was dedicated to fellow Hoosier Ryan White, whose battle with AIDS and being socially shunned from his small Midwestern community brought a hailstorm of national coverage, and was a subject with which Michael was all too familiar - a boy who never got to fully enjoy growing up. It’s no surprise that at song’s end you can literally hear his voice crack.

Then there are the dance hits too plentiful to name. My DJ friend Apollo calls the breakdown in “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” one of the baddest breakdowns in pop music history. My personal favorite dance hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” has an undeniable energy and its African-influenced Makossa chant is the enchanter to even a non-dancer.

There was the famous moonwalk that Michael debuted at the Motown 25 Live televised celebration. Even watching it to this day KNOWING what’s about to happen, I am just as spellbound. “What? No he didn’t just do that! But how?” * Rewind * Jaws dropped worldwide and everyone was trying to learn that step the next day. I, too, tried for hours on end to learn to moonwalk, not as a child, but as a mid-20s young adult.

When was the last time you were at a party/club/wedding where you DIDN’T see someone emulate a Michael move? Several years ago at a wedding reception, family friend Chad Decker and another attendee did the entire dance sequence of the “Beat It” video, streetfight scene and all. I’m sure they hadn’t done it in years but it was so ingrained in their memories that they nailed it. The entire party seemed to stop for those 4 minutes. Afterward, people high-fived and were basking in the influence of Michael’s glow.

When talking about him, you can’t forget how he changed what a music video could be, from short form to long form. You could make an entire movie like Moonwalker. It was only earlier this week that I was talking about Captain EO. Until seeing Up 3-D, Captain EO was the last 3-D film I had seen.

I’m not even sure that the word “awesome” can encompass his talents. He was that big. But in attaining such great heights, you only have further to fall. Alluding to a follow-up comment to O.W.’s article yesterday by av2ts, it’s a country (and world) where people love to watch your meteoric rise but revel in watching the trainwreck and fall back to Earth and beyond. Too many people are eager and willing to uncover your dirt only to bury you in it, even if that means burying you alive.

His level of fame was a two-sided coin where people didn’t fully want to let go of the great memories but couldn’t quite resist to bring him down a notch or three, especially of a figure who doesn’t quite fit into their idea of normalcy. If someone has such glaring eccentricities, then surely the rumor mills can’t all be untrue. At least, that’s how we’d like to rationalize it to ourselves.

That being said, this may only be the case during his lifetime. In death, I believe the future will be kind to his legacy. For while his image was tarnished for the last 10-15 years of his life, people also love a resurrection and redemption of great icons. For all the joy he gave the world by making you feel ALIVE, these feelings can be too emotionally overbearing to dismiss. The eccentric behavior, the neverending surgeries, and the circus that was his life may end up being an asterisk on a career, and more importantly a life, that is too expansive to be summed up in a few words or thoughts.

His lonely death is symbolic in that there was perhaps no musical artist still alive who was more revered but who lived in such an ensconced world. His world was like a travelling zoo except there was no cage to protect him from the onlookers and gawkers who wanted a piece of him. While he was ultimately responsible for himself and his actions, I, for one, could never accost him as he had so much burden to bear that it made me feel a bit sorry for him. For no one gained – or lost – quite as much as he did in his lifetime.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I'm Always Worried 'Bout the Wrong Thing or Learning to Trust Kanye West
posted by murphyslaw


Kanye West feat. Mr. Hudson: Paranoid
Taken from the album 808s and Heartbreak on GOOD (2008)

Mr Hudson & The Library: Too Late Too Late and Bread & Roses and Ask The DJ and 2x2
Taken from the album Tale Of Two Cities soon-to-be-released on GOOD

I've finally accepted things as they are. It's taken me four albums and nearly five years, but I get it now. Kanye West understands music better than we do.

How else can you explain the fact that every time he drops an album, he sends the whole of the critical world into an existential crisis about "where rap music is" (or drop the "rap" and let's talk about music wholesale); they lambast his cheeky sound, his would-be populist approach, the hubris that he seems to wear just barely under the surface of his Prada. He's out of touch. He's out of his mind. "Kanye's finally gone too far," they say. "This time, he missed."

And then a funny thing happens: two weeks, two months, two years later we're still bumping those very same songs deemed duds by those in the know. Somehow the music doesn't stagnate. Tracks off College Dropout still fill headphones from Tokyo to Toronto. A witty line dropped on Late Registration is still being quoted years after the fact. And perhaps most tellingly of all--the true test of what the masses crave at their most unguarded--DJ's can still invariably pack a dancefloor with at least half a dozen cuts off of any single one of his albums. WHO ELSE DOES THAT?

Now. All that said, one of the things I've always appreciated in particular about Mr. West is that he not only challenges us, but that he challenges himself. How? By nurturing and keeping company with tremendous musical talent. Dude gets the best guest spots in the game--collabos that look like pure gimmick on paper but down the road leave folks scratching their heads for the pure genius of it.

At the level of a Kanye West, I reckon it's not terribly hard to get Jay-Z in the studio to record a verse. Or Madonna. Or Justin Timberlake. The list goes on. (Hell, I think Timbaland actually created a List). And Yeezy could do it, I'm sure. And he'd still sell a grip of records. Every song an all-star affair with the kind of big name artillery that would make Quincy Jones shudder.

But Kanye, for all the critical bellyaching he has engendered by not sticking to a "gameplan", understands something that other superstars these days just don't seem to get: it's not the shine of the name, it's the scope of their talent; it's not about label politics, but the real, intangible chemistry between artists that makes for innovative collaboration. Sure he'll put Lil' Wayne on a track (he's gotta be on every album somewhere, as a rule), but he'll also introduce you to Lupe. He'll tap T-Pain (see Lil' Wayne), but also remind you that Dwele is a serious songwriting force.

Kanye West's music is as much the showcase of an expert recruiter as it is the singular vision of music maven. His work surprises us because he knows how to assemble a team around him whose composite parts--incredibly diverse and rich in talent--measure up to a greater whole than Kanye West.

And talent is the key. He gets the best in the Hip Hop game (the list is long), the best in Dance music (Daft Punk), in Alternative Rock (Coldplay) or, as in his latest effort, pure, unadulterated Pop...

And this, friends, is where Mr. Hudson comes in. I actually stumbled upon this album while living in South Africa last year, where I was starved for music and only had sporadic access to new albums. This was one such disc that really floated my proverbial boat. An unadorned gem; a highly likeable record; a rarity these days.

The London/Birmingham based quintet, Mr Hudson and The Library dropped Tale of Two Cities in March of last year and made some noise in the UK but never really arrived stateside. Maybe it's because the music speaks rather simply for itself, or the band didn't have the flash of something revolutionary(!) in their sound. But of course, that's all set to change...

After co-starring with Kanye on what is in my opinion the absolute standout sleeper track on an album full of standout sleeper tracks and producing or contributing to a handful of others ("Street Lights", "Robocop" and "Say You Will"), the group has now signed to Kanye's GOOD Music and, critics be damned, will likely forge on with General Kanye West leading the charge toward the future of pop music.

"Tale of Two Cities" is a start to finish winner. I had trouble even whittling the selections down to just four or five... but I think you begin to get the idea. Brit-guitar-pop with equal parts catch and class, laid over a hip-hop backbone. Dig deeper and you'll be treated to grimey-remixes and even a few club-friendly dancers.

This is good music. But, of course, Kanye West already knew that.