Reviews

David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed

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David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed

David Bowie Nothing Has Changed (3-CD Deluxe Edition) Columbia / Legacy; 2014 By Douglas Wolk  November 20, 2014 8.8 BEST NEW REISSUE To pick a few selected works from an artist’s career is to construct an argument about that artist. Every curator knows that, and David Bowie is nothing if not a curator. The first great Bowie best-of was 1976’s Changesonebowie LP, whose argument was that he was a mamapapa comin’ for you, a rocker too strong and too glittery to be pinned down. (The 1981Changestwobowie LP and the 1990 Changesbowie CD, stabbed in its gut by the dreadful remix “Fame ’90”, tried to extend that premise.) Bowie’s initial attempt at a full-career assessment was the 1989 Sound + Vision box set, revised and updated in 2003. In both forms, it’s a bunch of hits and album tracks and rarities clumped together, an impressive show of range whose failure is that it assumes, rather than argues, that he’s a rock god and that therefore anything he does is interesting. Twenty-five years later, coinciding with an actual touring museum exhibition of the apparatus around his music, Bowie has assembled a new retrospective. Nothing Has Changed—a very sly title, as a riposte to Changesonebowie and “Changes”, especially since it’s also a lyric lifted from his 2002 song “Sunday”—comes in three different versions, each with a cover image of Bowie regarding himself in a mirror. That’s a sharp gesture too: he’s never been shy about his fascination with his own mercurial self, shedding his skin again and again and then carefully preserving it to wriggle into again later. (This is not the first time he’s done the “multiple versions of a greatest-hits set” trick, either: 2002’s Best of Bowie had twenty different track lineups, depending on which country you bought it in.) The weakest of the three versions of Nothing Has Changed is the chronologically sequenced 2xCD version. It’s basically just a slight revision of Best of Bowie, compressed to throw in five later songs including the newly recorded oddity “Sue (or In a Season of Crime)”. The first disc starts with his commercial breakthrough “Space Oddity” and ends with its sequel/repudiation “Ashes to Ashes”, which is a nice bit of symmetry. Mostly, what we get is Bowie as he’s understood by oldies radio, although we’re seven tracks in before he really starts to toughen up (with “Ziggy Stardust”). But the second half of the 2xCD version covers three times as many years as the first, and suggests that Bowie was a temporarily interesting trend-follower whose fade-out has been slowed by his being repeatedly propped up and dragged into modernity by big-name collaborators: Queen, Pat Metheny, Pet Shop Boys, Trent Reznor, James Murphy. This Bowie’s sense of tune eventually abandons him and never returns. After the look back in sorrow of “Absolute Beginners”, halfway through the second disc, he’s coasting on his rep; it’s just one decent comeback attempt after another, with “Sue” at the end as a sort of I-give-up-but-here’s-something-new-anyway gesture. That’s a reasonable case to make; it also misses most of what’s magical about this particular artist. The 2xLP version of Nothing Has Changed makes a simpler and happier argument, that this is a dude with a lot of big hits and a peculiar arty streak. It’s a non-chronological set,...

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‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s ‘Mandatory Fun’: Track-by-Track Album Review

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‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s ‘Mandatory Fun’: Track-by-Track Album Review

By Kenneth Partridge | July 15, 2014 3:26 PM EDT Billboard Rating:  76 It’s hard out there for a professional parodist: nowadays, any idiot with a webcam can post his or her version of “Fancy” on YouTube, and if a master idiot like “Weird Al” Yankovic wants to get us tweeting about his send-ups, he’d better make them extra special. On “Mandatory Fun,” the 14th album of his crazy-long, crazy-pants career, the Weird One delivers the reprocessed goods, though it’s his original tunes — done in the idiosyncratic styles of his favorite artists — that truly warrant repeat listening. On the parody front, Yankovic wisely plucks low-hanging fruit, turning Lorde’s “Royals,” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” Pharrell’s “Happy,” and the aforementioned Iggy Azalea summer jam into songs about food storage, sloth, tactlessness, and home repair. Best of all is “Word Crimes,” a handy grammar lesson based on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” While it’s foolhardy to read too much into Al’s lyrics, a tune like “Word Crimes” captures the zeitgeist in more ways than one. Digital culture hasn’t simply obliterated the English language — it’s accelerated the chew-’em-up, spit-’em-out celebrity hype cycle that’s turned Thicke from R&B star to laughing stock virtually overnight. Now, Yankovic isn’t goofing on “Blurred Lines” because he, like many critics, thinks its author is a slime ball. Al’s far too good-natured for that. But let’s face it: The last thing Thicke needs right now is another person making him look silly. In addition to track-specific remakes, Yankovic serves up a string of his patented “style parodies,” which speak to his broad taste in music. When he’s not scanning the FM dials for words he can rhyme with types of food, Al apparently gets down to Southern Culture on the Skids, Pixies, Foo Fighters, and Cat Stevens. On “Mandatory Fun,” he pays homage to these and others with varying degrees of cleverness, and by referencing the non-mainstream likes of SCOTS and Pixies, he smartly nods to an older audience that likely remembers him for his ’80s-era MTV ubiquity. Is it “Sgt. Pepper’s?” No, “Mandatory Fun” certainly is not. But if anyone ever makes a “Sgt. Pepper’s” that’s actually about pepper—and the various foodstuffs you can sprinkle it on—it’ll be “Weird Al.” Read on to get our track-by-track take on Yankovic’s latest blast of inanity. 1. “Handy”: After a weak opening line — “First things first, I’m a craftsman” should have been something like, “First things first, I’m a drill-est” — Al takes this musically spot-on “Fancy” parody in some rather crafty (ahem) directions. There are rhymes about installing Formica countertops, laying tile, and fixing leaf blowers — all delivered by the world’s most braggadocious contractor. Here’s the motto for the side of his van: “Let me glue ‘dat, glue ‘dat / screw ‘dat, screw ‘dat.” 2. “Lame Claim to Fame”: Fans not familiar with Southern Culture on the Skids might mistake this for a remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle,” and Al’s probably cool with that. Grasping his semi-obscure musical reference isn’t really a prerequisite to chuckling along with this examination of our celeb-obsessed culture. 3. “Foil”: Lorde should feel honored: on “Mandatory Fun,” “Royals” is the only tune Yankovic re-imagines as a song about food. Fortunately, he doesn’t stop by telling us why aluminum...

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Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else

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Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else

Lydia Loveless Somewhere Else Bloodshot; 2014 By Stephen M. Deusner  February 17, 2014 7.3 In the first song on her third full-length, Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless goes to a party, does some blow, calls up an ex, and tries to break up his marriage. A few songs later, she compares herself to Paul Verlaine, the 19th-century French poet whose relationship with the teenageArthur Rimbaud was notoriously violent. On another song, our heroine drinks herself to sleep while dreaming of an old lover and his talents between the sheets. Never leery of casting herself as the homewrecker, the other woman, or the spurned lover, Loveless writes lyrics that are frank (“I just like it so much better when we’re coming to blows”) and often explicit (“Don’t stop giving me head”). Her songs are based in country, but she tweaks the forms and formulas of the genre with a bleary belligerence that is, more often than not, directed at herself. Her self-destructive streak makes Somewhere Else both a bracing and a deeply harrowing listen. Loveless hails from Columbus, Ohio, and she’s so far the most visible member of a very musical family: Both sisters are in local groups, and before she had to fire him, her dad played drums in her backing band. After a slick debut and a more countrified follow-up on Bloodshot Records (which earned her a shout-out from Richard Hell), Somewhere Elsesounds like the lyrical and musical culmination of a short career spent kicking at the conventions of alt-country. The album takes more risks than its predecessors did, showcasing a rough-and-tumble bar-band sound that dispenses with the twang in favor of barbed guitars and rowdy rock rumble. Loveless and her band recall the West Coast cowpunk attitude of early 80s acts like Lone Justice, plus the sexual candor of heyday Liz Phair. Loveless’ frankness threatens to make a her a novelty, but there’s some sharp humor and deep hurt here. “When I was 17 I’d follow men around with my head jammed way in their ass,” she sings on “Chris Isaak”, and it sounds ridiculous. Fortunately the next line is, “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to still be able to conjure up energy like that”—which implies that making a wreck of your life is preferable to doing nothing at all with it. Even as Somewhere Elsedescends into romantic mania, Loveless keeps her wits about her. She sings “Head”, arguably the album’s best and most urgent track, as though her despair had turned sexual. Loveless storms into the chorus, turning the repeated lines into a potent hook and delivering an abrasive guitar solo that conveys what the lyrics cannot. Perhaps Loveless knows she needs to find a better hero than Verlaine, who remains the epitome of tortured-soul creativity, yet on “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” she craves the heady inspiration as much as the violent intensity of affection: “I just wanna know that I’m the one that makes you write that shit.” Halfway between French Romantic and Nashville outlaw, Loveless’ songwriting can come across sometimes as overly bleak and therefore sensationalistic, yet Somewhere Else makes such boldness a virtue, as thought decorum blunts creative expression. So it’s all the more curious that the album ends with an upbeat cover ofKirsty MacColl’s postpunk/girl-group anthem “They Don’t Know”, a song about romance as a...

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