Mariah Carey: Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel


RIYL: Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez

Mariah Carey’s last album, 2008′s E=MC², marked the spot where she broke Elvis Presley’s record for Number One singles by a solo artist – and it also boasted the biggest opening-week sales of her career – but it also ran out of steam pretty quickly, petering out after being certified double platinum, a pretty steep comedown after selling 10 million copies of 2005′s The Emancipation of Mimi. Carey has, in other words, a thing or two to prove with Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel – which is the situation she’s been in pretty much since 2001′s Glitter imploded in what seemed at the time to be a career-destroying cloud of ice cream and cleavage. She has, to her credit, done an outstanding job of staying relevant in the post-Top 40, post-TRL, and largely post-record industry world, even at the much-ballyhooed expense of everything that made her music special in the first place; she has, in fact, reached the point where the splash surrounding every new album is just as important as its musical contents. She’s an artist who’s famous largely because she’s famous – sort of the MTV equivalent of Charo, albeit with a much stronger set of pipes, not that you’d really know it from listening to anything on Memoirs.

From the outside, it’s easy to dismiss everything Carey has done since Butterfly as vapid, cynical catering to the hip-hop generation, and to an extent, that’s more or less true – but each of her albums has its own somewhat self-contained aesthetic, too. E=MC², for instance, put Carey across as the R&B equivalent of the slutty, insane aunt you wanted to have in high school, nattering on about what’s happening in the clubs and dropping embarrassing “hip” references to the things the kids like. That persona has thankfully been retired for Memoirs, but in its place we get a pretty middle-of-the-road Mariah – one who wants to have her trendy cake (the Auto-Tune frosted “Obsessed”) and eat at the Adult Contemporary table, too (the treacly cover of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”). It’s all very polished and calculated, but those are qualities that have been hallmarks of great R&B for more than 50 years; hell, even “Vision of Love” was a Brill Building-worthy piece of airtight songcraft. No one buys Mariah Carey records looking for wild inspiration – but what many of them do want to hear is a reflection of Carey’s singular, once awe-inspiring vocal talent, and that’s what’s missing from Memoirs. It’s a perfectly entertaining modern R&B album, and one not without its eyebrow-raising wrinkles (chief among them the drumline that takes over the beat for the “Up Out My Face” reprise), but one that, ultimately, could have been performed by almost any anonymous singer.

Oh, sure, Mariah wheels out her usual tricks here and there, but instead of showing off that tremendous range, she throws in a few dolphin calls behind another obnoxiously breathy lead vocal (“H.A.T.E.U.”) and calls it even. To be fair, Mariah’s in a tight corner at this point; she’s long since alienated the listeners who expected great things from her after her debut, and her endless trendjacking over the last decade has made her an artist with a record-setting commercial legacy, but no real artistic identity. About the best anyone can hope for at this point is an album like Memoirs – one that’ll make enough small dents in the R&B charts to extend her cultural relevancy for another release cycle while throwing a bone to AC program directors with a song like “I Want to Know What Love Is,” practically guaranteed to linger near the top of the recurrent charts for at least a year. At some point, Mariah will have to stop flaunting her ta-tas and get back to the business of making timeless music, either because she’s no longer got the physical goods or because Aretha Franklin will finally get fed up with her shit and go slap her into being a real diva again. I only hope that, when that moment comes, she still remembers how to, you know, sing. (Island 2009)

Mariah Carey MySpace page

New Paul McCartney live CD/DVD on the way

Decades removed from their break up, the Beatles are possibly busier than they’ve ever been. Almost every day, an interesting bit of news surfaces with connection to the band. Earlier this week, Lucy Vodden, the underlying inspiration for “Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds,” passed away. Four days ago, an essay written by Paul McCartney when he was 10 about the Queen was unearthed. Of course, this news pales in comparison to The Beatles: Rock Band and the remasters of their entire catalog, which were released on September 9th. It looks like Beatlemania will never end and I couldn’t be happier.

On November 23rd, Paul McCartney will release a 2CD/1DVD package of his performances from earlier this year at New York’s Citi Field. Good Evening New York will highlight each night’s 33-song set filmed with 15 high-definition cameras.

A deluxe edition will feature an additional DVD featuring McCartney’s performance at the Ed Sullivan Theater. The live album will also be issued on vinyl.

The gigs, at which McCartney played songs by The Beatles and Wings, as well as selections from his solo back catalogue, took place on July 17, 18 and 21.

They were significant for McCartney as The Beatles played the venue in 1965 when it was known as Shea Stadium.

This will be McCartney’s second release on Hear Music, which is owned by Starbucks Corporation.

Paramore: brand new eyes


RIYL: Avril Lavigne, Hey Monday, Fall Out Boy

It’s easy to hate Paramore. With her diminutive stature, big vocals, and perpetually scrunched-up face, singer Hayley Williams comes across like a younger, snottier version of Avril Lavigne – an impression that the band’s 2007′s breakthrough album, Riot!, reinforced perfectly. A tightly wound ball of angst and righteous teen anger, Paramore’s music is the perfect soundtrack for emotional adolescents of all ages – and that, coupled with an appearance on the “Twilight” soundtrack, has helped make them one of the few legitimate breakout bands on the rock end of the radio dial. They’ve also been one of the industry’s more heavily scrutinized acts, thanks to their decision to sign one of the first major “360″ deals. Bottom line: if your tolerance for Hot Topic bubblepunk is low, you probably burned out on Paramore a long time ago, and are greeting the release of the band’s new album, brand new eyes, with rolled eyes.

But here’s the thing: Paramore isn’t really worthy of your scorn. I wasn’t particularly fond of angst even as a teenager, and now that I’m in my mid-30s, I’m just about allergic to it – but even if you can’t identify with the “me against the world” melodrama that fuels much of the band’s music, it’s awfully hard not to respect them for at least having a pulse. Silly lower-case title aside, brand new eyes glows with a combination of pop songwriting savvy and ragged, messy intensity; even if she seems to see the world in black and white, Williams has a ferocious set of pipes, and she – along with guitarists Josh Farro and Taylor York – has a gift for leavening aggression with bright, easily memorable melodies.

The problem with the band’s music is one that isn’t entirely its own fault – specifically, the crushing waves of compression applied to every major-label album that’s come out in the last five years. Producer Rob Cavallo was handed a band raw enough to air its dirty laundry in its lyrics (“Looking Up” and “Where the Lines Overlap” seem to address the breakup Paramore narrowly averted during the making of brand new eyes), and he promptly proceeded to iron out every stray wrinkle, returning with another piece of brittle, high-gloss product that crushes the music’s emotional dynamic and leaves the listener with a hard wall of sound. Cavallo does have the sense to let the record breathe once in a while; unfortunately, the songs in question (“The Only Exception” and “Misguided Ghosts”) are two of the album’s least interesting, and they come off sounding like love letters to VH1 more than genuine artistic statements.

Obviously, the compression fad isn’t Paramore’s fault, and even if any of them are old enough to remember a time when rock records didn’t sound like shit, they probably don’t have enough muscle to hire a producer who’d go far enough against the grain to really let them sound like a band – but it’s still their name above the title, and ultimately, brand new eyes is more of a punishing than a rewarding experience. It’s unfortunate, because there’s some real talent struggling to work its way out from under this album’s shell, but in 10 years’ time, it’s going to sound as dated as a Nu Shooz record. Here’s hoping Paramore sticks around long enough to really define itself. In the meantime, parents of tweens, consider yourselves warned: you’re about to hear a lot of brand new eyes. (Fueled by Ramen 2009)

Paramore MySpace page

The Dirty Projectors: should I believe the hype?

A couple months back, I watched the Dirty Projectors perform on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” They played “Cannibal Resource,” a song off their newest album, Bitte Orca. I’m very critical of new music. Often, I’ll immediately disregard a band if they look too young, have multiple keyboard players, have stupid haircuts, or use unnecessary, flashy instruments. Yeah, yeah, it’s unfair and mean-spirited but in this day and age where billions of bands are thrust at the public, I think I’m in the right. There’s too much of everything.

On “Letterman,” I really wanted to like the Dirty Projectors. They didn’t seem obnoxious and I appreciated their simple set-up. However, I just felt the odd rhythms didn’t mesh with the fluid singing. Well, I think they hit the ball out of the park on “Fallon.” They opted to play a non-album track called “When the World Comes to End.” Listen as the female gibberish bounces throughout the studio in wonderful harmony. When the lead singer and guitarist ventures into that meaty solo, it just works. This song reminds me of something Stereolab might write. Now there’s a great band.

As you know, the Roots are the house band over at “Fallon.” Band leader and drummer, ?uestlove, invited the Dirty Projectors into his dressing room to see if they were they real deal. That meeting is below.

I don’t know. What do you guys think about this band?

Rusty Anderson: Born on Earth


RIYL: Paul McCartney, Jason Faulkner, ELO

No surprise here. Rusty Anderson, Paul McCartney’s current guitar foil, releases a second solo album that oozes the same vibrant and infectious rock and pop that his boss is so fond of sharing with the masses. However, don’t look for McCartney among the backing crew, although it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he’s lurking in the shadows and maintaining anonymity under an alias. Actually, it’s no matter either way, as Anderson proves more than adept at delivering a set of mostly solid rockers, brimming with fanciful hooks and catchy choruses. Anderson’s approach tends to be rather explosive, as is evident with opening track “Born on Earth” and succeeding entries like “Baggage Claim” and “New Beginning,” but he’s also inclined to flirt with fluffier essence as well, lapsing into mellower terrain with “Timed Exposure,” curbing the tempo with “Where We Would Go?” and attempting some pseudo soul with “Intro.” Anyone looking for Macca comparisons will likely find them in the cuddly “Julia Roberts” and “Under a White Star,” but overall Born on Earth shows that Anderson is comfortably rooted in terra firma all his own. (Oxide Records 2009)

Rusty Anderson MySpace page

Monsters of Folk: Monsters of Folk


RIYL: Hem, The Weepies, Bittersweets

The term “super group” is bandied about all too frequently, often arousing great expectations that are rarely fulfilled. The door to disappointment is left wide open; participants hedge when it comes to contributing their best songs or find their creativity stifled when compromising to serve to other egos. Yet while it’s rare to witness the second coming of an all-star outfit like Blind Faith or Crosby Stills and Nash, a blending of big names inevitably cranks up the curiosity factor regardless.

On the other hand, a summit session involving lo-fi provocateurs M Ward, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Jim James (AKA Yim Yames) might be greeted with some hint of suspicion, given the fact none of them is known for emphatic exposition. Surprisingly then, this, their first recorded collaboration, comes across as significantly more inviting and accessible than just about anything these individuals have managed on their own. While the name of the conglomerate indicates a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the songs themselves are straightforward and sincere. What’s more, given the fact that the songwriting is shared collectively and that all the instrumentation is doled out between them, the set is surprisingly consistent, showing equal input from all four contributors. And though most of the music is on the mellow side, the melodies make an emphatic impression – from the folkie sing-along of “Man Named Truth” and the gentle caress of “Magic Marker” and “His Master’s Voice,” to the breezy country sway of “The Right Place” and the steady ascent of “Whole Lotta Losin’” and “Ahead of the Curve.” They’ve done their ongoing outfits proud, while making what may well be the best album of their collective careers. (Shangri-La 2009)

Monsters of Folk MySpace page

Guy Clark: Somedays the Song Writes You


RIYL: Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson

Guy Clark seems like the kind of guy who would happily buy you a beer and then swap some stories. It’s an impression reflected by the easy affability suggested in his songs, an unpretentious everyman attitude in this new album’s entries, “Somedays You Write the Song” and “The Guitar,” each an unassuming narrative offering a humble nod to his muse. In fact, Clark’s modesty is unnecessary; as the writer of such songs as “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “L.A. Freeway” and innumerable other standards, he’s become one of Nashville’s most dependable songsmiths.

Not surprisingly then, Somedays the Song Writes You finds Clark doing what he does best, sharing everyday observations and intuitive introspection — poignant, affecting and etched like always from a knowing perspective. Clark’s palette encompasses a brittle mix of world-weary resignation and tentative optimism, with songs such as “Hemingway’s Whiskey,” “Eamon” and the remorseful “Maybe I Can Paint Over That” taking their place among the most impassioned entries in his repertoire. Still, Clark doesn’t click with every entry. “Hollywood” and “Wrong Side of the Tracks” trudge along without ever gaining momentum, and a cover of his late pal Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed Someone,” while an admirable choice, fails to add anything to the original. Fortunately though, these are minor quibbles, because ultimately, Somedays The Song Writes You proves worthy of one terrific Guy. (Dualtone Music 2009)

Guy Clark website

The Black Crowes: Warpaint Live (DVD)


RIYL: The Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, The Rolling Stones

The Black Crowes hit the road in the spring of 2008 for a mini-tour that featured a nightly first set of the just-released Warpaint album being played in its entirety. This show from the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles captures the band on a hot night. Vocalist Chris Robinson has got his mojo working while then-new members Luther Dickinson (lead guitar) and Adam MacDougall are fitting right in.

Warpaint was the band’s first new studio album in eight years and the band is clearly energized. General consensus has it that the band’s new 2009 album, Before the Frost… Until the Freeze, has already surpassed Warpaint with an even stronger batch of tunes, but as drummer Steve Gorman has noted in a recent interview at Jambase.com, Warpaint was pivotal for the band in helping them regain their musical “compass.”

Tunes like “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” and “Evergreen” benefit from Dickinson’s charged leads and backing harmonies from Charity White and Mona Lisa Young. Guitarist Rich Robinson and drummer Gorman form the band’s backbone, laying down a Stones-meets-Zep vibe on “Wee Who See the Deep.” Solos by Dickinson and MacDougall surpass the studio performance to demonstrate why the Black Crowes have always been more about the live shows, though they generally turn out stronger and more cohesive albums than most jam bands. Dickinson moves to mandolin for the poignant “Locust Street,” with Chris Robinson pouring on the soul. As with the album, the highlight of the set is “Movin’ on Down the Line,” the first song written for the album, an uplifting psychedelic rock tour de force.

The second set is only six songs, but features stellar covers of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett’s “Poor Elijah,” the Bramlett/Clapton gem “Don’t Know Why,” and the Stones’ “Torn and Frayed,” a tune tailor made for the Robinson Brothers harmony vocals. There’s also an extended work out on “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye.” This short but sweet second set is what elevates the DVD from three to four stars, as the band really digs in deep. (Eagle Rock Entertainment 2009)

Dwight Twilley: Out of the Box


RIYL: Richard X Heyman, Jason Falkner, The Smithereens

For some artists, an album consisting solely of cover songs would seem a fallback tactic intended to simply buy time. However, coming from Dwight Twilley, the concept finds an appropriate fit with his power pop M.O., reflecting the music that provided his earliest inspiration. And while the majority of his cover choices on this new LP might negate the need for a redo, Twilley manages to impose his indelible imprint on each, making them a good fit with his own catalogue in the process.

Truth be told, Out of the Box doesn’t opt for the obscure. In fact, most of the material is – to say the least – pretty well worn. Songs like “Secret Agent Man,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Stand by Me” and a well-stocked selection of Beatles standards clearly veer towards the obvious. Even the color photo – a psychedelic headshot – offers a retro reference by replicating Richard Avedon’s famous kaleidoscopic portrait of John Lennon.

Happily then, the treatments are anything but ordinary. Aside from the fact that he opts to strip down the arrangements to a basic rock ‘n’ roll motif, Twilley applies his vocals with an angst and intensity that gives these tracks an amped up sense of urgency and desperation. The Bee Gees’ “Holiday” finds a distinct sense of desperation while John Lennon’s “In My Life” echoes with decided remorse. Even the droning “Tomorrow Never Knows” finds an added element of edge and desire.

Inevitably, there will be those who lament the fact that Twilley hasn’t anything original to offer. Indeed, given the recent abundance of rarity collections and other material from his archives, an album of new material would seem long overdue. Suffice it to say, Out of the Box only adds to the anticipation. (Gigatone 2009)

Dwight Twilley MySpace page

Warner and YouTube agree to music video deal

YouTube

When YouTube and Warner failed to reach a licensing agreement last December, the music group removed all of their music videos from the beloved website. Talks have since resumed, and the two are close to completing a deal that will put videos from Madonna, Green Day, and label-mates back on YouTube.

What hasn’t been reported, so far: The deal terms themselves. Neither company is talking, but sources familiar with the negotiations tell me the new pact will be similar to the one Google’s (GOOG) video unit struck earlier this year with Universal Music Group.

That deal created Vevo, a sort of “Hulu for music videos” owned by Universal and Sony (SNE). So think of Warner’s deal as a “son of Vevo”.

The big idea is the same: Try to create more value for videos by limiting their distribution and creating a more ad-friendly atmosphere around them, and share ad revenue between YouTube and the videos’ owner.

Then there’s the ad platform itself: I haven’t been able to get a concrete definition of what this is supposed to look like , but for now I’m imagining something like the “channels” YouTube has made for partners like ESPN, except they’d be made on an artist-by-artist basis.

All in all, this sounds like a fair deal. Warner loses a guaranteed revenue stream, but if its contention about the value of its videos is correct, it will make even more than it did under the old arrangement. Meanwhile YouTube gets to hang onto “premium” inventory, without being locked into the kind of pay-per-play arrangement that helped drive the site’s expenses sky-high.

While it’s unclear when Vevo will launch, remember that the site will only stream videos from Universal artists. This potential deal with Warner will keep its content on YouTube. Of course, this is all subject to change.

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