Gorillaz: Plastic Beach

RIYL: Blur, mid-period OMD, Saturday morning cartoons

Damon Albarn is surely still scratching his head over the fact that he had to hide behind a crudely drawn character in order to sell a million records in the US, while the humanoid version of Albarn remains a cult act, be it with Blur or the Good, the Bad & the Queen, his project with the Clash’s Paul Simonon. Give him credit, then, for not capitalizing on this loophole by turning the Gorillaz into a Hannah Montana-style media juggernaut, churning out an album, plush doll, video game and TV show every 18 months. God knows, it must have been tempting. Sell millions of records, or don’t sell millions of records? Credibility is nice, but as David Cross pointed out, those outside the industry are stingy about accepting it as collateral.


Indeed, it’s been five years since Albarn has donned the ink and paper, and if the Gorillaz’ new album Plastic Beach is any indication, the anger that fueled 2005’s Demon Days has subsided. Unfortunately, Albarn’s energy level seems to have subsided as well. The album doesn’t shift gears much, opting for mid-tempo grooves that you’d expect from a Jack Johnson or a G. Love. “On Melancholy Hill” sounds like OMD circa The Pacific Age. This is not your older brother’s Gorillaz, though that’s not entirely a bad thing. The album may be completely lacking in bottom end – you’d have to go back 30 years to find tinnier drum tracks – but Albarn is still good for one unforgettable single, in this case the “Safety Dance”-ish “Stylo,” featuring a passionate vocal from Bobby Womack. De La Soul return to guest on the cutesy “Superfast Jellyfish,” and “To Binge,” a perky duet with Little Dragon, is one of the best pop songs Albarn’s written in years. He gets a bit carried away with the guest performers, though. Did he need Mos Def and Bobby Womack and De La Soul and Mark E. Smith and Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon? (And that’s not even all of the guest performers.) Albarn ultimately minimizes his contributions to his own album.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect about Plastic Beach is its warmth, or lack thereof. This is one cold album, and perhaps that was Albarn’s point. If so, mission accomplished, but it could come at a huge price. His band is already artificial; when the music begins to feel the same way, discontent is sure to follow. There is much to admire about Plastic Beach, but it’s also one of the most emotionless albums you’ll hear this year. (Virgin 2010)

Gorillaz MySpace page
Click to buy Plastic Beach from Amazon


Your favorite band sucks: bands and artists the Bullz-Eye music writers just “don’t get”

Every music lover has been there – in front of the television or a set of speakers, listening for the first time to the work of a critically revered artist whose songs are supposed to change the way you look at the world…only to come away wondering what all the hype was about. For the iconoclastic among us, these moments are opportunities to prove what independent thinkers we are; for everyone else – a group that often appears to include virtually every name-brand music critic on the planet – they’re opportunities to turn off your ears, nod your head, and smile. What kind of self-respecting music writer doesn’t love the music of Bruce Springsteen? U2? Elvis Costello? A total hack, right?

Your favorite band sucks Maybe. Or maybe we tend to forget that one of the most wonderful things about art is the utterly objective way we respond to it. One establishment’s treasure can be one lonely listener’s source of constant befuddlement, consternation or outright rage – and with that in mind, your Bullz-Eye Music staff put its heads together and drew up a list of all the bands and artists we’re supposed to love…but don’t. Each of the writers who contributed to this piece is speaking solely for himself, and you’re sure to disagree with some of the names mentioned here – and, of course, that’s sort of the point. But enough of our introductory babble – let’s break down some critical idols!

The Doors
“…don’t even think about describing their sound as “timeless”; you’ll be hard pressed to find music as trapped in time as these peyote-fueled dirges, and no one summed up the life and legacy of Jim Morrison – whose death was as brilliant a career move as you’ll ever see – better than Denis Leary: ‘I’m drunk, I’m nobody. I’m drunk, I’m famous. I’m drunk, I’m fucking dead.'”

Bruce Springsteen
“Perhaps Jello Biafra put it best when he referred to Bruce Springsteen as ‘Bob Dylan for jocks.’ But I can sum up what I dislike about the majority of the Boss in one word: Glockenspiel.”

Pink Floyd
“If you’re 14 and discovering pot, Pink Floyd’s a must. Hell, Dark Side of the Moon is practically a gateway drug in and of itself. If you’re out of high school and still into ’em, you’ve got a problem.”

Conor Oberst
“…his songs are duller than a steak knife in a prison cafeteria. I’ve tried repeatedly to ‘get’ Oberst’s work, but each time, I come away further convinced that his music is an elaborate prank hatched by the editors of Pitchfork.”

To read the rest of the bands Bullz-Eye doesn’t get, click here.


Lou Costello…?

Tonight’s installment of “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…” finds our man Elvis opening the proceedings with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” One presumes that his guest for the evening, Lou Reed, was at least tolerant of the rendition, since it’s not as though ol’ laughing Lou has ever been afraid to speak his mind. (Plus, the two of them team up later in the episode for performances of “Perfect Day” and “Set the Twilight Reeling.”)

Maybe it’s just the interviews I’ve read, but most of the time, Reed tends to come off as not just prickly but downright grouchy; it’s therefore a testament either to Elvis’s ability as a moderator or Lou’s respect for him that the conversation between the two of them is actually rather illuminating. Mind you, there was no discussion about Lester Bangs (I’m sure Reed is tired of being asked about Bangs’ love/hate relationship with his work, but I’d still love to have heard Elvis pose a question about it), but be sure to catch the discussion of the R&B great who played on Reed’s very first record, the relationship between Reed and Doc Pomus, the hard and fast rule in the VU about not copping blues licks, the secret chord in “Sweet Jane” that everybody gets wrong, and how he thought he spent his youth convinced that he was utterly unemployable.

The most fascinating moment of the conversation, however, comes when filmmaker Julian Schnabel joins Costello and Reed onstage. At first, it sounds like Schnabel more or less just happened to be in the crowd, but we soon learn that Reed and Schnabel are longtime friends, and before long, the discussion leads into a moment that the two of them shared as a result of the death of Schnabel’s father. It’s a story that starts out rather disconcertingly, but as it progresses, it becomes a testament to the healing power of music.


Introducing…”Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…”

If you’re a regular reader of Premium Hollywood, then you may recall a time this past summer when I was as giddy as a schoolgirl about having met Elvis Costello…not only because I’m a huge fan, but also because it gave me a chance to redeem myself for the fool I made of myself the first time I’d met him. The reason the summer encounter came about was Elvis’s appearance at the TCA Press Tour, where he had turned up to promote his then-upcoming Sundance Channel series, “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…”

That was July. Now, it’s December…and the series has finally come up.

The premise of the show is, to simplify it to the most basic pop culture terms, like “Inside the Actors Studio,” except the focus is on music rather than film. The good news, however, is that Elvis Costello is rather less fawning than James Lipton, and the guests – at least for the most part – appear to have been taken not from the latest Billboard charts but, rather, from Elvis’s own rolodex. Certainly, there are some former chart-toppers to be found amongst the 13 episodes of the series (which will hopefully prove to be the first of many seasons), but the variety of musicians involved is such that it’s clear the scheduling was the work of an individual rather than by committee. With that said, it never hurts to kiss the ass of your executive producers, so it’s possibly not a coincidence that the first guest on “Spectacle” is Sir Elton John, whose name appears in the show’s production credits, but, hey, everybody likes Elton!

If you consider yourself to be a music geek, then you’ll go nuts over “Spectacle,” since Elvis sits down with some of the biggest-selling and/or most acclaimed musical performers of the 20th and 21st centuries…plus Bill Clinton…and basically just gets geeky with them. Yes, he’s a fine interviewer, having at least honed his skills a bit by guest-hosting an episode of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but in truth, the best parts of the conversation with Elton are when the two of them wax nostalgic about Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, and Leon Russell, among others.

It would be cruel and unusual punishment to have these artists onstage without ever playing a note, of course, so you will be unsurprised to hear that there’s a fair amount of music performed as well. The episodes start with Elvis performing a song by that evening’s guest, so you’ll be hearing a nice version of Elton’s “Border Song” tonight (come next week, prepare to have Elvis serenade you with one of Lou Reed’s finest ’60s compositions), but Elton himself takes to the piano and has a bit of fun with demonstrating the similarity between his own style and that of the aforementioned Mr. Russell, and the two of them duet nicely on David Ackles’ “Down River,” an American singer-songwriter who never earned quite as much fame Stateside as he did in the UK. (The first time I’d ever heard of him was when Howard Jones covered his song, “Road to Cairo,” on the Elektra Records’ anniversary set, Rubaiyat.)

Beyond Mr. Reed’s appearance next week and President Clinton’s chat the following Wednesday, you can look forward to upcoming episodes which feature James Taylor, Tony Bennett, the Police, Rufus Wainwright (whose praises are sung by Elton tonight, as it happens), Herbie Hancock, and many others. I’ll offer up another post next week with a bit more specifics as to what you can expect with Laughin’ Lou, but if you catch the show with Elton, be sure to leave your thoughts.

Oh, and ignore Elvis. You should tell everyone about “Spectacle.”


Lou Reed: Playlist: The Very Best of Lou Reed

Once again it’s time to trot out a series of “best of” material by various artists on a particular label’s roster. RCA is up next and have created their “Playlist” series to get with the modern times and play to the mp3 player crowds who no longer want to sit around and listen to full albums. That’s fine and all, but Lou Reed has never been someone you can cover in 13 skimpy tracks, most of which are drawn from his early-to-mid ’70s heyday. This is almost a carbon copy of the original RCA Reed compilation Walk on the Wild Side released when Lou skipped over to Arista back in 1976. What’s here is good stuff (almost half of Transformer is thrown in), and somehow RCA managed to finagle the rights to “Street Hassle.” But there’s nothing here from The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, or Mistrial. And why the hell they still insisted on putting the crummy 2:54 version of “Sally Can’t Dance” on here when there was more than enough room for the full album cut is odd. This collection is okay for a casual fan who just wants to hear “Walk on the Wild Side” and not much else, but those seriously interested in Lou would do best to just explore his individual albums. (RCA/Legacy)

Lou Reed MySpace page