All posts by Andre Salles

Em the Gweat and Tewwible
Behind the Curtain of The Eminem Show

I am 28 today.

I have officially outlived Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.

I’m taking the week off to contemplate this and basically feel like the ancient old man I am. Fortunately for those of you who can’t live without a weekly dose of my wit and wisdom (uh-huh), I had the following column all ready to go last week. I decided to let my little tribute to Dave Rankin stand alone, which left me with a column in the can. Hence, you get an all new (well, new to you) rant this week, and I get seven uninterrupted days off. Works for me. Curtain goes up, lights go on. Let the show begin…

* * * * *

After September 11, many “experts” predicted that such a devastating attack at the heart of our country would signal the death of irony in our popular entertainment. Whether or not that’s true (and I highly doubt it is), it seems that America’s favorite court jester, the inimitable Eminem, was listening.

The biggest surprise of the Detroit rapper’s just-released third disc, The Eminem Show, is that he’s swapped his trademark satire for plain-spoken sincerity on virtually all of it. Em’s previous albums (1999’s The Slim Shady LP and 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, which I voted the best album of the year) traded in cartoon violence and sleight of hand, with Em’s three personalities juggling responsibility for each other’s words. Each jaw-dropping declaration came packaged with a ready-made cop-out and a deft satirical twist, with the end result being a subversion of the entire gangsta rap genre. Eminem set himself up as the ultimate unreliable narrator, hopping back and forth between the level-headed Marshall Mathers and the pathologically violent and dishonest Slim Shady, and in the end, he made you question everything that came out of every rapper’s mouth, including his own.

The first thing you’ll notice about The Eminem Show, should you get through all 80 minutes’ worth, is that Slim Shady only shows up once, in the instant classic single “Without Me.” Even that track, in context, is a portrait of an idea that’s run its course – Shady lashes out, as usual, but at the least controversial targets he could have picked. He slams ‘N Sync and Moby (Moby?!? What the hell did he ever do to anyone?), and while the barbs are clever, you get the sense that his heart’s just not in it as much as it used to be.

The rest of the album bears this out, as the remainder of the running time is given over to Marshall Mathers, the man behind the masks. It’s a daring move – Mathers has scrubbed away the greasepaint and created a first-person testimonial to his state of mind, an album as intimate and confessional as any six-string folkie’s efforts. In its best moments, The Eminem Show offers a glimpse behind the curtain at the fragile man holding the strings, and in its way, that’s even more bracing than all of Shady’s razor-sharp sobriquets.

Don’t get me wrong here – Mathers hasn’t made a record for moonlit walks in the park. The Eminem Show is just as raw, venomous and powerful as his previous efforts, only this time it’s real, which ups the stakes considerably. For example, Mathers’ legal disputes with his mother Debbie are well documented, arising as they did from backhanded jabs on both previous albums. (Shady even took an opportunity to verbally sodomize her on The Marshall Mathers LP‘s “Kill You.”) Still, you likely never took them quite seriously, which will probably leave you unprepared for “Cleaning Out My Closet,” this album’s savage evisceration of Marshall and Debbie’s relationship: “Remember when Ronnie died and you said you wished it was me? Well guess what, I am dead, as dead to you as can be…”

“Closet” is an extended poisonous assault, and its author doesn’t wink playfully once. Its exact opposite is “Hailie’s Song,” a sweet ode to Mathers’ daughter on which our faithful foul-mouthed irony machine actually sings, and it sounds for all the world like he means every word. “Hailie’s Song” is the album’s bravest moment, with Mathers standing naked on a bare stage and confessing, “My insecurities could eat me alive.” The fact that his voice is merely competent and often shaky only adds to the effect – if he could really sing, it wouldn’t be as fearless as it is.

In between those extremes, Mathers gives us further insight into his relationship with estranged wife Kim (immortalized as a murder victim in both “97 Bonnie and Clyde” and “Kim” on previous albums). Rather than the rage fantasies of albums past, though, here we get honest regret and mature understanding. Similarly, where most rappers would have turned the sex games of “Superman” into a litany of conquest, Mathers graces us with a picture of the guarded, cautious semi-swagger of a newly free man who’s been recently broken.

One of the album’s most exhilarating moments comes at the beginning, as Mathers pulls the curtain back on “White America.” The track serves as an explanation, in simple, deliriously biting terms, of the previous two albums and the cultural (and yes, racial) reasons for Mathers’ fame. The message is the same one it’s been all along – white America has never looked internally for the root causes of its downfalls. Mathers, a suburban white kid, connected with other suburban white kids by speaking their minds as Slim Shady, and his memo to the parents of his fans reads “your kids are just like me.”

Even “White America” is free of satire, however, preferring to take the straight approach. Similarly, the groovy “Square Dance” takes aim at war overseas with fastballs, not curves. Throughout the album, Mathers flirts with the responsibilities of fame, and even more poignantly, the personal responsibilities of fatherhood. Hailie Jade is at the center of this work, informing nearly every song, so it’s only fitting that she makes an appearance on the closing track, “My Dad’s Gone Crazy.” That song, one of the record’s definite highlights, contains the album’s kicker line, directed at America’s parents: “I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t let Hailie listen to me, neither.”

Beyond the surprise factor of a serious, introspective record from Eminem is the question of whether his multitude of fans will embrace such a work. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for another slice of lyrical legerdemain mixed with pop cultural bitchslaps, you’d be better off listening to The Marshall Mathers LP again. Like any restless artist, Eminem is heading off in new directions, and hoping his fan base will follow him. The central conceit of his chosen genre, however, is insincerity – MCs are known for keeping the hard-edged front up at all costs. Eminem has chosen to wear his heart on his sleeve, and only time will tell if that’s seen as weak, or recognized as remarkably courageous.

As for the album itself, well, it’s overlong, self-obsessed, immaculately crafted and unforgettable. Eminem has thrilled in the past by leaping from one voice to another, contradicting himself from song to song, but on The Eminem Show, he proves what very few rappers have learned, but most acoustic folksingers have known all along – the only voice you need is your own.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Dave Rankin 1970-2002
6gig's Drummer Passes Away

I just heard about Dave Rankin.

I’m sure most of you reading this didn’t know Dave Rankin. Hell, I didn’t know Dave very well. I talked to him roughly a dozen times, and I interviewed him once for Face Magazine, but that was about it. Dave was the drummer for 6gig, one of the best bands in New England, and he made two records with them: the justifiably lauded Tincan Experiment and the reportedly superior Mind Over Mind, which comes out next month. He was a fixture of the Portland music scene, and a well-respected musician and human being.

According to his obituary, Dave died suddenly at his home on Monday. He was only 31.

As I said, I didn’t know Dave very well, but he made enough of an impression on me that I remember him fondly and vividly. Here are some things I remember about him:

He was as nice and welcoming a guy as you’d ever like to meet. He was a funny, funny man, one of those people who could read the phone book out loud and make it endlessly entertaining. Dave had one of those incredibly expressive faces that added a whole new level of wit to whatever he was saying.

And he was one hell of a drummer. Just monstrous. Log onto www.mp3.com/6gig and listen to “Hit the Ground” (which also appears on the soundtrack to National Lampoon’s Van Wilder) to see what I mean. 6gig’s sound tends towards the melodic side of the heavy music spectrum, which is a good thing, but Rankin’s drumming anchored them with a muscular and propulsive bedrock. He kept the rest of the band grounded so that they could soar fearlessly.

As I get older, I find reminders of my own mortality swarming about me every day, and this was another. I have a difficult time thinking of 16 as middle-aged, but every time someone approximately my age passes, I can’t help but wonder about how most of us watch our days go by, sure that there will be another and another. We should figure out how to make them all count, because 31 is just too young to run out of them.

Dave’s family has requested that any donations in his name be made to the Camden Rockport Animal Rescue League, at P.O. Box 707, Rockport, ME, 04856.

To find out more about Dave’s band, log onto www.6gig.com.

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This is my 75th column, and I was going to celebrate it here, but I just don’t feel like dancing, even metaphorically, right now. This column was also supposed to contain a review of Eminem’s latest, but including that now seems tasteless. Next week, then. For now, take that extra time you were going to spend reading a thousand of my words, and go outside for a few minutes, breathe the air, and then call someone close to you and tell them you love them.

Life’s too goddamn short.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Four Short Pieces About Four New Records
New Ones From Neil Finn, Weezer, Moby and Mark Eitzel

For various reasons, I’ve been needing some reassurance lately that my analytical nature hasn’t completely overridden my ability to react emotionally to stirring works of art. Star Wars helped a bit, but I was too personally invested in the saga to really take my giddiness as any sort of sign. A few people have told me lately that I think too much, that I need to feel more when it comes to music and art in general, and so I’ve been waiting and looking for something that can provoke a completely emotional response in me, just to prove to myself that it can still happen.

And then this morning, I saw the season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a friend tapes it for me when I can’t make the original airdates), and wept like a two year old girl. Just cried, uncontrollably, for something like 10 minutes. And I think about it now, hours later, and I realize that it’s just a television show, and that there are countless silly and illogical things about it, and it still gets me. God, was that terrific.

And God, do I feel silly typing it as the lead-in for this series of analytical reviews of recent CDs, but you know what? The fact that I can still feel something as distant as a TV show so deeply means to me that anything and everything artistic should be able to make that same connection, and the fact that most of it doesn’t is not my fault. That moment of release, where your whole being is enveloped in its reaction to someone else’s expression, is what all of this analysis is about. Nearly everything I see and hear fails to make that leap, and all of this sound and fury I pump into reviewing these things is geared towards finding out why. When art hits the mark with me, I know it, and when it doesn’t, I wonder.

Here are a few more wonderings:

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If you ever need proof that popularity is not based on merit, you need only look at the career of Neil Finn.

Here’s a guy who can justifiably be classed as one of the greatest living songwriters. He’s fronted a pair of great bands – first, the raucous and witty Split Enz, and then Crowded House, one of the finest pop ensembles since those four lads from Liverpool. There are four Crowded House albums, and every one of ’em is a masterpiece. Finn has gone on to a successful post-CH career across the pond (he’s a New Zealand native), first with his brother Tim in the Finn Brothers and then on his own with Try Whistling This, a twisty and complex pop album that signaled the end of his American record contract.

Finn’s follow-up to Try Whistling This is called One Nil, or at least it was when it came out last year in Europe and Australia. Nettwerk Records picked up both that album and a live record called 7 Worlds Collide and brought them to these shores, but One Nil (out this week here) didn’t survive intact. Two tracks have been dropped from the original, two more added and the running order has been completely reworked. The album has also been inexplicably retitled One All, ostensibly because Americans wouldn’t be familiar with the term “nil.” Never mind that the American translation would be more accurately One Zero

Anyway, forget all that, because the album is right up there with the best stuff Finn has released, no matter what it’s called. Like Try Whistling This, the new album takes some time to sink in. These are not the immediate, direct pop songs of the Crowded House era. Finn has matured, and his four-minute marvels have matured along with him. Each song slowly unfolds and reveals hidden depths. There are no hit singles here, but there are 12 dreamy and ultimately fulfilling journeys that lead down unexpected paths.

Three of the best songs appeared previously on 7 Worlds Collide, and the new arrangements take some getting used to. The soaring “Anytime,” an atmospheric affair live, is here propelled by strong backbeats and ornate piano fills. I’m glad I have both versions, as the live one suits the song better, even though the album rendition fits in with the record’s overall tone. “Turn and Run” is just as magnificent in its studio incarnation as in its live one, but opener “The Climber” suffers a bit from a minimalist arrangement.

No such comparisons can drag down the other nine tracks, however, and all are, if not home runs, then solid triples. “Driving Me Mad” is built around one of Finn’s best hooks, “Last to Know” meanders pleasantly until it settles on a monster of a bridge, “Wherever You Are” floats by like a soft breeze, and “Human Kindness” is simply this album’s trickiest and most invigorating moment. The U.S. version concludes with the European single, the rollicking “Rest of the Day Off,” and the elegiac “Into the Sunset,” a sweet farewell.

The biggest problem with One All is that it’s over rather quickly. There’s no sense of grandeur or importance in these songs. Rather, it’s a subdued and subtle affair that demands attention to its sublime details. This is an album that grows more affecting with repeated listens, which is a sure sign that it won’t win back the acclaim that Finn received for the first Crowded House album. And the artist likely has no hopes that it will, since One All is less an event, and more just another great Neil Finn album. He’s stopped chasing fame and just settled into the role of one of the best and least assuming singer/songwriters in the world, and it’s a role that suits him well.

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I paid $16 for the new Weezer CD, Maladroit. I wasn’t too surprised to find out that the 13-track CD clocks in at only 32 minutes, but come on, that’s 50 cents a minute. My phone bill is 40 cents a minute better than that.

I wouldn’t gripe so much, but Maladroit is not quite the one-two punch I was expecting after last year’s similarly brief Weezer (a.k.a The Green Album). That album was perfect – 10 simple, short songs that left you wanting more. Maladroit, on the other hand, might be the most sprawling and inconsistent 32-minute record ever made. In a way, it resembles 1992’s Pinkerton, which head nerd Rivers Cuomo has all but disowned. It covers a lot of similar ground.

For instance, there is deadpan emo sendup “Death and Destruction,” which takes a stab at a genre Weezer helped to create with Pinkerton. The entirety of the lyrics read: “I can’t say that you love me, so I cry and I’m hurting, and every time that I call you, you find some way to ditch me, so I learn to turn and look the other way.” “Slob” sees the return of Cuomo’s angsty voice, a la “No Other One,” and bemoans the life of a put-upon layabout. Both these songs are slow meanders, as is “Space Rock,” although that one’s just a mess.

Elsewhere, though, Weezer really strut their stuff effectively. The opening trilogy (if three songs adding up to six minutes can be called a trilogy) is classic stuff, including the single “Dope Nose,” with its straight-faced dumb-rock riff. “Slave” might be the finest two-minute slab of pop-punk these boys have come up with yet, and closer “December” is quite lovely. “Burndt Jamb” takes the place of “Island in the Sun” this time, but is less catchy.

I wouldn’t want to say Weezer rushed this album out, considering the five-year delay between their second and third records, but when you can seriously imagine 10 minutes being cut from a 32-minute album, some more work may have been beneficial. Maladroit is harsher in tone than their last effort as well, and the walls of guitar tend to grate after a while. It’s an overall less likable effort, which may have been the point, as Cuomo only seems happy when he’s miserable in some way. If history is any indication, Maladroit will be coolly received, and Cuomo will collapse back into another five years of self-loathing before re-emerging with something worth listening to more than twice.

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Moby titled his new album 18 because there are 18 songs on it.

That’s the level of creativity and inspiration you can expect from this new effort by the unlikeliest pop star in the history of unlikely pop stars. Moby started as a revered techno DJ, creating his own spins on the James Bond theme and music from Twin Peaks. He also dabbled in ambient soundscapes which were miles behind similar work by Aphex Twin, to name one. Later, he made a great album in Everything is Wrong, one that expanded the boundaries of techno to include rock and ambient trance, and followed it up with an utter disaster of a guitar noise album called Animal Rights before stumbling ass-backwards into a successful mix with Play.

“Successful” may be putting it mildly – Play stayed on the charts for two years, yielded four or five hit singles, and songs from it will likely keep appearing in commercials and on movie soundtracks until the earth grinds to a halt and turns to dust. It’s hard to gripe about that, though, because Play is a spectacular album, messy and inconsistent and spiritual and full of grace. On Play, Moby married old blues and gospel recordings to his trademark synthscapes, and the result was breathtakingly fresh. Looking back on his career, though, one thing seemed certain: Moby was completely unpredictable.

Well, scratch that theory. 18 has the dubious distinction of being the first Moby album that sounds almost exactly like its immediate predecessor. We’ve all heard “We Are All Made of Stars,” the limp single, and while it may seem to signal a departure from Play, the next track dispels that handily. “In This World” sets a wailing gospel vocal over a beat and a synth backdrop, as does “In My Heart,” “One of These Mornings,” “The Rafters” and “I’m Not Worried at All,” to name a few. Moby takes a few turns at vocals, just like last time, on “Signs of Love” and “Extreme Ways,” and invites a few female singers to step up to the mic, just like last time, on “At Least We Tried” and “Great Escape.” The music is all depressingly similar to Play‘s mix of ambient synths and trippy beats, and even a collaboration with Sinead O’Connor (“Harbour”) fails to breathe any originality into the mix.

Which shouldn’t hurt this album’s popularity at all. Often people are upset when an artist follows a successful release with a clone, but in this case it should suit Moby’s newfound legion of fans just fine. When the Play formula works, it really works, and even though the immediate effect of most of this album is diminished due to its familiarity, the basic appeal of Play is present throughout. For my money, the best of the lot is “Fireworks,” which captures the fragility of Play‘s quietest moments. For a guy who’s been pretty resolute in his artistry for more than a decade, though, 18 is disappointingly safe. If the next one is called 18 Again, I ain’t buying it.

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I was surprised when Mark Eitzel announced that his fifth album would be called Music for Courage and Confidence, because those words seem incongruous with his gorgeously sad catalog. Eitzel has always made lullabyes for the timid and the weary, the sad sacks who seem to live under a black cloud. He has an uncanny knack for bringing out the most depressing interpretation of any lyric and melody, even a romp like “Proclaim Your Joy” on his last album, the terrific The Invisible Man.

The mystery of the title became a lot clearer when I found out that Music for Courage and Confidence would be a covers album. It also seemed a good way to test the above theory, to see if Eitzel’s downhearted treatments of others’ songs would convey the same sense of hopelessness as his original works. Surprise, they do, and they do it beautifully.

Unlike a lot of covers albums, Courage and Confidence benefits from Eitzel’s choice of material. He croons some old standards, like Bill Withers’ inexhaustible “Ain’t No Sunshine,” but also graces some unique choices, like Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” which opens the album, and Kris Kristofferson’s lovely “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Eitzel somehow turns “I Only Have Eyes for You” into a lonely lament. He strums his world-weary way through Phil Ochs’ anthem to resignation, “Rehearsals for Retirement,” and closes with a terrific rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The album, no surprise, sticks to low-key arrangements and melancholy moods throughout, but there is one exception: the pulsing take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.”

But perhaps the most surprising, and oddly the most effective, choice here is Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” here transformed into a plaintive plea. Herein lies the genius of Mark Eitzel – he can make even a fluffy pop trifle into a deeply emotional affair. Music for Courage and Confidence is another swell project from Eitzel, the patron saint of sad-eyed depressives everywhere. His gift for heartbreak is so great that he can find it in even the unlikeliest of places.

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Next week, that sarcastic genius, Eminem. Betcha can’t wait.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

STAR MOTHERFUCKING WARS!!!
Attack of the Clones Rocks

I have seen Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones twice now, and by the time many of you read this, I’ll likely have sat through it a third.

I’m of two minds about this installment, and I thought I’d let them both speak.

First, 27-year-old me:

Despite some truly horrible dialogue, Attack of the Clones transcends its title and takes its place as a very good installment in the Star Wars saga. The inevitable plot is moved forward a great deal, but not in a dry, exposition-heavy manner, as in Episode I. This film is paced perfectly, and features surprises, discoveries, and a superb concluding sequence that keeps building upon itself until its finale, the coolest lightsaber battle in the series thus far. Those that strayed after Episode I will be very happy with this one, and the perpetually faithful (like myself) will be rewarded with an engaging, eye-popping adventure flick in tune with the spirit of the original trilogy.

And now, eight-year-old me:

YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAHHH!! OH MY GOD! THAT WAS SOOOOO COOOOOOOL!!! WHEN THE CLONES ATTACKED THE DROIDS, IT WAS AWESOME!!! AND YODA – HOLY GOD, YODA!!! WHAT AN AWESOME MOVIE!!! THIS IS THE BEST STAR WARS EVER!!! THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER!!!

I have been wary of letting my inner eight-year-old out for this flick, lest he have his childlike sense of wonder stamped on by a mediocre Star Wars film. This is not a mediocre Star Wars film, and lately I’ve been less able to keep my giddy excitement in check. George Lucas, beyond all expectation, got it just about right this time. Sure, there are problems, but they’re the same problems that crop up all throughout the original trilogy, most notably in Return of the Jedi, and you don’t hear people griping too much about those. Attack of the Clones (nope, not even warming up to that title a little bit) captures most everything that was stirring and engaging about the latter three episodes, and gives you a lot more to look at and marvel over.

I attended a midnight screening on Thursday morning (technically), and my audience was utterly bowled over by this movie. I lost count of the number of times we broke into applause. If nothing else, I came away elated that other people apparently feel the same tingle at the traditional opening sequence. They applauded when the 20th Century Fox logo morphed into the Lucasfilm logo, they applauded at the appearance of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” and they broke into hoots and hollers when the fanfare kicked in and the opening crawl began. Just that sequence of events is all it takes to send me back to my wide-eyed childhood.

And the movie didn’t disappoint from there. It opens with a bang, and leads shortly thereafter into a high-speed chase through a crowded city skyline, and then we’re off on what’s likely the most exciting ride Lucas has ever offered us. As I mentioned, the pacing for this film is perfect. I don’t know if it was Lucas or his co-writer Jonathan Hale who suggested having Obi-Wan discover the plot in pieces, rather than having it explained up front, but that decision made all the difference. The first half of Clones plays like an episode of Law and Order, with an investigation leading to revelation upon revelation.

There’s also a love story between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, and this is, to put it mildly, less successful. The dialogue is wretched, the acting is stiff, and the outcome feels rudely forced. The thing is, the outcome of this relationship is just as inevitable as the rest of the plot, but these sequences feel as though the actors know this, and are just marching in bored lockstep until they get there. Neither Hayden Christensen (quite good in most of the film) nor Natalie Portman (quite good in other films) is helped by the mind-numbingly dumb sentences they have to utter, and it’s obvious that neither of them are convinced by their words. This love story is an important part of the whole saga, and it should have resonated with wonder and tragedy. Even James Cameron did a better job with young lovers in Titanic, and that’s saying something.

But thankfully, you can just ignore those scenes, as they only make up about 15 minutes of the film. Clones is two hours and 20 minutes long, but it moves like lightning, and before you know it, you’re plunged into the final act, the greatest Jedi battle ever staged. Even though you know, because you’ve seen Episodes IV-VI, that Anakin and Obi-Wan get out alive, you’re still caught up in the excitement. Clones, droids, lightsabers, treachery, thrilling chases, and a definitive Jedi moment for Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu all lead up to what might be the coolest thing ever to grace a Star Wars movie.

Ah, Yoda. My screening audience broke into applause three times during Yoda’s brief scene, and even if the rest of the movie had sucked, this would have been worth it. We’ve heard for three movies now what a great Jedi master Yoda is, and I, for one, have wondered how that can be possible – he’s two feet tall, for Christ’s sake. I’m telling you, he goes all Crouching Yoda, Hidden Jedi on us, and damn. That’s all I have to say – damn.

Here’s the best recommendation I can make to those who left the fold after Episode I. When I came out of The Phantom Menace, I probably felt like you did. While the movie was fun, I had the sinking sensation that maybe Lucas had lost it. Maybe the new trilogy wouldn’t link up with the original one as well as it could have, and perhaps Lucas’ filmmaking skills had atrophied beyond repair. Worst of all, I thought that maybe the new trilogy would accomplish nothing more than to sully the original one.

I came out of Clones thinking we’re gonna be just fine. This movie has convinced me that Lucas knows exactly what he’s doing, and has all along. Harry Knowles was right – Clones makes The Phantom Menace a better movie. It’s all coming together now.

So, to sum up my thoughts on the future, here again is 27-year-old me:

All the elements are firmly in place for a rousing and heartbreaking finale in Episode III. Specifically, the final shots of Episode II bring the full reality of the situation home. Clones manages the neat trick of being fun and foreboding at the same time, making you cheer for all the wrong things and drop jaw in astonishment when you realize it. The shadow of the Empire is nearly upon us, and Episode III could be the best of the lot.

And finally, eight-year-old me:

EPISODE III IS GONNA ROCK!!! WOO-HOO!!!!

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Step Right Up
Both Sides of Mad Ringmaster Tom Waits

I am officially in full geek Star Wars mode.

I’m typing this while watching The Phantom Menace on Fox, and I have my ticket to go see Attack of the Clones in less than a week. I even bought a box of Star Wars – Episode II cereal, which contains marshmallows in shapes that, I guess, are vaguely reminiscent of Yoda, R2-D2 and a Stormtrooper, and also contains absolutely no nutritional value. But I ate it anyway, which is kind of a metaphor for my entire Star Wars experience. Despite all my ramblings about character, motivation, symbolism and whatnot in the movies I enjoy, I am so fucking psyched right now to see this big-budget, swashbuckling eye candy adventure flick.

Review forthcoming next week.

* * * * *

The appeal of Tom Waits is difficult, if not impossible, to explain if you’ve never immersed yourself in his work, but I thought of an illustration that might work.

You know that scene in the movie musicals that happens after the two leads have each had a number of solos, and have done the love duet, and they walk off the frame and the camera slowly pans down to a dirty, disheveled, lovesick drunk who begins to croak a sad, heartbreaking waltz under a grimy streetlight? Well, that guy is Tom Waits. He has a knack for those broken-souled numbers that creep under your skin, and he has a voice that makes your skin creep.

That voice is perhaps the element of Waits’ work that takes the most getting used to. Calling it gravelly would be putting it charitably – Waits sounds like he’s been gargling battery acid for 40 years, and he makes Joe Cocker sound like Sarah McLachlan. But even more than Bob Dylan, who has a similar tone, Waits infuses his sandpaper baritone with palpable emotion, making the listener feel more than you’d think possible. He’s like a Broadway virtuoso from Bizarro World.

A good primer for the odd sensibility of Waits would be his two new albums, Alice and Blood Money, out this week. One is a lovely, orchestrated affair, the other a bitter, dark and jazzy missive from the seedy side of town. Together they offer a nice overview of the different styles Waits has been proffering for 30 years or so.

Alice opens with the title track, which tells you all you need to know about Alice and her effect on Waits’ character. (I should, of course, mention that Waits albums are often little plays, and that’s especially true here, because both albums were composed to accompany stage shows.) Over a slow, shimmering jazz background, Waits asks, “How does the ocean rock the boat? How did the razor find my throat?” At the song’s conclusion, he sinks into blissful futility: “But I must be insane, to go skating on your name, and by tracing it twice, I fell through the ice…”

The album continues in a heartsick vein, Waits’ glowering voice contrasted with glorious string arrangements and gentle harmony. “Flower’s Grave” twists cliches on their ears: “As one rose dies, another blooms, it’s always been that way…but no one puts flowers on a flower’s grave.” “Watch Her Disappear” begins with the line, “Last night I dreamed that I was dreaming of you…,” and it weaves a hallucinogenic tale of desperation. “Poor Edward” introduces us to a man who kills himself to escape the voice of the other face on the back of his head (really), and “Table Top Joe” spins a yarn about a torso-less piano player (again, really).

Lest you start thinking that Alice is loopy and strange, it’s actually quite traditionally beautiful. Unlikely as it may seem, Waits’ voice delivers on the beauty of the songs by dredging up their inner pain. The album is a slice of off-kilter, soul-stirring melancholy, and the odder it is, the more touching it becomes. Alice is sorrow-drowning music set to moonlit walks along grimy streets.

Should you take a detour down one of the alleys on those grimy streets, you might end up in the part of town described on Blood Money, which by its nature is a less enjoyable album, but a more fascinating one. The titles tell the tale: “Misery is the River of the World,” “Everything Goes to Hell,” “God’s Away on Business,” “The Part You Throw Away,” and on and on. Blood Money is harsh, jagged and raw.

It’s also one of Waits’ most jazz-oriented recordings, and it finds him in full growl mode more often than not. He sounds here like a deranged carnival barker, welcoming you to the freak show outside your window. “All the good in the world you can put inside a thimble, and still have room for you and me,” he spits on “Misery is the River of the World,” over a propulsive bass and clarinet backing. Later he opines, “If there’s one thing you can say about mankind, it’s that there’s nothing kind about man,” which sort of sums up the 12 tales of venom and vice that follow.

And as such, it’s a less affecting work than Alice. Where that album couched its misery in equal amounts of sweetness, Blood Money goes for the jugular, and after a while the gloomy jazz stylings start to blend together. There are some standouts here, especially “Lullaby” and infidelity tale “Another Man’s Vine,” but overall Blood Money takes a few more listens to sort out in your mind. Both of these albums are worth the time they take, however, because you’ll never find another singer-songwriter as idiosyncratic, yet emotionally resonant, as Tom Waits.

Next week, probably Moby, though the single hasn’t grown on me. It’s got a cool video, though…

Oh, and Star Wars. Whoo-hoo!

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Elvis’ Comeback Special
Costello's Uneven When I Was Cruel

This didn’t fit last week, what with my single-minded analysis of Wilco’s new album, but I need to mention it this week.

I am always, at least in some way, affected when musicians and artists I admired in my youth pass on, and even though it would be difficult to categorize Layne Staley in that way, his band Alice in Chains is forever tied to a certain period in my life. While I had been turned on to them by my long-lost buddy Steve Pelland (Hey, Pell, if you’re reading this…) in 1991, the band’s superb 1992 album Dirt was the soundtrack to my first two years of college. More specifically, it’s permanently tied in my mind to an overnight trip to Boston, an impromptu voyage involving four people I’d never met before. We drove two and a half hours down, spent roughly 20 minutes there, and drove two and a half hours back in time for class the following morning, and we blasted Dirt most of the way there and back.

Besides the nostalgia trip, though, it remains a fact that Dirt is a stupendous disc. Seriously. Go dig it out from that box in the garage labeled “grunge,” and check it out again. Almost every song is in an odd time signature, it’s filled with inventive and foreboding melodies, and it features those super-cool harmonies (!) between Staley and Jerry Cantrell. It’s also a tough listen, laden as it is with tales of addiction and pain. Staley’s death from a heroin overdose last month only makes it more painful. Sure, Alice in Chains made other good albums, but they never surpassed Dirt, and if the entire Seattle grunge movement had been thrust upon us only to unleash that one album, it would have been worth it.

* * * * *

The first song on Elvis Costello’s new album, When I Was Cruel, is called “45,” and in a particularly Costello lyrical twist, the title works three ways, referring to a year, an age and a recording format. It’s almost his autobiography, tracing a music lover through boyhood to middle age, and all by itself, it raises just about every one of the album’s shortcomings.

The first is that, unlike Costello’s beloved 45 RPM records (and yes, I do remember them), the compact disc can hold more than an hour of music. This alone has contributed more to the surplus of uneven-at-best albums coming out these days. Costello came up during a time when vinyl was still the dominant format, and a single album usually ran between 30 and 40 minutes. This holds true for Costello’s first batch of angry, loud records, to which everything he’s done since has been compared.

Of course, the vinyl format didn’t really allow for too much filler, especially for a prolific and consistent songwriter like Costello. This Year’s Model, a picture-perfect album, is barely done kicking your ass and slapping your face before it’s over. Double albums, which Costello has never produced, were often criticized for being bloated and saddled with inferior tracks written to fill space. Fast forward 20 years, and now consider this: Led Zeppelin’s double album Physical Graffiti, which could definitely use a bit of a trim, would only need to cut three minutes to fit on one CD.

That’s the music biz now – an average album is more than an hour long, and you have to hit 90 minutes or so to qualify for double album status. That’s a lot of music, and it’s no wonder that a larger percentage of it is sub-par. Take any 65-minute album you own and cut your least favorite tracks off of it, and see if you don’t come up with a tight, solid 30-to-40-minute disc that surpasses the original in all but length.

Or, to bring this ramble back to the point, take Elvis Costello’s When I Was Cruel and start chopping. There is a really good 40-minute album hiding in this hour-and-change, and finding it is surprisingly easy, considering how good this guy’s songs usually are. The bloat even extends to certain songs. The title track weighs in at more than seven minutes, and its monotonous beat gets old after three or four. “Alibi” would be a classic, if it weren’t so long and repetitive that you’ll think you accidentally hit the repeat button around minute four.

Which is a shame, because when Costello’s on, he’s amazing. The aforementioned “45” is a perfect example of why other songwriters adore this guy. The gloriously mean “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)” could have fit well on 1995’s Brutal Youth, his last original rock record. Most impressively, the Dylan-esque “Episode of Blonde” includes all the venom and spite you’d expect with a title like that. It’s a scattershot rail against stupidity of all kinds, with Costello spitting out classic lines like these: “She had the attention span of warm cellophane,” “She was a cute little ruin that he pulled out of the rubble, now they are both living in a soft soap bubble,” and my favorite, “So an artist drags a toothbrush across the first thing he sees, and names the painting ‘Christ’s Last Exit into Purgatory.'”

Nothing wrong with all that, but then there is the rest of the album, which ranges from merely good to achingly average, and the problem appears to be at least partially psychological. It’s been seven years since Costello has rocked out, and he’s pushing 50. He’s spent the intervening years making lovely chamber pop with the likes of Burt Bacharach, not exactly the most graceless of public agings. There’s a lot riding on this album for him, and it often feels like he’s working overtime to prove he hasn’t turned into Mick Jagger. Unfortunately, that often translates into cacophony for its own sake, with clanging drums, wailing guitars and not much melody.

And then there’s Costello’s voice, always a take it or leave it proposition, and never more so than here. He’s written several songs here that he can’t sing, and he gamely tries anyway, with mixed results. “Tart,” for example, is a lovely ballad, one of the best songs on the album, until the band kicks in halfway through and Costello reaches unsuccessfully for notes he hasn’t been able to hit in many years. He screams his way through punk rave-up “Dissolve,” which must have been first take, and he strains audibly on “15 Petals.” While it’s great to hear Costello refuse to lay down and be Elton John, it’s sometimes a bit of a chore to sit through.

And in the end, that’s what “45” is about, and that’s the paradox it raises. “It creeps up on you without a warning,” he sings of his age, and there’s a huge gap between wanting to recapture your youth and being physically able to. Critics are knocking themselves out to praise this disc, and they’re probably reacting more to Costello’s ambition than the music. In its best moments, When I Was Cruel ably displays that he can still write a biting rock song. Overall, however, it’s a pale shadow of the man’s glory days, a merely decent album that will only remind you of when he was great.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Stupid, Stupid Record Company People
Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a Masterpiece

I meant to write this yesterday.

I had the time all blocked off, honestly, two hours right before the new-ish West Wing documentary episode. Plenty of time. I sat at the computer, I poured myself a glass of iced tea, and I pressed “play” for my third listen-through of this week’s musical work.

And 52 minutes later, having written not one word, I pressed “play” again.

I’ve just now finished my seventh go-round with this disc, and I’m prepared to say that Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the kind of album that seduces your attention. While it’s playing, it’s practically impossible to concentrate on anything else, and it’s such an enveloping and satisfying experience that you don’t mind at all when it hijacks your senses for the better part of an hour.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shipped to stores this week complete with a set of expectations no album should have to overcome. It’s best known as the album Reprise Records deemed too “musically adventurous” to release, cutting the band free from its contract rather than suffer the indignity of associating themselves with the record. With one fell swoop Yankee became the stuff of legends, and Wilco’s frontman Jeff Tweedy a champion for artistic expression free from interference.

Most of the curiosity surrounding Yankee sprung from the ferocity with which Tweedy fought for the album. It took the band the better part of the following year to secure the rights to their album, negotiate another deal and ensure that this record was released untouched. If Yankee was indeed the mess the folks at Reprise seemed to think it was, why would Tweedy dedicate himself so thoroughly to preserving it as if it were a national monument?

The short, simple answer is that the record company was wrong, utterly and completely. The bootleg copies that exist attest to the fact that the Reprise reps heard the same Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that we’re hearing now, and given that, their knee-jerk response is totally amazing. And, considering that it delayed the release of such a superb work for more than eight months, nearly unforgivable. Tweedy was right to fight for this album, right to refuse to compromise a single note.

Interestingly, Yankee has been released on Nonesuch Records, which, like Reprise, is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Which, of course, means that the geniuses at AOL/Time Warner paid for this album twice. A few more decisions like that might go a long way towards explaining the company’s $54 billion net loss this quarter…

But enough about the record company. Let’s talk about the record.

Ever since Wilco split off from alt-country band Uncle Tupelo in the early ’90s, Jeff Tweedy has been working towards this, a union of American roots music, British pop and modern art-rock. The elements were all there on Wilco’s second album, the double-disc Being There, but they were separated out. The band’s third, Summerteeth, brought them crashing together in an adventurous and uneven effort, which concentrated more on studio craft than song craft in places.

While many derided Summerteeth for straying too far off the beaten path, it was merely a dress rehearsal for Yankee. Far less musically adventurous than their last in ways, Yankee takes a group of simple, elegant songs and dresses them up in swirling Technicolor. The songs exist separately, but hang together as a gentle suite, and the transitions between songs have been crafted with as much care as the songs themselves. It’s the roots-rock OK Computer.

The opening track, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” is the mission statement. At first listen, it sounds like absolute chaos. Drums crash, guitars whine, percussion flourishes abound, and piano riffs flit in and out of nowhere. In truth, though, the song is grounded by the simplest of melodies, the most elemental of chord progressions. The song’s lyrics describe the indecisive nature of the violently insecure protagonist, unable to see the simple truths beneath the whirling debris of his mind, and the sonic coloring illustrates that whirling debris and simple truth perfectly.

Yankee juxtaposes disparate styles throughout, like the perfect pop of “Kamera” easing into the melancholy masterpiece “Radio Cure,” and then into the rave-up “War on War,” but it does so with such ease and grace that the differences barely register. Like OK Computer, it works best swallowed whole – the blazing conclusion to the horn-driven stomper “I’m the Man Who Loves You” doesn’t have the same effect unless it’s followed by the low-key acoustic opening of “Pot Kettle Black,” just to name one instance.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was supposed to have been released in July of last year, two months before the worst terrorist attack this country has ever seen. What’s doubly amazing about this album is that despite it having been written and recorded months previous, the specter of September 11 is all over it. Just start with the cover photo of two gleaming gray towers, and then move to the lyrics, especially the tough “War on War,” with its refrain of, “You have to learn how to die if you wanna be alive.” “Jesus, Etc.” seems to directly reference the attack and its aftermath: “Tall buildings shake, voices escape singing sad, sad songs…”

At its heart, both musically and lyrically, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is about finding beauty from chaos, a sentiment that captures, better than anything released since, the state of mind immediately following September 11. Every time the band latches onto a gorgeous melody, it seems to devolve into mass hysteria, but then, like string shafts of light breaking through, the next bit of beauty takes off. Those bits of beauty are often accompanied by lyrics that hearken back to more innocent times, or that strive for inner strength in the midst of catastrophe.

With the push and pull of beauty and chaos that infuses the record, Tweedy seemingly had a choice when it came time to end the album, and thankfully, he chose beauty. “Reservations” makes the best use of his world-beaten voice, telling a tale of love amidst the ruins: “I’ve got reservations about so many things, but not about you…” The album ends with a sublime three-minute piano coda that feels like the sun setting on a whole new world.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a brave and glorious album about being scared to death, about yearning for simplicity and dealing with complexity. Far from being a work of rampant experimentalism, it maintains a perfect balance and draws the listener in like few albums can. Kudos to Tweedy for seeing it for what it is, and being courageous enough to fight for it. Hearing it now, nearly nine months after its originally scheduled release, it’s clear that this album was worth every second of the wait, and every ounce of effort it took to bring it into being.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Looking For a Perfect Pop Record?
Be Phantom Planet's Guest

Running a bit behind again, but seriously, have you looked outside? I’m having trouble convincing myself that any free time I have shouldn’t be spent out in the sunshine doing nothing in particular. Right now I’ve got a glass of pink lemonade here, and I’m listening to LivePhish Volume 7 (a three-hour gig from 1993 in Tinley Park, Illinois) and grooving to “Guelah Papyrus,” and I’m ready to roll, so let’s not waste the moment.

Next week is a mammoth one for music, with new ones by Elvis Costello, Wilco, Mark Eitzel, Tuatara and the Pet Shop Boys. I’m giddy with anticipation, and I already wish it were next week. But it’s not. It’s this week, with nary a great musical statement to be found. In my desperation for a column topic, I actually went scrounging for something passable, and found something remarkable by accident. But later for that.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one major release of this week, which is Sheryl Crow’s C’mon, C’mon.

Each year, there is a moment, a song, or an album that unquestionably heralds the arrival of summer. You know the type of song I mean – those lazy, breezy, put-it-on-in-the-car-while-you-cruise-the-beach-with-the-top-down kind of numbers at which Sugar Ray excels. Weezer’s “Island in the Sun,” for example, filled the role last year. And this year, the return of warmer weather has been accompanied by “Soak Up the Sun,” Sheryl Crow’s laid-back exhortation to do just that.

The album, at first glance, seems designed to capitalize on the song’s sunny content, with a design similar in tone and style to k.d. lang’s Invincible Summer. And indeed, it opens with “Steve McQueen,” a June/July driving song if there ever was one (and likely the next single), followed closely by “Sun.” However, from there, it all goes a bit awry, thanks to Crow’s seeming need to please everybody all the time.

Sheryl Crow has always been a study in contradictions (or, less charitably, in hypocrisy). She says she doesn’t want to be a pop star, and then makes pop songs and videos for the marketing machine. She rails against the current fashion of showing skin to get record sales, and then poses for the inside cover of C’mon, C’mon wearing next to nothing. She embraces rock and pop, but never integrates them, preferring to let the styles (and audiences) battle it out.

And so it goes on the new album. “You’re an Original” brings the John Mellencamp-style rock, but it’s an overused chord progression which, ironically, supports lyrics chastising those who pinch styles from others. Later, “It’s So Easy” finds her surrounded by goopy strings a la Faith Hill and dueting with Mr. Adult Contemporary himself, Don Henley. For almost the entire running time, you get one or the other – either the hackneyed guit-rock or the MTV-ready gloss-pop, neither one performed with a whole lot of conviction.

There is one song, though, that makes me kind of glad I plunked down the cash for this album. “Safe and Sound” is an epic ballad that eschews the VH-1 trappings (even though the string section is present) and soars on the strength of melody and harmony. It’s the only song here that you’ll enjoy without thinking about where you’ve heard it before.

Crow seems to make the case for retiring the pop music form all together, as if it can’t deliver anything new while remaining steeped in its roots. As if in defiant answer to that, I also bought one of the finest pop albums I’ve heard in ages this week, and it’s one that’s been out for a while (since January, I think) and I’ve avoided buying for a silly reason.

The album is Phantom Planet’s The Guest, and I haven’t bought it for the same reason I haven’t bought albums by Dogstar and 30-Odd Foot of Grunts – the movie star factor. The drummer for Phantom Planet is none other than Jason Schwartzman, who brilliantly played acidic teen Max Fischer in Rushmore. A little research might have showed me that he was in the band first, and that every reviewer on the planet has praised this thing, but what can I say. I’m silly.

I’m quite glad I got past my mental block, though, because The Guest is wonderful. By now you’ve likely all heard “California,” the hit single, and it was that song that finally convinced me. It’s a swell number, full of dynamic switches and melodic twists akin to Fastball’s underrated pop singles. It’s also this album’s worst and most commercially aimed song, yet it sets the tone well in the leadoff position.

No, Phantom Planet have aimed a bit higher, creating a focused and solid record that balances drama and sweetness like the best pop bands always have. It’s refreshing to see a group of kids this young reaching back to the ’60s and further for inspiration, and coming up with an album so rooted in classic pop, yet so willing to reach out in new directions. Many have credited producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake (who have worked with Crowded House, among others) with the lion’s share of the artistry here, but that seems cynical to me, especially considering neither one had a hand in the songwriting. You can produce a group of bad songs to death, and in the end, you’ll still be left with a group of bad songs.

And these are great songs, folks. Even the simplest of them (like the singalong “Anthem”) shines, and when they turn more twisty and complex (like on the menacing “Turn Smile Shift Repeat”), you’d think you were listening to a band twice as experienced as these boys. The Guest just keeps getting better, as well: the piano-powered “Nobody’s Fault” shimmies and shakes, and gives way to the scream-fest “All Over Again,” on which Schwartzman really shines. Full credit, though, goes to guitarist and vocalist Alexander Greenwald for penning “Wishing Well,” the closest I’ve heard to a true pop epic a la “A Day in the Life” since Matthew Sweet’s “Thunderstorm.”

Maybe it’s just that this year has been somewhat barren, but The Guest is my favorite album from 2002 so far, bar none. I suspect that Elvis Costello and Wilco will have something to say about that next week, but for now, this album is tops. For future reference, when I use the term “a perfect pop album,” Phantom Planet’s The Guest is exactly what I mean.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Life and ‘Deth
After 10 Years of Shit, Megadeth Calls it Quits

It’s cop-out time again.

I know, I know, I promised the LivePhish reviews this week, and I only have one more week of lag time before the next six volumes come out, and blah blah blah. Here’s the thing: the Phish reviews are turning into a massive project, and it’s one I don’t quite feel like finishing today. Why? Well, if you live in Northwest Indiana, you only need to look outside to answer that question. It’s a beautiful day, which falls smack in the middle of a beautiful week, and I spent a large portion of it inside a stuffy office, and right now I want nothing more than to go out on my back porch with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of comic books. And so I will.

So here’s my thought. Since the Phish reviews deal with an ongoing series, I had the idea of making the review page a separate entity that I update once a month or so, when I get and absorb a new volume. What does everyone think? I would let everyone know when the page is updated, of course.

Being a responsible chap, I couldn’t just leave my loyal readership without something to peruse this week, and thankfully, the topic for this column sort of fell into my lap. I get to revisit my headbanging childhood, and celebrate the rebirth that is spring by talking about death.

Or, more precisely, ‘Deth.

* * * * *

Just because I needed more reasons to feel old, one of my earliest musical obsessions called it quits just recently. Citing an injury to his left hand that prevents him from playing guitar, Megadeth’s leader and musical mastermind Dave Mustaine announced that his band has decided to break up. I’m of two minds about this.

For one, my checkbook is happy, because this announcement follows 10 years of absolute shit from the Megadeth camp. We’re talking five albums since 1992, each crappier than the last, culminating in last month’s two-disc live album Rude Awakening, which cast classic ‘Deth next to the recent godawful dreck they’ve been releasing. Songs like “She-Wolf” and “Almost Honest” don’t improve in a live setting, in case long-time fans were wondering.

But another part of me is actually going to miss Mustaine and his less-than-merry men. I got a lot of responses to two columns I wrote for Face that doubled as open letters to Dave, taking him to task for his recent output. Seriously, you have never heard a bigger piece of feces than 1999’s Risk album. Schmaltzy strings, lazy songwriting, an anthem written for the WWF called (snicker) “Crush ‘Em,” and on and on. It was so shitty that I’d bet you could walk into a record store stocking it and find it using only your sense of smell. Shit, I tell you.

But really, I only called him out so much because, believe it or not, I expected better. Megadeth used to make serious, musically muscular metal, stuff that took chops and practice and a real compositional sense to create. There was an admittedly brief period of my life when I really considered 1990’s Rust In Peace the best album ever made, and while that time has thankfully passed, I have to say that the album holds up remarkably well in this era of one-note nu-metal and rap-core. Just the opening track, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” was enough to rock this 16-year-old’s world, and even now, the opening faster-than-lightning guitar riff stirs something within me.

Mustaine’s story is the stuff of legend for metal fans. Depending on who you believe, he was kicked out of Metallica before their first album because of his drug problem, or he left because the rest of the band couldn’t keep up with him musically. Lending credence to the second theory, Megadeth’s 1984 debut, the semi-classic Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good, contained a track called “Mechanix” that was nothing more than the Metallica tune “The Four Horsemen” played at six times the speed.

They kept getting better and more intricate. Follow-up Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying contained enough riffs and separate sections for four or five albums, especially on opening track “Wake Up Dead.” Six minutes, one verse of vocals, almost nothing repeated – “Wake Up Dead” was as close to a symphony as metal gets. Third album So Far, So Good, So What contained the technically demanding “In My Darkest Hour,” often considered the best Megadeth song, and the blazing anti-anthem “Hook In Mouth,” which railed against the PMRC. This was back when censorship was a big deal, big enough to hold a congressional hearing at which Mustaine spoke.

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find an ’80s metaller more politically aware than Dave Mustaine. When MTV began its “Rock the Vote” campaign, there was Mustaine in front of the White House, interviewing candidates and pushing for kids to register to vote when they turned 18. When most metal videos were made up of performance shots with flying ’80s hair as the main focus, Megadeth filled theirs with social and political commentary, most notably on “Holy Wars,” which (in its uncensored version) contained scenes of raw brutality from the Middle East.

And then, with 1992’s Countdown to Extinction, it all started falling apart. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though they were long-haired metalheads who deserve at least a portion of the laughter they often engendered, Megadeth kind of meant something to me, and I’m sure to a lot of people. Somewhere in my psyche is a 16-year-old with too much hair and a budding passion for music that still holds their early stuff dear. Without Megadeth, he wouldn’t have been him, and without him, I wouldn’t be me, so I guess I owe Dave Mustaine and company a bit of thanks for making music that once inspired me.

It’s a crummy epitaph, but it’ll have to do: Rust in peace, guys.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

Music Good, Snow Bad
New Releases to Keep You Warm This Spring

So here I am, sitting down to write the spring preview edition of Tuesday Morning, and I look outside, and it’s snowing. It’s fucking April, and it’s snowing, and I’m thinking to myself, given the first opportunity, I am so moving back down south.

The problem is, I have never been able to come up with a good, sound, environmental reason for snow. I mean, I understand how it happens – water is crystallized upon contact with lower temperatures, thereby blanketing the ground with millions of tiny white solid flakes – but I can’t figure out why it happens. Is there a single form of life on the planet that benefits from snow? Most of us burrow away from it, whether in the ground or in houses. Think of all the complicated preparations we go through before the snow arrives, and the number of animals that are killed outright because they get caught unawares in freezing blizzards.

This would all make more sense to me if snow served some purpose. I could say, “Well, sure, it’s a pain in the ass, but look at what it does for such and such, and how it improves so and so.” Snow improves nothing, contributes to nothing, and has no reason to exist beyond making me cold and irritable. I’m moving closer to the equator. You can keep your damn snow.

* * * * *

Okay, despite what the thermometer says, spring has apparently sprung, and with it comes the quarterly look ahead at upcoming releases of note. I want to point out that this list doesn’t even pretend to be a comprehensive listing of new music through June. You can get that innumerable other places on the web. This is just a coming attractions sort of thing for the column, covering stuff I’m looking forward to and will be reviewing in this space. So don’t write me all angry and say, “Hey, the new A*Teens album is coming out, and you didn’t say anything about it!” Well, no shit, Sherlock, because they suck and I wouldn’t buy an A*Teens album even if all four members of the original ABBA came to my house and begged me.

In short, what follows is what I’m looking forward to (or dreading) for the next few months, and it’s quite a diverse slate. 2002 is finally starting to shape up. Here’s what I mean:

First, the next six volumes of the LivePhish series kick off the spring on April 16. I know I promised I’d get around to reviewing the first six before the next salvo came out, so that leaves me a week. I’ll do my best. Anyway, the new series has one major difference over the first one: rather than present just the complete concerts, the band has chosen to fill up the remaining disc space (and there always is about half an hour of space left over) with “philler,” meaning tunes from other shows. According to the track listings, they’ve been good about making sure the philler shows are pretty close date-wise to the featured shows, so each set still provides a snapshot of a certain time period in the band’s history. Not sure how I feel about this yet.

Anyway, Sheryl Crow also returns on the 16th with the atrociously titled C’mon C’mon, before the floodgates open on April 23. A quick note – most of the new releases through June have had numerous release dates already, and while I’m pretty sure that what I’m presenting is the latest info, it’s entirely possible that any and all of these dates will have changed by the time this gets posted. One thing that hasn’t changed is that April 23 seems like the dumping ground for a bunch of cool stuff. First and foremost, Elvis Costello strikes back with When I Was Cruel, his first rock album since 1994’s Brutal Youth. As much as I dig his more orchestrated experiments, his stripped-down, angry stuff always resonates more.

Also on the 23rd is Wilco’s long-delayed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is getting some very impressive advance notices. Hope it lives up to its reputation as an artistic milestone for the band. Tuatara, the supergroup featuring Peter Buck of R.E.M., drops their third, Cinemathique, on the 23rd as well. Plus, the Pet Shop Boys (shut up, I’m a fan) release Release, featuring Johnny Marr on a bunch of tracks, and if the advance reviews are to be believed, Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Qwest) redefines rap with some jazz fusion on Kamaal: The Abstract. A couple of cool rereleases round off the date: Pete Yorn delivers a 2-CD version of his acclaimed debut Musicforthemorningafter, and Sloan’s Pretty Together (which landed on last year’s Top 10 List) gets a proper U.S. release on RCA.

Moving on, Phish’s Trey Anastasio releases his self-titled solo debut on April 30. Also scheduled for that date is Weezer’s fourth, Maladroit, even though by all accounts the band hasn’t even delivered the album to their record company yet. We shall see…

May 7 sees some good ones from old people, as Warren Zevon comes out with his umpteenth record, My Ride’s Here, and Tom Waits drops two apparently distinct new albums, Alice and Blood Money, that reportedly break new ground for this quirky genius. Waits is definitely an acquired taste, but once you’ve acquired it, anything he’s done is worth hearing.

Speaking of old people, Canadian trio Rush returns on May 14 with Vapour Trails, their first album since 1996’s Test For Echo. No word yet on whether this is the same album they’ve already released 20 times. Also on May 14 is Moby’s long-awaited follow-up to 1999’s Play, which he still gets royalty checks for each and every month. The album’s called 18, which Moby explains is because it has 18 songs on it. If you’ve heard the boring single, “We Are All Made of Stars,” you probably agree that it should have been called 17. Again, we shall see. Finally on the 14th, if you missed the first four Cranberries records, and you just can’t live without Dolores “Please Slap Me” O’Riordan’s caterwauling, and you’ve been dreaming of the day when you can pay through the nose for an expensive set collecting all four, well, mark your calendar, ’cause Treasure Box is the answer to your prayers.

Neil Finn gets his shot at the elusive U.S. audience with the stateside release of his solo album One Nil, retitled One All for no reason I can think of, on May 21. And that’s it for May.

June begins with the many-times-delayed release of Me’Shell NdegeoCello’s fourth album, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape on the 4th. The following week should see Korn returning to infect the masses with Untouchables, as well as promising new ones from Bruce Hornsby (Big Swing Face), David Bowie (Heathen, the first release on his private indy label) and Our Lady Peace (Gravity). Despite my critical drubbing upon first hearing it, Our Lady Peace’s last album, Spiritual Machines, nearly cracked the Top 10 List last year, so effectively did it grow on me. I’m looking forward to the new one.

June 18 likely sees the third album by everyone’s favorite controversy magnet, Eminem. Called The Eminem Show, this record apparently completes the trilogy begun by The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, giving the final of his three personalities his time in the spotlight. I say “likely” because the release date has changed twice in the last three weeks, so who knows. Also on the 18th, Wyclef Jean finally releases The Masquerade, his third solo album.

Finally, the rock returns on June 25 with Soulfly’s third album, Enterfaith, and the second solo disc from Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, Degradation Trip. And that’s all I know, except for this: sometime this summer, Radiohead is preparing to release an album of b-sides from the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions. I can’t think of an album I’m looking forward to less. Considering how bad the songs that made it to both those albums are, imagine how jaw-droppingly awful the songs that didn’t make the cut must be. If I listen to this, it will be in that “Oh wow, look at that car crash” way. Every time I think they can’t possibly further betray their potential, they come up with something to surprise me.

And that’ll do it. Look for the Phish reviews next week, if I’m feeling inspired. If not, look for more meaningless, mindless drivel.

See you in line Tuesday morning.