I reviewed Bryan Adams for the second time in three years last night, doing pretty much the same thing he did the first time around – presenting stripped-down, acoustic versions of his hits. It made me think about how MTV needs to bring “Unplugged” back, because when it’s the right artist, a look at the skeletons of their songs can be revelatory. Bryan Adams isn’t one of those artists, of course (he did do an “Unplugged” set in 1996, regardless). His songs are simple, sugary pop numbers beefed up with punchy guitars and that strong, sandpapery voice – when you strip away the window dressings, there ain’t much left. Except for lyrics like “It’s so damn easy making love to you” and “Let’s make a night to remember/From January to December.” Adams needs the trappings of ’80s rock stardom for his music to make sense; the intimate acoustic thing just isn’t meant for him.
While doing a little research before the show, I stumbled upon a video of Adams’ performance with Nelly Furtado at the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. It’s a huge, lip-synced mess (if you don’t believe me, check out Adams missing his backup vocal cue around 32 seconds in).
My last review of this guy inspired some vitriol from the Adams faithful. I’ll let you know if the sequel gets them just as riled.
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah, Part Two: Return Of The Ankh
On her fifth album, and second installment of the awkwardly named “New Amerykah” series, Erykah Badu gives us her most commercially viable music of the last decade or so. That’s not to say it’s the kind of glossy, over-emoted sludge that passes for R&B these days – Return of the Ankh goes down easy, but it’s because Badu and her band make these breezy soul grooves look easy. A significant shift from the challenging sprawl of New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War, Ankh is waiting to be pulled out during the summer months. With the airy funk of “Turn Me Away (Get Munny)” and the slow-burning ode to solo travel “Window Seat” drifting from your speakers, you’ll almost be able to smell the barbecue.
She & Him – Volume Two
She & Him is such a shamelessly cute premise – gal writes sweet love songs, guy produces ’em to sound like mid-’60s pop singles, and they release them in packaging full of fanciful illustrations – I can’t believe I don’t hate it. The duo’s second album follows pretty much the same formula as its first, with Zooey Deschanel’s songs dripping in hooks that would’ve surely been snatched up by The Turtles and Herman’s Hermits back in the day, and M. Ward’s production fleshing them out without weighing down their inherent preciousness. Their back-to-pop-basics philosophy seems trendy on paper, but on Volume Two, She & Him makes Me happy.
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
It took me a while to really give 808s & Heartbreak a chance. I figured Kanye’s “I’m working out my personal issues with Auto-Tune and a TR-808 drum machine as a support system” album would be an interesting, but ultimately forgettable, listen. Lord, was I wrong. West embraces the chilly, impersonal nature of that technology, using it to enhance the feelings of loss, abandonment and unrequited love that dominate these tracks. And he pairs his roboticized voice with beautiful post-punk soundscapes throughout, from the heart-monitor-beep-fueled sexuality of “Say You Will” to the sweeping strings and gnashing drum machines of “RoboCop.” By fusing one of R&B’s lamest trends with the gothic, synthesized pop of bands like The Cure, Kanye West took a wild artistic gamble and created something staggeringly great. I’m just trusting him from now on.
Last night, I did what I do most Sunday evenings – eagerly watch The Simpsons, and then sit though an hour-and-a-half’s worth of pointless pop culture references and “shocking” jokes, courtesy of Seth MacFarlane. My appetite for cartoons is that strong, I guess. But that’s beside the point. In the midst of MacFarlane’s uninspired programming block, a commercial aired for the upcoming Paul Rudd/Steve Carell vehicle, Dinner For Schmucks. After a few seconds, it seemed like this was going to be the next stupid slapstick blockbuster du jour, with Carell taking the pratfalls instead of Ben Stiller.
That is, until BRUCE FRICKIN’ GREENWOOD appeared on screen. That’s right, that Bruce Greenwood, the star of the criminally overlooked Hallmark Hall of Fame masterwork, A Dog Named Christmas (that’s him above, circa 1998. I can’t tell which one’s the stallion!). Apparently my man G-Wood plays Paul Rudd’s pompous boss, a role that couldn’t possibly have the depth of ADNC’s George McCray, a father who doesn’t want his son to rent a dog for Christmas because it reminds him of the dog he had in Vietnam, which was killed by a land mine. But once the dog saves everybody from a mountain lion, including a dachshund and her puppies, George has a change of heart, even though his son gives him the rather short-sighted name “Christmas.”
So if you’re a Greenwood buff, Dinner For Schmucks is reason to rejoice. At least until A Ferret Named Thanksgiving gets green-lighted.
Greenwood fans, please post your fav nicknames for our hero here. I got the ball rolling with G-Wood, and I’ll throw a couple more out there: Brucey Juice and Wooder.
This week, American Idol did a Beatles-themed night, which they called “Lennon/McCartney Songbook Week.” I’m guessing they weren’t allowed to say “The Beatles” for legal reasons, which protected “Something,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “I Want To Tell You” and other George and Ringo-penned classics from getting the amateur karaoke treatment. Even so, I’d rather watch The Apple Dumpling Gang on a loop than watch those jerks crap on a legacy. Well, watching The Apple Dumpling Gang sounds kinda fun, actually. Don Knotts is straight gangsta.
Things have been a little crazy in my world lately (I just gave birth to my seventh child and haven’t been able to track his father down anywhere! Plus I started a killer new job at friggin’ Travers Collins & Company), so it’s taken me a while to post about last week’s David Gray show. As you’ll see in my review – because you will read it, goddammit – it was a glowingly received performance by the beloved Brit. ‘Twas his first-ever Buffalo gig, and judging by the often-rapturous response he received – we’re talking dudes giving standing ovations and devil horns – it was a long-awaited event.
I wasn’t one of those folks hotly anticipating Gray’s safe, sensitive modern rock in a live setting, but the guy performed admirably, laying into the big hooks and pretty chord changes of his tunes with real fervor. The guy’s never going to blow your mind, but he ain’t gonna get on your nerves, either.
The opening act, on the other hand, was a revelation. Phosphorescent’s blend of country, psychedelia and shoegaze was a total crowd-husher, overflowing with ghostly harmonies and lyrical imagination. I picked up their 2007 record, Pride, at intermission – it’s a gorgeous thing, but I was slightly bummed that it contained none of the tunes I just saw them perform. I impatiently await their next release.