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Pop culture invasion -- listening to lots of music...


Did you have a nice weekend? Because if you didn’t, whose fault is that?

My weekend was spent fighting all the bad weather that wanted to put a cramp in my style, but see, what I did was to grab that bad weather by the tail, turn it around, give it a stern talking to, and then send it on its way. Today, the rain clouds turned to sunshine and I can only attribute it to my lecture on not fucking up my weekend.


On Saturday, I made a pilgrimage to Best Buy to get the new U2 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind (or as I like to call it, "All The Songs That We Wrote 10 Years Ago") and PJ Harvey’s new one, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Best Buy was swamped on Saturday with people buying $99 DVD players and crying in the aisles because they couldn’t find a PlayStation2. I was almost crying because I couldn’t locate the PJ Harvey disc. So I asked one of the blue-shirted guys in the aisles, who looked like he was about 17 and forced into the junior varsity wrestling team by his overbearing father, if they had it.

"I’ve never heard of PJ Harvey," he said, in all seriousness, "What kind of music does he play?"

I wanted to smack the poor boy, but then he would have to explain the mark on his face to his dad, and it would just lead to another beating. Instead, I found the CD myself, far in the back. It was past Papa Roach and about 30 Christina Aguilera CDs. Past Mystikal and Nelly and a whole library of other CDs I won’t be buying.

The U2 album was supposed to have a bonus one-track disc, but I couldn’t find it and didn’t feel like dealing with Best Buy staff, so I just grabbed the CDs and left.

Listening to them through the weekend, during all the rain, I came to a few conclusions.

Greg writes much better music reviews than I do and he’s already weighed in on the U2 album. I agree with most of his points, but you know this is the first U2 album that I haven’t rushed out to buy the day it was released. I started doing that with Achtung, Baby, which I’d waited three years to get and I’ve done it with Zooropa and even Pop. I wasn’t one of the people who was bitterly disappointed with Pop, I just thought it wasn’t as strong as some of their other work. Maybe that’s what it was. Even liking the new song, "Beautiful Day," I still didn’t find myself frothing at the mouth with anticipation the way I did over Radiohead’s Kid A, which I downloaded and listened to over and over a month before its release.

Maybe it’s just too much music in too short a time. I had a huge thrill a few months ago when I realized that four of my favorite musical acts would be releasing albums at about the same time. Radiohead, U2, Björk and PJ Harvey were all putting stuff out, and the PJ Harvey and Björk albums would even have guest vocals by Thom Yorke! How sweet is that?

The sad truth, though, was that as much as I love U2 and as much as I enjoy hearing the new album of old sounds, there were moments when I just felt that the glory was gone. Bono’s voice is straining, people. Really, really straining. I remember when I used to marvel at his voice — how clear and strong and assured it was. All those cigarettes and bottles of liquor have finally taken their toll and on songs like "In a Little While," the man sounds like he’s headed toward Joe Cocker territory. My friend Gissela is going to kick my ass for saying all this, but it’s true.

The sad thing is that U2 was really trying to move in new directions. They were trying to navigate the world of electronica, and whatever degree of success they achieved, at least they were trying to keep from getting bored. Even when the music wasn’t that strong, it was at least adventurous. All That You Can’t Leave Behind, is comforting, like a favorite pair of shoes or a blanket from your childhood, but there’s also an air of resignation and retreat that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. It’s like Bono apologizing after Rattle and Hum, apologizing for trying to go in a new direction. I’m going to listen to the new album, and eventually, I’m going to really like it, but I wish there was some of the old hero worship left. I think I left that behind.

The interesting thing is that PJ Harvey’s album is also a little bit of a retreat, but one that works a lot better. I loved To Bring You My Love and her obscure album Dance Hall at Louse Point with John Parish. Her last album, Is This Desire?, got great reviews but left me a little cold. It had great songs, but some of the experiments overshadowed her musical ability. This new album is straight ahead rock songs. Not a lot of drama, which I miss, but it includes some gorgeous arrangements. One of the songs Thom Yorke sings on, This Mess We’re In, is beautiful. It prompted Rebecca to say that she liked that song better than anything she’s heard from Radiohead in a while. (I strongly disagree, but what are you gonna do? The girl loves Oasis and liked Radiohead best during the era of The Bends.) The biggest treat is that we get to remember how great Polly Jean Harvey’s voice is and how she can make poetry out of simplicity. Welcome back, PJ. We missed the hell out of you.

Which brings me back to Radiohead and Björk. One of the most thrilling things about them is how they have a tendency to pull things apart to create a new order. Radiohead has said in interviews that they had to practically break up the band in order to create the new album. And Björk is best when she’s putting cracks in musical genres that most people wouldn’t be able to fit together (electronica and classical, for instance). And whereas a band like U2 tried to fiddle with these new sounds and bust out the computers, their albums don’t sound like retreads. Kid A, which anyone who knows me will attest that I think it’s a freaking masterpiece, probably didn’t surprise Radiohead fans as much as everybody else because we’d already had our minds blown and our expectations widened with OK Computer. After that album, nothing Radiohead does can be too surprising. They are trying to break barriers, forge new sounds and even when they sound like they’re aping Can or Aphex Twins, they’ve still got something that all these other groups don’t: Thom Yorke’s voice and the rest of the bands musicianship. They’re going beyond guitars because they became maybe the world’s best guitar band and then decided to try something new. That takes guts.

Don’t even get me started on Björk. She’s made of music and if after seeing Dancer in the Dark, you don’t agree, well we’ll probably never have a civil discussion about her. She’s as close as pop music has to a true musical genius since Stevie Wonder was at the top of his game.

I keep wondering the implications of that: breaking something, destroying the thing you do, to create something fresh and different. Greg trashes his Web site and then starts all over, redefining his online identity and recreating what he’s doing.

I think it takes an incredibly amount of bravery to forego something you’re good at in order to challenge yourself and find a new direction that doesn’t bore you and to grow as a person. It’s something I’m working on that scares me and thrills me at the same time.


Did anybody else notice that there’s a little Mr. Show media invasion going on? Mr. Show, in case you haven’t seen it, is maybe one of the best sketch comedy shows ever. HBO ran it for a few seasons and people who are fans tend to tape all the shows and watch them over and over, trying to break down the genius.

Well last week, David Cross from Mr. Show did an unbelievably funny guest appearance on Just Shoot Me. Brian Posehn has also been appearing on the show, and having the two of them in the same episode made me all jittery and childlike. It was brilliant. Then Bob Odenkirk showed up on Larry David’s very funny HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm as a former porn star. Funny, funny stuff.

Their movie Run, Ronnie, Run just got greenlighted. You can check out the official site here.

PlayStation2 update: SSX is completely ruling my life. I can’t stop playing this game, people. It’s a snowboarding game and they should have mentioned somewhere in the manual that you’re only supposed to take it in small doses. It has become the heroin of videogames. I set aside all the other PS2 games just to play that one, so it wasn’t until I visited my brother that I actually started playing Madden 2001 or Swing Away Golf (which is a lot more fun than it should be). If you plan to get a PlayStation2, and God forbid you should happen to buy SSX, just please have some family members and friends ready to set up an intervention.

I should have mentioned it earlier, but if you don’t read Penny Arcade, you should. Especially if you have any interest in video games whatsoever. It’s a funny, funny comic strip and the guys who put it together are really nice guys living in Alaska. Please take a look at their site and let them earn some hard-earned page views.

Last thing. Am I the only person who thinks that Donna from The West Wing looks like a character from Wallace & Gromit? Here, I present the evidence:


Clip Art Corner

"No one shall eat my honey bun!"



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