There's no need for the exchange of overpriced trinkets to distract me from the agony of having to play the same old tired roles -- rankled adult child, tormented kid, alcoholic uncle -- that I spend the rest of the year struggling bravely to escape. Hardly. This Christmas Eve I sat alone, content with a bottle and the rediscovery of the brilliance of Mott the Hoople. Yes, Mott, and oh how the night was grand. One of the lovely things about mixing such great music with booze and solitude is how it makes the rest of the world disappear. A kind of holy trinity on a holy night, and all else is a warm, happy blur. All this and then the cycle begins again. And we forget that listening to a simple song just ain't that easy.
1). (Tie) The Strokes
Is This It
White Blood Cells
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Forget the excessively rapturous worldwide press that has all of Western Europe on its knees. Average white punks on weak dope, I say. Clearly too privileged for normal folk. And not sufficiently fucked-up to be interesting. At least Lou Reed had the sense to get that bit right. Thing is, NYC's Strokes and Detroit's White Stripes do little more than Walk on the Mild Side.
What's so insulting is that well-paid journalistic halfwits often try to draw parallels between The Strokes and Jim Carroll, between White Stripes and Otis Redding; ya gotta realize that these are the sort of people who can't tell Jagger from Kravitz, Blink from Sum 41, their asses from their elbows. C'mon, the Strokes are pampered little New Yorkers; Jim Carroll an articulate bastard who has lived countless lives on borrowed time. White Stripes are fun! and colorful! "garage" retro-vaudevillians who seized a Detroit craze; Otis Redding is the greatest male soul singer of all time.
Can it be just be me who ain't buying the jive? Am I the only schmuck with a mighty enough sniffer to sense that the Stripes and Strokes just stink of shtick?
2). Father of the Year Award:
Tommy Lee wins a bitter Superior Court child custody battle
Give me a 40, a pickup and a gun, or give me death! Man, you gotta love a country where a convicted wife beater and infamous drug addict/alcoholic/layer-of-porn stars can get unmonitored visits with his kids. Yeah! White Trash procreation rules! Seems the ex-Motley skinner and current ghetto enthusiast claims his ex-wife, the one he personally whacked in front of said kids, has breached her mommy duties in favor of a midlife fling with new beau Kid Rock (Hey, at least Kid Rock gets drunk and takes the tots tubing on rivers near Detroit!). The female judge sided with Lee on the issue of visitation and denied a request by Anderson's lawyers to require monitoring of his visits with sons Brandon and Dylan. What's more, the past-her-shelf-life mother of two was witnessed at this year's Kentucky Derby with Kid Rock, reportedly crawling around drunk on her hands and knees, heaving saline sacks and all. Yee haw!
3). The Cranberries
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
In the firm grip of an inventive guitar-driven pop band, songs that toy with themes of death, fading love, environmental disaster, and the value of gaining an eye for beauty in a faith-deficient culture could actually work. Maybe. In the hands of The Cranberries, however, stabs at gritty poignancy sound downright bombastic, particularly when perky singer Dolores O' Riordan Burton punctuates her middling gushy-sixth-grade-schoolgirl prose with "ee-yay, ee-yay, ee-yay-eee-yay-ehhhs" yodels.
Worse, on Wake up and Smell the Coffee -- the Irish quartet's fifth full-length -- Burton's love-and-faith-will-conquer-all banalities get lazily dismissed, sung as if even she no longer subscribes to her own mythology. It's almost as if she's feeling guilty for living in modern times of central heating and penicillin; the Cranberry front chick has always sounded like she would have been happier hustling turnips for starving children during the Great Potato Famine, stitching burlap wraps and singing sad poems about typhus. Her woeful pout and morose croon belie the fact that she's a millionaire rock star, and the band's milky, comfy-in-Hush-Puppies drone is duly incomprehensible -- nary a hook in sight -- which makes it perfect ambience fodder for Wal-Mart shoppers.
4). Beautiful Creatures
Be on extreme guard against any band made up of Cheesewhiz Roxy/Rainbow Sunset rockists who suddenly surface with a goofy, Respect the Rock look and a Warner Bros. debut that attempts to pass them off as the Real Deal. After years of sporting Nelson-like blonde manes and playing in various feline-wristed Warrant-like bands, the members of Beautiful Creatures turned up this year on the Ozz-fest tour sporting leather hip-huggers, Danzig grimaces and matching black-tinted Izzy quaffs.
The Creatures' AC/DC kypes and Hate Breed-cum-Korn cops are wholly reprehensible; it adheres to a posture of degeneracy made seemingly authentic with tried-and-failed adjectives like "sleazy" and "dirty" perpetrated by gee-whiz online fanzine writers and an equally credible WB promotions department. Worse, the band's record company A&R man gets writing credit and serves as the record's co-producer! Better yet, the highest-flying red flag here is the fact that BC's front man, a ghastly mook of the first order, is one Joe LeSte. LeSte, you certainly won't recall, is the same lantern-jawed beergut who, in the decade before last, fronted lame G'n'R blowjobbers Bang Tango. And these guys think they're tough? Shit.
5). Web site of the Year:
At times this site could easily be accused of sycophancy (they love Poison, Rikki Rocket particularly; his horrible, naval-gazy prose is posted with distressing regularity), and the gushy porn-star interviews are tired (anybody remember Popsmear magazine?), but don't hold it against 'em. The staff of scribes (Bastard Boy Floyd, Jani Bon Neil, Ozzy Stillbourne etc.) that man this site are at times downright brilliant: There's the monthly Soundscan charts (dubbed Sludgescan) that document current sales figures of yesterday metalheads (as of December 3, Winger's Very Best Of sold 4,013 copies; the Britny Fox best of, 1,816); Donna Domain's hilarious Ho-Bag chart archives with detailed clarity (all the way down to penis size) bedroom failures of rock stars as reported by infamous and not-so infamous fuckees; a worthy interview section called 20 Questions is another fave, with fading metalers, goofball musos and real rock stars (the Anthony Focx Q&A single-handedly ruined the career of the awful Beautiful Creatures).
Best herein is the new "Exposed" page, in which current (and past) rawk badasses are revealed as the true trend-trawling gimps they are: Dig the early '90s Kid Rock photos, which go lengths to prove our theories that this thinning-haired, Grand-Funk-referencing, Pamela Anderson-boning (of course!) pimper-of-artifice's biggest influence is Vanilla Ice. Elsewhere we see Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath in his comely, Sunset Strip hair band days. Godsmack guys caught pedestalizing Trixter in the guise of "Southern-rock white-trash" is fun. A decade ago, Buckcherry was dubbed Slamhound, a hilarious and ungainly eyeliner-and-flannel mess of Poison-meets-Pearl Jam. Best of all is Disturbed as Jersey Shore mouth-breathers (er, Bon Jovi) in the 1990 band Vandal!
6). MTV's Carson Daily
TRL's shamelessly nonessential presenter
Über-ordinary Carson Daily has taught us that if you demand "Hey, look at me" loud enough, a whole nation will chirp in unison, "Oh! Okay!" For that, he's a pop star.
7). The Cult
Beyond Good and Evil
After a one-two punch of flopping back-to-back albums, and an onstage brawl during a 1996 European tour, The Cult was, as we were so happily led to believe, dust forever. However, mortgages must be met, and flagging careers must certainly be saved, and you know damn well that no member of The Cult would ever be caught dead slinging chips and curry at some South London chippery. Hence Beyond Good and Evil, a record that sounds like you might imagine: a quartet of alpha-male, weight-room enthusiasts whose musical ebb tide is in direct proportion to the crappy conventions employed.
In other words, for an '80s band produced by one-time Crüe/Ratt knobsman Bob Rock, the songs sponge up the most translucent of '90s rawk-dude cliches, from Soundgarden-y riffs and Roses poses to Manson gaffs and industrial ya-ya. The grand linear thud that once defined the band's sound in its ever-brief heyday ("She Sells Sanctuary") is as dead as the hair follicles on guitarist Billy Duffy's head. Astbury's fabricated Lizard King aura and affinity for hammy stage antics and audacious lyrical dexterity ("I watched your spirit fly/Across the velvet sky") makes Beyond Good and Evil the year's best worst hard-rock record.
8). Bon Jovi
One Wild Night: Live 1985-2001
This record demonstrates what's remarkable about Bon Jovi; how the band has managed to transcend the footballer-in-drag set to sustain somewhat of a fan base and accurately circumscribe the Golden Era of Rock Cheese. I mean, "You Give Love a Bad Name" is a ditty we've all heard countless times in the wretched dawns of Wild Night high school kegger parties. The song encapsulated, perhaps fueled even, that dreaded moment in time when the need for a heavy, life-changing shift suddenly became clear. That consequential second of infinite importance when you unexpectedly muttered to yourself, "I've fucking had it. This scene suuuuuucks! I'm leaving!" If you had the balls, you bailed, physically or mentally. Bon Jovi, it appears -- and those who bought into it them -- never did.
9). Eden's Crush
The key to grasping teen dance-pop these days is to understand that it is a medium made up of sales pitches, not songs. Pitches that are crafted by certain youth-culture geneticists ("producers") for the express purpose of shifting shitloads of units. In all, Eden's Crush is a collective musical nullity -- five lovely, mostly Latina chicks -- who'd be better served using their youth to model pouts and butt cheek in Prada ads than on record sleeves. EC shows us that to land on the pedestal of dance-pop celebrity, the only requirement is genetic good fortune.
10). Suicide of unsung guitar hero Stuart Adamson
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Before fronting the oft-blunderous but well-intentioned Big Country, guitarist Stuart Adamson in 1976 co-founded the scarcely acclaimed Skids, a brilliant and gutsy punk band from Dunfermline, Scotland. The Skids, by virtue of Adamson's authoritatively working-class yet startlingly graceful riffing, managed to transcend the majority of punk rock's silly musical cubbyholes. His was a sound that roused -- even during punk's halcyon days -- certain yearning; a husky Scottish sinew of rock 'n' roll clarity and droning bagpipe-like beauty.
What's remarkable about the Skids was the impact it had on 'n' roll as we know it. Guitar goobs like Public Image Limited's Keith Levene, ex-Magazine and Siouxsie/Banshee John Mcgeoh and, particularly, U2's The Edge all unblushingly bilked Adamson's singular style for huge personal gain. (Early Skids songs "Of One Skin," and "Sweet Suburbia" were note-for-note landmark precursors to PIL's "Public Image" and U2's "I Will Follow"; more recently, "It's a Beautiful Day" still resonates Adamson.)
After three albums and a string of UK chart hit singles, Adamson could no longer suffer the GQ/militant posturing of Skids singer Richard Jobson and quit in 1980 to form Big Country. Just days before Christmas, Stuart Adamson hanged himself in a Hawaii hotel room. The guy was 43.