Monday, February 26, 2007

Tom Waits Is The Man

If you've never heard of Tom Waits, he is a singer/songwriter who has been around since the 1970s. I have only recently discovered him within the last 3 or 4 months, but he's great.

Be forewarned: his voice is not for the faint of heart. He is essentially a grizzled old man who sounds as though he's making fun of another more grizzled old man while singing. But he's just really cool. I've got about 5 or 6 of his albums (these are the benefits of sharing music with middle-age hipsters at work), and my favorite is his latest, "Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards" which is a collection of B-sides and greatest hits separated into relatively up-tempo bar fight music ("Brawlers"), ballads ("Bawlers") and I guess just random studio recordings ("Bastards"). My favorite by far is the "Bawlers" disc, because it's odd and yet strangely comforting to listen to an old wino sing about broken hearts and empty bottles. I picture Barney Gumble singing for brandy in that Simpsons with Sherry Bobbins. If you can get past his voice (which I now really like), he's a great songwriter. It's mostly blues and acoustic guitar, piano, and some horn, maybe an oboe? What's the jazz horn that isn't a trumpet or saxaphone? Whatever it is, this is perfect whiskey music and I could definitely see him playing in a bar with 3 people in it at 2AM. This is pretty much his material:

"Give a man gin,
give a man cards,
give him an inch,
and he takes a yard."

According to Wikipedia, his voice sounds "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months and then taken outside and run over with a car."

And if you listen to Toucher and Rich on WBCN, he could be mistaken for the immortal Chili Guy. He's that drunk, and he's that grizzled. Tom Waits is The Man.

That pretty much sums it up. He's made his way into my regular rotation, particularly on these dreary winter days. He's worth at least couple of iTunes purchases.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hovtober and Clipsember

A draft of a blog I wrote in December:

Two albums that need to be reviewed: Jay-Z's Kingdom Come and Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury.

Jay-Z is getting blasted for his new album, and in my opinion, the criticism is largely unfair. No, it isn't The Blueprint, and not really close. I would not call it a classic or even "great" record. But Kingdome Come includes some good songs ("Oh My God," "Kingdome Come,") some very good songs ("Show Me What You Got," "The Prelude") and some songs that have the right to exist "Do U Wanna Ride?" "Trouble"). Yes, some terrible songs made their way onto the track list ("Lost One," "Anything"), but let's not go nuts here (and by "let's", I suppose I mean the internet rap bloggers who don't read my blog and my two friends that listen to rap music). Young H-O's rapping is, again, in my opinion, as good as he has been in the past few years, a Black Album-type flow. The faults lie in its production and choruses (I still think "Show Me What You Got" is his best lead single maybe ever, despite what everyone else seems to think). Production is 90% of the reason why an album is successful or not, which is why 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' sold so much, not his average-at-best lyrical ability. I would have hoped that Jay-Z's album would have had better production than it does, but there are enough lyrical punch lines and typical HOV swagger to satisfy me. But, what did anyone expect? Any highly-anticipated comeback album is always going to suffer the same fate: Expectations that cannot be met. Just ask Eminem. Encore is the second-worst album I own, behind Nas' Nastradamus.

Jay-Z Kingdome Come: 3.5 stars

On the other hand, Clipse's new album, Hell Hath No Fury, has greatly surprised me. I had read reviews calling it a classic, XXL Magazine gave it their highest rating, Pitchfork, a notoriously ruthless website, gave it a 91. I never really listened the Clipse before, but based on those reviews I had to pick it up. Sometimes, musicians--rappers, rock bands, pop stars, or whoever--only seem to exist within a vacuum of the lower third of the TRL countdown. I think the best example I can think of to describe this view is Jet. Jet is an Austrailan rock band that sounds like they are from the 1970s. Granted, there are numerous Austrailian rock bands that sound like they are from the 1970s (Wolfmother, um...ok, one other band), but I don't consider Jet to be a real band. I have heard many of their songs and I assume that they both write and record those songs, and had probably played them in Austrailian dive bars before being signed to a record deal, but they seem so constructed that I cannot picture them as existing as real human beings. I can't picture a Jet concert. I can't imagine a Jet interview. I can't even fathom members of Jet eating a bag of potato chips. The songs are pretty good too, but never would I consider buying a Jet album. Other artists in the Vacuum Category are Sean Paul, Akon, that Natasha Bettencourt/Bettingfield character, and Clipse. It's not to say that those occupying the Vaccuum were bad, inauthentic, or any other descriptor of being "fabricated by the music industry" (if I remember, that "Unwritten" song was pretty catchy). I just can't picture them existing as real human beings who do real human things.

Clipse no longer belongs in the Vaccum. They have graduated to "real human being" status.

This is one of the best rap albums in a long time. There is not one song on Hell Hath No Fury that I would describe as less than "very, very good." I know that Pharrell saves most of his good beats for Clipse because they were friends in Virginia, and there are some bangers here. The real surprise is how well Clipse rhyme, and what they rhyme about.

A large percentage of their lyrics are about selling drugs and the money they have made from selling said drugs, but this is no unique part of rap music. However, the brothers then rap about relatively obscure European cities Oslo, Frankfurt, and Cologne (Cologne?? I've only heard about that place from my art history class sophomore year!), Salvador Dali paintings, Oliver Twist, and former World Championship Wrestling CEO Eric Bischoff. This was unexpected. This album is very strong all the way through, and even Slim Thug and Pharrell's guest rapping don't do any damage. This might be the OK Computer of rap.

Clipse Hell Hath No Fury gets count'em, * * * * *, 5 stars out of 5.