Friday, August 28, 2009

Album Review: I Look to You

Requester: Riha

I started writing my review of Whitney Houston’s I Look to You three times. Each time, I was unhappy and had to start over. One time I did not think I was writing well enough. Another time I got tired of thinking about the CD and deleted my progress in frustration. Once I wished I had a stronger opinion about the album. So it goes. Each time, I was thwarted by the same realization: This album just does not inspire me. It's a bit sad, really. I find the uptempo numbers well-produced yet uninteresting. I think the ballads are well-sung but not particularly well-written. Overall, I think that I had really high expectations for Whitney’s return and I was rewarded with a serviceable album. The metaphorical crack to the cocaine of Whitney's earlier efforts.

Sure, Whitney isn’t an album artist. Almost all of her CDs are stuffed with filler and three to four amazing singles. Perhaps I Look To You has less filler, but it also lacks any surefire radio jams. The album’s opener, Million Dollar Bill, is the song most likely to tear up the radio waves. Nevertheless, I find myself skeptical that it will really take off. As a good friend described it, “it sounds like an Alicia Key’s reject—which it is.” My friend is pretty wise when it comes to music, and I find myself agreeing with him. The song is objectively catchy, but to revive a career after a seven-year hiatus, you’d think it would need to hit a bit harder.

Another Whitney staple is the bombastic ballad. Here there are two: I Look to You and I Didn’t Know My Own Strength. I’ve already made my thoughts clear on I Didn’t Know My Own Strength in an earlier review. I Look to You isn’t much better. I find I Look to You to be more melodic, but it doesn’t solve any of the problems presented by I Didn’t Know My Own Strength. The lyrics are horribly vague and Whitney’s voice isn’t what it used to be. In some cases on the CD, it works to her benefit, adding grit and soul to an otherwise pedestrian track. However, when she reaches the bridge on both of these songs, it’s painfully clear she can’t sing like she used to.

Yet, through all of my frustration with this CD, there are a few gems that show promise for Ms. Houston. The best of the lot is Salute, the album’s final number. With the ballads, Whitney basically hits us over the head saying how difficult things have been these past few years. The self-referencing is obvious, yet the emotional substance is lacking. With Salute, it seems like she’s just recording a song about a love gone wrong. Somehow, though, it hits harder that she might have intended. Clearly Bobby B is the one she’s saluting. Also, I Got You is a surprisingly enjoyable song because it has a unique reggae vibe that suits Houston pretty well.

As I mentioned earlier, there really isn’t filler on this album. Each track has some value, even the ballads. To that end, the material here is better than a typical Whitney album. However, without huge singles and her pristine voice, this just doesn't feel like Whitney. How uninspiring.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars.

Savage Songs: Salute, I Got You, Million Dollar Bill

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Docket: 8/27/09

This week has gotten hectic. Students are back on campus so I have obligations. However, I do have some projects on the horizon. Here are my pending reviews.

-Whitney Houston's I Look To You
-Taking Woodstock
-True Blood Season 1 (I'm behind the times, I know)
-A single so unMOTHEREFFINGbelievably good I can't deal with it. However, I'm keeping it a bit of a secret for now
-We Are Golden (I know, it's taken me forever)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

Requester: JGM

So, Inglourious Basterds reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. How, you say? Easy. If you draw a parallel between Quentin Tarantino’s body of work to the entire run of Buffy, Inglourious Basterds is like the sixth and seventh season of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s magnum opus. Although those seasons were stronger than most everything else on television, they didn’t quite compare to Buffy’s earlier (and superior) offerings. I suppose that’s just an elaborate way to say that I didn’t think Inglourious Basterds was quite as good as Taratino’s other films (Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction in particular), but it was still one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. However, I’ll use any excuse to make a Buffy reference. Deal with it.

Before I get into my justifications, let me quickly describe the plot for those who haven’t seen the film. Essentially, Inglourious Basterds is a film that serves as a vehicle to punish Nazis. The Basterds are a group of Jews led by Brad Pitt that capture Nazis, torture them, and kill them. Another plot line involves Shoshanna, a Jewish girl who escaped slaughter at the hands of Hans Landa, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz. She plots revenge against the Nazis. Finally, the British are also trying to take down the Nazis. Got all that? Basically, all of these plots to eliminate Nazis culminate in a final showdown at Shoshanna’s theater. Phew. Let’s move on.

In typical Tarantino fashion, the movie juggles outlandish violence with long scenes of dialogue. Tarantino is famous for his banter, so most scenes are particularly effective. There are two notable scenes with Waltz that are unbearable tense and brilliant. However, the pacing of the violence and dialogue is slightly uneven. There are long scenes involving Shoshanna and an unwitting Nazi soldier that do not hold up to Tarantino’s usual standard of excellence. The entire development of the film is back-to-back dialogue, from the last scene of the Basterd’s brutality until a stunning scene set in a bar basement. More effective Tarantino films have played with the temporal order of the movie to create a more even sense of pace. Part of me wishes he had employed that here.

As for the plot, it really just serves to set up the grand finale, which is a smorgasbord of brutality. The last chapter of the movie is exciting, suspenseful, tragic, funny, and very bloody. However, I did have a moral qualm with the ending. I really do not want to spoil anything, so let me just say this. Tarantino, especially in the past, has very successfully established the moral compass of his characters. In situations of extreme violence, the perpetrator is either someone very evil or something very justified in doing something outlandish. However, in Inglourious Basterds, there was a great deal of carnage that I didn’t quite find necessary. I cannot say more without feeling like I’m giving too much away. If you want to see a Tarantino movie that is all build-up to a huge payoff, check out Death Proof. Somehow (for me) three girls in a Dodge Challenger facing off against Kurt Russell provided more catharsis than all of the slaughter at the end of Inglourious Basterds.

So, the movie builds up to the final act. Perhaps, to some, the long stretches of dialogue were necessary or consistently enjoyable. However, I found a few scenes to be excessive. Perhaps a more morally digestible ending would have made the lead-up seem more appropriate. It’s hard to say. The bottom line is that Inglourious Basterds is extremely well-shot, acted, and directed. The dialogue is generally excellent and the movie provides a satisfying experience. However, I expect more from Tarantino because I know he’s capable of slightly better. I left the theater content, but not exhilarated. Things were better when Uma Thurman was involved. Do you think that’s an appropriate parallel for David Boreanaz?

Rating: 4/5 stars

Friday, August 21, 2009

Single Review: Million Dollar Bill

Requester: The all powerful and generally idiotic Clive Davis. AKA nobody. Just this guy again.

Well, Whitney has an official single once again. Apparently I Didn’t Know My Own Strength is not the lead single from her upcoming release, I Look to You. THANK GOD! The good news here is that her official single, Million Dollar Bill, is considerably better than that strength cliché song. It has the potential to succeed on the radio. Also, restores my once shattered faith in her next CD. The bad news is that it’s not nearly as perfect as I would have hoped. I think expectations were dauntingly high, but with a seven year hiatus, one would think that something a little more substantial would come out of the Houston hits factory.

I think the best part is that her voice, albeit not as technically stunning as it used to be, finally has something she originally lacked: soul. Her singing is full of grit and character and I feel much more connected to her voice than I ever have before. Granted, she can’t hold notes quite as long, nor is her tone as strikingly pristine as it used to be, but I think the pros outweigh the cons. Furthermore, she’s still one of the best singers in popular music.

The flip side is that the song is sort of ordinary. I do think the chorus is incredibly catchy, but the verses and the bridge are unmemorable. Also, the song feels very short. Perhaps it’s a compliment to say it felt like it ended too soon, but in this case I feel like the writer’s just got lazy.

Overall, I recommend the song. It’s fun, upbeat, and is unmistakably Whitney. However, with seven years to work, she could have really knocked it out of the park.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Movie Review: Ponyo

Requester: Just me. I went to a kid’s movie alone. Put down the haterade.

I have a confession. I missed the first few minutes of this film. I caught only about twenty seconds of the first scene before the opening credits began. However, those twenty seconds were enough to convince me that I was in for a visually stunning and emotionally satisfying experience. Ponyo is a great movie for both young children and cynical adults because it taps into human emotion more honestly and purely than most American movies today. I’m a snarky old dude, and even I couldn’t resist this movie’s charms.

So, go see this movie. There are several compelling reasons you should do so. If the plethora of quality voice actors does not convince you this film is special, I don’t know what will. Characters in the film are voiced by Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neesen, Betty White, and Lily Tomlin (to name a few). It would be a miracle to get such a group together for a live action film, let alone the dubbing of a Japanese family movie. Granted, this is a Hayao Miyazaki feature. For the uneducated, Miyazaki is one of the most beloved filmmakers in Japan. He has helmed My Neighbor Totoro (who’s bigger than Mickey Mouse in Japan), Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the Academy Award winning Spirited Away. I think Miyazaki was enough of a draw for Fey and company.

However, even if this movie were voiced by crack addicts behind a McDonalds, I think it would still be worth seeing. As with the Miyazaki movies I’ve seen, the movie is driven more by human emotions and experiences than an intricate plot. Without saying too much about the story (you all should know how I hate that by now), know that Ponyo is a fish that wants to become a human because she has fallen in love with a boy named Sosuke. Most of the really beautiful sequences involve Ponyo discovering the joys of living on land or Sosuke interacting with his parents and the local elderly. There’s a particularly funny and touching scene where Sosuke talks to his father using Morse code. You really have to experience it to appreciate it.

The animation is gorgeous. There’s a very impressive storm sequence and the introduction of Ponyo’s mother, Granmammare, is stunning. It’s really easy see that every frame was lovingly constructed. My only small gripe comes from what I assume is a cultural difference. I found the pacing of the movie to be a bit uneven and the ending seemed a bit rushed. After some thought, however, I realized that perhaps the plot did not require a thorough conclusion. As an American audience member, I think I expect every detail to be explained and that all questions need to be answered by the time the credits roll. By rushing the ending and drawing out the development, Miyazaki spent most of the film focusing on the things I enjoyed the most (the aforementioned interactions). So, maybe Miyazaki’s priorities are better than mine. I’m willing to admit that.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Top 100 Songs: 1-10

Well faithful reader, this is the end of our musical journey. The final installment of my Top 100 songs list. I’ve had a very good time making this list and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. More importantly, I hope you’ve found at least one new song to enjoy. That would make this whole endeavor worthwhile.

10. Antologia-Shakira

This is my favorite song about love. Somehow it manages to capture the intensity, joy, and heartbreak of a relationship that has run its course. Even more impressive, Shakira was only 17 when she wrote this song. I shudder to think that an English version might exist, because the poetry of the Spanish in the original song would be completely lost in translation.

Favorite Lyric: “Pero olvidaste una final instrucción por que aún no sé como vivir sin tu amor.”

Almost Picked: Ojos Así.

9. I Want You Back-The Jackson 5

Technically Prince isn’t the only artist to hold two spots on this list. MJ also clocks in with The Jackson 5 and their first and (in my opinion) greatest single. You can dance to this song. You can belt along in your car. It’s extremely versatile. It’s extremely fun.

Favorite Lyric: Nothing stands out, but that is actually a compliment in this case.

8. Born to Run-Bruce Springsteen

There’s no song more perfect for running. More generally, there’s no song more perfect for describing my feelings about where I’m currently located and where I want to go in life. Perhaps the specifics of the song’s story don’t apply, but the theme and the message of Born to Run capture my thoughts so well that I’m willing to overlook the details.

Favorite Lyric: “We gotta get out while we’re young because tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

7. Over the Rainbow-Eva Cassidy

Aesthetically, this is the most beautiful arrangement of one of the most beautiful songs of all time.

Favorite Lyric: “If happy little bluebirds fly above the rainbow then why oh why can’t I?”

6. A Change is Gonna Come-Sam Cooke

If Over the Rainbow is the most aesthetically beautiful song I’ve heard, then this is the most meaningful song I’ve ever heard. Knowing the whole story behind the song makes it that much sadder and more powerful.

Favorite Lyric: “And I go to my brother and I say brother help me please/But he ends up knocking me back down on my knees.”

5. Biology-Girls Aloud

In my review of the album, Chemistry, I said, “it contained an eclectic mash-up of synth, 50’s bass lines, stitched together choruses, and odd song structure. Oh sorry, I was just referring to the song Biology.” It takes balls to reference Muddy Waters and disco in the same breath, yet somehow these girls manage to pull it off. I still maintain that Girls Aloud are the greatest musical act never to hit the United States. This is their magnum opus.

Favorite Lyric: “You can’t mistake my biology.”

4. …Baby One More Time-Britney Spears

The single greatest and most influential pop song of my lifetime. Brilliantly produced. Brilliantly marketed. You can be as snobby as you want, but there’s still no resisting those first three notes.

Favorite Lyric: Obviously “Hit me baby one more time.”

3. Nothing Compares 2 U-Sinead O’Connor

It doesn’t get much more intense than this. This song is essentially undiluted heartbreak for five minutes. Plus, it’s a Prince cover so it’s obviously well-written.

Favorite Lyric: “I know that living with you baby was sometimes hard but I’m willing to give it another try.”

2. Proud Mary-Tina Turner

So, this song means several things to me. To me, Tina Turner is the most inspiring artist in the music industry because of her escape from physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Ike Turner. She has one of the rawest, most powerful voices in music and she's not afraid to use it. This song is the standard for iconic choreography, even before music videos existed. This song exhilarates me in a way no other song can. Yet it’s only about a riverboat. Go figure.

Favorite Lyric: “You see, we never do anything nice and easy. We always do it nice…and rough.”

1. Purple Rain-Prince

I promised you two Prince songs and here’s the other. Wow. My number one song. If you’ve been reading carefully, this should be an obvious choice. It hits so many of my musical hot buttons. It’s about love. It’s about loss. It’s layered. It’s melodic. It crescendos. It’s instrumental. It’s genius. One report says that Prince wrote the song based on a woman’s near-death experience. She said she saw purple rain in heaven. I think that adds an allegorical level to the song and, like many other songs on this list, makes me think of my tattoo. I lose myself in this song more than any other. That’s all there is to it.

Favorite Lyric: “I never wanted to be your weekend lover/I only wanted to be some kind of friend.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 11-20

We’re down to the wire, people! Only a few songs left, and (clearly) the best are yet to come.

20. Bachelorette-Bjork

Bjork is weird. Understatement of my life, but she’s a strange creature. For me, sometimes she just sounds like a hot mess. Other times, however, she manages to create moods that other artists cannot even hope to achieve. To me, this is her at her most expressive, creative, and exotic.

Favorite Lyric: “I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl/You’re the bird on the brim hypnotized by the whirl.”

Almost Picked: Human Behaviour.

19. The Rose-Bette Midler

Simple. Beautiful. Layered. I just love this song. Way to go Bette, especially since I find most of her music to be adult contemporary bull crap.

Favorite Lyric: “And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.”

18. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend-Miranda Lambert

If Coat of Many Colors was my objective favorite, then this song is my subjective favorite. Think of this as a version of Before He Cheats with actual emotion and believability. Sorry Underwood, you’re too much of a robot with your personality to sell vengeful spite like Lambert.

Favorite Lyric: "Somebody tell that girl to step up to the plate I'm gonna pitch. Little bitch."

17. Like a Rolling Stone-Bob Dylan

I wrote a paper on this song. The prompt was, “If you could send one song to be discovered by alien life that would most accurately encompass American music, what would you choose and why.” I think that justifies its placement here. This song completely and utterly revolutionized popular music.

Favorite Lyric: “Now you don’t seem so proud about having to be scrounging for your next meal.”

16. Falling Slowly-Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

I said Broadway/musical songs were ineligible before. This song technically counts because it appeared on The Frames 2006 album, The Swell Season, before the movie Once was released. Take that, self-imposed rules!

Favorite Lyric: “I don’t know you but I want you all the more for that.”

15. Hallelujah-Jeff Buckley

Buckley’s version is the best version of this song. I dare you to debate that. Spiritual, haunting, and powerful.

Favorite Lyric: “She tied you to her kitchen chair/she broke your throne and she cut your hair/And from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”

14. Can’t Help Falling in Love-Elvis Presley

This is my favorite love song of all time, bar none. This shouldn’t be confused with my favorite song about love. Very different subjects, I’ll have you know.

Favorite Lyric: “Wise men say only fools rush in but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

13. Y Yo Sigo Aquí-Paulina Rubio

Una de mis canciones favoritas por su uso de insinuación sexual. Y que Paulina es una diosa. Sorry if my rusty Spanish is jank.

Letra favorita: “Si a ti te gusta morder el mango bien madurito”

12. Don’t Stop Believin’-Journey

Best sing along song of all time. It’s epic, really. It’s also the first song that kicked off my huge 80s craze many years ago.

Favorite Lyric: “Paying anything to roll the dice just one more time.”

11. Will You Be There-Michael Jackson

Yes, it’s the Free Willy song. Yes, I could have picked a million other MJ songs. Yes, it’s a tad sappy. None of these things matter to me, because this song pierces my heart in about twenty seconds. Also, it has a boat-load of key changes. Awesome.

Favorite Lyric: “But they told me a man should be faithful and walk when not able and fight ‘til the end but I’m only human.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 21-30

30. You Can’t Hurry Love-The Supremes

Perhaps the most perfect piece of Motown fluff to come from Motor City. Although the song may seem deceptively simple, the chorus/verse structure is completely flipped—something unheard of at the time. Did I mention this is another universal truth song?

Favorite Lyric: “How long must I wait/How much more can I take.”

Almost Picked: Come See About Me

29. Love Is a Losing Game-Amy Winehouse

I love Amy’s voice and her retro vibe. This song has perfect lyrics and arrangement. Allegedly an advanced degree program at Oxford used the lyrics of this song as a part of a poetry final. I can see why.

Favorite Lyric: “And now the final frame/Love is a losing game.”

28. Up to the Mountain-Kelly Clarkson

This was another toughie. Since U Been Gone, My Life Would Suck Without You, Breakaway, and Gone were all considered for Kelly’s spot. Yet, when push came to shove, I went with a live cover she performed only once (well, not counting her tours). Apparently her label wanted her to perform Never Again, since it was her single at the time, as a part of the Idol Gives Back concert. Kelly found that too crass and performed this instead. We are all better off, thanks to Miss Independent.

Favorite Lyric: “Lord telling me softly you love me so.”

Almost Picked: Gone

27. I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)-Whitney Houston

When it comes to dancing and the 80s, this is my top pick. EPIC KEY CHANGE!! Plus I maintain that Whitney (at one time) had the most powerful voice in pop music. Granted, it wasn’t the most soulful or emotive, but girl could hold a note.

Favorite Lyric: “Somebody who, somebody who-who.” Obviously for how she sings it.

26. No Woman No Cry-Bob Marley and the Wailers

No matter how sad I am, this song cheers me up. Granted, the subject matter (war and violence) is a bit heavy, but when Bob tells me that everything is going to be alright, I believe him.

Favorite Lyric: The aforementioned, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

25. Paper Planes-M.I.A.

The wackiest pop song to hit mainstream radio in recent history. The chorus is gunshots. GUNSHOTS! Who does that? I mean, that question has a really obvious answer. But still! Plus the song tackles U.S. treatment of immigrants with a sarcastic and clever point-of-view. Well done.

Favorite Lyric: “M.I.A. third world democracy/Yeah I’ve got more records than the KGB, so, uh, no funny business.”

24. He Stopped Loving Her Today-George Jones

This song is almost too sad. I can’t really say too much about it except that it has one of the most gut-wrenching lyrical twists of all time. Pay very close attention while listening so you catch all of the nuances.

Favorite Lyric: I would ruin the listening experience if I said something here

23. Bleeding Love-Leona Lewis

If I hadn’t reset my iTunes play count, this would be my most played song ever. Say what you’d like. WORDS CAN’T BRING ME DOWN!

Favorite Lyric: “Time starts to pass before you know it you’re frozen.”

22. Coat of Many Colors-Dolly Parton

Ah, Coat of Many Colors. So simple in its honesty and beauty. To me, the most defining characteristic of country music is its ability to tell stories. With that in mind, this is what I would objectively consider the best country song of all time. My word selection indicates there's a more subjective country song on the horizon.

Favorite Lyric: “And I couldn’t understand it for I felt I was rich”

21. Unchained Melody-The Righteous Brothers

This song makes me melt on the inside. When it comes to pure love songs, this one is second best. Number uno is on the docket.

Favorite Lyric: “I-I-I NEEEEED your love.” You know the part, with that crazy high note.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 31-40

40. Wide Open Spaces-The Dixie Chicks

I think this song hit me at just the right time in my life. I was making an important transition and, although I had heard this song before, something about the way it spoke to the fear and thrill of the unknown really got to me.

Favorite Lyric: “Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about/Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out?”

39. Together Again-Janet Jackson

Tattoo take three. I really think this is the last time I’ll be cryptic, I promise

Favorite Lyric: “I can see your star shining down on me”

38. Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You)-Christina Aguilera

Ahh, Ms. Aguilera. Although I respect how she constantly redefines herself, I like her first incarnation the best. Aka the teen pop one. Aka the one that makes me feel like a thirteen year old girl. I have maturity issues. Short sentences. Great song.

Favorite Lyric: “I’m not just talking about your sexuality.”

Almost Picked: Beautiful

37. Dancing Queen-ABBA

I would like to cite my justification for Cher’s Believe at this juncture. Gay man. It’s sort of Pavlovian, really.

Favorite Lyric: “Anybody could be that guy/The night is young and the music’s high.”

36. Make You Feel My Love-Adele

Although there are a million versions of this song, originally recorded by Bob Dylan, I prefer Adele’s rendition. I think the song was written as a love song, but Adele manages to capture a hidden sorrow. A (you guessed it) sense of unrequited love that other versions seem to miss.

Favorite Lyric: “I’d go crawling down the avenue/No there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love.”

35. Have a Little Faith in Me-John Hiatt

This song is both very sad and very comforting at the same time. I think it’s the way it (much like the previous song) toes the line between a love song and a plea. Unlike the Adele song, this one manages to work both ways at the same time.

Favorite Lyric: “When the tears you cry are all you can believe”

34. Like You’ll Never See Me Again-Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys has perhaps one of the best voices in the music industry today. Additionally, she writes her own songs and plays the piano. She’s one effing talented lady. I feel like I’ve gotten to a point with this list where I can just name songs and you all can tell me why I like them. Any guesses?

Favorite Lyric: “Love me like you’ll never see me again.”

33. Gold Digger-Kanye West

This is the most highly ranked rap song on the list and probably one of the most commercially successful rap songs of all time. It’s also a lot of fun.

Favorite Lyric: “If you ain’t no punk, holla WE WANT PRE-NUP!”

32. Who Knew-P!nk

RECURRING THEMES GALORE!! And I’m done with the cap locks. Sorry, people annoyed by upper case letters. To date this remains P!nk’s most emotional and honest performance. Remember when I said no more tattoo references? Well, I lied. I guess I forgot how many songs make me think of that.

Favorite Lyric: “I wish I could touch you again/I wish I could still call you a friend.”

31. Cry Baby-Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin might have my favorite voice of all time. It’s so authentic and powerful that I almost can’t deal with it. This song is a great showcase for such a tremendous instrument.

Favorite Lyric: The chorus! “CRY CRY BABYYYYYY.”

Album Review: Wilco (The Album)

Requester: EAN

I am such an overachiever! I promised my review of Wilco (The Album) tomorrow, but you’re getting it today! Let’s ignore the part where it took me about a month to actually get around to this. Now, I’m spoiling you all with this review because I’m going to actually use italics to differentiate the album title from the band name. I don’t really use italics in my posts because I find it unnecessary, but since the artist and album in this review share a name, I suppose I’ll use italics to make this post clear and simple.

Clear and simple you say? Why, that’s practically a segue into this review. Indeed, I would describe Wilco (The Album) as an exercise in elegant simplicity. Most of the tracks on this disc have a minimalistic arrangement. Long-time fans of the band might be a bit put off since the sound on this disc might not be as outwardly experimental and dissonant as previous efforts. However, I found the simplicity engaging. By stripping down the songs, Wilco has made it easy to tap into basic human emotions, in some cases on a surprisingly powerful level.

You and I is a lovely duet between lead singer Jeff Tweedy and Feist, which details two lovers trying to keep their relationship alive. It’s very basic in its construction, but the two singers give very honest vocal performances that elevate the material. Solitaire is probably the mellowest song on the CD, yet it manages to create a mood that reminds me of the very excellent Bon Iver CD from last year. As Tweedy sings, “It took too long to see I was wrong to believe in me,” the simple sorrow of the track washes over you.

All that being said, there are some more adventurous tunes on the disc. Bull Black Nova has a pulsating beat that reminds me of the song Psycho Killer, by The Talking Heads. Fitting, considering Bull Black Nova is a song about a guy who kills his girlfriend. Deeper Down also takes things in a more electronic direction, which evokes the feeling of Radiohead’s most recent CD. However, in describing these songs, I think I’ve highlighted my biggest criticism of the album. The influences are too obvious. Most of the time I feel like I’m listening to a knock-off of a better artist. Granted, almost all of the songs are top-notch. Yet, I can’t shake that nagging feeling that originality is lacking on Wilco (The Album). Ironic, given the title.

The bottom line is that Wilco (The Album) is full of lovely, emotional songs that occasionally push for a more experimental vibe. However, when Wilco tries for something new, they tend to sound more like something old. My suggestion: Work harder on the ballads, because they seem more authentic.. Simple, no?

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Savage Songs: You and I, Bull Black Nova, and Solitaire

Docket 8/18/2009

So, things have been a bit busier because of my volunteer commitments and the fact that my students get to school this week. Additionally, I've been consumed with my Top 100 songs project so I've put normal reviewing on the back burner. However, I can make the following promises:

-Review of Wilco FINALLY. I promise it'll be up at some point tomorrow
-Review of Ponyo
-Complete Top 100 list by the end of the week (which I interpret as Sunday. Deal with it.)
-Return to earlier requests (Christine, this means you!)
-More personality in my posts. I was told that my posts weren't living up to my potential when it comes to attitude. Z snap. Cat noise. It's on.

The Flaming Lips

For a review of a recent concert by The Flaming Lips, hop on over to the Self Portraits blog, which is run by my friend Dis. Definitely worth checking out!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 41-50

Well faithful reader(s?), we’ve reached the halfway point of our journey. 50 songs down. 50 to go. What other surprises are in store?

50. Como la Flor-Selena

Ah Selena, legend of the Mexican music scene. Her life was tragically cut short by the president of her fan club. Fortunately, we were left with this gem before her passing. I think it’s a testament to this strength of this song that I was familiar with it before I started studying Spanish (while in Iowa, nonetheless…where latinos are sort of like mythical creatures).

Favorite Lyric: “No sé si pueda volver amar porque te di todo el amor que pude dar.”

49. Ain’t Goin’ Down (Till the Sun Comes Up)-Garth Brooks

Another song I first heard on Idol and another song that the contestants NEVER do justice. I think they delude themselves into thinking they’ll be able to pull of the lyrics and it either comes off too proper (Latoya London) or too sloppy (Michael Sarver). Either way, ain’t no topping this one.

Favorite Lyric: “She knows he’s anticipating but she’s gonna keep him waiting.”

48. Kiss-Prince

Remember when I said one artist makes the list twice? It’s Prince. I figure it’s only fitting that my favorite artist of all time gets special treatment. In his other placement on the list I won’t bother with the “Almost Picked,” but right now I have an effing laundry list. I think this one wins out because I’ve loved it the longest.

Favorite Lyric: “U can’t be 2 flirty mama I know how 2 undress me.” And yes, these are how the lyrics are officially listed.

Almost Picked: Darling Nikki, Sign O’ the Times, When You Were Mine, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, 7, P Control, and Cream. Shit, son!

47. Like a Prayer-Madonna

Ah, the Queen of Pop. Another artist that made it impossible to choose just one song. I went with this one because of the super controversial video and the layers of meaning. I mean, it takes balls to reference both religion and bee-jays in the same song. Pun intended?

Favorite Lyric: “I’m down on my knees I wanna take you there”

Almost Picked: Like a Virgin, Take a Bow, and Ray of Light.

46. Angel-Sarah McLachlan

Tattoo again.

Favorite Lyric: Not right now. Just trust me on this one.

45. Spiderwebs-No Doubt

Every song on this list that you can tie to an a cappella group at my university is a song that I liked before that group arranged it. However, this song is the sole exception. I have to say, the Mosaic Whisper’s version of Spiderwebs drew me to the song and I fell in love with No Doubt’s version.

Favorite Lyric: “Your words walk through my ears presuming I like what I hear.”

Almost Picked: Don’t Speak and Running

44. Yellow-Coldplay

Perhaps the best love song of the last decade. I’ll be that bold.

Favorite Lyric: “I drew a line/I drew a line for your/Oh what a thing to do.”

43. Tattoo-Jordin Sparks


Favorite Lyric: I mean they don’t quite make perfect sense, but that’s okay.

Almost Picked: Battlefield

42. Candy-Mandy Moore

The best song Britney never recorded. Too bad she had to go all “indie” recently. And by too bad, I mean a lot of her indie stuff is really good. So no hard feelings.

Favorite Lyric: The spoken middle section. You know what I’m talking about.

41. Son of a Preacher Man-Dusty Springfield

Every list needs a song by a bi-curious diva with a tranny-esque voice. Plus, isn’t this song super dirty if a guy sings it?

Favorite Lyric: “Being good isn’t always easy no matter how hard I try.”

Almost Picked: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

Top 100 Songs: 51-60

60. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone-Aretha Franklin

The queen of soul. Her voice could make Walt Disney’s frozen corpse dance. I don’t really know why I prefer this song to some of her other greatest hits. I just do.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ve just been so blue since you’ve been gone” more for the way she sings it than anything else.

Almost Picked: Chain of Fools, Respect, or Natural Woman. They’re all great

59. Moon River-Barbra Streisand

I like Babs’ version more than any of the other versions for a few reasons. One, she’s a chick. I’ve already made it clear how I prefer women with respect to music. Two, the original version of this song comes from a female so I feel like it’s truer to the original. Three, she does manage to go a whole two minutes before going over the top. Although I don’t really like that part, I think the other benefits of this version outweigh the cons.

Favorite Lyric: “There’s such a lot of world to see.”

58. Stand By Your Man-Tammy Wynette

Such a classic. I would like to take a moment to defend this song. I think some people read far too into this song and label it a way of encouraging women to stay with abusive men. I disagree. I think it’s simply a song about love triumphing over any “rough patches” a relationship might encounter. That’s all.

Favorite Lyric: I mean the best part of this song is pretty obvious.

57. C’est la Vie-B*Witched.


Favorite Lyric: “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

Almost Picked: Never Had a Dream Come True-S Club 7

56. Tears in Heaven-Eric Clapton


Favorite Lyric: “And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven”

55. Crazy-Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline is my favorite country singer of all time. Her voice is just so emotive I could pee. This song is unique in that it’s the only downward key change I’ve ever encountered in a song. Holla!

Favorite Lyric: “What in the word did I do”

Almost Picked: “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

54. Creep-Radiohead

I think at some point everybody has identified with this song. If not, you’re a robot.

Favorite Lyric: “I want a perfect body I want a perfect soul.”

53. With or Without You-U2

Ah another pristine example of a song building to an emotional climax. By the time the song hits the three minute mark, the anguish is palpable. However, the band doesn’t give it away up front. The arrangement, vocal, and lyrics all work to push towards a huge catharsis. Beautiful.

Favorite Lyric: “On a bed of nails she makes me wait.”

52. Always-Bon Jovi

SURPRISE! One of my favorite songs and favorite key changes was booted for this gem. Again, we have a hard rock group showing off their tender side AND unrequited love. It’s an irresistible one-two punch for this dude.

Favorite Lyric: “I wish I was him ‘cause those words were mine.”

Almost Picked: Livin’ on a Prayer

51. A Broken Wing-Martina McBride

Thanks for this one, American Idol. I’ve heard at least three contestants perform this gem and none of them have come close to the original. You can thank Martina for that. Plus this song has a great message.

Favorite Lyric: “He said only angels know how to fly.”

Almost Picked: Concrete Angel

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

Requester: ALR

An interesting thing happened while I was watching District 9. A gentleman in the theater got up, walked into the aisle, and vomited. Although my initial reaction to the incident was disgust, the seeping pile of he-sick reminded me of something else. Allegedly, during initial screenings of the movie Alien, audience members threw up due to the intensity of a certain scene. Clearly Alien is now considered a classic of the science fiction genre—a film with a widespread and significant cultural influence. Well, the puke parallel made me wonder if District 9 will reach Alien’s level of fame. It’s hard to say now, but District 9 definitely makes a powerful case for itself.

I’m not a huge fan of describing plots in my reviews. However, sometimes it’s impossible to articulate certain points without giving concrete examples from the film. In the case of District 9, I think it’s really important to go into the film without expectations and with a fairly strong stomach. The movie is not particularly violent. However, District 9 does manage to capture the most deplorable acts of humanity with striking clarity—something that might be tough to handle. The one thing I’ll say about the plot is that aliens land on earth in South Africa and are quickly treated like refugees. A thinly veiled metaphor, at best. Thin, but powerful.

In a typical review, I would sit and nit-pick specific elements of the movie. With District 9, I could say how I thought the ending should have been modified or that certain characters seemed thin and potentially offensive. However, I feel like these are moot points. The bottom line is that this movie left me with such a profound sense of despair and sorrow for the state of our species that I wept. Granted, it was just for a moment, but I shed tears during the film out of my frustration with the alien’s situation. When a film achieves such an emotional reaction, I can only sit here and beg people to go see it.

So, see District 9. I apologize for the vague and humorless review, but I feel that’s the only way I can comment on this movie without selfishly altering the experience for others.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Friday, August 14, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 61-70

70. Hey Jude-The Beatles

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Beatles fan in the world. I generally find them (gasp) overrated. I say that not because there music isn’t good. Rather, I say it because people tend to poop themselves while trying to properly describe how the Beatles are bigger than Jesus. Their words, not mine. Nevertheless, this song is an exception, hence its placement on this list.

Favorite Lyric: “Hey Jude don’t let me down/You have found her now go and get her.”

69. Build Me Up Buttercup-The Foundations

Ahh, I like to call this the “happiest sad song in the world.” This song is so fun to sing along to, but the lyrics are depressing. Generally I cop an attitude when I feel like a song is not lyrically and musically consistent. However, this song is so fun and likeable that I cannot complain.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ll be home I’ll be beside the phone waiting for you.”

68. Believe-Cher

If random strangers in DC call me out for being gay without knowing me, then this song should not come as a surprise.

Favorite Lyric: “But after all is said and done you’re gonna be the lonely one.”

67. And Then He Kissed Me-The Crystals

This song is one of the “happiest happy songs in the world.” The consistency gives it an edge over The Foundations .

Favorite Lyric: Nothing jumps out this time, but I like it all.

66. Why-Annie Lennox

Annie Lennox has one of the most haunting and expressive voices in the music industry. Her husky contralto actually made me think a man was singing the Lord of the Rings song. Not like that’s a bad thing. Anyway, this song is my favorite and it seems to suit her voice very well.


65. Silver Lining-Rilo Kiley

So, I would call myself a spiteful person in certain circumstances. I think this is a spiteful song. Beautiful, but spiteful.

Favorite Lyric: “And I never felt so wicked as when I willed our love to die.”

Almost Picked: Portions for Foxes

64. Folsom Prison Blues-Johnny Cash

This song really only works if you listen to the live track from Folsom Prison. I think Cash really managed to capture the spirit of the prisoners and you can hear it in their reaction.

Favorite Lyric: “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”

Almost Picked: “Ring of Fire”

63. Give Me One Reason-Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman is the second lady in this segment with a bit of a tranny voice. Again, I mean that as a compliment. This song is blues perfection and Chapman gives a soulful vocal

Favorite Lyric: “But I’m too old to go chasin’ you around wasting my precious energy.”

62. Worn Me Down-Rachel Yamagata

I liked this song before it was turned into an a cappella arrangement at my university. As mentioned in the last segment, I can succinctly describe my feelings for this song as, “unrequited love sad bacon” minus the “bacon.”

Favorite Lyric: “But I’m so tired of thinking about her again tonight.”

61. Back in Black-AC/DC

Finally, a hard rock group actually rocking out. Oh man this song is all sorts of awesome. I don’t know how Brian Johnson managed to scream for four minutes straight. Plus this was used in an Alias episode that almost made me think hetero thoughts. Almost.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ve got nine lives, cats eyes”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 71-80

80. Love Hurts-Nazareth

I vividly remember my first experience with this song. It came on at a BBQ and one of the residential directors at my school said, “Love Hurts. A truer song was never written.” So, this is another example of a very clear, universal message. Also, this is the first example of a hard rock group making the list…another trend.

Favorite Lyric: “Love is like a flame it burns you when it’s hot.”

79. Criminal-Fiona Apple

I’m a huge Amy Winehouse fan and I think this song thematically predates Amy by about a decade. From the dirty piano intro to Apple declaring herself a “bad bad girl,” this song is so wrong, but oh so right.

Favorite Lyric: “So what would an angel say ‘cause the devil wants to know.”

78. All Through the Night-Cyndi Lauper

Yes, this song. I like the dreamlike quality of the verses and the passion of the chorus. There’s a longing here that suits Lauper’s voice really well. Plus she hits a pretty sweet power note towards the end.

Favorite Lyric: “Stray cat is calling so stray cat sings back.”

Almost Picked: Time After Time

77. Never Ever-All Saints

There are no guilty pleasures if you feel no shame. Ergo, this song is definitely a pleasure of mine. The spoken intro adds so much, and the sorrow feels surprisingly genuine for what I would consider a teen pop ballad.

Favorite Lyric: The entire spoken intro

76. I Will Love Again-Lara Fabian

This song demonstrates an important characteristic of this list. Although I think Celine Dion has a much more thoroughly satisfying body of work, I like this song more than anything Dion has done. As a final point, I’m referencing Celine Dion because Fabian was once billed as Dion’s replacement in pop music. Clearly that didn’t happen, but we still have this gem.

Favorite Lyric: “If I’m true to myself nobody else can take the place of you/but I’ve got to move on tell me what else can I do”

75. I Hate Myself for Loving You-Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Haha this group of songs makes it seem like love really sucks…or that I like songs that say how much love sucks. Of course, I am using the word “sucks” as academically as possible. Well, this song is brimming with attitude and, yet again, the message is direct. As this list goes on, the number of unique characteristics gets shorter. I think when I get to the end of this list I’ll just write things like, “Unrequited sad love bacon” as tags and you all will understand which themes I’m discussing.

Favorite Lyric: The chorus

74. Wild Horses-The Rolling Stones

You can thank Buffy for this one (almost). You’ll also note that this is the second hard rock group to appear on this list and both songs I chose are tender ballads. Hard rockers. Tender ballad. Riha theme.

Favorite Lyric: “Faith has been broken/tears must be cried/let’s do some living after we die.”

Almost Picked: The Sundays' version of Wild Horses (it's from a Buffy episode called The Prom. Guess where they play it.)

73. Viva Forever-Spice Girls

This song almost didn’t make the list. I couldn’t decide on a Spice Girls song I liked and then someone called me out for not selecting one of my favorite pop groups. Well, the truth was I did have a song. This one. I was just so in denial I could not bring myself to pick it. But it’s a night of honesty here at Riha Reviews and so I’m going with this one.

Favorite Lyric: “Yes I still remember every whispered word”

Almost Picked: Stop

72. Diggin’ On You-TLC

Sure, Waterfalls is amazing and socially conscious, but this song has a GROOVE. DAMN. You can’t even try to fight it.

Favorite Lyric: “Although for some apparent reason monkey lines are now in season”

Almost Picked: Waterfalls

71. Let’s Stay Together-Al Green

BACK TO BACK GROOVES! I’ll be honest, I’m more into the TLC beat but this song has one distinct advantage: Al Green’s singing voice. UGH. So good.

Favorite Lyric: Pretty much everything.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 81-90

Clarification: I did not consider Broadway/Classical songs for this list. I thought it would have made things too difficult.

90. Broken Hearted Melody-Sarah Vaughan

Spoiler alert: This section is definitely my “big band” section. Many of these artists sang standards back in the day, which I generally find quite enjoyable. You’ll also notice that this list is mostly populated with female artists—another theme of my musical tastes. I love Sarah’s voice and even though the lyrics aren’t very special, I really like how she plays with the melody. Very jazzy.

Favorite Lyric: Nothing stands out, but I still enjoy it all.

89. Both Sides Now-Joni Mitchell

I think Joni Mitchell is one of the greatest songwriters of all time. She has an uncanny ability of writing material that perfectly matches her delicate soprano, and this song is probably one of her greatest achievements. Although it starts as a simple tribute to clouds, it morphs into a thoughtful and poignant meditation on life and love. Somehow, in a little over four minutes, Mitchell manages to capture some of the most common thoughts and feelings about these subjects. Not an easy task, for sure.

Favorite Lyric: “So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way.”

88. I Surrender-Celine Dion

YES I CHOSE THIS SONG! Not My Heart Will Go On. Not All By Myself. Not Because You Loved Me. Not I Drove All Night. Etc. I choose I Surrender, because it more effectively taps into what I like best about Celine Dion: The power of her voice. Furthermore, this song deals with unrequited love. Thematically, I would call that a “hot button” for my musical tastes. Did I mention the epic key change? It has one.

Favorite Lyric: “And give up this fear within of what would happen if they ever knew I’m in love with you.”

87. Strange Fruit-Billie Holliday

Big band lady number two. Although when it comes purely to voice, she’s my number one jazz singer. She manages to convey more heartache in a single syllable than Mariah Carey has in her whole career. THAT INCLUDES MJ’S FUNERAL I SAID IT. I love this song because it’s so politically charged and passionate. I was SO CLOSE to picking God Bless the Child, and that song was on my list for a while, but Strange Fruits was my original instinct and I’m sticking with it.

Favorite Lyric: "Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh then the sudden smell of burning flesh.” In this case, favorite should read as most powerful, because the song is uber depressing.

Almost Picked: God Bless the Child

86. Crazy on You-Heart

Yes, I didn’t go with Alone. I just like this song better. I think it gets an edge for its use of guitar. The opening acoustic solo is incredible and the riff that kicks of the first verse is immensely catchy. Ann Wilson has a great rock voice.

Favorite Lyric: "I was a willow last night in my dream."

Almost Picked: Alone

85. MMMBop-Hanson

Stop drinking the haterade right now. I don’t even feel the need to defend this one. Just deal with it.

Favorite Lyric: Um, have you heard this song?

84. I Don’t Hurt Anymore-Dinah Washington

Although I like Billie’s voice better, I like this song better than anything Billie’s done. Perhaps it’s because the opening line is SO DRAMATIC. Maybe it’s because it sounds like a stripper song and I sort of like that. But it’s most probably because it perfectly captures the feeling you get when you know you’re over someone. It’s joy.

Favorite Lyric: “And at last I am free no I don’t hurt anymore.”

83. What’s Goin’ On-Marvin Gaye

Yes, perhaps one of the most critically beloved songs barely beat out MMMBop on my list. Put down your weapons. Save them for when the Spice Girls appear higher on this list. Anyway, let’s focus on the positive. This song. I can still remember the first time I heard What’s Goin’ On, and I was stunned by how powerful and moving it was. Even today, the song’s message is still pertinent. I think the word I’m looking for is timeless. This song is timeless.

Favorite Lyric: “Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.”

Almost Picked: Got to Give it Up (Part One)

82. I’m the Only One-Melissa Etheridge

I feel really really guilty about this one. As much as I love I Run For Life and I think it’s an amazing song, I like this one better. I think it’s that unrequited love vibe. I just can’t fight it. What’s my deal?

Favorite Lyric: “You’ll wake up tomorrow and wrestle the sorrow that holds you down today.”

Almost Picked: I Run For Life

81. Feeling Good-Nina Simone

Only Nina Simone could properly pull of this song. You see, I don’t think it was ever confirmed, but part of me believes the song was a statement about the initial progress of the Civil Rights Movement, which Simone very famously supported. Perhaps it’s all of the references to freedom in the song. Anyway, I feel like the true emotion and subtext of the song is lost in other versions. Plus Nina’s voice is one of a kind.

Favorite Lyric: Well, the scat at the end isn’t really a specific lyric, but it’s the best part.

Movie Review: Julie and Julia

Requester: ALR

One word of advice. If you go see Julie and Julia, make sure to have something to munch on during the movie. From the moment Meryl Streep begins eating as the deliciously whimsical Julia Child, your taste buds will burn for what’s on the screen. Aside from nailing the signature Julia Child accent, Streep also seems to tap into the essence of Julia Child—she captures the joy and sense of fulfillment that Child experienced while cooking. Watching Streep act in this film is a true joy and definitely makes the movie worth the price of admission. The journey of Julia Child from frustrated housewife to published author is a heartwarming, funny tale brilliantly acted by Streep with support from Stanely Tucci as Child’s devoted husband. As an added bonus, the film is pretty much an advertisement for Child’s book. I’m already thinking about how I can add more of Julia Child’s cooking to my daily regime. Beef Bourguignon, here I come.

Unfortunately (or better said, less fortunately), there’s another tale being told here. Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, a frustrated employee of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. In order to add some meaning to her life, she decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s iconic work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. 524 recipes. 365 days. Whereas Child’s half of the story is filled with nuance, humor, and passion, Powell’s journey is overstuffed with obvious metaphor, platitudinous dialogue, and the story is sadly undercooked (COOKING PUNS FOR EVERYONE). I do not attribute this to the actors. Adams is perfectly charming as Julie and Chris Messina is endearing as Powell’s husband. Rather, Powell’s background is poorly explained. The movie seems to fast forward through her decision to write this blog. Instead of focusing on what makes Powell tick—why is she so drawn to Child, what specifically makes her want to cook, what exactly happened with her previous writing experiences—the movie glosses over these points with just a line or two. Then, we’re left with a slightly neurotic woman who makes awkward proclamations about how much she loves Julia Child. It all seemed odd to me, but would have easily been fine with more exposition.

To that end, I spent half of the movie enjoying Julia Child and the other half wishing Julia would come back. I remember sighing and groaning when the movie made match-on-action cuts from Julia’s bed sheet to Julie’s bed sheet and I realized I was no longer with Streep. Oh, by the way, the matching sheets are a metaphor. The film makes it extremely obvious that Julie feels she has a connection with Child. I’m going to say something that might seem edgy, but I have to. I think the film might have hammered the metaphor in a bit too hard. I guess they wanted to make sure that any infants in the audience got the message.

I acknowledge that this review, up until this point, has seemed overly negative. However, (as you may realize now) I get really frustrated when good pieces of entertainment make small mistakes that prevent them from being amazing. Overall, Julie and Julia is a very enjoyable film and it has many humorous moments. I may seem hard on the Julie storyline, but it is not as dreary as I make it sound. It has many charming moments and the acting is quite good. Nevertheless, it has the distinct misfortune of being paired alongside a very strong, heartwarming story with Meryl Streep at the helm. I will be as bold as to say that these stories do need each other to function. An entire Julia Child biopic may have not been as successful as Julie and Julia. However, when I feel like one story line makes me groan and the other makes me giggle, I’m dealing with an uneven project. They probably could have let Julie’s story bake a little longer. OBVIOUS PUN!

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Top 100 Songs: 91-100

CSR Top 100

Well, I'm finally doing it. I'm release a list of my Top 100 songs. Here's a brief disclaimer. The criteria for this list is simply my reaction to the song. I played through my iTunes and found about 500 songs that created a short list. Then I went song-by-song to see how I responded to each tune. Based on that, I created this list. I've created so many Top 10 lists that incorporate objectivity. This list is 100% subjective because the only criteria is how I feel. Per usual, I limited the list to one song per artist (with a single exception that I will explain later) and if you've seen some of my other lists, you'll notice a few changes here. If a song tops a previous list I've made and doesn't appear here, it's because that list was trying to be more objective. This list is honest and true to my favorite songs. For each song, I'll try to write a bit about why I like it or why it beat out other songs by that artist. Many musicians had several songs I considered. I thought about disregarding how many songs I choose per artist, but the "one song" thing is a neurotic tick I can't shake. I guess that means the list isn't 100% subjective because that list would have like 20 Prince/Britney Spears songs, but I thought that was a bit boring.

Another thing is the "Almost Picked" bit. For a song, if it fits a particular niche or the artist had several to choose from, I'll mention a song that almost took its place. This will show what might have been on a list that included more songs and/or more songs per artist. Not every song will feature this, but many will. If I don't list an artist with the "Almost Picked" song, it's by the same artist as my choice for the official list.

100. Dreaming With a Broken Heart-John Mayer

If you had asked me a year ago if John Mayer would make the list, I would have laughed. Generally, I find his work very uniform and unoriginal. Yet, something about this song just pierces my soul. This is an example of how seeing a song interpreted can add new meaning. It was featured in a So You Think You Can Dance routine and I've been crazy about it ever since.

Favorite Lyric: "Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?"

99. As Long As You Love Me-Backstreet Boys

Well, I Want It That Way almost made the list in its place. Yet, this song has always secretly been my favorite despite I Want It That Way's mass appeal and epic key change. I think it's the message. Love conquers all obstacles.

Favorite Lyric: The chorus, duh.

Almost Picked: I Want It That Way

98. Lose Control-Missy Elliot Featuring Fat Man Slim

Much like the "love conquers all" line, I tend to like songs with messages that are universal truths. Simple, pure, honest messages tend to get me more that clever metaphor. Granted, this isn't a universal truth with respect to this list, but it applies to many songs. This one included. Music makes you lose control. If a song hasn't made you laugh or cry, then you're a robot. This message is also packaged into a sweet dance song. Love the beat. Love Ciara's bit. Awesome.

Favorite Lyric: Rump shakin' both ways make ya do a double take

Almost Picked: Get Ur Freak On

97. Stupid Cupid-Connie Francis

This song is a bit of a surprise. It made my top 500 list on a bit of a whim, and each time I made cuts it survived. When I whittled my list down to the top 100, and it was still there. I made some changes to the initial list, and still kept Stupid Cupid. So, here it is. I think I like this song because, honestly, I've had a good deal of crushes that I just wanted to get over. Plus I think Connie Francis has a great voice.

Favorite Lyric: "The thing that bothers me is that I like it fine."

96. Angels-Robbie Williams

I like spiritual songs that don't hit you over the head with metaphor. FORESHADOWING! This song is beautiful and I strongly believe it's about healing from heartbreak. This is another theme that will permeate my list.

Favorite Lyric: She offers me protection/A lotta love and affection/Whether I'm right or wrong

95. You Belong With Me-Taylor Swift

Unrequited love. Riha list theme number whatever. Plus I have a lot of respect for Swift because she writes her songs and plays a few instruments. Oh, and she's only eighteen. Way to make my life seem like a waste.

Favorite Lyric: "Dreaming bout the day when you wake up and find that what you're looking for has been here the whole time."

Almost Picked: Fifteen

94. And So it Goes-Billy Joel

I think songs I associate with Relay have a leg up, and this is one of them. Every year (or at least the years I've been on the WU Relay committee) an a cappella group performed this song during the Luminaria ceremony. It's beautiful, haunting, and sad.

Favorite lyric: And everytime I held a rose it seems I only felt the thorns

93. Flaws and All-Beyonce

This was a tough one. I love Beyonce, and I knew I wanted her on here. If you saw my Top 20 songs list, you'll notice Single Ladies was on it. If you've seen my Top 10 Beyonce songs, you'll note Irreplaceable is number one. Yet, when it came to this list, I couldn't shake my feeling that I liked this song better than those two. Even crazier: My second choice from Beyonce wasn't either of those songs...either.

Favorite Lyric: "Every now and then without warning I can be really mean towards you."

Almost Picked: Get Me Bodied (Extended Mix)

92. You're So Vain-Carly Simon

I love female artists. I love this song's acoustic vibe. I love how unabashedly honest the lyrics are. I feel sad for the subject of this, but since I've listened to this song with particular people in mind, I can't guilt myself too much otherwise I'm a hypocrite. Holla.

Favorite Lyric: "I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee."

91. Don't Know Why-Norah Jones

I have a thing for female artists. I don't know why. It's definitely not based on physical attraction. But there's something about the female voice that I find more captivating than the male's. I especially love voices with depth and character. To me, it's more important for a performance to be emotional and honest than technically proficient. I think that's why I like Norah Jones so much. Her voice is so bluesy and soothing and this song fits her tone perfectly.

Favorite Lyric: "Instead of kneeling in the sand catching teardrops in my hand."

Almost Picked: Turn Me On

Monday, August 3, 2009

Movie Review: Spring Breakdown

Requester: ALR

I have a lot of dreams. I dream that I’ll be the CEO of the American Cancer Society. I dream that I’ll work hard enough to be a concert violist. I dream that Parker Posey, Amy Poehler, and Rachel Dratch will make a movie together. So far, only one of those dreams has come true and so far, I’ve learned that some dreams are best left to the imagination.

Spring Breakdown is a straight-to-DVD release starring the aforementioned Posey, Poehler, and Dratch. Although a combination like this looks like it means comic genius, in actuality the film played out more like Baby Mama: A very promising cast, a few really good laughs, but overall it was a letdown. In fact, I think this is the least funny that Parker Posey has even been. As my friend pointed out, Scream 3 was a much better performance and that movie wasn’t even a comedy. Anyway, Spring Breakdown is the story of three friends, who were losers in college, and their attempt to gain some sort of popularity while protecting a senator’s daughter from making a spectacle of herself and her mother. Don’t think too hard about it.

Let’s begin with what I liked: Amy Poehler. Although her performance here might have devolved into Amber from Saturday Night Live, her uncanny ability to deliver both deadpan lines and over-the-top dialogue made her the most entertaining part of this film. She plays Gayle, a formerly overweight dog trainer who loves dogs because they “love your insides and not your outsides.” During spring break, she gets caught up in a popular clique and ends up dressing like a hooker with cornrows. Rachel Dratch also had some good moments as Judi, a woman formerly engaged to a gay man (played by a surprisingly unamusing Seth Meyers). She excels at getting laughs when she hits the party scene, but quickly becomes a caricature when she obsessed over a chiseled college boy.

To Posey’s credit, I don’t think that she was purposefully unfunny. Rather, I think her character and most of the script were what bogged her down. Even when her character is salsa wrestling and entering wet t-shirt contests, the scenes somehow were devoid of anything more than crude slapstick.

As for the script, it contains several funny lines and moments, but the overall story and comedic tone of the movie fall flat. I found most of the plotlines conventional and predictable. Additionally, there were some jokes at the expense of eating disorders that I found a bit tasteless. Perhaps that comes from my experience as an RA, but to characterize popular girls as bulimic for the sake of demonizing them seemed tacky on the part of the writers. If they wanted to make that an issue, they could have handled it more deftly.

Overall, I was entertained throughout. More so when Poehler was onscreen. However, the movie could have been brilliant and it definitely did not reach its potential. Considering the Dragon Ball movie got a sequel, here’s to hoping that a Spring Breakdown 2 will give us more Poehler and a better Posey. That would be a dream.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars