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Friday, December 19, 2008

Things I'm grateful for in 2008

In light of my previous post, I though a little sunshine was in order.

So here a list of things that I am grateful for in 2008:

Obama: Could things look more hopeful? I was wrong to doubt this man. He may be the one person left on this planet who could bring integrity back in the White House. He’s one smart cookie… and when you have a cookie factory that has been allowed to churn out crap for eight years you kind of need a smart cookie to take the reins. He’s JFK minus the baggage. A new beginning. I pray he’s not Jimmy Carter II. So, while I’m holding my breath, I’m also assuming that I needn’t hold it for long.

Kristine W.: While her upcoming, much-promised albums ‘The Power of Music’ and ‘Straight Up with a Twist’ have yet to appear (they are now being promised for 2009), 2008 did have several really choice tidbits trickle out of the Fly Again camp. Her cover of the old Diana Ross classic “The Boss” hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Dance/Club Play charts. And November brought forth her holiday offering, an EP entitled “Hey, Mr. Christmas” and the second single from ‘The Power of Music’, ‘Never’. She continues to amaze me. Her vocal style is becoming more defined, which is not to say predictable in anyway (check out those Michael Jackson like trills on ‘The Boss’. She is simply one of the best vocalists. I’m always tempted to qualify that with “on the dance scene today”. But no… she is simply one of the best vocalists – period. No need to auto tune her vocals. She’ll never be caught lip syncing. Nor does she have one of those barely-a-whisper-oh-so-frail-waif-like voices. She’s a powerhouse who knows when to rein it in. She writes, too. Ah yes, she is the real deal.

Solange, Estelle, M.I.A., Santogold, and Lady Gaga: Just when you thought Jill Scott and Macy Grey had done all they could do to revive a glorious, feel-good ‘70’s vibe along come these five to place all sorts of intricate twists into the soul/dance/new wave/world music/disco mix. Solange is the biggest surprise. ‘Sandcastle Disco’ alone guarantees that she’ll never have to stand in the shadow of her famous sister again. Estelle’s ‘American Boy’ didn’t need the stamp of Kayne West, but it probably helped it gain a lot of attention. M.I.A. almost fell between the cracks, despite all the accolades heaped in her direction in 2007 – but thanks to stoner pic ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Paper Planes’ finally got her the chart action she deserved. Santagold’s debut has yet to yield a breakout hit, but the album continues to generate lots of buzz. I just love the whiplash, new wave (The Waitresses, Missing Persons), knowing smile of ‘L.E.S. Artistes’. And Lady Gaga? Well, I suppose for someone with her writing history this type of success comes as no surprise. Watching the rise of ‘Just Dance’ (with or without Akon) throughout the year has been a lot of fun. That she managed to top the Dance Charts and then break through to the top ten of the Hot 100 – and has a second #1 (Pokerface) in Canada, makes me think we’ll be hearing more from her album ‘The Fame’ during the first quarter of 2009.

Kathy Griffin: I saw her live! At the final show of her 5 night sold-out run at the Orpheum in Minneapolis, MN. It was surreal. Kind of like seeing the Muppets Live, only much better than you could ever expect it to be! She worked the house like a jack hammer and her energy never dimmed once. I can’t imagine the inside of her head – it must be like a billion sparks with magic hamsters running around in circles and tiny internet gnomes Google-ing their brains out. I just love her. Look forward to another season of ‘My Life on the D-List’, am hoping she wins her Grammy (I tried to buy the album at Target, no luck – why? I wonder.), and finds the love her life (Girl needs it bad). Just a note – she’s the first woman since Joan Rivers in 1984 to have a #1 comedy album on the Billboard Comedy Album Charts. For god’s sake – give the lady her Grammy!

Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Yeah, I know – the pundits that be say the show sagged a bit and lost some luster this season. But they’re wrong. This show single handedly justifies owning a television. The writing is sharp, the ensemble chemistry is amazing, and its cutting edge continues to draw blood while carving away at society’s norms, television conventions and the American psyche.

Christine Applegate/Samantha Who?: I avoided this until about two months ago. Now I’m hooked. ‘Samantha Who?’ is the true inheritor of the throne vacated by ‘Sex and The City’. It’s got a much better cast, a better premise and better writing than those other pretenders (Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia). Key to this success, and to the success of numerous movies of dubious quality, is the charm, talent and presence of Ms. Applegate. Never would I have thought this possible, back in the days of when I caught the occasional episode of ‘Married With Children’. Her grace, humor and beauty just blow me away. Oh – and with Jean Smart on board – how could she go wrong? (Though I do hope they do more with Melissa McCarthy’s character.)

The Big Bang Theory: At my house, we refer to this show as “The Nerd Boys”, as in “Hurry up, the nerd boys are on.” It has yet to fail to delight. I like the cast. The timing/telepathy on display at times rivals that of ‘Fraiser’. I especially like the addition of Sara Rue this season, although something tells me that her stay won’t last through the premiere of next season. There’s a lot of smart stuff here, and I think it is just going to get smarter.

Gordon Ramsey/Kitchen Nightmares: Fascinating. And Mr. Ramsey isn’t nearly as stupidly nasty as he is on ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. This is a great tutorial on what not to do with money, how not to decorate a restaurant, what not to put on a menu, how not to run a kitchen, etc. It is business 101 for budding restaurateurs. I have learned so much. I think Gordon Ramsey is one hell of a great teacher. Very insightful.

Little Britian: I love these guys. They pick up where ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and Kids in the Hall left off. Cheeky to the extreme.

Other TV Programs of note: Sordid Lives, Clean House, and The Soup

Sex in The City:The Movie: Okay, so it was too long. In fact, it was like watching an entire season of episodes without a bathroom break. Putting it all together like that, the weaknesses couldn’t help but show. This premise is a serial. But, like seeing old friends that you haven’t seen in awhile, it was nice to get together again. There were no revelations. Nobody died. Everyone remained just as self-centered as ever. So, yeah, it was your typical reunion. I just think that the price of a movie ticket should have come with a complimentary martini. Gin, please!

Hillary Clinton: She made this election year very exciting. And though most would disagree, I think she played the game very well – stepping down only when it was necessary. My admiration for her is immense. I hope she has a great run as Secretary of State and helps restore this country’s tarnished image.

Happy holidays... and have a great new year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

These are a few of my least favorite things... The villians of 2008

Hello, it's been awhile. Not much. How about you?

Lots has gone under the bridge since my last post... but since I'm really not that interesting... here's a list of some of the people of 2008 that might capture your interest. They certainly did mine.
Rick Ross and Akon: Liars: plain and simple. They have both misrepresented their lives, have failed to own up to that fact and cling to a brand of credibility not due them. They lack integrity as human beings and their music suffers for it. For that matter, so does the public.

Kanye West: A master manipulator who is not a musician, has never written anything original, cannot sing and seems to think that self-aggrandizing is an artistic statement worth repeating ad nausea. He is the Puff Daddy of this century; a momentary, monumental example of style minus substance. Yes, people like Neyo may share West’s obsession with Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, but the difference is a matter of talent; Neyo has a great deal. The only things that exceed the size of Kanye’s ego are his record sales and his freakish, almost constant, whininess (but that’s what happens when one auto tunes their entire life – everything sounds kind of thin and squeal-like). He is the most irritating character that has ever graced halls of pop music – and that is a pretty incredible feat, considering the gargantuan height of that particular mountain.

Rolling Stone Magazine’s villain-izing of Hillary Clinton: In an election year when we had two outstanding candidates (Hillary and Obama) and an opportunity for an examination of the issues and some real debate, Rolling Stone chose to elevate their candidate of choice by writing scathing, ridiculously biased burn pieces about Hillary Clinton. I voted for Obama. I feel he is the right choice for the country and will make an incredible leader. But what Rolling Stone did to Hillary Clinton is journalistic murder. I have never been more embarrassed of a magazine that is mailed to my home (and I used to get Genre magazine – so that’s saying a lot).

Michael Vick: What a creep. If O.J. Simpson’s and Larry Craig’s pictures appear in the dictionary next to the word creep, well Michael Vick should certainly be there, too. Never has someone been given so much only to disappoint so thoroughly. If there is any type of comeuppance in the after life, I sure would not want to be Mr. Vick. And because this country lacks the moral fiber to severely punish those who abuse animals, I do hope that there is indeed an after life. However this man suffers in this lifetime, it is not enough.

Erykah Badu: With each album release she becomes more and more inaccessible and more and more irritating. It reminds me of what happened to Curtis Mayfield during his heyday. After a point, while wading through all the excess and lack of focus, you begin to lose sight of what made the artist stand out in the first place (hello, Tori Amos). It astounds me that her latest release, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) is on anyone’s best of list.

Eliot Spitzer: My new favorite scum bag/hypocrite. Oh, I have no issue with his use of prostitutes. I could even overlook his two-faced typical politician’s stance on prostitution. What galls me to no end is that he had his wife stand by his side during the subsequent press conference confessional. That poor woman is going to make some therapist a very rich person.

Larry Craig: Larry, give it up already. Nobody buys it. You’re a cocksucker. Enjoy it and spare the rest of the world your drama. And on that note, now that I know that the likes of you could be on the other side of any given stall wall I will be keeping my pants up at my knees and my stance as narrow as possible when doing my business in public. Shudder.

Toby Keith: If there is a recording artist who epitomizes the dumb-it-down -dumber-than-dumb G.W. era, it is Mr. Keith. Whether selling oversized, gas-guzzling trucks to American no-necks during a time of unprecedented high gas prices or trotting out his tired, old red, white and screw world view, Toby has managed to capture the attention and imaginations (not to mention the pocket books) of middle America. He is the musical equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy, and I for one, am glad their days in the sun are numbered.

Certain Music Blogs:
I’m not naming names (Idolator), but there seems to be a plethora of music blogs which exclusively practice a new type of journalism. They seem to think that surfing the web, stumbling upon some news that some one else first reported, adding a link to said article on their own site and then making some brief comment about the relevance of the cited article constitutes journalism. Why don’t they go and find a story that some one else hasn’t already written? Could it be that they are unable to put down their bag of Cheetos long enough to push away from their keyboards and actually interact with human beings face to face? Is it laziness? Yes. Yes it is.

Criss Angel: Creepy? Yes. Boring? Yes. Talented? Not really. Worthy of my attention or any more blog space? No.

Sarah Palin: Only in America (and only in 2008) could a former beauty pageant contestant, with limited political experience, possessing absolutely not an iota of debate skills, and without an original thought in her well coiffed head, end up running for Vice President of the United States on the Republican ticket. Hmmm. On second thought – I’m really glad it happened. Has desperation ever been more apparent? That and the fact that her designer spending spree, knocked-up daughter, Tina Fey/SNL connection and numerous jaw-dropping faux pas made the last few weeks of the 2008 campaign mildly hysterical. I can’t wait for the musical.

Cringe-Worthy Moments in the Real World: There is a lot of events that happen under the radar that, thanks to The Smoking Gun, I have had the displeasure of learning about. Among them:

Five Blackwater Security Guards were named in a 35-count federal indictment charging them with manslaughter and weapons violations in connection with the September 2007 bloodbath in Nisur Square. They are accused of going on an unprovoked shooting spree in Baghdad last year that resulted in the death of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians. I wonder how Karl Rove and Dick Cheney sleep at night.

The group of teens from Albert Lea, MN charged with torturing the elderly at an area nursing home.

Brandon Raz, the Wyoming municipal employee who pleaded not guilty to charges that he twice ejaculated in the water bottle of a female co-worker. Hmmm… forensic evidence says you did, Brandon.

Andy Martin, a Chicago man and former Connecticut congressional candidate who is credited with launching the Barack Obama-is-a-Muslim smear campaign. In addition he also pledged to "exterminate Jew Power in America," and claimed that "Jew babies are fed with subsidized American taxpayer money".

Lori Drew, the Missouri mom charged with orchestrating a cruel online hoax that led to the suicide of teenager Megan Meier. Has justice been served? Probably not in this life.

Jeremy Noyes, a Pennsylvania medical student who allegedly planned to assemble a "family" of female sex slaves that would reside with him on a farm or island who was arrested on federal child pornography charges. Jeremy Noyes.

Anton Dunn, alias the "Trashman" was tracked down and charged with posting YouTube videos in which he claimed to have poisoned thousands of bottles of Gerber baby food in a bid to kill black babies.

Diane Wargo, an Ohio nursing home employee who lost her job after blogger Perez Hilton posted an e-mail in which she called him a "FAT GAY PIG" and Angelina Jolie a "fag lover". She’s now suing the online columnist for $25 million for publishing her name and e-mail address, which triggered hundreds of angry letters and phone calls from fans of the gossip site. My heart bleeds for her… She’ll actually have to spend time in the same room as Perez. And while that seems a fit punishment for a homophobe, I doubt it will alter her views at all. Eh, they deserve each other.

And the winners: Michael Tracy Long and \ Michael Long Jr. This Florida father and son are each facing an animal cruelty charge for allegedly killing a neighbor's kitten with a sledgehammer. Maybe they can share a cell with Michael Vick. Gee, I wonder which guy ends up being the bottom in that ménage a trois.

Well, that’s 2008 in a bucket. A very sad, rusty, crusted, beaten bucket. I can’t wait to toss it all out come the New Year. Though I can’t imagine what will take its place. Maybe Anne Coulter and Dr. Laura will reveal their secret lesbian relationship on a very special episode of Oprah?

Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Catch Up Time: Spring 2008 Dance Singles

Playing Catch-Up…

****Just Dance - Lady GaGa Featuring Colby O'Donis
This song is a personal favorite this season. From the first lyric on, I just love it. Colby’s contribution doesn’t do much for me personally, but then, it also doesn’t get in the way of my good time. Yes, musically it is a little lightweight, but then, I also find that endearing. I’m not sure if I could testify to the vocal aptitude of Lady GaGa, but this song is such a sweet escape I don’t really care whether there is substance there or not. This is a breeze. This is what Olivia Newton John should be recording. And that’s who this reminds me of… or actually, what it reminds me of – the first time I heard “Sam” or “Have You Never Been Mellow”, or “Please, Mr. Please” – there is something of a breath of fresh air here for sure. Is it due to her delivery? The song itself? A reflection of the times (very similar to when ONJ had those hits)? In any case, Colby O’Donis aside – I like this, so do as the lady says – just dance.

***Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow - Paula Abdul / Randy Jackson
So, I kind of ignored this when it came out. I hate the whole AmIdol thing (for whom we have to thank for Gay Aitkin - did we really NEED another Barry Manilow?). But that aside, this is a sweet little pop song that fails to build or go anywhere. And that is just too bad. With Paula’s notoriously limited vocal range, there probably wasn’t any place it could go, but it seems the fault lies with the songwriters. On the bright side, the chorus is fetching and Paula comes across as seductive, edgy and focused – that is until the bridge where she mentions she’s still working up the nerve to talk to “that guy”. What? Is she twelve? Is she not Paula Abdul? The bridge is sort of a throwback to her “Forever Your Girl” hey day (days long past). Unfortunately for Paula, this just does not sound convincing coming out of the mouth of a middle-aged lady. I have seen the video, which is way fun – featuring some really sophomoric choreography and a lovely piece of red satin. So overall, it is a success, but it could have been much more. This peaked at #2 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart and it is what it set out to be – a nice, professionally produced piece of well crafted pop. So, welcome back, Paula.

**The Right Life - Seal
I love Seal. There is part of me that thinks the man can do no wrong. His winning ways continue with "The Right Life", which peaked at #15 on the Club Play chart. This is the follow-up to his #1 Club Play hit “Amazing” from his under-performing “System” CD. The song percolates along nicely and the chorus is a tad catchy. His vocals are as fine as always, kind of like a silk/satin dream. But overall, it lacks punch and succumbs to its own lack of dramatic build. A pleasant, if inert addition to this man’s incredible body of work.

***Love’s Sweet Sound - Groove Armada ft. Candi Stanton
This one certainly lives up to its title. Candi Stanton’s power as a vocalist just cannot be denied. She keeps surfacing on my I-pod in the oddest of forms. There’s comfort and warmth in abundance in her voice which manages to ignite the most sterile of dance tracks. She does just that with Groove Armada’s rather perfunctory “Love’s Sweet Sound”. The track itself gurgles and twerps in all the right places, but it’s Stanton’s insistent vocals that keep the hook in your head and your body grooving in low motion. I appreciate all the space Groove Armada has left on this one. It allows the vocals to absolutely shine. This peaked at #21 on the Club Play Chart, but you can expect it to continue to get some additional floor time over the next few years (you know, the way “You Got The Love” keeps popping up). It’s just one of those slow chill grooves that keeps on keepin’ on.

****Same Old F*cking Story / Into The Nightlife - Cyndi Lauper
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Lauper’s latest CD, “Bring Ya To The Brink”, do so immediately. It’s a winner. As are these two tracks. “Same Old F*cking Story” raced to the number one spot on the Club Play Charts, and for good reason. If “Sex In The City”, the movie, had its act together, it would have been featured on that soundtrack as Carrie recovers from being stood-up at the alter by Mr. Big. The song is a great one for people picking themselves up after being smacked down a few too many times. Yes, it is a bit cynical, but then so are the times we live in. Musically, it is as old school disco as you can get and I just get a kick out of it every time it zooms out of my car’s cd speakers. Lauper is in great voice. And songwriting-wise, she also seems to have rediscovered her legs. This is a great song featuring impeccable craftsmanship.

Her follow-up single, currently in the top ten on the Club Play Chart, is a surging piece of metropolitan synth-pop that perfectly captures the hum and buzz of the anticipation of an evening out. Look for it to capture the pole position as well. Its ascent has been a quick one, and currently it is one of the few bright spots on the Dance charts. And the woman has never looked finer – just check out her new video!

**Control Yourself - Erin Hamilton
You have to hand it to Erin Hamilton – the lady has chops. She is poised for great things, as she is a versatile vocalist who possesses a knowing way with a lyric. She’s definitely in the same class as Suzanne Palmer, Ultra Nate’ and the supreme Kristen W. The earthiness and grit she brings to this track is a revelation. But for all the growl and heat she manages to bring to the fore, the song lacks the originality which was evident in the mixes of her re-release of “The Flame”, a song that scaled the Club Play charts earlier this year (and in its original form it peaked at #12 back in 1999!). The fault here is with the song itself and not the singer. In this case, the vocals save the day. So look for this one to peak high. I hope there’s an album in the works. (Aside: Did you know she’s the daughter of Carol Burnett?)

*All I See - Kylie ft. Mims
Not feeling this one at all. It peaked at #2 on the Club Play charts, but did little for my feet or head. It’s thin and cold. The rap feels pasted on and as out of place as a smiley button on a corpse. The song itself glides along on a single level for so long I find myself reaching for the forward button on my cd player. It’s a snore bore. Poor Kylie! Nothing on her latest disc has seemed to capture the attention of the dance floor or the American public. And this mash-up smacks of desperation, not inspiration. The lady has style to spare… and in the future she needs to lend some it to the dance floor and her musical offerings.

***The Dance - Evelyn “Champagne” King
This one continues to grow on me. Nice and chunky. Pop, yet funky. This song rates two and a half stars on its own, but earns an extra half star for the inclusion of a sample of the classic jam “Love Come Down”. 2008 has proven to be a banner year for comebacks for historic Divas of Dance. “The Dance” will probably not wind its way to number one, but it’s nice to have Ms. King back in the clubs just the same.

*Turn It Up - Mark Picchiotti Presents Basstoy
No, please. You can turn it down because it is turning me off. Nothing new here, kind of by-the-numbers and it does nothing for my feet. Effects piled on to no affect - like accessories on a dead hooker.

**Handle Me - Robyn
This is a clever little piece of hip-hop pop. Leaving the robotic/mystical leanings of her last hit, “Every Heartbeat” behind, Robyn has her eye on the clubs and the street. It works for the most part. A touch stilted and wordplay heavy, but Robyn carries it off. There’s a mean streak in this track that cuts a wide swath with hooks galore and sassy one-liners to explore. Another feather in Robyn’s cap.

**Fall - Kimberly Locke
This went to number one – not sure why. It’s nice. You know, nice – like when you say the word nice and your mouth curls downward? The song is rather average, no – make that – the song epitomizes average. It’s a sweet little pop song with a country bent that makes my stomach curdle just the tiniest bit. Kimberly Locke can bring just about anything to life (the number one “Band of Gold” in all its kitschy glory, case in point) – so why can’t she find songwriters who have something original to bring to the table? This warmed-over adult contemporary crap belongs to the likes of Faith Hill and placing a pulsating beat underneath it does not a dance track make! Her previous #1, “Change” was a bit better, but basically shared the identical formula used here. Seriously, dance fans, we need to be asking more of this talented young lady. Somebody give her a decent song.

**Where the Music Takes You - Ari Gold Featuring Sasha Allen
This belongs in the same category as Bellatrax Featuring Sophia May”s “I Can't Help Myself”, anything by Plumb and a host of others: Nice, serviceable dance/pop. Faceless, but with just enough of a hook that you find yourself not regretting listening to it multiple times. This is my idea of the perfect fill on a mix cd. It takes up room without calling attention to itself or disappointing.

*Shake It - Anane Featuring Tony Touch & Mr. Vegas
Please see my review of “Turn It Up” by Mark Picchiotti Presents Basstoy. Same applies here. For all its sass and strident drive to create a sense of urgency and energy – this one manages to bore the hell out of me. So tired. Absolute filler with nothing original to offer. It was like they looked it up in a dictionary and read it verbatim into somebody’s phone answering machine from 1993.

** We Break the Dawn - Michelle Williams Featuring Flo Rida
Well, this one was rescued from obscurity thanks to the inclusion of a rap by Flo Rida. I actually liked the original (minus Flo), although it lacked a strong personality. Even with the presence of Flo (or perhaps because of it) this one still strikes me as pretty borderline. I very much doubt I will remember it a year from now… or for that matter fifteen minutes from now. And undistinguishable effort by two talents in search of an identity.

* Great DJ - The Ting Tings
Hmmm. A tad annoying. A tad cloying. I kind of want to walk up to this pair and just give then good smack on the back of their heads. Even the name of their group makes my face scrunch up in a way that suggests that somebody just pooped in the room. This stuff is too cute for its own sake. I know they are currently the darlings of New York (they gave a free concert and it was massively attended) – but I generally find this type of highly-crafted B.S. abhorrent and a waste of time. If ever there was a case of style obliterating the fact that there is no substance – this is it. I am going to file this one right along Sia and Pink Lady.

***Let Me Think About It - Ida Corr Vs Fedde Le Grand
The song that refuses to go away. This is the dance song of 2008 so long (whether I like it or not). As it happens, I do like it. It is a bit faceless, but that makes it endearing, the way Chic songs of yore were/are endearing. A great hook, a nice sassy chorus and plenty happening to keep you guessing. While I never tire of it, I have also never really embraced it. It has this vibe and energy all of its own – and that has sustained its place on the charts and dance floors these many months.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pull Up to The Bumper, Baby: Dance Reviews 2008

Reviews of dance singles from the second quarter of 2008.

Jo Frances – Brass In Pocket *
Unfortunate. Jo's voice is certainly up to the task, if a bit heavy on the testosterone. The track is multi-layered too much, which, while giving it a kind of power, ends up distorting and masking her intended inflection and nuance. As for the choice of song... some things just shouldn't be messed with. It was perfect the first time. I’m afraid, despite the dance beat, I’d rather hear Chrissie’s original.

Britney Spears – Break The Ice (Remixes) **
Hmmm... I wonder if Brit's name was not associated with this one would it garner any attention? This elicits a very Randy Jackson response from me... it's just okay. It sounds like a hundred other similar offerings. I know Brit's in there somewhere, but this thing is so over-produced it's hard to find her. I wish one of the remixer's had stripped the thing to find its core (but if they did, would there be anything of substance)? In the end... it's decent. But it wouldn't get her in the final round.

Donna Summer: Stamp Your Feet *****
WOW! Get this now! I love pleasant surprises. So nice to have Ms. Summers back. Voice is better than ever. And for a change, the material is her equal. Great song. Song of the Summer (pun not intended)(apologies to Madonna). The mixes are all great... tip of the hat goes to Ranny Big Room. But the DiscoTech is a guilty pleasure and a lot of fun. Burgundy has gotten this right so far (I loved ‘I’m A Fire’. Crayons' future looks bright. Kudos to Perfectbeat for snagging this one!

Jenna Drey: All Out Of Love *
" was so wrong". Well, it still is. Sorry. I'm sure this was well intended, but it is one painful piece of tripe to endure. Only the "unplugged" mix works, but even that suffers from a phonetically-derived delivery from Drey (she pushes the beat on the chorus rendering it robotic). Her reading is so perfunctory, it sounds phoned in by a speak and spell. (Does she speak English? Just curious.) Not that the song is any great shakes to begin with - it actually makes me shudder. Oh.... oh, no. (I'm sure it will be a big hit).

Madonna: 4 Minutes ****
This one's time is almost up, but it really has taken me this long to form an opinion about it. Like a lot of the other reviewers, it took me a long time to warm up to it. It is just SO OVER-PRODUCED (although I like the high school band thing). Madge is just buried in there and her personality is nowhere to be found. Justin skates by unscathed and actually adds a bit of charm to the whole thing. That said... I've ended up embracing it anyway. It's not a Madonna song - it belongs to her collaborators. It is a piece of product and that is it. So if you divorce yourself from the idea that what you wanted was something from Madonna, and just accept what you did get here... it's a lot of fun. I like the urgency - although I have no idea what any of it means (for the longest time when they sang the word 'interest' I thought they were singing 'ninjas'. (I actually like 'ninjas' better.) The mixes here add nothing of value.

Tracy Young Presents Ceevox: What's Done Is Done ****
This turned out nicely. Love her delivery... so sly and knowing. Subtle. Reminds me a bit of Ultra Nate'. That said... it is a bit old school - but the song itself and its message keep it fresh. The production is spare, but that works in this one's favor. Would be curious to see what a different mix master could do with it. Not a barnburner, but gentle and funky.

Mariah Carey: Touch My Body *
What voice? It's cracked and dried and can barely sustain itself for an eight count. Breathy and lifeless. At least she can tick out a lot of syllables quickly, even if they are the same four notes over and over. This doesn't break any new ground, nor do the mixes (?)(more like edits) here. Mariah has become the vocal equivalent of a blow-up sex doll. I guess Island is just all too happy to prop her up, supply her with a cliche' of tired beats and watch the cash roll in.

Ralph Falcon: Break You *
What year is it? 1998? This would have been considered not so fresh even then. None of the mixes seem to elevate this one to anything but filler status. I agree with some of the other reviewers... I just don't get it. It's not even novel enough to qualify as dishy retro. Kind of a snoozer.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Parking on the Dance Floor: Dance Reviews 2008

My reviews of dance singles released during the first quarter of 2008.

Karen Young: Hot Shot (Reheat) *
I find it odd that this 'remix' made it into the top ten on Billboard's Club Play Charts. But it did. I don't find this in the least bit interesting - none of the remixes do anything to elevate the original beyond its mediocre, modest beginnings. So why bother?

Kristine W.: The Boss *****
Kristine hits another one out of the park! Grrrreeeeat vocals - earthy and meaty. Something this song so deserved. The mixes here are great fun - hard to pick a favorite. I have bounced from the the sanchez to the infinity to the goodyear as my fave. The radio edits are nice and precise. But it is ultimately Kristine's incredible vocals that sell this baby - especially her Michael Jackson-like fills. Love it.

Erin Hamilton: The Flame 2008 ***
This was a pleasant surprise. Not the usual Hi-NRG remake - a cut above all that. It actually manages to reinvent the song without simply taking a small slice of the song and repeating it ad nausea. Very ethereal. Erin's vocals don't possess a lot of presence, but it is a real ear-tweaker.

Filo & Peri Featuring Eric Lumiere: Anthem ***
I love this one... even with its vacuous European pretensions. Pleasant male vocals, decent lyric, fun chorus, interesting construction. A tiny bit faceless - and that is my only complaint. Definitely deserves all the radio airplay it has been getting.

Idina Menzel: Gorgeous ***
I keep getting this one confused with 'Defying Gravity'. The reason: Indina's vocal style is so incredibly unique that her mannerisms seem to place a shadow over the songs themselves. That's not a bad thing... I'm just waiting for her to find a song that is her equal. None of the pap from 'Wicked' is going to cut it. This one, simply due to its subject material almost does it. It's fun, but not memorable. I like to segue this in the middle of Taylor Dayne's far superior 'Beautiful' and a remix of Xtina’s ‘Beautiful’. Makes for a nice subject block.

Erika Jayne: Stars ****
Hmmm... is this really the woman behind 'Roller Coaster'? Wow. A sweet chill. Very nice - demonstrating a little variety. Surprising. I love the vocals and song itself. It actually possesses a bit of a hook, something sadly missing from most dance music. Something tells me I need to pay attention to this one - she's a total keeper.

Janet Jackson: Feedback (Ralphi Rosario Radio Edit) *****
Finally! Janet gets a song worthy of our time. I loves me some sexy, sexy, sexy, robot Janet. Percolates like an orgy at Starbucks. Okay, so all that stutter/stop/shift stuff plays like a thick veneer distancing the heart of Ms. Jackson from the public, but it's been ages since she's been this nasty and danceable. It would have been nice if her company would have sprung for a few more remixes to make this a great buy. And, yes, the heavy flow line makes me gag a little. I just bear it and wince. So glad she's back, auto-tuned to death or not. Amen.

Britney Spears: Piece Of Me (Remixes) / Gimme More ***
Timely and entertaining. But not memorable. Nice double-header, though. Britney's in there somewhere and she's the only reason to come to this party. The songs themselves skitter by like a tweaked out circuit boy peering over the edge of an eighth floor balcony. A little short on substance, but fun enough. Everybody loves a little drama - and this plays out like a Greek tragedy on roids. Medea, anyone?

Mary J Blige: Just Fine (Moto Blanco Remix) *
Uh-uh. No. Tired, tired, tired. Mary needs a new pair of shoes. She works way too hard and has too much going to simply float by on dated, bloated flotsam like this. Her i-pod commercial played way better than this stuff. Make me shiver, not shudder! Redefine, Ms. Blige - don't regurgitate. Evah.

Idina Menzel: Defying Gravity *
Fun stuff - very unique vocals. Maybe a tad annoying. One for the circuit queens. The song itself - eh. So canned the Campbell soup twins could have written it - homogenized to the point of sterility - and that flies in the face of the song's message and intent. Defying gravity? This song doesn't aspire to defy, impact, or encroach upon anything - including the listener's ear. Idina, fortunately, has a lot of vocal mannerisms in her bag of tricks, and that almost makes this worthwhile. Almost.

Taylor Dayne: Beautiful *****
A song that fits Ms. Dayne to a ‘t’. Capitalize that ‘T’. A perfect marriage. It’s been a long while. I love her big broad sound and lovely R&B styling. Always have. She hasn’t sounded this engaged since her remake of Barry White’s ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe’. I can’t get enough of this song. It is on permanent repeat in my car CD player and haunts my thoughts as I drift off to sleep. If I have two wishes this spring, one of them will be that this goes to the top of Billboards Club Play Charts and more. And it should. Diva needs a break and Diva has finally done something to deserve that break. Beautiful, indeed.

Robyn: Every Heartbeat **
Big surprise…. big, curious surprise. When this first played on my i-pod I thought it was some long lost Kate Bush song I’d downloaded out of curiosity and in my compulsive need as a completist. Guess again. Nice to hear her, glad she’s back – didn’t expect this. I was thinking some of the old hip-hop/r&b stuff with the big beat would bring her back stateside, but this is such a far cry from those days – dare I say – this is hardly the same artist. Nice chill. The vocals are a bit thin, so while her sound has matured, her vocal style has not. Not a dance hall burner by any means, but a decent listen.

Sia: The Girl You Lost *
Bizarre and lacking substance, considering the subject matter. Vocals are Olsen Twin-thin and a tad annoying. Strikes me as more of an experiment than a fully realized song; like the product of a 14 year old girl who just got her first key board hooked up to Pro Tools. About as convincing as a midi file and just as cringe-inducing. Lose her.

Cascada: What Hurts the Most ****
This song sounds like something Leanne Rimes did about the time of Coyote Ugly. It’s got a very country-friendly vibe going. It’s fun. Great pop. A little too clean for my taste – lacks real character. Cascada is kind of like that – very Ace of Base minus the hint of funkiness. Nothing funky going on here. Acne-free. Kind of like a Mentos Mint ad or those surreal Orbit gum commercials.

Sarah Atereth: It Doesn’t Take Much ****
Pleasant. Not a barn-burner, but a great song. In fact, it is a complete pop song. Its lyrics actually show some depth. Sarah’s voice is pleasant enough, too. It could use a little more character. Not bad, but not a fire, either. The three stars are for the lyrics. They’re of a quality rarely found on a dance track. Of the mixes – Tracy Young is my current pick.

Plumb: In My Arms ****
Great hook, nice meaty vocals. Nice to hear a singer with some bottom to her voice. I love the little catch she gets in her throat – distinctive and not over played. Needs to be careful of the whine thing, though. The song itself is a gem with a couple of infectious hooks, catchy chorus. Like ‘Numb’, their last biggie – this one is a winner.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Need for Humility in Business

When I was 19, I was cast in the role of Thomas Becket for a production of T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”. I spent many hours gleaning truth from Eliot’s beautiful, succinct verse. Philosophically, it would forever alter how I view those in power and the choices they make.

As the play begins, word reaches the cathedral that the king has dispatched soldiers to kill Becket. Becket’s congregation and fellow priests plead with Becket to flee. Becket calms them, while remaining steadfast in his decision to accept his fate. He is then visited by four tempters, each offering some form of reward for a given choice. He handily rejects the scenarios of the first three tempters. However, the fourth tempter forces Becket to examine his personal motives for accepting such a fate. The tempter reasons that the choice of martyrdom is ultimately self-serving; undertaken not for the sake of the church, but in a bid for historical significance. Momentarily thrown, Becket regains his resolve, stepping back from the most subtle treason of the soul:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.1

These words encapsulate a very basic quandary for anyone who makes decisions. It begs the questions:
· How do we know when we are doing the right thing for the right reason? And…
· What is the key factor that prevents us from doing the right thing for the wrong reason?

I think the key is humility; a very simple, yet not-so-simple, choice. To make the right choice for the right reason, those in power must do so with a sense of humility. They must be careful their personal desires and needs don’t circumvent the needs of others. They must subjugate themselves to serve a greater cause.

Humility. It looks great on the resume of one’s humanity. Kindness? Check. Fairness? Check. Humility? Check. Like listening, it’s a fairly effortless way to gain something. By listening we gain information, but also the reputation of being a good listener. Good listeners are rare and such a quality is respected. Genuine displays of humility are equally rare and also admired. So choose humility! But is it that simple? If so, why isn’t the world filled with humble, passive people? I think it has to do with the opportunity costs such a choice holds.

What do we forgo by allowing others to talk without interruption? Speaking. Perhaps allowing things we disagree with to go unchallenged or receiving information we don’t have any use for. What is the opportunity cost of humility? Perhaps not getting full credit for something we’ve accomplished. In business, not getting credit for something can hurt career momentum. But if what has been contributed is truly praise worthy or valuable it will help the greater cause. So if you’re part of the big picture you get the benefit, if not the credit.

People have a hard time seeing the big picture. Therefore, the whole concept of the greater good escapes us. We tend to see things in terms of instant impact. We ask – how does this affect me? That’s not a bad thing. Self-preservation has a place in the big picture. If we don’t survive, we can’t contribute. Striking a healthy balance between self-interest and selflessness is necessary. But being selfless? That’s hard work.

When I think of selflessness the role of the humble servant comes to mind - as in ‘humble servant of God’. I also think of maintenance people and those who humbly clean up after others. As an administrative assistant, I frequently ‘clean up after the elephants’. I’m the one at the end of the parade who sweeps up after the pageantry has swept by. I frequently do it begrudgingly. I know that if I ever do become an elephant, I’m going to let the folks manning the brooms know that their efforts make me look good. So why do they do it?

They do it to be of service to a greater cause, a greater good. It’s not about what’s in it for them, but about what they have to offer that’s of use to others. In the purest sense, these people are rare. Mother Teresa springs to mind, but few fit the bill. Most political/socio-economic activists have a selfish agenda that underlies the good they accomplish. In these media savvy days, the world has developed a jaded eye and even the best of intentions must pass a purity-of-motive litmus test. That’s why the Bonos and Geldofs of the world don’t cut it.

I’m talking about true servants: the type of people who work for the greater good of others without consideration for their own gain, safety or well-being. Why are such people rare? Because it’s a calling. A true calling. It’s not something tacked on at the end of a pop star’s career. Not that that’s a bad thing, but hey, the Mother Teresa’s of the world have set the bar pretty high.

What about the rest of us? How does humility work in our daily lives? Or in the workplace?

Such philosophical battles play out at corporations throughout the world. Should we benefit from doing our jobs? Absolutely. However, in my studies at Augsburg, while analyzing business management scenarios, a pattern caught my eye. Time and again, managers trying to do the right thing were ultimately foiled by their own egos. Many got hooked on the sound of their own voice and failed to listen to others. Others sought massive amounts of personal media attention to keep their company in the spotlight. This resulted in a kind of blindness that prevented them from making good decisions. Then there were those who had become a fixture of the company – so integral to the corporation’s culture that they impeded their company’s future success because they were unwilling or unable to change, step aside, or step down.

In each case, they will tell you their intent was to improve shareholder value for their company. However, history has shown that they were really serving their own needs. I’m not referring to the most obvious cases, such as Enron, Tyco, or WorldCom; instances where management chose to do the wrong thing and seemed to relish doing so. I’d like to address a more subtle type of conflict – where people believe they are doing good for the greater cause, but are in fact serving their own egos and personal agendas. Let’s look at few examples.

JetBlue Airways recently made headlines after the worst operations breakdown in its seven-year history led to more than 1,000 canceled flights. There’s been just as much good news about the way chief executive David Neeleman responded to the crisis - by bending over backward to admit failure, accept responsibility, apologize and compensate customers for their inconvenience. Everyone from public relations experts to aviation analysts is praising Neeleman for doing things that are largely unheard of in corporate America.2
Such humility has not always been characteristic of Neeleman. For years he’d captured the media’s attention as an upstart taking on the big cats. He became so enamored with this vision of himself as David (JetBlue) taking on Goliath (big airlines) that he failed to notice when he and his company had become Goliath. That failure resulted in the alienation of his employees, an ailing corporate culture, and an inability to make long-term decisions. Neeleman woke up in time. His story has a happy ending, but that’s not always the case.

In interviews and speeches, Dachis smugly proclaimed that his company was superior to its Old Guard competition because it was created with a New Economy mindset. After Razorfish went public in 1999, valuing his stake at $77 million, he claimed he was worth every penny…"There are sheep and there are shepherds, and I fancy myself to be the latter," he told The New York Times.

Now, Dachis is paying the price for his hubris. Talk to him today, and you'll meet a chastened 34-year-old. He says his new mantra is: "Be humble because in success, humility will win, and in failure, humility will win." These days, Dachis is focusing on just one thing--turning his company around.3

But Dachis’ humility was short-lived. He continued to spout off in the media, cementing his reputation as the bad boy of Silicon Alley (NYC). He failed to turn Razorfish around and in 2004 Razorfish, Inc. was acquired by SBI Group. Dachis was no longer part of the company, having left the company in 2001. Under new management, SBI.Razorfish managed a change in fortunes, leading to a buy-out by Microsoft in 2007 as part of a $6.0 billion cash purchase of their parent company, aQuantive.4 Dachis recently surfaced as the CEO of a new company called Bond Art and Science. Their clients include MTV Networks,, Armani Exchange, and The Week.5 Time will tell if he has learned his lesson.

My own experience with humility and power was short and bittersweet. In 1985, I became the artistic/managing director of a small theatre company in Minneapolis, MN. It was a young, promising company that had garnered the attention of several local critics. It continued to grow under my leadership, receiving a second ‘Critic’s Choice’ award from the Star & Tribune. I was elated. So were those around me; a group of very talented individuals. But I failed to listen to their advice, taking the theatre on a path of my own design which resulted in my resignation in 1987 and a slow, embarrassing death for the company by 1991.

It was a hard lesson to learn. In hindsight, my choices were self-serving; my arrogance appalling. I had failed to listen to others. I had failed to make the right decisions for the right reasons.

Theatre is an ego driven business. It was my cause. I felt justified making the decisions I did in a quest for artistic integrity. In doing so, that quest became derailed; tainted by my ego and my own private, petty agendas. My sense of self became entwined with the fortunes and failures of the theatre company. Because I failed to separate the two, both suffered. I lost my way because I lost my compass of common sense - I had forgotten the lessons gleaned from Eliot’s verse.

When I returned to college I decided to pursue a degree in business, not theatre. I was lacking something and couldn’t continue approaching theatre in the same way. During my thirty years in theatre, time and again I’d witnessed artistic promise undermined by a lack of business knowledge. I’ve learned many valuable lessons through the case studies that I’ve analyzed during my time at Augsburg. Hindsight is a great teacher. We learn from our own mistakes and those of others. History enlightens. It also humbles.

Humility in business takes courage and vigilance. Those in power must constantly question their motives when making decisions. They must consider the big picture in the long run and listen to the counsel of others. They must be selfless, making decisions with humility, not hubris. For those not in positions of power, they must gently question the choices of peers and superiors when they sense the taint of ego or hidden agendas. These are not easy things to do. But history has proven, and my studies at Augsburg have shown, that success without integrity and humility is short-lived and unsustainable.

1. Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot, 1935
2., Faith, Flight Plan Guide JetBlue Boss: Other CEOs Need his Humility by Jeff Benedict, Boston Harold, March 5, 2007
3., A Web Hotshot Learns Humility by Heather Green, BusinessWeek E.Biz, March 19, 2001
4., Microsoft to Buy Aquantive for $6 Billion by Margaret Kane and Dawn Kawamoto, CNET, May 18, 2007

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Experience is Primary

I’m an independent… that applies to both religion and politics. At some later point, perhaps I’ll share my views on religion. It’s primary season, so it seems more appropriate to address the issue of politics and current candidates.

Here are my impressions of the front runners:

Hillary Clinton
I admire her so much. She has a long record of political experience, and she earned those chops the hard way. Anyone who remembers her much embattled drive to secure health care reform during President Clinton’s first term knows that the Republicans, the Pharmaceutical industry and representatives for physicians made her run through the fire.

And the way she handled the whole scandal involving her husband? Wow… smart.

She is tested. She is experienced. She is respected. She can get the job done.

She is incredibly intelligent, well-informed and one smart cookie. Unfortunately, America is historically threatened by intelligent women – whether or not she can overcome that mindset and whether or not America is ready to grow up remains to be seen.

She’s also a mother. I think that may be one of her most compelling qualifications.

She’s also human. Very human, as demonstrated during the final day of the New Hampshire primary. When asked how she withstood the rigors of political life, she answered with a throat choked full of emotion and a slight quiver to her voice. It was a heartwarming moment. The iron lady let down her guard for a moment and reminded America that beneath the hardened political exterior there beats the heart of a very real person. If she’s smart, instead of focusing solely on political rhetoric, she will pause and remind us of that very real person.

She claims to have found her voice in New Hampshire.

I think the world of Hillary Clinton. If she wins the nomination, I will vote for her.

Barack Obama
What’s not to like? He’s well-spoken, charismatic, and highly likable. His ability to rally people is a real gift. He’s intelligent. But is he a smart cookie? Is he savvy?

I don’t trust him. Not completely. Not yet. It’s his lack of experience and exposure. Before he decided to run for President I can’t recall hearing about him much. I know what he stands for… but just what has he done?

It’s his endorsement by Oprah that is the most troubling. I have to question any politician who would think that is a good thing. There’s a reason Hillary doesn’t have Hollywood celebs stomping the campaign trail. Star power doesn’t cut it in politics. There’s a taint on such endorsements. Let’s call it desperation. Or misplaced ideals. To be taken in by such crap makes me question the man’s integrity.

He’s a bit of a smooth operator, very charming. I can see why so many are being seduced. Including Oprah.

But bottom line – he just hasn’t got the kind of experience that makes me think of him in presidential terms. Kind of like George W. But in a much different way.

Sending Obama to the White House at this point in his career would be like re-electing Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter is an excellent diplomat, a real humanitarian, very intelligent and charming. However, he was not a good president. He simply lacked the political savvy to get things done. Circumstances frequently worked against him, but more due to his inexperience in the given areas than in light of the actual circumstances. Jimmy Carter needed more seasoning. So does Obama.

The fact that he doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge his lack of experience is troubling to me. I’m sure such an admission would be deemed a sign of weakness. But I have always been more drawn to those that acknowledge their faults, rather than bluster past them. I respect people who let others know they are aware of their Achilles heal.

I would vote for Obama eight years from now. He will be ready then.

Mitt Romney
What kind of name is Mitt? Personally, I don’t want a president named Mitt.

That aside, if Obama is smooth, Mitt is slick. Slick, as in icky. I keep thinking he is a cyborg or a robot. He reminds me a lot of some of the characters in “Artificial Intelligence: A.I”. The word plastic keeps coming to mind.

Mitt is a political pro. We don’t need one of those to serve as president. Not now. He’s old school, but not in a comforting way.

He has experience. He is well spoken. But like a big fluffy pastry that looks incredible all dressed up with frosting and sprinkles – there really isn’t much substance here. Just a lot of empty calories. America needs something more fulfilling. Hence, not a lot to be excited about here. Just the same old, same old. Business as usual.

John McCain
Eight years ago, I thought – wow – what a firecracker. The fire has died down a little. But I still like him. I don’t agree with all of his views. He is dead wrong about Iraq. So he may be dead wrong for America at this juncture. I like him. He is plain spoken and very authoritative. But he has a lot of blind spots. And, I suspect, a big stubborn streak. Pass.

John Edwards
He is the Mitt Romney of the Democrats. Just as likable. Just as slick. He is a political pro with lots of experience. Business as usual. I liked him better as a possible V.P. Maybe that is his strategy this time, too. Like a romantic comedy where everybody is pretty and attractive, has great teeth, a fantastic apartment, and an exciting career… he plays well – looks good on paper. But I’m not buying. I like reality. Reality has flaws. Pass.

If he plans to run the country the way he has run his campaign - this country would be in some serious trouble. He was once the front runner. Once. But the thing with races is - everybody needs to start the race at the same time: like say, in Iowa and New Hampshire. Otherwise - it's not a race. What was he thinking? I don't think his campaign strategy is going to work out well for him. If he was president, I don't think it would work out well for anybody.

The man has played the 911 card way too often and for far too long. I didn't think the role he played at the time was very significant. Now, it just seems like old news. Like a politician pointing to his service record (although, that actually demonstrates character), it really isn't indicative of anything. Other than make some money off of the heartbreaking incident of 911 - via his business ventures and constant personal appearances talking about it - I don't feel he had that big of a role in the healing of the nation. I don't think any politician did. I simply don't find this to be a particularly strong issue to build a campaign or a presidency on. Anyone who does, lacks the savvy needed for the position.

Personally? I hate what he did to New York. He neutered it. That aside - he just doesn't have the qualifications, the vision, the imagination, or the personality traits that make for a good leader, let alone a good president.

Sorry, Giuli. I'm not taking you to the prom. Ever.

Really? Wow. Creationism? In the White House? Really? Wow. Would make a great National Lampoon film. Or a horror movie. Depends on your take.

I think - Scary, Mary. Real scary.

I don’t “heart” Huckabee.

I like the separation of church and state. Unless he’s for taxing churches. If he is, I’ll reconsider.

(No, I won’t. I don’t want a President who has a gift registry at Walmart.)

Please stay home. Don’t run. Retire. Be quiet. Go away. You have lost all semblance of common sense. You stopped paying attention to the world about 10 years ago. You and your supporters need a major reality enema, dude. Wake up. Or go to sleep. Just don’t run.

The rest…
Ummm…. Fill in the blank. Not much to say. I don’t think the American people are much interested either.

Bottom Line
If Hillary doesn’t win the nomination – I would probably vote for a Republican candidate. However… there isn’t a Republican candidate worthy of the ballot.

This is a race between Hillary and Obama.

But in a sane world… where Oprah doesn’t rule the world… it wouldn’t be.

I would like to see someone who has actually given birth and raised a child and withstood some really trying events to sit in the Oval Office. Someone with political and life experience and a heart. Someone with common sense. That is the change I would like to see for America.

And, really? Isn’t it time?