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Even Dwarfs Started Small
Even Dwarfs Started Small
DVD ~ Helmut Döring
11 used & new from $15.93

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been much better, July 31, 2006
This review is from: Even Dwarfs Started Small (DVD)
I generally like Herzog a lot, but this is definitely not one of my favorite films of his. Yes, it has a lot of fabulous images and moments, but for me, the problem is that it doesn't work as a film very well. It's kinda poetic, kinda surreal, kinda nightmarish (Herzog has said that the film is a prolonged nightmare in his view), and kinda like a lengthy performance art piece, but in my view, the individual elements are not tied together as well as they should be. It does seem like he simply took a group of dwarfs out to the desert, gave them some rough improvisational boundaries, told them to go crazy, filmed it, and somewhat randomly edited it.

In a very rough way, the film does have a plot. It begins with a group of dwarfs in something like a prison. Someone off-camera seems to ask one about a crime, and then most of the film is in flashback, giving us the story of how the dwarfs ended up in their situation at the beginning of the film. The backstory has the dwarfs rebelling at some kind of institution. At first it seems like maybe it was a mental home, but then an authority figure keeps referring to himself as an "instructor", and there is talk at various points of a "principal" being away, so maybe it's supposed to be a school.

The bulk of the film is just the dwarfs rebelling, by doing things like breaking manufactured objects, harassing a couple blind dwarfs, torturing animals, destroying plants and trees, burning stuff and having a food fight.

As fun (in a dark, twisted way, of course) as a lot of this stuff is in isolation, and as entertaining as some of the dialogue and behavior of the dwarfs is--the laughing is particularly infectious, there's not a lot of structure to anything, including, on a meta level, to the film as an artwork. There are thematic and content resemblances to Tod Browning's film Freaks (1932), you can see how some of this stuff probably influenced David Lynch, and Herzog made slight allusions to films like The Wild One (1953), but Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen is not as good as either the films that influenced it or the films that it influenced.

There are themes explored, and interpretations abound because the film is so intentionally ambiguous. You can see the film as a critique from many different angles on rebellion, you can see it as a meditation on entropy, you can see it as a commentary on people inheriting a world they didn't make . . . you can see it as many things. While all that stuff is interesting to think about, having an intriguing theme isn't sufficient for having a good film, either.

Still, Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen is worth a watch for fans of weirdness because of its arresting images and content on a trees level, but I would hardly recommend it to anyone else, and even for us freaks, it's a pity that this couldn't have been a better movie. The potential was there.


Pal Joey (1950 Broadway Cast Recording)
Pal Joey (1950 Broadway Cast Recording)
14 used & new from $5.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good version of a very good show, July 31, 2006
Maybe I shouldn't be writing this review just yet, as although I've heard other versions of Pal Joey, I've not heard any except this one in a long time, so I can't compare and contrast versions to recommend one over another very well. I did see the film again not too long ago, and believe that I preferred those versions of these songs, but I'd have to hear it again, and as far as I know, the film soundtrack isn't available on CD, anyway. At any rate, no matter how good other versions are, this one is good, too, so it's worth picking up if you're a fan of this music, or older Broadway music in general.

Track 1, "Overture" 4/5

This is your standard Broadway overture. There's nothing particularly unusual about it, but it's certainly competent with a couple interesting rearrangements of the songs that will follow.

Track 2, "You Mustn't Kick It Around" 4/5

Harold Lang, who sings the part of Joey on this "studio cast" recording, has a very pleasant, "clean" tenor voice. This is not one of Rodgers and Hart's best melodies in the show, especially as a couple of them are masterpieces, but it's nice enough, and the arrangement/orchestration of the verses is very unusual and effective with the "start/stop" chords. The instrumental bridge features impressive horn ensemble work.

Track 3, "I Could Write a Book" 5/5

One of the masterpieces from the show. It's a gorgeous, serpentine melody. This is a song that has deservedly become a jazz standard. The arrangement here is very mellow, heavy on strings and woodwinds, with a bridge sung by Beverly Fite that's almost classical. The second time through the principal melody, also sung by Fite, the arrangement retains some of those traditional classical nuances. Very nice, and very different from the typical jazz standard way of approaching the song.

Track 4, "That Terrific Rainbow" 3/5

This is a bawdy, burlesque number. The intro is played with a lot of appropriate near-overblowing by the horn section, and there's a nice clarinet solo weaving its way through the changes. Barbara Ashley takes the vocal with a very campy delivery. It fits the song. The main flaw here is that this type of material was already fairly clichéd in the early 50s. Although it's competently done here, I would have preferred some artistic stretching from Rodgers and Hart.

Track 5, "What is a Man?" 4/5

There are a number of very unusual, subtle-but-hip harmonic changes in this song, which also has a nice melody. The harmonic changes often suggest key or modality changes without actually being key or modality changes. The bridge takes a brief stylistic left turn that works for the show dramatically.

Track 6, "Happy Hunting Horn" 5/5

Lots of interesting stylistic and rhythmic changes throughout this song. It has a catchy, bouncing groove overall, and also a very catchy melody that quotes from/modifies a couple different folk/traditional melodies, including traditional hunting horn and bugling melodies, appropriately enough.

Track 7, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" 5/5

The other masterpiece from this show, and my personal favorite. In fact, it's one of my favorite songs of all time, and also a jazz standard that I love playing. The principal melody employs one of my favorite devices--a kind of ostinato with changing harmonies beneath it. Like "I Could Write A Book", this has a lush string arrangement, with some nicely contrasting muted brass parts, that fits well with the show overall. Vivienne Segal approaches the vocal almost operatically.

Track 8, "Pal Joey (What Do I Care for a Dame?)" 5/5

An intriguing melody in that the verses consist of a single note repeated for four bars before rising chromatically with another repeated note for the next four bars, then suggesting it's going to do it a third time before resolving into a more standard melody. The second verse repeats the theme, but with higher pitches, reflecting the structure more broadly. This is a very catchy song, well arranged. The instrumental bridge is especially impressive, with some very modern sounding orchestration and harmonies--almost Stravinskian at times. The coda features a beautifully and bombastically orchestrated reprise of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".

Track 9, "Zip" 4/5

Speaking of Stravinsky, there's a reference to him in the lyrics to this song, with a very funny orchestral blast right after his name. This is the primary novelty number of the show. It's fairly traditional as that, but there are a couple wonderful outside pitches--again inserted pretty subtly--in the melody. Nicely orchestrated. The singing, this time by Jo Hurt, is campy again, as it should be.

Track 10, "Plant You Now, Dig You Later" 3/5

The second low point. It's not a bad song, but it's fairly generic.

Track 11, "(In Our Little) Den of Iniquity" 4/5

If anything could be called "Broadway Opera", this song would fit that description perfectly. There's nothing particularly unusual happening musically, but it's an attractive song, nicely arranged and performed.

Track 12, "Do It the Hard Way" 4/5

The beginning of the phrases on the chorus are very unusual rhythmically, especially given the arrangement, and pleasant melodically. A nice song, overall.

Track 13, "Take Him" 3.5/5

Very traditional, but competent. Maybe a trifle overlong.

Track 14, "Finale" 5/5

The two best songs, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "I Could Write a Book" are reprised again and combined in maybe the best arrangements of them in this version of Pal Joey. A beautiful ending to a very good show.


Benji: For the Love of Benji
Benji: For the Love of Benji
DVD ~ Patsy Garrett
Offered by NYC GAMES AND ELECTRONICS
Price: $12.95
78 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Run, Benji, Run!, July 31, 2006
This review is from: Benji: For the Love of Benji (DVD)
This second film consists mostly of scenes of Benji running. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. The first Benji film consisted mostly of scenes of Benji running, too, but it was quite good. This follow-up isn't as good, but for other reasons.

On the positive side, returning writer/director Joe Camp stuck with something unusual that he did in the first film--he did the film from a dog's point of view. That doesn't mean that the film is in first person from Benji's perspective. Imagine more a dog directing. The content, kinds of shots and kinds of angles are mostly what a dog might do. It made the first film, with its very unusual structure, a success, and it more or less makes this one, which also has an unusual structure, well, not exactly a success, but it makes it "kinda work".

A couple factors bring the success rate down a bit. The story takes place in Greece this time--in a move that seems like maybe the crew and cast wanted a paid vacation in Greece--and a lot of dialogue is in Greek, without subtitles. Although interesting for adults, that's a particularly odd move for a family film, and the goal here is definitely to make a family film--Camp even announces this at the very beginning onscreen.

Also odd for a family picture, most of the human-sourced interaction in the film features people attacking or chasing Benji--with chloroform, with meat cleavers, with fruit, with a big mean Doberman, and with guns. Not that it's graphic in any way, but the concept is there, and Benji's running is mostly precipitated by unfriendly people chasing him.

There is a complex plot involving scientific research, where they want to use Benji for nefarious goals, and where Benji seems to be world-famous, all of which is never explained very well. Heck, most of the dialogue about this is in Greek, although the science-oriented stuff is very sketchily explained in English at the end. Benji being so well-known is never explained.

And a final problem--even though the first film was also as if directed by a dog, there were important human characters who had some depth to them. That's not the case here. Benji's owners are hardly in the film and the villains are almost completely non-developed the short amount of time that they're in the film.

So we're left primarily with Benji running and running through Greece. Through airports. Through the city streets. Just outside of the city near some ancient ruins. The scenery is nice and nicely shot, Benji does some neat trained actions, and insofar as Camp explores everyday dog stuff, the film is rewarding. Heck, the chased-by-villains scenes are pretty rewarding, too, even if plotwise, you don't know exactly what's going on or why it's going on.

This may be the worst Benji film (and I don't know yet, since I'm just rewatching them now after not seeing them for many years), and it may not be a great film for kids for a couple reasons, but it is still very mildly recommendable, especially for fans of Benji films and animal films in general, or for anyone who wants a glimpse of what Greece was like in 1977. It's also amusing to note how much Benji looks like Ron Wood.


Melinda and Melinda
Melinda and Melinda
DVD ~ Will Ferrell
Offered by Mediaflix
Price: $4.00
142 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tragedy and Tragedy and comedy, July 30, 2006
This review is from: Melinda and Melinda (DVD)
I'm a big fan of Woody Allen's work. It's rare that any of his films earn less than a perfect score from me, and maybe Melinda and Melinda will grow on me more in future viewings. But at this point, although it has lots of positive qualities, it's a good example of why originality and unique artistic ideas do not equal a superb work. Aesthetic quality is something else, in my view, far more related to excellence of execution, detectable passion about the work/about what the artist(s) want to express and resonance than it is to originality or uniqueness. Melinda and Melinda is difficult viewing (in a phrase borrowed from one more common in music criticism) and never seems to flow quite right. So as interesting as it is structurally, and as good as it is in some scenes, I can't give it a higher score.

Melinda and Melinda interweaves essentially the same story told two different ways--as a tragedy and as a comedy. The story is about an unexpected woman, named Melinda, entering and bringing major changes to the lives of a group of artists (actors, directors, musicians, etc.). On a charitable view, Allen began the film having in mind the philosophical idea that there's not much difference, or at least there's a lot of overlap, between tragedy and comedy.

On a less charitable view, he was conflicted over whether he should make another challenging "serious" film, ala Interiors (1978), September (1987), or Another Woman (1988), or do another comedy, so he decided to not really decide, and made the best of it. Allen first wanted to do a more serious film with Annie Hall (1977), so beginning with that work, a lot of his comedies had far more serious material incorporated into them than in his earlier work. I mention this because Melinda and Melinda's comedy sections are in this more serious comedy style--basically a serious film with Allen's voice as a comic heckling the proceedings through various characters--so that the comedy sections often resemble tragedy, but the tragedy sections rarely resemble comedy.

That may be part of what affects the flow of the film. It's not really tragedy alternated with comedy, or tragedy with comedy necessarily poking through alternated with comedy with tragedy necessarily poking through. It's 80-something percent tragedy--tragedy alternated with tragedy with a bit of comedy poking through.

Melinda and Melinda is most intriguing on its structural level, in terms of the interweaved retelling of the story. Characters in each telling are often paralleled, but the relationships are not quite the same, and most interestingly, Allen seems to use many formal techniques of musical composition--characters, relationships and events are often transposed, inverted, displaced, reharmonized, and so on.

Some of the performances are excellent, particularly Radha Mitchell as Melinda, who often seems like two different people, as she should, in each version of the story. On the other hand, the tragedy sections sometimes feel a bit laborious, and that's partially because of the performances. I don't get a lot of passion from the film overall. Both the actors and Allen sometimes feel like they're going through the motions.

I'm a fan of Will Ferrell's work, and he's good here, but I wish that Allen had let him become unleashed more often--and it would have helped the comedy of the comedy sections, although the comedy of the tragedy sections needed more help.

But Allen seems to be telling us not so much that he's learned to see comedy in tragedy, but the opposite. While that may very well be true, I'm not sure how resonant that will be for the audience. It doesn't resonate well with me. It may instead serve to alienate much of the audience, and while I can understand not caring about that as an artist--I'm sure there are alienating aspects to my work at times, too--the artist has to understand that it might not help the work be a success in the eyes of the audience.


Indestructible Man
Indestructible Man
DVD ~ Lon Chaney Jr.
Price: $14.95
3 used & new from $9.95

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Snoozy Film-Noir Frankenstein-Shocker, July 29, 2006
This review is from: Indestructible Man (DVD)
Jack Pollexfen's second and last directorial effort, The Indestructible Man, is an unfortunate, snooze-inducing mess. The basic ideas are very promising. It combines a funky film-noir with a modern (for 1956) update on the Frankenstein story, with one of my favorite actors, Lon Chaney, Jr. as the "monster", and it's the first film I know of to use the basic plot later employed for Wes Craven's Shocker (1989). Yet, despite this only being about 70 minutes long, I started watching about two hours before my normal bedtime and I could barely stay awake until the end. I know I zoned out a couple times but hardly felt compelled to rewind the disc and make sure I didn't miss anything.

What really kills the film is the writing, which is surprising, because Pollexfen's principal vocation throughout his career was as a writer. But for some reason, he didn't write this. Two people I've never heard of did the job instead--Vy Russell and Sue Bradford. At times, the writing resembles Ed Wood, especially in the narration, which was a bad idea. Not that the direction is much to speak of, but aside from letting some bad, out of focus cinematography slide by, it's pretty competent in a poverty-row sort of way (I happen to like many of the poverty row pictures a lot).

Chaney doesn't get to do enough here, and the plot demands that he cannot speak for most of the film. Max Showalter, the detective/narrator, and to a lesser extent Marian Carr are the stars. Showalter's okay, and Carr is attractive and decent enough, but I would have rather had more Chaney. In the bad directorial decision department, there are a few times that Pollexfen has Chaney make Lugosi-Dracula-like googly eyes while he moves towards the camera. It's a bad idea both because it's very cheesy in a bad way and it's responsible for a lot of the out of focus stuff. I don't know if they didn't have a focus puller or if he had already fallen asleep.

In the middle, I also started to lose track of the various victims. They all kinda looked the same, there wasn't much character development, and the scenes leading up to their demises were drawn out and bland. Once the victim entered the scene, they weren't in it for very long. On the other hand, I did mention that I zoned out a few times.

However, there are some interesting features besides the good core ideas. One is that there is some structural resemblance, especially during the end, to Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, believe it or not, and that came out in 1958--two years after this. There is also a bit of structural resemblance in the end of Blacula (1972). Not that this film was influential. The resemblance was probably coincidental, and for all I know, Indestructible Man stole some of this stuff from other sources, but just maybe . . . and it's still interesting to witness, anyway.

I'm mostly complaining in this review, but it's not that this is a completely awful film. It's certainly worth seeing if you're a Chaney fan, a film-noir fan or a Frankenstein film fan. Just don't expect too much, and preferably watch it when you're wide awake.


Adventures in Utopia
Adventures in Utopia
16 used & new from $24.75

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too bad they never did the TV show, July 28, 2006
This review is from: Adventures in Utopia (Audio CD)
This is the second more commercial, pop-oriented Utopia album, after 1977's Oops! Wrong Planet, but of course, Todd Rundgren has never been a stranger to pop music, despite progressive/art rock tendencies and excursions.

Track 1, "The Road to Utopia" 5/5

This flirtatiously begins as a progressive track for the first minute and a half before turning into a pretty straightforward, beautiful pop song. "Beautiful" is no surprise. For a long time, it seemed that prolifically writing beautiful, catchy pop songs came to Rundgren as easily as breathing. That Rundgren didn't have constant radio hits is one of music's great injustices. Or maybe not. He might not have as consistently produced interesting music in that case.

Track 2, "You Make Me Crazy" 5/5

This track is a very interesting combination of a 60s pop song and new wave. A Cars influence can be heard, which is ironic now, considering that Rundgren is currently in "The New Cars". Great singing from drummer "Willie" Wilcox and interesting bass playing from Kasim Sulton. Sulton's bass on the prechoruses (and the way that Rundgren changes chords on the verses) makes them sound far more outside than they really are, and of course the third verse is just wonderfully outside overall. I love the melody in the prechoruses and the chorus, and the interplay between Sultan and the "background vocals" on the chorus, which have a subtle, odd flanging effect on them.

Track 3, "Second Nature" 5/5

Except for the discofied drumbeat on the chorus, this could have easily fit on Rundgren's Something/Anything?, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a leftover song from that period. In any event, a typically gorgeous melody/harmony on a catchy tune. A bit short, but there's nothing wrong with short pop tunes.

Track 4, "Set Me Free" 5/5

A song wholly written by Sulton. This has great, unusual verses, where the chords, dominated by Roger Powell's Rhodes keyboard, build and change without repeating. In fact, I'm not sure there's any guitar on this track at all. The chorus makes you want to get up and dance and sing along like you're in a gospel church. Smokin' but relatively simple sax solo--I love the ending.

Track 5, "Caravan" 5/5

And talk about simple but effective, that's what the guitar riff on this song is all about. There's one ringing kinda dissonant note (maybe just dissonant because of the flange effect on it) towards the end of the phrase that makes it even better. Rundgren repeats it as an ostinato under the smooth verses while chord changes on top of it wax and wane the tension (especially with respect to that one note)--that's one of my favorite compositional devices. The choruses have a strangely attractive cheesiness to them. The bridge, which ends up being constructed like a concise, traditional jazz improv (and this is recurs in the outtro), is surprisingly heavy. I love the keyboard solo with the heavy effects. Rundgren does some killer guitar work on the outtro.

Track 6, "Last of the New Wave Riders" 5/5

The heaviness continues. But the song becomes almost a spoof (as we might have guessed from the title) when the vocals enter; it's very funny. Kinda Queen-ish. Still, this song isn't just a spoof. There's a great melody in the chorus and there are some unusual things going on structurally in the verses. The bridge is very much progressive hard rock, often retaining the Queen references. The overblown ending is very funny, too.

Track 7, "Shot in the Dark" 5/5

And then Utopia makes a Queen-ish left turn, first suggesting a Professor Longhair-like sauntering blues in the intro, played by Powell on the piano. But suddenly, things get new wavy again. The verses are orchestrated in a way that suggests alien reggae. Melodically and harmonically this is much more a traditional rock tune, but the orchestration and production make it much more.

Track 8, "The Very Last Time" 5/5

The vocals are oddly mixed a bit back on this track, but it's a great song. Pretty straightforward for Utopia. Beautiful choruses again.

Track 9, "Love Alone" 5/5

This has a really soulful chord progression, played beautifully by Powell, who is the only instrumentalist on this track, with great singing again from Sulton and the rest of the band on Queen-like background vocals. This would have been a great closer, but the album unexpectedly goes to--

Track 10, "Rock Love" 5/5

A disco party! This is another very tongue-in-cheek song, but very good and catchy. Very funny lyrics. Sulton really cooks on bass throughout, especially on the chorus. I love the chord progression and harmonies on the prechoruses. The end of the bridge/solo segueing to the prechorus is odd and genius. Don't miss the over-the-top scream from Rundgren near the beginning of the outtro.


The Dark Hours
The Dark Hours
DVD ~ Kate Greenhouse
36 used & new from $0.35

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Squirmy Goodness, July 27, 2006
This review is from: The Dark Hours (DVD)
Director Paul Fox' The Dark Hours does one thing extremely well that is a staple of horror--it makes you squirm. This is a very disturbing, occasionally hard to watch film. Viewers with sensitive constitutions should be forewarned.

It's not so much that it's gory--although it is a bit, but Fox understands that the key to the effect he's shooting for is character development. So this is ultimately a small ensemble film--five characters in a couple of rooms, and we get to know all of these characters very well, thanks to both the writing, by Wil Zmak, and a fine set of performances. The characters are fully fleshed out and we can either identify and/or sympathize with them, so when some of them do terrible things to others, it has a lot more impact, and even when it's only a threat and there's nothing graphic about it, we feel it almost as if these events were happening to friends. The Dark Hours is very literally a psychological film, a fact reflected in its main character's occupation and the circumstances of the villainous characters.

It's also a "rubber reality" film--those are defined partially through "shifting" realities, where we as an audience, usually along with at least some characters, don't know quite what was real, if anything. After the recent spate of rubber reality films that all used essentially the same plot--including Stay (2005), The Jacket (2005), November (2004), The I Inside (2003), and eight or nine others going at least all the way back to Jacob's Ladder (1990) and the short The Awakening (1990)--The Dark Hours very refreshingly uses different kinds of twists in its questionably hallucinatory succession of scenes. The ending of the film is clear enough while still being nicely ambiguous. There is also an alternate ending on the DVD that is less ambiguous, but I don't think it works nearly as well. More ambiguity is better in a film like this.

And if you want themes and subtexts, Fox has them here in spades, including the desperation of those who know they're dying, the classic "who's crazy" conundrum between psychiatric professionals and their patients, and the turmoil of disintegrating relationships.

But you don't have to pay attention to that stuff to enjoy this excellent film. Just sit back and squirm.


Now That's What I Call Music! 5
Now That's What I Call Music! 5
Offered by Campus Buys
Price: $18.44
180 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good stay-in-touch sampler for 2000, at least, July 27, 2006
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This series is a great one for people like me. I'm middle-aged and I absolutely refuse to listen to commercial radio (because of the ridiculously narrow, repeated playlists and the commercials). Still, I don't want to be completely out of touch with new pop, so these discs give me what's happening and most popular at the moment in a nutshell, as a sampler that might encourage me to buy a whole CD by some of the artists, as I have done.

Track 1, "It's Gonna Be Me" by *Nsync 5/5

For bubble-gummy pop bands of the late 90s, *Nsync is one of the better ones, I think. They always have interesting production. This song grooves, and it has a nice melody. I've picked up a couple *Nsync discs because of this song and I've been happy with them.

Track 2, "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)" by 98 degrees 2.5/5

The 16th note groove in the verses should work better than it does for me, but it's okay. The block-harmonized melody in the chorus is a bit too stereotypical for my tastes. Okay, but not great.

Track 3, "Jumpin' Jumpin'" by Destiny's Child 2/5

I keep mentioning groove, but that's about all this song has going for it. There's a melody in the vocals, but it's not very interesting or memorable, and otherwise this is pretty tuneless. Tuneless can work, but this sounds like an incomplete drums/percussion and vocals track, which also makes it overlong.

Track 4, "Don't Think I'm Not" by Kandi 4/5

The opening guitar part sounds like a rip-off of something that I can't quite place. I think it's part Air Supply's "Even the Nights Are Better" and maybe part Christopher Cross' "Arthur's Theme". I haven't heard either for a long time. Anyway, it's changed enough, and I don't mind conspicuous influence in general. Great singing on this track, and a nice, surprising chorus--the strong contrast doesn't seem like it should work, but it does.

Track 5, "I Think I'm in Love with You" by Jessica Simpson 3/5

Of course, this is more than conspicuous influence, the verse and chorus music is a hip-hop drumbeat under a sample of John Cougar Mellencamp's song, "Jack and Diane". I think it works better for the chorus than the verse. I would have rather heard something original on the verses. Simpson can definitely sing, though. This song is nice and catchy, but seems pretty much calculated to be a pop hit, rather than existing because of an artistic desire to express something.

Track 6, "Faded" by Soul Decision 1.5/5

Banal, but with a couple hints of something more interesting wanting to pop out, particularly in the chorus, but I can't get over the lame bass and drum part, the hokey rap break, or the hokey 16th-note "chingy" guitar part. This stuff should only be done this way as a joke by this point.

Track 7, "Shake It Fast" by Mystikal 4/5

Nice. If James Brown did hip-hop. Too bad he hasn't kept out of jail and kept current like that. This is an example of how to do sparse (like the Destiny's Child track) right--it's not tuneless, just minimalistic.

Track 8, "Case of the Ex" by Mya 4.5/5

This has a creative structure with some very interesting orchestration. The whole song, except for the bridge, is the same chord sequence/groove repeated over and over, but the subtle orchestration builds it and develops variations that avoid monotony. The bridge is equally creative and unusual. The vocals are far more traditional but very well done.

Track 9, "Aaron's Party (Come Get It)" by Aaron Carter 1.5/5

The many samples are put together competently, but there's nothing very special or interesting about them. Carter is pretty useless as a rapper. Overall, it sounds like a bad skit from the New Mickey Mouse Club.

Track 10, "Lucky" by Britney Spears 5/5

Spears isn't anything special (or rotten, either) as a singer, but she tended to have excellent producers, songwriters and musicians working for her. These guys thoroughly know their craft. This song is no exception. Very catchy, with great, unusual production and very solid musicianship. I've picked up a couple Spears CDs, too, and like them a lot.

Track 11, "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely" by Backstreet Boys 3.5/5

Also solid craftsmanship, but a bit too traditional, over-the-top early 1980s styled Adult/MOR production for my tastes. It tends to sterilize things. Still, this is a decent, well-written song.

Track 12, "Incomplete" by Sisqo 2.5/5

The very beginning is so hokey-syrupy that it's scary, but it quickly recovers some authenticity. Okay song, but too by-the-numbers. A computer program could have written it.

Track 13, "I Wanna Be With You" by Mandy Moore 5/5

Very melodically and rhythmically interesting vocal, sung well by Moore. This has a surprising, almost kd lang-ish feel, and I love lang. You can also hear a heavy, almost trippy 1960s pop influence at times. Yet, it is able to still remain very commercial. Well done.

Track 14, "Doesn't Really Matter" by Janet Jackson 5/5

I liked Jackson long before hearing her here. Impressive singing with a difficult melody as always, with very creative grooves, production, song structure and effective harmony/chord progressions.

Track 15, "Back Here" by BBMak 5/5

A great combination of styles, from slightly Beatles-esque, folky verses to the very artfully written hip-hop/new country choruses. I need to hear more from this artist.

Track 16, "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" by Nine Days 4/5

A bit derivative and typical, but a good, catchy song. The prechoruses and the short bridge (before the guitar solo) work the best.

Track 17, "Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down 2/5

Why does the production on this sound horrible? Anyway, the beginning is orchestrated unusually, but doesn't do anything for me--the chord progression and drums are way too banal, the bass (when it arrives) is on autopilot, and that's the case for the whole song. Not much of a melody either.

Track 18, "Wonderful" by Everclear 2.5/5

Argh. Another insipid chord progression and groove. The choruses are better, but not enough.

Track 19, "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi 3/5

More banality harmonically on the verses, but the production makes up for it a bit. Also a nice, typically effective, melodic and anthemic chorus for Bon Jovi.


Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
38 used & new from $2.30

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A favorite meal, July 25, 2006
This review is from: Burnt Weeny Sandwich (Audio CD)
I've been a Zappa fan for a very long time. I've owned Burnt Weeny Sandwich (on LP) for a long time. The odd thing is that I didn't figure out until just recently that Burnt Weeny Sandwich is one of my favorite Zappa albums. I think that part of the problem is that I didn't really understand the album when I was a kid--although I certainly didn't dislike it. It was one of the last ones I picked up on CD, so that after not really hearing it for years, I mostly heard a song at a time in isolation with the disc in my CD changers on random shuffle.

But as someone else mentioned, this is really a concept album of sorts, and needs to be listened to in its entirety to "get it". It's an odd concept, because it's not linked by lyrics or music so much as it is by a structural meta-concept--that of a sandwich. The first and last tracks, two pseudo-doo-wop songs, serve as the bread. All the songs up to "Little House I Used to Live In" are the toppings, condiments, and so on, and "Little House I Used to Live In" is the meat . . . well, er, the big burnt weeny. What's remarkable is that the basic tracks consisted of Mothers of Invention "outtakes", but Zappa, being a skilled Dadaist/collagist, could turn "outtakes" into beautiful, cohesive, seemingly composed from scratch works faster than you can say "Max Ernst". At any rate, let's look at the tracks.

Track 1: "WPLJ" 5/5
This has been performed live on a number of occasions--it appears on the Does Humor Belong in Music? disc, for example--but without a doubt, this is my favorite version of the song. Zappa achieves an appropriate 1950s-sounding production, including the female backup singers, and the music has a great, grooving looseness, including the horns. Roy Estrada's falsetto makes it even better, as does the Cheech-Marin sounding chicano dialogue over the end.

Track 2: "Igor's Boogie, Phase One" 5/5
No one, not even Zappa, loves/loved Stravinsky more than I do, plus I love Zappa just as much, so this "L'Histoire du Soldat" tribute/spoof works brilliantly for me.

Track 3: "Overture to a Holiday in Berlin" 5/5
. . . and it leads beautifully to this severely bent-intonation wonder. God I love that brief sax solo. And the outtro melody is gorgeous and orchestrated gorgeously.

Track 4: "Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich" 5/5
It begins as a guitar solo track, but with an extension of the orchestration from the previous track creating multiple layers underneath. It segues to some tape-speed manipulation percussion, ala that heard accompanying the Bruce Bickford animation in Baby Snakes. There it piqued your interest, but here it grows perfectly, organically out of the composition until it consumes everything in its path. Something like a melodic Tony Williams-on-a-ton-of-acid-and-speed drum solo.

Track 5: "Igor's Boogie, Phase Two" 5/5
The bookend (within a larger bookended work) that matches Track 2. Shorter, but just as good, and not just because of the added honking, although that rocks.

Track 6: "Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown" 5/5
Later used again on 200 Motels. Here it's a bit like "Peaches en Regalia's" mellow cousin. Gorgeous melodies, wondrous orchestration, and an amazing soprano sax solo leading to more tape-speed manipulation percussion. It ties a lot of the elements of tracks 2 through 5 together very nicely, then moves to one of Zappa's more lyrical extended solos.

Track 7: "Aybe Sea" 5/5
Speaking of lyrical guitar work, this is a mostly delicate, almost kinda traditional classical piece for guitars, keyboards and a bit of percussion. Of course, there's lots of twentieth century stuff in there, too, and in a surprising change for this album, the piano solo that closes it gets pretty quiet, sparse, and not so surprisingly, increasingly "outside", as it segues to--

Track 8: "Little House I Used to Live in" 5/5
In a very smooth transition, the continuing solo piano is suddenly more jazzy--kind of a cross between Gershwin and Copland's (underrated) piano pieces. It's contemplative and moving. Then the whole band joins in a Zappa-ish fusion groove. After the drum break, there's a great 11/8 groove that turns into some wicked carousel orchestration. Then more complex, fusiony, uptempo 3/4 stuff becomes some extremely skilled interplay between Zappa and his drummer (probably Art Tripp) before the extended, burning and soulful Don "Sugarcane" Harris violin solo, interpolated by a typically odd Don Preston piano solo. There is a couple of short, interesting "stomping" vamps to listen for here--one halfway between 3/4 and 5/8, one halfway between 4/4 and 7/8. I love those kinds of "in-between" grooves. It's difficult to say how intentional they were here, but they work. The end of this track becomes composed 20th Century classical again. The transition between a melancholic hurdy-gurdy block chord structure and a spastic carnival-gone-haywire groove is primo. Although the ending pretty much remains in 4/4, there is a lot of creative rhythmic and playing-with-tempo stuff between the keyboards and drums. After the track is over, we get the Zappa's infamous quote, "Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don't kid yourself".

Track 9: "Valarie" 5/5
This is the bottom piece of bread, the second pseudo doo-wop song. It has an appropriate and enjoyable lazy, sloppy--maybe even "skanky"--groove, enhanced by the guitar fluttering through Leslie speakers. Especially with the vocals, it sometimes sounds like we're trudging through molasses. In other words, holy cow we're pleasantly stuffed after eating all of that Burnt Weeny Sandwich!


Yes
Yes
Price: $13.99
86 used & new from $3.41

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic debut, July 25, 2006
This review is from: Yes (Audio CD)
Note: I do not have the new CD of this one with the extra tracks yet. If and when I pick it up, I'll add comments on those to this review.

This is Yes' first album, and to my ear, unlike many other bands who first came out in the 1960s, such as Genesis and Jethro Tull, Yes begins with their core sound already well formulated, even if it did understandably evolve over the years.

Track 1: "Beyond and Before" 5/5
And what a way to come out of the gates! Part of the basic Yes sound is Chris Squire's unique approach to the bass. He plays more melodically, with more complex, percussive rhythms, and in different registers than normal. It effectively gives Yes another guitar/keyboard-like instrument. When Squire does play his instrument more like a bass, he often plays "odd" notes against the chords. He doesn't just stick to the roots. "Beyond and Before" announces this immediately with a distorted, rhythmic riff high on the bass--it sounds like a guitar until Squire plays a couple lower notes. The vocals present typical trippy-hippie sounds of the era, but there's an uncharacteristic, demented, metal-like groove pumping along beneath everything, but with beautifully odd harmonic material occurring in the guitars. The coda is strangely mellow, showing a bit of drummer Bill Bruford's inventiveness and hinting at things to come during the Close to the Edge era.

Track 2: "I See You" 4/5
This is a cover of a Byrds song, and in stark contrast to Beyond and Before, Yes gets jazzy all of a sudden. It's a nice, unexpected change. Although I love Steve Howe, Peter Banks does some very pleasant, slightly Howe-like guitar work on this track. But Bruford is even more amazing--he rarely plays what you'd expect him to, but whatever he plays works. On the down side, much of the song seems to be a bit rushed (although this kinda works on the long instrumental break in the middle) and aside from Bruford, it isn't melodically, harmonically or rhythmically as interesting as many Yes songs.

Track 3: "Yesterday and Today" 5/5
But if you want something melodically, harmonically and rhythmically interesting, this track answers your hopes--but with another left turn. "Yesterday and Today" could easily be played as a traditional jazz song, but is presented as something of a trippy ballad instead. The melody in the verses is simple but unusual, with phrasing more typical of a wind instrument. The chord progressions on the choruses are very pleasant and unexpected, implying both key changes and minor/major modality changes.

Track 4: "Looking Around" 5/5
And bang, we're into very familiar Yes territory with the intro to this song and its grooving, slightly complex Hammond organ licks. We're only given a few seconds to acclimate to what was another left turn when we get a killer and very unusual chord progression as the vocals begin. Musically, this is almost gospel Yes. I would go to church a lot more often if they played music like this. This track would have fit very comfortably on The Yes Album or Fragile.

Track 5: "Harold Land" 5/5
The beginning is like a gloriously weird Yes television show theme. As the vocals begin, and for the rest of the song, we get more complex orchestration ideas--another strong hint of things to come. This is basically using a bass, guitar, drums and keyboards as a rock orchestra playing some kind of quirky march (appropriately enough for some of the lyrics), with Jon Anderson soaring above everything. Squire plays one of his infamous descending bass lines over the ostinato during the first coda. The second coda smoothly and cleverly goes back to the television show theme.

Track 6: "Every Little Thing" 5/5
Another slight left turn during the beginning of this song with a bit more experimental sound. It's almost a more structured rock version of Cecil Taylor for a minute, which is nice and pretty much unlike future Yes. You could picture Captain Beefheart singing something during the intro. But then suddenly, with the chords of the chorus, things become more consonant and anthemic, with Banks briefly quoting The Beatles' "Day Tripper" on guitar, Jon Anderson starts singing, and we realize, "Wait! This is The Beatles!", but just not "Day Tripper". A mid 60s pop song, Yes style--brilliant! This should have been an AM radio staple.

Track 7: "Sweetness" 4/5
Another surprise, a bad one this time, in that this song has a fairly pedestrian beginning, but once Jon Anderson starts singing, this turns into one of Yes' more interesting "ballads", with a beautiful melody. The choruses get heavier. The choral tags on the choruses do not seem as good of an idea in retrospect, but they definitely would have fit the late 60s. Nice coda, but it's not developed enough.

Track 8: "Survival" 5/5
More unusual bass playing from Chris Squire to start things off, and the opening instrumental jam would again be right at home on The Yes Album or Fragile. The intro is probably the first Yes song with their infamous and clever "warring musical motifs" that various instruments bounce back and forth on. The apex of that might have been on the album Close to the Edge, especially on the song "Perpetual Change". Things take a left turn in the same song this time when the vocals begin. This is another beautiful melody with very interesting chord changes. The end of this song even hints way ahead at musical/orchestration motifs used on Tormato.


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