the Buzz for June 2011


Javier Colon — “Stitch By Stitch” (from Stitch By Stitch) — Stitch By Stitch (The Voice Performance) - Stitch By Stitch (The Voice Performance) - Single

Forgive me for tooting my own horn for a moment, but exactly two months ago (to the day!), after only having watched the premiere episode and not yet having a full sense of the scope and breadth of the competition, I tagged Mr. Colon, in this very space, the instant front-runner to win NBC’s surprise smash singing competition The Voice immediately upon seeing his wrenchingly glorious take on Cyndi Lauper’s classic “Time After Time.” And so it came to pass last night: going against the grain of thought that had his worthy rival Dia Frampton taking the prize, America agreed with me that Javier was the clear champion and voted for him as such. The show’s primary conceit — it’s in the frickin’ title, after all! — was that the contestants’ voices be paramount and take precedence over cheap rafter-raising theatrics and clever stunting, and in the end, it all came down to this gracefully gifted young man’s immense, electric talent. (Course, we must now pray that, as Colon navigates the road that lay before him, he is allowed the creative space to breathe and to make a record that truly puts that talent on full, divine display.)


Katie Melua — “If the Lights Go Out” (from Pictures) — If the Lights Go Out - Pictures

Thinking today of A and his extended family — which, sadly, now contains one less member than it did a day ago — and pondering the crazy fragility of life, the impenetrable strength of memory, and the comforting wisdom of music. Tomorrow is promised to none of us, so the best things we possess in tomorrow’s stead are love (love of our partners, of our children, of our friends, of our enemies, of old acquaintance not forgot), and song (always song, always this nutty idea of random words stitched together in some rhyme scheme or another to effect the magnificent splendor of melody). (I love you, A.)


Martina McBride — “Lies” (from Shine) — Lies - Shine

As painfully underwhelming as most of her singles have been in the past half-decade or so, McBride — as she proves with this surprisingly powerful stunner — still has some of the strongest album cuts going. (One is almost brought to suspect that there exists some kooky conspiracy somewhere in the bowels of her bidness to keep Martina’s best material off of country radio, yeah?)


Cutting Crew — “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”
(from The Best of Cutting Crew) — (I Just) Died in Your Arms [Extended Remix] - The Best of Cutting Crew

A and I had a total blast last night jamming out with a host of other mindless-pop-loving Austinites at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Totally ’80s New Wave sing-along, and it actually turned out to be quite the educational experience for both of us, because until last night, I had utterly no idea how serious (and, in actual fact, quite profound) a song Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels” is — my mind is blown time and again at these events when I’m forced, sometimes for the first time ever, to actually pay complete attention to the lyrics of songs I’ve loved my whole life! — and A gained a bit more sociological (and physiological) insight than he had held previously after I was forced to explain to him, verse by verse, what actually is going on between the lines of The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese.” (It was also quite a pleasant surprise to realize just how well a-ha’s then-revolutionary video for “Take On Me” continues to hold up all these years later.) There were some objectionable omissions from the playlist last night — no “99 Luftballons,” sadly, and no Kajagoogoo, no Culture Club, shockingly little Duran Duran, and they could have swapped out Billy Idol for a wee taste of Wham! and not offended me at all — but there was more than enough of Madness, Morrissey, Devo, Violent Femmes, and Sherry Ann’s beloved Cure to satisfy. Oh, and then there was Cutting Crew: this song — an all-time classic from that magical, mystical summer of 1987 — wasn’t technically part of the New Wave movement, any more than was “Walking On Sunshine,” but that didn’t stop my ass from getting happy and singing along nonetheless. Twenty-four summers have passed between the moment I sit here and type this and the moment my clueless eleven-year-old ears first heard this magnificently unsettling masterpiece — a compelling chronicle of how a young man’s erotic fantasy comes alive as an all-consuming minefield of desperation and emotional destruction — and it remains, bar none, the single sexiest song I’ve ever heard.


Cee-Lo Green — “Bright Lights, Bigger City” (from The Lady Killer) — Bright Lights Bigger City - The Lady Killer (Deluxe Version)

One of the great surprises of the spring television season has been NBC’s smash competition series The Voice, which has been chock full of really interesting, curious, fascinatingly diverse talent (what a concept, this picking great singers to compete in a singing contest!), and one of the great joys of following The Voice has been the opportunity to watch that delightfully deranged dingbat Cee-Lo Green — easily the most flamboyant of this series’ quartet of judges — let his gloriously fabulous freak flag fly. Dementedly donning the visage of a modern-day Lawrence Welk — complete with thousands of bubbles, no less! — and confusing the living hell out of his hilarious fellow mentor Blake Shelton (who, on this program, often eyes Cee-Lo as though he’s halfway ready to run screaming into the night), Green performed this saucy little ditty, the third single from his latest album, on last night’s penultimate results show (Voice‘s two-part finale begins next Tuesday night), and though it doesn’t at all have that same sort of sticky, instantly (and insanely) catchy hook as his Grammy-nominated monster “Forget You,” it nonetheless feels like a perfectly poppy summertime jam.


The Sundays — “Summertime” (from Static and Silence) — Summertime - Static & Silence

Happy (official) first day of summer, y’all. (We here at the Buzz hope that, wherever you are, you’re beating the heat in style and with the one you love.)


Train — “She’s On Fire” (from Drops of Jupiter) — She's On Fire - Drops of Jupiter

As has, badly and so sadly, become de rigueur over the past few years, last night’s presentation of the Daytime Emmy Awards was a painful, ponderous exercise in stretching one’s patience to its bitterest, most tenuous extremes, and it must be said that this latest telecast was the worst yet: a two-hour infomercial for Las Vegas’ entertainment lineup, Universal Studios’ various theme parks, the Childrens’ Miracle Network, and, apparently, the International House of Pancakes, this program — whose sole reason for existence, it must be noted, is to reward the bountiful excellence which airs on television during the daytime hours — managed once again to make the awards themselves an inconvenient afterthought, a way to fill (kill?) time between wobbly performances from the likes of poor Gladys Knight (struggling mightily to stay both on key and in time with the lifeless Muzak-level beat during her tremble-filled tribute to Lady Oprah) and Marie Osmond (no offense to her at all, but the fact that the producers of this telecast found time to include her random and irrelevant performance of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” but couldn’t be bothered to include one clip of any of the nominated performers’ work is simply unconscionable). Still, every rough patch hides a diamond, and here is this insulting travesty’s gem: the electrifying, gloriously brilliant Laura Wright, who has toiled in the trenches of daytime dramatic television for some two decades now — she has spent the past six years breathing beautiful life into that brazen bitch-on-wheels Caroline “Carly” Spencer Corinthos Alcazar Jacks on General Hospital, and spent eight extraordinary years on Guiding Light, and six on Loving and its ill-fated spinoff The City, prior to that — and who deserves to have no fewer than four or five of these shiny, golden tchotchkes on her mantlepiece by now, can finally, at LONG last, be referred to as an Emmy winner, having just been named this year’s Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her stupendously superlative work. This honor has been one hell of a long time coming, and it was worth sitting through the entirety of last night’s epic misfire of an Emmy show just to be able to catch the look of pure, unfettered, stunned joy on Wright’s face as she made her way to the stage to accept her trophy. Brava, gal: the whole damn world now has no choice but to concur with my long-held belief that you are the inarguable best, my dear.


Billy Joel — “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”
(from The Essential Billy Joel) — Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) - The Essential Billy Joel

A final word about this weird, woolly Weiner saga before we (hopefully) banish it from our collective consciousness and shift our attention back toward the truly important stuff (such as figuring out exactly how we’re going to fill our Sunday afternoons and Monday nights this fall if indeed it comes to pass that the imminent NFL season is delayed and/or altogether canceled on account of the continuing stalemate between the league’s owners and players): the craziness surrounding this brazen blip in the news cycle has certainly reinforced Aaron Sorkin’s Academy-Award winning assertion from last fall that the World Wide Web is written not in pencil, but in ink, and that we can never know who is out there reading the words we write here, there, everywhere, and who is out there just salivating for the chance to take our online activities and twist them to fit any perception. I absolutely speak my mind here on the Buzz (like when I call that irritating nitwit Natalie Maines an insufferable twit), and I happily take sole and exclusive responsibility for every syllable you read on this site (even when I piss off Clay Aiken’s ever-impassioned cabal of fans by handing him a backhanded compliment), but I always try to stay mindful that I don’t compose these words in an isolated vacuum, and that untold others actually come here to read these muddled, marvelous musings. And it is nice every now and again to be served a simple reminder that we clearly all need to heed: let’s be careful out there.


Duncan Sheik — “Bite Your Tongue” (from Humming) — Bite Your Tongue - Humming

“. . . Christ, it’s gonna sound /

like I’m agreeing /

with the most ultra-boring ideas /

of pop-psychological Western gurus /

who haven’t gotten lucky in years. . . .”


Lady GaGa — “Marry the Night” (from Born This Way) — Marry the Night - Born This Way (Bonus Track Version)

Try as I might, I haven’t had a heck of a lot of luck getting through one full spin of Born This Way, which mostly comes off as a warmed-over mishmash of styles and studio trickery, as though our gal GaGa, ever desperate to stay right on the cutting edge of fashion and favor, instead went careening right over it. Title track aside, the singles have been so-so: the Lady is clearly running out of ways to blow our minds with music as we’ve never heard music before, and her initially fresh, bracing blend of disco-inflected pop punk is starting to feel decidedly stale. So when you do run across a bit of fun on this overheated record, as we have with this exuberant blast of fiery, fluffy frivolity, best to enjoy them to their fullest.


Michael Grimm — “Red” (from Michael Grimm) — Red - Michael Grimm

For roughly the first forty-five seconds or so, I was violently offended by this, for a plethora of reasons: Grimm — the last man standing in last summer’s edition of America’s Got Talent, NBC’s poor man’s Idol takeoff — is a fine singer to be sure, but he mostly sounds as though he’s trying too damn hard to ape my magnificent Marc Broussard (who, incidentally, is back this week with a sterling new record), and his major-label debut is top-heavy with largely inferior covers (apart from this song, Grimm also attempts to put his stamp on classics from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rod Stewart, and, of all people, Alicia Keys). Besides, the new has yet to wear off of Daniel Merriweather’s brilliant original take on this tune, which appeared only last year, on Merriweather’s divine debut album. Still, guided by the strong hand of iconic producer Don Was, something entirely fascinating begins to emerge here: whereas Merriweather attacks these verses with a smothering, soulful verve that his bee-you-tee-full baby face seems wholly incapable of being able to conjure, Grimm underplays the words from start to (almost) stop, bringing to bear a clipped edge of hard, raspy drama that — given what you know and love about the original — has absolutely no right to work, and yet kinda sorta does anyway. (Was’ astonishing arrangement of the instrumentation, which swaps out Merriweather’s full-on wall-of-sound approach for a loosely lush string-driven aura of organic bliss, helps immeasurably in that regard.) As much as I hate to admit it: a muted, tender triumph.


Cary Brothers — “Ride” (from Who You Are) — Ride - Who You Are (Bonus Track Version)

My very best friend celebrates her birthday this fine day, and in her honor, the Hive is blasting at full volume one of her all-time faves. (Brothers appeared on Brandon’s Buzz Radio last year and actually sang a bit of this tune to her at my humble request, and if you happened to miss that moment, you can catch up with it right cheer.) Much love as ever, Sherry Ann!


Clarence Clemons (with Jackson Browne) — “You’re a Friend of Mine”
(from Hero) — You're a Friend of Mine - Hero

Praying hard for the extraordinary Clemons, who, atop all of his other health problems the past few years, has apparently suffered a stroke and is in critical condition. As a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s legendary E Street Band, Clemons very much helped pioneer the introduction and use of the saxophone in good ol’ rock and roll, and his utter virtuosity with the instrument has given us some of the most enjoyable sax solos — think Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love,” think Springsteen’s own “Dancing in the Dark,” not to mention his just-released work on Lady GaGa’s latest single, “Edge of Glory” — of our time. (Get well soon, Big Man.)