the Buzz for August 2011


James Blunt — “I’ll Be Your Man” (from Some Kind of Trouble) — I'll Be Your Man - Some Kind of Trouble (Deluxe Version)

From a dude whose entire discography heretofore about makes his listeners ready to open a vein — even his maddeningly misconstrued signature smash “You’re Beautiful” is, like, the hands-down saddest song you’ll ever hear at every wedding you attend for the rest of your natural life — comes a surprisingly sprightly comeback charmer.


OneRepublic — “Good Life” (from Waking Up) — Good Life - Waking Up (Deluxe Version)

It rather boggles my mind that these guys aren’t considered cool by the current musical cognoscenti, most of whom likely wouldn’t know real cool if it tried to strangle them where they stand. It is my measured opinion that Ryan Tedder, this band’s fabulously fearless leader, is a mad, raging genius, and I’ll take these guys in place of those overblown gatecrashers Arcade Fire any day of the week. (Plus: isn’t there something strangely heartening about the fact that, some two years after this band’s sophomore disc was released and immediately written off for dead after it failed to instantly light the sales charts on fire, the album is still throwing off slow-burning radio hits right, left, and center? Proof positive that it ain’t where you start, it’s where ya finish.)


Shawn Colvin — “Suicide Alley” (from A Few Small Repairs) — Suicide Alley - A Few Small Repairs

“. . . you know I wasn’t born /

I was spat out at a wall /

and nobody even knew my name /

the sun hatched me out /

cradle and all /

on the corner of First and Insane . . . .”


Roxette — “She’s Got Nothing On (But the Radio)”
(from Greatest Hits) — She's Got Nothing On (But the Radio) - Roxette - Greatest Hits

Regular readers of this blog know that those Swedish stunners known as Roxette are my all-time favorite pop band, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to report that — after a hiatus of nearly a decade, brought on by Marie Fredriksson’s battle with (and enormously successful recovery from) a debilitating brain tumor — they are back with a fabulous new album, Charm School (which has yet to receive an official physical release stateside, although a digital version of the record turned up on iTunes a couple of weeks ago), and with this killer new single, which is generating the first genuine heat that Roxette has felt at American radio in at least fifteen years, and which is one of two new tracks on a fabulous just-released best-of compilation which brilliantly recaps the nine consecutive top 40 hits — iconic pop smashes, nearly to a tune, to this very day — this duo scored here in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I know I’m biased, but don’t be surprised to learn that the slinky, sinfully fun “Radio” is my pick for single of the summer. (Sorry, Pitbull.)


Billy Joel — “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant [live]”
(from The Complete Hits Collection [1973-1997]) — Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Live) - The Complete Hits Collection: 1973-1997 (Limited Edition)

My last word on Seattle (’cause I know you’re sick to death of hearing about it already): if you happen to find yourself in the city’s Wallingford neighborhood — as A and I did when we stopped in to visit one of his childhood friends — and you’re struck suddenly by an untenable hunger, the place you absolutely must check out is Bizzarro Italian Cafe, a tiny but impossibly charming little hole-in-the-wall pasta joint which has some of the absolute best food I’ve ever had the pleasure of noshing upon. The waitstaff is brilliantly courteous and attentive, the bolognese sauce is so terrific it deserves its own chair at the table, and the liquor-laced ladyfingers in the deviously delicious tiramisu just melt in your ever-grateful mouth like a Tootsie Roll on an August day. Trust me: if you only have plans to visit one Italian ristorante for the rest of your life, do your level best to make sure it’s this one.


Temple of the Dog — “Hunger Strike” (from Temple of the Dog) — Hunger Strike - Temple of the Dog

Because I love that boy dearly, I’m offering A a bonus grunge-era classic (albeit one to which he’s already had previous exposure, though I suspect he may have already blocked that all out) to put a kind of punctuation mark on our recent pilgrimage to Seattle. In eulogizing Amy Winehouse last week, NBC Nightly News‘ anchor Brian Williams stated that she forever changed her part of the music business, and while I’m still not so sure Williams wasn’t overselling the farm with such a confident declaration, I take his point well. You know, you listen to this song, this accidental collaboration between Messrs. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder — the two most cocksure frontmen of their era, of their decade — and you can’t help but ponder if they had even the slightest clue when they recorded this that they were literally on the cusp of radical, mind-stomping success, that they were just about to change and change forever their corner of the bidness. (For those who don’t know the story, Cornell’s best friend had died of a heroin overdose, and he pulled together the friend’s bandmates to create a tribute, a tribute which grew to include Vedder, who had flown to Seattle to audition to be the lead singer of the band which was to become Pearl Jam. Vedder ended up sitting in on the Temple of the Dog sessions as a background vocalist, and when he saw that Cornell was having trouble with some of the lines in “Hunger Strike,” Vedder stepped up to the lead mike and so impressed Cornell and the band that the song was refashioned as something of a duet — “Up Where We Belong,” except with a grungier ethos — between the two men. Within a year, both Cornell’s own band, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam would have conceived and created their breakthrough efforts, and the rest is platinum-plated histree.)


Nirvana — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (from Nevermind) — Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nevermind

Tori Amos — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (from Crucify) — Smells Like Teen Spirit - Crucify - EP

Even though he thinks he’s not a fan of the music from the grunge era, A was quite upset that none of the genre’s classics managed to make their way into this space during our trip to Seattle — the musical movement’s epicenter — last week. So, to appease his wailing soul, we’re going with the classic, the epic ode which captures with a brilliance that is as perverse as it is pristine the dizzying drama of teen angst, the one tune without which none of those other tunes would have stuck their landings. The specter of Mr. Cobain’s tortured spirit hovered over a goodly portion of this particular vacation; A and I spent a riveting morning at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, which is currently running an in-depth exhibit that examines Nirvana’s inexorable participation in, as they put it, “bringing punk to the masses,” and we also spent a pretty powerful bit of time just outside Kurt’s former home, a lovely and disturbingly unassuming abode which sits on the banks of Lake Washington. (Outside looking in, naturally, and would Kurt have had it any other way?) On the plot of ground just beside the home sits a cozily secluded park with a pair of benches, onto which have been etched and scrawled a literal thousand messages to Kurt — thanks, prayers, wishes, a marvelous mural of grace and gratitude, wooden (but strangely alive) paeans to what could have been but also to what was — and though we didn’t write anything on them ourselves, it was impossible not to be rocked to the core by seeing the words “hello / how low” painted on one of the seat backs. (I’m also including my beloved Ms. Amos’ magnificently mellow cover of “Teen Spirit” — recorded roughly a year after the original — here, because it still fascinates and bumfuzzles me, even a full two decades after I first heard it. What I wrote four years ago on this very topic I still believe to this very minute: “In one of the ballsiest moves popular music has ever witnessed, the wickedly ambitious (and then-largely-unknown) Amos decided to take Kurt Cobain’s aural touchstone and, using her piano as a flashlight and her piercing voice as a divining rod, flesh out the pain and haunting sincerity in his words, almost daring to use the phrases against him, almost begging the lyrics to defy their author, to bring him to his knees.
The utter resignation in her tone as she slips into the final chorus is chilling.”
Hello, how low in-fucking-deed.)


The Buggles — “Video Killed the Radio Star”
(from The Best of the ’80s: The Millennium Collection) — Video Killed the Radio Star - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: Best of the '80s

Happy 30th birthday, MTV.