the Buzz for May 2012



Bee Gees — “You Win Again” (from The Ultimate Bee Gees) — You Win Again - The Ultimate Bee Gees

Bee Gees — “One” (from The Ultimate Bee Gees) — One - The Ultimate Bee Gees

Bee Gees — “Alone” (from The Ultimate Bee Gees) — Alone - The Ultimate Bee Gees

“Jive Talkin'” went to number one fourteen months before I was born, and their massively successful string of disco-dance smashes had reached its natural conclusion while I was still crawlin’ to get walkin’ as a pop music buff, so while I have a dispassionate admiration for the uptempo material that made them worldwide superstars, it is only with their later, less commercially successful work that I feel a true personal connection to the music of the Brothers Gibb (of whom, tragically, there now remains only one left standing, following last weekend’s death from cancer of Robin Gibb). Think me nuts if you must, but I would proudly place all three of these tracks — particularly the first of them, a stunner from 1988 that was inexplicably a non-starter here in the States but a massive smash in practically every other territory on the globe — among my favorite pop songs of all time, and blasting this brilliant aural triptych at full volume is how I choose to bid Robin a final adieu from my own little plot of earth. (Incidentally, I am getting damn tired of writing obituaries of my childhood heroes in such rat-a-tat-tat succession, and therefore am kindly prevailing upon the gods of grace who determine our fragile fates to just cool it for a bit. Quite frankly, I’m still trying to get over Whitney, and I just don’t know that I have room in my heart for another wrenching farewell for at least another six months. Pretty, pretty please.)


Adele — “Don’t You Remember” (from 21) — Don't You Remember - 21

Happy Memorial Day, all. Please don’t forget to remember — even if only for a passing moment — the fallen on this sunny Monday.


Clay Aiken — “This is the Night”
(from Playlist: The Very Best of Clay Aiken) — This Is the Night - Playlist: The Very Best of Clay Aiken

I would say that I am rooting for Arsenio Hall to whup Clay Aiken’s ass on tonight’s fifth season finale of the greatest show on television, Donald Trump’s brilliantly trash-tastic competition series Celebrity Apprentice. But in the very early days of this website’s existence, I went ten rounds with the Claymates (with the able assistance of one Sherry Ann, who loves little more than picking fights on her best friend’s blog) over some misconstrued comments I made about an Aiken best-of compilation, and I can tell you from first-hand experience how ferociously loyal those folks are about the object of their ridonk obsession, and I wish not to re-place the Buzz in their kooky crosshairs. (‘Sides all that, I was rooting hard for a finale face-off between loopy Lisa Lampanelli and that shrewd bitch-on-four-wheels Aubrey O’Day (who surely was the favorite to win the whole shebang prior to her poorly-justified firing last week), so I don’t really have a dog in this particular hunt.). So, in other words: Go Clay!


Donna Summer — “She Works Hard for the Money” (from Gold) — She Works Hard for the Money - Donna Summer: Gold

Her own career hit a rough patch after the pop music world turned so violently against the disco craze, but her legacy is well assured, and she surely left this plane yesterday morning knowing in her soul that there’s not a dance club diva currently drawing breath — from Kim Sozzi and Kristine W to Madonna to that rancid tart Ke$ha and the garish GaGa — who doesn’t owe her a massive debt of gratitude for the trail she blazed so brilliantly in her heyday. (Rest in peace, Miss Donna, and much love to your family and friends.)


Train — “You Can Finally Meet My Mom” (from California 37) — You Can Finally Meet My Mom - California 37

Clearly emboldened by the unstoppable success of their dippy, dopey smash “Hey, Soul Sister” (which shamelessly name-checked Mr. Mister and Madonna — and cribbed a key lyric from INXS — on its way to becoming one of the best-selling digital singles in pop music history), my eternal faves Train have amped the pop culture references up to twelve-and-a-half on California 37, their just-released fifth album, which kicks off with the Proper-Noun-heavy, you-were-there-and-so-were-we history lesson “This’ll Be My Year” — think of it as “We Didn’t Start the Fire 2.0” — and only grows more ridiculous from there. (Kid you not: “Year’s” chorus actually includes the phrase “I stopped believin’ / although Journey told me, ‘Don’t’ / before I call it a day….”) Luckily for us die-hard fans, this band hasn’t completely forgotten the fact that its lead singer Pat Monahan’s sinewy, slyly acrobatic voice has always been its golden ticket to ride, and indeed, said voice singlehandedly rescues more than a couple of this record’s flights of fancy from outright doom, including this one, essentially a laundry list — set to glorious music, natch — of folks, from Buddha to Jimi Hendrix to Whitney Houston to “the dude who played the sheriff in Blazing Saddles (!),” whom Pat is not gonna introduce his true love to once they both make it inside the pearly gates. (I swear to Jesus I’m not making this up!) Monahan’s achingly earnest vocal performance swoops in to save the day here, and I still can’t decide whether this is the most irritating slice of melodic claptrap, or the sweetest love song I’ve ever heard. (As a man who met his own true love three weeks to the day after my father passed away, I can absolutely get with the sentiment that drives this magnificent mess, because I think I’d give anything if A and my Dad could have spent some time together. Dad was a rabid Republican and a staunch redneck — which is to say, A’s diametric opposite in pretty much every way — but I think he would have gotten a big kick out of the crazy fool I happily call my life partner once he could have gotten to know him, and I hope against hope that one day, someway, the two men I have loved most in this life will be able to put their heads together and finally compare notes on the view from their own respective corners of the world.)


Cary Brothers (with Priscilla Ahn) — “Maps”
(from Covers, Volume One) — Maps (feat. Priscilla Ahn) - Covers, Vol. 1 - EP

As would certainly befit what has become a modern classic, it has seemingly become quite en vogue for artists to record their own take on The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ indelibly brilliant 2003 smash “Maps”: my old favorite indie band Rogue Wave contributed a version to a Starbucks Valentine’s Day compilation a couple of years back; our old pals The Fray turned the tune into some sort of bizarro hoedown foot-stomper for the digital-exclusive deluxe edition of their latest album earlier this year; and even that magnificent wackydoo Macy Gray included it in her recent covers project. But none of those remakes are quite as ambitious (or, frankly, as good) as this, as the keenly astute Brothers completely deconstructs not only the text but the intent of the song, and the effect is bone-chilling and brilliant: whereas Karen O sang her words with a deceptively muted rage, Brothers crawls inside the story emitting a devastated vulnerability that is utterly breathtaking to behold. I played this on a constant loop for over an hour yesterday morning, and there’s not a thing about it — from the gently insistent, quietly urgent tinkling of the piano that keeps getting lost in the lush atmospherics of the chorus, to Ahn’s haunting harmony vocal (a pitch-perfect counterpoint to Brothers’ brusque, beautifully gruff line readings) — that doesn’t strike me as pristine perfection. In every way, a total triumph. (Incidentally, this man is one of Sherry Ann’s favorite artists, and I even managed to convince Cary to sing eight bars of her favorite Brothers tune just for her when he was a guest on Brandon’s Buzz Radio a couple of years back. And if you missed any of that conversation — or, Sherry Ann, if you’d like to relive it anew, wink wink — you can catch up with it right here.)


Cowboy Junkies — “Anniversary Song”
(from The Best of Cowboy Junkies) — Anniversary Song - Best of Cowboy Junkies

Seven years ago this very night, at a bustling coffee shop on 4th Street in good ol’ Austin, Texas, I met the smartest, sexiest, oddest, greatest, most frustrating and most amazing man I know. I was immediately pulled under his spell, and he — thank Jesus — was sufficiently intrigued by me to entertain the notion of an official date a few nights later. Seven years on, we share a gorgeous home, a crazy dog we’re both nuts about, a host of private jokes that only we get, shells and chicken most Sunday nights, and, on balance, a pretty damned fabulous life that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s on a sure bet. (I love you so much, A: today, tomorrow, and always.)


Rita Wilson — “Faithless Love” (from AM / FM) — Faithless Love - AM / FM

So not the random vanity project it may seem to be from all outward appearances: in one of the pleasant surprises of this still-young year, Mrs. Tom Hanks — her voice coming off like a perfect blend of Joni’s icy cool and Ronstadt’s inviting warmth — finally realizes her long-held musical ambitions and scores a retro-licious ringer with this standout cut — a tender, almost painfully intimate reading of an underappreciated J.D. Souther classic — from her unexpectedly terrific new covers record.


Carrie Underwood — “Wheel of the World” (from Carnival Ride) — Wheel of the World - Carnival Ride

I spent the better part of yesterday morning winding my way through Miss Carrie’s just-released fourth album, Blown Away, and while it is markedly better than her previous effort — 2009’s airless, pompous Play On — it also is a herky-jerky melange of moods and musical styles that, while certainly ambitious, never settles into a comfortable nor consistent groove. (It’s almost as though Carrie couldn’t decide whether she wanted to emulate Pat Benatar or Patty Loveless, so she chose both, and the result is a jarring blur of a record.) Underwood stated in a number of pre-release interviews that she tried to fashion this album to fit snugly with its tense title track, a tune whose emotional terrain — a wife-abuser who meets an untimely (if not unjust) fate — the magnificent Gretchen Peters exploited to much stronger effect two decades ago in the Martina McBride classic “Independence Day”; if you axe me, Carrie’d have been better served searching for songs more in the vein of this gorgeous stunner, the surprisingly potent piffle that closes her second (and still best, by an Oklahoma mile) record. (And if you axe A, this song isn’t even the best one in Carrie’s considerable discography that contains the word “wheel.” But seeing as he’s a devout atheist, I’m not so sure how much weight his opinion carries in this specific matter.)