the Buzz for August 2012


R.E.M. — “Man on the Moon” (from Automatic for the People) — Man On the Moon - Automatic for the People

Please forgive the tardiness of my reaction to this, as A and I have spent a whirlwind few days in Connecticut and in New York City, and I’ve scarcely had five consecutive minutes with which to blog, but I was saddened to hear of Neil Armstrong’s passing on Saturday. Several years back, I wrote a short story in which Mr. Armstrong himself was something of a recurring character, and in which his 1969 moon landing was a seminal event in the lives of two teenage boys staring up at the stars from the Alabama Gulf Coast. (A visual recreation of this story can be found here.)

I have a sneaking suspicion, after all that you managed to do and see while drawing breath on this plane, that heaven might just be a bit anticlimactic for you, Mr. Armstrong. You nonetheless taught us all with your rocket-fueled flights of fancy that fantasy can be reality, and that reality’s boundaries are only as firm as our imaginations set them to be. May you rest in permanent peace, Neil.


Billie Myers — “Return to Sender (Am I Here Yet?)” (from Vertigo) — Am I Here Yet? (Return to Sender) - Vertigo

“Sitting around in my imagination /
using someone else’s logic for loose change. . . /
Well, the speed of light isn’t always fast enough /
so could you hurry up and get another life, if you please. . . ?”


Joss Stone — “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye”
(from The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2) — Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye - The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2 (Deluxe Edition)

There are probably a hundred thousand reasons why the stunningly gifted Stone has never fully made good — neither commercially nor creatively — on the potent promise set forth by her earth-shaking 2003 breakthrough record The Soul Sessions and its soul-filled smash “Fell in Love with a Boy” (a funked-up gender-bent take on The White Stripes’ instant classic “Fell in Love with a Girl”). Surely not least among those reasons: it’s just freakin’ hard to find songs, any songs, that match up perfectly with Stone’s difficult-to-classify sound and do proper justice to her booming, expansive singing voice (with which she attempts to smother and suffocate the songs she chooses to tackle much more often than is necessary). So sending Joss wading back into the Sessions waters for a sequel — not to mention reteaming her with producer Steve Greenberg, the nifty knob-twister who made the original Sessions such an unexpected delight — feels like an incredibly smart idea. And Stone shines like a diamond throughout, but especially here on the album’s closer, a simple ’60s standard that cowboy legend Eddy Arnold sent to number one some forty-plus years ago and that country star Neal McCoy had quite a big hit with in the mid-’90s. Playing it atypically cool here, with a restrained and riveting performance that starts out at delicious and only grows more tantalizing with each passing note, Stone finally returns to her sweet spot, relishing the moment with a delicate, dazzling grace.


John Mayer — “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”
(from Born and Raised) — Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967 - Born and Raised

Mayer’s fifth studio album might be a tad too pensive and persistently sleepy (particularly in its heavy second half, where his ponderous mea culpa confessionals tend to blur together), but Born is certainly not without its charms, and none more enjoyable than this story song — one of the first such constructions that Mayer has attempted in his decade-long career — with a deceptively basic limerick-like rhyme scheme (which, oddly enough, helps keep the tune from devolving into a hokey hunk of schmaltzy claptrap) and an ambiguous ending that allows the listener to decide for him or herself the protagonist’s ultimate fate. (Whether “Walt” is nothing more than a compellingly clever allegory for Mayer’s own life over the last couple of years — during which time he ducked out of the spotlight’s unforgiving glare and leapt upon the first bus to Montana following a series of staggeringly stupid and painfully public open-mouth-permanently-lodge-foot comments and quips about his sexual proclivities and preferences — I’ll leave for folks more curious than me about nailing down such details to discuss and debate. Nonetheless, it helps to be reminded (again and again and again and again), does it not, that we are ever but one resplendent triumph away from redemption, and that, sometimes, it is exclusively and only the craziest of our dreams to which we should pay any heed.)


Roxette — “Opportunity Nox” (from The Pop Hits) — Opportunity Nox - The Pop Hits

My majestic Marie Fredriksson was (temporarily) sidelined by a debilitating brain tumor roughly a decade ago, but the unflappably brilliant Per Gessle carried on anyhow, and didn’t miss a blazing beat without his magnificent musical better half when he crafted this glam, slammin’ sweatbox of a single, a pure (vo)code red on dancefloors the world over, and as gloriously grand a tasty treat as anything this duo — most sincerely, the Buzz’s vote for most enchanting, exhilarating pop band of the last half-century (dreadful sorry, Arctic Monkeys) — ever conjured up in their late-’80s chart-busting heyday.


Emeli Sandé (with Naughty Boy) — “Wonder”
(from Our Version of Events) — Wonder - Our Version of Events

Rebecca Ferguson — “Nothing’s Real But Love” (from Heaven) — Nothing's Real But Love - Heaven

Adele’s runaway smash album 21 just spent its seventy-fifth consecutive week securely ensconced in the Billboard 200 chart’s top ten, and what fresh hell hath her Grammy-gouging triumph wrought? Record companies worldwide are now turning over every last British pebble hoping against hope to run across the next one of her. And whaddaya know: a pair of compelling contenders have stepped forward this summer, patiently laying in wait for a breakout of their own. Keep a firm eye peeled on the staggering Scottish lass Sandé, whose dazzling debut effort Events — a wondrous, deeply melodic epic that comes off as an incomprehensibly brilliant cross between the best of Alicia Keys and Coldplay — stands alongside Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball as my favorite album from 2012’s first half. I’m not quite so keen on the uneven first full record from Ferguson (the runner-up a couple of years back on the U.K.’s The X Factor), but man, did she pop out of the box with a dynamite introductory single, a blah lyric that Miss Rebecca — who sangs, honey, with pure sweet soul, like Amy, Aretha, and Annie all rolled into one stunning set of powerhouse pipes — delivers as though Rilke himself wrote it. Love’s real, to be sure, but bracing talent is pretty real, too, and these two young ladies got it. In spades.