Brandon’s Tips: July 10, 2007

Another week, another ridiculously late tipsheet for you all to chew on. It’s a jam-packed slate this week, so let’s waste no time gettin’ to the good stuff:

Smashing Pumpkins Zeitgeist — if you’re instantly dubious about this one, it’s warranted. This isn’t a true Pumpkins reunion; only frontman Billy Corgan (one of the most irritating yet brilliant wackos in the history of music) and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin (whom Corgan dismissed from the band at the height of their popularity twelve years ago, when his heroin-fueled antics killed their keyboardist and nearly demolished the Pumpkin patch) are participating. I’ve heard a couple of tracks (including the toothless — and pointless — first single “Tarantula”), more than enough to understand that this is essentially another Corgan solo album. And considering what an unmitigated disaster the last one of those turned out to be (2005’s unlistenable flop TheFutureEmbrace), I’ll wager that James Iha (whom Corgan famously credited in a rambling online tirade with breaking up the band, a claim that Iha correctly derided as patently ridiculous) and D’Arcy (who went missing after 2000’s embarrassingly botched Machina and hasn’t been seen since) will end up thanking their lucky stars they decided to sit this one out.

Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga — critical darlings (and local heroes, natch) make good on the promise of their commercial breakthrough, 2006’s Gimme Fiction and its killer single “I Turn My Camera On” (of which indie band Rock Kills Kid turns in a dynamite cover to the final “O.C.” soundtrack), with a pleasantly solid pop-leaning effort. I just spent the last hour spinning this record twice, and I’m quite impressed: lead singer Britt Daniel has never sounded better (he could no doubt teach the aforementioned Corgan a thing or twelve), there’s not an ounce of filler, and album opener “Don’t Make Me a Target,” above and beyond being a terrific song, contains a sure contender — “clubs and sticks and bats and balls / for nuclear dicks with their dialect drawls” — for lyrical pun of the year. (It’s on sale at Target for $7.98, and their edition comes with a bonus disc.)

InterpolOur Love to Admire — I’ve never really been sold on these guys and their Coldplay-lite approach to making music, and having listened to their major-label debut this evening, I still ain’t. Lead singer Paul Banks continues to flaunt that unmistakably Stipe-ish edge in his voice, but the whole package still feels hollow. The skull-crushingly dull X&Y sounds downright good by comparison. <Shudder>.

Aly & A.J.Insomniatic — go ahead and laugh, it’s fine, but I am nutso about these girls. Yes, they’re yet another by-product of the unstoppable Disney machine (but don’t forget, so was that unlikely enchantress Hilary Duff), and (quite foolishly) marketed as they are to the ‘tween set, they have yet to really bust out of that mold. (Covers, however undeniably fun, of songs like “Walking on Sunshine” and “Do You Believe in Magic” aren’t helping their cause.) But don’t be fooled: like the estimable boys of Hanson (whose forthcoming album The Walk I literally await on pins and needles) before them, they’ve got the voices, the chops, and the ever-burgeoning sex appeal to go the distance.

Mark RonsonVersion — even if you don’t recognize his name on sight, you certainly know — or, at least, should know — Ronson’s music: seven years ago, he produced and co-wrote the horribly underrated Nikka Costa’s fabulous debut record, Everybody Got Their Something, and he helped steer two of 2007’s premiere breakthroughs, Lily Allen’s Alright, Still (led by its killer single “Smile” and its brilliantly cheeky lead lyric — “when you first left me / I was wanting more / but you were fucking that girl next door / what’d you do that for?”) and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black (led by a certain record of the year contender called “Rehab,” which I accurately labeled a smash months before top 40 radio leapt onboard). The latter two lend their considerable talents to tracks on this record, which is essentially a mixtape in the vein of Paul Oakenfold and Moby, a pair of trailblazers Ronson is clearly out to emulate. He’s still got a bit of maturing to do, no question, but keep an eye firmly peeled on this kid. He’s headin’ places.

Hairspray: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack — so, this is the part where I plead complete ignorance. Silly as it sounds, I’ve seen neither the original movie nor the Broadway musical. I know nothing about the storyline. I know nothing about the music. But grab hold, folks. One of the greatest people ever is the outrageously handsome James Marsden, who is nowhere near as famous as he ought to be despite years of false alarms (dating as far back as 1998 and his star turn in that underappreciated gem Disturbing Behavior, and as recently as last year, whereupon he was the indisputable best thing about that woefully godawful Superman revival). I’ve sat through many a movie — take the otherwise atrocious Heights, the shattering climax of which features an Earth-shaking liplock betwixt Marsden and Jesse Bradford that turns the film’s entire storyline on its head — riding the coattails of those dimples exclusively, believe it. I’m telling you all this because, evidently, Marsden is in the upcoming film remake of Hairspray, and he offers two songs — “The Nicest Kids in Town” and “(It’s) Hairspray” — to its soundtrack. I didn’t even know he could sing! Irregardless, don’t for a second think I’m not deranged enough to buy this record sight unseen, for Marsden’s no-doubt-invaluable presence alone, and to insist that you all do the same. (Making it even more attractive: it’s on sale at Circuit City this week for $8.99. Make a beeline, people!)

Kim Richey Chinese Boxes — all hail the very welcome return of one of Nashville’s most revered singer/songwriters, who has flown under the radar for far too long. Because she’s not really country and yet not really pop, she has confounded radio for the entirety of her career, and this new effort almost surely won’t change that. Screw ’em. Producer Giles Martin (still astride the momentum of his masterful reinvention of the Beatles oeuvre for last year’s magnificent experiment LOVE) helps Richey flesh out some of her firmest melodies ever, but on quieter cuts like the startlingly good “The Absence of Your Company,” shows, too, that he knows precisely when to lay back and let the words steal the scene.

Crowded HouseTime On Earth — the week’s marquee musical release comes from yet another reconciled band; the difference between this and the Pumpkins record is that you stand an infinitely stronger chance of actually remembering this album in six months’ time. For that, blame the sorely-missed Neil Finn, whose soothingly smooth voice — which hasn’t aged a microsecond since Finn’s Split Enz days of the early ’80s — remains as warm and confident as ever. The band’s first album since 1993’s Together Alone (with Matt Sherrod taking over on drums for the deceased Paul Hester), it sometimes comes off as a solo project, only because Finn’s timbre can be so mesmerizing that you forget there’s other stuff happening behind it. (As if you need extra incentive to get behind this, Earth is being handled by Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, which, as home to David Gray, Patty Griffin, My Morning Jacket, and Gov’t Mule (among many others), is the closest thing to a seal of approval you’re likely to find in American music these days.)

Pop Crowded House into the stereo and it immediately feels like 1987 all over again, which makes this week’s most significant entertainment release all the more uncanny. The tipsheet was designed to cover new music primarily, but I’m making an exception here, because the week’s big news comes from the land of television: the long-pleaded-for DVD debut of the beloved late-’80s classic series “Beauty and the Beast” — the story of Catherine, a New York City attorney (played by the gorgeous, fiery Linda Hamilton) who, after a brutal attack, is nursed back to health by a half-man/half-“beast” named Vincent (the brilliant Ron Perlman) who lives in a system of tunnels beneath the booming metropolis — is finally here, and not a moment too soon. The first season (1987-88) was released back in February, and the second season (1988-89) arrived on Tuesday. (Rumor has it the third and final season will be out before Christmas. Pray.) Season one was completely devoid of extras (not that it really needed any; the blissfully intoxicating romance of the episodes themselves more than sufficed), but season two contains a series of short interviews with Hamilton and Perlman, in which they offer insights and memories on six of the set’s twenty-two episodes. Seeing these two — one of the most combustible screen teams ever, small or large — reunited is simply ravishing, and revisiting these episodes of television — most of which I haven’t seen since they first aired twenty years ago — is enough to steal your breath. The awesome testimony to this fascinating series’ magnificence is how well it manages to hold up: it’s clearly an ’80s creation, yet the base staples of humanity — greed, jealousy, anger, sadness, and (above all) love — that it explored are timeless. Guaranteed, you’ll be as thunderstruck now as you were then as you watch these two terrific actors take an enormously ridiculous concept and make it utterly credible. A landmark fusion of childhood fantasy, swooning romance, and gut-punching human drama, there had been nothing like it previously, and there’s been nothing like it since.

And with that, we come to this week’s playlist, and in the spirit of 1987 — the year in which we first met Crowded House, and Vincent and Catherine, and the year in which the original Hairspray was filmed, and the year before the year before Aly of Aly & A.J. fame was even born — why don’t we slide back twenty full years and check out what else was happening as summer surrendered to fall, giving way to one of the strongest seasons for music it will ever be my pleasure to recall.

1. “Heart and Soul” — T’Pau (from T’Pau) — solely thanks to a ferocious vocal performance from a flame-haired Liverpudlian called Carol Decker, this remains one of its decade’s most stunning singles. I still sing the living hell out of this whenever it pops up on my iPod.

2. “Lost in Emotion” — Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (from Super Hits) — hard to believe, listening now to “Umba-relly” and the modern like, that this innocent little piffle is what passed for R&B once upon a glorious time. Oh, and also that we loved it.

3. “Faith” — George Michael (from Faith) — and speaking of glorious: how amazing was it to be alive, to bear witness to a that truly rare intersection of an insanely talented superstar finally coming into his own, and a grateful public fully willing to accept that superstar’s initial offerings with thanksgiving and grace? Yes, good ol’ George freaked out later and sincerely believed that he got more famous for his denim-covered ass than for his talent. That crazy fool shoulda known better. This staggering record is gonna survive for the rest of time.

4. “Heaven is a Place On Earth” — Belinda Carlisle (from Heaven On Earth) — somehow, it seems lacking to just call this one of the twenty best pop songs ever. That scene at the end of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, where Romy and Michele hop aboard Alan Cumming’s helicopter, and this song starts up… I swear to Jesus, it makes me believe in the power of cinema.

5. “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” — Pet Shop Boys featuring Dusty Springfield (from Actually) — why were the ’80s so beyond fabulous? Because A) we didn’t have the foggiest damn clue what at least half of its best songs — see: “Karma Chameleon” and/or “Luka” and/or “She Bop” — were really about; B) it was the only decade in which Madonna could sign a major endorsement deal with Pepsi, and then anoint burning crosses as the stars of that deal’s first television commercial; and C) a pair of gay boys from across the pond decided to cash in on their unexpected fame and made it their personal mission to return the undisputed queen of ’60s honey-soaked rasp to the top of the charts.

6. “Valerie” — Steve Winwood (from Chronicles) — much like Marc Broussard twenty years later, isn’t it just impossible to believe that a voice like that could come out of a skinny white boy?

7. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” — Crowded House (from Crowded House) — of course, this one’s cheating a bit, since it was a hit in the spring of ’87. But you had to know I wouldn’t end this opus without name-checking Neil Finn’s time-capsule track. Funny how, in a new time of war and unrest, a lyric like “try to catch the deluge / in a paper cup” remains as relevant as ever.