Saturday, August 27, 2005

U2- How To Stay Vital

Quick, name a rock band that has remained intact over the span of a quarter of a century.

From that short list, name one who's EVERY new musical release during their entire career was as creative and ear-catching as their last. Try to think of one that consistently generated the kind of excitement usually reserved for new, breakthrough bands...

Take your time...

OK, we'll come back to this...

Why is it some artists are one hit wonders, grasping our imagination then quickly fading from sight into the vast pop culture horizon? Others have a just a couple of stellar years before they split up or become quickly irrelevant, their fans left to wonder where the magic went. 90 to 95 percent of all pop/rock music acts fall into these categories. A very few others can keep the initial excitement going for as long as a decade. These we call icons.

Then there's U2. Jurassic by today's measure, they seemingly keep getting better. Their last album, "Hot To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", is one of their best and their popularity has never been higher. Bono's song writing and singing are still fresh. And The Edge's ringing, melodic guitar is as appealing as ever.

After 25 years, this is not supposed to happen. By comparison, after 20 years even The Rolling Stones ran out of new things to say. The Eagles are purely a nostalgia act (have been for years)and bands like Chicago and The Beach Boys have become such carcasses of their former selves they should be put in a museum somewhere. What about Springsteen, you say? Hate to disparage "The Boss" but did YOU buy his last album... or the one before that?

Even most of U2's eighties contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers like The Police, The Clash and The Talking Heads couldn't make it much past '85. There was even a time when ridiculously popular, New Wave lightweights The Thompson Twins might have considered U2 as an opening act. Now the mention of them in the same breath seems ridiculous.

Because U2 still seems so contemporary, putting in perspective how long they've been around it isn't easy. Many things have come and gone during the length of their tenure including: "Cheers", The Delorean, cassette singles, "Hill Street Blues", Guns N Roses, VCRs, "LA Law", Ross Perot's political carrer, The Sony Walkman, "Seinfeld" and the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II part 1 administrations.

When U2 started The Berlin Wall was still in place, Jerry Brown was Governor of California and The Ford Thunderbird had yet to been discontinued for the first time. The T-Bird has since been revamped and recently put out to pasture for a second time.

No one had ever heard of SUVs, mp3 players, second hand smoke, "The Simpsons", Nike, Oprah, cell phones, rap music, Tom Hanks, AIDS, the internet, MTV, Tom Cruise, Ebay, Compact Discs, aerobics, Michael Jordan, Starbucks or Madonna. Microsoft was years away from releasing the first Windows operating system (Windows 1.01). Michael Jackson was just another struggling, young, pop singer and Walter Cronkite was still anchoring The CBS Evening News!

How has U2 kept in touch with it's muse after all this time? Why do even their new releases continue to generate a buzz and widespread airplay? How do they attract millions of new fans when most bands of their same age are releasing music no one cares about or rehashing ancient hits on reunion tours or oldies circuits?

It has something to do with passion and love of their craft. And talent. But lots of bands have this.

Perhaps it is the purity of their core that comes through in the music. Part of U2's mantra has always been personal integrity. Somehow THEY haven't been corrupted by the system, money, drugs, sloth, ego or fame. As their integrity remains intact so does their vitality. This cannot be faked or phoned in. You either have it or you don't and your audience can tell like a shark can smell blood.

And then there's the fact that they still just sound so good.

To answer the question initially posed, there have been a few other bands that stayed together for 25 years or more. Not many did it without substantial breaks, temporary break-ups, major line up changes or long lapses in releasing new material. And not many could claim ALL their releases were consistently, creatively dynamic, exciting and commercially popular.

Certainly none have done it better than the boys from Dublin. Any doubts about this can be laid to rest by listening to "A Man And A Woman", "Yahweh" or "Vertigo" from their latest CD (The music video for "Vertigo" was recently nominated as an MTV "Breakthrough Video Of The Year"). Compare these to their earlier songs and you will hear a band that remains at it's creative peak.

-DJ Craig

Sunday, August 14, 2005

David Bowie, Alice Cooper and the Rise Of Science Fiction Rock

The 60's were over. A tumultuous decade who's music reflected the times. A mix of Folk inspired protest rock, Motown and psychedelic acid metal had scorched a path though the American psyche. Along with nightly reports of racial violence, civil disobedience, riots and political corruption. And many great 60's artists didn't make it past the early 70's. The Beatles, Hendryx, The Doors, Janis Joplin and many others were either already finished or about to be.

For those who survived, the aftermath of the big cultural party of the 60's was the inevitable hangover. 1972 was bloated, lethargic and stuck in a musical holding pattern. The radio cranked out soothing, easily digestible schmaltz by the likes of The Carpenters, Bread and The Partridge Family as if trying to heal from consuming too much the night before. But while waiting for the pain and the headache to go away, something happened.

Pop music was invaded by visitors from other planets. The "reality" of the previous decade's music was being replaced by fantasy. Enough about protests, Viet Nam, political assassinations and unrest. Now it was time for some fun. Otherworldly themes of spacemen, killer queens, lazer beams and fleshly delights began getting airplay.

Formerly little known acts David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Elton John dawned mascara and eyeliner to usher in an era of dress up, androgyny and camp. Dubbed "Glitter" or "Glam", this was the first time science fiction inspired a popular musical movement. Queen, The New York Dolls, KISS and Roxy Music were willing accomplices.

Part of the irreverent fun was the blurring of established conventions. Was that platform shoe, dress wearing, freakish singer a man or a woman? Have aliens really landed? Are they taking over?

"You got your mother in a whirl
She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl..."

-Rebel Rebel by David Bowie (1974)

So inspiring was this movement that for a period even The Stones, Todd Rundgren and Bob Dylan began wearing heavy makeup on stage. If Woodstock represented the youth rock movement of the 60's, The Rocky Horror Picture Show represented the Glitter movement of the 70's. For a malaise filled time desperately in need of escape from the real world, this was the perfect solution.

Though it didn't last long, the 70's Glitter era directly inspired the New Wave 80's. Duran Duran, Human League, The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees all learned their makeup AND music tips from those daring young lads from the 70's. And the tradition continues.

-DJ Craig

Monday, August 01, 2005

MJ, Stones, MTV, Payola

Stones Get Banged!

The Rolling Stones will release "A Bigger Bang", their first studio album in eight years, on September 5.

MJ Gets Danged!

Michael Jackson's latest greatest hits album, "The Essential Michael Jackson", has sold just 8,000 copies in the US in its first week of release, reaching number 128 in the chart. That's only 428,000 behind the first place album, "Now 19".

Perhaps Mike should try releasing some new material instead of repeatedly repackaging greatest hits collections.

MTV Awards Arranged!

Nominees for The 2005 MTV Video Music Awards are: Green Day leading the pack with eight nominations, closely followed by Gwen Stefani and Missy Elliot with six nominations each. New artist nominees include The Mars Volta and The Killers.

Competitors for Video of the Year are Coldplay – ‘Speed of Sound', Green Day - ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams', Gwen Stefani – ‘Hollaback Girl', Kanye West – ‘Jesus Walks' and Snoop Dogg feat. Pharell – ‘Drop It Like It's Hot'.

Airing from Miami on August 28, the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards will be hosted by P. Diddy.

Sony Hanged!

Sony BMG Music agreed to pay a $10 million settlement in an industry-wide payola investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Apparently Sony has not been content to rely simply on their artists' talent to garner airplay.

The corporation will cease paying for play. Also, according to Spitzer, Sony will hire a compliance officer to keep tabs on its behavior. No word on whether Spitzer had any ideas on improving the quality of Sony's releases.

- DJ Craig