‘Havoc’ falls short, not nearly as bright

“Alanis,” I usually respond. I find that I seem to ask the question a lot on first dates, “Which artist or band do you first remember actually paying attention to the lyrics and discovering that music could mean something?” I know, heady first date material. Of course, I get great answers. So when asked in rebuttal, my response is, as mentioned, “Alanis.”

There’s always been something about the lyrical quality of Alanis Morissette’s writing that has felt invasive, permeating my strongly built walls of protection in saying things that I felt, but didn’t have the guts to say or own even internally. But the emotional hooks were put in place and as she began to write about these moments of self-awareness through the lens of her relationships with people, I, too, felt a sense of ownership of not only my feelings, but the reactionary nature of them.

Alanis has been sort of a guidepost for me in terms of life changes. Being a few years older, each album has served as a benchmark of my own evolution, whether it be in terms of relationships (intimate or not), self-care, self-discipline or just awareness of the world outside me. And because this knowledge came as a secondary lesson from the actual story within the songs themselves, they’re completely relatable – whether you got the lesson at the time or not.

There have been plenty of times where I don’t connect with what the song is saying or about and five years later I return to know exactly what the intention was and the place it came from. Again, just a road map of places you’ve been or places you know to watch out for in the future.

However, it seems that perhaps Alanis has taken a turn on the course of life that I am either unable to relate to at the moment or has become more concerned with the lesson giving than the revelation of the lesson itself.

Her new album Havoc and Bright Lights feels like a step backward musically and a fumbled attempt lyrically.

As a new wife and mother, her life has changed in many capacities that I – as a gay man – can no longer relate to. But again, it doesn’t prevent me from trying to lift the lesson out of it.

But perhaps the problem is that it all feels too self-help. And being Alanis, I know going in that it’s going to be heavy on the Debbie Ford psycho babble, which I can abide by up to a certain degree. But the problem with this album is that it’s musically not interesting enough to lift the lyrical components up and it all feels a bit empty as a result.

The moments you can discern Guy Sigsworth’s brilliance are delicious. But then there’s the glossy production of ‘live band’ laid atop Sigsworth’s sonic creations that leaves the songs feeling inconsistent and never truly strong enough to stand on their own for repeat listens.

“Guardian,” the first single, leaves no lasting impression and doesn’t sound new in the catalog of Morissette thus far. “Woman Down,” while more catchy, again feels like something from Feast On Scraps.

“Til You” is one of the few songs I found endearing and fresh. While the sweeping, sonic ballad is nothing new for her, when Alanis does them right – they’re pretty superb.

Then comes “Celebrity,” which is a disjointed affair that attempts to blend too many sounds and flavors in one song. It’s a mashup basically of “Moratorium” and “Would Not Come,” without reaching the level of either.

If it’s not evident that this album is all self-help, the song titles themselves should give it away. Like with “Empathy,” which is a bumbling lyrical mess. This could be a throwaway album track on a Natalie Merchant track from 1999. So it’s not terrible, but it’s not what I expect of Alanis.

“Lens” is probably the most Jagged Little Pill-esque track and has a chorus that is catchy enough to be put on repeat. It’s just another track – like most – that feels like it’s been done before on a previous effort and probably with greater success. The entire album does come across as the pt. 2 of So Called Chaos. For better or worse.

“Spiral” is a non-descript 90s female empowerment type of song that bears no more commentary. “Numb” at least counters it with a more interesting production.

Then there’s the terrible “Havoc,” which any Alanis fan will remember as a song called, “Not All Me,” a melody not that terribly great to begin with.

“Win and win” is another eastern-tinged track that promises something but doesn’t quite rev up enough to deliver. It’s a lilting affair at best, but not one of the worst tracks on the album. “Receive” is another track where I ask myself, “Was I supposed to by an accompanying self-help book in order to relate to this?”

The only other standout track for me on the album is the closing number, “Edge of Evolution,” which clearly has Sigsworth all over it. But it’s also something we’ve never really heard from Alanis before, with this melodic pattern and stuttering drums. Finally we get a slow-build and a chorus that delivers. Many seems to loathe this track and perhaps my attachment to it is because of my love for Flavors of Entanglement, with this track being the closest evolution – so to speak – of that cosmic sound working well with the live band production. My only complaint is that the vocals feel so background to the track itself, as though there isn’t a strong enough lead vocal.

Maybe the lesson here is that my own story is no longer going to mirror any of the storytellers of my youth. That my own narrative is going to be uniquely my own and that the lessons are no longer coming from this faucet. But the ride thus far has been good and perhaps it’s just a matter of time for me to have to come back to have a better appreciation for this sound and the lyrical content.

But until then, I’ll return to one of my favorite tracks that is totally rooted in self-help but somehow blends it into a song that I find completely relatable. And a reminder that it’s always about the journey toward total self-acceptance and being whole:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6kLbDHu0yc

The Dark Knight Rises

Well, I saw Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy. Now, what’s funny is that I went with my mom who was a wonderful sport about the entire thing. I learned that she saw the first of the trilogy (which later would be helpful to the overall story in …Rises) but somehow missed what is probably the most epic comic book film ever, The Dark Knight, mostly because of the epic performance by the late Heath Ledger in his masterful and psychotic portrayal of the most iconic villain in all of comic lore – The Joker.

Rises was great and while many had said that overall the story was a bit messy and there were many unanswered questions, I think as the bookend piece to the trilogy, it wrapped it up perfectly and the audience cheered at the end of the film.

As someone on my timeline commented though, the sound mix seemed to be off. Between Bane‘s muffled lines (that are truly inconsequential at times as it turns out) and Bale’s gruff whispers & growls, everything seemed to just be loud and it all bled together.

But I, like many, was completely smitten with Anne Hathaway’s performance of Selina Kyle, who was never once referenced as Catwoman in the film and rightly so. Many diehard fans were screaming about the casting choice of Hathaway and I was also concerned about whatever Nolan was planning to do with the Kyle character within his Gotham.

I mean, nothing can top this:

And I’m totally disregarding that piece of shit film that Halle Berry was in. Terrible.

But Hathaway totally made her own mark on the character of Kyle and brought a true realistic viewpoint to her choices to become a veritable Robin Hood of Gotham City.

Of course, then there’s that ending.

I want to watch all of these films back-to-back in the theater now and just eat a ton of popcorn. And then come home and replay Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. And just get reabsorbed into the world of Batman, which I loved since I was a kid. I will never NOT love a Batman story. Get thee to a theater and see this film:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gFwvozMHR4

Fiona Apple sings, screams at Chicago Theatre

Bone-thin and wiry, Fiona Apple has learned to let out the beast inside her when she performs. Tapping into a primal yelp that is less apparent on her records, Apple spent much of her show last night in Chicago going from soft whispers to strong vibrato to shouting screams. And for a 34-year-old recluse, you’d be surprised of the amount of power that she can exude on the stage – when she isn’t sitting down right in the middle of it, mind you.

Having only four albums under her belt in the span of sixteen years, it seems that paper bags biodegrade faster than Apple puts out new material. But what she does release is always worth the wait. She’s not of the same fabric as a Gaga or Rihanna, churning out manufactured hits from a pop factory. Each of Apple’s albums is crafted from inner-turmoil, love, despair, awareness of self-destruction and an acceptance of who she is, which is to say an extraordinary machine.

This was the fourth time I’ve seen Apple and she’s clearly changed as a live performer. From the first two tours, she was more concerned about singing and explaining herself. The last two have become more frenetic, with nearly no speaking and a lot of lurking in the background when not vocalizing.

What seems odd to me is that I wonder what it must be like for her to put together a set list, knowing that she has a limited back catalog to build from and knowing how young she was when having written songs like “Criminal,” which must seem somewhat irrelevant but yet the biggest hit of her career.

The show was a packed 90 minutes with a number of fan favorites, including one of my own, the haunting and bitter “Get Gone.” Only four songs from the new album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, made an appearance, with probably the most captivating being “Werewolf” and “Daredevil,” a song that I’ve fallen in love with completely.

Check out the album version of “Daredevil” –

httpa://youtu.be/cBdJ6zZhyp8

I also wonder if this entire tour is a bit forced, knowing that the recent album is probably old news to her – it sat on a shelf by Apple’s own choosing to wait out label hierarchical changes. Could it be that she’s emotionally moved on, too?

Although Apple seems to have become more comfortable with the actual performing, but not of the responsibility to stand upon a stage and be looked upon when not singing. Several times she gyrated and undulated to the band’s outro jams, slowly collapsing onto the floor, cross-legged like a six-year-old.

My only issue with her as a live performer is that she screams to the point of losing all the intricate melodies that make her recorded music so rich and worth repeated listening. I find it also odd that she doesn’t really reinterpret or mix up the songs that much and keeps a ‘rock’ vibe to the show, when it’s apparent through performances of “Extraordinary Machine” or the Conway Twitty cover “It’s Only Make Believe,” her voice is best when not forced and when couched in an acoustic arrangement.

If ever a person could be the 21st century reincarnation of tin pan alley music, it would be Apple. And what’s unfortunate is that there were not more covers or songs performed in this style.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yToh1PoYb6k

As the show unfolded, you got the sense that Apple really is made for the creation of music and not necessarily the performing. She drifted around the stage like a girl lost, seeming disconnected from the audience and lost within the music and herself. Perhaps it’s my own selfish desire to want more dialogue from her or at least an attempt to connect with an audience that is known for being die-hard and loyal as the day is long.

But maybe it’s the aloofness we find so captivating and what keeps us coming back for more. The air of mystery is working for Apple in ways that other pop contemporary musicians have abandoned for total transparency on Twitter, Instagram or their own 3D films.

With Apple, it’s always been about connecting with the music. Maybe she’s right not to dilute the power of her work and she’s keeping it (and the rest of her) as something sacred. And as she says herself, she’s free to do anything she wants.

httpa://youtu.be/EfXvIs9bojM

I recommend you purchase The Idler Wheel today. And if you are new to Apple, I’d also start with When the Pawn.

*Edit: I forgot to mention that as the house lights went down for the first song in the show, a woman had a seizure right in front of my friend and I and it was utterly terrifying and a mess.

Part of Katy Perry

I have a confession. I used to adamantly avoid Katy Perry with a passion. Sure, I loved “I Kissed A Girl” like everyone else but soon just dismissed this boisterous, dorky, loud-mouthed pretty girl even before the revelation came down that she was raised in a devout Christian home and (so we were led to believe) turned her back, sang about snogging a girl and hit the big time.

However, Katy hooked me with her somewhat sleeper hit “Thinking of You.” For whatever reason, the song resonated completely with me at the time and would resonate with me many times later. Disconcerting because it’s a song about longing to be with a former lover while you’re in the throws of a new relationship. Yep, totally an awkward but relatable topic. Pining for the past, Perry and I were united.

Continue reading Part of Katy Perry

What is Lady Gaga’s mission?

So Lady Gaga’s sophomore album (no, bitch, I’m not counting The Fame Monster as a second album – it’s an EP at best) has finally been revealed to the world and these are my thoughts: meh. I’ve had more time to sit with the album and the fact is this: it’s not revolutionary in the way her previous album was. It’s at times a logical evolution of an artist and at other times it’s a rehash of hooks sung by Pat Benatar and Whitney Houston.

And those are the songs that I like. Upon an initial listen, some songs stood out like “Marry The Night” and “The Edge of Glory,” while some just sounded like the demo versions of these tracks – an all too common issue with the album as a whole.

Continue reading What is Lady Gaga’s mission?

They are Scissor Sisters, and so are We.

Thursday evening I went to see the Scissor Sisters with my friends Shan and Jarod from Indianapolis. It.was.fucking.spectacular. Today is Sunday and the ringing in my ears has finally subsided and while I attribute that to the band being absolutely amazing and playing a show that was the concert-version of a gay bathhouse, the Riviera’s sound was awful for most of the evening. Just too damn loud and it was as if no one bothered to turn down the bass so that we could hear the singers properly. But that was my only complaint.

Continue reading They are Scissor Sisters, and so are We.