Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: Yes We Can (Make Medicore Music)

Oh 2008, how forgettable of year were you? That’s not to say it wasn’t memorable. Any year where Clay Aiken has a child with a woman twice his age conceived through artificial insemination, Lindsey Lohan says she’s gay, Madonna starts banging A-Rod, Amy Winehouse bounces in and out (and in and out and in and out) of rehab, John Mayer starts dating Jennifer Aniston, O.J. Simpson was actually convicted of a crime and Britney Spears makes a comeback from her disastrous 2007 MTV Video Music Awards lip synch fiasco by taking a vacation to Costa Rica with Mel Gibson and then lip synching poorly on Good Morning America is definitely memorable. (Um, wait, how is that a comeback?) Memorable doesn’t necessarily mean I want to remember everything that’s happened this year. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we each drank a bottle of Jameson’s, blacked out, and woke up on January 1st with no recall of the previous 364 days—save November 4th? If you wondered why this year’s list is a couple weeks later than usual, it’s because I kept hoping that December would deliver some better music, some better shows or some better news that would lift 2008 out of its morass of mediocrity. A few things did come through (thank you Neil Young), but not enough to make a huge difference in what is contained in these pages.

If we were able to enact my Jameson’s memory loss plan, then we could all forget Guns n’ RosesChinese Democracy was finally released after being talked about for more than a decade. (And I could still be writing snarky stories about how it still hasn’t come out. Sigh.) Oh, and that Axl Rose had his lawyers send a threatening letter to Dr. Pepper, saying the makers of the soda had reneged on their promise to give out free cans of soda to everyone in America when the album was released. (The company’s website crashed from all the folks wanting some sugary soda goodness.) I feel compelled to quote the story I wrote just to show off the insanity that is inside’s Axl’s head: “Rose’s lawyer, Alan Gutman, demanded that Doctor Pepper make good on its offer by extending the period for the offer and wants full-page apologies in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, U-S-A Today and Wall Street Journal. The letter also states that the original campaign was ‘an exploitation of my clients’ legendary reputation and their eagerly awaited album.’ Gutman is seeking what he says is ‘appropriate payment for the unauthorized use and abuse of their publicity and intellectual property rights,’ and threatens legal action if a proper offer is not made.” WOW. That is just bizarre. I think Axl’s cornrows are tied just a little too tight. Oh, and if we could also forget that a member of The Replacements has made a living the past decade by being on Axl’s payroll, that would be great too. (You know what? Pass that bottle right here. I need to kill some of my remaining memory cells.)

There are plenty of other things to forget this year. Nickelback decided to switch things up this year by working with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange. Now why Mutt would do this is beyond me. He helmed AC/DC’s best albums with Bon Scott (Highway to Hell) and Brian Johnson (Back in Black) and well as turned Def Leppard to masters of pop metal (Pyromania still sounds great to me to this day). So what in the world was he doing with Nickelback, Canada’s answer to a question no one asked? I think his judgment must have been impaired this year. I mean, look at this picture:

He cheated on the woman on the left, his wife of almost 15 years, Shania Twain, with the woman on the right, their former personal assistant. The guy obviously has lost the ability to judge right and wrong and good and bad. Or needs a pair of glasses. Seriously, dude.

Hey, remember Hootie and the Blowfish? (Yeah, me neither. That Jameson’s has started kicking in me thinks.) Perhaps the most unlikely story of the year is the emergence of Hootie frontman Darius Rucker as a country star. It’s true! You can look it up or ask the folks in Nashville who get the list. Rucker’s “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” topped the country charts in September, making him the first African-American solo singer to hit Number One since Charley Pride in 1983. (Charley Pride. There’s a name I never thought I’d write in this list. I think I need to go listen to “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” right now. Talk amongst yourselves for a few minutes…..Okay, that was fun. Back to my original train of thought.) Honestly, I don’t really have a problem with this. I just think it’s awesome that Rucker had bigger success in the country market than two women known better for their assets than their talent—Jewel and Jessica Simpson. (And I’m sure Giants fans everywhere appreciate that Simpson sucked the talented out of Tony Romo. Well, not literally sucked the talent out of him. Um, actually, maybe…let’s move on.)

Katy Perry was everywhere on the airwaves this summer with “I Kissed a Girl” (and, as the rest of the chorus goes, “and I liked it”). That song was the follow-up to “Ur So Gay” (whose chorus is so stupid I can’t bear to type it). These two songs are about as offensive as any rap song released this year. “I Kissed a Girl” (which sullies the catchy Jill Sobule song of the same title of a decade ago) is not some great statement about homosexuality—the song’s narrator is appropriating a gay identity to get the attention of her boyfriend and, in turn, the audience. “Ur So Gay” comes off as pretty homophobic, which I guess isn’t surprising for a woman who started out as a Christian singer (under her real name of Katy Hudson). I wonder if hearing “I Kissed a Girl” all the time drove people to vote for Prop 8 in California.

From the category of “reunions no one really wanted,” both Stone Temple Pilots and New Kids on the Block hit the road this summer. The STP reunion was great for my day job, as I was able to spend months milking the “Scott Weiland did something crazy that looked drug-related on stage” and the “latest Velvet Revolver singer rumor is ____” stories for months. I secretly hope that the NKOTB reunion fizzles out, leaving Jordan Knight in perfect position to fulfill his dream of singing while Slash plays lead guitar.

Besides all the bad music (and bad financial dealings), 2008 also featured the untimely passing of E Street Band keyboardist Danny Federici. He might not have been the most prominent foil for Bruce Springsteen, but his organ solos and glockenspiel parts were key ingredients to the Jersey Shore sound that entertained and enthralled folks worldwide for over 30 years. Springsteen and E Street Band have a new album coming out in late January, and I’m sure that Bruce will include some sort of fitting tribute to his fallen comrade.

So what was actually good this year? (And that you shouldn’t have to pound shots all night to erase it all from your brain.) Well, four cities that have deep musical histories saved 2008 from being a total loss. From Athens, Georgia came a revitalized R.E.M., who realized they could make an album without laboring over it for two years. From Minneapolis, Minnesota Paul Westerberg recovered from a hand injury to release more than two entire albums worth of new material online—for the sum total of fewer than six bucks. The great Northwestern town of Seattle saw another one of its bands (Death Cab For Cutie) top the album charts with a disc that just as dark as it was tuneful. And Austin, Texas (the place I’d love to retire to, but only if I hit the lottery and can afford to retire) saw its own Okkervil River release another great album for the second year in a row. Four good artists are not enough to make up for a palpable lack of quality, but it is enough to keep my musical hopes alive for at least one more year before I finally settle into listening to playlists of songs from 1987 to 1991 for the rest of my life.

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