Featured Music: Wednesday, October 8, 2003
Killer or Filler?

A little bit of industry talk, a little bit of astringent b.s. — it’s your scene, kinfolk.


Before I — per my m.o. — begin grousing about local discs, I’d like to put on my serious hat and take a moment to address Universal Music Group’s drastic slashing of c.d. prices.

Universal, simply the largest record label in the world, wants to sell its c.d.’s cheaper. So instead of having to pay $34.94 for a god-damn piece of plastic and some neat pictures, you might now only have to fork over, like, $9. Great, huh?

Now, walk with me, talk with me: Everything you’ve read about this Universal stuff so far is convoluted, biased, stupid, grammatically incorrect, sophomoric, jejune, misanthropic, greedy, and covered in snot. Listen to me (I will show you the light). Universal (big label) thinks that if its c.d.’s don’t cost as much, music lovers will flock to record stores to scarf up the bargains. The compound keyword here is “high volume”: the cheaper the c.d.’s, the more that will likely be sold. So Universal tells both the fine folks at big retailers like Wal-Mart and little guys like Joe’s C.D.’s, “Sell your c.d.’s for less ... if you want.” Now this “if you want” is important. What this means is that if you’re Joe, of Joe’s small-time record shop, you’d have to be a person whose fondest memory of elementary school was taking home a report card full of D’s instead of F’s to “want” to sell your Universal c.d.’s at lower prices — ’cause Wally Mart, your competition, is already selling those same damn Shania Twain discs at way below whatever’s on your price tags. Essentially, no matter how low you go, you can’t go low enough. And there are other strings attached, too. Universal is also telling the fine folks at Joe’s C.D.’s, “OK. If you choose to sell your Universal c.d.’s at lower prices, you must stock a shitload of your shelves with only Universal product.” Universal’s hope is that small retailers are so desperate for business that they’ll willingly turn their stores into one-stop-Universal-artists shopping depots. Anything for that high-volume turnover, you know? The keyword here is — say it with me now — “predatory.”

This entire situation is Universal’s way of trying to undercut internet file swappers. Universal heads figure that if they essentially give away c.d.’s, people with a proclivity for downloading music will suddenly stop tinkering with their computers and begin buying music legally again. (Are you laughing yet? ’Cause my ass is cracking up.)

So here’re a couple of Universal-affiliated artists that you might be able to cash in on — if you take advantage of the scam, uh, I mean deal, and, if you do, you’re likely gonna end up at some frickin’ megastore. ’Cause, see, Wally Mart and its cousins, Best Buy and Target, are — thanks to their unlimited display acreage — the only places that’ll be able to meet Universal’s demands for more shelf space. (Again, any moronic small retail maven that tried to play Universal’s game would essentially have to get rid of, like, a lot of shelf space and c.d.’s from other record labels just to make room for all those Universal artists’ discs.) Universal has historically given us some good music: Dr. Dre (worth a damn, at least during his Chronic days), James Brown (almost as good a dancer as John Mellencamp), No Doubt (the hits are hits and the misses are way off, but still ...), Nelly (he may not be No. 1, but he’s pretty damn close), the Who (I’ll reluctantly admit), U2 (onward Christian soldiers), the Motown catalog, and a bunch of other good stuff.

But they’re not worth an entire small record store. Nor are Universal’s ersatz “gems”: Mary J. Blige (overrated, pompous), Blink-182 (evil, retarded), Enrique Iglesias (needs to be bludgeoned with a car battery then dragged to a deserted farm road and left to sleep the dreamless sleep of an anesthetized farm animal), Diana Krall (great gams and ... what else?), Shania Twain (the hottest woman in music — ever — but as talented as a hamster on OxyContin), Elton John (can you feel the hate tonight?), and Eminem (needs to be stabbed ... in the temple ... then thrown off a very tall building into rush-hour traffic).

My two (rhetorical) cents: Who gives a flying freak what happens to these talentless hacks? I mean, really. What’s the last half-decent thing Mary J. Blige did since that “percolating” song? And Enrique: He has the audacity to moan like a wounded mutt into a hot mic — and in front of people!!! And Shania: Just take your top off for Playboy already so we loyal pervs/readers won’t soon be faced with the indignity of having to slobber over yet another MILF has-been. And don’t forget Universal’s back catalog: Rod Stewart (the personification of a bad hair day), Hank “Where Are the No-Doz?” Williams, Bob Marley (great but gives me bad luck, so I hate him), Jimi Hendrix (dude, just tune into one of the 12 classic rock radio stations in the Metromess; you’ll get more than your fill of Jimi), and Nirvana (Nevermind: their one and only album that mattered ... already in my c.d. collection, thank you very much). The moral of the story: Mr. Small Record Store Owner should tell Universal to kiss the hell off. He needs to let Wally Mart and Best Buy play the label’s game; just give us the good shit we won’t be able to find anywhere else. And we’ll keep you afloat ... until you leave your cave, go to Circuit City, buy a clue, and then realize that the internet is — in the words of the immortal Beck — “where it’s at.”

Ah, the internet. The final frontier. That place where everybody’s “somebody.” Utopia ...

Wrong. Just think: If it ever got to the point in which record labels became obsolete and internet distribution became the norm, how in the hell would we record buyers be able to tell the shitty bands from the good ones? That’d be like going to the record store and buying c.d.’s based on their covers. There would be no quality control. Nothing but band name after band name after band name. Which is where major labels come in. Generally speaking, the quintessential record label — especially the big one — is the equivalent of a buffer. Now, I’m all for democracy — except when it comes to making art. This isn’t Little League, people; not everyone should get to play. Just the best. And the people who decide who’s the best are the big record labels. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should allow these greedy assholes to commandeer small record stores. All I’m saying is that big record labels are necessary. They may not have even the slightest inkling of how to compete against file-swapping, but they’re still bringing us quality music. Ev-er-ry day. (BTW: All this bullshit you hear about radio sucking. Tune into Hot-97 some afternoon. Good new music is happening there, constantly and in a big way.)

So where does the small retailer fit into the internet age? All I can give you is the example of a tiny record store based in New York City that’s been doing business for a long time and just keeps getting better — because it offers great music you probably couldn’t get anywhere else and is staffed by unabashed music geeks. Check out www.othermusic.com. Believe you me, it’ll be worth the trip.

One parting shot: You know what’s better than thinking about all this stuff? Reading about it. Pick up any newspaper and try to make sense out of one story involving this topic, and you’ll find yourself swimming in a warm, greasy cesspool filled with frog urine, turtle pellets, and the backwash of Courtney Love’s Jim Beam bottles. And to think that journalists are supposed to help us “see” better. My ass. They’re there to keep themselves from having to go home to their pathetic one-bedroom, ’hood-rat apartments and weep remorsefully into their cold cans of bachelor beans while wondering why the best years of their lives were spent formulating a response to “I love you, but I think I need some space.” Stick with what you read here, kinfolk, and you’ll be aw-right. Dig?

(And another thing: I’m sure most of you know that I actually haven’t paid for a c.d. in, like, 10 years. I get mine direct from the record labels, gratis, because I’m the greatest writer in the world and am extremely handsome, virile, and hirsute. Sometimes my name’s even spelled properly on the envelopes. But I feel your pain.)

Animal Magnetism

Tendril, another band that doesn’t play out as often as it should, attacks its songs with the same vigor that lions typically reserve for bringing down zebra ass. The band’s latest, Anaphase, Baby, punches your ear in the gut with a slightly electro-goth, highly polished, uptempo romp called “Moonbender,” proving that the quartet not only knows its way around a studio but around a shitload of influences, too. “Galaxy High,” “Hell 2.0,” and “The Love is Dying” are pretty apt descriptions of the content therein. (Really inventive vocals on “Galaxy High,” BTW; imagine Scott Weiland, that one dude from Linkin Park, and a pissed-off Jaret from Bowling for Soup singing a round. Badass.) All you really need to know, though, is that this is melodic if not wholly radio-ready metal — not too many changes, superior riffs (with no two sounding alike — really, an accomplishment for a metal band), monster attitude, and originality. Another couple-a pluses: The band knows exactly how to pace an album. The tempos change, the structures of the songs change, the arrangements change. Top-shelf professionalism. Also, the packaging is killer. The cover’s of a hot yet classy-looking young blonde femme in tight white clothes staring at reflections of herself as a brunette in tight ... black ... yeah, alright, I guess you gotta see it. Anyway, you’re welcome to punish me by making me listen to Enrique Iglesias “sing” for not jumping all over this disc sooner (it came out this summer). Thank you, sir, may I have another? Grade: A-

Geez a ma-neeze

Ain’t nothing worse than a mediocre Dallas band that tries to ingratiate itself with me by working with a label (or working from an office) with an 817 exchange. Yeah, I remember Blondie and I remember the New York Dolls, but I don’t remember anything sounding as painfully gratuitous in its aping of glam-punk forms than the Luweeze sound. The musicianship is tight. The production is spot-on. The idea is admirable. It’s just that the songs on the band’s eponymous e.p. don’t — how you say? — swing. They’re pale, slack, uninspired, overcooked attempts at rocking righteously in nuevo wave style. And a note to whoever it is in Luweeze who pens the vocal melodies for the gal lead singer, Davie Jr.: An immediate turn-off is when someone not named Bruce Springsteen tries to imprint a lyric in a chorus on your brain by simply YELLING IT. Don’t be doing that shit. Grade: C

Head of Lead

I would say that lo-fi production is a major reason that some songs on disc sound like crap, but I’ve heard prehistoric recordings of Leadbelly singing “Blue Tail Fly” a capella so I know that if the music’s good, then the production don’t mean a thing. So here’s a disc from this friendly looking guy named Max Attack. Some of the songs don’t sound half-bad on first listen; they’re not egregiously offensive, though their sound quality is about as lo-fi as a microcassette recorder can get. Then, I listened further, and I got to realizing that I shouldn’t be wasting my time. Why? If Max Attack can’t quite endear me to his po’ production shtick, then I essentially know all I need to know about his music. Bthhhhhh. Grade: C-

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