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January 2011 – Stephen Skory

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Month: January 2011

Blondie – Autoamerican

Blondie – Autoamerican

The album Autoamerican by Blondie contains some good examples of popular musical styles in the beginning of the 1980's. It has disco ("Live it Up", "Do the Dark"), a rap song (!; "Rapture") that includes the often used line "hip, hop, and you don't stop", songs that sound like the B-52s ("Walk Like Me"), and a genuinely popular reggae/ska hit in "The Tide is High". It is not a boring album in the sense that there are some interesting musical choices in a (nearly) instrumental opening in "Europa" and a incongruous 30-second intro into "Angels on the Balcony".

An aside about the cover: I don't care to figure out which band member it was, but one of them was relegated to being depicted on the album cover as white pants, a black shirt, dark hair, and no facial characteristics. Sure, Blondie deserved to be up front, but if I were that last guy, I'd feel a bit insulted at being completely anonymized.

Because it isn't boring, and has the several of the contemporary musical styles represented, and the songs are generally entertaining, I think this album is a good one. So I will recommend to my readers that they check it out!

My next album review will be in two weeks because next week's top-10 chart has no albums that I have not already reviewed.

Last Week: Steely Dan - Gaucho

In Two Weeks: REO Speedwagon - Hi Infidelity
Steely Dan – Gaucho

Steely Dan – Gaucho

I am of two minds about Gaucho by Steely Dan. In one mind, I think the melodies are entertaining and high quality, combining Jazz, Funk, Rock and R&B. The instruments, drums, and lyrics are very tight, a result of the perfection demanded by the band. This forced the production of the album to take two years. In the other mind, I dislike the manner of the vocals. The vocalists, including a previous nemesis Michael McDonald in a backup role, do things that annoy me. Imagine Yogi Bear trying to sing, and that is what I hear in my head when I listen to this album. Unnecessary pitch bending and weird transitions from a nasal- to diaphragm-driven voice.

I am a few months into this project, and I am observing that nearly all of the music I've liked I had heard previously. I think that this is natural for a few reasons. First, I seek out music I like over music I dislike, meaning that the albums I've listened to that I disliked never entered my mind because they are in a genre I generally dislike. Of course, I couldn't have truly known I disliked them until I listened to them, but there is some personal selective effects going on. Second, and this is definitely inflating the value of my own opinions (so throw some salt over your shoulder), but it seems that music I dislike has proven itself over time to be less popular and inferior to music I do like. When was the last time you heard a Yoko Ono song on the radio? Or a Barbra Streisand song from Guilty? However, Bruce Springsteen is still making records and selling out arenas, and AC/DC is still selling records and getting airtime.

If you can get over the vocal style of this album, or indeed if you even like it, I would recommend this album for its melodies. However, that is a very qualified recommendation. Listen at your own risk.

Last Week: Neil Diamond - The Jazz Singer

Next Week: Blondie - Autoamerican
Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer

Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer

The album The Jazz Singer by Neil Diamond is the soundtrack to the 1980 film remake of the 1927 film adaption of the 1925 broadway musical. The 1980 film has a very low rating as judged by the critics, so I'm not going to bother seeing the movie myself. Diamond's performance was so poor that this movie is Neil Diamond's only acting credit on IMDB.

There is an interesting parallel with this film+soundtrack and the 1992 flim+soundtrack The Bodyguard. The Bodyguard, like The Jazz singer, starred a successful singer (Whitney Houston) making her acting debut. The Bodyguard gets somewhat higher reviews than The Jazz Singer, but they are still far from positive. Like The Jazz Singer, the soundtrack for The Bodyguard did well - so well that it is the best-selling soundtrack ever. It appears that for a class of musicians (notably not rappers, of which many have made a successful transition), acting is not amongst their artistic skills. Neil Diamond and Whitney Houston made best-selling albums for their movies, but apparently they ran out of creative 'juice' and fell flat as actors.

Despite its economic record, I find this album bland enough that it is difficult to form any kind of opinion about it. Which is probably not a good thing, unless you're in the mood for music that blends easily into the background. So, my recommendation is to skip listening to this album. Here's a look twelve years into the future: you can skip The Bodyguard soundtrack, too.

Last Week: John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy

Next Week: Steely Dan - Gaucho