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Since they put another person in my office at work I haven't been listening to as much music lately. My crummy little headphones don't do CD's justice. But this summer's social schedule has been busy and my at home computer time has been devoted to moving Degenerate Press to a new web host, so CD reviews have been on the back burner for a while. But I had a massive stack summoning my guilty conscious so I finally tossed them in my bag and took them to the office for a spin, despite the tinny headphones.
First up, a CD I've been looking forward to, Collisions, from Tiger! Tiger! Buffy is one of my favorite local musicians, and not (only) because she's hot as hell. She's got an interesting voice and she's in some of my favorite acts. She takes the lead in Tiger! Tiger!, adding jangly, sometimes fuzzy guitar to her quirky, sultry voice. An organ makes up another large chunk of the wall of sound, one that sounds like something from a circus. But it's not just the organ that gives it a circus sound - there's something about this that's fun, yet dark, like listening to the music coming from the big top while walking through the scary sideshow. It's still firmly rooted in basic rock and roll but there's enough new sound here to catch your attention and Buffy's vocals and lyrics hold it.
Tiger! Tiger! plays their CD release show at The Earl July 22, Friday, with The Clutters, and My Siamese Self.
Speaking of, we also got a CD from Nashville's The Clutters
called T&C. The album kicks off with crunchy guitar backed up with organ,
followed by some nasal, sneering vocals much like The Subsonics (or Jello Biafra
from Dead Kennedy's.) It has sort of a 60's garage go-go sound, sort of like
Atlanta's Woggles. Lots of energy in a simple, straight up retro rock package.
Once upon a time there was an Atlanta band called Dragline that sounded a LOT
like this, and they rocked. So I'm looking forward to their appearance with
Tiger! Tiger! this Friday.
A while back I got a CD, Live in NC, Darrell Scott, Danny Thompson & Kenny Malone, that I didn't want to listen to based on the cover and press kit. Then it got lost in the To Do pile. Then I got sent a helpful reminder to give it a listen. Then I put it off some more. I dreaded this CD because I feared it was rootsy groove rock. The track listing indicated a couple of songs last 10 minutes or more. The band on the cover looked like Bob Seger leading a couple of old jazz musicians.
All omens were ill.
Holy crap, I hate hippie jammy jam groove rock. Not a fan of the vast majority of acoustic singer songwriter stuff either. Let that be my official notice to all you labels and bands out there looking to get your stuff reviewed! Send it on to No Depression or some other pachouli-scented alt-country rag.
You can't always judge a book by its cover, or it's accompanying press kit. But sometimes you can. In fact, you can so often that someone came up with that exception to the rule. But itís still a general rule. This CD is sort of low-key rootsy stuff with a vaguely blues, bluegrass or country foundation. The singing is heartfelt and emotive. It reminds me a bit of Amy Ray or Indigo Girls, with a bit of Melissa Ethridge and Alman Brothers. The guitar playing is impressive, yet it still bored the crap out of me. Honestly I couldn't listen to the whole CD. I got halfway through and started skipping tracks to see if the live show picked up toward the end. It did, with a cover of Folsom Prison Blues meshed with White Freightliner Blues, only to crush the energy out of me with I Still Miss Someone.
Seriously, this is well played and a good recording of a live show. It's just not a show I could've sat through. If you're into this sort of thing you'll probably like this CD.
We skipped this weekís winning drive invasion vote of Wedding Crashers en mass to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I wasnít thrilled to hear Tim Burton was getting his paws on this one. The original film couldnít be improved upon, in my opinion. But other degenerates were all anxious to see it so I went along, hoping for the best. Donít read this review if you plan on seeing the film. There are some spoilers.
After some debate with drunken SW afterward, we came to the conclusion that thereís a primary difference between Willy Wonka and the Charlie Factory, the 1971 film, and Burtonís 2005 version, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the 1971 version the kids are the focus of the film. You get to know them, and loathe them, through the amount of time theyíre given on screen, and some of the songs they sing. Their faults arenít just explained, theyíre illustrated. As they come to their own individual ends, you feel theyíre deserved. When Charlie is about to leave the factory in disgrace, he learns he has faults like the rest, yet overcomes them and returns the Everlasting Gobstopper to Wonka, rather than turn it over to the competition. Charlie has learned an important lesson.
Rumor has it for the 2005 version Burton went back to the source for inspiration and a story that more closely matches the original book. I havenít read it, but I canít say it makes a better story. In the new version itís not the kids who learn a lesson, itís Wonka. He reunites with his estranged father and learns the value of family. But frankly itís hard to care. The character doesnít have the charm of Burton/Deppís Edward Scissorhands. As the critics have noted, heís closer to Michael Jackson. Itís tough to feel sorry for someone who basically has it all yet chooses to fuck with children as a hobby (read that any way you like.)
Another thing I donít like about the new version Ė you find out the kids are all ok in the end. Sure, oneís purple, oneís stretched, oneís covered in garbage and another in chocolate, but you know theyíre ok. In the 1971 version you never knew. Maybe the incinerator was on that day. Maybe the taffy stretcher pulled little Mikey to bits.
Best of all, Gene Wilderís Wonka doesnít seem to care. Heís playing Old Testament God, setting up the temptation and allowing sinners to damn themselves. And the mania with which he goes about it is infectious. We wish we could set the little buggers up to fail, perhaps fatally.
But Deppís Wonka is more like Satan. He has apparently set all these traps in advance with specific children, and even a parent or two, in mind. You donít wonder why heís doing it, unlike Wilderís more mysterious version. In fact, youíre given Deppís Wonkaís backstory in a series of flashbacks, illustrating why he has issues with family and children. Heís no mystery, heís just sad and creepy.
But even still itís a fun tale, thanks to some cute and punny lines delivered in Wacko Jacko style by a guy who knows how to act a bit odd. His performance is something between Edward Scissorhands and his version of Hunter S. Thompson. The Oompa Loompa(s) are given the role of the chorus, again singing about the demise of the children as they go, but the rest of the film lacks the musical numbers that were the originalís only weakness.
The visuals are lush and lovely, but somehow donít surpass the original. Itís pretty, but if youíve seen the 1971 version or read any Dr. Seuss books itís familiar rather than new or novel.
If you havenít seen Gene Wilder do Wonka, donít ruin it by seeing Depp try it first. Go rent the original and stay in tonight.
In other film and music news, we got this from degenerate BH:
Excellent review of the War of the Worlds. I completely agree with everything you wrote. If anything, I think maybe Spielberg, (or the screenwriter) was making a commentary on how conditioned we've become -- thanks to Bush and CNN -- where bad shit = terrorism.
I just saw it again last night. Love the thing.
Now go pimp my new record - release party is August 27 at Darwin's but I'm trying to break out of the blooz circuit and giddyup into mainstream. The whole album is streaming at www.beaurocks.com - and honest - the record rocks like the Stones and Prince and Sly all rolled into one. (well, unless you don't like those guys, and if you don't, you must be a terrorist).
Thanks. Love your newsletter.
Every year I plan a camping trip with the core group of degenerates. We spend a weekend at an almost entirely private spot in North Georgia where I grew up, lounging in the river, drinking, roasting weenies, telling tall tales, etc. This year I worried we wouldn't be able to get to our usual spot at the end of a rarely maintained forestry service road thanks to lingering storms that have dumped inches of water up there every fuckin' day for the last couple of weeks.
So we opted to rent a four wheel drive vehicle and run a shuttle down there from my mother's house near by. I poked around the web with poor results, finally finding the best deal through AAA and Hertz. I reserved a "Toyota 4Runner or equivalent" for about $158 for three days. When I arrived at the counter I added the damage waiver insurance, knowing the condition of the road might result in scratches or worse, then hopped on the shuttle to the parking lot. From the bus I scanned the lot looking at the selection of vehicles - everything from microscopic economy cars to titanic Hummers. Then I spotted my vehicle - the 2005 Mercury Mountaineer.
"Holy crap," I said, accidentally aloud, then though to myself, "I'm going to feel like a complete tool, like all those bastards on the road I hate."
I climbed aboard the thing, an experience akin to climbing aboard a piece of heavy machinery. It has side running boards, otherwise you'd have to pole vault into the seat.
Inside I was momentarily impressed by the amount of room. A foot-wide console between the ample driver and passenger seats illustrates just how wide the damn thing is. There are two rows of back seats, which can transform to provide a fair amount of cargo space, but the thing is so huge I expected more. I think they went overboard on the luxury accoutrements, sacrificing some of the utility in the sports utility vehicle. There are separate A/C vents and controls for each row of seats and enough cup holders and storage bins to host a buffet inside.
Speaking of seats, I wasn't impressed with the comfort of the front seats. They seem to curve away a bit too far at the shoulder and headrest and don't cradle you like a bucket seat should.
I glanced through the owner's manual to make sure I knew how to operate the four wheel drive. The Mercury Mountaineer has full-time, fully-automatic all wheel drive, giving you no manual control over anything. Not what I'd prefer, but I wasn't able to find a nice regular jeep through any rental agency's web site. (It turns out Budget has regular jeeps, though I couldn't locate them through their web site.)
So I started the beast up and pulled out of the lot. As soon as I hit the highway I felt like Marge Simpson in the Canyonero episode, a personal favorite of mine.
"Twleve yards long, two lanes wide,
Sixty five tons of American pride,
The thing is tremendously overpowered on the highway. Touch the gas and you leap down the road. I immediately felt like Marge when she gets that giddy feeling of power driving the Canyonero. I had to remind myself I wasn't in a vehicle that handled like those I normally drive. Instead, it's a top-heavy luxury yacht that'll probably roll over like an attention-starved puppy the moment I have to make any sudden moves (you're warned against any sudden change of direction or speed via disclaimers all over the sun visor. So I guess when someone pulls out in front of you you're SUPPOSED to ram them?)
Because the transmission is all automatic, those controls are simple compared to other 4x4's I've driven. To make up for the simple transmission, they've overcomplicated the wipers, headlights, mirror controls, A/C controls, etc. They've tried to make up for that by putting buttons for cruise control, A/C, and stereo all on the steering wheel itself - a good idea, but they've gone too far. I imagine if you drive the beast enough you memorize these 6 or 8 buttons, but otherwise you'd have to look at them to use them which is no better than having to look at the dash-mounted controls to operate them.
The manual states that you might notice the transmission clicking as it goes from all wheel drive to two wheel overdrive or vice versa. The first couple of times it did this I thought it was popping out of gear. The gear lever itself jumps, making passengers think you don't know how to drive the thing.
So I packed our equipment to the roof and picked up the first batch of degenerates and headed for the hills. Off the pavement, I like the Mountaineer even less. When you hit a patch of mud it stalls for a moment before giving you power in all four wheels, a moment that could be extremely dangerous. I managed to power through some mud holes using savage off road driving skills, but this is no vehicle for off-roading. Ironic, as it is named "Mountaineer." I'm sure the standard road tires on my rental version didn't help, but I still felt like I could've done a better job with a manual transmission than the high tech fully automated thing that's in the vehicle.
I had been down the same road a couple of times two weeks before, when it wasn't QUITE as muddy and rutted, in a two wheel drive, rear wheel drive pickup. I'd had a few nervous moments then, but I had just as many nervous moments in the Mountaineer, a vehicle that's supposedly built to handle such challenges and probably four times the cost of SW's little Nissan truck.
I'm not much of an off-roader. I don't get a thrill at conquering difficult terrain. I'd rather be lounging in the river with a beer than driving through it in a 4x4. But if I wanted to get to a new spot on the river, one that was difficult to get to, I'd find another vehicle to do it in. The Mountaineer is no, well, mountaineer.
On the other hand, if I wanted to cruise down the highway in luxury, I'd find another vehicle to do it in - one with better mileage, better handling, and a more comfortable interior (and at half the price.)
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