Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Don't Let Other People Ruin It For You

There are many random music downloads and purchases I have committed myself to over the years. Many years ago I used to do it when I wanted to hear something new so I would search something vague like “classic rock,” and search until I found something I did not recognize. Now of days I am more systematic about my approach. Now of days I publish an amateur music critic blog. Now of days it is a job.

In an effort to be open minded, and current, I often browse other music critics’ sites and see what they have posted as the best songs of the year. It is always an interesting experience. Some sites post the top 40, as they appeared over the course of the year, so an abundance of pop songs are present there. Some sites are very hip-hop and dance oriented, and despite my best efforts I still struggle to appreciate hip-hop. Many sites are published by people like me who are trying to find hidden gems and share them with the world and most critics like that love the underground. Any song you have not heard of is awesome, this is their mantra.

This is good and bad.

It is good because it exposes me to a lot of music I would not have heard otherwise, and while it sometimes surprises me just how much mediocre (and ultimately boring) indie rock music is out there, I always find a few songs I really enjoy, and this opens the doors for finding more music in the future. This is now I discovered bands like Frightened Rabbit and Cloud Cult. Just the other day I heard the song “Shell Games,” and I was rather impressed, so when I looked up the artist and found it was Bright Eyes, I stopped for a second, and thought “wait isn’t he THE emo pussy,” not A emo pussy, THE emo pussy. Well... he won me over for this song.

It is also bad, not so much for me, but for the person publishing these kinds of articles. Perhaps it is not my place to judge, but it is very much in my nature to psychoanalyze everyone and everything, and when I see someone’s list of songs they love and it is all indie rock songs, I think to myself “this guy would also love bands like; Bloq Party, Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, and Mumford and Son.” Alas you will rarely or never see bands like those on their lists and for one reason only those bands are all commercially successful.

There is a saying I have when talking about music, “don’t let other people ruin it for you.”

I love the Arcade Fire, I would probably go to war for them if it came to that, but when I start to ramble about them to some of my friends, they like to point out that, “they have a lot of fans who are hipster douche bags.” My friends are of course correct; Arcade Fire does have a lot of pretentious fans, but their reasons, good or bad, for liking Arcade Fire does not change the reasons I love them. Artsy pretentious douche bags are not going to ruin Arcade Fire for me.

I see this long standing trend for what it really is.

The conformist to the top 40 will always use the argument to defend the music they listen too by saying, “look at all the money they are making,” which is another way of saying, “they must be good, they are popular.” Flawed logic if there ever was any, the power of persuasion in the music industry has been refined to capture the maximum number of minds possible, or to quote my beloved Uriah Heep, “There is no strength in numbers, have no such misconceptions.”

However the anti-conformist-conformist of the top 40, whether they be punks, indie, or metal fans, often use the opposite argument “these guys are doing their own thing, they’re special.” This of course is just another way of saying, “no one knows about these guys so they are special to me.” This is a fair sentiment. I feel like I am partially responsible for the success of Avantasia in Canada (limited though it is) since I was the first person to parade for them in Calgary, and I am fairly certain I am the very first person to make such a big deal about them in this city, and because of this, it feels like Avanatasia is my band. But just because a band is unknown that does not mean they are good, sometimes bands remain in perpetual obscurity because they are not very good or interesting; in fact that is exactly the case most of the time. Having said that, there are lots of songs out there worth searching for, that’s what the anti-conformist-conformist are looking for. That’s why I started the music in review.

You may hate the top 40, but if a song stands out to you, and it crawls its way onto the charts are you going to disown it because of your hatred of the corrupt music industry?

You may hate hipsters and their ilk, but if you happen to agree with them on a certain band are you going to disown them just so you can continue to distance yourself from that social demographic?

If you disown music for any reason influenced by others you are being shallow and worse than that you are being dishonest to your own feelings. When a musician writes a song they hope to reach other people, make a connection with them, be it in the form of shared feelings or experiences, or simply to share the beauty or sorrow of sweet sweeping sounds that we call music. Are you willing to deny your heart the embrace of such a thing for something as useless as petty prejudice?

I don’t scour the top 40 as much as I used to, and that is only because I do not watch as much TV as I used to, and honestly I would watch MuchMusic a lot more if they played the countdown more often. Even when I hated nearly every song on the top 40 I would enjoy watching it, for no other reason than curiosity. I was curious what other people heard in these songs to make them love it so. I know often times it is the corporate machine playing tricks on people, but other times these songs must have struck emotions I have either for longed or forgotten, and this last point, this is where the real curiosity comes from, what are you feeling that I am missing? What emotions, what connections, do people form with these songs? Perhaps there is beauty here my ears are missing.

The same holds true for my browsing of other music critics, I want to hear what they say, and understand what they feel. But the primary motivation of some music critics is sometimes obscured, these critics want to be the first to discover a band, and be able to parade their findings to the world, and sometimes I know they are looking too hard. They accept things not because they are good but only because they not popular. It is a tricky tightrope to walk being an anti-conformist-conformist, hypocrisy waits around every corner. You hate the conformed but you yourself have conformed to the opposite, and now tragically you are no better. These are the people who assume everyone is going to agree with them for every song, because they see themselves are purveyors of true music, not remembering that there will always been a level of subjective feelings in anything we call art.

So what is the solution? The ripe old cliché “be yourself.”

Don’t care what the top 40 says, or what the hipsters say, find music you like and don’t let anyone ruin it for you. This is the biggest reason I won’t review music I do not like, I do not want to rain on anyone else’s parade, I only want to share with you the reasons I love, not the reasons I hate. If I tell you why I hate something you love, you may begin to hate the things I love in an involuntary human emotional reaction, and then we lose common ground, and we may begin to lose each other.

No one loves the Music in Review in its entirety, of course you don’t; you are not me. You do not feel everything I feel. You will never hear, or see, or feel, all the things I do, and I only hope you are open minded enough to at least see my perspective, and sometimes let yourself enjoy a song I recommend, and take the chance to hear, and feel the same things I do.

I hope for nothing more than that.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

Monday, August 22, 2011

David Bowie - Candidate (Demo Version)

After touring as Ziggy Stardust for a few years David Bowie took a good look in the mirror, red face with a yellow circle in the center of his forward and all, and thought “is this it? Am I going to be Ziggy Stardust for the rest of my life?”

Ziggy Stardust was a fun character to play, I am sure, but someone with Bowie’s creativity must have dreaded the idea of being confined to a single persona forever. Frankly as interesting as the character Ziggy Stardust is, the man David Bowie is far more interesting. So he broke up the band, much to the sadness of many fans at the time, but if they knew what a long and legendary career Bowie had in store they would have approved without question or concern. In the story arc of Ziggy Stardust, Ziggy broke up the band, so it only seemed fitting for Bowie to do the same.

Where do you go from Ziggy Stardust? Bowie had sang songs about dreams, aliens, rock stardom, bisexuality, cross dressing, death, the end of the earth, people forgetting how to make love, and immortality, Bowie had covered a lot of ground, so his follow up album “Diamond Dogs,” could not possible be as wild as his previous works right? I mean he must run out of outrageous ideas right? Wrong, so wrong.

David Bowie’s 1974 Album “Diamond Dogs,” has a very interesting back story, but first the basic story.

The basic story told to us in Diamond Dogs, is a crazy post-apocalyptic world (reoccurring theme) where dogs rule the world, and humans are being hunted for sport. Fortunately we got Halloween Jack to lead us to freedom and Rock N’ Roll. Now as insane as it sounds the story in Diamond Dogs is... arguably less wild than the story told to us in the Ziggy Stardust saga, however the creative process behind Diamond Dogs has to be one of the craziest I’ve ever heard.

Originally Bowie had the idea of doing a musical about George Orwell’s “1984.” For those of you who do not know Orwell passed away in 1950, but he was survived by his second wife Sonia Brownell. Sonia inherited the rights to all of Orwell’s works, and in 1954 she allowed the BBC to produce a movie of “1984,” and to put it simply it was ghastly. Sonia was very unhappy with the way the BBC had handled her late husband’s work, so when the bisexual, cross dressing, alien rock star told her he wanted to do a zany musical based on the same story her reaction was predictable, she brought her lawyers and a mindset ready for war to stop him.

Bowie had already written a collection of songs for the album that clearly revolved around the book “1984,” songs like, “1984,” “Dodo,” and “Candidate,” when Sonia emerged to stop him dead in his tracks, no pun intended. What was Bowie to do with all this hard work for the “1984”musical? Dogs ruling the world, of course!

Bowie himself has been quoted about how he had to take his ideas and take them into a radically different direction, but how it was also a very rewarding challenge, he looks back on the album with a lot of happiness in the way things worked out, as do I, I really love the album “Diamond Dogs,” it is one of my favourites of his.

Like previous Bowie albums the whole work is full of fantastic songs, but for this Music in Review, I want to focus on the demo version of “Candidate.” The studio version of “Candidate” is really part of a three song piece, where each song flows into the next as if they are meant to be one song, so the studio version of “Candidate” is really “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing reprised,” so the demo version standing alone as a song is the first indication to all of you just how different it is.

To put it bluntly they are nothing alike, and it all stems back to Sonia Brownell not letting Bowie make a musical about 1984. The original song “Candidate,” is big brother/David Bowie selling himself as a great leader. It is a light song instrumentally, the piano takes the melody lead, while the subdued electric guitar fills the roll of harmony; the song has a soft touch but a memorable one. The lyrics really strike me because Bowie says a lot about himself; even though I very much get the impression he is trying to sing a song about big brother the future tyrant as a candidate trying to convince people to give him the power he possesses in 1984. However every lyric is more like David Bowie singer about himself as a political “Candidate.”

“I make it a thing, when I gazelle on stage, to believe in myself.” Appropriate for a flamboyant rock star to say.

“I’ll make you a deal, I’ll say I came from earth and my tongue is taped.” Ziggy Stardust, enough said.

“You don’t have to paint my contact black, now I’ve hustled in a pair of jeans.” David Bowie has bicoloured eyes; one of them is blue the other black. His black eye is a result of Bowie being stabbed in the eye with a compass by another child at school when he was very young, not everybody knows that. This last lyric to me really says something about Bowie. Despite the ridiculous personas he often played, or some of the outlandish themes for his music, behind all of it there was a very sincere man. Bowie did not so much play Ziggy Stardust, or Aladdin Sane, or Halloween Jack, he was all those people. Bowie was a very genuine person, he was an entertainer through and through, all those things he pretended to be, in some ways he really was those things, and his eyes, no trick there, those are his real eyes.

“Candidate (Demo Version)” never made it to album, and I can only suspect as to why a song so good would have been reduced to a bonus track. It may have something to do with the fact the song was written about Bowie assuming the role of big brother and after Ms. Brownell’s wrath Bowie could not included it, yet songs more obvious like “1984” made the final cut. I suspect Bowie felt it no longer fit the crazy new theme of dogs ruling the world, which is unfortunate, but I suppose makes sense.

The important thing is this gem of a song has not been lost to us.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

David Bowie - Time

“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars,” was the album that turned David Bowie into a hugely popular international rock star. In 1972 the world was ready for a concept album about a bisexual alien who came down to earth to rock out and die. Ziggy Stardust will always be remembered among most music critics as Bowie’s best album, but his second best, at least in my opinion, was one that came right after.

Aladdin Sane came out in 1973 after Bowie had toured the world as Ziggy Stardust. The United States in particular had made quite an impression on Mr. Bowie since every song on the follow up album seemed to focus on cities he had visited during his U.S. tour, the most obvious one being “Panic in Detroit.” Aladdin Sane was very similar to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust insofar that Bowie continued to play his character of Ziggy Stardust in concerts. Furthermore the characters of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane were for the most part interchangeable personas, with the only outstanding key difference being that Ziggy Stardust was a rock star and it is suggested that Aladdin Sane is an actor. Either way both bisexual aliens are artistic performers and carrying on and develop much in the same manner. The important difference between the two albums is the changes in Mr. Bowie himself.

Ziggy Stardust was a raw album, full of emotion and very powerful as a result; that emotion was somewhat calmed in Aladdin Sane, however despite losing some sense of drama, Bowie had refined his song writer ability, the tracks on Aladdin Sane are more methodical, with their final cuts being crisper sounding than that of Ziggy Stardust’s songs. However this first difference is something of a subtle one since the two albums simply belong together, a concept album could easily be made by combining different collections of tracks from the two albums, and furthermore a very similar, if not identical concept would prevail every time given the very similar subject matter.

The true difference between the two albums is not seen by making a comparison of quality between the two albums it is seen within Bowie’s own reflection. David Bowie saw the world differently after the success of Ziggy Stardust in 1972. In 1972 when Bowie was writing songs for Ziggy Stardust he was mediocre popular British musician who had just become successful enough to stop being compared to one hit wonder Zager and Evans. He was on the outside looking in; the character he had created in Ziggy reflected that. Bowie felt like an alien trying to fit into the music industry, trying to fit into the world’s culture, dreaming about being a huge rock star. By 1973, while writing Aladdin Sane David Bowie had become that huge rock star, he was no longer on the outside, Ziggy Stardust was a household name, Mr. Bowie was now a rock star who knew what the world had to offer him. For better or worse there is a certain increase in level of maturity in Aladdin Sane.

The basic story about Aladdin Sane is that some very successful actor survives the apocalypse and as he wanders the sad remains of the world he first ponders selfishly “who will love Aladdin Sane?” And we follow his quest of trying to find some meaning left in the ruined world, only to watch what there is left slowly decay and die, yet he, this strange creature lingers on into immortality, and something too about becoming gender neutral but that never struck me as epic, or as important, or as interesting, as the quest towards immortality. The song that stands out to me the most on Aladdin Sane is “Time;” a song wrapped with subtle double and sometimes triple meanings.

The key lyric in “Time,” is “we should be on by now,” imply, we should be dead by now. However another reoccurring line is “take your time,” that simple line holds so many different meanings. “Take your time,” implying it’s your time to die, but also, don’t rush, take your time embracing death, but also “take your time,” was an expression at the time when passing the needle of heroin when it was someone else turn you would tell them to “take their time,” so the line is also a drug reference, and an appropriate one too since another line in the song goes “Time – Quaaludes and red wine, Demanding Billy Dolls, and other friends of mine.” Billy Dolls was a drummer and friend of David Bowie’s who overdosed on heroin, tying this theme of death back to a personal example for Mr. Bowie. I cannot think of many songs that carrying so much depth and hidden meaning within their lyrics than “Time.” In fact “Time” is the song I use as a status quo for deep lyrical content when talking to people, I bring it up all the time, and now, as is appropriate I have talked about it in The Music in Review.

Until later this month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly