My music reviews

Unlike Pax Romana City of Angels and the terms that go along with them, what’s on this page is never intended to be published.  I wouldn’t expect anyone to pay just to hear my subjective opinions on music.

First, I’m going to post the list of my top 10 favorite albums of all time.  Lots of people will disagree with this list.  Although considering music is a ‘soft’ subject rather than say, engineering where the precise measurements can be known, I have to emphasize the primary purpose of this list is for you to understand me and how I view the world.  People that read Pax Romana, City of Angels usually think I’m like Daniel.  That’s partially right at best, and he would probably hate almost every album on this list.  He’d also consider me a “pseudo-intellectual pussy,” which I have to say, fair enough.

*an FYI because some haven’t realized this*

The name of each band and their album I selected in this list are hyperlinked.  Clicking the album takes you to it on Youtube (surprisingly, most of them are available from beginning to end all in one video), and clicking the name of each band takes you to their website (or if they don’t have one, the next best thing such as a fan site where you still can learn more).

1. A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay.

For any album to make this list, every song must be at least decent.  In other words, if there’s even one track that I typically skip while listening, it cannot be considered.  Also, there must be at least a handful of outstanding songs.  The songs that probably made the charts but continue to stay with you long after the fad is over.  A Rush of Blood to the Head easily meets these rigorous standards.

You have the first track, Politik, that when I listened for the first time, I thought had to be a lead single.  A lot of bands make their first song on an album to be the lead single after all, and with Politik being great, why not?  But the more I listened, the better it got.  I kept telling myself “Ok, that’s it. Not everything can be a masterpiece, here come the fillers”.  But the entirety from beginning to end is fantastic.

It’s funny to know the details of how their second album went about because the lead single Clocks nearly didn’t make it.  Chris Martin wrote it at the last second, causing them to delay their release just so the track could make the cut.  But A Rush of Blood to the Head is such a beautifully constructed work even without Clocks, the real question is would it still make this list without it.  And the answer is probably yes, despite how fantastic Clocks is.

Why?  Because every other song is either almost as good as Clocks (excellent) or arguably even better.  Indeed, the self-titled track A Rush of Blood to the Head has lyrics good enough to stand alone as poetry, with music that fits it like a glove.  If this album were released today rather than in 2002 (when Coldplay was nowhere near as established), they could easily get away with around 5 of its songs hitting the hot 100.  Now they can release any generic, manufactured pop melody and people will buy it just because Coldplay made it.  That’s because they remember this Coldplay.  A Rush of Blood to the Head is such an unbelievably good album that it guaranteed a lot of Coldplay fans for life, regardless of how shitty their future productions may be.

 

2. Urban Hymns, The Verve.

A lot of the albums on this list are just exceptionally well-done guilty pleasures.  But Urban Hymns I’m actually proud to like, regardless of with the mean kids at the playground thought.  If you’re American, like me, chances are you’ve never heard of The Verve.  And if you have, their only song you know is Bittersweet Symphony.  Were it not for the sole existence of Urban Hymns (every other album they’ve made is shit) it wouldn’t be a shame you haven’t heard of them.  But it is.

In 2010/2011 (different times for different countries), Richard Ashcroft (frontman of The Verve) released a solo album, United Nations of Sound.  Anyone who’s heard Urban Hymns would know exactly what this was supposed to be:  A pale imitation, forced upon by the record label to replicate the commercial success of Urban Hymns…  Only without the passion and creativity.   Every song sounds like it was made in a 10-minute jam session without any coherent structure.

But if he’s going to (try to) copy Urban Hymns, then Urban Hymns itself must be good.  And oh God, it is.  Several things make Urban Hymns stand out beside the exceptionally great songs.  It’s the uniqueness.

The Verve has an unusual position as a band.  On the one hand, they’re basically a very mainstream version of Vampire Weekend which also uses lots of classical instruments (signed to a major label instead of indie, doesn’t primarily sing about things that makes hipsters happy).  On the other hand, they’re quite unlike at least 90% of top 40 music.

The very name of the album, Urban Hymns perfectly describes it.  Urban is modern city life, with the stress of a job and heavy traffic with flashing signs everywhere from stores trying to strip you of your hard-earned cash.  Hymns are there to soothe you of the pain, something to help you cope with that constant BS you go throughout your day.

The music is soothing and calming, yet utterly captivates the modern world (even the 2015 modern world despite being released in the late 90’s).  It’s that even with all the bullshit going on, there’s good in life too.  Yet they accomplish this uplifting motivation in a non-cheesy or forced way that would sound like it’s coming from your boss wanting you to push 50 hours.  Every song is fantastic.  In fact, it would be pointless for The Verve to release a ‘greatest hits’ record because the worst songs from Urban Hymns are better than the best of anything else they’ve done.

 

3. Hot Fuss, The Killers.

I often wonder why so many bands (probably well over half of them) have their first album as their best.  If I had to guess, it’s because that’s when they tend to be in their early 20’s and broke, with lots of time on their hands to create a masterpiece to get them out of the paycheck-to-paycheck minimum wage living hell.  The Killers are no exception to this kind of story.

If it’s ever appropriate to feel sorry for millionaires who probably have a better life than most us ever will, The Killers could be one of them.  Just about every Killers fan I know says “Hot Fuss is the only one worth listening to, everything else is terrible.”  But this isn’t true.  Their second and third albums are actually decent.  The problem with having a first album that single-handedly guarantees a spot in the rock and roll hall of fame (I’m absolutely confident they’ll make the list when they become eligible) and gets that kind of ridiculous over-exposure is then everything else you make will be compared to it.  Killers fans are mad that they can’t make a 10 out of 10 ever again.  In reality, it’s a miracle anyone can pull it off the first time.

Unlike like Urban Hymns by The Verve, this is a pure guilty pleasure.  I mean, let’s get real.  There isn’t an uplifting moral to typical rock and roll, fuck people that say “well, that’s just life.”  Life can be more than lust and money.

The Killers are an all-American, generic rock and roll band.  That almost sounds like an insult.  But to me, it’s just an accurate description of who they are.  They don’t seem to give a damn about what happens in third world countries (although they aren’t particularly xenophobic either).  They aren’t even eastern-religion “soul searchers” like The Beatles ended up becoming.  Whenever one of their songs features a girl, they almost always specify she has blonde hair and blue eyes.  Not in a Hitler kind of sense, but in a ‘Midwest Americana’ sense.  If there’s a music video, she wears blue jeans with a flower in her hair.

Hot Fuss doesn’t have a ‘deep point’ to it.  But sometimes you don’t give a damn because the music is still too good.  “Somebody told me you had a boyfriend that looks like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year” sounds like lyrics an 8-year-old would write.  But I’ve listened to that song a million times because it’s fun.  The lyrics are stupid, but the music is so perfect that the words are irrelevant.  And Brandon Flowers’ voice packs the right amount of punch so regardless of what he’s singing about, it manages to come off well.

The themes around Hot Fuss are tried and trusted rock and roll which songs have been written about for the past 40 years.  Sexual vibes, late nights, action.  The Killers are all about the music (not lyrics or great themes), plain and straightforward.  They might as well stick with these cliche topics because coming up with lyrics are already hard enough for them even when they have so much material to copy from.

Fortunately, that doesn’t matter, because their actual music is closer to perfection than anything else on this list.  Their other albums are pretty good, but they pale in comparison to Hot Fuss.  But when you have a first album which every song is memorable, it doesn’t matter what you do afterward.

 

4. The Joshua Tree, U2.

U2 might be the only “dad rock” to make this list.  Funnily enough, my own parents were never U2 fans, and it took me a surprisingly long time to discover them considering how huge they are.  What I like about U2 is they haven’t ‘peaked’ with their first album like so many other bands do.  The Joshua Tree is their fifth.

Of the other three albums listed thus far, The Joshua Tree is probably most similar to Urban Hymns by the Verve.  Why everyone insists Coldplay and U2 are identical is beyond me, the only thing they have in common is their amount of commercial success.  If by that standard U2 is Coldplay’s dad, then Linkin Park is Coldplay’s louder brother.

This album is also very positive, although whereas Urban Hymns is an authentically British record, The Joshua Tree is an Irish band trying to be American.  Bono’s image of America is more glamorous and exaggerated than what it really is.  But the music is so good you just don’t give a damn.  

Urban Hymns by the Verve is a secular form of positivity, but The Joshua Tree “takes you to church,” as Bono literally says while singing the album live.  And considering all the non-profits and donations by the band, God knows they’re authentic.  Another difference I imagine is Urban Hymns listeners are people who graduated with a bachelor’s degree (or more) in humanities like English or Political Science, and The Joshua Tree is for either minimum wage or trade schools types.  Working-class struggles like in Red Hill Mining Town or only gritty feelings in Bullet the Blue Sky express this the most, though.

The Joshua Tree was their best album because it focused on their high points as a band.  Positive synth pads, energetic, uplifting guitar, and lyrics about hard work and Jesus that still isn’t really ‘southern’ or country, thus giving it a potentially enormous (not to mention often neglected) fan base.

 

5. FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake.

This will almost certainly be the only individual singer rather than a band to make the list.  Timberlake is a genius, as this album proves he was easily the best member of ‘NSYNC.  When it was appropriate for me to listen to ‘NSYNC (when I was about 7 years old in the late 90’s), I didn’t because my parents saw them on MTV, and MTV is ‘for big boys.’

I bought an ‘NSYNC ‘greatest hits’ record in a bargain bin one day, and I didn’t find a single song that I’d be afraid of letting a 7-year-old hear.  But With FutureSex/LoveSounds, that’s a different story (although with a title like that, who’d have guessed?).

This is the kind of music that I’ve never liked in my life.  But since it won me over, I think there are some reasons why this record sold as incredibly well as it did.

First is that Timberlake is a genuinely likable guy.  At least, his public persona is compared to a lot of other celebrities (he may be a jackass once you get to know him, but I’ll probably never get the opportunity).  So many other artists mix sex with violence.  To him, violence is something you should stay away from as much as possible, and sex is awesome.  His idea of sex is sweet and passionate, not some gritty lust you’d find from Nine Inch Nails.  To Timberlake, sex and love are two words that can be used interchangeably.

The entire album reminds me of people in their 20’s who are poor, sexy, and split their free time between the gym and night clubs.  A lot of people would say “I’m in no way a part of that demographic.”  About 90% of people aren’t.  But lots of us love this record anyway because it’s so well-done.

Is it Pop?  Guilty as charged.  Pop doesn’t always have to be bad, and this isn’t Justin Bieber “bubblegum” pop.  The nightclub scene is a similar experience in lots of countries, and that partially explains why this album sold so damn well.  Timberlake doesn’t seem to be particularly American despite being born there, nor associate with any other nationality, either genuinely or artificially.  His broad appeal combined with unique flavor made FutureSex/LoveSounds unstoppable.

Even his other records (also superb) aren’t this good.  His ‘NSYNC days were practice for this moment.  It’s hard to forgive him for being associated with Janet Jackson at the Superbowl.  But after you release something like this, I think we all can.

 

6. Riot!, Paramore.

This is an album I absolutely didn’t want to put on the list.  I suspect the vast majority of you are already laughing at me, calling me a “teenybopper after all.”  But there’s something about Riot! that makes them amazing.  I know, Paramore mostly seems to be an unpolitical, generic rock band like the Killers.  But again, sometimes masterful blandness is better than artists who try too hard to be different and make something no one wants to hear.

I can already see lots of you shaking your heads, either ready to type up a smart-ass reply, or better yet, never read this blog again since a Paramore album made the list.  Is Paramore, in the words of former member Josh Farro, “a manufactured product of a major label”?

In all honesty, probably.  I don’t give a shit.  Better a major label creates music I actually like, than ‘real’ artists’ stuff I can’t stand.  There isn’t a deep point to Riot!.  They aren’t particularly political or philosophical.  This is a band that never takes controversial positions.  If you’re offended by Paramore, you’re looking for it- and that in and of itself is why they face so much criticism from the “they’re not ‘real artists’ and are only in this for the money” people.

Paramore is one of those bands which is essentially a money-grubbing scheme by the record label, but I don’t mind because they actually produce enjoyable music.  Where on the opposite end, you have hardcore ‘activists’ like Pussy Riot which make unlistenable junk and only get famous from being arrested.

Paramore relies on the music itself, and nothing but.  And fuck all of you saying they’re only famous because the singer is cute.  Tons of girls are beautiful, realize I’m a college student and am aware of numerous 20-something women who are just as attractive as Hayley Williams.  But only extreme exceptions achieve this kind of fame.  If she weren’t a good musician, her cuteness wouldn’t matter.  She’d be working as a massage therapist.

If the only reason she’s famous is she’s cute, I dare you to start your own record label and fill it with as many blondes as you can, see if it achieves anywhere remotely close to this kind of success.  No honey, Paramore is famous because they’re good.  Keanu Reeves was in a band (Dogstar) and was already an A-class celebrity by the time they started.  Surely that would instantly guarantee the band major commercial success (rather than flopping into irrelevance)- whereas Hayley Williams was a nobody before Paramore, and only through good old fashioned touring and continually getting better did Paramore become famous.  Riot! was their second record, and Hayley was literally a minor (16) at the time of their first.  She used her experience with the imperfections in All We Know is Falling (debut album) to reach her full potential just a few years later.

The more I talk like this, the more you Paramore haters will hate me.  But people who aren’t willing to listen to a compelling argument shouldn’t read this, to begin with.  For the record, I’m not saying you can’t disagree about whether Paramore is actually good.  What I can’t stand is, “they’re only successful because she’s pretty.”  Millions of females are (35 million, even supposing only 1 percent are beautiful) but most don’t become this famous.  Maybe you don’t like Paramore’s music.  And that’s fine.  But a hell of a lot of people do.

Riot! is an album that’s just manufactured rock/pop, except it’s the best of its kind I’ve ever heard.  Their center of gravity is based on making fun music, and they pulled it off.  Of course, teenage girls who read Twilight bought this record.  But it became Platinum because even people like me, part of an entirely different demographic also love it since it’s so well-done and damn fun.  Riot! Puts me in a good mood because of its general positivity and a good beat.  Maybe I should be “too smart” for that.  Or maybe sometimes you want to just kick back and relax, and Riot! serves that purpose better than anything else I know.

 

7. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend.

I’ll never forget my Sophomore year of high school.  That’s for many reasons, but Vampire Weekend’s debut album is certainly at the top.  One night as I was watching Saturday Night live after a long week of school, they announced “Vampire Weekend” as the musical guest.  And I thought, “Oh God, some gothic emo band.”  I genuinely thought about changing the channel (even 16-year-old me mainly watched SNL for the musical guests which haven’t changed to this day).  Then they played and blew away my expectations for multiple reasons.

First, despite the misleading name, they are the complete opposite of dark or satanic.  These guys are preppy with Ivy League Fine Arts degrees and have positive tunes describing their lifestyle.  Even when they use profanity in their songs (which is not frequent), it sounds cheerful and innocent.   Second, they’re the only band I’ve seen on SNL incorporate a live symphony orchestra with them.  And it left the definite impression they wanted.  Finally, you have the music itself, which was outstanding.

Vampire Weekend is truly regional to the New England area, and not just because of their lyrics and music, but their actual day-to-day lives, such as their outfits, food, and luxury furniture.  Whereas so many bands seem to be replaceable with any general American setting, if Vampire Weekend were from almost anywhere else they’d look out of place.

I know what you’re thinking:  “I’m not a preppy rich boy, fuck these guys.”  But no, you should like them.  Because even if they come from a demographic most despise, they have some serious talent.  Besides, they’re genuinely friendly people.  Better to have a preppy Ivy League graduate educate you on the Oxford Comma than someone from the streets rob you of your sanity with godawful music blasting out of their car.

I’ve listened to Vampire Weekend’s other two albums, and they’re decent.  But nothing will be this good.  What makes their self-titled debut so excellent is that beyond the brilliance of their two lead singles, A-Punk and Oxford Comma, every other song maintained that preppy uniqueness you won’t find elsewhere. This has the positivity and swath of influences which could only come from their overprivileged background.

I know I have almost nothing in common with Vampire Weekend.  But that doesn’t matter because even if you’d be “average white trash” (in their eyes), you’ve gotta love ’em.  This album will take you to Columbia University on a full scholarship, educating you in music you didn’t even consider you’d like for a fraction of the time and price it’d cost you to discover on your own.

8. Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park.

Anyone who’s seen my book wouldn’t be surprised I like Linkin Park, but those who know me in person would.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t a fan as a kid.  When they made their breakthrough in 2000, I was (somehow) oblivious, and continued to be until about 9 months ago.  I realized Daniel liked Linkin Park before liking them myself.  Other than regularly hitting the gym, I’ve got practically nothing in common with him.  Remember, I’m the soft rock guy, as most of this list contains.  And I stayed even farther away from rap as I did hard rock.

Linkin Park has phenomenal commercial success without the ‘teenybopper’ reputation Coldplay has.  That said, I don’t feel the need to be defensive about Linkin Park as I would, say, Paramore.  Some people hate them, sure- but when a band has this kind of massive success, some amount of haters are pretty much guaranteed.  At least people who hate Linkin Park simply don’t like their music (which they’re entitled to) rather than say complete bullshit such as “they’re only famous because they’re sexy.”

The single defensive aspect to this is I want to explain what makes Hybrid Theory (or Linkin Park in general) good, to those who hate them.  If you hate Linkin Park, that’s fine.  I’m not here to change your mind.  But if you’re wondering what all the buzz is about, I can explain.

First, they have overwhelmingly good production value.  Their latest album was self-produced, but even back in Hybrid Theory (debut album), they had a much more hands-on understanding with their equipment than most other bands (even the ones that reached mega-status).  Linkin Park would suck if they made something simple and acoustic like Coldplay’s early stuff because production value is one of the main weapons in their arsenal.  I really can’t emphasize their hands-on understanding enough.  So many bands start the songwriting process with an acoustic guitar or piano and eventually add each layer.  Linkin Park begins with expensive hardware and the best high-tech equipment, to start with while refusing to dumb it down unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Haters complain their lyrics sound whiny, but sometimes there are frustrations in life.  Their lyrics are also vague, but that’s intentional.  There could be a million reasons why someone is angry.  Maybe their girlfriend/boyfriend is cheating on them or broke up.  Maybe their boss is giving them a hard time.  Maybe they’re struggling with a drug addiction.  If you make a song about one particular topic, you isolated everyone who’s frustrated for one of the various other reasons.  Vague lyrics aren’t necessarily meaningless.  They’re intentional so a million different people can interpret them a million different ways.  But given Linkin Park’s philanthropic charity efforts, I’d say they care about the particular real world as well.

Their production value rivals Deadmau5 with the creative spark of rock and rap.  They have good lyrics that people can relate to and interesting music instead of a “canned hit” by a cheesy DJ (while utilizing the same equipment a DJ would).  Beyond this, their combination of rock and rap gives them dual audiences; many people which normally only like one or the other will appreciate them.  More importantly, being a band with both a main singer and a rapper helps them stand out as unique.  There aren’t many bands like that, and those that try to imitate them can’t match their production value and/or musical genius.

I actually like most of Linkin Park’s other stuff as much as Hybrid Theory, so I feel bad singling it out.  But by the way “top 10 albums” work, you have to specify an album (rather than just saying the band is all-around good), so it may as well be this.  The only real thing I can say about Hybrid Theory is it’s more consistent than their other stuff.  But again, it’s virtually indistinguishable.  Even their electronic/experimental phase (albums 4 and 5) is mostly good.

After the phenomenal success of Hybrid Theory, other bands tried to imitate them, but none came remotely close to achieving their level of fame.

What I’m about to say now is going to seem defensive (like most everything on this blog, because that’s my style), but this is a reaction to several different people who told me they don’t like Linkin Park.  I asked them why, and they said: “it’s angry white boy music.”  And that “real rappers have much more valid things to complain about.”  I think this is absolutely not being fair to them, so I want to address it.

Of their original members, Joe Hahn (their DJ/turntables guy) isn’t white.  Mike Shinoda is a Japanese American, whose father and aunt had to live in internment camps in World War 2.  He’ll tell you all about ‘racism.’  He even released a song called Kenji, specifically about the subject.  Brad Delson is Jewish (I guess he’s still a white guy), and has experienced anti-Semitism.  Then there’s Chester Bennington, which I suppose is the ‘whitest’ guy in the band.  He was sexually molested as a child, went through substance abuse to deal with it, and was in the middle of his parent’s brutal divorce.  Even with all that being said I’m sure he benefits from ‘white male privilege’ in some way or another, but you’d really be talking out of your ass to say he’s got nothing to be angry about.  The band has made all kinds of hardline statements on political issues and current events, watch this video as one example of many.  It’s one thing to say Linkin Park is just not your style of music, but don’t insult them for it. 

9. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand.

I almost didn’t put this album on the list because it’s similar in so many ways to Riot!, thus making the list lack musical diversity.  But screw affirmative action, I’d rather this list only have what I like the most even if much of it looks the same.

Franz Ferdinand is similar to Paramore in that it’s predictable guilty pleasure (an obviously common theme for my kind of music).  They’re a pop/rock jam group, and they’re hella fun.  Since their singer is a man instead of a woman they don’t get misogynistic criticism such as “only famous because of looks” but their musical style is quite similar.

I will go as far to admit my personal history with the band puts me in a bias most listeners wouldn’t be.  The first time I started keeping up with which bands made which songs were in the eighth grade.  And that same year I started buying records- before that, my musical interests were limited to whatever the radio happened to be playing.

My seventh-grade year was rough.  I was literally the most bullied kid in the school (you can call me paranoid, but many others confirmed this to me), and everyone was crazy over American Idiot, especially the bullies.  I never game a damn about Green Day, so this was just one more thing in life I wouldn’t understand.

Then I discovered this fantastic song, Take me Out.  So I bought Mario Kart for the Nintendo DS and would go to McDonald’s (with Franz Ferdinand blasting out of our car during the ride) and once there I’d have my occasional after school Mcflurry and usually lose my races but still have fun.

Later I found that every other song on the album was also great, although not practically perfect like Take Me Out.  At first, I thought Micheal was stupid since the song was about a homosexual man, then I figured I was getting away with something since my parents would have had a heart attack if they knew what it was about (note, I am still straight to this day).  And finally, the song became just the hilarious guilty pleasure that they probably intended.

So there was eighth grade me, ready to kick ass with my Franz Ferdinand album, and their thick British accents.  In your face uncultured rednecks which I called my classmates!

In retrospect there probably couldn’t have been a better first album for me even if any other were randomly chosen with the hundreds (if not thousands) that I now know of.  They aren’t particularly popular here in America so loving Franz Ferdinand allowed me to be different from all the bastards which picked on me.  On the other hand, they’re genuinely good musicians with vague, happy lyrics that anyone can openly interpret.

 10.  Ten, Pearl Jam.

A lot happened in 1991.  Pearl Jam’s debut album was released (arguably this was the golden age of grunge), the Soviet Union collapsed, and I was born.  Pearl Jam is certainly no exception to the “first album is the best” rule, although their other work is also respectable.  Ten, however, is borderline perfection. 

So many people talk about nostalgia about music from the 1960’s-1980’s, but in my opinion, enough time has passed for 90’s music to be considered classic.  Ten has indeed stood the test of time, and if you hear it, you probably won’t wonder why. 

It’s interesting to note I’ve never seen a Pearl Jam concert in my life, and all the research I’ve found on the band says they’re especially famous for their shows.  If I’m already giving Ten a ten out of ten (excuse the pun), I don’t even know what to rank their live shows.  Just from watching Youtube videos of their performances you can see they truly put everything they could into their shows to make them even better than the studio productions.

The guitar throughout Ten is incredibly moving, and that’s coming from someone who typically isn’t obsessed with guitar-heavy music.  The music is upbeat yet truly artistic as well.  If it’s intended as manufactured teen rock, they disguised it incredibly well… which is why both kids/teens and just about everyone else loves this. 

Eddie Vedder has an excellent voice, and the guitar melody’s matched it with similar optimism for the future and anger from the past.  This is the kind of music that gets me up in the morning even during my patches between employment.  They are a truly great band that everyone should see at least once, finances and weather permitting.  Buy yourself a ticket if you dare.  Gentlemen, you made Seattle proud. 


A millennial pet peeve of mine (the Kurt Cobain rant)

I don’t rag on millennials near as much as some people do, but here’s one criticism of them I do actually have:

There’s way too many of us whose knowledge generation X is limited to “Kurt Cobain is the greatest rock star ever” and “Courtney Love definitely killed him.” Kurt Cobain’s talent is barely a drop in the bucket next to all the other Seattle musicians (Jimi Hendrix, Heart, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, the other people in Nirvana besides him/Foo Fighters, Death Cab for Cutie, etc.) and he’s really insignificant if you want to compare him to all the other musicians that ever lived.  And don’t get me started on this ‘Grunge died the same day Kurt Cobain did’ BS.  If you think Kurt Cobain single-handedly owns an entire genre of music, you at exactly part of the problem.   And the conspiracy theories against Courtney Love are pure pathetic.  I’d even go as far to call them somewhat misogynistic, and that’s coming from a non-feminist.  Most of us (Millennials) were either in diapers or not even born yet when this happened.  Please stop pretending you know more about this than the Seattle police department which actually did a thorough investigation at the time, and knows 100 times more than punks on the internet.

You could say Courtney Love didn’t do everything she possibly could to help him (even this I personally doubt) but that’s not the same as she killed him.  I mean, they were both using drugs.  But tons of musicians do.  If someone can give me a good reason why she killed him I’d listen to it, but the best I’ve heard is ‘she financially benefited from his death.’  This is true, but it doesn’t mean anything. 

Cobain insulted nearly every other musician from the same town as him with the ‘grunge’ label, when the worst crime they ever did was try to make a living doing what they love just as much as he did. 

As one example of many, the people in Pearl Jam (who he ragged on the most) were just as liberal as he was and stuck up for women, minorities, and homosexuals just as much as he did.  In fact, Pearl Jam refused to participate in Ticketmaster because they thought it was ripping off their fans, even though they ended up taking a huge cut in profits.  This is something Nirvana never did, by the way.  It reminds me of how the British singer Adele claims to support the Labor party (the British hard left) but then didn’t want to pay property taxes on her house as soon as she got rich.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.  Of course, conservatives have this kind of hypocrisy too, but I’ll get to that another day.

Being against “hairy, sweaty, macho, redneck men, who rape” (quote by him) is a cause I can get behind, but I doubt Eddie Vedder hurt anybody other than Ticketmaster.  Cobain would call any other band a “sellout” even though his own band was signed to a major label, topping the charts, and selling albums like hotcakes just as much as anyone else’s. 

Similar to his hero John Lennon, he thought himself as an icon for the poor.  I say ‘working class hero’ my ass.  Why?  He barely shared his money with anybody.  He was in a position to give a *lot* of that away to good causes, and he didn’t.  Now I personally am conservative and don’t like to share my wealth, but I’m just going to be honest straight up rather than be a hypocrite.

Maybe people think it’s in bad taste to bad mouth someone who killed themselves, but he deserves it.  There are lots of people in a much worse position than him who end up killing themselves, and that’s one thing.  This guy had access to all the best doctors, therapists, and everything else on God’s green earth.  He wouldn’t listen to anybody but would insult everybody.  In fact, I think his suicide was incredibly selfish.  It was no doubt traumatizing for Courtney Love to lose her husband, but on top of that it brought up a bunch of wacko conspiracy theorists who are determined to believe she killed him (without anything to back that up) and turned her life into a living hell.  I also think it’s unfair for their daughter to have to grow up without a father.  What a jackass.

As a side note, let me add something else.  He said things on several occasions where he associated masculinity and ‘machoness’ with being a misogynist and homophobe.  I want to dispute this.

Here’s my idea (probably most people’s idea) of what ‘macho’ means.  It could mean a guy who goes to the gym, lifts and gets ripped.  It could mean they listen to hard rock like Linkin Park.  A band I follow very closely, and I’ve never once heard them say something misogynistic or homophobic.  It could mean they play a hard contact sport.  It could say that they are in the military.  These are all lifestyle choices.  Something that is not the definition of being a misogynist or homophobe.  I would also argue that raping a woman is the least ‘macho’ thing in the world that a man could possibly do. 

It seems to me that he was making broad overgeneralizations based on a few macho guys that he met.  People like him make guys like me not comfortable with the word ‘feminist,’ which I think is the opposite of what he was actually trying to accomplish.  Hell, Village People, a gay rights band (most famous for YMCA), released a popular song called ‘macho man.’ With a music video that shows men in the gym working out. Just being a buff, badass dude doesn’t mean you’re prejudiced against anybody. 

Oh, and here’s one other thing.  Actual quote by Kurt Cobain (yes, this is real, look it up) “I feel compelled to say fuck you fuck you to those of you who have absolutely no regard for me as a person. You have raped me harder than you’ll ever know. So again I say fuck you although this phrase has totally lost its meaning. FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU.”

The definition of ‘rape’ is not someone who doesn’t like your music or someone who doesn’t like you as a person.  Of course, if Kurt Cobain legitimately got raped then I absolutely feel sorry for him, but somehow I doubt that’s what he meant.  Especially when he was a total drama queen.  As a side note, this is a slap in the face to all the legitimate rape victims, and I think that is surely the opposite of what he wanted since he talked about how horrible rape was all the time.  It’s a free country, and people should not be forced to like your music (or you), deal with it.  And besides, you had millions of dollars and a shit ton of people who worshiped you (probably outnumbering the haters), and all you had to do to get it was sing and play guitar.  99.9% of humanity was not in that kind of a position.  You think you’re being oppressed?  Good grief.

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So that’s the end of my top 10 list, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  I will keep this music page updated in spite of the fact that it gets hardly any views compared to my other stuff on this site (the manuscripts), because writing about music is too much fun, even though there’s no money in it.  And seriously, there’s no money in it.  Even Rolling Stone magazine has mostly lost relevance.

But I find it quite revealing of myself that I choose to continue writing about music even though few people will view my music reviews (much less pay for them).  And I think that character flaw ties in neatly with this excellent article I found.

Link.

Seriously, this proves every cliche about moody high-school music lovers is true.  I think we’ve always known that, but now there’s scientific data to back it up.

Even the opening paragraph reveals a lot:

The study, led by Dr. Brian Primack, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, found that teens who reported listening to music more often — rather than using other types of media like TV and books — were at higher risk of having major depressive disorder (MDD), compared with teens who listened to music less frequently. With each level increase in music use, teens had an 80% higher risk of depression, the study found.

Jesus Christ.  I would do anything to share this information with 15-year-old me.  My life turnout could have been completely different.  And they continue:

“Of all the media reported, only music showed significant associations with increased depression risk, after researchers controlled for factors like age, sex, and ethnicity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that music causes depression — for some depressed teens, music may even help. The authors explain:”

Personally, I think music helps my depression like crack helps addicts.  Sorry for the interruption but I had to.  They carry on:

“[S]adness is a common theme in traditional music, and it may be that individuals with depression turn to these messages to make themselves feel less alone in their sadness. Conversely, it may also be that individuals with MDD turn to happy music to “tune out” their negative moods or to elevate their moods. Other researchers have suggested that heavy exposure to the sometimes dark themes of popular music may contribute to the development of conditions such as MDD.”

Some people may have been happy and cheerful before tuning into music which eventually made them depressed, but I know I’m definitely not in that camp.  I used music to escape from the bad which was always there, my complete lack of friends and social support.  But even if I faced my challenges head on by going out in public 10 times more than I do/did, the few times I would go out I was bullied.  I felt significantly feel better about myself starting in the eighth grade, and that was the year I finally paid attention to music.  Before that year my musical knowledge was strictly limited to whatever the radio randomly played in the car.  My eighth-grade year (age 14) is when I got my first iPod, bought my first records and drowned myself out.

I have to disagree with them that only happier music can fight depression/escape reality.  I mean, sure upbeat pop/rock by Franz Ferdinand is there to trick my mind into thinking I’ve been invited to a party, even if I’m the only one there and for some reason, the party is always in my room with no good snacks while the football players actually got laid.  But Coldplay’s acoustic mellow yellow helps trick me into thinking if I’m lonely and sad, so is everyone else.


Fuck Kanye West

There are lots of reasons why.  First, he tries to be a supporter of equality, but then says something incredibly racist and offensive.

Man, let me tell you something about George Bush and oil money and Obama and no money. People want to say Obama can’t make these moves or he’s not executing. That’s because he ain’t got those connections. Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish peopleBlack people don’t have the same connection as oil people. […] We ain’t Jewish. We don’t got family that got money like that…

I will not dispute that black people face a lot of oppression, but so do Jews.  Read any history book. 

Then there’s the famous ‘I’m a let ya finish Taylor Swift” nonsense.  Several years later he made a song referring to her where he says “I made that bitch famous.”  This was his ‘revenge’ in a feud with her that she wanted no part of in the first place.  Also, the thought that Taylor Swift is only famous because of him is laughable.

Then at another Grammy, (why they would let him back is beyond me), he insulted Beck. “If they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us,” the rapper said. “Flawless Beyoncé video and Beck needs to respect artistry, and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.”

And then Beck handled it very graciously.  Personally, I’d have decked him in the face.

He talked to Donald Trump about ‘multicultural issues’ as if this is someone you want for that purpose.  Of course, Trump and West may be made for each other on the topic of multiculturalism.

Now he says he’s considering running for President himself.  Then a lot of people stated that they’d vote for him.

The arrogance, hypocrisy, and hero-worship of this guy are starting to get to be at Kurt Cobain levels of ridiculous.  Clearly, he can do no wrong.  You would think he’s the literal second coming of Christ rather than some guy that just makes beats.

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*Attention* If you are a screaming teenage fan-girl who loves everything Coldplay makes no matter what, like a mindless robot, tread with caution.  If you drool at the mouth with pictures of Chris Martin and actually enjoy Coldplay’s meaningless pop (and poorly crafted meaningless pop at that since it isn’t even a remotely good guilty pleasure), you may find the following to be emotionally traumatizing to read.  Viewer discretion advised.

My review of Coldplay’s new album, A Head Full of Dreams.

Before anything else, let me emphasize that I am not of those people that think Coldplay is “gay.”  I am not some stupid American redneck that can’t get into British bands (probably the majority of the bands I like are from the UK).  Nor am I one of those “dad rock” lunatics that thinks Kurt Cobain was the last “real” rockstar.  I’m not even someone that thinks Coldplay copied Radiohead or U2.  To all of this extent, I can and have defended Coldplay a hell of a lot more than most people will.

The above paragraph being said, this album sucked.  Seriously, there are so many weaknesses this has as a piece of “art” (art: artificial really terrible) it’s hard to even know where to begin.

The worst aspect of this album (ugh, so much to choose from) is probably the collaborations.  The only collaboration on the album which is even decent is Noel Gallagher’s guitar melody on the final track, UP&UP.  And like I said, that was only listenable, not great.  But even if Noel Gallagher composed a magically superb rock ballad, it still wouldn’t have made up for the absolute trash which is every other collaboration.  And there were a lot of them too.

Why the hell does he have Obama singing?   That sounds like a bad “fake news” joke The Onion would report or something that would show up on Saturday Night Live’s ‘Weekend Update.’  Yes, Obama actually sings on the album.  For the record, I’m not a Republican and indeed support much of Obama’s policies, and I voted for him.  But putting him on your album is dumb.  Period.  It is at best, a cheap gimmick/publicity stunt to generate hype.  At worst, it’s proof that Coldplay needs to either get their act together or retire.  Hint: It could possibly be the “at best” if that were the only incredibly stupid thing they did for this album, but it isn’t.  So the “at worst” is much closer to the truth.

Before I get too carried away, I want to spend about 15 seconds talking about what this album got right (15 seconds is all it takes).  There were actually a few good songs.  Everglow and Amazing Day are both nice.  Let’s put it this way:  You know the scene in the movie Risky Business when Joel is getting interviewed to go to Princeton, and the Princeton representative tells him “You’ve done some solid work, but it’s just not Ivy League is it?”  That summarizes those two songs.  Everglow and Amazing Day are good songs that show genuine effort, but nothing memorable or exceptional.  Then there’s Adventure of a Lifetime and UP&UP, which are ok.  Adventure of a Lifetime is unapologetic bubblegum pop, but at least it’s catchy.  UP&UP is bland other than Noel Gallagher’s guitar which partially redeems it but not enough to be good.

Other than the two good songs and the two listenable songs, everything else is absolute garbage.  Excluding those 4 songs, A Head Full of Dreams makes Ghost Stories (if you remember, I said I hated Ghost Stories more than any other Coldplay album up until this point) seem like Mozart’s greatest work by comparison.  When one of the best 4 songs (UP&UP) has annoying cheesy, repetitive vocals, what does that say about the album as a whole?

Most of it is just a second class version of Mylo Xyloto, a mediocre album to begin with.  It’s the same “we’re happy and rich, let’s dance and throw colorful graffiti up in the air” bland upbeat rhythms, except they couldn’t even pull that off.  This time, it sounds like someone who wanted to sell-out in the lamest way possible, but the songs aren’t catchy.  In Chris Martin’s own words, he wanted something you could “shuffle your feet” to.  Well Chris, it only makes me want to shuffle my feet the hell out of there.  None of the songs are pleasant dance floor music.  None of the songs even have a chance to get me in a good mood, except about 3 of them which I’ve already covered.  After a long stressful day of work where I want to wind down and relax with some light pop/rock jams, hearing these songs would only make me even more pissed and exhausted.

Lots of people are calling Coldplay “gay” after this.  I won’t do that, not because I think the album is worth defending (it isn’t), but because I don’t want to insult gay people who haven’t done anything wrong.  I’ll tell you who’s gay.  Elton John.  And he’s a good musician.  Coldplay isn’t gay, they just suck.  They were good at one time, but that time is over.

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More on Coldplay, now I will review my favorite Coldplay song from each album.

1. ParachutesHigh Speed.  I know, 95% of you think it’s Yellow.  And I’m not picking a different song (let alone one that’s not even a single) to be a snob, I swear!  In fact I really, really like Yellow.  The thing is, I like High Speed even more.  It’s a song that gets me in what I’d call:  “happy place” “chill zone” “relax max” you get the picture.  I was so relaxed while driving as I listened to this song with my friend in the car, he told me another driver gave me the finger for driving too slow.  I’ll never know if that was true nor do I care- I’m listening to the song now as of writing this, and it’s hard to feel pissed off while this relaxed.  The song (at least how I interpret it) is about living on your own instead of with your parents.  It could be an 18-year-old living for the first time or a 30-year-old; the age isn’t the issue.  What’s relieving about it is it doesn’t talk about living on your own in such a cheesy, forced literal way (such as “Ain’t it Fun” by Paramore) yet at the same time, the music itself is brilliant.  It’s as if to say “living on your own is challenging, but also relaxing as long as you live a balanced life and know what you’re doing.”  Maybe you’re working 80 hours a week, but nobody forced you to.  Perhaps you live somewhere expensive like New York City, and you have no roommates to split the bill.  No one forced you to make that wrong decision.  There are a few people with severe disabilities that shouldn’t live on their own, to begin with, but that’s not who the song is for.  I’m living with other people at the moment, and the main thing I fear of living on my own is just the loneliness.  Although with this comforting, “chill zone” song by my side, things will never be too grim.

2. A Rush of Blood to the Head: A Whisper.  It’s hard to pick a favorite song from this album because A Rush of Blood to the Head is my favorite album.  As in not my favorite Coldplay album, but my favorite album.  Period.  I like A Whisper the most.  I know, once again, I chose a very obscure song!  I expect 80% of you to go with either Clocks or The Scientist, and the remaining to be split in maybe In My Place or even perhaps Green Eyes or something.  But A Whisper?  Really?  As far as I know, there are only one or two times in their entire existence that they played it live.  I guess it gets very few requests.  Before ever even looking up the lyrics at all (and having never paid attention or understanding them) I found out that my interpretation of the song was about 50% correct.  The part I had right, was the passage of time.  New night, new day.  This is because the song has a very repetitive guitar line (literally plucking the same note) with a steady beat.  It’s a musically minimalist song.  The constant throbbing of the guitar is something you can always count on to be there.  The chorus is not some cheesy pop hit but simple, clean and honest.  Then the outro is peaceful.  Like someone content with their life.  Not content in a fantastic won-the-lottery way, but content as in they probably aren’t wealthy or prominent, but in return, they have a relatively stress-free life.    The actual song is about waiting for someone you love (or someone you like which you’d like to turn into a lover).  However I’m not a very lovey-dovey person, so that’s not what it means to me.  No, what it means to me will probably disappoint you.  Especially because I consider this song to possibly be my favorite song of all time.  While studying in college, I work repetitive, tedious jobs.  To give one example I used to work in the produce department of a grocery store.  Wake up every day and do exactly the same thing.  Just stock the shelves with the fruits, keep the back clean.  Put the cardboard boxes in the boiler.  Dump the rotten food in the garbage.  My life was entering “autopilot” mode where I did the same thing every day, many times during the day.  Just waiting for the time to pass.  I had gotten used to a few years of not working and had completely forgotten what a routine life was… stay up all night and play video games, go to coffee houses at 2 am with friends as carefree as I was, sleep whenever I want, do whatever I want… and to not only go back to a routine life but incredibly routine.  At least when I was in high school, I was always learning new things and doing different assignments!  Working produce in a grocery store is exceptional repetition.  It’s a bittersweet thing.  You could say I was getting cynical about life as I wasn’t particularly being challenged, yet wasn’t having the time of my life like I used to.  The employment itself made me feel productive and worthy, and mentally speaking, it was easy.  Yet the same thing over and over and over… it was an easy job, but at the price of being low-status and only paid minimum wage.  Just like the song itself- comfortable, peaceful and low-key.  Would never win a Grammy and I highly doubt they’ll talk about it 100 years from now.  As sad it may sound, this song gave meaning to my life as it played through my car more often than not on my way to work, or as my shift ended driving home.  I’ve heard it over and over again, and according to my iPod, it’s my most listened to song.  I’d always loved the song even before this job, but now it’s truly my favorite song of all time.

 

3. X&Y:  Til Kingdom Come.  The problem with what I just wrote for A Whisper is now you probably expect me to have some dramatic personal story for the rest of these songs, which I don’t.  That said my interpretation of this song is likely to be just what Chris Martin was thinking.  I actually did pay attention to the lyrics as I first heard it, and the music goes along right with them.  One interesting thing I didn’t know is the song was intended to be a tribute to Johnny Cash, though Cash died before he had the opportunity to receive the honor.  What I like about this song is it does what I think Coldplay does best.  Easy, simple music.  Not too layered or overproduced.  Sweet, peaceful lyrics.  If Daft Punk, Linkin Park, or some other very produced band tried to make this kind of song, it would probably be terrible, since that isn’t their strength.  But it is Coldplay’s strength.  Till Kingdom Come is one of those songs that can mellow me out, even at age 24 with peaked out testosterone.

 

4. Viva la Vida of Death and All His FriendsViolet Hill

 Violet Hill is a politically loaded anti-war song.  This is important to know because people that don’t understand Coldplay say they only write meaningless, bland pop.  Of course, that is true for their later releases.  This would be the last meaningful song in their collection.  There are a few (although not many) enjoyable songs other than Violet Hill in their next albums, but nothing that takes a controversial position.

It’s a guitar-heavy rock song, one of the last ones standing of a band that up to this point in their career was increasingly depending on pre-recorded loops and special effects.  A little-known fact is that Johnny Buckland (Coldplay’s lead guitarist) was influenced by Jimi Hendrix.  I always thought that’s crazy, but you can definitely hear it on this track.

The beat is solid, the song is positive without being cheesy.  It’s just a good-old fashioned alt. rock song.  It’s not exceptionally great like the things on their first two albums, but it’s by far the best track on Viva La Vida.

5.  Mylo XylotoUs Against the World

 It’s a cheesy love song that has the teeny boppers happy.  I still like it anyway.  Mostly because this song doesn’t rely on gimmicks, loops, or overproduction.  I’ve made it abundantly clear by now I think Coldplay is better when they keep their songs simple/acoustic, and this song is the only one on the album like that.  It’s not a perfect song, but it’s the only song on the album that isn’t trash. 

6.  Ghost Stories:  Magic

 The only decent song on this album.  I can’t explain in words why, but the track reminds me of this:

Some guy who’s recently just graduated college who has an apartment in a hip city.  He’s just gotten off work and wants to relax.  It’s a relatively small place he’s got for himself, but he turns on this song and chills to the baseline.  He definitely doesn’t have kids or a wife who would ruin his listening experience.  Consequently, he wants to ruin this good situation by going on dates.

I’m not sure why magic reminds me of that, but there ya go.  Either way, it’s the only real song on the album.  It’s not perfect, it’s not heart-wrenching, but it’s at least relaxing.  It could have been great if Chris Martin’s high pitched (squeal) vocals weren’t annoying.  But they are, so the song is only good.

7.  A Head Full of DreamsEverglow

The piano is nice and soothing.  It’s a relatively simple, unproduced song.  It relies on raw creativity rather than hiding behind an expensive producer.  It’s also the only song on the entire album where that criterion is met.  This is why it’s the only song on the album that I can at least tolerate hearing. 

 


 

Why the millennial generation doesn’t have a best musician

 

I want to emphasize the word ‘best.’  Contrary to what some daddy-rockers say, I believe this (millennial) generation does have lots of talented, real musicians.  But there are no hands down ‘best.’  Not even a 2 or 3-way tie for first place.  We just have a lot of separate, individual talented musicians but nobody dominates the industry like in Generation X and before.

The band for the baby boomers is either John Lennon or Paul McCartney (personally I would vote for McCartney).  There were lots of famous baby boomer acts who dominated.  Looking at UK bands alone, The Who, Led Zeppelin, U2, and the Rolling Stones, were all huge.  The Beatles however, were in a category by themselves.  Many people (especially younger people who can’t relate) say the Beatles were overrated.  Perhaps they were.  But it’s possible to be overrated and still be number one.  The Beatles were the band of the baby-boomers.  The interesting thing about the Beatles is their songs were so much more than ‘hits.’  Do you really think acts like Justin Bieber or One Direction will be remembered in 30, 40, 50 years?  The Beatles’ music was actually good.  As in not only did teenage girls think it was good, but almost everyone did.  The Beatles undoubtedly dominated the baby-boomers.   Now compare that to Generation X:

In Generation X (this would be the generation between my parents, who are baby-boomers, and mine) there was Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), and Billy Joel Armstrong (Green Day).  If you were British, then the Gallagher brothers (Oasis) get an honorable mention.

Before I get carried away, I want to explain what generation X  is, to those that don’t know.  They are a group of people that could have been my parents if they had decided to have me when they were relatively young.  Kurt Cobain was only 24 when his daughter (a millennial) was born.  My dad (a baby boomer) was 40 when I was born.  Me and Cobain’s daughter are part of the same generation, but our parents are not.

Green Day dominated the 90’s, Pearl Jam dominated the 90’s, and Nirvana probably would have had they not gone out with a blast.  Oasis dominated the 90’s.  Trent Reznor more or less dominated the 90’s.  These are pretty much the only acts which you could feasibly vote for to be “best of 90’s”.  Sure, there was a hell of a lot of very talented 90’s bands/musicians besides this short list.  But they were either meaningless pop manufactured by the record label (Backstreet Boys, ‘Nsync) or they were nowhere near as famous or mainstream as they need to be to speak for their entire generation.  Notice how in the baby-boomer generation the Beatles were the only feasible choice, but it’s a five-way tie for generation X.  Competition for the top spot started getting a little stiffer.  Personally, I think Trent Reznor gets the top spot for Gen X (which I’ll briefly explain), but I want you to consider for a moment this trend: the more time that passes, the less chance any one band/musician has to dominate the stage. Independent labels started becoming a thing.  That means the few and far between major labels, with all the power, began shrinking so these ‘indie labels’ could grow.  Simply being well connected with a major label behind your back started meaning a little less than it used to.  Another thing that popped up in the 90’s was the internet.  The Internet, cell phones, etc.  It suddenly became quite a bit easier to spread music through word of mouth, taking that power away from the major labels who used to single-handedly dominate it.  Generation X bands were the first to benefit from these things, though my generation (Millennials) would benefit even more.

Nirvana and Pearl Jam alone, both of which are in Seattle, are a toss-up to choose between.  And they’re both considered the best bands of the 90’s.  Nirvana made their start by signing to a smaller indie record (sub-pop) who was new at the time.  Would Nirvana had even had the opportunity to become famous if they were around in the 60’s?  What if some fat, arrogant major label executive decided he didn’t like them (or had never heard of them)?

Green Day started the same way- on a smaller label initially.  They are also a solid choice for “the band of Generation X.”  They’re not my cup of tea personally, but I can’t blame anyone for choosing them.  From what I gather Green Day’s formation (and popularity) was basically a knee-jerk reaction by rebellious teenagers of the 80’s who had to endure the Reagan and Bush administration.  So in the 90’s the left wing punk rockers came back with a vengeance, both with their music and with the Clinton administration.

Oasis was huge in England, and pretty big in America as well.  Oasis is a solid pick.  You’d also get kudos points for choosing the only non-American band that could possibly be the best generation X-band.  (British bands dominated the baby-boomer generation, but American bands dominated generation X).   Dumbasses living under a rock only know Wonderwall, but they produced so many other great songs.

But personally, as for me, I’d have to go with Trent Reznor.  Again:  I’m not saying he’s objectively the best.  Any of the 5 are decent choices.  Only I prefer Reznor.  Here’s why:

You feel the pain in his music, and he expresses it very clearly in both his music and his lyrics.

Kurt Cobain is arguably the most popular choice, but my problem with selecting him is that I disagree with the logic of most people who do.  Most Cobain fans are in love with him as a person, more than his music.  I do not deny his music was excellent, but I don’t think it was the best.  Most individuals who argue Cobain was the best romanticize his personal life, especially his relationship with Courtney Love.  When I say “best musician” I’m talking about who had the best music, and nothing but the music.  As far as I’m concerned, a 35-year-old fat virgin living in his mother’s basement (this is the farthest possible description for Trent Reznor regardless) could be the best musician as long as the actual music he made was the best.  Likewise, you could have someone like Kurt Cobain, a fascinating person with a well-rounded, decisive past.  He was a good guy.  He was a fighter for equality, struggled with drug addictions, with relationships, with fame, was homeless at 18, I get it.  I sympathize with him as a human being, but that doesn’t make him the best musician.  First of all, his guitar playing abilities are very chopsticks (he said it himself).  His songs, on the other hand, are excellent (simple to play songs can be still great) but they weren’t as good as Trent Reznor’s stuff.  At least that’s my opinion (go easy on me Nirvana worshipers!)

The reason why I think Trent Reznor is the best generation X-band is because he went through all kinds of different music throughout his career (and still continues to do so), molding perfection with just about everything he touches.  You can feel his pain and agony no matter what new genre he’s experimenting with.  Being an older man now with a wife and kids has mellowed him out to some degree.  Nonetheless, his music still has his touch of creative genius.  The problem with so many of the “feeling the pain” songs is they are chart dominated by attractive women in their teens and 20’s singing about some guy who “hurt them” and that guy probably never existed.  Trent Reznor’s pain can be about anything (not just a drama queen girlfriend/boyfriend), and he makes it very authentic.  He actually has been diagnosed with some mental illnesses such as depression, and truly was in and out of drug rehabs for a long time.  Of course, that is not what makes his music authentic (remember what I said about Cobain) it’s that the music, in and of itself feels authentic.  He doesn’t rely on repetitive pop chords.  There some amount of synthesis and production but the rawness is still there.  In a world where you have to endure Taylor Swift singing about her latest breakup, it’s good to hear about Trent Reznor singing about what real pain is like.  Even if Reznor is bullshitting in these songs (which is unlikely) at least his touch of originality and creativity makes it seem so authentic and unique.  In the 80’s there were a lot of wailing guitar, masculine ‘hair metal’ bands (who people unfairly associate Reznor with just because they use similar instrumentation) but the lyrics and emotions were borderline meaningless.  The songs were just about being stronger than the other dudes at the gym and/or getting laid.  Reznor’s ability to sell “feel the pain” to an audience that goes so much farther than only teenage girls is why I personally vote him to be the best generation X-band.  There would be following bands to try to copy that (like Linkin Park).  Some of these copy cats would actually be decent.  But nobody tops the original.

 

Then there’s my generation.  There are so many different bands all competing for the top spot, that no one band (or list of bands) could possibly claim to be number one.  There are way too many variables.  The independent/underground scene has gotten huge.  I can tell you a list of bands which I prefer the most for my generation.  But none of those could possibly be the ‘spokesman’ for the millennial generation in the same way Eddie Vedder or Trent Reznor was for theirs.  The market is oversaturated with bands competing for everyone’s interest.  Only being signed to a major record label doesn’t mean people will exclusively worship you (or worship you at all).  The pond has a lot of small fishes and not many big ones.  For the record, I’d consider this more of a good thing than a bad thing.  No one human being (especially a musician) should have such a ridiculous amount of power.  I would rather musicians only represent a niche group which has actually chosen them, rather than whatever gets the default vote by corporate interests, and everyone else tolerates on the radio.

One mistake older people make is they presume the only music the younger people listen to is whatever is on the radio or sold in the “hottest hits” Isle of the record store because that’s how it was in their day.  Yes, much of today’s radio pop is smelly garbage.  I don’t even listen to the vast majority of it, and a lot of my friends are the same way.  Being in the top 40 doesn’t wield near the same power as it did 30 years ago.  Lots of people will plug in their iPod rather than listen to the Radio at all.  Lots of people will discover new bands via things like Pandora, where the band they learn about either has a minuscule record deal or not even one at all.  Even back in 2005 a lot of people learned about new bands on Myspace.  Myspace itself has become irrelevant, but bands spreading via word of mouth is more relevant than ever.  So summarize, yes, Millennials have produced some great musicians.  You just have to know where to find them.

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What is Pop?

There isn’t a clear-cut definition of what pop is, no matter how bad some of you wish otherwise.  What iTunes considers to be a “pop” singer/band, Pandora or Spotify would classify otherwise.  And vice-versa.  People have different ideas of what pop means to them.  You can’t argue with me on this because this isn’t something that can be objectively proven in the first place.  I’m only writing this, so you know what pop means to me.

These are the criteria I look for to decide if something is pop.

  1.  The more the fan base is comprised of teenage girls, the more likely it is to be pop.
  2.  They rely on pre-recorded loops, gimmicks, and effects when performing live.  Often the only ‘real’ instrument is the singer’s voice.  And even then, they could be lip singing.  One of the Spice Girls admitted to this, for example.
  3. They have no guitar players.  Obviously, this alone doesn’t make it pop.  For example, plenty of house, trance, dubstep people aren’t pop.  However, this is one of the things I factor into consideration.
  4. Basically all their songs are about breaking up, ‘love,’ and generally being a drama queen.
  5. If they are associated with Disney, they have a 99.9% chance of being pop.
  6. They use backup dancers on a regular basis.
  7. Autotune.

I’ll write more as I think of them, but this should get you a general feel.  Let me get the first band off my chest:  Is Coldplay pop?  Well, my answer is maybe.  Some people act like Coldplay is 100% pop 100% of the time.  They’re certainly entitled to their opinion, but I’ll let you know why I think otherwise.  First, I’ll let you know that I’m hardly alone in thinking Coldplay isn’t necessarily pop.  For example, iTunes lists them as alternative.

I think Coldplay’s first two albums definitely weren’t pop.  They actually played their instruments, even while performing live.  They didn’t rely on cheap gimmicks.  They had some love songs, but not overdone.  There were certainly some amount of teenage girls who loved their first two albums, but that was nowhere near a majority.  They catered to many different demographics.  Then, they became much closer to pop on their third album (X&Y), but not completely.  They were still really playing their instruments at least, and many of the same fans (the non-teenage girls) who fell in love with their first two albums stayed on the bandwagon.  However, the elements of pop were creeping up by this point, and they were no longer clear alternative.  X&Y is where Coldplay decided to be a 50/50 split between alternative and pop.  Fix You is incredibly cheesy, and only a high school drama queen would like it.  Speed of Sound is an overproduced version of Clocks.  They used lots of cheesy, “soothing” synth pads throughout the album.  Everything I just said for X&Y (third album) also applies to Viva la Vida or Death and all his friends (fourth album).

By the fifth album, we’re looking at pure pop territory.  No resemblance of alternative remains.  Most of the sounds you hear at the concerts are not even coming from real, live instruments.  As a result of not having to play an instrument, Chris Martin dances like a baboon to ‘energize’ the crowd (and the teenage girls fall for it).  That said, as far as pop goes, Mylo Xyloto (fifth album) was at least decent pop.  It’s not the best pop I’ve ever heard (I’d leave that to Justin Timberlake), but it’s far from the worst (Justin Bieber).  Their sixth album (Ghost Stories) was worse than decent.  It was bad (even by pop standards).  And their latest release as of writing this, (A Head Full of Dreams) is one of the worst albums I’ve heard of all time.  Not only the worst Coldplay album, but it’s also a contender to be the worst album by anybody.  Period.

So yeah, I have sharp opinions on Coldplay considering their latest release is the album I hate the most of all time, and their second album (A Rush of Blood to the Head) is my favorite album of all time.

But to talk less about Coldplay specifically and pop in general.  Let me give a few other examples.

Is Maroon 5 pop?  Similar situation as Coldplay.  In their first album, they had all kinds of fans (not just the teenage girls), and they used real instruments while performing live.  Of course, by now, they are definitely pure pop.

Before I get any further, I know what you’re thinking:  “Pop is short for popular!  Anything that gets high marks on the radio is pop!”

If that’s the case, please call the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Queen, etc. to be pop.  After all, they got high marks on the radio and continue to receive tons of radio play even to this day, you pathetic daddy rocker.

So no, pop is not short for popular.  In fact “underground pop” is a thing.  That is groups that do similar styles as Justin Bieber, Backstreet Boys, ‘NSYNC, Avril Lavigne, etc.  Only they have a much smaller record label with much less money, and they are much less successful in getting the word out.  Whether music is pop has less to do with commercial success and more to do with the style of music and behavior of the band.

But like I said, this is just my opinion, and there is no objective definition of what pop is and isn’t.  Some of you may have a different idea of what makes pop, pop and that’s fine.  I cannot change your mind, nor am I trying to.

But when someone says “How can you say Coldplay isn’t Pop?” (or at least, they used to not be), or “How is Weezer not pop?”  “How is Oasis not pop?”

Oasis, by the way, is a particularly delicious example.  The problem with the people saying Oasis is pop is they are the same people saying Radiohead is not.

When I ask them why Oasis has to be Pop, their answer is “they did well on the charts.”

Guess what?  So does Radiohead.  Radiohead fills out huge arenas, their albums sell like hotcakes, and they’ve had plenty of success on the charts.  I’m not saying you can’t think Oasis is pop while Radiohead is not, but that’s an invalid reason.  Radiohead has had an immense amount of commercial success.  For the record, I also agree that Radiohead is alternative and not pop.  But I grant the same leniency to Oasis.  Plenty of Oasis fans are not teenage girls, they actually play their instruments, and it’s not a bunch of cheesy love songs.

The reason I like my definition of ‘pop’ is. Otherwise, you could sound like Kurt Cobain (a snobby musical jackass).  Cobain attacked competing Seattle bands (such as Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains) even though Nirvana themselves was also making lots of money, also signed to a major label.  If Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains are a bunch of ‘pop money-grubbers’ the same is just as true for Nirvana if not more so.

 I know plenty of you have different definitions of what pop means than I do.  That’s fine.  We all live in our own reality, though, and this was an essay of what mine is like.




“Selling out” is (mostly) a false concept

There are tons of examples.  I’ll use one of my favorite bands, Linkin Park.  Lots of people say they “sold out” after their first three albums and started getting heavily influenced by electronic music.  This is invalid for at least two reasons.  First, they had less commercial success after “selling out” than when they were apparently “pure” or whatever.  Second, just because a musician is influenced by electronic style (or any other style) doesn’t automatically mean they “sold out.”

I used to think Coldplay “sold out,” until I looked up the numbers.  A Rush of Blood to the Head, the old-school Coldplay that I love, has actually sold a lot more than their recent stuff that I hate so much.  So to say they “sold out” doesn’t seem accurate, when their current stuff is selling a lot less.  I think the real answer is either Coldplay lost their creative touch as musicians (it happens to nearly all of them at some point), or they have so much money that they have become indifferent to it, so they don’t feel the need to work hard anymore. 

Here’s another problem I have with the term “selling out.”  The implication is it’s something anyone can do to get rich.  The music industry is fiercely competitive with people desperate to even make a living off of it, let alone make millions of dollars.  If you think all you have to do is add some auto-tune and electronics and you’re an instant millionaire performing at Madison Square Garden, you’re probably a teenage punk with no understanding of how the real world works.

“But what about the musicians that suck such as Justin Bieber?”

Bieber was already a YouTube celebrity even before being backed by a major record label.  As much as I don’t like his music, I cannot deny the guy can sing very well. 

“But his only fans are teenage girls!”

Making music teenage girls like can potentially give you a ton of money, and if you think it’s an easy thing to do, try doing it yourself.  For the record, I don’t actually like Bieber’s music.  But even if I honestly tried to imitate him the best of my ability, I would still fail miserably.  Just because he doesn’t make the music I personally like, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a very marketable skill in an exceptionally competitive industry.  People seem to think all you have to do is “sell out” to have millions of dollars.  Why does the majority of the world live in poverty (especially if you include third world countries), and even the majority of those that don’t work crappy 9-5 jobs that make only a fraction of what Justin Bieber makes?  Even though I personally find his music/lyrics meaningless, would I do his gig if I could have his lifestyle?  Yep, in a heartbeat.  And 99 percent of you agree with me.  It’s just much easier to say he’s only famous because he “sold out,” and the rest of us wouldn’t do the same because we have too much pride and self-respect to do such a “horrible” thing.  It’s incredibly hard just to make a living off your music, let alone become as wealthy and famous as Justin Bieber.  With or without being willing to “sell out.”

I will summarize by saying being a professional musician is a JOB.  In any JOB, you do what your employer or customers expect of you.  Not what you personally like to do.  Would you go up to your boss and say “I’m not going to listen to you anymore!  That would be selling out!”?  There is a difference between me, an amateur musician who doesn’t even expect to make it big and fools around on my guitar or keyboard just for fun, and someone who plays to pay the bills, with a mountain of pressure on their chest.

100 Songs I wish I’d written

There are well over 100 songs that I wish I’d written.  I may expand this to more.  Keep in mind this list is NOT in any particular order.  Here we go:

Baba O’Riley by The Who.

I tend to hate snobby, stereotypical classic rock critics (if you consider Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin and Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen to be the two best songs ever then you would fit into that category), but in this case, they are actually right.  Baba O’Riley is a real classic.  Unlike most songs that age like milk, this one ages like wine.  Its synth effect is actually an organ with a repeater.  And the equipment they used to make it is a toy compared to what contemporary musicians have access to.  Nonetheless, it sounds just as cutting edge today as when it was released.  Lots of songs have lost their charm with time, but this song is multigenerational.  Even people like me, who hate “dad rock” (for the most part, anyway) can’t help but appreciate this one.  The track is extremely energetic, upbeat, futuristic (and still sounds futuristic even today) and keeps you off balance no matter how many times you’ve already heard it.

I masturbate to imagining I wrote this while performing on Saturday Night Live, with all the people I went to highschool with and everyone else who knows me watching.  Ok, so I don’t actually masturbate to that.  I wrote that line to be funny.  But come to think of it, maybe I should.

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2.       Man in the Box – Alice in Chains

Critics of the song say “it’s only cool because of the vocoder/wah pedal.” 

I hate critics in general who seem to think musicians should only be allowed to use clean electric/acoustic guitar with no effects whatsoever.  There is a point of overproduction, sure.  At least they (Alice in Chains) actually play their instruments while performing live, and most of their songs don’t use such effects.  The effect, of course, is cool, but what sets it apart is how clever the lyrics are.  It has the power most top 40 hits wish they could have, without being forced, cheesy, or written by a label executive. 

Also, “it’s only cool because of the pedal” is an invalid statement even if that were true.  Why?  It’s 2016, and this song was released in 1991.  You have access to just as much (if not more) than they did at the time.  If all you need is a vocoder to make a great song, go ahead try.  You might get a record deal, but unless you actually know what you’re doing, don’t hold your breath.

3.       Wake Up – Arcade Fire

4.       Fluorescent Adolescent- Arctic Monkeys

5.       I Bet that you look good on the dancefloor- Arctic Monkeys

6.       Rock Lobster – B-52’s

7.       Piano man- Billy Joel

8.       She’s always a Woman – Billy Joel

9.       Where is the love? – Black eyed peas

10.    Song 2 – Blur

11.   1985 – Bowling for soup

12.   Blow me away- Breaking Benjamin

13.   Brothers and Sisters- Coldplay

14.   Yellow- Coldplay

15.   Clocks- Coldplay

16.   Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – Daft Punk

17.    What Sarah Said- Death Cab for Cutie

18.    Come on Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

19.   Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits

20.   Light my fire- The Doors

21.   Lights – Ellie Goulding

22.   The way- Fastball

23.   Handlebars – Flobots

24.   Take me out- Franz Ferdinand

25.   We are Young- Fun

26.   Cars- Gary Numan

27.   I don’t want to be – Gavin DeGraw

28.   Feel Good Inc.- Gorillaz

29.   American idiot- Green Day

30.   Tongue Tied- Grouplove

31.   Flagpole Sitta- Harvey Danger

32.   Don’t you want me- the human league

33.   You held the world in your arms- Idlewild

34.   Radioactive- Imagine Dragons

35.   It’s time- Imagine Dragons

36.   Need you tonight- INXS

37.   Sitting, Waiting, Wishing- Jack Johnson

38.   The Middle- Jimmy Eat World

39.    Imagine- John Lennon

40.   Rock your body- Justin Timberlake

41.   Mr. Brightside- The Killers

42.   All these things that I’ve done- The Killers

43.   For reasons unknown- the killers

44.   Come with me now- Kongos

45.   Falling in love at a coffee shop- Landon Pigg

46.   Fly Away- Lenny Kravitz

47.   At the End- Linkin Park

48.   Somewhere I Belong- Linkin Park

49.   Faint- Linkin Park

50.   Burn it down- Linkin Park

51.   Given up – Linkin Park

52.   Thrift Shop – Macklemore

53.   Dance in my Blood- Men, Women & Children

54.   Time to Pretend- MGMT

55.   Electric Feel- MGMT

56.   Float on- Modest Mouse

57.   Starlight- Muse

58.   Uprising- Muse

59.   Supermassive Black Hole- Muse

60.   Closer- Nine Inch Nails

61.   Hurt- Nine Inch Nails

62.   The day the world went away- Nine-inch Nails

63.   The hand that feeds- Nine-inch Nails

64.   Smells like teen spirit- Nirvana

65.   Wonderwall – Oasis

66.   Don’t look back in anger- Oasis

67.   You’re Gonna go far, kid – the offspring

68.   Staring at the sun- the offspring

69.   Hello Seattle- Owl City

70.   Fireflies- Owl City

71.   Take a Walk- Passion Pit

72.   Maybe I’m amazed- Paul McCartney

73.   Just Breathe- Pearl Jam

74.   Alive- Pearl Jam

75.   Jeremy- Pearl Jam

76.   Yellow Ledbetter- Pearl Jam

77.   West End Girls- Pet Shop Boys

78.   1901- Phoenix

79.   Liztomania – Phoenix

80.   Such Great Heights- The Postal Service

81.   It’s the End of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)- R.E.M.

82.   Creep- Radiohead

83.   Feuer Frei- Rammstein

84.   I’m too sexy- Right Said Fred

85.   Reptilia- The Strokes

86.   Mr. Roboto- Styx

87.   Come Sail Away- Styx

88.   Meant to live- Switchfoot

89.   She’s so high- Tal Bachman

90.   Jumper- Third eye blind

91.   Hold the line- Toto

92.   Drops of Jupiter- Train

93.   Beautiful Day- U2

94.   I still haven’t found what I’m looking for- U2

95.   Where the streets have no name- U2

96.   Sunday Bloody Sunday- U2

97.   A-punk -Vampire Weekend

98.   Oxford Comma- Vampire Weekend

99.   M79- Vampire Weekend

100.                       Jump – Van Halen

101.                       Sometimes you have to work on Christmas- Harvey Danger

102.                       Unbelievable – EMF

103.                       Bittersweet Symphony – The Verve

104.                       Beverly Hills- Weezer

105.                       Say it ain’t so- Weezer

106.                       Love, Reign O’er Me- The Who

107.                       Animation- Xilent

108.                       Boss Wave- Xilent

109.                       Maps- Yeah Yeah Yeahs

110.                       Kryptonite- 3 Doors Down

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