Sunday, February 10, 2008

Who...Does...Number Two...Work For?

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.” I can still hear the schoolchild cacophony ringing in my three-seater, intoning the close of a tortuous academic year. Soda, popcorn, cookies, and other contraband littered the floors and walls and windows of our school bus, as we prattled about luxurious vacations to come. “I’m going to sleep away camp,” one boy would say, spilling cherry Capri Sun on his shirt. “Both months.”

“Well, I’m going to Florida with my mom,” a girl might counter, while someone surreptitiously slipped a handful of crumbled cookies into her backpack.

Finally, before the first few kids got off the bus, we destroyed. Out came the aforementioned pencils and books, sharpeners, erasers, folders, assignments, old tests, and all the remnants of responsibilities past. In lieu of a bonfire, we tore, stomped, and threw out the window anything and everything scholastic, celebrating the year’s completion. Demolition, as it were, signaled success.

The other day, after I completed the last of the “Perfect Albums” pieces, I reached to the scrawled-on sheet that I’d used as a notepad. On it were the albums we’d chosen, a few notes, some asterisks, and a few 2’s, denoting the Number Twos—the albums that just fell short of perfection (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, see the three previous blogs). In my mirth at having gotten through the last blog, I crumpled up the sheet of paper, threw it in the trash, and then tied the bag, took it outside, and watched the truck take it away.

No more pencils, no more books. All I needed was a Capri Sun and I’d have been back in the fourth grade.

However, I didn’t realize that I’d thrown out the Number Twos until it was too late. I could only remember five, but at least they are those with the most import. An optimist might say that, because I forgot the rest, it is now feasible to offer a few words of explanation regarding what kept these recordings from tasting ambrosia. A pessimist might curse and drink. I am a pessimist.

The envelope please…

Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds

You’re sweaty. Everyone else is out of the house. Your subwoofer is up. It's Justin Time. You navigate through most of the album, and as the incendiary “Chop Me Up” yields to the beat-heavy soul jam, “Damn Girl,” you’re wondering where your pants went. “Summer Love” fades into “Set the Mood Prelude,” disintegrating snaps stand in for snare drums, and a harp traverses up and down some finely selected love tones. You’re wishing for your virginity back, just so you could lose it now.

Suddenly, “Until the End of Time” plods lazily onto the soundscape, and you’re forced back to earth by—what is this? Shoddy R&B? Poorly crafted schmaltz? This sounds like…’N Sync. Your sweat turns cold, and your veins run even colder. This is not a perfect album.

To make matters worse, Snoop Dogg cheapens the entire project (and there is no bigger Snoop Dogg defender than I) with the babbling, insipid “Pose,” a mangled love child borne to two lazy fathers. As baseball analysts are quick to point out, your 7-8-9 hitters have to produce in order for a lineup to perform at its peak, and “FutureSex/LoveSounds” trots out duds in the 7 and 9 holes. Inexcusable.

The Damnwells – Air Stereo

Speaking of shameless nepotism, here are The Damnwells, a band so maligned and downtrodden that I adopted them as my personal project. I burn their disc for anyone who will take it, I ping encouraging emails to their management with phrases like, “You can do it guys!” and I impose myself like an ass at party after party, eager to point out that “Air Stereo” has “strong tonal elements and heartfelt instrumentation.”

Hardly anyone listens, but I’m armed with one thing that nobody can take away—“Air Stereo” totally fucking rocks. Its prestigiousness in my personal pantheon is outdone only by the very positive reviews it received in the press. However, there is a problem, and that problem is called “Louisville.” Air Stereo’s fifth track, “Louisville” is the proverbial zit on Air Stereo’s supermodel face. Its chorus pines:

“All I wanted was going home
All they gave me was Louisville.”

All I wanted was a perfect album; all they gave me was Louisville.

Gorillaz – Gorillaz

The smash-hit, “Clint Eastwood,” anchors a stellar experiment. The Gorillaz should receive heaps of credit for remaining fluid, but straying from accepted practices is also their biggest drawback. This self-titled album is so good in so many parts, yet lacking so significantly in others that it would be impossible to justify putting it up with the likes of Billy Joel’s finest. Back in 2001, this record was even more revolutionary than it is now, as this group quietly fused the worlds of Massive Attack trip-hop and radio marketability. Still, innovation does not compensate for genuinely boring and subpar filler, and, therefore, “Gorillaz” is spectacular, but second-tier.

Creed – My Own Prison

This album was probably deserving of a spot on the Perfect list, but Creed’s future sins made that impossible: the MTV pandering; “Higher” and “My Sacrifice”—because they’re awful, but mostly because they have the same chorus; a Greatest Hits album; the religious proselytizing; Scott Stapp’s general douchebaggery. Picking on Creed is an easy sport, and if not for their rap sheet, Creed's very laudable debut would get the attention is deserves.

Mark Tremonti (now of Alter Bridge) blueprinted some righteously bone-crushing riffs, the rhythm section romped, and Stapp tapped into an earnestness and poignancy that, on subsequent albums, became bogged down in sap and rhetoric. This ten-cut offering, already a decade old, gave us “Torn,” “What’s This Life For,” “One,” and, of course, the booming title track, “My Own Prison.”

Too bad Creed sucks.

Nirvana - Nevermind

Territorial Pissings. Track 7. The Screaming Song. Call it what you want, but the most important, trenchant, rocking album of the ‘90s is blemished by the least important, doltish, ill-conceived song of the ‘90s. Enough has been said about Nirvana and “Nevermind” to fill many volumes, so reiterating how much we owe the Seattle trio is redundant.

But, to re-use the batting order analogy from “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” “Nevermind” features a delightfully potent 1-6: Smells Like Teen Spirit → In Bloom → Come as You Are → Breed → Lithium → Polly. Then the Cobain gang subjects us to Territorial Pissings, whose name is indicative of everything you have to know about it. A freakish run in grunge rock’s fishnet stockings.

Stay Secondary, Number Twos
DJ Dung

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