Unlike many people (my Mother, for instance), I am ridiculously simple to buy for when it comes to Christmas gifts. I always print out a small (well, medium-sized, all right?) list of CDs, books or movies I'd like to have, and leave it up to whomever to just pick something out. If it's on the list, then it's OK. Anal? Maybe. But at least people know where to begin with me. I wish everybody in my family were as easy to buy for as I am. Sometimes I list obscure stuff, but I think I list enough stuff that can be found at Target or Walmart that it balances out.
So keeping in mind I got some cash which I fully intend to buy some more music with later (cash is always better than anything on my list), here's what I scored the last couple of days.
Beatles-A Hard Day's Night I'm slowly but surely completing my Fabs on CD collection. Of course it goes without saying that this one's wonderful, and features one of my fave Fab tunes, "I Should Have Known Better". I'm thinking I need to pick up the DVD of this as well, it's out in a spiffy new package.
Pearl Jam-Riot Act Out of all the post-Seattle bands, I always felt that Pearl Jam managed the tricky task of evolving musically and staying interesting. Of course, that was before the twenty-seven skadillion live CDs they released, and somehow I managed to miss the previous studio CD Binaural (I still mean to get this one, 'cause it's produced by Mitchell Froom) so it's been a while since I've listened to them. I'm not impressed. Everything on this one has the same tempo and the same instrumentation and just sounds monotonous. Maybe it will grow on me with repeated listens, can't say. I've only played it a couple of times...stay tuned.
Rolling Stones-Black and Blue You see, right now my turntable is dead. Has been for a couple of years, and I just haven't had the pesos to buy a new one, even if I could find one. I've looked online and on eBay, but haven't had much luck. Anyway, because my turntable is dead, I haven't been able to listen to a lot of albums that I own on vinyl, and the Stones' Black and Blue is one of them. Underrated upon its 1976 release, and often mistakenly accused of being "soft" and "disco-ish" by morons who bought into that "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band" misonomer, it's often referred to as the "Guitarist Audition Album" because it was recorded when Mick and Keef were looking for a replacement for Mick Taylor. It boasts fretwork by Ron Wood, Harvey Mandel and others. This is the most overtly reggae-influenced record they ever did, and given my distaste for most reggae you'd think that would be a drawback but I really like "Hot Stuff", "Hey Negrita", and "Cherry Oh Baby". Plus it's got the great R&B of "Memory Motel", "Fool To Cry" and "Melody". It's nice to be able to get reacquainted.
Ron Sexsmith-Cobblestone Runway I became a fan of Sexsmith's through his brilliant 1997 album "Other Songs", and while subsequent releases have been slightly disappointing (although I did like 2001's "Blue Boy" a lot), I still admire his pithy writing style and his willingness to experiment a little with his sound while remaining true to his folkish roots. This new one has some synthy sounds squiggling away in the background, and some other nods to electronica, and while you'd think that this would create a real trainwreck it's tastefully done and quite enjoyable. Sexsmith also gets a little sloppy with his often mannered vocals, slurring his boyish croon on many of these songs. I'm not familiar with the producer this time out, but he's done a nice job of staying in the background and letting Sexsmith's charms shine through. I think this one will grow on me some more before it's all said and done.
Chicago II Boy. Is my cred gonna take a hit now. After my less than ringing endorsement of the Clash (a band that everyone who "knows" music is supposed to like) in my writings on Joe Strummer's death the other day, and now this, where I'm about to sing the praises of an album by one of the most uncool bands on the face of the Earth...well, boys and girls, I'm feeling a little unhip and damned defensive about it. Lemme tell ya– twarn't always so. When the Chicago Transit Authority released their first album waaaaay back in 1970, they were following in the footsteps of bands like the Beatles, Sly and the Family Stone, the Rolling Stones, even Miles Davis and most notably Blood Sweat and Tears, and were trying to mix a lot of different influences into their stuff, like jazz, blues, pop, and rock. And for a few years, they experimented, played gig after gig, got tight as a band and as songwriters, and put out albums that have some great music on them. I shit you not. Chicago II is one of them. Despite the lyrics, standard issue for 1970 but kinda cringe inducing in their simplistic earnestness when read now, this is really a tuneful and engaging album. Listened to it a lot when I was an early teenager. I get a lot of pleasure from all of their pre-1976 LPs, after which they lost the corporate battle for their soul, guitarist Terry Kath (probably the most down-to-Earth member) died, and we had to endure their godawful MOR/AOR hits in the late 70s and early 80s which were some of the most smarmy and heinous sounds ever committed to tape. Then there was bassist Peter Cetera's solo career, which was awful enough to induce epleptic seizures and topple regimes in several small countries. So believe me when I tell you I understand why most people scorn the Chicago Transit Authority, but also believe me when I tell you that there are many pleasures to be had on any pre-1976 album...mostly forgotten now because of the sheer awfulness of what followed.
The Fifth Element This is one wacked-out film. Full of humor and imagination, I can't seem to stop watching it when I run across it on HBO or whatever. I'm a little surprised that this didn't do better at the boxoffice, but it did well enough, I suppose. I'm sure that a lot of folks, expecting Stargate or Star Wars or some such were caught a little off guard. This was more like a good issue of Heavy Metal than the lame animated films that bore the name. Probably Milla Jovovich's finest hour to date. The sequence where Bruce Willis and Milla board a ship and take of for a resort planet, "Flosten Paradise", is incredible in its pacing.
Return To Oz Speaking of people and expectations and box office flops, this wonderful and imaginative, if somewhat more sober and downbeat film, was far more faithful to Baum's stories than the showbizzy, Hollywoodized Judy Garland classic and audiences who were expecting more song and dance were totally confused and dismayed. They also stayed away in droves. Guess there's just something about Dorothy being taken for shock therapy that didn't sit well with some folks. It didn't play around where I live, so I had to rent it a year later before I could see it and I was completely blown away. This came out on DVD a couple of years ago, and I've been wanting to see it in this format ever since. It's really great to be able to see it in widescreen, and there's an amusing interview with Fairuza Balk, who played Dorothy in her first film role, at the end.
Oh, I also got another pair of gloves and some after shave.
Back tomorrow with comics reviews!
Music today: all of the above.