Happy Together: a Review of The Dollyrots’ A Little Messed Up

August 27, 2010

The first taste I got of A Little Messed Up was at a small, dank bar on the edge of historic Ybor City. It was a rare Floridian freeze – the temperature had dropped below forty and all the natives were looking for warmth in the form of companionship and whatever flowed on tap that night, me included. Though the space was dense with people, a chill still mingled through the air and filled the empty spaces between our coats, jeans, and bodies. That all changed when The Dollyrots hit the stage. They started with a cover of Melanie’s Brand New Key and kept favorites from their first two releases coming. At times, it felt more like a sing-a-long than a show, with the crowd joining in for every song.

There came a point, though, when bassist and lead Kelly (after heckling the crowd about how her youth soccer league kick their youth soccer leagues’ collective asses) announced they would be playing a few new songs from their album that they pinky swore would be coming out soon. I felt my cynical spirits lower – the party was over and the promotion was beginning. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They started off with Some Girls, a super-catchy number about romantic disinterest. Somewhere in the back of my cerebral space, that song was stuck – on loop – until their album’s recent release.

The rest of the record is just as addictive. Though this album definitely has a harder edge to it than their previous releases, it is without a doubt a pop album with a lean to punk rock. In fact, I’d venture to refer to it as bubble gum punk – bright, bubbly, and catchy as hell. You can tell it is a trio of people who enjoy playing music for the sake of playing together. It comes through in every note.

There’s nothing too technically impressive about A Little Messed Up, but the total package works well. The album is cohesive without being boring – each song has its own feel while being distinctly Dollyrots. Harder, rougher tracks like Bigmouth take you on a virtual time warp back to simpler, more direct time in girl-fronted rock – – think of The Breeders circa 1993. Kelly brings it with great licks on the bass, and Luis delivers completely on guitar. Don’t get too nostalgic, though, because pop-explosions like Om Nom Nom will throw you slamming into the present digital age and have you wondering if it is possible for lolcats to write lyrics. The album’s first single, California Beach Boy, isn’t that memorable, but it is a nice change-up to a summer filled with images of “California Gurl” Katy Perry ejaculating whipped cream on sandy shores.

The album has nice flow, too, with the sweetly sobering Rollercoaster gliding into the midst of the album without being a downer. It provides a good shift in tempo – allowing for some calm in the middle of the storm – without being a disruptive break from the party. It is calming without being disarming.

The album also includes two covers: The Turtles’ Happy Together and Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover. Covers are a strong suit of The Dollyrots, and these are no exception. This little couplet of songs that throw back to a simpler time is a perfect end to the album. These two songs put the listening experience to bed like a nice rock n’ roll lullaby.

All in all, The Dollyrots have a good time on this album, and I think it’s nice of them to bring us along for the ride. Turns out, A Little Messed Up is absolutely fine.

Music Review: For Your Entertainment by Adam Lambert

January 5, 2010

American Idol and I don’t always see eye to eye. Two years ago we broke up over our differences and I boycotted watching. I though we could repair the damage and I watched this past year. Boy, what a mistake.

My primary beef with the show is that it sets up its winners to fail. We spend weeks and weeks watching them sing great, classic songs live and then they churn out overproduced albums of “original” songs written by committee. Its such a departure form how we got to know them that you can’t help but be disappointed with the end result.

Few of the winners could be called musicians. In fact, many more of the losers are true artists. Daughtry managed to make a pretty decent career for himself. Jennifer Hudson proved she could act and sing her butt off. But by and large the AI crowd is packed with vocalists. Nothing wrong with that- the world needs people who sound great to collaborate with people who can write well. This year, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert battled it out for the top spot, but by the end it didn’t really seem to matter. It was widely acknowledged that they would both be getting record deals.

Adam Lambert, despite losing, has been far more successful in his brief stint in stardom than Kris Allen. He started his post AI career by singing the theme song “Time for Miracles” for the destruction movie 2012. Full of cheezy lines and a full orchestra, the song got Lambert’s name back in the media right before his album released. His biggest boost of fame has been the scandal that followed his AMA performance of “For Your Entertainment” where he kissed a male musician and simulated oral sex with a dancer. Combine that with Amazon’s $3.99 MP3 download price and the numbers for his first week were outstanding.

But numbers say nothing. How is the CD? An avid Adam Lambert fan (his Mad World made me cry during the season) I wasn’t really expecting much because of those set-up-to-fail reasons mentioned above. The first few times through, I thought my suspicions were confirmed. No one song stood out as a blockbuster- but then I found myself humming them as I went about my day. In the grand tradition of pop sugar stars, sometimes you have to get past the initial revulsion of the genre to get to what is really fun about a cd.

What I found really great about this cd is that even though it is written by committee, there are obvious nods to fantastic genres. The first track, “Music Again,” has terrific 80s beats- reminding me mostly of the theme from Baywatch (“Some people stand in the darkness…afraid to step into the light”). While that may not sound like a ringing endorsement, it hard not to dance around when it’s on. Plus, it includes the line “I want you body, mind, soul, ex cetera.”

Moving on, we get “For Your Entertainment” which is an S&M themesong if I’ve ever heard one. While it got Lambert some media attention, its far from the masterful songs found later on the cd. His second release “Whataya Want From Me” (I hate cute spelling by the way) gives us a little more of that rocker we saw on the show. It’s the first track on the cd that made me remember what I liked so much about his voice. He’s effortless and is able to instill such power in what could be considered a power ballad.

“Soaked” gives us the Freddy Mercury, Broadway inspired dramatic song that changed my mind about this being a pop piece of dreck. Add to that “A Loaded Smile” that harkens back to old Radiohead and you’ve got an album worth loading on your iPod.

There are plenty of songs that were obviously written to be club anthems, and more likely gay club anthems. The world needs these songs and I’m glad to hear them from an openly gay artist, but I think there there could have been two albums here. “If I Had You” is super fun and danceable, but nothing tops the Lady Gaga penned “Fever.” The first beats let you know that Gaga had to have been involved, and the lyrics directly mention a male significant other.

A truly successful album, to me, is one where the artist has considered the listening experience from beginning to end. Rock albums of yesterday were notoriously good at this. With iTunes dominating our purchasing habits, artists no longer feel like they have to consider that packaged listening experience. Christina Aguilera’s Stripped is a fantastic example of a pop album that succeeds in walking the listener through from beginning to end.

While For Your Entertainment is certainly piecemeal, there are some great tracks that are worth listening to. Take those good songs and add in Lambert’s versions of “Mad World,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “A Change is Gonna Come” from his performances on American Idol and you’ll have one heck of a CD.

Music Review: Boys and Girls by Ingrid Michaelson

September 30, 2009

I have a satellite radio so that I can avoid the drone of early morning talk radio and repetition of the same three pop songs. However, I know when something is really popular on mainstream radio when it reaches into the realm of satellite radio. Recently, Ingrid Michaleson’s song “Maybe” has been all over the place. The first track off her third release Everybody is fairly catchy with a set of sappy “if you love something, let it go” lyrics. Every time I hear the first chords on the radio, attempting to evoke some sort of soulful remembrance, I struggle with changing the channel. Its not that I particularly like the song, but I do like Ingrid Michaleson.

I don’t have the new album, but her second album, Girls and Boys, comes into fairly frequent rotation on my iPod. Its the first appearance of the song “The Way I Am” which made its way into various tv shows where quirky romance was involved. Her voice evokes the sweetness that you want in a primetime dramedey. Much more compelling than “Maybe”, this song gives us jewels of poetry like, “I’ll buy you Rogaine when you start losing all your hair/Sew on patches to all you tear.” Its the kind of sweet, oddball songwriting that makes you want to press play on your “quirky girl” playlist featuring Bijork and Regina Spektor.

But more than just being precious, Girls and Boys showed the potential of Ingrid Michaleson. The downfall is certainly the one-track-mindedness of the content. If you’re in a relationship, getting out of a relationship, longing for a relationship, or have ever had a relationship then you’re prime for Girls and Boys. The first track “Die Alone” is one of my favorites for its great pacing and ultra catchy hook, but I can’t endorse the theme of “I never thought I could love anyone but myself/ Now I know I can’t love anyone but you/ You make me think that maybe I won’t die alone/ Maybe I won’t die alone.”

Quarterlifers have so much to consider when it comes to relationships. Most of our parents were married at this stage in our lives, many of them were already changing our diapers. While Ingrid Michaleson is fun to listen to on occasion, she starts to wear on me with her longing for love. I don’t like to judge too quickly when it comes to matters of music, so I purchased her third album Be OK. A little lighter on the sap, I’m left feeling like this was an album with a deadline. Out of 11 tracks, we have four live tracks- one of which is a duplicate of “The Way I Am” as well as a cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

The saving grace for the album is the last studio track entitled “You And I.” Yes, still about relationships, the lyrics give us a little more to cling to. “Let’s get rich and give everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance” is the line that sealed it for me. Its these out of the blue odd lyrics and the quality of Michaelson’s voice that keep me listening. If she can find something else to talk about other than heartbreak, I’ll be a true fan. Until then, I’ll cycle her in between Garfunkel & Oates.

Music Review: Blackout by Britney Spears

March 14, 2008

It was 12:02 the night that Britney Spears’ album Blackout was slotted to hit the stores. I logged into my iTunes store, ready to download, and saw-to my horror- that it was not yet available for purchase. WTF?!? I asked myself. Why can I not get a pop-culture fix? Britney’s last album, In the Zone, was a slippery slide into her development as the media obsession she is today. With iconic songs like “Me Against the Music” and “Toxic”, and controversies over “Touch of my Hand” (come on…its as obvious as SheBop Britney!) paved the way to the fiasco of her reality show and the head shaving heard round the world.

So finally around noon that day the almighty Steve allowed me to download Blackout (named for the philosophy of blacking out negativity and embracing life). I didn’t expect the album to be good. At (what we all thought must be) the height of her craziness, she releases an album? There is no way it is going to be good. But I knew something on it would be fun enough to warrant a purchase.

And no, it’s not good. It KICKS ASS! Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a soulful collection of jazz standards or experimental indie tech beats. It’s the purest sugary candy of pop. I won’t be bragging at my Mensa meetings about owning it but I will defend it to the end. It seems as if the marketing team of Britney, Inc. has finally figured out what she does well- dance music for gay clubs. Every song is upbeat (meaning no more sappy pseudo ballads like “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” or “Email my heart”) and actually varies in structure from song to song.

So far, the radio has grabbed a hold of “Gimme More” and “Piece of Me”. Satellite radio has recognized the genius of “Freakshow” with a heavy backbeat that requires a subwoofer and gems of poetic prose like “10 PM to 4 and I came to hit the floor/thought you knew before/ but if you don’t then now you know.” In the aftermath of her divorce, we reap the benefits with “Toy Soldier” that describes her need for a real man (“This time I need a soldier/ A really badass soldier”) and “Why Should I be Sad?” (“People and US magazines/Tell me who’d I do that for, who?”). Sure, the singing isn’t operatic, but that’s not what it’s for. With an incredible production team (Danja, of Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake fame produced “Gimme More”) Blackout has a consistent quality that makes the album easy to enjoy from beginning to end.

With her failed performance at the VMAs and the continuous court appearances / hospitalizations / paparazzi boyfriend / fishnet stocking sightings I think this album has been underrated. There is a place for Britney. It involves rolling the windows down and turning the volume up. Don’t be embarrassed. Learn the words and sing them at the top of your lungs on your next commute or as you get ready to go out dancing. If Britney has taught us anything, it’s to let go of your shame.


Review: Radiohead, In Rainbows

February 26, 2008

Immediately hectic and enormously satisfying, Radiohead’s latest installment revisits the bands straight-forward style. But, don’t expect business as usual – this is the most low-key album Radiohead has made to date. While the band is clearly speaking the same sonic language they have spoken since OK Computer, In Rainbows is unmistakably more eloquent. It’s warm and inviting, with a densely layered mellifluous vibe that oscillates in complexity throughout the album’s 10 tracks. In Rainbows is a pretty smooth ride from beginning to end, with the possible exception of the final track, “Videotape.” Although not a rabid fan myself, I know die-hard “Radiohead-Heads” will enjoy what could be considered a traditional closing track, as “Videotape” harkens back to the similarly-styled finale cuts of former Radiohead albums such as OK Computer and Kid A.

Much has been made of the method in which Radiohead chose to release the record. They allowed fans to pay whatever they wanted to download the tracks via the band’s website. As little as $.01 was enough to purchase the entire album, with the only instructions reading: “It’s up to you.” [Read more]