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1 News - The first news story this week concerns two different markers of achievement in the music industry: The Grammy Awards and the Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll. Everyone, of course, knows about The Grammys—the annual awards given by the Recording Academy. However, Jim and Greg point out that a better indicator of who deserved praise this year is the Pazz & Jop poll, which was taken by almost 800 music critics. There aren’t many crossovers on the list of Village Voice winners and Grammy nominees, except of course for the critical and popular favorite Kanye West. The other musicians who finish out the top five—M.I.A., Sufjan Stevens, Sleater-Kinney and Fiona Apple—definitely don’t appear on the Grammy ballot for “Album of the Year.” The artists honored in that category include Mariah Carey, U2, Gwen Stefani and Paul McCartney.
2 One of the albums Jim and Greg review this week made so much news, that they decide to discuss it at the top of the show. The British band The Arctic Monkeys broke records this week when its debut album became the fastest selling in British chart history. While neither Jim nor Greg can fully comprehend this phenomenon, they both like the record. Jim gives the album a “Buy It” rating, but admits that The Arctic Monkeys are not nearly as amazing as the hype might have you believe. Greg likes lead singer Alex Turner’s “Street’s”-like approach to lyrics, but doesn’t think the Arctic Monkeys are a great band yet. He gives Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not a “Buy It” rating.
3 The Arctic Monkeys are not the first British band to face this kind of hype though. There have been a number of UK bands who achieved rave reviews and huge success but were never able to break out across the pond. A look at lists compiled by British media outlets The Guardian and NME demonstrate this point. Bands like The Jam, The Stone Roses, The Libertines, Blur and The Smiths are up there with The Beatles and The Clash in the minds and hearts of British fans and critics, however none of these groups achieved any major fame in the States. One theory given by Jim: Americans are discerning of imports ever since the first “British Invasion.” Greg points out that there was a second British invasion in the 80s, and wonders if it is the very Britishness of some of these bands that prevent American fans from identifying. Or perhaps some tastes just don’t translate.
4 Following the news, Jim and Greg stick it to the man, or more specifically – record companies. They discuss the phenomenon of major labels pulling the plug on established artists. The most recent victim is Nellie McKay, whose album Pretty Little Head was denied release by Sony Music. McKay wanted to release one version, Sony wanted to release another, and after the “pretty little” singer told her label to take it or leave it, they left it. Of course, upon hearing the advance copy, our hosts can’t necessarily blame them.
5 Whether you enjoy the music or not, McKay’s situation does pose an interesting question of how much creative control an artist has while under major label contract. As Jim states: “As long as there have been major labels, there have been executives deciding that they know better than the artist.” What are some of the other lost albums that fell prey to the big bad record company? Jim and Greg list off some of their favorites including:
- The Butthole Surfers – During the early 90s when “alternative” music was achieving commercial success, the Butthole Surfers were signed to Capitol. When the alternative fad waned, their label no longer appreciated the band’s weird aesthetic and refused to release their album After the Astronaut. The Buttholes sued Capitol and demanded early release from their contract. The record, however, remained under Capitol ownership. Fans needn’t fret though; most of the material was re-recorded and released by Hollywood Records.
- Wilco – The hometown favorite’s album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was delayed release by its label because it was more conceptual than it was pop. Conceptual, of course, is hard to sell, so Reprise Records asked Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates to go back into the studio and find a hit. The band decided to stand by its album, and bid farewell to Reprise. Normally it would take a lot of time and money to recover tapes made under a label’s contract, but in this case, Reprise let Wilco take their music, rather than face a public relations nightmare. The album was eventually released in 2002 by a different Warner Music subsidiary and ended up being the biggest selling of their career. The story played out very nicely in life, in film, and most importantly, in print.
- Fiona Apple – This singer’s label woes were perhaps the most highly publicized of the bunch, but according to our experts, the often difficult artist needs to take some of the blame. Apple decided to work with producer Jon Brion for a third time, but felt she needed more time on this effort. Epic Records, not pleased with what they’d been hearing all along, told Apple that they’d need to approve a track at a time. Or at least that’s what she thought she heard. In a dramatic move, Apple stopped recording, leaving the album unfinished. Neither Epic nor Apple wanted to release the music, however some of the songs leaked, and the response was so overwhelming that Apple was inspired to start working again. This time, she joined up with producers Mike Elizondo and Brian Kehew, and Extraordinary Machine can be heard in not one, but two forms.
6 Next up Jim and Greg review the latest album by the Notorious B.I.G. They hesitate to say it is “by him,” however, being that the rapper died in 1997. Despite this fact, his music is still being released, and on this go-around, Duets, he was even paired with another deceased music icon. Biggie Smalls is the latest in a long line of musicians to continue to do big business after death. Other artists with posthumous releases and commercially successful legacies include Elvis Pressley, John Lennon, Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix. Biggie’s posthumous release is approaching platinum status, but our critics wonder if it really needed to be made. Duets is so chocked full of all-star cameo, that listners may even be confused as to who this record is about. For the sheer novelty of it, Duets gets a “Burn It” rating from Jim. For Greg, though, the songs are mediocre and the sentiment insincere. He gives it and the entire posthumous phenomenon a “Trash-It.”