Show 216: Reviews of Records from Lil Wayne, Spoon, Lady Gaga, Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard
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1 When they looked back at the end of the last decade, Jim and Greg described American Idol as one of the only major juggernauts in the music industry. Now, only a couple of weeks later, it looks like that monolith is crumbling. Simon Cowell has announced plans to depart the show, which debuted last week, to launch a U.S. version of The X Factor. In addition to being a major part of Idol, Cowell was a force behind the career popularity of Susan Boyle and British X Factor Leona Lewis. Jim and Greg wonder if Idol will be able to produce another Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry or Carrie Underwood without Cowell. And, they wonder if X Factor will be the hit-maker to watch.
2 A world away from the American Idol business machine is a UK website called SlicethePie. Artists can use this site to get direct funding from fans, who in return receive a copy of the album, an exclusive relationship with the band, and possibly, a return on their investment. According to the site the standard deal is about a 16 cent return for every 1.63 invested per 1,000 albums sold. Now Slicethepie has announced its first real success story. U.K. rock act Scars on Fire has graduated from the fan-supported site to land a deal with Atlantic Records/Chop Shop Records. Chop Shop is run by Alexandra Patsavas, who supervised music on a number of Hollywood projects including Twilight, The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy. So, keep your ears open for Scars on Fire music the next time you tune into a primetime soap.
3 The 2009 numbers are officially in…but they aren’t exactly clear. According to Nielsen SoundScan, overall music industry sales are up 2.1%. But as Jim and Greg explain, that’s not necessarily worth celebrating. Album sales, which still account for the majority of revenue, are actually down 13%. What has gone up are digital music sales—and those don’t add up. Of course, as Jim says, overhead with digital music is much, much lower. And, certain artists do have cause to break out the champagne, for example, Taylor Swift, who was the number one artist of 2009. She was followed by a phenom (Susan Boyle), and a recently departed (Michael Jackson). Michael Jackson wasn’t the only posthumous winner. The number one selling album of the entire decade was by a group that stopped making music four decades ago: The Beatles.
4 Lady Gaga was one of the top selling artists of 2009, and she doesn’t appear to be going away in 2010. She’s launched a successful tour and released The Fame Monster—a deluxe version of her 2008 debut that comes equipped with eight new tracks. After seeing her in concert and listening to this release, Greg found himself won over. He didn’t hear a duff track on The Fame Monster and wouldn’t hesitate to encourage listeners to Buy It. Jim agrees, though noting that Lady Gaga doesn’t need our money. He thinks Madonna comparisons are apt. Like the Material Girl, Lady Gaga is completely unoriginal. But she raids the underground in a smart, fun way. The Fame Monster gets a double Buy It.
5 Jim and Greg continue their winter review round-up with a discussion of Stronger with Each Tear, the 9th album from R&B singer Mary J. Blige. Blige has built a career inspired by a life of drama. Now, self-proclaimed to be drama-free, she has to face doubts that she’s lost her power. Jim insists happiness hasn’t weakened Blige. What has weakened her is terrible production. With the exception of a beautiful Raphael Saadiq song, this album is filled with generic, glossy R&B. Jim can only give it a Burn It rating. Greg agrees that the production lacks authenticity, but thinks Blige fights through it. She’s the best R&B singer working today, and he gives the album a Buy It.
6 Spoon also has a new album out called Transference. It’s the Austin band’s 7th release, and on it they’ve returned to formula—a very simple one that melds cryptic lyrics with hypnotic rhythms. On their last record, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the band opened up more and included horns and more melodies. Greg wishes they had kept pushing in that direction. Instead they sound like they closed up again. He calls this an album for fans only, and while there are great moments, it’s hard to listen to at times. Greg gives Transference a Burn It. Jim is shocked. He admits that Spoon has returned to its artier ways, but he believes it works. For Jim Transference is a great road trip record and a definite Buy It.
7 One of the 2009 albums that slipped through the radar was a collaboration between Jay Farrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. The two musicians bonded over their admiration for Jack Kerouac and created the soundtrack to a documentary about the writer. The result is One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Music from Kerouac's Big Sur. As Greg explains, Farrar’s voice is perfectly suited to Kerouac’s darker material. Greg also thinks he was smart to bring Gibbard in to lend a little optimism. He was spoiled by seeing them live, but would still recommend listeners buy the album to hear these two terrific voices. Jim, also a Kerouac fan, agrees that the album, complete with artwork, is a thing of beauty. One Fast Move gets a double Buy It.
8 The final album this week is Rebirth, the highly anticipated rock record from Lil Wayne. The rapper has become one of the most important figures in hip hop, so people are anxious to hear how he sounds with a guitar. In fact, anxiety abounds with this release—even over the release date. To say that Jim and Greg were disappointed would be putting it mildly. Neither critic hears anything original on Rebirth and wonders why Lil Wayne would pick the worst elements of rock to use. It’s a substandard, Neanderthal Linkin Park rip-off. In other words, it’s a double Trash It.
9 At the end of the show Jim drops a quarter into the Desert Island Jukebox. He uses his turn at the DIJ to talk about Vic Chesnutt, a musician who died this past Christmas. Chesnutt, who was a paraplegic since the age of 18, was discovered and championed by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. As Jim explains, music was like a lifeline for Chesnutt, and one of his favorite albums by the singer/songwriter was 1998’s The Salesman and Bernadette. To honor the Athens, GA musician, Jim chooses to add “Replenished,” a track from that record, to the Desert Island Jukebox.
Songs Featured in Show #216
Kelly Clarkson, "A Moment Like This," Thankful, 2003
Scars on 45, "Hearts on Fire," MySpace, 2010
Taylor Swift, "Fearless," Fearless, 2008
Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance," The Fame Monster, 2010
Lady Gaga, "Teeth," The Fame Monster, 2010
Lady Gaga, "Alejandro," The Fame Monster, 2010
Mary J. Blige, “I Am,” Stronger with Each Tear, 2009
Mary J. Blige “Color,” Stronger with Each Tear, 2009
Spoon, “Written in Reverse,” Transference, 2010
Spoon, “Got Nuffin,” Transference, 2010
Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard, “Big Sur,” One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Music from Kerouac's Big Sur, 2009 Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard, “California Zephyr,” One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Music from Kerouac's Big Sur, 2009
The Punch Brothers, “The Blind Leading The Blind,” Punch, 2008
Lil Wayne, “Prom Queen,” Rebirth, 2010
Lil Wayne “Ground Zero,” Rebirth, 2010
Vic Chesnutt, “Replenished,” The Salesman and Bernadette, 1998
Johnny Thunders, "Get Off The Phone," L.A.M.F Revisited, 1984
Kid Sister, "Right Hand Hi," Ultraviolet, 2009
Kid Sister, "Switch Board," Ultraviolet, 2009
Susan Boyle, "Wild Horses," I Dreamed a Dream, 2009