Results for pop

interviews

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

Rock is filled with great duos – with Jim and Greg at the top of that list, naturally. But coming in at a close second is Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, who join Jim and Greg in the studio this week. Many people know Campbell as a former member of the Scottish pop group Belle and Sebastian. And Lanegan is the iconic voice behind the Screaming Trees. For their collaboration, it's Campbell who takes the reins with songwriting and production. Lanegan, they joke during the interview, is just her tool. It's a role he relishes, even if Campbell can be a bit of a taskmaster. And you can't argue with the results.

Go to episode 271

Mission of Burma

Mission of Burma This week's guests are the men of Mission of Burma: Roger Miller, Clint Conley, Peter Prescott, and Bob Weston. The post-punk pioneers were in Chicago to perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival, so they stopped by Sound Opinions for a discussion and performance. Jim and Greg explain that Mission of Burma is a rare example of a band able to break up, reunite and continue making music as good as (if not better than) they did before. Burma's first incarnation was in the early 1980s — they recorded one album in 1982 before they had to disband due to Roger's debilitating tinnitus, but their influence is undeniable. The band returned twenty years later to tour and record OnOffOn, and have recently released The Obliterati, which both Jim and Greg say may make their Best of 2006 lists.

Mission of Burma is known for combining pop melodies with quite a lot of noise. These characteristics often get the band thrown in the same pot as bands like Gang of Four and Wire, but listeners shouldn‘t confuse these post-punkers. One of Burma’s distinctive features is their use of tape loops. During their first go-around, Martin Swope would record the band's sound and manipulate it live with a reel-to-reel tape machine. Now Shellac's Bob Weston has the job, and you can hear the effects on "Max Ernst," which they perform live on the show. Another famous looper is Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, though he works digitally.

Another Burma trademark is the songwriting. All three regular members, Roger, Clint and Peter, pen very smart, rather literate lyrics. An example of this is another song they perform live, "Donna Sumeria." While it was Roger's attempt at a love song, it's also a witty pun on Donna Summer and the ancient Middle Eastern civilization. Greg cites it as an example of Burma's punk sensibility. Their music doesn't have rules and can even have disco elements.

Go to episode 38

Seinabo Sey

Swedish artist Seinabo Sey may be a bit of an old soul, but her music is breaking new ground. This week, Greg and Jim chat with pop/neo soul singer Seinabo Sey, who just released her debut album Pretend. Sey was raised in Sweden, born to a Swedish mother and a Gambian father (musician Maudo Sey), but growing up, she idolized American pop & R&B stars like Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Alicia Keys, which is evident in her sound.

A few years ago, she teamed up with Magnus Lidehäll, an accomplished producer who has worked with Katy Perry, David Guetta, Avicii and more. The result really lets Sey's authetic voice shine through.

Go to episode 545

Emeli Sande

Emeli Sande went from virtual unknown to performing at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremonies, and in between she penned songs for Leona Lewisand even Susan Boyle. She's also made it her personal mission to put the poetry back in pop music. It's a mission that has caught on in the U.K. Emeli received a Brit Critics Choice Award (previously won by Adele and Florence + the Machine) and was asked to open for Coldplay on a recent American tour. So Jim and Greg were eager to have this rising star perform in the studio. They describe her music as a mix of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill.

Go to episode 384

Lily Allen

British import Lily Allen is Jim and Greg's guest this week. The hosts have been fans of the 21-year-old for over a year, however her album Alright, Still, was just released in the U.S. While Lily is now launching a full-blown American invasion with major label backing and major press and appearances, she started with more humble means. The singer/songwriter initially drew buzz after posting some songs on her MySpace.com page.

While her career is grassroots, Lily's upbringing still has star power. Her father is British comedian and personality Keith Allen, and she spent many of her family vacations with Uncle Joe. (That's Joe Strummer to you and me). In fact, the singer can boast that she has performed at Wembley with The Clash before she was old enough to buy herself a pint.

Jim and Greg are drawn to Lily's sound, which is a pastiche of pop, reggae, ska and even a bit of '60s“space-age bachelor pad”music. But, it's her lyrics that really“slay”them. Lily writes about everything from an average life in London to a failed relationship with a great deal of honesty, humor, and most of all, attitude. Listen to her performances of hits "LDN" and "Smile," and check out these exclusive bonus tracks.

Go to episode 65

The Flaming Lips

This week's guests are two of the members of Oklahoma's Flaming Lips, co-founder Wayne Coyne and long-time member, multi instrumentalist and co-songwriter Steve Drozd. Wayne chimes in that their two other current band members, Michael Ivins and touring drummer Clifford, couldn‘t make it to the interview. Ivins was too preoccupied erecting the UFO for that night’s live gig in Chicago. Greg points out that Wayne at one time admitted he was part of a band that couldn‘t play, had a singer that couldn’t sing, and heralded from an unknown town. Yet, here they are 25 years later, still going strong. As someone who wrote a book about The Flaming Lips. Jim continues to be astounded by the extensiveness of their career. He feels it parallels the career of Pink Floyd who had at least four different incarnations over 30 or 40 years. The Lips' first era was their '80s psychedelic era with it's key album In a Priest Driven Ambulance from 1990. On this album, former Lips drummer Jonathan Donahue replaced Nathan Roberts and the band collaborated for the first time with producer Dave Fridmann. Fridmann, who would go on produce many other Lips‘ albums, brought a higher level of musicality and production to the Lips’ sound. In a Priest Driven Ambulance was also the album that introduced Steve Drozd to the Flaming Lips (he did not join the band until almost a decade into the band's career). Drozd loved the album's“loud psychedelic rock guitar”with "hokum balladry". Greg also adds that the record contained a non-ironic cover of Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World" amidst the cynical and cooler-than-thou indie rock community.

Even though the band started in 1983, it wasn't until 1992 that The Flaming Lips signed to a major label. The first album for Warner Brothers Records was Hit to Death in the Future Head. Wayne and the band saw this as an opportunity to make a record that's worth the“billion dollars”major labels can spend on albums. Greg feels that their new ambition really exceeded the ambition they had with their previous work. He feels it's clearly evident in 1993's Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. To Jim this album marks the moment when Wayne's songwriting started to rise from the background and move towards the caliber of the Lips' sonic density. Transmission from the Satellite Heart's, "She Don't Use Jelly" is such an example. Even though the song became their breakthrough“wiggy, novelty hit.”it was a "beautiful bubble gum song with a poignant lyric" wrapped inside an amazing musical production. Wayne and the band knew almost from the beginning that the song could be a hit. The song's hook was created from the lyrics which Wayne got from equating smearing chapstick on your lips to buttering your toast. Wayne's story dispels the rock critic myth that these lyrics were a code for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Greg brings everyone back to the dense sound of Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. He wonders how Steven came upon the idea layering the heavy“Bonham-esque”drums underneath pop songs. Steven admits that the sound was inspired by Larry Mullen's drums on U2's War.

Greg wonders if the band's next transformation happened after guitarist Ronald Jones left the band in 1996. Wayne agrees that Ronald's leaving changed the band. Although, Steve adds that he himself was burnt out and heavily into drugs at the time. At this point the Lips re-tooled into the era of their parking lot experiments, boom box experiments and the 1997 release of the four-CD album Zaireeka — an album designed for the listener play all four CD's simultaneously on four different sound systems in the same room. Each project was an orchestration of random sounds, a symphony of noise. Wayne wanted to try something new and take a chance.

After the band went through their two year sonic experiment they released the album The Soft Bulletin in 1999, which Jim considers a pop masterpiece. Wayne thinks the signature song from that album is "Race For the Prize". The song is in reference to two scientists fighting to cure a disease. Also on the album is "Waitin' for a Superman," inspired by Wayne and his brother jogging around the lake to deal with their father's bout with cancer. These two songs are full of meaningful and heartstung lyrics. Jim pipes in that that Wayne wouldn‘t have been able to write lyrics like this earlier in the Lip’s career. Wayne chalks it up to the experience of life changing you, which changed him and the band for the better.

2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a continuation of the band's lyrical progression, especially with its song "Do You Realize??" Another key song is "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1." (You can hear their live performance here.)

The critical response to these last two albums was, as Jim puts it,“nothing short of ecstatic.”The latest album, 2006's At War With the Mystics hasn‘t seen the same response (including from our own Greg Kot.) Steve and Wayne kind of expected it. They’re just as happy to win a Grammy for a song titled, "The Wizard Turns On…The Giant Silver Flashlight And Puts On His Werewolf Moccasins."

Go to episode 94

Nelson George

Music critic, author and screenwriter Nelson George joins Jim and Greg on the show this week. His many books have become cornerstones on American thinking about hip hop, soul and pop music. Now he has a new book out called City Kid: A Writer's Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success. After years of exploring the lives of others, including Chris Rock, James Brown and Russell Simmons, Nelson took himself on as a subject. He relays his experience growing up in Brownsville. Music and art gave him a way to experience the outside world and later became his ticket to success. He even made his way to Hollywood, writing and producing the hip hop parody film CB4.

Go to episode 182

John Kennedy O'Connor on Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest is largely unknown to most Americans, but for much of the world, the annual songwriting contest is one the biggest (and occasionally, one of the most controversial) cultural events of the year. Like the Superbowl meets American Idol on steroids, the nearly 60-year old televised contest has grown to include more than 35 countries from in and around Europe duking it out to decide who has best original song. Each year an estimated 125 million people tune in to watch and it's their votes which determine who comes out on top.

Despite the fervor before and during the contest, most Eurovision winners rarely go on to further success as artists - with few exceptions. Chief among those is ABBA, who arguably wouldn't have become a pop music powerhouse for 40 years if it weren‘t for their big break at Eurovision. To learn more about their musical birthplace, and just why it’s so darn popular, Jim and Greg recruited John Kennedy O'Connor, author of The Eurovision Song Contest: The Official History, to share the storied, and oftentimes strange, history of the annual music phenomenon. They‘ll all be tuning to watch this year’s contest in Denmark on May 6th.

Go to episode 438

Jac Holzman

Jac Holzman

Before there was a Merge or a Matador there was Elektra Records. The great American label recently celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, and its founder Jac Holzman is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this month. Jim and Greg talk to Jac about launching Elektra as an independent folk label out of his dorm room in 1950. Eventually the roster grew to include every genre of music – blues, rock, funk, world and pop. It became the home to The Stooges, the MC5, Love and Queen, and, Jim adds, some notoriously difficult personalities. But Jac insists no artist was too hard to handle. He did use caution when out drinking with Jim Morrison, however.

Go to episode 275

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus, the alter ego of electronic singer/songwriter Nika Roza Danilova, has already released five studio albums, despite being only 26-years-old. While her first album The Spoils was a lo-fi effort recorded in her bedroom in 2009, Zola Jesus has since developed an expansive, orchestrated sound featuring gloomy synthesizers and string arrangements. In creating her atmospheric songs, she draws equally on her love of classical music, industrial and mainstream pop. Her latest album Taiga is named after the Russian word for“forest,”appropriate as the music manages to evoke the feeling of the deep, dark woods. The woods are, in fact, close to her heart – though currently based in Seattle, Danilova grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin. She joined Jim and Greg for a conversation and live performance at the Virgin Hotel in Chicago. Zola Jesus discusses the difficulty of seeking out transgressive music in an isolated community, her childhood love of opera, and taking inspiration from filmmaker David Lynch, who also remixed one of her songs.

Go to episode 497

Yoko Ono

This week Jim and Greg welcome music legend Yoko Ono. While many know her simply as John Lennon's widow, Yoko is also an accomplished artist in her own right. Since coming into the spotlight, Yoko has often been reviled her for her radical views and radical music (and for "breaking up the greatest pop group in the world"), but she recently found a new role as a heroine in the indie rock underground. A new generation of musicians who didn't grow up with the same kind of reverence for The Beatles have claimed Yoko as their own. This was especially evident at the Pitchfork Music Festival, where she headlined Saturday's show. Yoko not only played to an audience of thousands people — young and old — but she invited Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Cat Power's Chan Marshall on stage with her to perform.

Recently Yoko has been busy working on some new albums. The first is Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, which features two discs of artists covering songs by John Lennon. She's also released a couple of disc of her own work. Yes, I'm a Witch is a collection of remixes of Yoko's songs by artists such as Peaches, Le Tigre and The Flaming Lips. This was followed by Open Your Box, a collection of dance remixes. The title is a testament to the artist's strong will. It stems from her song "I'm a Witch," which she was reluctant to officially release when she penned it years ago. She explains to Jim and Greg that it wasn‘t as acceptable at the time to come out with such strong lyrics. But, it’s much easier in 2007 to proclaim yourself a bitch.

John and Yoko both influenced each other's music greatly. Greg explains that Yoko's collaboration with her husband brought out the“beast”in him as a guitar player But, Greg wanted to know what Yoko first thought of John's“simple”pop songs considering how avant-garde her compositions were. Yoko explains that she actually found that approach quite refreshing. He helped her to understand how beautiful even the most simple, fun songs can be.

It would be unfair to categorize Yoko strictly as avant-garde. In addition to influencing John's undoubtedly mainstream music, she's also influenced contemporary bands like Cibo Matto and Deerhoof. Jim and Greg talk to the artist about hearing elements of the song "Why" in The B52s' pop hit "Rock Lobster." Yoko explains that she never looked at this as any kind of vindication, but that John actually found great joy in hearing "Rock Lobster" for the first time.

Go to episode 86

Don Was

Don Was This week, our guest is musician, producer and label president Don Was. Was hails from Detroit and since the early '80s has been a part of the group Was (Not Was). In Was (Not Was,) Don is the bassist, a songwriter and a producer, creating unique music that blended the genres of jazz, pop, rock and dance music. He then found a second career as a super producer, working with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and more. Then beginning in 2012, Was became the president of the legendary jazz record label Blue Note Records. He talks with Jim and Greg about the methodology behind Was (Not Was), working with The Rolling Stones throughout the decades and his transition into being a label head.

Go to episode 639

Michael Angelakos

Indietronica act Passion Pit recently released its third album of electronic pop Kindred, eliciting a Buy It from both Jim and Greg. This week, we revisit our 2012 interview with Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos, who joined Jim and Greg in the studio for a frank conversation and stripped-back live set. Passion Pit first found success after Angelakos posted some songs on MySpace in 2008 and the track "Sleepyhead" quickly exploded on the net. Passion Pit have since released three critically acclaimed albums and toured the world. The danceable tracks and high production values of the band's music can be deceptive. If you don‘t listen closely, you can miss the highly introspective lyrics that explore Angelakos’s own experience with addiction and mental illness. As Michael tells Jim and Greg, the band had to cancel dates so that he could deal with issues related to his manic depression. The contrast between upbeat music and dark lyrics, Michael explains, is what he's always found interesting in pop music, and it's the key to the Passion Pit project. Despite the often harrowing content, Michael says his music is ultimately hopeful – an effort to achieve transcendence amid tough circumstances.

Go to episode 495

She & Him

This week's guests are She & Him, the“she”being Zooey Deschanel and the“him”being Matt Ward, known to fans as M. Ward. The two met during the making of the movie“The Go-Getter”and quickly learned they were successful collaborators. She & Him's first album Volume One, is a collection of songs written by Zooey, as well as a couple of covers. Zooey explains that she's most influenced by classic pop songwriting, much of which pre-dates rock and roll. You can hear the country, doo-wop and Brill-building influence on the duo's music as they perform their songs "Take It Back" and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" as well as two bonus tracks.

Zooey and Matt's visit to the show prompted Jim and Greg to think about other Hollywood crossover attempts — both hits and misses. Here are some other musical actors:

  • Eddie Murphy
  • Ricky Nelson
  • Brandon Cruz
  • Will Oldham
  • Scarlett Johansen
  • William Shatner

And many more…

Go to episode 142

Cut Copy

Next up Jim and Greg are visited by members of the Australian quartet Cut Copy. The group merges classic pop sounds with electronic dance beats, but began as just a bedroom project for former graphic designer and DJ Dan Whitford. He added guitars, drums and keyboards to the mix, and the result is a live instrumentation that rivals the production you'll hear on record. Cut Copy performs songs from their recent album Zonoscope, which packs in hooks and a sheen that harkens back to '70s pop radio. Check out video of the band in the studio.

Go to episode 308

Michael Angelakos

This week, Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos is in the studio with Jim and Greg for a frank conversation and stripped-back live set. As Michael tells Jim and Greg, the band began with a belated Valentine's Day present. Angelakos - then a student at Boston's Emerson College - posted a track he'd written for his girlfriend to MySpace. "Sleepyhead" quickly exploded on the net. Passion Pit have since released two critically acclaimed albums and toured the world. Their latest release, Gossamer combines upbeat dance tracks and high production values with lyrics that explore Angelakos's own experience with addiction and mental illness. (As Michael tells Jim and Greg, the band had to cancel dates this year so that he could deal with issues related to his manic depression). The contrast between upbeat music and dark lyrics, Michael explains, is what he's always found interesting in pop music, and it's the key to the Passion Pit project. Despite Gossamer's harrowing content, Michael says the album is ultimately hopeful - an effort to achieve transcendence amid tough circumstances.

Go to episode 359

The db's

This week the dB's, one of power pop's great underexposed bands, stops by the Sound Opinions studio for an interview and live set. The group came together in 1978 as part of New York City's punk and new wave scene, and put out two classic, but minimally distributed albums before singer/guitarist Chris Stamey left the group. Two more low profile records followed before the group broke up in 1988. Now the original dB's lineup is back with a new album, Falling Off the Sky. Jim used to frequently go see this band live in their earliest days, and it's clear that they haven't lost a step in their few decades off. During their visit, the band rips through three songs from Falling Off the Sky, and Stamey and co-frontman Peter Holsapple talk with Jim and Greg about their early days in North Carolina, their label woes in the '80s, and their decision to reunite not for a paycheck, but just because they were itching to play again.

Go to episode 375

Robert Wyatt

Jim and Greg are joined by Robert Wyatt in the next segment. While he may not be a household name, Wyatt is one of the most influential musicians of the rock era. As a drummer with 1960s group Soft Machine, Wyatt reinvented prog rock, and was a pioneer of jazz-rock fusion. He was later ousted from Soft Machine, and in 1973 a terrible fall rendered him a paraplegic. But, as his interview with Jim and Greg reveals, Wyatt never ceased to be an innovator. Jim explains that Wyatt's been having a career resurgence in recent years. He was not only up for the prestigious Mercury Prize in England in 2003, but he is releasing a new album, Comicopera, on Domino Records, the label that is also home to Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys.

Greg begins by asking Wyatt about his appeal to a younger generation of musicians, including Thom Yorke and Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip. Wyatt can‘t explain this phenomenon, but he imagines that people respect how he does his own thing and makes music for music’s sake. It's inspirational for young musicians to see that you can maintain artistic integrity and, at the same time, longevity.

Wyatt formed the Soft Machine with three other schoolmates, and he never imagined that they'd eventually be opening up for Jimi Hendrix on his 1968 tour. The music of that time influenced his politics as well as his sound. But while contemporaries like The Rolling Stones looked to the blues, Wyatt and the Soft Machine looked to jazz. After his accident, though, Wyatt was forced to approach drumming differently than other jazz musicians. By eliminating the element of acrobatic virtuosity that jazz drummers often focus on, Wyatt was free to focus on the beats and the sounds. But, listeners shouldn‘t confuse Wyatt’s experimentalism with an anti-pop attitude. He says, "Pop music is the folk music of the post-industrial era, and folk music is the most important music in the world."

Go to episode 100

Brian Eno

Frequent Sound Opinions listeners know they can count on one thing: Brian Eno references. In fact some have taken to making it a drinking game. The legendary producer and electronic music pioneer seems to come up no matter what Jim and Greg are talking about. And for good reason-Eno is not just an innovator in the experimental world, but a major pop force as well, first as a member of the new wave band Roxy Music, then as a producer and collaborator with David Byrne and the Talking Heads, John Cale, Devo, U2 and Coldplay. He also composes solo work as well, though whether or not he'll use lyrics, singing or poetry is never known. His last album Drums Between the Bells was inspired by the poetry of Rick Holland. And he has a new EP called Panic of Looking. Brian joins Jim and Greg from England and shares his unique philosophies on writing, recording and the studio as an instrument.

Go to episode 310

Indians

This week Indians is in the studio. It's the alter-ego of Danish artist Soren Juul. He began as a classically trained musician, but was also schooled in pop music by his record-collecting father. So, inspired by unique pop bands like Pink Floyd, he abandoned the classics for synths and a laptop. His viral hit "Magic Kids" caught the attention of critics like Jim and Greg, After retreating to the Danish countryside to write, Soren recorded the songs for Indians' debut release Somewhere Else. He and bandmates Heather Woods Broderick and Laurel Simmons perform songs from the album.

Go to episode 397

She & Him

This week's guests are She & Him. The“she”is actress Zooey Deschanel and the“him”is musician Matt Ward, known to fans as M. Ward. The two met during the making of the movie“The Go-Getter,”and quickly learned they were successful collaborators. They visited the show in 2008 after the release of their first album Volume One. The record is a collection of songs written by Zooey, as well as a couple of covers. Zooey explains that she's most influenced by classic pop songwriting, much of which pre-dates rock ‘n’ roll. You can hear the country, doo-wop and Brill Building influence on the duo's music as they perform their songs "Take It Back" and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" as well as two bonus tracks.

Go to episode 196

L.A. Reid

lareidcoachella TLC, Mariah Carey, Pink, Justin Bieber, Outkast, Usher, Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, Kanye West…you name the pop star, and chances are he or she has worked with this week's guest, Antonio“L.A.”Reid. While he began as a drummer in the R&B group The Deele, it's really behind-the-scenes that L.A. has made the most awesome noise—first, as a songwriter/producer with Babyface in the 1980s and 1990s, then as a record exec at LaFace, Arista, Island Def Jam and now Epic Records.

L.A. shares his insights into what makes a great pop song, great (melody, hooks, emotion and the ability to sound good, even with a pillow over it) and some of his biggest professional triumphs (signing“the Beast”Rihanna, coaching Kanye West) and failures (Lady Gaga…the one that got away). He's also not afraid to get candid about music industry sacred cows, whether it's Michael Jackson or major labels themselves.

Go to episode 542

Bob Mould

Huskerdu Like most breakups, band breakups can be agonizing and traumatic, but also opportunities for self-reflection and reinvention. This week Jim and Greg talk to Hüsker Dü songwriter and guitarist Bob Mould about the breakup of his band - on the cusp of what many believed would be their mainstream breakthrough - and his subsequent reinvention as a solo artist. It's a period Mould talks about in his new memoir, See a Little Light, though he rarely discusses it in person. Aside from being one of the most rousing live rock n' roll acts around, Minnesota's Hüsker Dü was amazingly prolific. With Mould on guitar, Grant Hart on drums, and Greg Norton on bass, the band took punk velocity and pop craft to superhuman levels on a series of significant releases between 1984 and 1986: Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig, and Candy Apple Grey. But as Mould recalls, after the band's move to a major label, personal relationships, competition, and addiction proved to be toxic. The crisis came after a disastrous 1987 performance in Columbia, Missouri, when Hart's drug use brought the show to a halt. It was the period, Mould emphasizes, at the end of a very long sentence. The band broke up shortly thereafter. Bob also discusses his retreat to rural Minnesota, where he began experimenting with new instruments and alternate tunings. In 1989, he would re-emerge as a solo artist with another great album, Workbook.

Want more Mould? Listen to Jim and Greg's 2008 interview with Bob here.

Go to episode 295
specials

The Monkees

Hey, hey, it's The Monkees! Jim and Greg go ape on this episode with Eric Lefcowitz, author of Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made For TV Band. The three men talk about the band's history as a group manufactured to tap into Beatlemania. TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider brought bandmates Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones together, and their music was supervised by record producer Don Kirshner. This was the original pop model, giving way to NSYNC, Justin Bieber and Glee. But eventually, as often happens, The Monkees began to itch for independence. They went on to write and produce more of their own music and make the trippy cult classic Head. But for those who want to relive the golden age, rumor has it The Monkees will be“reuniting”(sans Nesmith) this year.

Go to episode 273

Disco Dissected

disco Disco often gets a bad rap — silly songs, silly clothes, silly people. But as Jim and Greg discuss this week, the music and the scene surrounding it were much more. Songs like "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer and "Good Times," by Chic are as artful and influential as anything pop music has produced. And, as opposed to the exclusive disco world of Studio 54, authentic discos and disco music gave a sense of community to many outsiders, much like punk did. You can hear this in tracks like "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," by drag performer Sylvester.

Go to episode 184

Holiday Spectacular 2016

Warblings from the Enchanted Forest

There's a whole world of holiday music out in the universe besides the tired recordings you hear endlessly year after year. Nobody knows that better than holiday music collector and expert Andy Cirzan. Each year, Andy joins Jim and Greg for our Holiday Spectacular, sharing an hour of incredible unknown Christmas records he's picked up over years of scouring bargain bins throughout the country. This year, Andy presents a mix of obscure holiday soul, pop, disco, and more titled Warblings from the Enchanted Forest.

As a special bonus, listeners are invited to download Andy Cirzan's accompanying holiday compilation for FREE at christmas.soundopinions.org. The mix will only be up until the end of 2016, so get it while the yule log is hot! And happy holidays from Sound Opinions!

Go to episode 577

Remembering Prince

Prince Remembered

"Life is just a party, and parties weren't meant to last." Yet the party ended much too soon for music legend Prince, who died on April 21 at the age of 57 at his Paisley Park home and recording studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Volumes have been said about the late Prince Rogers Nelson in the past week, but Jim and Greg draw attention to aspects of his music and career that aren't acknowledged enough. Growing out of the Minneapolis funk scene, Prince refused to be boxed into a single genre, fearlessly blending funk, pop, rock, soul, new wave, and R&B to create a sound all his own. He was known as a guitar god, but could really play any instrument he touched and often was the only musician on his recordings. Prince carried on the Marvin Gaye and Al Green tradition in R&B of mixing the sacred and the profane, sex and salvation. On records like The Black Album, he created some of the most lascivious music ever, but at the same time, Jim and Greg argue he showed a deep respect for women. Not only did he mentor and collaborate with up-and-coming female stars, but he also was eager to help out his idols like Chaka Khan and Mavis Staples.

Prince was unafraid to explore psychedelia, especially in the crucial three album run of Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, and Parade in the mid-80s. He spent the rest of his life toiling away at Paisley Park, churning out recording after recording – not without quality control issues. But in the past couple decades, Prince was defined by his unpredictable and often transcendent live performances. Prince was ahead of his time in recognizing the internet as a way to sell music directly to his fans without a label. But his greatest legacy will of course be his music, and his influence on generations of artists is immeasurable.

Go to episode 544

Victims of the Music Business

nellie This week 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.

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. Wilco 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.

Go to episode 117
classic album dissections

Aretha Franklin Amazing Grace

It's a big year for Aretha Franklin. The“Queen of Soul”just turned 70, and her bestselling album, Amazing Grace, turns 40 this June. No, you won't find megahits like "Respect" or "Think " on Amazing Grace's track list, but this 1972 album of gospel covers influenced rock and rollers as diverse as the Rolling Stones and U2, and transformed gospel as we know it. In honor of the anniversary, Jim and Greg do a classic album dissection of Amazing Grace. They're joined by Aaron Cohen, Downbeat editor and author of a book on Amazing Grace for the 33 1/3 series. Everything Aretha did in this era, Aaron explains, she did in a big way. Her return to gospel music after over a decade in the pop wilderness was no exception. The record was recorded live at a Baptist church in Watts, Los Angeles over two days. Gospel luminaries including singer Clara Ward and Aretha's father, the Reverand CL Franklin, were in the audience (as were the Stones' Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger). Freed from the constraints of cutting a three-minute single, Franklin takes her time on Amazing Grace, stretching songs and combining them in surprising medleys. But the real magic of the album, Aaron contends, comes from the combination of Aretha's voice with that of Reverend James Cleveland's Southern California Community Choir. This combination of star soloist and choir became standard in gospel music from this point forward.

As always with classic album dissections, Jim and Greg choose their own tracks from Amazing Grace to highlight. Jim goes with "Precious Lord (Take My Hand)/You've Got a Friend," a medley that melds a classic gospel tune with Carole King's decidedly secular pop hit. Greg chooses "How I Got Over," a Clara Ward cover that, he explains, was closely associated with the ongoing civil rights movement.

Go to episode 332

James Brown Live at the Apollo

Before he was America's Godfather of Soul, James Brown was the king of the South's segregated "Chitlin' Circuit". It took Live at the Apollo - an album recorded over fifty years ago on Brown's own dime - to catapult him onto the national stage. With the success of the Mick Jagger-produced biopic Get On Up, we decided to revisit our Classic Album Dissection of Brown's Live at the Apollo with help from music writer RJ Smith. He's the author of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown. As RJ explains, James Brown was all about the live experience. He knew if radio listeners could just hear his live show, he could be "Gary Cooper big." He was right. High-energy numbers like“Night Train”and“Think”propelled Brown onto the pop charts and super-charged his career. But, as Greg notes, Live at the Apollo wasn't just a turning point for Brown personally, it was a turning point for music. Suddenly doo-wop and soul was starting to sound…funky.

Go to episode 459
reviews
KindredKindred available on iTunes

Passion Pit Kindred

Frontman Michael Angelakos of the indietronica act Passion Pit has come a long way since "Sleepyhead" became a MySpace hit in 2008. He's now returned with a third album of shimmery electronic pop, Kindred. Jim is amazed by how Angelakos, who suffers from bipolar disorder, finds catharsis in making irresistible dance pop. Although he addresses his pain in Kindred, Angelakos never mopes but rather celebrates life. Electronic Dance Music rarely has real soul like this. Greg is also pleased to find this record more optimistic than the previous release, Gossamer. Angelakos has a knack for making commercial music that avoids pop cliches through his brilliant symphonic keyboard arrangements. According to Greg, it's a great pop record with finely honed songs from beginning to end. Both critics give Kindred a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 494
KaputtKaputt available on iTunes

Destroyer Kaputt

New Pornographers fans know Dan Bejar from his collaborations with the band. But he saves his most adventurous music for his solo project Destroyer. Bejar is often all over the map with Destroyer releases, so Jim and Greg did not see his latest album coming. Kaputt has some '80s pop sheen and elements of smooth jazz – things Greg doesn't generally like. But upon further listen, Greg began to understand where Bejar was coming from. He especially picked up on the influence of Blue Nile. Greg loved the tension between the warm,“pastel”sound and the angst-ridden lyrics. He gives Kaputt a Buy It rating. Jim was also initially put off by the record. And upon further listen he was even more put off. He doesn‘t understand how after all these years, Bejar’s records could still be so mediocre and spotty. The obscurity is not worth the effort. Jim says Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 271
Femme FataleFemme Fatale available on iTunes

Britney Spears Femme Fatale

Britney Spears isn‘t a schoolgirl anymore. Seven albums in, she’s now a record industry veteran, which begs the question: is she over? Her latest album Femme Fatale debuted at #1, but with only 276,000 copies sold. That's nothing compared to artists like Taylor Swift and Eminem. And, as Jim and Greg add, where does Britney fit in these days when you have Katy Perry on one end of the pop spectrum and Lady Gaga on the other? They also wonder where she fits in on her own album, which has 28 songwriters and 13 producers. It's a well-oiled machine, and a very well-produced one, but Britney is almost incidental. Jim calls Femme Fatale soulless and gives it a Trash It rating. Greg doesn't argue with this, but recommends listeners Burn It just to hear the top notch production.

JimGreg
Go to episode 280
Everything Will Be Alright In the EndEverything Will Be Alright in the End available on iTunes

Weezer Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Alternative heroes Weezer are back with a new album, but Greg says you'd be forgiven if you thought it was 1994 all over again. Back in 2010, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo sat down with Jim and Greg to defend his material against claims of pandering to fans. Greg respects Cuomo, but that doesn‘t change the fact that he thinks the singer is doing it all over again on Weezer’s latest, Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Greg encourages Cuomo not be bothered so much by what he thinks his fans want more of: emotional guitar riffs and faintly wise musings on life and love. Instead, he should just stick with what he does best: crafting pleasurable pop melodies and hooks that feel good and aren't out to change the world. Everything Will Be Alright in the End is a Try It for Greg. Jim isn‘t as bothered by Weezer’s obvious pining for the past. Yes, you should probably ignore the record's reaching thematic bent (an exploration of Cuomo's relationship with fans, females and his father), but don‘t discount the song’s genius hooks and offbeat subject matter. Everything Will Be Alright in the End is just plain fun, and the best Weezer album since 2000's The Green Album. Jim says Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 463
Back to BasicsBack to Basics available on iTunes

Christina Aguilera Back to Basics

Another big album out this week is from pop princess Christina Aguilera. Or should we say pop queen? The former Mouseketeer is all grown up, and she shows it on Back to Basics (though not grown up in that "Dirrty" way). Rather, the classier Mrs. Bratman attempted to make more classic pop standards like the ones she grew up listening to. The first disc, produced by DJ Premier, is more club-oriented pop music. But the second features live instrumentation and a big band sound, and was produced by Linda Perry, whom Jim refers to as the modern Diane Warren. The problem, according to Jim and Greg, is not that she cannot sing — in fact, she sings a little too well. They wish she had showed a little restraint and didn't feel the need to show off her impressive pipes so much. Another problem is what Christina chooses to sing about: Both hosts wish she would stop feeling so sorry for herself and her celebrity existence. Nevertheless, Jim and Greg think there are a handful of songs worth checking out. Back to Basics gets two Burn Its.

JimGreg
Go to episode 38
Idlewild

Outkast Idlewild

In the news this week is the release of one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year: Outkast's Idlewild. This is the sixth album from André Benjamin (André 3000) and Antwan Patton (Big Boi), a hip-hop duo who have become major figures in pop music, as well as pop culture. 2003's double concept album Speakerboxx/The Love Below received huge amounts of critical acclaim, as well a Grammy Award for "Album of the Year," and singles like "Bombs Over Baghdad," "Rosa Parks," and "Hey Ya," will go down as some of music's best. So Jim and Greg anxiously awaited this release, which is paired with a film of the same name. Unfortunately, they both had to announce that this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year—and André may be to blame. The melding of his experimental style with Big Boi's more classic hip-hop sound is what made Outkast great, but he seems to have really left the building on this one. Jim and Greg wish the record was less about unnecessary guest stars, faux 1930s inspiration, and eccentricity for eccentricity's sake, and more about good songs. This double album gets a heartbreaking double Trash It. (Outkast fans would be better off checking out Big Boi's recent mixtape, Got Purp? Vol 2.)

JimGreg
Go to episode 38
Have You in My WildernessHave You in My Wilderness available on iTunes

Julia Holter Have You in My Wilderness

Avant-garde singer-songwriter Julia Holter returns with her fourth studio album, Have You in My Wilderness. Holter is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who is influenced by both folk and electronic experimental music. Her earlier efforts were more abstract and disjointed, however her latest album takes on a more simple, pop demeanor. Greg really enjoyed this record and found its songs to be intelligently catchy. He really looks forward to hearing where she goes next in her musical career and gives this album a "Buy It." Jim agrees, and finds Have You in My Wilderness to be a pure joy. He appreciates her specific and unique interests in classical, folk and electronic music. Jim also compares her artistry to that of Bjork and gives Holter's album a "Buy It."

JimGreg
Go to episode 536
The ShipThe Ship available on iTunes

Brian Eno The Ship

If you‘ve ever listened to Sound Opinions, you’ve learned one thing – Jim loves himself some Brian Eno. Eno has worn many hats over his long career, starting as a member of Roxy Music, collaborating with artists like David Bowie, and producing commercial successes for U2, Talking Heads, and Coldplay. His own solo output has varied wildly in style, recording pop albums in the '70s and basically inventing ambient music. His latest work, The Ship, is a concept album about the Titanic and the slaughter of World War I. Greg says Eno is finally merging his pop and ambient music, resulting in one of his best albums yet. He's freed himself from traditional song structures and rhythms to create cinematic images filled with orchestral synthesizer colors. Greg gives it a Buy It, impressed that Eno is still coming up with new ways to express himself. In a shocking turn of events, Jim is less impressed. He thinks that Eno's voice is the strongest tool in his arsenal, yet here he's burying it under the mix and fussing with Vocoders. Jim loves some ambient Eno, but feels he's done it better than on The Ship. But Jim says the doo-wop inflected cover of The Velvet Underground's "I'm Set Free" is amazing, earning The Ship a Try It rating.

JimGreg
Go to episode 545
The Best Damn ThingThe Best Damn Thing available on iTunes

Avril Lavigne The Best Damn Thing

Avril Lavigne has the #1 album in the country this week. The Best Damn Thing is the third album for the 22-year old Canadian, and her first recording as a married lady. With this release, Avril is in a quandary common to in pop music today: how do you transition from young pop phenom to mature recording artist? Upon first glance, it appears her response is to color her music with adult words (albeit benign ones like "damn"). But, after seeing another former child singer, Christina Aguilera, bump and grind in her live show, Jim found a new respect for Avril. He would much rather purchase her pop punk songs of empowerment for his 10-year-old daughter than anything by Aguilera or her opening acts, The Pussycat Dolls and Danity Kane, and so gives Avril a Buy It for his daughter. Greg agrees that Avril is a better option for young people, but doesn‘t see any improvement on this album from her previous two.“It’s disposable,”he explains, thus giving The Best Damn Thing a Trash It rating, even for his daughters.

JimGreg
Go to episode 74
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - EPThe Pains of Being Pure at Heart available on iTunes

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

After getting a lot of notice from their singles and EPs, Brooklyn quartet The Pains of Being Pure at Heart has released their full-length, self-titled debut. Jim admits the band has a formula – equal parts jangly pop and heavy bottom. But for him, it's a great formula, especially when combined with some of the twisted lyrics. He gives the album a Buy It. Greg is surprised to hear Jim say this. He doesn't hear anything fresh or unique here, and thinks there are better bands using this formula today. Greg gives The Pains of Being Pure at Heart a Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 170
Body Talk, Pt. 2Body Talk, Pt. 2 available on iTunes

Robyn Body Talk, Pt. 2

Swedish pop artist Robyn has been making music since she was a teenager. You might think of her as Sweden's answer to Britney Spears. But, she has since gone indie and edgy and began releasing a three part series called Body Talk last year. Body Talk, Pt. 2 feels like a full album to Jim. He loves her maturity and experimentation, noting that Robyn has even managed to make Snoop Dogg sound original. He gives it a Buy It rating. Greg agrees, and prompts Katy Perryto pay attention: This is how you make smart pop music. He doesn't hear anything as catchy as Body Talk Pt 1's "Dancing on My Own," but also gives the 2nd round a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 253
Sam's TownSam's Town available on iTunes

The Killers Sam's Town

The final album up for review is Sam's Town by Las Vegas pop group The Killers. We at Sound Opinions H.Q. must admit that we were highly entertained by Jim and Greg's summation of their latest effort. To quote Jim:“I despise this album with a hatred that I rarely have felt for anyone or anything.”We hardly need to hear anymore, but we're happy to. Both he and Greg understand that The Killers have always been about ripping off '80s New Wave and pop music, but neither can comprehend why they are now throwing bombastic, monster ballads into the mix. Lead singer Brandon Flowers manages to combine the over-singing styles of both Robert Smith and Bruce Springsteen. Greg blames producers Alan Moulder and Flood for simply not knowing better (though the two are also responsible for My Bloody Valentine's almost-perfect record Loveless). Sam's Town is a huge Trash It from both critics.

JimGreg
Go to episode 45
The Next DayThe Next Day available on iTunes

Bowie The Next Day

Tony Visconti is back with Bowie on the singer's first album in ten years: The Next Day. And both are back in top form, according to Greg. He thinks it's Bowie's most consistent record since the 1980's and again hears that sweet spot between pop music and the avant garde. Jim has always found Bowie something of a charlatan, and can't recommend The Next Day. So the gentlemen are split: Buy It for Greg, Trash It for Jim.

JimGreg
Go to episode 381
Rebel Heart - EPRebel Heart available on iTunes

Madonna Rebel Heart

In the early '80s, people questioned whether pop diva Madonna was just a girl of the moment or here to stay. While her music has been the soundtrack to our lives, her work in the 21st century has received mixed reviews. Plus in the Internet age, Madge experienced issues when she was forced to release her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, early after tracks leaked online. Greg thinks that Madonna is at her best when she's being introspective, like on 1998's Ray of Light. The more experimental and honest tracks on the latest record outshine the dance pop numbers that are usually her specialty. He argues that Rebel Heart is half of a good album and gives it a Try It. In Jim's opinion, Greg is being kind to the Material Girl, and thinks "Holy Water" is probably Madonna's worst song ever. He perceives the confessional songs as inauthentic and her attempts at provocation as tawdry. He gives Rebel Heart a Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 485
44 available on iTunes

Beyoncé 4

Beyoncé's got her fourth album and her fourth number one…aptly named 4. With this record, she's earned her stripes, so rumors swirled that she was indulging her whims production-wise by collaborating with Diplo and Fela Kuti and recording upwards of seventy songs. But,rumors were just that, and of those seventy tracks, Beyoncé picked some doozies. Greg hears more soul on the ballads, but otherwise is disappointed by the hodge podge of bad choices. Jim can't even get behind the ballads and calls 4 the epitomy of factory-made pop product. 4 = 2 Trash Its.

JimGreg
Go to episode 293
Born This WayBorn This Way available on iTunes

Lady Gaga Born This Way

There's a new hit pop album with Euro-pop dance beats and controversial lyrics designed to tweak the Catholic Church. Sound familiar? No, it's not Madonna, but Lady Gaga and her new album Born This Way. She might be the biggest star in the world right now, but she still has some surprises in her–including a fondness for '80s hair metal bombast. Jim was disappointed to hear Clarence Clemons on sax and Mutt Lange on production. He was further disappointed to hear the amount of over-singing. Jim wanted to love Born This Way, but it's a Trash It. Greg agrees that the record is totally overblown. It's like Gaga on steroids, and unfortunately, never lets up. A few standout tracks will work pounding in a stadium or club, but as an album, he'd just say Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 287
Shock Value (Instrumental Version)Shock Value available on iTunes

Timbaland Shock Value

Superstar producer Timbaland also has a new solo album called Timbaland Presents: Shock Value. Timbaland, otherwise known as Tim Mosley, has produced massive hits for pop and hip hop stars like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake. But, in addition to having a knack for making commercially successful tunes, Timbaland is also one of the most inventive, innovative and avant-garde producers of all time. This fact makes it all the more difficult for Jim and Greg to give their ratings of this album. Jim thinks the first half of the album is worth checking out for some solid production. But, he wishes Timbaland hadn‘t been so base and clichéd in his lyrics. He also questions the creativity involved in the album’s all-star collaborations. He gives Shock Value a Burn It. Greg can't even be that kind. He is completely disappointed by this album and is forced to give it a Trash It rating.

JimGreg
Go to episode 71
The River In Reverse (Digital Version)The River in Reverse available on iTunes

Elvis Costello The River in Reverse

Elvis Costello, the singer/songwriter who has taken on New Wave, punk, ska, country and pop, is tackling R&B on his latest release, The River in Reverse. The album is a collaboration between Costello and Allen Toussaint, the multi-talented New Orleans musician. Toussaint is responsible for hits like "Working in a Coal Mine," "I Like It Like That," and "Lady Marmalade," and has worked with The Band, Paul Simon and The Meters. The two collaborated after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, but neither Jim nor Greg think Costello's voice is up to the task of handling Toussaint's songs. Costello is a name that can garner attention for Toussaint, and Greg knows that his heart is in the right place, but it is only a Burn It record for both critics.

JimGreg
Go to episode 27
Ringleader of the Tormentors

Morrissey Ringleader of the Tormentors

Mythical. Mopey. Maudlin. Just some of the words used to describe that other Irish pop GodMorrissey. But after listening to his new album Ringleader of the Tormentors, you might have to add lustful to the mix. Morrissey has been famously celibate for a number of years, and that torment served him well. But now he not only admits to sexual trysts in Rome, but makes his own proclivities less ambiguous than in the past. The result gets a Burn It rating from both hosts, but for very different reasons. Jim finds Morrissey's lyrics as biting as ever, but is not impressed with his sonic decisions. Greg, on the other hand, believes a miserable Morrissey is a better Morrissey, but really appreciates the music, which was produced by former Bowie and T. Rex collaborator Tony Visconti.

JimGreg
Go to episode 20
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! available on iTunes

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Critically acclaimed side project Grinderman, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are back together for a new album called Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! Both Jim and Greg loved the Grinderman album. In fact, it took Jim's number one slot last year. But, while that record got an A+ from Jim, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! merely gets an A. Both he and Greg are impressed with Cave's ability to get stronger with age. He loves Cave's brilliant, intellectual lyrics that are full of humor and gives the album a Buy It. Greg agrees that the songwriter really amped up the humor, along with standard Cave topics like sex, death and religion. Amazingly those subjects fit into hook-filled pop songs, prompting Greg to give the album another Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 125
Donnie Trumpet

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment Surf

Out now is a debut for the new collective Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment. Surf smoothly combines rap, soul and pop as well as it seamlessly blends its different musicians. Chance the Rapper's childhood pal Donnie Trumpet fronts the band. Although Chance is the big name, he appears on fewer than half the tracks. That's not a problem for Greg. He thinks the record's sonics showcase a variety of sounds, musicians and friendships. Greg is even inticed by the fact they have big name rappers laying down rhymes over a harp. He gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees, adding that Surf showcases light and positivity present in neighborhoods where violence is all too prevalent. He calls it“inspired and brilliant,”and says Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 498
I'm Not DeadI'm Not Dead available on iTunes

Pink I'm Not Dead

Pink has the final album up for review during this week's show. I'm Not Dead is this pop riot grrrl's fourth album. Jim has always been a fan — while other pop starlets are not necessarily the best role models, Pink has always promoted feminism and independence. On her first single, "Stupid Girls," Pink basically satirizes the behavior of her peers, and Jim and Greg both think it's a pretty smart pop song. The rest of the album falls short, however. Pink is a great role model, but on this record, not necessarily a great songwriter. Both hosts believe that the record is sad and leaden and that Pink is taking herself much too seriously. I'm Not Dead gets a double "Trash It."

JimGreg
Go to episode 20
Crazy for YouCrazy For You available on iTunes

Best Coast Crazy For You

Also from California - and proudly so - is Best Coast. The band's debut album was the much buzzed about Crazy For You, a hit fueled as much by Beach Boys pop as it was by lead singer Bethany Cosentino's intense homesickness (she was in a band in New York for a time). Jim says that Best Coast's sophomore album, The Only Place, might come under fire for being simply more of the same. That might be true, if by“same”you mean it's another album of indelibly catchy pop. But he also points out the darkness of Beth's lyrics this time around. She's singing about her desire to be loved for who she is, and as Greg points out, she's doing so sincerely and movingly. Both Jim and Greg agree this is summery pop at its best. They say Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 345
UnapologeticUnapologetic available on iTunes

Rihanna Unapologetic

Reigning pop/R&B queen and hook-singer du jour Rihanna is back with a new release called Unapologetic - her first to top the Billboard albums chart. The 24-year-old Barbadian singer has been all over the news in recent weeks, though not necessarily for her music. By dueting with the man who assaulted her in 2009 (fellow R&B singer Chris Brown) on“Nobody's Business,”Rihanna ensured her seventh studio album would be everybody's business. So how's the music? Jim calls the upbeat dance-pop fare on the first half of the record“pure pop pleasure.”But when things get sappier and slowed-down on side two, her limits as a vocalist become clear. Greg agrees with Jim that Rihanna's Chris Brown collab is pure“button-pushing.”He points to her 2009 album Rated R as a more ambitious and successful exploration of that troubled relationship. While he appreciates that the singer is moving in a more serious direction, he laments that the pop hooks just aren't there. Unapologetic gets a double Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 366
24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault available on iTunes

Stevie Nicks 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault

The "Welsh Witch", Stevie Nicks, is back with her eighth solo studio album called 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, and as the title suggests, the record features new recordings of old songs Nicks has kept locked away since the late 1960's. To reimagine the decades-old tracks, she's enlisted the help of a squeaky clean Nashville backing band and squeky clean pop stars like Lady Antebellum and Vanessa Carlton. Jim is not a fan of these choices. He misses the old Stevie's Celtic folk feel and her ethereal voice, which is now starting to show its age. Jim knows the Stevie Nicks-faithful will still want to try the album, but its mediocre songs and altered star make it a Trash It for the rest of us. Greg also misses Nicks‘ distinctive personality and tires of the album’s inability to turn her meandering ideas into more shapely pop songs. Greg credits Nicks' former love and Fleetwood Mac bandmate Lindsey Buckingham for helping her achieve that in the past, but he's nowhere to be found on this record; except in many of the song's lyrics, which provide a sometimes uncomfortably voyeristic window into the couple's storied relationship. That said, the stripped-down piano and "Landslide"-like vocals on the song "Lady" are impressive, so Greg gives 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault a conditional Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 465
Writer's BlockWriter's Block available on iTunes

Peter Bjorn and John Writer's Block

Next the critics give their opinions on Writer's Block, the third album from Swedish pop group Peter Bjorn and John. The trio has gotten a lot of great reviews and even some mainstream buzz due to the inclusion of their song, "Young Folks," on Grey's Anatomy. (Unfortunately the biggest Grey's breakout thus far has been The Fray).“Young Folks”features former Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman, but it's the whistle and the bass line that are the real stars for Jim and Greg. Both Jim and Greg love the pop songs on this record, which are full of eclectic touches and catchy hooks, and give it a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 65
ChallengersTwin Cinema available on iTunes

The New Pornographers Twin Cinema

The first album up for review this week is by the Canadian indie-pop supergroup The New Pornographers. Band leader A.C. Newman, along with Destroyer's Dan Bejar, Neko Case and a cast of other songwriters and musicians have recorded their fourth album together, Challengers. The album is another collection of melodic, hook-filled songs, but Greg admits that Bejar almost steals the record with his track, "Myriad Harbor," a power-pop meets hip-hop composition. He loves the tongue-in-cheek, carefree attitude of many of the songs, but doesn't think the album is as good as its predecessor, Twin Cinema. Because the energy level is uncharacteristically down for the band, Greg gives this New Pornographers effort a Try It. Jim was glad to hear the band went for something different. They did three albums of pure, effervescent pop, and now they've added orchestrations to the mix. He gives Challengers a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 90
The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2The 20/20 Experience available on iTunes

Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience

Over the past few years we wondered if Justin Timberlake had forsaken music for his first profession, acting. But, now he is back with a grand, almost operatic album called The 20/20 Experience. And while it is an experience full of lengthy, ambitious tracks, Greg wonders,“where is the soul?”He credits Justin with being smart and stylish, but misses the emotional investment. The 20/20 Experience is a“snooze,”so Greg says Trash It. Jim is less harsh, and recommends you Burn It, but only out of pure pop curiosity. He believes JT to be a charming entertainer, but doubts he has the darkness to back up this neo-soul experiment.

JimGreg
Go to episode 382
ManipulatorManipulator available on iTunes

Ty Segall Manipulator

Prolific San Francisco garage rocker Ty Segall has released an abundance of material during his 27-year lifetime. From cassette tapes to EPs to singles, rarely does a year go by without the songwriter starting a new band or collaborating with another. Occasionally, though, Segall does step into the spotlight with a solo release, and his latest, this month's Manipulator, is a real stand-out. Jim thinks all 17 tracks on the album are uniformly great with their refined blend of lo-fi psychedelic pop that harkens back to the best of San Francisco's 1980's psych rock revival. Greg loves it, too, notably for Segall's precise production and successful expression of all his musical personalities. Manipulater is a sprawling album full of loving melodies, great guitar playing, and contemplative lyrics; both critics say Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 458
Honey MoonHoney Moon available on iTunes

The Handsome Family Honey Moon

The Handsome Family has a new album out this week called Honey Moon. Like the title, many of the songs on the album relate nature to love. Love songs are a dime a dozen, but both Jim and Greg are hugely impressed with what the husband and wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks do with the topic. Brett has mastered their home studio, bringing their alt-country sound to a more pop one. And, according to our hosts, Rennie is one of the greatest songwriters working in rock today. Both Jim and Greg give Honey Moon a Buy It, and Jim also encourages listeners to go back to the duo's 1998 masterpiece Through the Trees.

JimGreg
Go to episode 178
XSCAPEXscape available on iTunes

Michael Jackson Xscape

Is Michael Jackson back from the dead? It seems like it lately, with the Thriller star moonwalking from beyond the grave, and his second posthumous release debuting at #2 this week. Xscape features eight hitherto-unreleased tracks, each in two forms: Jackson's original demos, plus new versions spiffed up by producers like L.A. Reid, StarGate and Timbaland. Greg finds it interesting that they included the demos — as he puts it, there was a reason Jackson left those behind. And while the production team did a good job reworking the tracks, Greg doubts that the Prince of Pop would have been satisfied with this album. Jim ponders the bizarre tracklist, which includes an update of America's "A Horse with No Name," a Paul Anka collaboration, and a song titled "Do You Know Where Your Children Are" that Jim finds simply“disturbing.”While Xscape isn't as awful as other posthumous releases (Tupac and Jimi Hendrix come to mind), neither host thinks fans will keep listening once the hype dies down. It's a double Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 443
My DecemberMy December available on iTunes

Kelly Clarkson My December

On June 14, Live Nation, or the concert promoters formerly known as Clear Channel canceled American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson's first nationwide arena tour due to“lackluster ticket sales.”This event, combined with the firing of her manager and the anticipation of the release of her third album My December has made for a dramatic couple of weeks for the singer. Clive Davis, the music mogul responsible for signing a ton of hit acts ranging from Whitney Houston to Barry Manilow to the Notorious B.I.G., has been overseeing the careers of Clarkson and all the Idol products thus far. But, much to the chagrin of Davis and her label RCA, Clarkson took My December as an opportunity to do her own songwriting and drift away from the guaranteed success of hit-makers like "Since You've Been Gone" scribe Max Martin. Jim and Greg commentate ringside for the blow by blow between America's first pop princess and the pop recording legend. Listening to the album, Greg cannot understand the controversy surrounding the album's pop potential, finding it reminiscent of a post-Dave Coulier Alanis Morrisette. Jim, on the other hand, thanks Clive Davis for trying to spare us the torment of this record. He thinks Clarkson is“at the level of a sub-par Midwestern bar band.”Greg gives it a Burn It, and Jim gives it a triple Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 82
The FallThe Fall available on iTunes

Norah Jones The Fall

Norah Jones has a new album out called The Fall. It's the 4th release from the successful pop-jazz artist, and for this one she's tried to juggle the formula. Jones parted ways with her former boyfriend/collaborater, and for The Fall she turned to producer Jacquire King and songwriters Ryan Adams and Okkervil River's Will Sheff. The change is subtle, according to Greg. He admires her understated approach, but wishes Jones were more adventurous. He gives this record a Burn It rating. Jim acknowledges that Jones has beaten the dreaded Best New Artist Grammy Curse, but was completely bored by Jones' sleepy crooning. He recommends listeners Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 208
Dye It BlondeDye it Blonde available on iTunes

Smith Westerns Dye it Blonde

Chicago trio Smith Westerns have released their second album, Dye it Blonde, and Jim and Greg are happy to hear that these relative youngsters haven't shied away from their innocence. Their sweet love songs come out of a great tradition of Midwestern power pop. Plus, adds Greg, when you factor in the guitars and keyboards, the music gets taken to a higher level. He admits there isn't a lot of drive in the rhythms, but on the basis of melody alone, he gives Dye it Blonde a Buy It rating. Jim also admires the band's songwriting chops. But while the first release was a little too lo-fi, this one is a little too polished. Jim says Buy It, but would tell the Smith Westerns to go for more grunge next time.

JimGreg
Go to episode 270
Ta-DahTa-Dah available on iTunes

The Scissor Sisters Ta-Dah

Next up is the sophomore effort from The Scissor Sisters, Ta-Dah. It's a common misconception that this quintet hails from the U.K. While they have received most of their success across the pond, this gender-bending pop group actually hails from New York City. Scissor Sisters had hits the first time around with singles like "Take Your Mama" and "Comfortably Numb," but the question was whether their schtick was too schticky to last. Greg, for one, really enjoyed Ta-Dah. He thinks that the music is fun and upbeat and perfect for singles play on your iPod. But he thought Jake Shears' (get it? "Shears!") falsetto was difficult to take for an entire album and can only give Ta-Dah a Burn It. Jim liked the album a bit more than Greg. He described it as an amalgam of the best glam, pop, and disco music that you would've heard on '70s AM radio. However, like Greg, he only recommends listeners Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 46
Under the BlacklightUnder the Blacklight available on iTunes

Rilo Kiley Under the Blacklight

In the final segment of the show, Jim and Greg review Under the Blacklight, the latest release from the Jenny Lewis-fronted pop band Rilo Kiley. After releasing such a successful solo debut, Greg notes that it's almost surprising that Lewis would return to her bandmates. But, she and ex-boyfriend Blake Sennett pen some lovely tracks together in a modern-day Fleetwood Mac style. Greg wishes they had dug deeper into the complications of their romantic history though, and only thinks a few tracks on Under the Blacklight are worth a Burn It. Jim thinks this album is one of the biggest turkeys of the year so far, and doesn't think Fleetwood Mac needs revisiting. He finds the album contrived and overproduced and gives it a hearty Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 91
The Sweet EscapeThe Sweet Escape available on iTunes

Gwen Stefani The Sweet Escape

Next up is a review of the second solo disc from Gwen Stefani. The No Doubt frontwoman's first attempt at solo success, Love.Angel.Music.Baby, sold over 3 million copies in 2004. Jim and Greg are certain that The Sweet Escape will also chart well, but they're not sure why. Jim describes this record as a“truly dreadful, dreadful, dreadful, despicable, abysmally bad album”that he “hates with the core of his being.” His main complaint is that he wishes Gwen would act her age. Mrs. Gavin Rossdale is now a mother, and he's certain she should have something more interesting to sing about than boys and Orange County. Greg agrees that this album is a snooze, but even wishes Stefani played more of a Lolita role; at least that would be interesting. He expected another fun, frothy pop record, but instead he is completely bored by most of the beats on this record, many courtesy of big names like The Neptunes and Swizz Beatz. Despite its nod to The Sound of Music, The Sweet Escape gets two big Trash Its.

JimGreg
Go to episode 58
Harry StylesHarry Styles available on iTunes

Harry Styles Harry Styles

Musician Harry Styles has been compared to Davie Bowie in the British press. But does his debut solo album, Harry Styles, live up to the hype? Greg says the album rips off classic rock riffs from the likes of U2 and Badfinger to craft a“retro-leaning”sound. He was expecting a“pop-leaning stadium sounding record”from Styles, who was formerly a member of boy band One Direction. Greg thinks the album, however, is a“personal-sounding”record that lacks substantive lyrics. Greg says Trash It. Jim says turn to Justin Timberlake if you want to see a "young product of the modern pop machine" who became a "true visionary artist". He admits“there are some charming moments”on the record, but that "most of them [are] ripped off from other places in rock history". Ultimately, Jim gives Harry Styles a Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 600
I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss (Deluxe Version)I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss available on iTunes

Sinead O'Connor I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss

Despite assertions that she wouldn't be making more music, Irish iconoclast Sinead O'Connor up and did it anyway. Her 10th studio album I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss is out this month, and Jim and Greg aren't terribly surprised by the move as the singer-songwriter has a history of marching to the beat of her own drum. She's ventured unexpected territory before with her reggae album and a release of“sexed up”Irish folksongs. And Jim is enthusiastic about this latest pop experiment because underneath the fun rhythms and catchy hooks is the same old Sinead—unapologetically opinionated. I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss is a Buy It for Jim. Greg finds less to love about this latest laissez-faire output from O'Connor. The first half of the album puzzled him as it lacks her usual feistiness. The second half picks up steam with songs like "Harbour" and "The Voice of My Doctor," which put O‘Connor’s attitude ahead of the "adult pop" production, so Greg can say Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 456
Stay GoldStay Gold available on iTunes

First Aid Kit Stay Gold

The Swedish duo First Aid Kit has released its 3rd album and its major label debut, Stay Gold. The band mixes 1970's folk rock with pop and country. Greg says this record is the darkest in their catalogue, but it's not despairing. They make the pain sound bearable. He says they aren‘t doing anything new sonically, but it’s a tight, efficient, beautiful album. That said, their best record is yet to come. Therefore he gives Stay Gold a Try It rating. Jim thinks Greg is not giving this release enough credit. He loves hearing this foreign take on American roots music and says Buy It rating.

JimGreg
Go to episode 450
High LifeSomeday World available on iTunes

Karl Hyde & Brian Eno Someday World


Pop/Rock icon (and enabler of the Sound Opinions drinking game) Brian Eno boasts a tremendous library of groundbreaking work, as well as a long history of rich collaborations, including joint projects with artists such as the Talking Heads, David Bowie, U2, and Coldplay. Most recently, Eno joined forces with electronic Underworlder Karl Hyde. The partnership produced two albums, Someday World and High Life, both released in rapid succession this year. Jim believes the that the two albums must be considered together, with the latter, High life, simply an extension of the first and former Someday World. That one was a“poppier”album, mostly comprised of Eno's previously unfinished pieces bolstered by Hyde's intervention. From Jim's perspective, the duo's attempt to combine Phillip Glass-minimalism with afro-beats is“not the greatest in the world”(a staggering response from the "unofficial president of the Brian Eno fan club). And most importantly it fails to provide Eno fans with what they truly want: more singing Eno. That said, an ever-faithful student, he asserts a Buy It stance for himself and a Try It for the rest of us.

Unlike Jim, Greg argues that these two albums must be viewed as two distinct entities—separate endeavors each with their own merits and shortcomings. Although he dishes out a borderline Trash It rating to the patchwork Someday World, he remarks that“the duo really hit their stride,”with this second, more experimental attempt and gladly jumps on board Jim's Eno train to give High Life a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 450
2525 available on iTunes

Adele 25

Pop powerhouse Adele recently made her highly anticipated return to music with her third album 25. In typical Adele fashion, she ended up selling almost 3.4 million copies of 25 in one week, breaking a previous record held by NSYNC's 2000 album No Strings Attached. Something else noteworthy about this new record is that is was produced by the biggest names in music, with songs by Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Greg Kurstin and Bruno Mars. Greg has to admit that he is disappointed with the album. While he enjoyed songs like "Million Years" and "Miss You," he thought Adele could have challenged herself more. Greg isn‘t hearing any new terrain being mined, and even though Adele has moved on in real life from that infamous relationship, musically she’s still "living in 21 land." He gives 25 a Try It. Jim is far more incensed because he was a big fan of Adele's first album, 19. The lyrics are beneath her. And without more interesting, unique songs, he has to say Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 523
ChimeChime available on iTunes

Dessa Chime

Chime is Dessa's fourth full-length album, and the singer/rapper/philosopher has given us an album that is according to Jim“brilliant,”even name-checking St. Thomas Aquinas. Greg notes that the record explores how“women measure their lives today”in a world where getting through the day without incident is a win; and suggests that she's saying“we need to have a better world than this.”He praises the creative production, whether it's a sitar sample (in "Fire Drills") or a chamber pop cello solo (in "Velodrome.") Greg thinks Dessa's pop vocals are less unique, but concedes that they provide a“good counterbalance”to heavier themes. Jim says the record balances“self-empowerment and sensitivity.”Chime gets a Double Buy It from Jim and Greg.

JimGreg
Go to episode 639
Little Dark AgeLittle Dark Age available on iTunes

MGMT Little Dark Age

The pop electronic group MGMT just released their fourth album, Little Dark Age. Formed at Wesleyan University, the band found critical and commercial success almost immediately with their debut record Oracular Spectacular. Since then however, the band has failed to garner as much attention. Greg is a bit torn on this album. He thinks there are some horribly cliched and bad tracks like "She Works Out Too Much" and "TSLAMP," but he also argues that there are some pretty catchy and solid pop songs ("When You're Small," "James".) He gives Little Dark Age a Try It. Jim is far less enthused with the record. On paper, MGMT seems like a band Jim would love, but in reality, he's not the slightest bit smitten. He calls them“smug, derivative and pretentious”and says he would trash this album a million times over. Needless to say, he gives it a Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 638
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even SankWe Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank available on iTunes

Modest Mouse We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

This show is an all-reviews blowout starting with the new release from Washington state indie rockers Modest Mouse. We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank is one of the most highly anticipated records of the season. Modest Mouse's underground fan base has emerged into the mainstream in the past few years, despite lead singer and chief songwriter Isaac Brock's status as a rather polarizing figure. Jim recommends fans check out Alan Goldsher's profile of Brock, Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read. Now, the band is joined by former Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr. James Mercer, lead singer of The Shins, also provides backing vocals on a number of tracks. Greg thinks that Isaac Brock is doing what he does best on this album: combining quirky vocals and rhythms with a traditional pop sensibility. He describes it as a very well-crafted record that isn't over-thought or overproduced and gives We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank a Buy It. Jim was also impressed, describing the album as“brilliant.”He thinks Brock deals in gloom and doom better than his peers and urges everyone to Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 68
Pocket SymphonyPocket Symphony available on iTunes

Air Pocket Symphony

The French electronic duo Air gets the next review. Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin got notice stateside with albums like Moon Safari and appearances on the Virgin Suicides soundtrack. Now they are back with their fourth album, Pocket Symphony, which was produced by Nigel Godrich. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp also makes an appearance. Greg thinks this release is more challenging than previous Air albums. He thinks the duo owes a great deal to Phillip Glass, but wishes they had introduced more of their light, pop touches. For Greg, the men of Air are better as producers than as frontmen. He gives it a Trash It. Jim calls Greg's analysis“cracked,”and thinks the combination of ambient and pop is just perfect. He gives it a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 68
reputationreputation available on iTunes

Taylor Swift reputation

Taylor Swift has been the most dominant pop star of the last decade, selling record-setting numbers of albums and winning 10 Grammy Awards (two for album of the year.) She's back for her 6th studio album, reputation, which she collaborated on with star producers Max Martin, Shellback and Jack Antonoff. Jim compares reputation to a brand new, state-of-the-art Tesla. It's got everything a person could ever want, but it's just too perfect. While he thinks that Swift is a talented lyricist and performer, he's irritated that she's still letting petty feuds with Kanye West and various ex-boyfriends dominate her music. However, Jim believes there are some solid pop moments on reputation and gives it a Try It. Greg agrees that as a writer and performer, Taylor is one of the strongest in the pop landscape. However, he finds the record to be sonically overproduced and feels Swift is less relatable because of some of the superficial content she sings about on reputation. For Greg there are highlights of pop brilliance ("Getaway Car") and his favorite track is the stripped-down acoustic closer "New Year's Day." He thinks it's the embodiment of Swift's strengths and she's singing about something genuine. Greg gives reputation a Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 625
If You're Reading This It's Too LateIf You're Reading This It's Too Late available on iTunes

Drake If You're Reading This It's Too Late

Drake's release of his latest opus If You're Reading This It's Too Late was a complete surprise, à la Beyoncé — though there's debate whether to classify it as a mixtape or a proper album. The Canadian superstar is once again working with producer Noah “40” Shebib. Greg credits Drake and Shebib for creating a uniquely atmospheric aesthetic for his introspective rap. But the minimalist beats make this feel half-finished: there are no hooks or pop hits, and the record never picks up steam until the end. Jim won't even concede any originality in the production. He says, Drake has been ripping off Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak his entire career. To Jim, Drake is incredibly hard to like, as he continues to whine about his petty personal problems. If You're Reading This It's Too Late gets a double Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 483
Songs of Mass Destruction (Bonus Track Version)Songs of Mass Destruction available on iTunes

Annie Lennox Songs of Mass Destruction

Songs of Mass Destruction is pop diva Annie Lennox's first album in over four years, but for her die-hard fans, anything she does is well worth the wait. On this effort, she not only tackles life post-divorce, but also the African AIDS crisis. The track "Sing" features 23 singers including Madonna, k.d. lang, and Celine Dion, and was written to raise awareness about the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Both Jim and Greg praise Lennox for this song and her always impressive, soulful voice. But Greg for one wishes she wasn't attracted to such glossy production. For Songs of Mass Destruction, she hired Glen Ballard, the producer who is responsible for some of the most generic,“schlocky”albums ever made by people like Barbra Streisand and Aerosmith. The slickness doesn‘t allow Lennox’s voice to shine, so Greg has to give this album a Try It. Jim agrees Lennox would benefit from a turn with a more authentic producer and grittier band, but he can't deny her voice. He gives it a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 98
FantasiesFantasies available on iTunes

Metric Fantasies

The next review is of Metric's new album Fantasies. This is the fourth release for the Toronto quartet. Vocalist Emily Haines and guitarist Jimmy Shaw might be best known for their work in the Broken Social Scene, but it's on this album that they really shine. Jim calls the songs "pure pop pleasure" with lots of sex appeal. Greg hears a lot of growth in Haines‘ songwriting and thinks this is Metric’s best ablum yet. Fantasies gets a double Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 176
LooseLoose available on iTunes

Nelly Furtado Loose

Up for review this week is Loose, the third album from singer Nelly Furtado. She had breakout success with her 2000 record Whoa, Nelly!, featuring the hit single, "I'm Like a Bird." But she had less luck with her second album, Folklore, so on this go-around, Furtado sought out acclaimed producer Timbaland. Our critics disagree about the results. Jim finds her newly sexed-out image manufactured and unoriginal. He misses her more adventurous approach to music that incorporated pop with worldbeat and folk. Basically, Jim finds Nelly to be a“skanky ho.”That said, he does appreciate the Latin songs on Loose, and her ballad with Coldplay's Chris Martin. For Greg, these are the worst songs on the album. He prefers the irresistible dance numbers "Promiscuous" and "Maneater," which are full of Timbaland's signature grooves. Greg questions why Jim is upset by a woman being overtly sexual, and explains that he finds her lyrics flirtatious, playful and ultimately harmless. Both critics give Loose a Burn It — for very different reasons.

JimGreg
Go to episode 30
The Love E.P.The Love EP available on iTunes

Corinne Bailey Rae The Love EP

Pop music is filled with great love songs, and Corinne Bailey Rae picks her favorites to cover on The Love EP. The British singer's last release, The Sea, was her first since the death of her husband. Jim empathizes with Rae, but just doesn't like her vocal performance. It lacks guts and soul. And he also questions her song choices. Jim gives The Love EP a Trash It. Greg finds this review a little harsh. He admits there's nothing dark or emotional about Corinne Bailey Rae, but he hears a new friskiness not on other releases. He loves her takes on songs by Prince, Belly and even Doris Day. Greg recommends listeners Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 268
The Element of Freedom (Deluxe Version)The Element of Freedom available on iTunes

Alicia Keys The Element of Freedom

Pop and R&B singer Alicia Keys also has a new album out this week called The Element of Freedom. This is the 4th record from one of the biggest artists of the last decade, and according to Greg, she's being more conservative and less gimmicky. The album is therefore more consistent, but lacks the rough edges you can hear in a song like "Love is My Disease." He wishes she'd let lose more and gives the record a Burn It rating. Jim is able to overlook Keys‘ horrible lyrics, but can’t get over the hair metal production. He thinks these songs fit better in the hands of Jon Bon Jovi and gives The Element of Freedom a Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 215
The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (Bonus Tracks)The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living available on iTunes

The Streets The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living

The first album up for review this week is the The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, the third album from British rapper The Streets. Emcee Mike Skinner first caught the attention of American fans with his debut album Original Pirate Material and its hit single "Let's Push Things Forward." Its follow-up, A Grand Don't Come for Free achieved a lot of critical and commercial success. In fact, it was one of the top albums of 2004 for Greg. People familiar with these albums will know Skinner's rap identity is that of the average bloke — he typically pairs stories of daily life in England with chintzy beats. With this album, however, Skinner can hardly think of himself as the everyman. The narratives in these songs poke fun at his pop-star status and all the pitfalls of fame. While Jim and Greg find this new take funny, they don‘t find it as emotionally poignant. Therefore, it’s a Burn It from Jim, and a surprising Trash It from Greg.

JimGreg
Go to episode 21
I'm Going Away (Bonus Track Version)I'm Going Away available on iTunes

The Fiery Furnaces I'm Going Away

In just six years the brother-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces have released eight albums. But, as Jim points out, being prolific doesn't make you infallible. He admires lead singer Eleanor Friedberger's Lou Reed singing style, but otherwise was put off by their newest album I'm Going Away. Its hyper-literary and overly orchestrated songs gave Jim a headache, and therefore prompted a Trash It rating. Greg couldn't disagree more. He calls I'm Going Away one of the great pop albums of the summer. He admits that much of their previous work was a little obtuse, but he thinks The Fiery Furnaces have channeled their energy into a less frantic, more melodic record. Greg calls it art rock on a budget and gives it a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 192
3121

Prince 3121

This week's show begins with a discussion of the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince. The enigmatic musician made news this week when his new album 3121 debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard charts. Hard to believe, but this was Prince's first number-one debut. He has since been dethroned by Atlanta rapper T.I., but it was certainly an impressive comeback for this revolutionary pop icon. Before giving reviews of the album, Jim and Greg discuss other late-career comebacks. In the '90s the Grateful Dead found a new audience with their only Top 40 song, "Touch of Grey." Santana is another artist whose first couple of albums went platinum, but did not find further success until 1999's Supernatural. That album, which paired the guitarist with contemporary pop artists like Rob Thomas, Wyclef Jean and Everlast, sold 15 million copies. Clive Davis tried this same approach with Prince on the album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, but the results were not as, um, fantastic. Other late career successes include Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and most recently, Mariah Carey. So is 3121 an artistic comeback as well as a commercial one? For Jim, it is not the achievement that Prince's earlier albums were, but still merits a Buy It rating. Greg is not so kind. There are a handful of tracks that are worth sampling, but this critic only suggests you Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 19
Wolfgang Amadeus PhoenixWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix available on iTunes

Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Another new summer pop album is by the French band Phoenix. Their fourth album is called Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. That title and their song "Lisztomania" may give listeners the impression that this is a cerebral record. That impression would be wrong, however. For Greg this is a perfectly sequenced, filler-free pop record that combines disco with new wave. For Jim it's an entrancing album from start to finish. Both hosts give the new Phoenix a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 185
Hard Candy (Deluxe Version)Hard Candy available on iTunes

Madonna Hard Candy

If there's any artist who is the opposite of a one note wonder, it might be Madonna. The pop diva prides herself on her chameleon-like ability to transform from one look or genre of music to another. So, how does she fare on her 11th studio album Hard Candy? Greg thinks not so well. Madonna teamed up with super-producers Timbaland and Pharrell to give her an up-to-date sound, but Greg thinks it's more retro than cutting edge. For the first time the notorious button-pusher seems kind of bored to Greg. He gives Hard Candy a Trash It. Jim is shocked to hear this review. He had fun listening to Madonna for the first time in years. The beats are there, the grooves are there, and he recommends people Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 126
Lust Lust Lust (Deluxe)Lust Lust Lust available on iTunes

The Raveonettes Lust Lust Lust

This week's final review is of Lust Lust Lust, the third album from Danish pop duo The Raveonettes. Jim and Greg both agree that one of the primary influences of the band is The Jesus and Mary Chain. Just like the Scottish group, The Raveonettes's music is full of heavy, feedback-drenched guitar. It's a sound Jim describes as "Velvet Underground meets Phil Spector." Greg is impressed by guitarist Sune Rose Wagner's minimalist technique; he understands the importance of not overplaying. But, over a dozen tracks he thinks the sound is a little“samey”and can only give Lust Lust Lust a Burn It. Jim finds the album entirely too derivative. He explains that if he wants to hear sexy, dark garage rock, he might as well get out his Jesus and Mary Chain record. Jim thinks there's no reason to own The Raveonettes' album and gives it a Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 119
Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend available on iTunes

Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend

Next up is the self-titled debut from quartet Vampire Weekend. The indie rockers have been getting a lot of buzz for months now after releasing an EP. Now, with the release of their new album, they're being referred to as the next big indie stars. But, both Jim and Greg disagree with the hype — Greg feels it's unfair, and Jim feels it's completely unwarranted. Jim hates this album and finds it to be pretentious both musically and lyrically. He explains that the Paul Simon-esque African rhythms feel contrived, and the mentions of Louis Vuitton, Benetton and Oxford Commas are more prep than they are punk, earning Vampire Weekend a Trash It. Greg disagrees and says the music has clean guitars, rhythms and a sense of humor. It's a perfectly pleasant pop record — a Burn It that's a victim of hype.

JimGreg
Go to episode 114
Exclusive (The Forever Edition)Exclusive available on iTunes

Chris Brown Exclusive

Pop sensation Chris Brown has a new album out this week that both Jim and Greg predict will spawn a number of hit singles. But our two hosts disagree on whether or not Exclusive is worth your money. Jim really enjoyed listening to Brown's take on modern R&B — hints of masculine braggadocio tempered by an old-fashioned sweetness. He gives the record a Buy It. Greg admits that Brown's more mild-mannered approach to the opposite sex is something the genre needs right now, but he insists that talented vocalists like Brown are a dime a dozen. It's the production that makes them stand out, as Usher did with his 2004 Lil John-produced single "Yeah." Greg's certain Brown will mature to a more interesting sound, but for now he gets a Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 105
SinoSino available on iTunes

Café Tacuba Sino

The first album Jim and Greg discuss this week is Sino by Café Tacuba. This is the sixth album from the band widely thought to be the inventors of "Rock En Español." Café Tacuba is known for melding many musical influences, making them truly progressive rockers. In fact, Jim hears a lot of British prog-rock influence in the songs. He found it funny and insightful, but wishes there was more grit in the recording. Despite this, he gives Sino a Buy It. Greg is happy to hear this, as he is a long-standing Tacuba fan. He describes these musicians as true innovators, despite claims that they've gone“too mainstream”on this album. The songs are experimental, without sacrificing pop elements. Greg also gives Sino a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 101
Raising SandRaising Sand available on iTunes

Alison Krauss & Robert Plant Raising Sand

The next segment also focuses on the melding of pop and folk music. Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant has collaborated with bluegrass virtuoso Alison Krauss on a new album called Raising Sand. Fans of Led Zeppelin III won‘t be surprised by Plant’s interest in American roots music; it's closely linked with Celtic folkmusic. But, Jim was surpised by the lack of chemistry between Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Both are phenomenal singer, and both were backed by a phenomenal band, but Jim just found himself getting sleepy. He can only give the album a Burn It. Greg admits that the record is subtle, and doesn't lend itself to all kinds of listening, but he was amazed by the harmonies Plant gives. He also thinks their song choices, which include Allen Toussaint and Gene Clark covers, were perfect. Greg gives Raising Sand a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 100
Mirror TrafficMirror Traffic available on iTunes

Stephen Malkmus Mirror Traffic

Pavement fans eagerly awaited the band's 2010 reunion. And Jim and Greg think they'll be happy to hear Stephen Malkmus' new solo effort Mirror Traffic, as well. It's a return to form in many ways. You'll hear that signature smirk, the short, bursting pop songs and the quizzical lyrics. It was produced by fellow alt-rock idol Beck, and despite Malkmus‘“slacker”rep, there’s a great deal of pop craftsmenship on the album. Both hosts say Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 300
Girl On FireGirl on Fire available on iTunes

Alicia Keys Girl on Fire

Since sweeping the Grammys in 2002 with her debut album, Songs in A Minor, some things have changed for piano pop star Alicia Keys. She's married to producer Swizz Beatz and has a young son named Egypt. Alicia might be a“Brand New Me,”but on her fifth studio album, Girl on Fire, she's out to convince us that she's still“red hot.”Does she succeed? Unfortunately, Greg says there's no spark here. While there's no questions Keys has chops, and she's heavily involved in the songwriting, album number five still doesn't let us in on who this pop diva really is. He adds that Alicia reminds him of a talented pro-athlete who, when faced with an interviewer, spouts mindless clich'es. Jim agrees-there's no soul here. Girl on Fire is a piece of pop product circa 2012, and it gets a double Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 369
Light Up Gold / Tally All the Things That You BrokeLight Up Gold available on iTunes

Parquet Courts Light Up Gold

Who knew Denton, TX was a rock capital? There's Midlake and Neon Indian. Sly Stone was born there! And now we have Parquet Courts. With its 2nd release Light Up Gold, the garage quartet has relocated to Brooklyn and is getting much wider attention. The album is a perfect combination of expert pop craftsmanship and slacker-punk attitude. Jim and Greg grinned through this review, so Parquet Courts gets a double Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 374
Lost SirensLost Sirens available on iTunes

New Order Lost Sirens

At the beginning of the New Order review, Greg calls the English band's latest album Lost Sirens almost a collection of“leftovers.”That can‘t bode too well for it. New Order’s music in the 1980's was undeniably influential. There'd be no LCD Soundsystem or Radiohead without their electronic pop innovations. But, Jim doesn't hear anything that evokes their Madchester greatness on this effort. He says Trash It. Greg really liked the tracks "I Told You So" and "Hellbent", so that bumps up his rating to a Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 374
Days Are GoneDays Are Gone available on iTunes

HAIM Days Are Gone

L.A. sisters HAIM have been getting a lot of buzz leading up to their debut release Days Are Gone. Perhaps it's the hair? It certainly can't be because of their allegiance to '80s pop production values. Forget grit and grime, Greg can't find a speck of lint on these glossy songs. Jim hears yet another slick influence: Wilson Phillips. 'Nuff Said. Haim gets a Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 410
YeezusYeezus available on iTunes

Kanye West Yeezus

For the past decade, Kanye West has been the dominant force in hip-hop - maybe even all of pop, Jim says. And this week he came out with album no. six, Yeezus. West's last solo record, 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, featured rich, radio-friendly production. On Yeezus, West has scaled back the lushness, if not the egomania. Greg says he hears everything from Chicago drill music to industrial influences on this“brutally minimalist”record. Forget the radio audience - Yeezus is about Kanye and his anger. Thematically, that means lots of songs about freedom and control, Greg says, and West's perception that, for all his sucgicess, he is still being denied a place at the“big boy table”where his fellow business and media moguls sit. Potent stuff, but West's downfall, both Jim and Greg agree, is the sloppily racist and misogynistic lyrics he relies. On the basis of the music alone, Jim says, Yeezus is a Buy it, but the lyrics are trash. Yeezus gets a double Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 395
Bankrupt! (Deluxe Edition)Bankrupt! available on iTunes

Phoenix Bankrupt!

It's been four years since the French electropop band Phoenix dropped by Sound Opinions to play those infectious breakout singles "Lisztomania" and "1901." For most American music fans, those tracks and the band's 2009 breakthrough album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, came out of nowhere (savvy French fans would‘ve known the band’s previous collaborations with Air and Daft Punk). Phoenix's latest album, Bankrupt!, isn‘t nearly so under the radar. But does it measure up to the hype? Greg doesn’t hear a single as strong as“Lisztomania”or“1901,”but insists the album may fare better overall. Frontman Thomas Mars was inspired by his wife Sofia Coppola's 2010 film Somewhere, giving the album a theme. And, more ambient and R&B-inspired tracks show the band is evolving musically. Greg says Buy It. But Jim can't get over the lack of a hits. This is fine bubbly dance pop for summer, he says, but Bankrupt! is only a Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 386
Some People Have Real ProblemsSome People Have Real Problems available on iTunes

Sia Some People Have Real Problems

After releasing albums by Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, Starbucks' Hear Music label is finally putting out music by someone under 40. Sia is an Australian singer/songwriter who made a name for herself by appearing on various TV soundtracks and providing vocals to groups like Zero 7. Now she's released her third album Some People Have Real Problems. Greg is very impressed by the artist's soulful singing, but he has major problems with her songwriting. He describes the record as a boring, overproduced, tarted-up pop record with one of the worst covers he's ever seen. He gives the music and the art a Trash It. Jim completely disagrees and can't believe that a Feist fan wouldn't get Sia. He finds her lyrics to be filled with smart social commentary and gives it a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 118
Dig Out Your SoulDig Out Your Soul available on iTunes

Oasis Dig Out Your Soul

With their first two records Oasis re-invigorated the British pop world. Now they are back with number seven. Jim thinks that now it's time for Noel and Liam Gallagher to consider a career change. Perhaps stand-up comedy? He finds Dig Out Your Soul laughable, especially the pace. If Noel had picked up more of the slack the album might have been more successful, but Jim has to deem it a Trash It. Greg actually grew to be a fan of Oasis' earlier work, but he agrees with Jim on this one. He admits that they shamelessly rip off The Beatles, but that's the least of the Gallaghers' problems. Dig Out Your Soul is merely a third rate rip off, and the lyrics are even worse. So Liam and Noel get two Trash Its.

JimGreg
Go to episode 150
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful WorldWhat a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World available on iTunes

The Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

Portland folk-rock band The Decemberists has steadily ascended the ranks of rock stardom over their career, even hitting #1 on the Billboard charts with their previous album The King Is Dead. But it's been four years since that record dropped, and in the intervening period the band has developed a new diversity in their sound. Their new album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World experiments with a variety of pop styles not found in previous records, while still featuring the trademark hyperliterate lyrics of leader Colin Meloy. Greg is happy to hear the band in top form, nicely complemented by the harmony vocals of Rachel Flotard and Kelly Hogan. Jim loves how they manage to flirt with the prog rock sounds of Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer without a hint of pretentiousness, all thanks to Meloy's self-deprecating sense of humor. Both critics give it a Buy It, with Jim going so far as to call it the first masterpiece of 2015.

JimGreg
Go to episode 477
RealReal available on iTunes

Lydia Loveless Real

This week Jim and Greg review the new record by country singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless, Real. Loveless is back at her signature songwriting with themes about small town lives and everyday events. Greg loves that she has stepped up her songwriting and singing to be more refined and honest, and gives this a Buy It. Jim agrees, pointing out that there is a whole range of songs on this record unlike what previous ones had, from pop to sparse acoustic to new wave, but all with her country flair in them. Real gets an enthusiastic Buy It from both Jim and Greg.

JimGreg
Go to episode 559
Caracal (Deluxe)Settle available on iTunes

Disclosure Settle

With their 2013 release Settle, the British electronic duo Disclosure seemed destined to take EDM and mainstream pop by storm. They certainly pushed Sam Smith into the stratosphere. Then came a successful collaboration with Mary J. Blige on 2014's The London Sessions. But, Jim and Greg were disappointed to hear the new album Caracal is something of a let down. It's more song-focused, but also more star-focused with guest vocals by Lorde and The Weeknd. Jim and Greg have heard better from Howard and Guy Lawrence and these guest stars. Caracal gets a double Trash It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 514
A Head Full of DreamsHead Full of Dreams available on iTunes

Coldplay Head Full of Dreams

Over the past 15 years, Coldplay has arguably become the biggest rock band in music. The group returns with their 7th album, A Head Full of Dreams, which lead singer Chris Martin says is the band's last effort. Greg thinks that in the past the group has presented some interesting and layered material, but not in 2016. This is their most pop/danceable album yet Greg feels there's a lack of conviction. Coldplay just didn't take it far enough, and the lyrics are pretty awful to boot. Greg gives it a Trash It. Jim agrees and thinks the Coldplay of yore was a very good band indeed. But the Coldplay of today doesn't go anywhere new. Even bringing in the big guns like Beyoncé and President Obama can‘t save this record. It’s a double Trash It for A Head Full of Dreams.

JimGreg
Go to episode 528
pharrelloscars

Oscar Songs 2014

When it comes to movies, Jim and Greg defer to the Academy. But, when it comes to music, they aren't as casual. 2014 has been a banner year for pop music in the movies, with three of this year's Best Original Song nominees topping the charts. In fact, this kind of crossover hasn't happened since 1984, when all five nominees hit #1. First, there's Idina Menzel's ubiquitous "Let It Go," from the animated Disney hit Frozen. Written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Book of Mormon fame, it's a flashy show tune—the "Diane Warren power ballad" of Greg's nightmares—that fails to impress our hosts. Not so with "The Moon Song," from the film Her. Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who co-wrote the song with director Spike Jonze, has since released a duet with Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. This quiet, intimate tune wins Jim's statuette, even if it's too low-key for the Academy. Greg's giving his award to "Happy" from Despicable Me 2. While Mr. Kot admits to living under a rock when it comes to kids' movies, he considers Pharrell's single, with its layered vocals and handclaps, a pop masterpiece (despite the mediocre lyrics). Jim isn't as happy and thinks that Pharrell phoned this one in. Meanwhile, U2 took a break from ending world hunger to record a new song for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. While the film got little attention in the U.S., "Ordinary Love" has something else working in its favor: the media empire of Harvey Weinstein. His aggressive promotion already won the song a Golden Globe for Best Song, and could similarly sway the Academy…but not our hosts. Despite the noble subject, Jim and Greg just hear standard U2 flag-waving.

JimGreg
Go to episode 431
Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle AlbumResistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album available on iTunes

Danger Mouse Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album

Danger Mouse (Bryan Burton) and Sam Cohen have produced a new concept album called Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album, which serves as a sort of companion to the Amazon Prime TV series Man in the High Castle. The TV show imagines a dystopian, alternate, early 1960s America where Japan and Germany won WWII, rather than the Allied Forces. The album features retro covers of mid-century pop standards like "Taste of Honey" and "Who's Sorry Now". Gregsays he "didn't get anything new… from these interpretations". He calls Resistance Radio a Trash It record, and thinks listeners are better off seeking out the original recordings of the songs. The recordings on this album were mastered from vinyl to get that vintage sound. Jim says that the sound was well executed. And, he notes that the songs take on additional resonance because they are "American anthems from a very different America in the setting of this show". For Jim, it's a Buy It record.

JimGreg
Go to episode 595
EmbryonicEmbryonic available on iTunes

The Flaming Lips Embryonic

The Flaming Lips are back with their 12th album, Embryonic. The band has been around for three decades now, which some people wouldn't expect from a bunch of psychedelic rockers from Oklahoma. Jim, who wrote about the band in his book Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma's Fabulous Flaming Lips, has been waiting for them to return to their roots. They are rocking out again on Embryonic, and while they've done this sound before, and better, he gives the album a Buy It. Greg agrees that they are moving in the right direction. The fans may wonder where the pop songs are, but he's fascinated to hear them attempt the jazzier material. Greg applauds the ambition, but finds the execution lacking. He gives Embryonic a Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 201
I Look to YouI Look To You available on iTunes

Whitney Houston I Look To You

She was the queen of pop in the '80s and '90s, but for the past few years she's mostly been a punchline. Now Whitney Houston is back with a new record called I Look To You. Clive Davis has spared no expense on this comeback effort-pulling in big names like Swizz Beats, Alicia Keys and Diane Warren. Greg wishes those big names brought something bigger to the table. With the exception of "Million Dollar Bill," the one track where Greg hears Whitney getting“frisky,”she's mostly straight-jacketed and robotic. Greg gives the album a Trash It. Jim actually likes that the production keeps things focused on her voice. And he finds that voice still powerful and full of emotion. He gives I Look to You a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 196
UtopiaUtopia available on iTunes

Björk Utopia

Björk has been on top of the world of pop and experimental music for decades, yet she's still regarded as an independent, avant-garde, cult artist. But Jim says that her new album, Utopia, gave him no joy for the first time in her career. He calls her collaboration with Venezuelan electronic artist Arca a collection of tuneless, wandering dirges filled with flutes and bird sounds. Although he's always loved Björk, Jim says the album is a Trash It. Greg concedes that Utopia is hard to pin down and lacks the pop accessibility of her previous work. But he gets lost in Björk's world, a combination of avant-garde classical influences that evokes the soundscapes of the Icelandic wilderness. Greg cites her recent albums in this vein as the inspiration for a new generation of artists like FKA Twigs and Solange. It took him a while to figure it out, but Greg feels Utopia is a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 628
Infinity On High (Deluxe Edition)Infinity on High available on iTunes

Fall Out Boy Infinity on High

Next up Jim and Greg review Fall Out Boy's fourth album, Infinity on High. The pop punk quartet from the Chicago suburbs sold 3 million copies of its last album, and 15-year-old girls everywhere have been anxiously awaiting the follow-up. Teenagers aren‘t the only Fall Out Boy fans out there. The band’s boss, Def Jam head Jay-Z, has also been championing them and arranged a larger-than-life debut. Jim also counts himself as a fan. He thinks Fall Out Boy is a smart, fun, exuberant band full of the punk spirit of bands like The Ramones. He admits that the lyrics are nothing profound, but gives the album a Buy It for its huge attitude and timeless pop songs. Greg admires how Fall Out Boy conducts itself as a band and thinks lead singer Patrick Stump has an impressive voice. However, he doesn't think they do a good enough job of differentiating themselves from other pop punk bands like the All-American Rejects and Sum 41. He wishes they did more with new producers like Babyface. This critic finds Infinity on High a little too generic and can only give the album a Burn It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 63
dijs

Greg

“Strange Fruit”Billie Holiday

Both of the albums reviewed this week claim to draw inspiration from the music of the '30s and '40s, though Greg isn't quite sure what music Outkast and Christina Aguilera are hearing. He decides to step away from their rather cartoony depictions of the era and put some of the real thing into the Desert Island Jukebox this week. "Strange Fruit," by Billie Holiday has exactly the authentic sound these contemporary artists should be striving for. The song began as a poem that Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol wrote after witnessing a photograph of a man being lynched in the South. (Meerepol is also known for having adopted the orphaned children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). The writer brought the song to Holiday at one of New York's only integrated night clubs, but Holiday's label refused to record the song. Still, the singer insisted on performing it and brought it to a specialty label instead. While the song became an anthem for the anti-lynching movement and is thought of as one of the great protest songs of the century, Greg wants listeners to pay attention to the performance. Holiday certainly had the chops to trill as well as any pop diva, yet she restrains herself, opting instead for a more understated tone — which makes the lyrics all the more more chilling. Not only can Holiday sing, but she knows how to sing. For this reason, Greg is going to take "Strange Fruit" to the Desert Island.

Go to episode 38

Jim

“Nicolas”Les Calamit'es

Jim spoke about the French pop group Les Calamit'es during the SXSW show, and now he has an opportunity to further showcase them. The British press called them better than Bananarama. The American press called them better than The Bangles. However they stacked up, the songs were irrepressible and high energy. In fact reviewing their LP A Bride Abattue, was Jim's first professional review job, and his editor stole his copy of the record. So to re-appropriate what was rightly his, he adds "Nicolas" to the Desert Island Jukebox.

Go to episode 332

Greg

“Tropicalia”Beck

Drawing inspiration from the discussion with Ernesto Lechner, Greg chooses Beck's "Tropicalia" as his Desert Island Jukebox pick. The notion that people were ever jailed or sent into exile for playing Tropicalia music in Brazil got this host all fired up — especially because this music, pioneered by artists like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, has remained such a formative influence on contemporary artists. Beck displays his love for the tropicalistas in this song from his 1998 album Mutations (a nod to fellow Brazilians Os Mutantes). Beck combines the Bossa Nova chords and gentle singing of Tropicalia music with art rock guitar and synthesizer. The result is a perfect example of Beck's pop collage style and a perfect homage to his Brazilian heroes.

Go to episode 27

Greg

“Hideway”Olivia Tremor Control

In honor of Olivia Tremor Control co-founder Bill Doss, Greg drops "Hideway" from the band's second album, Black Foliage, into the Desert Island Jukebox. Doss died this week at age 43 of unknown causes. Doss was a founding member of the Elephant 6 recording collective, a group of friends from Ruston, Louisiana whose bands Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo, and The Olivia Tremor Control left a potent legacy in the nineties. Using cheap boom boxes and four track recorders, the friends sought to replicate the lush pop sounds of the Beach Boys and the Beatles on a budget. Greg calls The Olivia Tremor Control the trippiest and most psychedelic of the Elephant 6 bands. They were known for their layering of avant-garde sounds and pop melody. The band reunited in 2009 and played a terrific set at the Pitchfork music festival shortly before Doss's death.

Go to episode 349

Jim

“Her Head's Revolving”The Three O'Clock

During his most recent adventure on the desert island, Jim took comfort in a Paisley Underground classic called "Her Head's Revolving" by a band that truly exemplifies the genre. The Three O'Clock* came up in Los Angeles at the start of the 1980's alongside similar sounding groups such as The Dream Syndicate, Green on Red and The Bangles. The band's mix of 1960's psychedelic harmonies and 1980's pop flavor produced a new distinct twist on a classic sound. Lead vocalist Michael Quercio dubbed it“Paisley Underground,”a tribute to the“far out”decade. And none other than Prince took notice.

Go to episode 449

Greg

“What's the New Mary Jane”The Moles

Lately Greg has been binging on the music of Australian songwriter Richard Davies. Davies has worked as a solo artist and also released an album with Eric Matthews under the moniker Cardinal. But this week Greg is especially drawn to Davies' first band, The Moles, which merged baroque pop and psychedelia with a skewed sense of melody. The Moles' 1992 single "What's the New Mary Jane" lifts its title from a famous Beatles outtake, but it's much more substantive than what the Fab Four actually recorded. It's a twisted, druggy slice of pop music unlike anything else coming out during the grunge era, so it earns its place in the Desert Island Jukebox.

Go to episode 483

Jim

“David Watts”The Kinks

This week Jim gets to choose a Desert Island Jukebox track. He brings the show full circle by choosing a song by another witty British pop group: €”The Kinks. "€œDavid Watts"€ is a song where Ray Davies sneers at Watts, a member of the English upper-crust. Davies takes the gentleman to task for being too gentle. One shouldn'€™t be too quick to label the songwriter a homophobe, however. His 1970 hit song "€œLola"€ was a loving portrait of a transvestite. Whatever the lyrics are about, "€œDavid Watts"€ is a great sing-along, and we encourage all Sound Opinions listeners to do just that.

Go to episode 10

Greg

“Where Is My Mind?”The Pixies

Greg's Desert Island Jukebox pick this week was inspired by the odd, but successful, pairing of Gnarls Barkley members Cee-Lo Green and DJ Danger Mouse. He believes that the tension between opposites can often make for great rock music, even if it doesn't lead to longevity. An example of this good tension can be heard in the music of The Pixies. Black Francis'“serial killer vocals”mixed with Kim Deal's beautiful harmonies created a sound that was both punk and pop. And one of Greg's fondest concert memories is of the band reuniting in 2004 to perform "Where Is My Mind?" That's why he decided to take the original version with him to the Desert Island Jukebox.

Go to episode 122

Jim

“True Love in a Day”Lori Wray

The Jayhawks were brought up briefly during the Dixie Chicks review, and Jim's Desert Island Jukebox pick also features the Twin Cities rock band. Before they were The Jayhawks, Gary Louris, Marc Perlman and Mark Olson backed up a fellow Minnesota singer named Lori Wray. While Wray has not achieved a lot of success outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Jim thinks that her voice surpasses that of Natalie Maines. He explains that she adds a Lulu-like '60s pop sensibility to her singing, making her voice perfect for heartbreak tunes like his DIJ pick, "True Love in a Day."

Go to episode 26

Jim

“Lucky Man”Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Jim recently contributed to a new book on Prog Rock, so he's got the experimental pop of the 1970's on the brain. And no band from that era is sillier than Emerson, Lake and Palmer. If it could be done over the top, they did it. Take the track "Lucky Man" for example. It features one of rock's earliest Moog solos and made it possible for keyboard nerds to imagine themselves guitar shredders. So of course, Jim wants to add it to the Desert Island Jukebox.

Go to episode 392

Jim

“My White Bicycle”Tomorrow

Jim uses his turn with the Desert Island Jukebox to pay homage to a man who changed the face of rock and roll. Albert Hofman, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD, died last week at the age of 102. After LSD hit the music scene, bands that were once R&B and pop became experimental, psychedelic acts. One of the best examples of rock's psychedelic era is Tomorrow. Jim always interpreted their song "My White Bicycle," as a tribute to Hofman's famous bike“trip,”and he thinks that listening to the tune is the best way to remember the scientist.

Go to episode 128
lists

Satirical Songs

Next week, South Park and Book of Mormon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone join Jim and Greg in the studio to talk music and comedy. The duo's trademark musical satire has won them tons of fans - and a few Tony awards. In advance of the boys' visit, Jim and Greg warm up the crowd with a mix of rock n' roll's Best Satirical Songs. Whether they're pointing a finger at society's ills or sending up pop music forms, these artists turn the funny up to 11.

Go to episode 373
rock doctors

Rachel

Next up Drs. Kot and DeRogatis call another patient in from the waiting room. Rachel from Chicago, IL describes her musical symptoms as that of being stuck in a rut. She explains that she hasn't purchased any music in the past few years, and only listens to albums or mixes that her friends give her. Rachel is eager to improve her musical health though, and is willing to take her medicine — however bad it tastes. In order to steer Jim and Greg in the right direction, Rachel gives her medical/musical history . She counts U2 (during the Joshua Tree-era) and Tom Petty as two of her favorite artists, and explains that she really appreciates melody and lyrics in her music.

Dr. Jim gives the first prescription. He clues into Rachel's heartland rock leanings, but also wants to challenge her more. He decides to give the patient a dose of Wilco. Like '80s-era U2 and Tom Petty, Jeff Tweedy and the members of Wilco are strongly influenced by guitar-based American folk and rock. There is a strong emphasis on lyrics and on telling stories of the American condition. But like U2, who chose to work with avant-garde producer Brian Eno on The Joshua Tree, Wilco can also be very experimental. Jim finds this is especially true of their last album A Ghost is Born.

Dr. Greg is up next. He suspects that one of the things Rachel likes so much about her favorite music is how anthemic it is. Both Bono and Petty are strong frontmen that get a rise out of their audiences. He believes this is also the case with the music of Montreal band The Arcade Fire. In fact, U2 opened up their last tour with a performance of the song "Wake Up" off their debut album Funeral. Again, the Arcade Fire might be a little more stylized than what Rachel is used to, but Greg hopes she will appreciate their epic sound.

A week later, the patient returns. Rachel relays that she is feeling a bit better, but is not totally cured. She realized that some of the Wilco and Arcade Fire songs were actually already in her iTunes collection without her even knowing it. Rachel enjoyed both albums, but not completely from beginning to end. She liked the more anthemic songs on Funeral like "Rebellion (Lies)" and "Crown of Love," but found some of the tracks a little noisy. However nothing was as noisy as Wilco's 15-minute experimental jam "Less Than You Think." But, even Jim and Greg agree that it's OK to skip past that“test”to more traditional pop/rock compositions like "Theologians" and "The Late Greats." Rachel doesn‘t think she’s replaced her favorite standards, but looks forward to keeping up with these two bands and getting more new music like… The Shins (up next in the show).

Go to episode 61

David & Family

The Rock Doctors' patient this week is David from Minneapolis. David's“ailment”is that he has a tough time finding music that both he and his kids will enjoy. As the father of four boys between the ages of three months and 10 years, that's quite a challenge. So far he's had luck with The Decemberists, Earth, Wind and Fire and Sugar — basically anything with great pop vocals and harmonies, as well as a good beat for dancing. And of course, some of his sons have fallen under the spell of tween pop star Kelly Clarkson.

Greg's prescription is New Magnetic Wonder, the latest album from Apples in Stereo. The Robert Schneider-fronted band that emerged out of the Elephant 6 collective offers a perfect mix of sunny, exuberant vocals and sophisticated arrangements. Plus, as Greg explains, Schneider is just a big overgrown kid (something that listeners who heard his interview on Sound Opinions can attest to).

Jim prescribes a dose of Smash Mouth. A couple of years ago the California garage popsters, who Jim thinks of as the male equivalent of No Doubt, released a greatest hits album called All Star Smash Hits. Jim explains that, as a fan of garage rock, David will appreciate their edgy aesthetic and punk covers. In addition, his kids are certain to enjoy the more bubble gum aspects of Smash Mouth's music and covers of songs like "I'm a Believer" (which they might already know from the Shrek 2 soundtrack).

A week later David returns to the doctors to report on his health status. He relays to Greg that he and all his sons really enjoyed the Apples in Stereo. He describes the band's music as fun and upbeat, as well as weird and experimental. David's wife was another story, but these doctors only agreed to please five patients… six might be pushing it.

Smash Mouth was something the whole family could agree on, especially for road trips and casual listening. The six year old described it as "a lot like rock and roll." But, David and his boys found the Apples in Stereo to be“meatier”and more interesting. Perhaps we've got four young rock critics in the making!

Go to episode 76

Surgery Soundtrack

surgery-tools "Physician heal thyself," the adage goes. But, sometimes even doctors need some outside expertise, especially when it comes to music. That's where the "Rock Doctors" come in. Every once and a while, Jim and Greg don stethoscopes, un-shutter the Rock Docs clinic, and help a listener in need of musical assistance. They've suggested music for shopping and music for training, but this time the stakes are high. Dr. Michael Frumovitz is a surgeon and the associate professor of GYN oncology at MD Anderson in Houston, TX. He submitted a new patient form asking Drs. Kot and DeRogatis to prescribe new music he could listen to during surgery.

Dr. Frumovitz shares his musical preferences (melodic indie pop ala Wilco and Vampire Weekend without a lot of dirty guitars ala The White Stripes) and explains why traditional pop music provides a better background than ambient music. He also admits that surgery is a team effort, so the prescriptions can't be too abrasive. So much for the surgeon ego myth.

Jim prescribes a self-titled album by Phox, a self-described“gaggle of goofy wizards performing minor illusions and bigtop music”from Wisconsin, while Greg prescribes Atlas by the indie rock quintet Real Estate. Dr. Frumovitz is instructed to put these records to work in the Operating Room, and after a couple of weeks they see how the medicine goes down. Unfortunately, he and his team found Phox a little too sleepy for surgery, save a couple of tracks. But Real Estate was a real winner.

Do you need to see the Rock Doctors? Or know someone who does? Fill out a new patient form and send to interact@soundopinions.org.

Go to episode 445
features

New Wave

No one of a certain age can hear "Rio" without picturing Simon LeBon and the members of Duran Duran crooning off the side of a yacht. They were the "Rolling Stones of the New Wave era" according to writer Lori Majewski, and those videos represented everything you either love or hate about the 1980s—the excess, the sex, the fashion and the pure pop production. But, while this was a very visual era of music (with infamous clothes and even more infamous hair), there's a lot to be said for the sound, which was made possible by then-new technology like the digital synthesizer. Jim and Greg talk to Lori about her 2014 book Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and the Songs That Defined the 1980s, co-written with Jonathan Bernstein. In it, the authors reveal why New Wave caught on so strongly with pop fans and the media, especially post-punk in the U.K. (Certainly the NME would rather photograph Adam Ant than a spitting Johnny Rotten).

Go to episode 634

New Wave

No one of a certain age can hear "Rio" without picturing Simon LeBon and the members of Duran Duran crooning off the side of a yacht. They were the“Rolling Stones of the New Wave era”according to writer Lori Majewski, and through such videos represented everything you either love or hate about the 1980's—the excess, the sex, the fashion and the pure pop production. But, while this was a very visual era of music (with infamous clothes and even more infamous hair), there's a lot to be said for the sound. Jim and Greg talk to Lori about her new book Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and the Songs That Defined the 1980's, co-written with Jonathan Bernstein. In it, the authors reveal why New Wave caught on so strongly with pop fans and the media, especially post-punk in the U.K. (Certainly the NME would rather photograph Adam Ant than a spitting Johnny Rotten). And Jim and Greg reveal their own affection for music by Boy George, The Cars, A Flock of Seagulls and most anything brought to the big screen by John Hughes.

Here are other New Wave acts we fondly remember:

  • Duran Duran
  • Gary Numan
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Adam Ant
  • Yaz
  • Human League
  • A-Ha
  • Kajagoogoo
  • Tears for Fears
  • OMD
  • Psychedelic Furs
  • Simple Minds
  • Culture Club
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • New Order

And check out Lori Majewski's favorite New Wave Videos and follow us on Beats Music for a full playlist.

Go to episode 456

Sample Platter: Voices of Conquest's "O Yes My Lord"

Jim and Greg explore how a 1960s gospel track out of Detroit found new life recently in two contemporary tracks. Both pop duo Phantogram and Chicago rapper Common sample "O Yes My Lord" by Voices of Conquest on their respective songs "Same Old Blues" and "Kingdom." The sample features a large church choir and John Bonham-like drumming. J&G discuss the origins of all three songs, and how both artists use the sample to enhance their tracks.

Go to episode 600

Hooked On Sonics: Amber Mark

Amber Mark Amber Mark is a young, up-and-coming singer whose sound is a mixture of R&B, soul and pop. Mark recently made a splash with her EP 3:33am, a record about the sudden passing of her mother. Critics lauded her strong voice and evocative lyrics, and she's currently signed to the British independent label PMR with distribution through the famous Interscope Records. Amber Mark shares that the artist that got her "Hooked on Sonics" is Michael Jackson, and the song that made her love music was the percussive "Working Day and Night" from his Off the Wall album. Listen to Amber tell the story of first hearing the song and the unique experience of sitting in the V.I.P. section at Michael's concert in Munich.

Go to episode 630
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Music News

In the UK, pop has overtaken rock as the most popular genre of music in terms of chart success. Acts like Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Sam Smith have helped propel pop to its highest sales since 1999, but it's a different story in the United States. In 2014, rock music claimed 29% of sales, while pop only generated about half of that. These numbers have Jim and Greg thinking, are more rock fans buying physical products than fans of other genres of music?

The Library of Congress has selected new music for its National Recording Registry and there certainly is a range. The National Recording Registry is a list of recordings that are“historically, culturally or aesthetically important.”Some of the 2015 selections include Steve Martin's stand-up special A Wild and Crazy Guy, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Joan Baez's self-titled album, the song "Stand By Me" and Sesame Street's "Rubber Duckie."

Go to episode 494

Music News

These days it's not unusual for pop stars to simultaneously be topping the charts and filling the court dockets (T.I., Lil Wayne). But it is unusual for a commercial, family-friendly star to have such infamy. Singer/songwriter Bruno Mars has the #1 song in the country, "Grenade," and he's been all over mainstream TV this year with appearances on The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, Ellen and Glee. Now he's pleading guilty to cocaine possession charges, so Jim and Greg are interested to see if this affects his popularity. Our guess? It won't.

After Wilco's first label, Reprise, refused to put out their critically acclaimed 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, many people thought they should abandon the major label system. Now, almost a decade later, they're doing it. Wilco is leaving the Warner subsidiaries to form dBpm Records. It will be run by the band's manager, with distribution provided by ANTI-.

Oscar-winning composer John Barry died last week at age 77. The Guardian claims he's as "pop as the Beatles," and Jim and Greg agree. It's hard to imagine the '60s without Barry's brassy, melodic orchestrations. He was not only the man behind the iconic Bond music, but his compositions were critical to many other films. So to honor Barry, Jim and Greg play the theme to Midnight Cowboy.

Go to episode 271

Music News

It has been an historic few weeks for aging rockers on the Billboard charts. First, at age 88, Tony Bennett broke his own record as the oldest living artist to have a #1 record with Cheek to Cheek, his duet with Lady Gaga. Then, we have diva Barbra Streisand with her own duet album Partners. The success of her latest endeavor makes her the only artist to have a #1 album in each of the past six decades.

Just when you thought concert tickets couldn't get more expensive, they just might. Independent concert and event promotion company, C3 Presents will reportedly sell 51% of the company to Live Nation. C3 is responsible for events like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Music Festival. A collaboration with“Death Star”Live Nation would greatly increase that company's stake in the U.S. concert market and possibly lead to higher ticket prices for you the concertgoer.

Which designer has English indie pop band The xx in a fury? Hugo Boss recently used a song in its new ad campaign—one that sounds strikingly similar to "Intro" by The xx. The band is extremely unhappy, calling the song“a poorly designed fake.”Perhaps Hugo Boss should stick to designing clothes.

Go to episode 463

Music News

This week MTV launched a new sister — or rather“hermana”— network called MTV Tr3s. The station, pronounced“MTV Tres,”is a bilingual music network aimed at Latino Americans aged 12-34. Considering that the Latino population in the U.S. is estimated to grow 62% by 2020, this is a smart business move. Jim and Greg hope that the opportunity to focus on new, cutting edge Rock en Español acts is not lost. A skim of the programming schedule shows that the MTV Tr3s will not be radically different from the flagship station. In addition to a Latino TRL, which will feature acts like Shakira, Mana and Pitbull, there is a version of "Pimp My Ride" entitled“Pimpeando,”and a version of "My Super Sweet 16" entitled“Quiero Mis Quinces.”Sound Opinions doesn't like to pre-judge, but we suspect that Rock en Español fans might be better off seeking music out on their own. Check out Jim and Greg's interview with Ernesto Lechner for suggestions.

In the latest installment of what Jim and Greg have dubbed the“Pot Calls the Kettle Black”series, Sting recently spoke out against the overly commercial pop music of artists like Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. He says,“Today's music is not designed for me… For me singing is a spiritual journey. I'm devoutly musical.”This statement comes from a man who debuted his single, "Desert Rose," in a Jaguar commercial. Of course, Sting has absolutely NO commercial aims with his next project — a disc full of 16th century music performed on the lute. True music fans can check that out next month. In the meantime, we invite Sting and Bob Dylan and any other cranky old rocker to make an appointment with the Rock Doctors.

After 24 years, legendary rock group The Who are coming back with new material. Remaining members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry will release a new album, Endless Wire, in late October. The two recently launched a tour, along with Ringo's son Zak Starkey on drums and Pino Palledino on bass, and finally, they have new music to perform. Greg caught their Chicago show, and was impressed that after years of trying to recreate what they once were, the band finally understands what they are — a duo. The music focuses on the combination of their vocals, rather than a powerhouse, arena rock sound. Jim thinks that all of Townshend's other projects are a lot more interesting than the new Who material, however. The musician/opera composer is also a publisher and author. Of course, it wasn't any of these things that got Townshend in the headlines in the past few years.

Go to episode 44

Music News

A story out of the British press tickled Jim and Greg's fancy this week. England's Essex FM decided to launch a boycott of recent pop phenomenon James Blunt. Blunt, apparently peeved by critics bashing him, instructed the haters to just stop playing his music. Essex FM gladly took the challenge and banned both of his hit singles from their airwaves. Sound Opinions would like to encourage all radio programmers to take Blunt up on his challenge. And while we are at it, there are a few other overplayed radio hits we'd like to discuss…

Finland loves its masked death metal bands. Finnish band Lordi, who recently won the Eurovision prize, became the source of a recent uproar when the lead singer was“unmasked”by two tabloid newspapers. Fans of the masked rockers were so upset by this disrespectful move that over 200,000 of them have signed a petition forcing one of the tabloids to apologize. Sound Opinions fans need not fear however: The true identities of Jim and Greg will never be revealed.

In some sad news, Desmond Dekker died this week at the age of 63. Dekker is credited with bringing the ska and reggae sounds of Jamaica to the West, most notably with the hit "Israelites." Dekker influenced fellow countryman Bob Marley, but his impact in the U.S. and England was most notable in the ska scene. You can still hear Dekker's sound in the music of bands like The Clash, the Sex Pistols and more recently, No Doubt and Less than Jake.

Go to episode 27

Music News

Everyone loves a steal, even corporations. Specific Media recently got quite a deal in procuring MySpace. News Corp. purchased the website in 2005 for $580 million; now they‘ve unloaded it for $35 million. It’s proof that MySpace doesn't have the cultural cache it once did. But Justin Timberlake is doing his best to fix that. The pop singer and actor (who incidentally portrayed Facebook's Sean Parker) will work with the new owners to“rebuild and reinvigorate”the site. But websites are like reality stars – it's rare to get more than fifteen minutes of fame.

Speaking of cheap deals, pop music is anything but. Planet Money recently tallied the costs that went into making Rihanna's "Man Down" a hit. Between the big name songwriters, producers and expensive promotion, the dollar amount comes to $1,078,000. As Greg explains, this is nothing new. Record companies were spending this kind of dough twenty years ago. But at that time the returns were much greater. To spend a million on a song that might make two to three million? The math doesn't add up.

Go to episode 293

Music News

Pearl Jam made big news this week after announcing an exclusive deal with Target. The alternative band will release a new album along with the big box chain. And in addition they will allow Target to use a Cameron Crowe-directed video in a series of ads. Pearl Jam has long been known for its anti-corporate and anti-commercial attitude, so this was a surprise to Jim and Greg. But, as Greg says, at least they aren't selling the album exclusively through Target — good news for mom and pop record stores.

The usual record industry story goes like this: Label likes artist, label pays artist, artist makes music. But, in a twist, EMI recording artist Joss Stone has offered to pay her label not to make music. The British pop/soul singer is apparently desperate to get out of her four-album contract, after making only one of those records. This is one of many blows to the label, which has already said goodbye to Radiohead and Paul McCartney.

After a six-year trial, producer Phil Spector was finally sentenced this week. The judge showed no mercy and put him behind bars for 19 to life, with a mandatory 15 years. That means that Spector will not be eligible for parole until he is 88.

Go to episode 184

Music News

Pop phenom Leona Lewis made news this week by becoming the first British artist to debut at number one on the U.S. album charts. It seems that the hit factory built by Clive Davis and Simon Cowell is serving the X-Factor winner well. She's poised to become the most successful alum of the Arista-American Idol partnership. But, Jim and Greg are not impressed by Lewis' dramatic vocal style — one that owes a lot to Mariah Carey. Carey also has a new album out next week called E=MC2. The diva may give the upstart a run for her money, but as Jim and Greg explain, neither have sales that compare with the success of this style of music years ago. Despite the wishes of Davis and Cowell, audiences may be ready for a new sound.

Go to episode 125

Music News

Late last week, pop superstar Beyoncé dropped what might be the biggest musical surprise of the year. Her latest album, Beyoncé, was put up for sale exclusively on iTunes without any publicity whatsoever. Word soon got out on social media, and just three days later, Queen Bey had already sold over 800,000 copies worldwide. Jim and Greg think the stunt was pretty savvy, but not everyone feels that way. Some independent record store owners, and even big-box retailer Target feel cheated by not having a chance to sell physical copies of the self-titled album.

Go to episode 421

Music News

After much debate, France has passed its three strikes law against filesharers. That means that if you are caught illegally downloading three times your internet could be shut down. It also signals an alliance between the French government and the record industry, and according to the EU, a limiting of personal freedom.

Speaking of limited personal freedom, the Chinese government continues to hinder access to popular music. Eager to curb potential protests, China's Ministry of Culture has cancelled major Oasis shows and moved the major MIDI festival from centrally located Beijing. Jim is not usually a fan of censorship, but actually favors an Oasis crackdown.

While we in this country have been busy with American Idol, Europeans were anxiously anticipating the winner of the biggest song contest in the world. This year's Eurovision winner is Alexander Rybeck of Norway. More than 100 million people watched his song "Fairytale" take the crown. Of course, Jim and Greg don‘t take this contest too seriously, but it’s nice to know that the love of schlock pop is universal.

Alexander Rybak

Go to episode 182

Music News

One of the biggest and most shocking news stories this week was the death of Michael Jackson. The pop legend died at the age of 50 in Los Angeles. There was no indication that he was ill. In fact, Greg spoke to the Jackson camp only a few days ago about the singer's big comeback tour. But, nothing about Jackson's life or music was expected. His 1982 album Thriller is the biggest selling of all time. But, for Jim and Greg it's Off the Wall that was really a masterpiece melding of soul, disco and pop. It's hard to talk about Jackson without mentioning his personal scandals. He was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005, but his legacy will forever be linked to those accusations. And unfortunately, as Jim and Greg explain, some may remember the eccentricities more than the music.

Go to episode 187

Music News

Jim and Greg talk about two news stories merging Broadway and the pop world. The Tony award-winning musical Book of Mormon is now also a chart success. It's the highest-charting Broadway cast album and first in the top ten since 1969, when Hair spent thirteen straight weeks at #1. On the other end of the spectrum, YouTube phenom Susan Boyle has inspired a new musical called I Dreamed a Dream. It will be a fairy tale of sorts, where the heroine gets swept away to Hollywood (and the big bad wolf is Simon Cowell).

This past weekend Bruce Springsteen lost his constant sidekick and friend, Clarence Clemons. Greg calls Clemons the first among equals in a large band of characters. His saxophone was as important to many of Springsteen's songs as the Boss's guitar. And even in later years, when sax wasn't as prominent a component, Clemons was a large presence onstage. Jim will miss that energy, though he has always been critical of his sax style. To remember Clarence Clemons our hosts listen to "Jungleland" from the 1975 album Born to Run.

Go to episode 291

Music News

Pop music invaded the Academy Awards last week. Veteran singer/songwriter Randy Newman won the Oscar for Best Original Song. It was Newman's twentieth nomination, but only second win. Despite that, it is revenue from soundtracks like Toy Story that have enabled him to be so prolific. You can‘t count on the music industry alone, which Newman compared to a“bank that’s already been robbed.”Another rocker, Trent Reznor, went home with the Best Original Score prize for The Social Network. That category is usually dominated by composers like James Horner and Hans Zimmer. Zimmer, for one, was hopeful that Reznor's win would open doors for more non-traditional musicians in film.

If you've never heard of The Seeds, chances are you've heard their tunes. The garage rock band's music has been featured in a number of movies and commercials and covered by tons of artists. But according to lead singer Sky Saxon's estate, no royalties have been coming in. Saxon died in 2009, and now his estate is suing his former label and music publisher for royalties.

Go to episode 275

Music News

Google has added music to its growing list of endeavors. The internet giants launched a new music service this week that will offer users a link to purchase records. Google won‘t be selling music directly, but they’ll be competing with iTunes in cooperation with other services like Lala, Rhapsody and Pandora. It's exciting news for artists who are concerned with getting their music out there. But after many years where a small group of labels controlled everything in the music industry, Jim and Greg wonder if this is simply a case of one corporate hierarchy replacing another.

Lady Gaga broke Billboard records this week by becoming the first pop artist to score 4 consecutive No. 1 hits from a debut album. The most recent chart-topping song is "Paparazzi." The singer will continue to make news this year after she embarks on a visually exciting theater tour next month. We‘ll be watching that. Other than an avant-garde look, Jim and Greg aren’t sure what separates her from any other female pop singer. But every generation needs its own Madonna. In other chart news, Michael Jackson's This Is It movie and album both did well in sales last week. The album debuted at No. 1, and the film earned $106.3 million worldwide.

Downloading continues to be a huge issue for the music industry. The big question is how it affects the market. Now a British study commissioned by think tank Demos has one answer. According to its findings, people who engage in file-sharing spend 75% more than people who don't. They are simply more excited about music. This news presents a counter-argument to those in favor of the UK government's plan to sever the internet connections of persistent downloaders. But it will be hard to sway the British recording trade association BPI, who estimates that illegal downloaders cost the industry $330 million in 2009.

Go to episode 206

Music News

First up in the news, Verizon is expected to send letters to its customers on behalf of the RIAA to those accused of illegally downloading content from the web. This marks a shift in attitude for Verizon. Previously they were one of the more reluctant companies to intervene in copyright cases. Jim and Greg point out that no one knows what the letters will say, or rather what kinds of action they will threaten, but they do have concern about ISP's making partnerships with big Hollywood.

One of the more interesting music pieces to hit the newsstand this week came from the U.K.'s Sunday Times. Their profile of Mariah Carey portrays her not just as a pop diva, but as a forward-thinking business person along the lines of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. 10 years ago, Mariah was a punchline in the music (and film) business. Now, she not only has a successful album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, but unique marketing and money-making methods, including an Elle-sponsored mini-mag. As the Times article explains, this partnership wasn't beneficial for Elle, but did funded Mariah's album. In addition, it gave the singer a number of different business opportunities. Who knew she was such a mad genius?

Go to episode 208

Music News

Jim and Greg discussed the great Kanye West/50 Cent sales battle a couple of weeks ago, and this week the results are in. Kanye took it in a landslide with a #1 spot on the Billboard charts and a whopping 957,000 copies sold. Kanye's album Graduation is the biggest selling album so far this year and is the 15th biggest sales frame since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. 50 Cent's album Curtis only sold 691,000 in the first week, though for a hip hop debut that's nothing to scoff at. As Jim and Greg note, no one should shed a tear for 50 Cent. On Forbes' list of the biggest earning hip hop stars, Fiddy holds the #2 spot behind mogul Jay-Z. So, despite this recent loss, 50 Cent is laughing "Straight to the Bank."

If you've been surfing YouTube recently, you may have noticed Trent Reznor's call for more stealing. The man behind Nine Inch Nails is fed up with his record company's decision to hike prices for his album Year Zero and he let his grievances be known at an Australian concert. While he doesn't legally have the authority to give his music away, he does have a point; HMV in Australia is selling Year Zero for AU $32.99, which converts to about $28 in the States. That's definitely more than a music fan should have to pay for an album, especially one that utilized a web-based marketing campaign.

And while one musician embraces the web, another does not. Pop icon Prince plans to sue YouTube and other major web sites for unauthorized use of his music in a bid to“reclaim his art on the Internet.”In a recent statement his representative wrote:“YouTube … are clearly able (to) filter porn and pedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success.”Prince obviously doesn‘t need to use the web to build a fan base, but to Sound Opinions H.Q., he’s beginning to sound like a cranky old man.

Also in the news is the death of longtime James Brown collaborator Bobby Byrd at the age of 73. One of the chief architects of Brown's trademark sound, Byrd is often referred to as“The Godfather of Soul's Godfather.”You can hear his contribution in tons of early Brown tracks. In fact, the repeating phrase“Get on up,”on "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" was sung by Byrd. Byrd also had a successful solo career, and as Greg explains, his music can be heard sampled in countless late early hip hop songs. To pay honor to the soul/funk/R&B legend, Jim and Greg play his song, "I Know You Got Soul."

Jim and Greg speak with John Jurgensen, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. John recently wrote an article about how US visa procedures are squelching a British pop invasion. Artists like Lily Allen, M.I.A. and recent Mercury Prize winners The Klaxons have had to cancel tour dates and postpone recording sessions due to difficulties obtaining visas. John explains that this is partly due to Homeland Security crackdowns, which now mandate that artists themselves have to go to an embassy in person for fingerprinting and a retinal scan. John also says that artists have to prove that that they are legitimate,“internationally recognizable”acts. Jim and Greg wonder just how much more legit you have to be if Mercury Prize winners are getting hassled. The three reporters understand that these procedures are in place not just to protect Americans from danger but also from a loss of jobs, but unlike in the agriculture and technology industries, you can't sub one musician for another. And a loss of jobs and tour dates for one singer means the loss of many for the hundreds and thousands of promoters, roadies, sound engineers and teamsters here in the States.

Go to episode 95

Music News

First up in the news Jim and Greg discuss Joni Mitchell's decision to team up with Starbucks. Her first album in almost 10 years will be released on the coffee chain's Hear Music label. Jim and Greg imagine that the singer/songwriter must have been impressed with the success of Paul McCartney's recent Starbucks-released album Memory Almost Full, especially considering her notorious distaste of the music industry. One group they are surprised to hear has joined the coffee family is Sonic Youth. The alt-rockers will release a compilation on Hear Music next year.

Jim and Greg update some stories they've discussed on current shows. The first concerns pop star Kelly Clarkson. When her album My December was released a few weeks ago, our hosts talked about Clarkson's high-profile feud with BMG chairman Clive Davis. The singer appeared to be taking a tough-girl stance and defended her artistic integrity, but now she's trying to lay it all to rest. Check out her retraction.

Another topic Jim and Greg covered on the show is the scrutiny hip hop lyrics have been facing post-Imus. A recent victim is Chicago rapper Twista. McDonalds decided to pull the speed rapper from its Live Trek tour because of his“controversial lyrics.”Twista's response is that he's been making the same kind of rhymes for years, but no one cared until Don Imus said something negative about black women. He also added that he usually cleans up lyrics for kid-friendly performances.

While the gossip pages are filled with celebrities who aren't forced to pay for their crimes, singer Ron Isley is no such lucky star. He is slated to begin his five-year prison sentence for tax evasion next week, but Def Jam is hoping that Isley fans can convince the government otherwise. They sent out a petition imploring people to“call, fax or email the White House immediately to help the 64-year old cancer sufferer.”If you'd like to join in the effort you can call the President at (202) 456-1414, email him at president@whitehouse.gov, or contact the Congressional Black Caucus.

Last week Eric Clapton held the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Bridgeview, IL, and Greg was there to see the action. He recounts how historic it was to see Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton play together 38 years after Blind Faith disbanded. Greg's other highlights were witnessing B.B. King give what might be his final performance and hearing Jeff Beck do a beautiful rendition of The Beatles' "Day in the Life." Check out Greg's entire recap here.

Go to episode 88

Music News

ABBA Rumors are swirling that Swedish pop powerhouse ABBA is in talks to reunite after all four members were seen together last weekend. During a gala to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson's music partnership, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad made an appearance singing their song "The Way Old Friends Do." The band broke up seemingly for good in 1982 and despite millions of dollars in offers; ABBA has rejected the idea of a possible reunion tour. Not to quash fans' hopes, but Swedish music historian Carl Magnus Palm believes there is a 99.9% chance ABBA will not reunite, noting that the foursome didn't actually all sing together the other night.

Go to episode 550

Music News

Garth Brooks continues his quest against iTunes with the release of his new digital music platform, GhostTunes. Brooks is notoriously one of the big iTunes holdouts, preferring instead to sell his music on his own website. GhostTunes has music by Garth and a number of other atists. One of the biggest differences between the platform and iTunes is the split of profits (80/20 vs. 70/30). This is just the latest in a string of press for Brooks, who recently returned to the music scene with a new album and sold-out arena shows around the U.S.

Taylor Swift suddenly pulling her music from Spotify has its CEO, Daniel Ek, acting like a jilted lover in one of her tracks. The reigning pop princess argued people should always pay for music, while Ek fired back that Spotify has paid more than $2 billion to artists in royalties. That being said, on average, one stream of a song pays an artist only 7/10 of a penny. Ek believes that people will ultimately just get music for free if they don‘t use services like Spotify. So some money is better than none. Apparently he hasn’t gotten the message that Swift is firm in her stance, and they are never getting back together (like ever.)

Go to episode 468

Music News

First up in the news Jim and Greg discuss a recent TV commercial featuring music by The Beatles. The diaper company Luvs has taken the 1967 peace anthem "All You Need Is Love," and turned it into the jingle“All You Need is Luvs,”and some Beatles fans are worried that this soils the song's meaning. The Fab Four's songs have been used a few times in advertising, especially since the catalog has come under the joint control of Sony Corp. and pop singer Michael Jackson.

Also in the news is rapper 50 Cent's lawsuit against internet ad company Traffix Inc. The hip hop star is taking issue with Traffix Inc's recent ad campaign that features his cartoon image and encourages people to“shoot the rapper”and win $5,000 or five ringtones. While Jim and Greg agree this is pretty distasteful, they wonder if 50 Cent's real beef is that he didn't come up with the idea himself. The hip hop star has based his image on his own violent background, which includes being shot nine times.

Go to episode 87

Music News

iTunes announced that it will be offering cut-rate downloads on several albums in its catalog. The albums, which retail for $5.99 and $6.99, are part of a new series called“Next Big Thing.”The bargain bin includes albums from up-and-comers like LCD Soundsystem and Peter Bjorn and John. Jim and Greg are happy to see that the giant digital music retailer is waking up. Six bucks is a perfectly legitimate amount to pay for such good albums, and this is a move that's certain to please consumers, if not record labels.

Also in the news, pop star Avril Lavigne is being called out for a couple instances of plagiarism. First, power pop band The Rubinoos launched a legal case against Avril, claiming that her single "Girlfriend" was lifted from their 1979 song, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Avril denies this, but the similarities are pretty striking. Then, gossip blogger Perez Hilton pointed out another suspicious similarity. The first 20 seconds of Avril's "I Don't Have to Try" sound nearly identical to electroclasher Peaches' track "I'm the Kinda." Jim and Greg think the evidence is stacking up against Avril, but are quick to point out that all rock music has been cribbed from one source or another.

Next Jim and Greg relay their experiences that at the recent Police reunion show in Chicago. Greg was pretty unimpressed, and says that the show was definitely not worth what people paid. Jim was less harsh, but agrees with Greg that the Police have always been better on album than live.

The Police concluded their tour at Giants Stadium as part of the Live Earth concert. Again, the band didn't wow our hosts, but it was Kanye West's performance that was the most strikingly bad. In fact, with the exception of a few performances, most of Live Earth was pretty underwhelming to Jim and Greg. And the world seemed to agree. Ratings were quite poor, especially compared to the success of previous attempts like Live 8. Jim is all for music influencing people to make change, but he didn't hear anything truly inspirational coming out of this crop of musicians. And Greg found the event to have a great lack of focus, though both hosts are all for Al Gore replacing Bono as music's new crusader.

Go to episode 85

Music News

The original manuscript to Don McLean's 1971 hit "American Pie" sold to an anonymous bidder at Christie's for $1.2 million – enough cash to buy a new Chevy and maybe even finally saturate that levee. McLean has always been cryptic about what his lyrics mean, but the 16-page document may offer some clues. Greg reads the song as a crash course in rock ‘n’ roll history of the years between Buddy Holly's death and the writing of the song.

There's still another chance to bid on some pop memorabilia, however: the estate of Davy Jones is putting several items belonging to the late Monkees singer on the auction block in May. If you're lucky, you might be able to snag some of his gold records, guitars, or costumes. But Jim is most excited about the tambourine for sale – after Linda McCartney of Wings, Jones may be the most famous tambourine player in rock.

Go to episode 489

Music News

Last week Jim and Greg discussed the death of pop icon Michael Jackson. But the news surrounding Jackson's death has not stopped. Neither has his impact on the music industry. Just this week Billboard announced that 9 out of 10 slots on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart are Jackson titles. But, while his estate continues to make money, concert promoter AEG stands to lose millions. They will be refunding fans that purchased tickets to Jackson's fifty London shows — $85 million worth of tickets to be exact.

In other sad music news, Sky Saxon, leader of the garage rock band The Seeds, also passed away last week. The news of his death was largely overshadowed by Michael Jackson coverage, so Jim and Greg wanted to pay tribute to Saxon during this episode. He was not a great musician, but had a tremendous attitude and a great impact on punk music. They play "Pushin' Too Hard" in his honor.

Go to episode 188

Music News

The first news item this week is a sad one for Jim, Greg and all indie music fans in and outside of Chicago. Long-time label Touch and Go Records has announced that it is shrinking its business and cutting ties with more than 20 other indie labels. Label founder Corey Rusk made a statement explaining that Touch and Go can no longer afford to provide manufacturing and distribution services to such labels as Drag City, Flameshovel and Kill Rock Stars. This announcement is especially disheartening since it comes on the heels of the label's 25th anniversary.

Anyone who discounted Madonna after she turned 50 will be surprised to hear that she is as relevant as ever — at least commercially. According to Billboard, the pop star is the top-earning artist of 2008 with over $240 million. As Jim and Greg explain, this is not just good news for Madonna, but for her 360 promoters Live Nation. Distantly trailing the Material Girl are Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, The Police and Celine Dion — not a youngin' in the bunch.

Go to episode 169

Music News

It seems like just yesterday that the British first invaded rock and roll. But, many early recordings by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who are so old they were about to fall into public domain. However, the European Union just extended that copyright law from 50 years to 70 years, giving record companies another two decades to collect big revenues. It's being called Cliff's Law after pop singer Cliff Richard, but other artists don't think the law will benefit them. Here in the U.S., copyright law allows for artists to reclaim ownership of their work after 35 years. So, many American musicians who made recordings in the 1970s, including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Don Henley, are able to file claims. But the big four labels are heavily resisting, claiming that performers were mere employees doing“work for hire,”and thus have no rights.

In other news across the pond, U.K. culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has called on search engines, such as Google, to bar links to websites with pirated material. You expect these kind of restrictions in China, but not necessarily in England. Hunt has rejected suggestions that this is“an assault on the ‘freedom’ of the internet,”but for Google that's exactly what it is. They said they already work with copyright owners to remove infringing materials. So it looks like legislation is the next step.

Go to episode 303

Music News

Donnasummer Last week Disco queen Donna Summer died at age 63. Jim and Greg talk about her gospel and musical theater roots and her contributions to pop music. People relegate Summer to the disco ghetto, but really she spanned many genres and didn't stop working after the 1970's. Her work with Giorgio Moroder also greatly contributed to the development of electronic music.

robingibb Only days after Summer's passing, we learned of the death of Bee Gees founder Robin Gibb. The 62-year-old had been battling cancer for some time. But before you say,“Groan…the Bee Gees,”know that the trio sold 200 million records worldwide, and not all of them copies of Saturday Night Fever. Their music from that 1977 movie defined the disco movement for many people, but the Bee Gees had hits in five different decades. And they thought of themselves more as blue-eyed soul singers. To honor Gibb, Greg highlights one of their tracks from the British Invasion period called "Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You."

Go to episode 339

Music News

Some interesting chart news this week: Despite being music vets, Tom Petty and Weird Al Yankovic, both just achieved their first #1 in the past month. Over on the Jazz charts, Tony Bennett, who himself took 54 years to produce #1, has reached another hight, this time with strange bedfellow Lady Gaga. Comic book fans are showing their support for Marvel's most recent super-powered adventure, Guardians of The Galaxy. The soundtrack for the flick, an eclectic mix of '70s rock, soul, and pop staples, is the current chart topper, beating out the prolific Now series, Volume 51. Over on the vinyl end of things, Jack White's most recent release, Lazaretto, is making history with its soaring sales. The LP has already sold over 60,000 copies, the most since Pearl Jam's 1994 album Vitalogy.

Go to episode 455

Music News

After being heralded as the next wave of music retail, Starbucks' Hear Music label is folding and moving its artists to Concord Music. Apparently Starbucks has realized that physical music sales is not an easy business. And now artists like Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Sia won't be able to depend on the coffee chain for their…um…buzz.

Jim and Greg's next news item concerns one of the biggest selling bands of all time: Coldplay. But this time, the British pop group is making headlines for making absolutely no money at all. The Chris Martin-fronted band released their new single "Violet Hill" as a free download earlier this week, and so far their strategy is a success. Within a day over 600,000 people downloaded the song the song for free. Jim and Greg will review the Brian Eno-produced album when it comes out in June, but right now they're more interested in this promotional plan. In the music industry's new era, even a band as established as Coldplay has to shake up the formula to get and keep fans.

Go to episode 127

Music News

First up Jim and Greg do an update on a story discussed a few weeks ago. Despite pleas from a broad spectrum of internet radio broadcasters including National Public Radio and Yahoo, as well as some small scale mom and pop stations, the Copyright Royalty Board threw out requests to reconsider a ruling that hiked the royalties they must pay to record companies and artists. In addition, the judges declined to postpone a May 15 deadline by which the new royalties will have to be collected. While there is still one more chance to open the case with the court of appeals, it's likely that many webcasters are going to be put out of business by these new rulings. One thing that is for certain is that rulings like these and those to come down the line are certain to change the entire landscape of digital broadcasting.

Next up Jim and Greg talk to Doug Brod, Editor-in-Chief of Spin Magazine, about the upcoming season of“destination festivals.”While previously music fans would be treated to traveling music festivals like Lollapalooza coming to their neck of the woods, now there are large-scale, multi-day outdoor concerts dotted in different areas across the country. Often, these festivals have to compete for your attention by getting the biggest coup. This year it's the Rage Against the Machine reunion at Coachella, the Pearl Jam and Daft Punk performances at Lollapalooza, and a Police reunion at Bonnaroo.

Jim and Greg ask Doug to choose his favorite out of the many destination festivals this summer, and he goes with Coachella because of the line-up and the location. Greg agrees that the Coachella Valley is a spectacular place to experience a rock show, but he also urges music fans to travel two hours outside of Seattle, Washington to attend the Sasquatch Festival in the Gorge Amphitheater. It's another meeting of spectacular natural surroundings and an impressive bill of bands. Jim thinks that people will get the most bang for their buck at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, which features a number of indie bands, plus groups like Sonic Youth performing entire albums for a very reasonable price. But, being the sand and sun hater that he is, Jim won‘t pick his favorite summer festival. He’s actually ready for the entire phenomenon to die out and for rock to return to smoky clubs where it belongs.

Jim and Greg talk to Chicago Tribune Television Critic Maureen Ryan about the recent "Sanjaya phenomenon" on American Idol. Our hosts have long avoided talking about this popular TV show because, frankly, it has little to do with music. But, they were intrigued by the curious forces at work to keep the apparently talentless contestant Sanjaya Malakar on the show, and wanted to turn to Mo Ryan to find out why he became so popular, and why he couldn‘t survive. The only sense these critics can make out of Sanjaya’s reign is that for one brief moment the pop forces (pre-teens who love Sanjaya's androgynous, harmless sex appeal) and the punk forces (Vote for the Worst.com, Howard Stern, etc.) came together with one common goal: to save Sanjaya (and possibly take down the show). The convergence of these two sets was a rare occurence in popular culture, and it seems they weren‘t strong enough to prevent Sanjaya’s elimination. American Idol proved itself to be a more powerful“death star”than anyone expected.

For more information on music festivals, check out the footnotes below.

Go to episode 73

Music News

It's the silliest meme since Psy's "Gangnam Style," but in some parts of the world, Bauuer's "Harlem Shake" is serious business. In Egypt, protestors filmed themselves performing the dance in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters, and in Tunisia, students' attempts to make Harlem Shake videos have ignited violent riots with religious conservatives. Half a century after Blackboard Jungle and "Rock Around the Clock," Jim says pop music still has the capacity to shock.

Go to episode 380

Music News

Fans continue to mourn the death of David Bowie, who died January 10th. His most recent album, Blackstar, released two days before his death, rose to #1 in America as fans and strangers alike tuned in to hear Bowie's last artful words. Blackstar's huge sales represent a trend found in Nielsen's 2015 music report, which says rock music is going strong. According to Nielsen, rock is the #1 genre for album sales—33% of albums sold in North America were rock. Though pop and R&B may be topping the charts, rock gets sold the most.

Music streams continue to be popular with listeners and are up 93%. But, there's hope for high fidelity fans too: MusicWatch reported an estimated 25 million U.S. consumers are willing to pay more money for higher sound quality. And while we live in a digital world, radio, surprisingly, remains people's #1 source for music discovery.

Adele The biggest winner in 2015 was, of course, Adele. Her record 25 accounted for 3.1% of all album sales in 2015 and 16% of all album sales during the six weeks following its release. So, it's not surprising that she was the most searched artist according to the BBC and Shazam. The BBC allows you to find out what people are searching for in your city, and also, that city's“musical twin.”Here in Chicago, our listening matches up with Johor Bahru in Malaysia.

Go to episode 530

Music News

The 2006 Nielsen Soundscan midyear report came out this week, and some of its findings are surprising. While the buzz seems to be that the music industry is being killed by digital music sales, which increased by 77% from 2005, albums are only down by 4.2%. So Jim and Greg aren‘t consoling record executives just yet. The more significant revelation? The disconnect between what critics enjoy and what people buy may be even greater than previously thought. The number-one selling album of the year so far is not by a venerated rock artist or a hip-hop star — rather, it’s the soundtrack to High School Musical, a Disney made-for-TV movie. The tween phenomenon shows how young girls still have much of the buying power in the industry. Coming in second is country/pop act Rascal Flatts. And a further scan of the list reveals that Jim and Greg were only compelled to review two of the records on it: Mary J. Blige's The Breakthrough and Taking the Long Way by the Dixie Chicks. Hopefully that trends turn around in the months to come. Otherwise Jim and Greg will have to score that interview with Zac after all…

Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett died this week at his home in Cambridge, England. Barrett started the band, which he named after two American bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, in 1965. After releasing The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (which was recorded at Abbey Road the same year as the other British psychedelic hallmark, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band), Barrett became a superstar. However, as Jim and Greg explain, this natural frontman shunned the spotlight. Barrett became a heavy LSD user and was likely suffering from schizophrenia. By 1968 he was forced to leave the band. He subsequently made two solo albums, but eventually went into virtual exile. Yet his influence on the band, and on future musicians, remained strong, as bandmate Nick Mason tells Jim. Mason, like all Pink Floyd fans, understood what a talent Barrett was and wished he had intervened to prevent such a tragic end. Still, Barrett's legacy lives on through his music. Listen to "Baby Lemonade," one of Barrett's last performances with members of Pink Floyd, as well as David Bowie's cover of "See Emily Play."

Go to episode 33

Music News

Headlines regarding the death of pop star Michael Jackson continue to pour in. This week the AP reported that Jackson's death was being ruled a homicide by the coroner's office. No official statement has been released, but it's likely that Jackson's physician will be charged with criminal negligence for administering the singer's drug cocktails. And while one camp investigates Jackson's death, another markets his life. A deal between promoter AEG and Jackson's estate has been approved to exhibit the King of Pop's memorabilia. This October exhibition will coincide with the release of a behind-the-scenes film and will help AEG to recoup losses incurred following the cancellation of Jackson's massive comeback tour. Not to be left out, the remaining Jackson brothers are getting in on the action. They've announced plans for an A&E reality show.

Despite pleas from Mom to turn that racket down, a new study says that music is actually good for your hearing. Northwestern University neuroscientists have found evidence that musicians can pick speech out of a noisy environment better than non-musicians. This is good news for Jim and Greg, and any Sound Opinions listeners who find themselves struggling to hear in a crowded room.

Tenor Johnny Carter passed away this week at age 75. Carter was a member of both The Flamingos and The Dells, two of the most important doo-wop groups of the ‘50s and ’60s. To mark his passing Jim and Greg play a song and performed by Carter: "Golden Teardrops" by The Flamingos.

Go to episode 196

Music News

Pope Francis just completed his first“sold-out tour”of the United States. Now you can own your own souvenir, as the Pope is putting out a pop album called Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward! To Greg, the record has a progressive rock feel, falling somewhere between Yes and Yanni. Jim notes that the Pope wasn't exactly in the studio laying down some“tasty licks,”as producer Don Giulio Neroni arranged the music around Francis‘ famous speeches. If the Pope is trying to speak directly to the population, a pop album isn’t a bad way to do it.

This week, Taylor Swift's album 1989 charted its 48th week on Billboard, and one musician is riding the coattails of that success. Alt country singer Ryan Adams released a track for track cover of 1989 and received more attention than ever. Jim thinks that without Swift's songs, there's no way Adams would be on the Billboard charts. He also references an article highlighting the "mansplaining" idea that people can only realize the strength of Swift's songwriting when a white male performs the tracks. Greg thinks that Adams is doing some solid marketing, as his music hasn‘t been relevant in 15 years. What do you think of Adams’ covers? Let us know!

Go to episode 514
world tours

Japan

Two months ago, Jim and Greg kicked off the Sound Opinions World Tour with a musical survey of pop powerhouse Sweden. This week, our series on global rock and pop continues with a stop in Japan. Jim and Greg recruit Tokyo-based music journalist and podcaster Daniel Robson to be their guide through the contemporary Japanese music scene. As Daniel explains, it's a scene that's at once similar and very different from that of the Americans and Europeans. Consider this: the Japanese music industry is still profitable, and physical sales still outpace digital. That's in large part to the stranglehold J-pop production companies have on the domestic market. But for every saccharine commercial confection like AKB48, Daniel says there's an underground group sure to thrill indie ears. Mamadrive and Shinsei Kamattechan are just two bands poised for Western success in the tradition of Japanese experimenters like Boris, Melt Banana, Acid Mothers Temple, and The Boredoms. Another point of difference with the West? Japanese musicians are roughly 50% women. Today singers like Shiina Ringo and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu carry on the tradition of eclectic rock and J-pop pioneered by all-women groups from Shonen Knife to Puffy AmiYumi.

Japanese artists featured in this episode:

  • Puffy AmiYumi
  • Shonen Knife
  • Happy End
  • Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
  • Boris
  • MoMoiro Clover Z
  • Melt Banana
  • Shinsei Kamattechan
  • Shiina Ringo
  • The GazettE
  • Judy and Mary
  • Mamadrive
  • Perfume
  • Number Girl
Go to episode 388

Sweden

Jim and Greg have always insisted that rock ‘n’ roll belongs to the world. In our new series, the Sound Opinions World Tour, they prove it by zeroing in on countries that've made big contributions to global rock and pop. Their first stop is the largest exporter of music per capita in the world: Sweden. Swedish DJ and public radio host Stefan Wermelin is our guide through the country's musical history. Stefan explains that in the '50s and '60s, Sweden was a pop music backwater. Musicians churned out cut-rate covers of American and English hits. The '60s hippie“Progg”movement injected some originality and artistic ambition into Swedish music, but things didn't really change until ABBA hit it big with "Waterloo." According to Stefan, ABBA set the template for Swedish success. The band created big hits by co-opting the best bits of global pop music and stitching them together with meticulous production. That tradition of pastiche continues today with Swedish producers like Max Martin, the man behind a hundred-and-one Billboard Top Ten hits (Britney Spears' "…Baby One More Time" and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" among them). But today, Sweden's also experiencing an indie renaissance in genres as varied as death metal, dance music, and Americana. Decades after ABBA, artists like The Knife, Lykke Li, Robyn, Opeth, and First Aid Kit are staging a second Swedish invasion.

Go to episode 379