Wednesday, September 29, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1990

If I could sum up the year 1990 in two words, it would be adrift and synthetic. I would justify the adrift description in that the music and cultural marks of that year don't really fit into the '90s aesthetic, but it doesn't feel a continuation of the '80s either. The 20th anniversary of Earth Day was acknowledged at a huge rally in New York City that April, but earth tones weren't exactly the rage. From my own memory --keep in mind that I turned six that year-- 1990 was a rush of saturated neon colors, of hot pinks and mercury blues and UFO greens. I remember being really into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles around this time, so much so that I dressed up as Raphael for Halloween that year and the next. I was mildly fascinated by glow-in-the-dark stickers, fueled by sugary cereals, and exhausting my household's supply of construction and drawing paper.

I was only vaguely aware of the musical trends that year, though I was obviously too young to appreciate what a potpourri of sounds 1990 proved to be. It was the year the audiocassette was finally eclipsed by the compact disc, as brisk sales of the Sony Discman pushed tapes into a lo-fi purgatory of demo recordings and concert bootlegs. The "Mad-Chester" music scene was a fascinating distraction, a shortlived novelty best remembered as the missing link between British New Wave and mid-90s Brit-Pop. American pop music finally had its fill of hair metal, as electronica, rap, and slick power ballads dominated the radio and records charts. Alternative and early grunge was still a viable college-rock staple, less than two years before Nirvana broke the dams with Nevermind. So anyway...


1. Violator, Depeche Mode. In his review on, Ned Raggett says it best: the Mode's seventh studio album is "goth without ever being stupidly hammy, synth without sounding like the clinical stereotype of synth music, (and) rock without ever sounding like a 'rock' band." An unexpected international bestseller, Violator is defined by its two hit singles, the bass-and-echo driven "Personal Jesus" and the dramatic ballad "Enjoy the Silence."
2. Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy. "Yeah, boy-ee!" Released after becoming the most notorious rhymers in the rap genre --and in the wake of Professor Griff's dismissal for making anti-Semetic comments-- Black Planet builds upon the anger and fire of their first two LPs and get a little more funky in the process. Even when he's utterly politically incorrect, Chuck D rhymes with an eloquence that is sadly devoid from most hip-hop nowadays, and the Bomb Squad achieve a career high with their seductive grooves, relentless beats, and clever sampling. It's urban decay you can dance to.
3. Ritual de la Habitual, Jane's Addiction. If 1988's Nothing's Shocking was a breathtaking introduction to a must-hear rock band, than Ritual is the prototypical follow-up: a similar blueprint, but more daring and unpredictable. Come for the tight, radio friendly tunes like "Stop!" and "Been Caught Stealing," stay for druggy epics like "Three Days" and "Then She Did." Maybe this is why Jane's disbanded after the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991-- they just couldn't top this album.
4. Goo, Sonic Youth
5. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, Sinead O'Connor
6. Apple, Mother Love Bone
7. Pills n' Thrills And Bellyaches, Happy Mondays
8. Bossanova, The Pixies
9. Flood, They Might Be Giants
10. Goodbye Jumbo, World Party. Karl Wallinger had a pretty tight year in 1990. After leaving The Waterboys five years earlier, Wallinger subsisted as a go-to sideman (he appears on two tracks on the O'Connor album mentioned above) and as the brains behind the one-man band World Party. After a trial-and-error debut album, Wallinger honed his sound into a specific style that evokes mostly The Beatles, Motown, Merseybeat, and in one flukey instance The Grateful Dead (on "Put The Message in a Box").

Honorable Mentions: Facelift, Alice in Chains; Shake Your Money Maker, The Black Crowes; Pod, The Breeders; Heaven or Las Vegas, Cocteau Twins; Bloodletting, Concrete Blonde; Social Distortion, Social Distortion; Nowhere, Ride.


"Thunderstruck," AC/DC
"Epic," Faith No More
"Mama Said Knock You Out," LL Cool J
"Just a Friend," Biz Markie
"Suicide Blonde," INXS
"The Obvious Child," Paul Simon
"There She Goes," The La's
"The Power," Snap
"Pump Up The Jam," Technotronic
"Wicked Game," Chris Isaak


1. "Velouria," The Pixies. Walking down a cliff in slow-motion never looked so intense.
2. "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor. In the early 90s, Prince was in a state of creative decline that some would argue hasn't let up. Letting Sinead cover this obscure album cut, however gave him enough street cred to coast for a few more years.
3. "Vogue," Madonna. When "Glee" had their Madge tribute last season, spoofing this clip was a no-brainer.
4. "Birdhouse In Your Soul," They Might Be Giants. Surreal in a witty kind of way. Watch out for cyclists!
5. "Enjoy the Silence," Depeche Mode. Do you ever feel like a king without a kingdom? Dave Gahan takes that addage literally in this introspective clip.
Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Have a Little Faith in Me

Is it too late to comment on last month's NYC mosque mess? If not...

Let me start off by saying how funny it is how the media creates controversies during a heated election year. As iffy as that mosque-cum-rec center may seem now, keep in mind that there's a Muslim religious center 15 minutes from where Flight 93 crashed. (The Pentagon mosque was an exaggeration, it seems.) There was even a clip on YouTube where Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham discussed the midtown mosque on Fox News in December 2009 and implied that they were okay with its location (said clip has since been pulled). It's one thing to triumph and support the anger and frustration of a browbeaten sector of the American populace, but another to play on their ignorance and fear. In all likelihood, the 20% of the US population that inexplicably believes President Obama is Muslim probably weren't aware that such a religion existed before that fateful day in September 2001.

Sadly, this controversy says a lot about how xenophobic our country can be, and an unwillingness by some to keep an open mind or look into the facts. To say the 19 terrorists represented all Muslims is like saying Fred Phelps and Terry Jones represent all Christians. Every faith has its bad eggs, interpreting religious texts in the most literal way possible and regurgitating said texts into convinient bite-sized "truths" that make 98% of the world sound like satanic messengers. The problem is that these hopelessly ignorant demogogues control more of the media's attention that they rightfully should. This is not by any means an anti-religious statement; in fact, I fear that good, god-fearing Christians and equally spirital Muslims are getting lost in a shuffle of hatred and animosity.

In the past, I've commented that racial and religious prejudices are often detached from a political bias. A recent cover story in Time magazine about Israel brought to mind how liberals and conservatives sometimes portray each other as anti-Semetic. For example, a far-left liberal conspiracy theorist will imply that the Jews control the world's money and were secretly responsible for the global economic downturn. A neo-conservative conspiracy theorist will suggest that the Jews control the media in order to transmit their latent yet rigid Zionist-Socialist agenda. Both theories are complete garbage, but it's something to think about. There are plenty of instances in world history where Christians and Muslims alike have persecuted the Jews, and even though anti-Semetism in American culture has fell on the wayside in recent decades, most Muslims and Christians in other countries are apathetic to the Israeli state. That's another debate for another time.

The conclusion I'm in arriving to is that in troubling times, everyone's looking for a scapegoat or a fall guy. When the southern United States struggled to gain their footing during the Reconstruction era, white locals pinned the blame on recently freed slaves. When the American economy teeter-tootered in the 1890s, financial experts pointed their finger at the sudden explosion of European immigrants. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-American citizens were sent to internment camps. Now we're in a double-dip recession nine years removed from the WTC attacks and people are wary of the "growing" influence of Muslims in American culture. Times are tense right now, but there are bigger fish to fry and far more important topics to debate before the midterm elections. National security should be a crucial issue, not setting limits on freedom of religion, yet people blur the two together for reasons I can't seem to comprehend.

Next Week: the year in music, 1990.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Land of Stinkin': The State of My State

Normally I'm not this unctuous, but I think I'm overdue for a political rant:

Even though it was a month ago, I'm still irked by the Blagojevich verdict. The only that could've been worse than this was if he was completely acquitted. It's one thing to have a serious mistrust in the powers that be here in Illinois, but now I'm especially discouraged by the people that vote for them as well (or sit on their juries, anyway). The one holdout juror claimed that she "voted from her heart" and wasn't convinced that Blago was entirely guilty of most of the charges --even though the other jurors thought this was an open and shut case-- which either says she's an incredibly patient women or just gullible to the ex-governor's charms. Regardless, because of this woman the jury spent two weeks in gridlock, and the state of Illinois is facing an expensive retrial that is A) wholly unnecessary and B) even less likely to bring Blagojevich to justice.

While Blago's retrial looms, our previous corrupt governor is making another attempt at early release. For the unitiated, George Ryan was Blago's immediate predecessor; he was probably just as corrupt but not even remotely as charismatic or media-friendly. Where the metropolitian Blago mugged for the cameras, Ryan was ornery, homespun, humorless, and as transparent as pea soup. Ryan is currently serving out a 6 1/2 year sentence in Indiana for selling driver's licenses to unqualified truck drivers in exchange for "contributions" during his stint as Secretary of State. Past attempts to delay jail time or shorten his sentence in the U.S. Court of Appeals have failed, citing "overwhelming guilt." His complex and far-reaching license-for-bribes scheme tattered and gutted the Illinois GOP to a degree that some still wonder if the party will ever recover. A third ex-governor of ours, James Thompson, has led a pro bono legal crusade to get his friend and onetime second-in-command paroled, which may lead to another date with Court of Appeals. Thompson has gone so far as to dangle Ryan's sickly wife around in a feeble stab at garnering sympathy for a feckless political insider. Suffice to say, I have been less sympathy for Ryan than I do Blagojevich, and anything short of finishing his full sentence would be a slap in the face to the state that he conned and betrayed.

On a semi-related note, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley dropped a bombshell last week when he announced that he would not run for a seventh term. This is a tragedy of sorts, as there was so much of the city that he never got around to selling. (But seriously...) Daley claimed that he'd been mulling retirement after 22 years in office, though one would argue that his plummeting approval rating --38% as of last week-- made it clear that his time had come and gone. In the eyes of his critics, Hizzoner Jr's downfall was the 2016 Olympics debacle, a big money flush for a city and state that obviously can't afford risky and/or frivolous expendatures. I won't deny that he's done some good for the city these past two decades, though he seldom stepped out of his father's long shadow.

Is the Land of Lincoln in a state of flux? Oh God, yes. The next year will be (more likely than not) an all-around changing of the guard within the most powerful houses in Illinois politics. That's not to say, however, that these new options bear much promise. In the governor's race, we have our doddering, indecisive Lt. Governor running against a dog-killing white trash millionaire, a wife-beating pawn shop owner, and a far left-leaning civil rights attorney that wants to raise taxes and legalize marijuana. That's not a roster of candidates so much as its a list of characters on a bad sitcom. If you go on Wikipedia, all four of their entries have mostly negative or unsavory character traits. To sum up: Election Day in Illinois will be like going to the candy store and discovering all they sell is Zagnuts, Nut Milks, Smarties, and Whoppers. The Chicago mayor's office is officially up for grabs, though U.S. Rep. Danny Davis has expressed interest in running and seems to be a local favorite (sorry, Rahm). There's a taste for change in Illinois, but the only aroma we smell is gas.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

32 Teams, 32 Questions: My 2010 NFL Preview

Looking towards the coming NFL season, I can't help but notice the lack of a singularly dominant team. There's no obvious frontrunner, but no woefully bad teams either. Upon glancing at these 32 squads, a 10-6 record might be enough to coast to a Lombardi Trophy. Sportswriters have cried that NFL parity is dead, though others will argue that its corpse is being propped up by narcissistic team owners trying to save face in the wake of a potential lockout, but that's a discussion for another time.

Like my scattershot baseball preview from five months ago, I will pose each team's forecast as a question. The fact that the NFL has more parity than the other three major sports makes predictions quite difficult, and every year there's always three or four teams that take virtually everyone by surprise. Rather than address what seems fairly obvious, I want to focus on the intangibles and X-factors that could make this one of the most compelling seasons in recent memory... or a 17-week snoozefest.

Here are my prognostications:

NFC North
1. Packers (10-6) Will the oldest team in the NFC show their age?
2. Vikings* (9-7) Speaking of age, is this the year that Brett Favre finally stops cheating Father Time?
3. Bears (7-9) If the preseason was any indicator, how badly will the O-line fail Jay Cutler?
4. Lions (5-11) Can you name a defensive player on this team not named Ndamukong Suh?

NFC East
1. Redskins (9-7) What is Albert Haynesworth more likely to memorize, his playbook or directions to Baskin Robbins?
2. Giants (8-8) Can Brandon Jacobs stay healthy?
3. Eagles (7-9) Who's more overmatched, Kevin Kolb or LeSean McCoy?
4. Cowboys (7-9) With that aging O-line (average age: 32), can Them Boys overcome the toughest schedule in the NFC?

NFC South
1. Saints (11-5) Can Drew Brees' high-flying O continue to compensate for a shaky D?
2. Falcons* (10-6) Is a leaner Michael Turner any meaner?
3. Panthers (6-10) Was last year's last-season surge a mirage?
4. Buccaneers (5-11) Will a young core mature enough to compete at a professional level?

NFC West
1. 49ers (9-7) Is Alex Smith the real deal, or a mediocre QB taking advantage of a weak division?
2. Cardinals (8-8) Does Coach Whiz have any confidence in Derek Anderson?
3. Rams (4-12) With Bradford still going through growing pains, can Steven Jackson carry the offense again?
4. Seahawks (3-13) Between the porous O-line, erratic secondary, and inexperienced D-line, does any other NFL team scream "potential train wreck?"

AFC North
1. Ravens (11-5) Can Baltimore avoid racking up so many penalty yards?
2. Bengals (8-8) Was last year's strides on defense a fluke?
3. Steelers (7-9) With unproven Dennis Dixon subbing for Ben Roethlisberger, can a Polamalu-led defense carry the Steel Curtain?
4. Browns (4-12) Mild improvements on defense notwithstanding, could Cleveland pin their hopes on a more beaten-down QB than Jake Delhomme?

AFC East
1. Jets (10-6) With Darrelle Revis signed (finally), can we already stamp their ticket to Dallas?
2. Patriots* (10-6) Can the offense compensate if Logan Mankins doesn't sign ASAP?
3. Dolphins (7-9) Will Brandon Marshall adapt to a run-first offense?
4. Bills (3-13) Is Ralph Wilson competing with Al Davis to be the orneriest owner in the NFL?

AFC South
1. Colts (12-4) Following that Super Bowl boner, is this the year Peyton Manning starts to look human?
2. Texans* (10-6) Is a healthy Matt Schaub the best-kept secret in the league?
3. Jaguars (6-10) Can Aaron Kampman boost a woeful sack record?
4. Titans (5-11) Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, Vince Young: who can disappear faster?

AFC West
1. Chargers (11-5) With or without two crucial contract holdouts, are they the AFC version of the Saints?
2. Chiefs (9-7) Will an increasingly erratic Matt Cassel take advantage of the easiest sked in the conference?
3. Broncos (8-8) Is Tim Tebow the next Andre Ware?
4. Raiders (5-11) Is Jason Campbell really an upgrade over JaMarcus Russell?

*Wild Card

First Head Coach Fired: John Fox, Panthers
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mike Williams, Bucs
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Lions
: Drew Brees, New Orleans
Super Bowl XLV: New Orleans 24, Baltimore 20

In defending my predictions in the form of a question, I can lift some of the blame off myself if things don't go as expected. Trust me, that's coming from a guy that predicted a Red Sox-Phillies Fall Classic back in April. ;)