Archive for May, 2010

USE IT OR LOSE IT

May 20, 2010

So  Axl Rose is suing his former high-profile manager Irving Azoff for a minimum of $5 million. Two months ago Azoff  filed a law suit against Rose for nearly $1.9 million in unpaid fees.

And it all centres around ‘Chinese Democracy’, that Guns N’Roses album we waited 15 years to hear, which sank without making a splash. Axl says Azoff deliberately didn’t promote ‘Chinese Democracy’ to force Axl into a corner which would give the singer no choice but to reunite the classic Guns N’Roses line-up.  Azoff blames Axl Rose for refusing to promote the album.  There were no interviews. Eventually Axl did take his current line-up on the road. Axl says Azoff resigned as manager on the eve of a major world tour, but still tried to claim commissions that he’d never earned.

On our side of the fence we’ll never know who did what and who didn’t do what. What we know is that Axl Rose’s troubles date back to October 1996 when he legally claimed ownership of the band name. Guitarist Slash departed immediately, and one by one other members left or were sacked until Axl was left last man standing. He might say this band he fronts today  is Guns N’Roses, but IS it Guns N’Roses really?  If he’d done more it might have been. At this stage we’re not sure.

The leftover Doors Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger have just announced that Steelheart vocalist Miljenko Matijevic will be joining Ray and Krieger for a US tour as a special guest singer, presumably their latest attempt to keep the Doors brand name alive, even though former drummer John Densmore stopped them using the name The Doors when they first decided to tour without him. They can’t use the Doors name, but it’s the Doors music they perform. I’ll bet there isn’t one song from the two Jim Morrison-less albums released after Jim died. Is it still the Doors?

The founding members of Australia’s Little River Band – Glenn Shorrock, Graeham Goble and Beeb Birtles  – also the guys who wrote all of the band’s big hits – left the band one by one until Johnny-come-lately guitarist Steve Housden  took over ownership of the name. He’s legally barred Shorrock, Goble and Birtles from using the name in any fashion to promote anything they might do together –even in its shortened form of LRB.  The current line-up of LRB – with no original member and without contributing one new song to the repertoire in 20 years makes a very nice living thank you performing 100 gigs a year playing those original songs.

Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger  have very cleverly kept The Doors name alive, through performances, reissues and so forth. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a goldmine. Use it or you lose it.

Axl Rose was arrogant claiming Guns N’Roses name, but ultimately wise, because he kept his bandmates from using it while Axl hid away in his mansion, promising but not delivering all these years. In this case, Axl has taken the name but hasn’t use the music that came with it. He might have used the name but lost the music.

What I’m listening to: The National (High Violet); LCD Soundsystem (This Is Happening) , Arcade Fire (Neon Bible)

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I DREAMED A (DIFFERENT) DREAM

May 17, 2010

It’s been reported that Elton John has turned down $33 million to replace the departing Simon Cowell  as American Idol judge. Having elevated himself via Idol and his own talent search franchises ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ to’ X-Factor’ to become one of Britain’s richest music people Cowell is vacating the Idol seat. He shares a place in Britain’s rich list top ten with Elton, Paul McCartney and U2.  We understand why they’re rich. What about Cowell?

Cowell has amassed a $150 million fortune. It’s a reflection of the ratings Cowell has brought to television, but at what cost to the music industry? Much is made of the impact downloading has had on music, but I’d hazard a guess that these talent shows has played a part in music’s demise. What they’ve promoted is the thought that fame rather than creative integrity are the end game in a career in music. Be good at being ordinary and you’ll be rewarded with fame – for the time being, until the next person comes along. As the years go by and the list of Idol winners, X-Factor winners and so forth gets longer, so does the wreckage left behind and hidden away, forgotten.

What “talent” has really been discovered? Where are the artists, where are the songs we’ll remember for the rest of our lives?

America’s first Idol Kelly Clarkson is a case in point. She won, and by virtue of being the first American Idol and coming from the world’s biggest and most powerful music market, she was a “hit” around the world. With the second album Clarkson had the audacity to try to make her own decisions about song choices and so forth and her “support” team stood back to watch her fall, ensuring that she fell. She was then patted on the head for seeing sense and being a “good girl” by listening to the advice of Clive Davis again with album number three.

Has the Simon Cowell industry found one artist who can stand on their own feet?

Talent shows are based on what’s already been. It’s a comfort zone. Sound like someone else, be like someone we already know, sing sings we already know. That’s what they’re looking for. In America  the last Idol final was followed by the launch new program, Glee Club. Now it was actors at the microphone, and we at home think, “they could be me”.

Where’s the aspiration?

There’s no danger, or risk, or adventure in any of this. No-one we know as a “real” music star would ever have survived Simon Cowell and his follow judges, and yet, we see these stars turning up as “mentors” – for the sake of having their own music exposed to that large television audience . The wanna be idols are led to think they might be the next Lionel Richie or Stevie Wonder, momentarily sharing the same camera shot. But that’s all there is. The circus moves on.

At the expense of real talent, of attempting to forge a future for music, a  lot of time, effort and music industry money has gone into the $imon Fuller/$imon Cowell era. They’ve created markets that weren’t there. Popera.  Chances are however the people who have come out of the woodworks to buy Susan Boyle’s album will never buy another record. They’re consuming fame and familiarity, not music.

So what have we really gained?

Downloading is one issue for music. Making a career in music look like unimaginative slavery is another issue.

What I’m listening to: Dead Weather (Sea Of Cowards), The Strokes (Is This It?) Steely Dan (Pretzel Logic)

STARS MOUTHING OFF

May 15, 2010

Macy Gray has not picked a good time to brand the music industry as “prejudiced”, coming on top of memories of Lena Horne whose cinematic performances in movies were placed so they could be edited out for screening in America’s Southern states.

Macey  has told Britain’s Guardian newspaper, “Is there prejudice in the music industry? Yes. If you’re black and you don’t do R&B or hip-hop, then you’re going to have a very long haul – there’s only one Lenny Kravitz, one Tracy Chapman.

“The last label I was on only sent my records out to urban radio stations, even though I was more of a pop artist. But the fans don’t care who is singing. If you hear a great song, you don’t care if it’s by a 90-year-old green person.”

The worst person to know the truth is often that person themselves. The reason Macy Gray has not been able to recapture the success of her 1999 debut ‘On How Life Is’ is largely her own doing.  No prejudice then. She was given a shot. A big shot. But if you ask anyone who had anything to do with her during that time, she was “difficult” and gave disappointing performances. When her subsequent records didn’t live up to that debut and needed support to see her through the support wasn’t given willingly. She’d soiled her own nest.

That’s part of the story. The part of the story when she complains about being promoted incorrectly is probably true, but that doesn’t mean she’s been victim of “prejudice” – instead, victim to the music industry’s fragmentation into genres. There’s many an artist who’s failed to reach the mainstream because they’ve been cast as a particular sort of artist. Unhappily, that’s been going on for a long time, and becomes more and more of an issue.

Tony Braxton in the meantime has pulled out the sexist card, insisting female singers are not given the same respect as men. She says: “It’s still hard for female performers in the music business.  it’s still very sexist. If you have an opinion you just get patted on the head. And if you’re passionate about something, they say, ‘It must be her time of the month.’ A guy is a dude for expressing himself, but a girl is being a little bitch.”

 Again there’s probably a grain of truth in what she says, but again Braxton is let down by her own behaviour. Having an opinion is one thing, being a “diva” is another. Braxton is the only person I’ve ever interviewed who had to have her bodyguard stay in the room, not because I was dangerous, but as a statement of grandeur.

Blaming others for your ills is easy, but it solves nothing.

What I’m listening to: Band Of Horses (Infinite Arms), Smog (Dongs of Sevotion), Radio Birdman (Living Eyes)

A MUSICIAN SCORNED

May 13, 2010

Imagine the chaos if more former members of established bands took ex-Supertramp Roger Hodgson’s lead and refused to allow a reunited band to perform certain songs. Hodgson is miffed that he wasn’t asked to be part of Supertramp’s 40th anniversary  tour and has issued a list of songs he won’t allow them to perform, including ‘The Logical Song’ ,’Dreamer’ and ‘It’s Raining Again’. There are 23 songs in total. It leaves Supertramp with the dregs.

According to Roger Hodgson’s argument, when he decided to leave the group for a solo career 27 years ago he and fellow founding member Rick Davies agreed that Davies could retain the use of the Supertramp name as long as the group became a vehicle for Davies without Hodgson’s songs. He expects Rick Davies to honor that agreement. Hodgson also claims that he and Supertramp will be touring at the same time.

It’s important to note that Roger Hodgson enjoyed a little period of success as a solo artist, but his career faltered just prior to the release of a second album when the singer/keyboard player fell at home and broke both wrists. He recovered physically, but his career never did. At one point he contemplated replacing Jon Anderson in Yes, who just happen to be in the midst of their own reunion upheaval.

A planned Yes tour in 2008, back with Anderson, was forced to be cancelled when the singer fell ill. The group subsequently went back on the road with a replacement they found in a Yes tribute band. At first Anderson was hurt and disappointed, but he then gave the group their blessing. What if he’d taken  Roger Hodgson’s approach?  Imagine Yes without ‘Close To The Edge’, ‘Going For The One’ and ‘Owner Of The Lonely Heart’.

Hodgson’s demand has no legal basis of course. If it did, what would happen to cover bands, if someone could forcibly withdraw their songs from performance by others?  As long as there’s no copyright infringement, changing the lyric significantly, Supertramp only have a moral duty to comply to Hodgson’s wishes.

In the end his stand is just sour grapes akin to Roger Waters imagining Pink Floyd couldn’t and shouldn’t exist without him. Floyd continued just to prove him wrong. In fact the post-Waters Pink Floyd is worthless, Pink Floyd by numbers. Waters has come around in recent years. He wanted to get back together with the group to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ‘The Wall’, possibly thinking this was a way to wash away the years of bitterness he unleashed. David Gilmour refused and Roger Waters is forced to celebrate on his own.

Like Hodges, Waters solo career hasn’t panned out the way he would have hoped. He hasn’t released anything new for 18 years.

What I’m listening to:  Paul Weller (Wake Up The Nation), Loretta Lynn (Van Lear Rose) Love (Forever Changes)

Michael Jackson: A YEAR LATER

May 11, 2010

Is it really a year?

Tomorrow in 2009 Michael Jackson and ten dancers chosen from more than 700 applicants would start their second four-day week at a rehearsal space near Los Angeles’ Burbank airport, preparing for Jackson’s concert comeback, titled ‘This Is It’. Also tomorrow a year ago, Jackson’ personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray  was in Nevada making the under-the counter of anaesthetic propofol which he would fatally administer to his client 44 days later.

Jackson had committed to a staggering 50-night residency at London’s O2 arena  beginning in July. No-one really believed he would see it through in its entirety. It was anybody’s guess how many, if any of these concerts would actually take place. It would be his first concert run in more than 12 years.  He had been painted into a 50-concert corner by his dire financial situation. Hardly a day went by without a new lawsuit brought against the self-proclaimed King of Pop. It was clear that he didn’t really want to  commit himself to all those shows, but the floodgates had been opened, and he had been swamped. He would much rather have been spending his time in the recording studio – not that he had a recording contract and therefore no record company support. Michael and Sony had long ago fallen out of move with each other.

If Michael Jackson wanted to fake his death as a means of escape, you could have forgiven him.

As well as his financial problems, we know that Michael Jackson had health problems. He’d never really been the same since his hair was set alight during a Pepsi Cola ad. He’d become addicted to painkillers. His family tried several interventions – whether concern or self-interest was their motive is beside the point – but Michael was in denial. He was probably also a bit of a hypochondriac.  When you’re rich and can get doctors to break rules that’s an easy – but obviously dangerous option.

Jackson wanted relief from his pain and his sleeplessness, and on June 25 his doctor administered his unethically obtained “cure”. Michael Jackson died, and overnight everything changed. The disgraced superstar was a hero again. In that 11 months since he died more than 9 million Michael Jackson albums have been sold. Sony records signed a new contract with the administrators of Jackson’s  estate.

However, the situation I’ve hinted at in earlier posts has now happened. We know that Michael spent time in the studio while in Sony limbo, recordings Sony had no claim to then, and no claim to now.  A complete album has “surfaced” – or at least been confirmed as existing –  the existence of which was not known when the new Sony deal was struck. The album was recorded by Michael in with Eddie Cascio at his home in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.. Cascio, 28, is the second oldest son of longtime Jackson friends Dominick and Connie Cascio, Michael’s surrogate family.

Interestingly two days after Michael Jackson died – while the Jackson family was otherwise occupied demanding a second autopsy – Eddie Cascio filed a copyright claim along with Michael Jackson and another songwriter for something called “MJ Songbook.” The filing is just for lyrics. An earlier filing. from March 2008, is labeled “JPEC Collection.” The song titles in each collection are not specified, but it’s possible that Cascio updated his 2008 filing after Jackson died to reflect the superstar’s contribution to  material Cascio had already written–and wisely registered.

Sony might be stuck with the leftovers while “new” Michael Jackson recordings are up for grabs for others.

What I’m listening to: Jackson Browne and David Linley (En Vivo Con Tino), The Posies (Frosting On the Beater), Antony and the Johnsons (I Am A Bird Now)

JACK WHITE IS RIGHT

May 10, 2010

Jack White is challenging bands to release more music. He told Britain’s The Sun, “We are living in a society that is based on instantaneous gratification. In the Sixties, bands used to do this all the time and put out two or three albums a year.”

Artists didn’t get less creative. Record companies became gatekeepers, and recording artists found themselves corralled and their output restrained by strategic marketing campaigns aimed at squeezing every possible dollar out of an album before new material would be contemplated. They were paying for the studio time after all, shipping the “product” and in most cases bank-rolling the tours which promoted the albums. The record companies had the whip hand. One way artists could keep themselves and their fans entertained between albums was with B-sides, quirky stuff that no-one minded “letting go”.

But those days are behind us aren’t they? The consumer is in charge – well sort of in charge anyway. For the sake of this particular argument we won’t go into the ways our consumption of music can still be restricted. We can’t get everything we want. But if we want to keep buying a track it can no longer be deleted.

It’s the record companies themselves who’ve encouraged us to stop buying dedicated bundles of songs – albums – so there’s no reason why artists can’t keep pumping out material on a regular basis. As consumers we don’t have to focus on one song (single) at a time at regulated periods. In theory we can decide what “singles” we want to hear, when we want to hear them.

Overexposure? Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker used to say that over-exposure is like sunburn. It hurts. But who? In truth, what had been happening is that artists were becoming underexposed. Fifteen songs – an album, singles and b-sides – every three years was never particularly satisfactory, for an artist or their fans. Deprivation may keep us thirsty but there was always the danger we’d find another drinking hole.

Artists and their fans have the chance to stay engaged with each other on a regular basis. We might be able to get excited and stay excited. As long as everyone keeps in mind that what’s important is to be able to “treasure” the music we hear and learn to love. We don’t treasure a song the way we used to, because of remixes and alternate takes – like magicians taking away the wonder by showing us how it’s done. We don’t treasure albums anymore because we can’t touch them or “see” them anymore.

So yes, let’s hear more music, but let’s not just throw it out or just gulp it down.

What I’m listening to: Gotan Project (Tango 3.0) Roky Erickson (True Love Cast Out All Evil), Billy Falcon (Pretty Blue Word)

The Killers : BAND ON THE RUN

May 2, 2010

The Killers’ lead singer Brandon Flowers will release a solo album this year. The news was revealed by a Killers fan site on a Twitter post, directing followers to the band’s official website, thekillersmusic.com. The website opening page reveals the title of the solo album, “Flamingo,” and directs users to sign up for email updates.

No-one is especially surprised. We’ve almost been waiting for this ever since The Killers emerged from unlikely Las Vegas with their ‘Hot Fuss’ album. The spotlight firmly fell on Flowers from day one, immediately identified as a different kind of rock star, larger than life and not afraid of making a spectacle of himself as a performer or in interviews. He’s one of those singers who can quickly outgrow a band, justified in breaking away or not.

Morrissey was never going to be happy with The Smiths forever, Boy George with Culture Club.

Bands are a disappearing commodity. That’s what made and makes Kings Of Leon such a treasure. There truly is a band made up of its parts. But that becomes increasingly a rarity as music and music technology evolves.

 It all happens too fast, the finding of kindred spirits, the creation of a vision, entering the studio (or rehearsal room) to record that first batch of songs, the ability to “shed” musicians around the creative core? Will we ever see the like of a U2 again? Very early in their career they reached that crunch point, on the doorstep of a sizeable following and a manager. But they were unhappy with each other’s abilities, in disagreement about the kind of music they wanted to play. The notorious “musical differences”.  What saved them was that “gang” spirit. Bands start out as “gangs”, bonded by the music. One for all all for one. Us against the world. It all happens to quickly now, less chance to build that bond.

What I’m listening to: The Hold Steady (Heaven Is Whenever), Usher (Raymond V Raymond), Led Zeppelin (II)