Archive for December, 2011

THE BEACH BOYS DO IT AGAIN

December 18, 2011

Yet again we see the power of a brand name with excited headlines resulting from  the Beach Boys announcing their reunion for a 50-date 50th anniversary tour and new album in 2012. As a group they were never all that good. Brian Wilson’s genius as a songwriter and arranger made the difference. The musicians Wilson has been working with in recent years are heads and shoulders over the Beach Boys, who would never have managed recreating ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile ‘ on stage as Brian and his new friends have managed to do. To create the original works Brian had to work around the Beach Boys.

So, the reunion is about nostalgia rather than musicianship. It’s rather telling that what we know so far about the new album is that the group as is in 2011 has re-recorded their 1968 hit ‘Do It Again’ as its heralding call for the new year.  Don’t be surprised if that’s what we see and hear at the Grammy Awards. Awards used to be about recognition of achievement. They’ve become events. The Awards and winners have become less of the priority. The reunited  Beach Boys will be a Grammy event.

‘Do It Again’ was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. In 1968 it was a return to the traditional Beach Boys sound after Brian Wilson’s sand-box collaborations with Van Dyke Parks. Mike Love was the Beach Boy who was most unhappy about Brian working with Parks and the music Brian was creating. Cousin Mike is on record for calling ‘Good Vibrations’ “shit”. Eat your words Mike.

In subsequent years Mike Love initiated lawsuit after lawsuit against his fellow Beach Boys, over his contribution to the songwriting,  over the name of the band, etc etc. ‘Do It Again’ isn’t just an appropriate theme for 2012, that song offers is a peace dove within Beach Boys ranks. Missing in action in the meantime of course are Brian’s brothers Dennis and Carl who have taken their surfboards into the beyond.  Dennis drowned in 1983. Carl lost his life to cancer in 1998.

The 2012 Beach Boys will see one-time protagonists Brian Wilson and Mike Love joined by Al Jardine and David Marks. Jardine was a high school classmate of Brian Wilson’s who joined the Wilson Boys and their cousin Mike for their first recording session   When he left the Beach Boys shortly afterwards he was replaced on bass by Marks but returned in 1962 at Brian’s request. Marks, despite many overtures,  didn’t become a permanent Beach Boy again until 1997.

What’s kept our attention on the Beach Boys over the years of course was the group’s relationship with Brian. After a mental breakdown they left him at home to write songs while they sang their old songs about surfing, girls and hot rods around the world. They came back and found him in his sandbox with Van Dyke Parks. Try as they might to carry on without their deranged resident genius they could never quite manage it. Whenever the Beach Boys needed a career lift they tried to get Brian on stage or into the studio again. Eventually it just all fell to pieces although Mike Love and Al Jardine put some of the broken bits together separately towards their own ends. Miraculously Brian Wilson emerged (relatively) sane and has been making some wonderful (and eccentric) music.

In the beginning Brian Wilson needed the rest of The Beach Boys. He didn’t for long, but he was stuck with them, just as they were stuck with a quickly out-dated name. The Beach Boys always needed Brian Wilson, even if it was only spiritually. While Brian’s been working with musicians worthy of him the Beach Boys have limped on. Was that version of the Beach Boys that toured Australia earlier this year REALLY miming?  To be at all relevant he Beach Boys STILL need Brian Wilson and will have him again in 2012.

Suddenly The Beach Boys name means something again.

 

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SHOULD WE START WORRYING ABOUT RIHANNA?

December 15, 2011

Where to for Rihanna?

At the same time as she’s been named by Forbes as one of the year’s best paid female entertainer there’s worrying signs that she might be starting to unravel. Cancelling gigs (Ireland) due to stress is one thing. Keeping your fans waiting for more than an hour (England) is another. It’s unforgivable. It’s spitting in the eye of the very people who’ve put her in that high priced bracket – kind of.

Today entertainers get to where they are and get what they get financially through more than the records they make and the numbers who attend their concerts. These things help to create a brand, which leads to endorsements, which leads to $$$ and more $$$. While the music industry whinges about piracy’s impact on their income, have you noticed that the top artists are earning more money than ever before? Product endorsement is a big part of it. Rihanna’s list of endorsements is nearly as long as the list of her hit records.  It’s important to remember that during the storm over that Chris Brown incident there were fears that SHE might lose endorsements if she pursued Brown in court.

In recent years Rihanna has been pop music’s most consistent star. On top of her own records everybody from Eminem to Coldplay wants an association – another form of endorsement. Apart from consistency Rihanna has certainly been BUSY. In just over six years she’s released just as many albums, almost unheard of in the modern history of music. If it was JUST about music right now SOMEONE would be worried. Elvis Presley’s Colonel Tom Parker lived by the management maxim: “Overexposure is like sunburn. It hurts’. It might hurt a music career but it keeps the endorsements providers happy.

 Are we really so celebrity awe struck that we’ll buy a perfume because it comes with Rihanna’s image? Apparently.

Something else to note about Rihanna. In that relatively short career she’s had a number of changes in management, usually with $$$ at the core. It’s happening right now. She’s unhappy with her current management – NOT because they’ve got her churning out music, NOT because she’s working to the point of stress, NOT because  she’s putting out videos with questionable messages – but because her management has  just taken on management of Beyonce and there might be a conflict of interest when it comes to those all-important endorsement clients.

But  …. as much as we’re watching those eye candy  videos, as much as we’re consuming those Rihanna songs – have you ever noticed how LARGE those songwriting credits are? – and apparently beating our way into the stores to buy anything else associated with her name and image ….  we actually don’t care do we?

If Rihanna IS unravelling, and I’m not saying she really is, and – dread the thought – she’s heading the way of Lindsay Lohan or Amy Winehouse we really won’t care will we? We’ll consume all that with just as much fascination. As well as celebrity we love a trainwreck. That year Britney Spears dominated Google etc etc, it wasn’t to do with our love for her as a singer.

Rihanna deserves all that money she’s making. I’d just like her to find time to enjoy it.

DEATH IS NOT A GOOD CAREER MOVE

December 14, 2011

Amy Winehouse is No.1 in England. It’s a hollow achievement. On ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ we’re listening to music that’s unworthy of her. If she’d lived and released this record her career would be finished. We wouldn’t accept it. But Amy is dead and her leftover scraps have been swept off the studio floor, polished up and presented to us “in tribute”. Sad.

It’s happened before of course. John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ was finished before he died. It wasn’t just his record. Half the songs were Yoko’s and performed by Yoko. He himself hadn’t meant it to be that way, but this was his first outing on record after five years of “watching the wheels”. If that’s the way it had to to be … Afterwards he went straight back into the studio, planning to somehow make his own record again. That’s what he was doing when he was shot, concentrating on a song of Yoko’s to make it so good she might be inspired to want to be on her own too.

So we heard an album called ‘Milk And Honey’, again half John half Yoko. At least we heard the songs  the way John left them. We can heard that there was a reason John had left these songs off ‘Double Fantasy’, not just to make room for Yoko. At best they would have been fillers.

Jimi Hendrix wasn’t so lucky. After HE died a producer called Alan Douglas claimed the right to go into the studio to give us the albums Douglas insisted Jimi had planned to make. Douglas used session musicians Jimi had never met.  This was different to Steve Cropper  adding the seagulls to ‘Dock Of The Bay’ after Otis Redding died. What Jimi did was collaborative. What Alan Douglas to his music did was sacrilege. Years later his family tried to unscramble the “egg”.

Jeff Buckley struggled with the follow-up to his magnificent ‘Grace’ album. There was a whole album he recorded afterwards and scrapped – or thought he’d scrapped. He was in the process of rehearsing a new band in order to try again when he died. So we heard the music he hadn’t wanted us to hear as, part of ‘Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk’. Ultimately a beautiful experience  – ‘Grace’ – was tarnished. It was his mother’s doing. Where does keeping a memory alive finish, and exploitation start?

Couldn’t we just have taken ‘Grace’ in its full glory as our lasting gift from Jeff?

Amy Winehouse’s “third album” isn’t worthy of her. These are not “treasures”. They should have remained “hidden”. For her sake – for our sake – it would be better if, as with ‘Grace’, we were left with only her two complted albums ‘Frank’ and ‘Back To Black’ to enjoy over and over. That’s who she was. That’s who she wanted to be. Finish.

They say that death is a good career move. For who?

JUST MAKING THE FAMOUS MORE FAMOUS

December 12, 2011

(Excuse the long absence if you’ve been here before. I hope to “speak” to you regularly again)

Hardly a week goes by without news of another celebrity artist being appointed as a judge or making a guest appearance on that seemingly ever-growing list of television reality talent shows … X-Factor, (Insert Territory)’s Got Talent, The Voice. Has everyone forgotten what these shows are SUPPOSED to be about .. unearthing unknown talent .. giving people a break?

Maybe that dream was there in the beginning .. it’s still the dream of the contestants-cum-combatants .. but that it’s a dream that’s been hijacked. If that dream was ever really there it’s been stolen. The dream has become a scam.

 It started with (Insert Territory) Idol holding feature nights, you know, twenty-something  year olds forced to sing the songs of a Lionel Ritchie who’s there on set to “mentor” them, catalogues so old they are not part of the lives of the singers forced to perform them, songs they have no passion for, may not be suited for. And at the end of one of those episodes someone gets thrown out. Sorry. Lionel Ritchie walks away with a big exposure boost. Thanks.

Then came the celebrity judge phenomenon. Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine take time off from their busy recording and performing schedules to give the wanna-bes the benefit of their experience and knowledge on America’s  version of ‘The Voice’. Popular show. Massive exposure. Who gets the most benefit? Aguilera records ‘Moves Like Jagger’ with Levine’s Maroon 5. No.1 single in America and around the world. Thanks. Who WERE those contestants?

‘The Voice’ is about to be launched in Australia. Signed up as judges are Keith Urban and Delta Goodrem. Keith, despite his Australian origins and his mammoth status in the US, is NOT a mega star in Australia. Not yet. Delta USED to be a mega star in Australia. She’s been concentrating on establishing am international toehold. Urban and Goodrem can both do with something high profile to turn the tide. ‘The Voice’ will do the job nicely thank you. I can guarantee you now even, before the first show is filmed, that when the series is over those two careers will making new Australian headlines. The pay for being on the show won’t hurt either. What contestants? Line up so we can applaud you and spit you out.

England’s judges for ‘The Voice’’s 2012 launch in that country will be singer-songwriter Jessie J , Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, Tom Jones and The Script frontman Danny O’Donoghue.  The show will do none of them harm. Can you feel a Jessie J/will.i.am collaboration coming on?  What contestants?

Theme nights, celebrity judges and – thanks to the massive audiences these shows boast – now some of the biggest acts in the world are lining up to make guest performances. Coldplay performing on X-Factor. The television bosses don’t mind. Look at the ratings. Simon Cowell doesn’t mind. Look at his bank balance. The artists don’t mind. Look at the exposure.What about the contestant?.

In the annals of show business there’s that legendary man with a cigar who comes up to uninitiated and promises to make them a star. Reality or an evil trap? That’s what these shows are the equivalent of. You can’t blame the Coldplays etc etc. They’re looking after their own interests, exploiting the shows, as they exploit those innocents.

And us? Are we being exploited too? Did we start watching those shows to help Christine Aguilera and Adam Levine to a world-wide No.1 or did we share Susan Boyle’s dream?

Both X-Factor judge and Simon Crowell have admitted that Lady Gaga wouldn’t have survived one of these shows. Reid had the chance to discover Gaga properly in the first place, but he didn’t see her potential. He says he had a bad day.

For the last ten years the music industry has been lamenting downloads as the industry’s downfall. Don’t these shows also have a lot to answer for? A lot of energy and money has been invested for what result? Not much as far as the health of music is concerned.

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO

Feist (Metals): As a singer she has extraordinary warmth. Her voice just envelops you like sunshine. As a songwriter she has taste and imagination. Already a recording artist with a commendable history this is arguably her finest work.  I was hooked before. I’m addicted now.