Sunday, September 14, 2014

I reviewed U2's “Songs of Innocence”, because eh

Oh, U2; how I have loved to hate you over the decades we have been on this planet together. I'll be honest: I've never really liked you. Even in the 80s, when you were ostensibly “good”, you always seemed like a caveman throwback to me. There were all the rest of the songs on the radio – the Michael Jacksons, the Queens, the a-Has and Spandau Ballets and Dead Or Alives – and then there were U2 songs, which would come blaring out of the speakers disjointedly. You were like the one nosepicking punk-rock kid at a socialite soiree. You probably thought that was cool. I always thought you should go home and find friends your own age.

It would have been fine if you'd just left it at that, though. But no, you insisted on being included regardless of how out of place and awkward you made everything. And you kept insisting, again, and again, for decades. You're still insisting now.

And we haven't even gotten to the really heinous shit you've done yet, like nearly suing Negativland – a genuinely refreshing, forward-thinking, and TRULY REVOLUTIONARY band – entirely out of existence, then shamelessly stealing the sampling-culture ethic they pioneered for your ZooTV tour, THE SAME YEAR. No wonder Aphex Twin refused to do a remix for you. You are and have always been the antithesis of the underground, a privileged major-label invention angling desperately for an audience they neither deserve nor have anything in common with.

What better way to market such a group than actually shoving their album down consumer's throats?

Apple has opened a real Pandora's box here: millions of people now own the new U2 album whether they want it or not. Odd Future's Tyler the Creator compared the experience to waking up with herpes, which is probably being generous, because at least with herpes you got laid the night before. This is more like waking up to a subpoena. Of course, if you aren't rich enough to have an iPhone and actually want the album, acquiring it from another source will get you the usual draconian measures from the RIAA. The future is FUCKING STUPID.

How does U2 defend this invasion of digital privacy? Here's a bona fide (Bono-fied?) quote: “People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library. And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way… the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail.”

Great. Bono is literally comparing this album to SPAM. FAVORABLY.

So how does it sound?


It sounds like shit. Apple paid 100 million dollars for this? I would give you 75 cents if you included the artwork and a date with The Edge's ex-wife. Gene Simmons has gone on record lately claiming that rock music is dead; listening to this, he may be right, and that may be a good thing.


I'm going to guess that these songs were all constructed for the purpose of being included in movies starring Daniel Day Lewis. There's a mealy-mouth quality to them, a sort of weird formulaic structure that evokes something you've heard before that was also in a sort of weird formulaic structure, ad infinitum. It's like a fractal pop song, a holographic suck that when cut in half still contains the full measure of suck.

Are we so helpless against the tide? 

You tell me, asshole; you're the one who thinks he's still relevant. 


I feel I should note that I'm literally typing these reviews in real time with the album, and I finished Track 2 so quickly that I considered fast-forwarding to save time.

Oh great; just what we need, ANOTHER song about California. Fucking Red Hot Chili Peppers wasn't even remotely cool when they did this eight years ago. (Yep, Stadium Arcadium was EIGHT YEARS AGO. Feeling OLD yet?)

Whoa, oh, you know
And all I need to know is
There is no, yeah, there is no end
To love

There's no end to something, anyway. The average age of the members of U2 is 53, for the record. Who are they writing these songs for? Other pentagenarians? Teenagers? Just anyone who'll listen?



Here's something that needs to be said: this album is BORING. Danger Mouse probably got paid a lot of money to produce this rubbish, which is somehow both a tragedy and a mark of business genius. There's nothing of Danger Mouse anywhere on this album; it sounds just like any other U2 album, with nothing fresh or modern or notable. These songs could be time-traveled back to 1982 and released and no one would be the wiser.

And that's why they SUCK! You had access to Danger Mouse – the man behind The Grey Album, Gnarls Barkley, Danger Doom, countless projects and remixes – and THIS is what you ended up with? That's like having Gordon Ramsay at your house and handing him a box of Duncan Hines.


I want to stop here. This album isn't going to get any better. It's not going to excite me, it's not going to move me, it's not going to say anything U2 hasn't said a thousand times already which wasn't even all that interesting the first time. U2 keeps talking big game about remaining relevant, but really, has U2 ever been relevant? Did anyone really give a shit about Rattle and Hum? Or Boy, or Zooropa, or Pop? Their entire career has been about the fight for being recognized, a fight they lost by having it at all. Sure, a few decent tunes slipped through the cracks, but take away The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby and what do you have left? Horseshit like this:

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let go
Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know
Hold me close the darkness just lets us see
Who we are
I’ve got your life inside of me

This probably sounds deep and emotional if you're the lead singer of Creed, or a 12-year-old girl who just discovered what boys are good for. To everyone else it just sounds goofy and embarrassing.




Oh! Something remotely sonically interesting! If the album would have started with this track, I might have been fooled into thinking that U2 was serious about their desire for relevance. There always seems to be at least one redeemable track on albums like this; for the Robin Thicke album I reviewed it was “Too Little Too Late”. It's a weirdly specific thing – it's like you can hear that there was potential there, that maybe they seriously considered doing a whole album like this, that maybe under the surface of all the carefully constructed facade there was some genuine, soulful intention to be SOMETHING, god dammit.

And then the accountants came in and said “no no no, just make another 'Angel of Harlem' and we'll call it a day.”


And just as quickly we're back to whatever. These guitars are ANGRY! Or they're trying to convince me they are, anyway, and they're not really succeeding. It's a toothless dog with a truthless bark.

I was looking for a soul that’s real
Then I ran into you 

I laughed pretty hard at this realizing that Bono almost certainly did not intend the double meaning.


Might we get TWO interesting tracks? The opening synth arpeggio, harkening back to early Kraftwerk, is certainly unexpected and a bit more fresh than is usual for U2. But then Bono actually begins to sing and ruins it all. I really would like to hear more songs like “Numb” where Bono just becomes a sort of abstract vocal
texture in the background while The Edge sneeringly proses over the beat like some sort of sarcastic cross between Ken Nordine and Lyrics Born. In fact if U2 made songs like that all the time I'd probably forgive them for a lot of the horrible shit they've done.

Not the Negativland thing, though. They are never living that one down.


It really seems like they saved all the sonically interesting tracks for the end of the album. I'll bet if you listen to this disc in reverse order it sounds way better.

Soldier, soldier
We signed our lives away
Complete surrender
The only weapon we know

UH OH, IT'S A POLITICAL SONG. Except, no it's not. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was about SOMETHING. This is just word jambalaya posing as Kony 2012. Also it's just way too upbeat for a political song. There is no such thing as political disco. The very concept of disco is antithetical to politics.


I'm not even going to poke fun at how U2 has never had anything remotely resembling “the troubles”, nor how this ham-handed reference to the Northern Ireland conflict smacks of class appropriation. Why bother? The evidence is clear: U2 believes their own bullshit. They genuinely think they are still a fresh, young, hip band with interesting things to say. There's not a trace of irony here, only delusion and denial in equal portions.

Getting old is terrifying. The world is constructed around the young, the energetic, and the creative, all of which are commodities that depreciate with time. U2 has lost their youth, and they were never that creative to start with; all they've ever really had was an astounding pool of energy. But who can keep that up at 54? Entropy takes us all; the body sags and stutters and refuses to do what it once did easily. U2 is dying, and like all Westerners they die not with peace and resolve, but with a last gasp for just one more moment of importance.

I've changed my mind. I don't hate U2. I pity them, and I understand now their drastic need for
a continued fantasy of unearned relevance. But God, I hope I die with a little more dignity.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I reviewed Robin Thicke's “Paula”, because clearly I hate myself

Call me a schadenfreude-devouring voyeur if you must, but I simply cannot get enough of the continuous fractal trainwreck that is Robin Thicke. Something about his particular combination of flagrant sexism, celebrity privilege, public martyrdom, and utter cluelessness just hits a uniquely uncomfortable sweet spot. It's like craving a peanut butter and salsa sandwich, or basking in the distinctly metallic flavor of your own blood as it drips onto your tongue after a well-deserved punch in the nose.

Thus, when I heard his latest attempt at, uh, whatever it is he does – this Paula business, this batshit attempt at reconciling with his soon-to-be-divorced wife via shameless public exhortation – sold a mere 530 copies in the UK... well, naturally I had to hear it. I have a certain penchant for doomed albums; the late Randy Savage's Be A Man, for example, on which the beloved Slim Jim-snapping pro wrestler tries his hand at hip hop. The results are so spectacularly bad as to be almost an artform in themselves, not so much a rap album as a deconstruction of the very concept of rap, the separate parts bricolaged back together like some garish audio Frankenstein monster, a tortured thing never meant for the eyes and ears of man which is probably better off given a quick mercy killing.

But I digress. We were talking about Robin Thicke! Man, do you think he got some of the ideas for how to get back with his wife from watching his dad on old episodes of Growing Pains? Like remember that one time when Mike Seaver converted to hardcore Christianity and insisted on forcing his views on the entire rest of the family and actually got their nanny fired because she posed nude for Playboy? Oh, wait, actually that was actor Kirk Cameron doing that shit in real life. My bad. The point stands, though.

Anyway: here we have Paula, Robin Thicke's very public attempt to win back the affections of his estranged spouse. For purposes of this review I will attempt to put myself in Ms. Paula Patton's shoes* and decide whether or not I would get back with my ex-hubby after listening to this desperate plea.


This opening sounds like that Aisha Duo track that comes standard with Microsoft Vista. I'm not sure if Robin's trying to go for a timeless sound here, because I'm not exactly sure what time period this is supposed to be emulating. It's sort of halfway between early Jodeci and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, which averaging the two together yields somewhere around “Back in Stride” by Maze with Frankie Beverly.

Oh baby I got a feeling
We ain't never gonna be friends

Yeah, that's a great way to start off your hour-long declaration of love for your soulmate. Does Robin Thicke genuinely feel that married people shouldn't be friends? Is marriage some sort of weird required punishment for him, wherein you have sex with a person you actually secretly kind of loathe because, hey, she's an actress and she's got a nice body and isn't that what this is all about? Maybe it's a celebrity thing, and they believe they have to keep their species populated by only mating with others of their kind, lest the gene pool be polluted by mongrel DNA from non-famous people.

I would like to point out at this juncture that Robin Thicke is a 37-year-old man.


lol get it he wants to get his wife back but also its a double entendre for butt sexx

I never should have raised my voice or made you feel so small
I never should have asked you to do anything at all
I should have kissed you longer
I should have held you stronger
And I'll wait for forever for you to love me again

I'm not entirely sure what's going on here, but I'm going to warrant a guess and say that what you “should” do is maybe listen to what your female counterpart has to say about what you should do, which at this juncture seems to be “fuck right off.” Also, you will totally not wait forever and I am 100% confident in calling that right now.

What's up with this slow groove ballad type thing again? Is the whole album going to be like this? Because I seem to remember this being exactly not the thing Robin Thicke does. In fact what I remember specifically as being the thing Robin Thicke does is grind against women half his age while singing about how they are literally sex objects, which, not to put too fine a point on it, may have some small thing to do with why you are now single.

Also: the video for this song is exactly what madness looks like.


As opposed to what? Being sanely crazy?

But I was in chains in the rain
Lost my soul, now you know
I’m so sorry you had to suffer my lack of self-control

We're still suffering through that currently. “In chains in the rain?” This is the best you've got? This is your soul poured out for the world to see? Because, I gotta be honest: your soul sucks. I penned dumb banal shit like this in 10th grade when I had a crush on Eileen Martin in Geometry class, but thankfully I did not have a global recording contract at the time. This song is basically Bob Dylan's “Just Like A Woman,” except with lyrics written by someone even more goofy than Bob Dylan, hard as that may be to believe.

You think by now I might’ve grown

Again, this is a 37-year-old man.


Uh, no, don't actually. Seriously. You're creeping me the fuck out.

She was born in Paris at the age of 21

Okay this is just a total failure to comprehend basic mathematics and/or pregnancy. It's so bletheringly stupid that it doesn't even make sense as a metaphor. Are you saying your wife was an infant until she was 21 years old? Are you trying to win her back with insults?

She locked the door
(I kept trying to tell you you were pushing me too far)
She locked the door
(I kept trying to warn you you were slowly breaking my heart)

The church choir here really is just too much. I'm sorry, but if you are a white man, you CANNOT use a black choir for your backing singers. You just can't. The only person who ever gets away with this is Michael McDonald and, honestly, he really shouldn't.

Baby let me in, baby I miss my best friend, yes I do

You mean your best friend who you had a feeling in the first song was never going to be your friend? Jesus Christ this is like listening to a person slowly deteriorating from Alzheimer's disease.


Here's a fun game to play: count how many times the word “I” or “me” or some similar variation is sung in a Robin Thicke song. I call it Narcissism Bingo.

This song's score: 114, not counting the title.


We're not even halfway through this mind-numbing piece of uninspired grey dreck and already I want to take a nap and throw up on myself simultaneously. This is arguably the first upbeat tune of the album, but even so it still seems sluggish, like the beat just can't seem to get out of the goddamn bed this morning and keeps hitting the snooze bar.

I had to put on headphones for this one to verify that Robin was actually saying “black daddy” in the intro. This appears to be surreptitiously missing from most of the lyrics sites that host this song. I WONDER WHY.

I’m livin’ in New York City (YEAH!)
I’m livin’ in New York
I’m livin’ in New York City (YEAH!)
In the center of the world

I think I'm beginning to see the central motif of this album: Robin Thicke genuinely believes that he is the center of the universe, and losing his wife is the first indication he has ever gotten in nearly four decades that this notion might be flawed. For an album ostensibly about his wife, he sure does spend a lot of it singing about his GOT DAMN self. Pretty much all of it, in fact.


As can herpes, and unsurprisingly, these two things are not entirely unrelated.

Oh you're way too young to dance like that
In front of a man like me baby


You know cigarettes are bad for you baby
So am I

It's official: Robin Thicke is exactly like lung cancer.

Oh the world can be a lonely place
Sometimes you need a new drug

May I suggest heroin? I really do pine for the days when rock stars would just go out and shoot up and die when they got depressed rather than subject us all to this languorous horseshit.


Personally I wouldn't use the terms “black tar” and “black daddy” on the same album, but hey, that's just me.

Yelling and screaming and smacking me
How could you do this you spoiled little rich kid (truth)
Rocking the TV, you bashing my ride up
You smashed my guitar (tell em the truth)
Chasing me around the house when you
Trying to hit me with my favorite golf club (truth)

I'm pretty okay with saying that if you actually have a favorite golf club, getting called “spoiled little rich kid” might be warranted, particularly if you are a spoiled little rich 37-year-old very-much-not-a-kid. Here we begin to delve into the dark side of the Robin-Paula story, in which she allegedly breaks all his things that he can totally afford to get new ones of the next day. Getting your ride bashed up is not a point of sympathy when that ride is a Porsche. (Also: a Porsche, seriously? What is this, an episode of Magnum P.I.? Real douchebags drive Maybachs, grandpa.)

I also do not believe for one second that Robin Thicke has ever played a guitar.

Faced down, in a puddle of shame (tell em the truth)

lol like robin thicke has ever felt anything remotely resembling shame

I was jealous of your life, jealous of your soul
Good morning manipulation and control

It's almost like he's aware of what a delusional lunatic he is and he's just riding the wave of madness and arrogance like some kind of ideological surfboard. Which I could almost forgive, if the music wasn't also total shit.



Finally, nine tracks in, we get something resembling what Robin Thicke usually does: cheesy, upbeat club tracks that culturally appropriate all black music since the dawn of recording technology (this time around: Michael Jackson's “PYT” sans vocoder). I actually kind of enjoy this song on its production merits: the frequency spread is solid, with thick low-end bass in the choruses and Nintendo-blips punctuating over Thicke's growling baritone.

Every time you walked through that door
I should've held you so long you would never ever need to ask for more

Because what every woman wants is to be smothered with attention and/or physically restrained from leaving your presence.

Every time you walked up in this house baby
Should've made you feel special and treated you right

Herein we see the crux of the problem with this album: Robin thinks that women need to be treated “special”. If women aren't whores, then they must be princesses! If they aren't plastic fuck-insects, then they are obviously magical angelic fairies! It's a strangely common mode for men who are trying to comprehend why their relationships fail, the reflexive contrarianism of extreme dichotomies, as if they are heaping weights onto one side of some weird feelings-scale to even out everything.

Of course, women aren't insects OR fairies. They are people, which means you treat them exactly the opposite of special: you treat them JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER PERSON. Contrary to popular belief, in my experience most grown women want to be neither objectified nor worshiped, but mostly just left the fuck alone to get on with their business.

Which of course means that Robin Thicke is doing the exact opposite of what he should here. But eh.


This bullshit sounds like Chubby Checkers took a shit on Britney Spears.

She be dancing on her tippy toes, her tippy toes

I be using proper English, but then I also be not sayin' shit like “black daddy”. Also: Yah Mo B There. YES I MADE TWO MICHAEL MCDONALD REFERENCES IN THE SAME POST.


There's something bad in me (something, something)
Oh, there's something bad in me (something, something)
Yeah, there's something bad, something bad
Something real real bad (something, something)
There's something b-b-b-bad in me (bad, bad, bad, bad)

I genuinely do not know how much more of this menial crap I can take. I don't even know what's going on here. It's like an unreleased Depeche Mode b-side with lyrics written by Trent Reznor and then edited by Tipper Gore. It's trying so hard to convince me that Robin Thicke is a bad man. Robin Thicke is a boring prat who thinks way more highly of himself than could ever be warranted, which pretty much puts him squarely in line with every Millennial born. (Again: THIS IS A 37-YEAR-OLD MAN.)

But bad? No. Go set your ex-wife's dog on fire and then go on a six-day whiskey-and-valium bender with Lindsey Lohan and get photographed pissing off the Eiffel Tower, and then for an encore record a duet with 2Chains titled “Black Daddies (F**kin' Thots In Da A$$).” Bad men don't write love ballads to their ex-wives. Bad men go get new ex-wives. You're just a deluded shmuck.


Oh, what I wouldn't give for the opposite of Robin Thicke right now.

All that she needed was a true friend
All she received was a troubled man
She couldn't be with someone like her dad
And I just wanted her with my drunken wrath

...what the actual fuck?

I think I'm pretty secure at this point in saying that no self-respecting human being on Earth would get back together with this maniac, and most non-self-respecting women would probably kick this bullshit to the curb as well. In a weird roundabout way Robin Thicke is revealing to us the type of woman he wants, which is someone who would actually be both dumb and emotionally vulnerable enough to be moved by this ridiculous self-aggrandizing crapshoot album. That leaves as his possibilities either Sansa Stark or Forrest Gump.




Anytime you need you a friend baby
I will be the one that you want

Robin Thicke croons morbidly over the sound of someone attacking a piano, like a robot with jackhammer fingers performing Eric Satie's “Gymnopedie.” Lyrically we have come full circle: in the beginning, Robin expressed doubt that they could ever be friends, whereas now he cannot imagine being anything else. He begs for some connection, any connection, even if it must be merely platonic and crabwise. Just don't leave him alone.

Because who is Robin Thicke when he is alone? Like the old zen parable about the tree in the forest, Robin Thicke needs someone to hear him fall. He cannot fall alone, soundlessly, in the darkness; he cannot have not mattered. There must be SOME audience, some peanut gallery to either praise him or vilify him. Any attention is better than deafening silence.

When you're broken
Where you're blind
And you need someone to show you the light
I'll be right there baby

But she's neither broken nor blind; she's doing just fine, without you. And herein lies the darkest secret of
Paula: it is not, in fact, an album Thicke is singing to his wife. It is the album he wishes she were singing to him.

And if you're ever down and out baby
I can be the one that you want
You can lean on me anytime baby
For anything you want and need

Isn't this exactly what Thicke is yearning for himself? Someone to be there for him, someone to always have his back, in the lowest times? Are these not indeed his lowest times, and has he in fact no one to fall upon?

But he does have someone: the one he told us about in the beginning. His fantasy. The perfect woman that he would have her be, if he had his druthers. The imaginary lover crooned of long ago by Atlanta Rhythm Section; the dreamweaver of Gary Wright. She will always be there in his mind, comforting him, telling him everything will be made right. Don't we all have someone like that, in our deepest recesses of imagination? Don't we all deserve that pale respite, however horrible and selfish we may be? Is Robin Thicke, after all, not human?

Everyday I will believe
It's longer than always could be
Oh it's further than the eyes can see
More real than any dream could be

Forever love
Oh it's forever love
Forever mine, forever yours
Forever love

And you know what: I believe too, you crazy fuck.