Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)

This week, the blog Punk Friction waxes nostalgic about Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the third studio album by Smashing Pumpkins, released back in October of 1995. See more here.

To me, this double album seemed like more of an overreach than anything else, especially in light of the fact that nearly no follow-up effort could complete with the band's prior LP, Siamese Dream. But in the past fifteen years, Mellon Collie has certainly grown on me (although I still can't quite listen to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," as I'm still recovering from its heavy rotation on rock radio from back in the day). Of course, these days, Smashing Pumpkins is without its original line-up, and it exists more as a brand and vehicle for Billy Corgan than anything else.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Snake River Conspiracy - Sonic Jihad (2000)

Ten years ago, the ill-fated Snake River Conspiracy released its first and only LP, Sonic Jihad, an unfortunate album title indeed in light of later historical developments. At its core, the group was composed of former Third Eye Blind member Jason Slater and vocalist and Hot Topic model Tobey Torres, both of whom seemed dedicated to concocting the type of brash, but mostly inoffensive, post-grunge metal popular in the late 1990s. In the annals of music history, the release is mostly unremarkable, although the album did feature upbeat covers of both The Cure's "Lovesong" and The Smiths' "How Soon is Now?" (in response to which Morrissey allegedly stated was a better version that his group's original version).

At the time, music critic J.D. Considine wrote:
Goth dance music is not a sub-genre with which folks in the MTV mainstream are likely to be familiar, but Snake River Conspiracy might change that. With a sound drawing equally from alt-rock, industrial and club music, the Conspiracy - actually, just singer Tobey Torres and synthesist Jason Slater - puts a bright, tuneful sheen on the music while somehow maintaining the dark energy of goth, a formula that gives "Sonic Jihad" the heft of a hit. While the duo's studio savvy adds luster to the languorously tuneful "You and Your Friend" and the kinky-but-catchy "Vulcan," the Snake River sound is strongest when applied to cover tunes; both the Cure's "Love Song" and the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" work wonderfully well in goth dance drag.1
At the time, Torres offered these thoughts on her band's Smiths cover:
In addition to "Lovesong," "Sonic Jihad" finds the duo covering the Smiths' "How Soon is Now?" It's far more recognizable than "Lovesong."

"Since I am a huge Smiths fan," says Torres, "I thought that Morrissey did a perfect job. I just loved the way he delivers the song, so I just pretty much sang it like he did. So that one is a carbon copy in a lot of ways. But I just couldn't do it any other way, 'cause I love Morrissey. I love the way he did it, just the yearning in his voice."

He's heard it, Torres announces with a giggle.

"He said, `It's better than the original.' I'm like `No way! Shut up!' But for him to say that ... 'cause you're always hesitant to do a cover song. You always wonder what the original artist is going to think. Are they gonna think that I butchered it?"2
The album doesn't hold up too terribly well ten years later, as it appears the band was more interested in being a part of a particular scene than creating fine music. Miscellaneous images of the band from its heyday can be found below (including a news clip featuring a photograph of Torres and Morrissey, in which Moz is quoted about the Smiths cover).

1. Considine, J.D. "Listen Up." Star Tribune. August 6, 2000.
2. 2. Ed Masley, "No Whining Snake River Conspiracy Goes for the Gutsier Girl Sound," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, August 25, 2000.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day.

"Bastille Day," by Rush, from the 1975 album, Caress of Steel.

There's no bread, let them eat cake
There's no end to what they'll take
Flaunt the fruits of noble birth
Wash the salt into the earth

But they're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Free the dungeons of the innocent
The king will kneel and let his kingdom rise

Bloodstained velvet, dirty lace
Naked fear on every face
See them bow their heads to die
As we would bow as they rode by

And we're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Sing, oh choirs of cacophony
The king has kneeled, to let his kingdom rise

Lessons taught but never learned
All around us anger burns
Guide the future by the past
Long ago the mould was cast

For they marched up to Bastille Day
La guillotine claimed her bloody prize
Hear the echoes of the centuries
Power isn't all that money buys

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul McCartney and Superman (1965)

Just yesterday, the fun blog Pop Culture Safari posted the above promotional still from The Beatles' 1965 film, Help!. It depicts Paul McCartney at a three layer keyboard with a series of comic books where the sheet music would ordinarily sit. If you look closely, you can see that they are all DC Comics (naturally from the mid-1960s), and to boot, they are all Superman related. Yep, the series Action Comics, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and Superman, are all represented. Building upon Pop Culture Safari's post, I decided to attempt to identify the comics in question. Not all of them are fully visible, but some of them are apparent enough to identify the issue in question. From left to right, with a few issues missing because I couldn't identify them, they are:

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, #75 (1964)

Superman #164 (1963).

Action Comics #314 (1964)

Action Comics #304 (1963)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (July 11, 1990)

Twenty years ago today, on July 11, 1990, the would-be action comedy The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine was released in theatres. What to think of this film looking back two full decades? Directed by Renny Harlin, and written by a whole host of writers, , the film was shot and conceived in the dying days of the 1980s, and it shows. Brash, rude, and obnoxious, the film served as a vehicle for Andrew Dice Clay, who at that time was attempting to mainstream himself in an attempt to reach greater stardom. His effort failed, and pretty badly, at that.

I remember seeing this film in the theatres, and the experience was literally an accident. I had won a free pass from a radio station contest for a showing of Air America, which was overbooked. So, the theatre usher suggested I see another film, that being Ford Fairlane.

I knew little about Andrew Dice Clay at that time, save for the recent controversy surrounding his appearance on "Saturday Night Live" just two months earlier and the chatter of a few middle school companions who had somehow familiarized themselves with his vulgar oeuvre.

But for a mostly dumb film about a rock and roll detective featuring a reviled comic, Ford Fairlane has an odd charm to it. Clay plays the title characters, whose investigation leads him through the seedy ins and outs of the music profession, meeting a bizarre cast of characters along the way. With a range of star cameos (including Vince Neil, Tone Loc, and Priscilla Presley) and featuring Wayne Newton as the villain, the film offers some amusing pop culture moments, though it's not great cinema. (Although the film does feature Ed O'Neill performing a dance called "Booty Time," which makes it certainly worth the rental, don't you think?).

Perhaps they thought they were creating a franchise? Few emerged from this experience unscathed. Harlin also directed 1990's Die Hard II, released just a week before hand. After the Cutthroat Island debacle, though, his career never really recovered. Clay's attempt at mainstreaming failed utterly, and he is mostly remember for being a vile comic whose career never made it past the early 1990s. For the most part, this film was the end of the line for him.

I remember being particularly fond of the soundtrack to the film, which featured a new tracks by Motley Crue ("Rock and Roll Junkie"), Queensryche ("Last Time in Paris"), and Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora (covering Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary."). To boot, the soundtrack began with Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love," the video for which is probably the most remembered artifact from this would-be Hollywood comedy blockbuster.

The film even spawned a brief four issue comic book series:

Here is the trailer to the film, which is heavy on Clay's obnoxious behavior:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Lovely Bones (2009)

Peter Jackson should not make movies about murdered children. His The Lovely Bones, released last year and based upon the novel of the same name by Alice Sebold, attempts to create some type of macabre suburban fairy tale about the immediate afterlife of Susie Salmon (the talented child actress Saoirse Ronan), who died at the hands of the vile and villainous George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Think of it as What Dreams May Come meets Little Children.

It's a little too creepy for a film about a child in the afterlife, and a bit too sentimental for a film regarding the hidden existence of a neighborhood child killer. Really, the film doesn't know exactly what it wants to be. Treatise on the hereafter? Murder mystery? Detective story? Coming of age story? Social commentary? Whatever the case, it didn't work.

This is perhaps strange, for Peter Jackson, back in the day, made a fine film about children who are also murderers. That film, of course, was 1994's Heavenly Creatures, starring Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet as two teens who plot to kill one of the pair's mother.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (1995)

Last month saw the fifteenth anniversary of the album, Jagged Little Pill, by Alanis Morissette. Released on June 13, 1994, the album was huge. It was immense. For years there after, female rockers would credit Alanis and her success with this album for enabling their own success. You could not turn on the radio in 1995 without hearing one of the many singles from this album. In fact, in my mind, it is forever associated with the debut of 101.X, an alternative rock radio station which debuted in Austin, Texas in the summer of 1995 which played this album quite a bit. Alanis never quite captured that level of success again, though she attempted to return to the Jagged Little Pill well a few times since 1995, including 2005's Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, a full on acoustic version of the then ten year old album. Not too many people would admit it, but the original 1995 album was not bad, and it was certainly catchy pop rock, which is a fine thing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Off Duty XXIII

The prerequisites of daily toil keep me from offering you a substantive post today. So, content yourself with the image above, 1938's Action Comics #1, which features the first appearance of Superman. My favorite story told by comic shoppe owners - and all comic shoppe owners seem to have a variation of this tale - is the person who comes in their store in an attempt to sell a would-be copy of Action Comics #1, not realizing that it is a far, far more recent reprint, than the original issue, now worth tens of thousands. If that customer sincerely believed they had such a prize (and was not attempting to pull a fast one on the owner), they must look crestfallen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Species (1995)

Released 15 years ago today, on July 7, 1995, was Species, a mediocre sci-fi film remembered mostly for bringing the generically hot Natasha Henstridge to the attention of cinema-goers. You'll recall that Ms. Henstridge played Sil, the result of a scientific experiment gone horribly awry. Scientists, who have received a extraterrestrial radio transmission from outer space containing instructions on how to splice alien and human DNA, produce a human-alien hybrid, who ages very quickly, and ultimately takes the form of Ms. Henstridge. We must have been somewhat impressed by the premise - or Ms. Henstridge's looks - as the film reportedly made $119 million at the box office (at least according to the Wikipedia). Oh, my.

I seem to remembering renting this one sometime later in 1995, but who knows?

The fates have been cruel to the career of Ms. Henstridge, who has done very little of consequence since the mid-1990s. She certainly seemed to impress the residents of my dormitory in mid-1995, though, but fifteen years later, she's been replaced a dozen times over by whoever Hollywood elected to be the next shining young ingenue. Oh, well. Such is life.

Interesting, Species spawned a theatrical sequel in 1998 and a direct to video sequel in 2004. Then, in 2007, producers attempted to revive the "franchise" with the awful sounding direct to video Species: The Awakening (which is surely something The Signal Watch should be called upon to review at some time in the not too distant future).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Twenty One Years Ago: Nirvana at the Axiom

Twenty one years ago this week, on Saturday, July 1, 1989, the grunge band Nirvana played The Axiom in Houston, Texas. Were you there? This was well before Nirvana rose to national prominence with 1991's Nevermind, the album credited with taking punk mainstream. David Von Ohlerking - a staple of the Houston music scene - was also on the bill. Nirvana would return to Houston, of course. Their last gig took place on Monday, December 6, 1993 during the In Utero tour - just five months before lead singer Kurt Cobain would take his own life. Living in Houston at that time, I skipped that show, thinking that surely the band would return to Houston again on a non-school night. It was, of course, not to be.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Die Hard II (1990)

Released twenty years ago yesterday, on July 4, 1990, Die Hard II began the process of squandering the good will earned by the first film, released just two years before. Again starring Bruce Willis as John McLane, the film boasted a new director, Renny Harlin (who would also direct that summer's The Adventures of Ford Fairlane). The film attempted to hit some of the beats of the first film, and despite a brief cameo by Reginald VelJohnsen, the sequel did not have the heart and characterization that made it's predecessor more than a mere action movie.

This is not to say the film didn't at least try to be a solid action movie. Bonnie Bedelia returned as Holly, John's wife, and even William Atherton was back as the obnoxious television news reporter, Richard Thornburg. But the film was essentially a remake of the first film, this time set in an airport instead of a skyscraper office building. Like the Back to the Future sequels, it was fun, because we as viewers so enjoyed the first chapter, but in the end, the sequel felt too cheap and easy, like so many sequels inevitably do.

But back in 1990, we didn't know how awful this franchise would ultimately become. Just five years later, theatres would see the release of a second sequel, Die Hard with a Vengeance, about which we here at Chronological Snobbery blogged a bit on its fifteenth anniversary. But even then, this series of films had further to sink with its most recent sequel, Live Free or Die Hard.

Let's hope there's not another chapter in the works.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Fourth of July

Happy Independence Day. To think, we live in a country so free that someone once thought it would be a good idea to adapt a musical about our nation's forefathers into a major motion picture. We're that free. Marvel at that while you drink your flagons of beer today.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

25 Years Ago Today: Back to the Future (July 3, 1985)

It was 25 years ago that the film, Back to the Future, was released. A mythology was born (although the film would be diluted by two unnecessary sequels). To be certain, there will be much discussion on the Internets today regarding this film's place in the public memory and the hearts of the children of the eighties. But for a film, this one seemed to have particular influence. More children requested and received skateboards and guitars for Christmas in 1985 as a result of the film's release and popularity. One wonders how many children developed an interest in science as a result of the portrayal of a scientist-protagonist and the physics of time travel. Very few adolescent boys in 1985 failed to develop a crush on Lea Thompson. Sitting here today, I'm not sure I have a specific memory in my mind of seeing Back to the Future in the theatre, although I know for certain that I did (and shortly thereafter, I trekked to the local Sound Warehouse to by a cassette of the film's soundtrack). Looking back, the film remains what it was then: a clever and fun big budget Hollywood movie, something we see fewer of each year.

Happy birthday, BTTF.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

Today is the Friday before the Fourth of July, and many of you may be skipping work or school to get an early start on your time off. As this festive weekend begins in earnest, we at this site wish all of our dear readers a happy and safe holiday, Please, drink only enough booze to bring yourself into a pleasantly wistful and nostalgic state so as to better experience decades old popular culture. Enjoy some fireworks, and think back to your favorite Fourth of July holiday experiences from the 1980s and 1990s. That's what we'll be doing, anyway.

Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bishop Allen's "July" EP

Since we do not celebrate the tradition of July Morning here in the United States, we must pause to reflect upon the arrival of the seventh month of the year in some other fashion. My suggestion: try to listen to Bishop Allen's 2006 EP, entitled July, released in, of course, July of 2006. Part of their one EP per month project that year, the July EP features "Click Click Click Click," which would later appear on their 2007 LP, The Broken String.

Bishop Allen is considered to be an indie rock band, although they do not have many of the morose staples of such groups, despite their being from Brooklyn. Indeed, there is occasionally a joy and panache to their music that is absent from many low-fi or undercooked modern rock.

That means that their music is especially appropriate for the summer months.

So, dear readers, as you find yourself a few short days away from the holiday, take a moment or two today to investigate this now four year old EP (more about which here).