When it came time to cover Bruce Springsteen’s overrated, misunderstood Born in the USA, I had a possibly stupid idea: What if I had people review the album based entirely on what the stupid cover looks like? So I solicited people on Twitter, and two people answered the call: Jorge Mir and Andrew Martin, two guys who have heard the title track but nothing else on the album. What follows is their attempt to review an album based on the cover alone. They both used MURRICA without consulting each other.
I can’t remember who I heard it from, but someone five or so years ago hipped me to the term “butt rock” to describe relatively shitty bands and I loved it. And knowing that Bruce Springsteen doesn’t exactly record butt rock makes what I’m about to say unfair, but fuck it: Looking at the cover art for Born In The USA conjures that gloriously named sub-genre like few others. I mean, it’s a dude’s butt in blue jeans in front of the American flag. You can’t get any more ass-tastic than that, which would lead you to believe that the album itself is filled with carefully crafted music made for the radio, Budweiser toasts, and crushed Domino’s boxes. In other words: Diarrhea for your ears with a strong shot of ‘MURRICA to wash it all down. Or something.
Seriously, Bruce Springsteen isn’t the worst like some kids my age will tell you and he also isn’t the best like the others will tell you. I’m in a weird space, sitting in between the lovers and the haters, because I can respect his talents and, yes, songwriting capabilities. But I’m rambling. Butt rock.
- Andrew J Martin is a dude with a butt and he is on Twitter.
1. I hate for this to be the “defending greatest hits compilations” day here, or whatever, but as I said in the post on Nine Inch Nails, I spent a lot of time as a #teen with #feelings listening to Elliott Smith. And because, like a lot of 15-year-olds with hopes of one day being an insufferable aesthete, I discovered Elliott through the Royal Tenenbaums, and I don’t think I even listened to full albums by him until 2005 or 2006. I mostly just made a supercut album on LimeWire that had “Needle in the Hay” twice in the first 3 songs (“Miss Misery” was the second track). So my “relationship” with Elliott’s music was entirely filtered through listening to the singles that I knew, and through watching and rewatching the Royal Tenenbaums. So when I hit my local shop this weekend and they just got in a boatload of Elliott Smith records, I opted for the one that had the most songs that I listened to in 2002. This was that record.
3. I feel like Elliott Smith is a dog whistle for those of us who grew up depressed. Like, if you know a person spent part of their teen years listening to him, you know that you probably relate to that person better than someone who grew up listening to like, Metallica or whoever. I also feel like you can tell that people who don’t like him grew up un-depressed and well-adjusted, to the point where you can kind of ignore their opinion. He’s like Catcher in the Rye that way; you either get the #feelings or you don’t.
4. It’s possible there is no suicide in rock that has more people convinced that he was murdered than Elliott’s, and that’s mostly because no one can imagine the reasons for stabbing yourself TWICE in the chest. It’s one thing to shoot yourself or to overdose on drugs, but stabbing yourself twice takes a lot of commitment that people can’t comprehend, so they assume you were stabbed. Except for Kurt Cobain’s death, I don’t think there are more people who would argue conspiracy more in regards to a suicide. I don’t really know what that means, but it feels significant in some way.
1. Two years ago, I went and saw Jay-Z and Kanye on the Watch the Throne tour. It’s still the best concert I’ve ever seen; my friend and I had seats in the lower 1/3 of the United Center, and the setlist was perfect. When I talked to my dad the next day, he asked me how it was. I told him I didn’t really know how to articulate it. I said the only comparison I could come up with that he’d understand was that it was like seeing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones play the same stage together in 1968. He kind of scoffed at that—he’s got that old man thing now where he thinks any music that he doesn’t like is “trash”—but then he asked if I really thought Kanye was my Beatles. I told him he was the only guy in my lifetime who felt like he was moving culture the way he told me the Beatles did. So then my dad started dicking with me, and asking me who the Jefferson Airplane was, etc. It was a funny conversation, where my dad was trying to show interest in the music I liked, in a half-assed way. The only one I remember for sure is that I called Eminem my generation’s Elvis Presley.
2. That was pretty dumb, I guess, but I think I still sort of believe it. I don’t think Eminem’s impact on popular culture—particularly in the parts of the country that DONT have a built-in hip-hop listening culture aka the middle of America minus Chicago and Texas, basically—has been properly articulated. In my middle school in Oshkosh, WI, there were maybe 20 of us in sixth grade who knew of Notorious BIG, who actually paid attention to the rap videos on TRL, who knew any rapper other than Will Smith. By the second semester of seventh grade, I bet there were only 20 people who didn’t know every word to “My Name Is,” who weren’t able to pick Dr. Dre out of a crowd, who didn’t at least know a Tupac song, and who didn’t try to get an older friend/sibling/sibling of a friend to buy them the unedited version of The Slim Shady LP from the only Target in America that actually carded kids trying to buy Parental Advisory CDs. And by high school, rap was the popular music. I mean, I still remember talking about the “My Name Is” video the day after all of us first saw it on TRL. It was like the Kennedy Assassination. Everyone saw different things of note. Bleached hair became the coolest hair style.
Now, I realize that in other places across America, you guys were all fans of rap as kids, you were weaned on Makaveli, or whatever. But that was not the case everywhere. It was hard to listen to any music style you wanted in 1998 in small town Wisconsin. We knew Garth Brooks and boy bands and pop punk, because that’s what got played on the radio station in Appleton. We saw TRL. And that was it, pretty much. High speed Internet didn’t come to Oshkosh until 2002.
Eminem basically invented a generation of Wisconsin kids who would be ready for Outkast, for Jay-Z to be the biggest pop star, for Kanye, for everything that came since, basically. It’d be hard to imagine a generation of kids from my high school buying tickets to see Kanye West at Summerfest—as many did—without Eminem.
Which makes him Elvis. He primed it for everyone coming later. And I don’t mean Kanye owes him anything, just like the Beatles didn’t owe Elvis shit. It’s just that Em helped create a larger audience for hip-hop than had previously existed. For better more than worse.
3. The thing I realized listening to this is that “Stan” is musically probably his best song, even if it’s maybe myopic topic wise. And “Lose Yourself,” despite being the Eminem song moms love, is overrated.
4. All of this being said, I don’t know that I “love” Eminem. I mean, I know all the words to “Real Slim Shady”—and performed it at karaoke when I was drunk—but apart from making me think at 12 that rap was going to be popular music from here on out I don’t think about him much. I think I even hate his last 3 albums. He’s an artist who stopped MEANING anything to all of us in about 2004. But at the same time, he’ll always be out here, reminding of us of how we used to be, what we used to be like, and what we used to like.
5. I opted to buy the Greatest Hits because I am of the rare camp that think Em was a way better singles artist than he ever was at making albums. You listen to this, and you get his song with Nate Dogg, you get every lead single, you get Elton John’s version of “Stan.” There’s no “Kim,” there’s no bullshit (except “Toy Soldiers”). Sometimes greatest hits album are better than the albums, and in this case it’s true.
6. I remember having my first censorship argument with my parents over Eminem. I told my mom that it was parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids knew that Eminem was making art, and wasn’t really killing people. She told me parents can’t always control what their kids listen to. And then I laughed, and said, “That’s true.” She didn’t even know at that point that I had two Eminem albums in my room that I listened to on headphones like every night.
7. Elton’s suit in this is so legendary.
1. For my generation—Millenials I guess, even though it’s required to hate that name like it even matters what old people call us—jazz is fast becoming what opera was for our parents. A musical form that is no longer popular, but represents some “ideal” or some decadent form of art that signifies luxury, and a type of music we all feel guilty for not listening to as “much as we should.” Which I think is a testament to how fucked up jazz aficionados have made the barrier to getting into jazz: a musical form that pushed boundaries and that was made by poor—predominantly black—guys who were blowing open the idea of what music could be is now seen as a music you are only into if you are a boho bozo, or are trying hard to live the kind of life that regularly listening to jazz signifies.
I realize that characterization of jazz listeners is reductive, but if you know at least 2 people who listen to jazz recreationally, you know at least one who listens to jazz as part of their personal affect, and you know you laugh at them behind their back.
2. This is the first jazz LP I’ve bought, after copying basically the entire Miles, Coltrane, Coleman and Monk discographies from the library when I was 19. I was trying to understand what made some jazz “great” and some jazz “less than great” and I realized that Coltrane was the one of them that I could tell was “great.” His shit just seemed to come from some pit of his unconscious, like he wasn’t playing so much as translating something inside of him.
3. And that last sentence is why people find jazz insufferable: That shit reads as BS, and you either feel it or you don’t. Coltrane I feel. Basically all other jazz I don’t. And I can’t articulate why. And I’ve never read a jazz critic that could either. Jazz has more music critics than its current popularity should support, and not a one of them can make me listen to anything. That is a problem.
4. My personal affect at 19 was clearly pretty insufferable, it goes without saying.
5. From the age of 12 till I was 17, I took drum lessons from two different jazz drummers, coincidentally, two guys who replaced each other in a jazz band in Oshkosh, WI. I don’t, to this day, know how my parents found two separate jazz drummers to give me lessons in a city with 60,000.
The main thing I remember from my drum lessons is that I never practiced as much as I should, and I wasn’t that interested in becoming a proficient jazz drummer. So my jazz guilt is like quadrupled. And I still suck as a drummer.
Hello again. You know the drill: I had one of my URL friends write about a record in my collection. This one is by New York writer Michael Depland.
Depland is a rare case amongst my e-power circle in that we actually met in person at SXSW before we were e-friends. We kept running into each other—at Fader Fort, at Pitchfork’s church showcase—and eventually we connected online. Most of our conversations since have centered around who is better at N64 wrestling video games. (It’s me) Here he talks about the wimpy dudes Spandau Ballet, and why it’s ok to be soft.
Why are we so collectively opposed to softness? I, for one, have never been against it. I always find a seat in applicable situations (sorry other people on the train.) I like my coziest sweatshirt above most outfits. I absolutely avoid fights, and try to diffuse them if at all possible. Frankly, I’m a soft dude, perhaps the softest in the game, which apparently is worthy of the most reductive, non-introspective criticism these days.
As listeners, we typically crave anything but soft. We want the hardest of the hardcore, which is easy to understand. We love these badasses vicariously. Most people know they’d go to jail if they kicked in a door and waved a .44, so it’s much more fun to pantomime this while listening to the King of New York. We also adore the smoothest of the smooth, which is also easy to comprehend. It’s hard not to wish we were the cooler version of ourselves sometimes. That’s why we get so pissed off when we think of something clever to say once we’ve already left a party or ended an argument. We’ve even embraced the nerdy. The once-picked on geek is now held to a pedestal so high that we somehow require after shows to overanalyze every hour-long series on television. But when will the time for the softie come? Truth be told, probably never. And perhaps that’s for best anyway, as not to spoil that earnest, easygoing cream puff.
Spandau Ballet — just the name alone — are a soft person’s dream. Part New-Wave, part synthpop, the so-called Sophisiti-pop group are the perfect British assembly of pillowsoft dudes, and one that holds a place very dear to me. “Gold” and “True” (more on the latter to come), both served as an early introduction for me to the English’s fascination with soul music (the origins of which is fascinatingly written on at NPR ). In my house coming up, I was fully aware of white acts in R&B like Teena Marie, Bobby Caldwell, and George Michael to name a few. But acts like Simply Red, UB40, and Spandau Ballet opened the door for the love of what I knew “Black music” to be across the pond.
Spandau Ballet’s third LP, True, is a showcase for this cross-section of soul music geekery and pouring-over emotional ethos, and it sets them apart from their New Romantic contemporaries. These guys were a bit sadder and less cool than Duran Duran and less cryptic or playful than Culture Club. The title track “True” in particular has had a profound effect on my life. Essentially, a readymade wedding song, “True” is perhaps the perfect soft man’s song. With lilting guitar struts, muted drums, breathy background vocals, and sun-peeking-into-your-morning-window warm synths — there’s nothing not pleasing about it. It’s emotional, but not too whiny, nerdy, but not embarrassing, earnest, but not too saccharine. And as the closer of the album, it serves as thesis of what these Brits are ultimately driving at: “We are earnest, emotional people who can never tell it different. Even when it kills us.”
Okay, okay. In retrospect, maybe soft dudes shouldn’t be looked up to. It might not be best to reward this type of behavior. However, it is important to embrace that side of ourselves and not hide from it or indulge in it merely ironically. Besides, even if you try to resist, those embarrassing lip-syncing moments will be coaxed out of you, be it in stolen moments alone or out in public at a karaoke bar amongst your friends. So just give in and take it easy. I did a long time ago.
Michael Depland is a New York City-based professional loud person and freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @mdepland
Sometimes you think you know who the best soul man was, or what the best soul band was, and then you buy a Sam & Dave record for $4 at your record store and have your mind blown by how great these guys were. And then you spend hours watching live takes of their songs and you realize you don’t know shit.
Hey y’all, it’s me again, telling you about another one of my internet friends who hanglided in for a new post. This time it’s one of my Potholes/Twitter comrades John R Healey. John doesn’t write as much as he should (seriously, John) since he’s busy playing tennis and being in college, but he’s one of the best young dude Twitter follows I can recommend. He’s always geeking out about some new dance group, or delivering a hilarious series of tweets about Halloween costumes. I asked John to write this one on Run the Jewels because he’s been enthusiastically riding for this since the first single came out. Here it is:
I’ve always found it hard to write about my favorite artists. Not that it’s impossible, but from time to time it’s nice to stash the critical eye and just enjoy a record. El-P is one of those artists for me. When I really started to enjoy music in high school, albums like I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and The Cold Vein were everything. I can pretty easily say anything the dude puts out I’ll enjoy to some degree. Here are some haphazard thoughts on Run The Jewels before I try to articulate why this record is so good:
1. Some people actually complained that this release was too short to be considered an album. That’s stupid and those people shouldn’t speak on anything ever again. It’s only ten tracks long but I’m still somehow digging up little gems here and there after half a year.
2. Big Boi’s the only guest rapper here but he absolutely kills it. It should be impossible to top Mike and El going back and forth but leave it to Sir Luscious to snatch the crown. Seriously, in less than forty seconds he flows harder than anything he’s done since his solo debut in 2010.
3. Killer Mike should have sole ownership of the word “fuckboy.” If I could drop it with half the authority that he does I’d use it in any argument I ever got into. Sadly I can’t, but Mike can, and he bombs it so hard I’m sure at least a dozen rappers tucked in their whole careers because they’ll never sound that hard.
4. I caught last year’s ‘Into The Wild’ tour when it came through DC and I used that as an excuse to be lazy and not make the trip to see Run The Jewels live. That was stupid and my biggest mistake of the year. I have no substantiated proof, but I can 100% guarantee that was the best hip-hop tour of the year.
All things considered Run The Jewels isn’t anything that crazy. It doesn’t push the envelope like R.A.P. Music and nothing’s touching the depth of Cancer 4 Cure. Part of why this record is so good is that it doesn’t try to be anything more than it actually is. Straight up, it’s ten tracks of the duo spitting top-notch braggadocious rhymes over a selection of dystopian bangers that I’m relatively sure El can crank out in his sleep at this point.
So why is this my favorite record of the year? At the most basic level Run The Jewels in theory is everything that we strive to do with our own lives. The world can be a shitty place but as long as you put your head down and do what you know, good things will happen. RTJ is two veterans getting together to make a record that’s right in their wheelhouse and executing it perfectly. It’s a dark release, but goddamn if it doesn’t sound like they’re having the time of their lives recording and touring together.
When this record dropped I staring down what would turn out to be something of a landmark year in my life. I’m obviously not asserting my supremacy over the rap game, but the morals here still ring true. Adopt the Run The Jewels mentality; fuck everyone else and do you. For me that’s coming into my own personally for the first time in my life, graduating college, and hopefully finding a job. For Jamie Meline and Michael Render that’s making a rap group with your best friend and burning down festival stages all over the world. Most of us won’t be able to follow the path to success and become Killer Mike or El-P, but we can at least work with what we have. As long as Run The Jewels continue to crank out music, at least we’ll have the proper soundtrack for all of it.
John Healey is a student, writer and man about town. He’s on Twitter at @johnrhealey