Jessica Simpson: Put Another Dime In The Jukebox, Baby

Jessica Simpson tries like hell to get noticed.

Recently on MTV I discovered a contest, hosted by the ubiquitous Carson Daly, called “Celebrity Dream Date: Jessica Simpson.” 3 fellers were up there aiming to win said date with said popstar.

The problem was, I couldn’t locate Simpson on the stage. There was Daly and his bland, olive loaf smile. There were the three galoops vying for her hand. But where was Jessica? All I could see was a spandex-clad Britney facsimile with plenty of sow-able wild oats and none of Ms. Spears wink-wink nod-nod sex appeal.

If you don’t know (or care), Jessica Simpson is a late comer to the Nubile Popstar Category. But unfortunately for her, all of the good public images had already been tried on by the other girls. First on the scene, Britney’s people molded their charge into a wholesome, yet wholly sexual being who appeals to little girls’ dreams and their older brothers’ fantasies all at once. Followup diva Christina Aguilera’s niche was her Latin background and truly powerful singing voice.

And Jessica? Well…

After signing her to Columbia, label figurehead Tommy “Yeah, I Fucked Mariah Carey” Mottola simply talked up his new girl’s Christian rock upbringing while making up her 18-year old mug to look like a slutty Christie Brinkley. But Britney started milking the good little Christian girl routine in 1998, leaving little room for another pretty young thing cut from the same southern cloth. And with Britney’s routines come only the suggestion of sex. Simpson’s overdone makeup, Carey-esque vocal posturing and dull-lidded glare? Well, let’s just say she’s ready to start sleeping through church. Because of her tardy (and tawdry) arrival to the game, the girl’ll never be anything more than an also-ran, making overt sex appeal her only tangible sales tool. It’s goddamn cold standing in Britney’s shadow. And thus poor Jessica is left balancing on a popstar highwire stretched precariously across a chasm of Penthouse photo shoots and top-lifting appearances on The Howard Stern Show.

According to Jessica’s official bio, “she possesses a voice that is capable of expressing the heartache of first love and the wondrous possibilities of an everlasting tomorrow.” But all she was expressing Monday on MTV was a desire to watch her potential suitors make asses of themselves in front of a jostling crowd of shirtless white college kids. She went through the appropriate motions, smiling wanly at Daly’s platitudes and revving up the crowd with an artificial excitement that those forced to slum in an MTV “celebrity” dating show must mainline backstage. But the sad truth is that no one really knows who Jessica Simpson is, beyond those 70s Farrah glasses and white stretch pants. The jackasses jockeying for a slot next to her would probably line dance on rollerskates for any blonde with a figure such as hers, minor celebrity status or not.

Britney has joined the hallowed pantheon of Pepsi hawkers on her way to a movie career. Christina is crooning with Ricky to further solidify each others’ Latin street cred. They’ve moved on from tripe like MTV’s Spring Break programming. But there’s Jessica Simpson, standing on a stage in Mexico, slugging it out with Carson Daly and a bunch of brainless undergrads, trying like mad to be noticed anyway she can. It’s just my opinion, but I’m pretty sure the dopes in the crowd weren’t applauding so much for Jessica’s new, slow-jammin’ single as much as they were for her phenomenal gams.

Someone get Jim J Bullock on the horn. Are there any open spots on Hollywood Squares?

JTL

Oops!. . .and the Joy of Monosyllabic Thinking

Back when this site was young, there was a spirited discussion about the phenomenal and physical attributes and values of Britney Spears; consequently, it surprises me that there hasn’t been an analysis put forth about what Spears has recently put out, the lead Pepsi commercial that was broadcast during the Academy Awards telecast. Her packaged paean to the Dionysian aspects of brown carbonated sugar water was in itself unremarkable; the synchronized dance number with a crowd of clones was fresh when Paula Abdul did them, and Ms. Abdul’s sell-by date is long passed. While I am not insensitive to Spears’. . .charms (and I am not referring to the Pepsi logo charm that she had dangling from her belly button), I submit that (a) if she had to put on her own makeup and (b) she was a bagger at Meijer’s, few—if any—of us would give her a second glance. Such are the transmogrifying powers of celebrity.

What is more telling about the nature of pop culture and pop music from those who are manipulating it is the clear contempt with which the consumers of the products are treated. This was evident in the commercial aired in order to keep viewers in an increasing state of anticipation for the Spears commercial to come.

You may have seen another commercial aired last year for a product that is used to remove brake dust and related detritus that adheres to car wheels. There were two guys sitting in plastic-webbed lawn chairs, one of whom was holding a garden hose, both of whom had synapses that fire like a Zippo without fluid. “Yew jus spray it on.” “Yew jus spray it on.” Brilliant. A car-care product for morons.

In the case of the Pepsi spot, the main character is evidently a younger brother (or perhaps uncle) of the two who, in this case, has a job. There he is: white paper hat and apron. A fry cook. (Who among us has not had to wear such gear?) He is shown looking up at something while a fireman in full regalia is frantically working behind the kid, dousing a grease fire (or perhaps Michael Jackson’s dome engulfed in flame, which, as you may recall, was the consequence of a Pepsi ad). Said fry cook is oblivious. The camera reverses so we can see what the slack-jawed focus is on: a TV showing the Britney singing-and-dancing Pepsi commercial (yes, a commercial within a commercial). “Yew jus drink it down.”

What does this say about what Madison Avenue thinks about the consumers of pop?

HE DID IT ALL FOR THE NOOKIE

The Sting/Jaguar love story is a curious one, one which will have repercussions on a mainstream music industry that is seeing its already crumbling credibility disintegrate faster than Sting’s songwriting capabilities.

Sting’s 2000 release “Brand New Day” and its marginal title track lead single failed to jump-start a career that had been stuck in neutral since at least 1995. What was to be done? The sour-pussed rocker himself wanted to release the world pop-ish “Desert Rose” as the next single. But radio put on the ki-bosh, balking at the song’s Arabic intro (sung by rai superstar Cheb Mami).

“Desert Rose” would’ve gone into the poor man’s Peter Gabriel bin, if not for some clever whoring on the part of Sting and his handlers.

The former Police bassist had already chosen the Jaguar S-TYPE as his ride of choice in the video for “Desert Rose,” believing that the car “evoke[d] the feeling and style of success we were trying to achieve.”

And — wouldn’t you know it? — a collaboration with ol’ Sting and his feeling of style and success was perfect for Jaguar’s domestic S-TYPE branding strategy.

Al Saltiel, general marketing manger for Jaguar, expounded about why his company jumped into bed with the fading rockstar and his desperate attempt for “Desert Rose” airplay. “One of our key strategic goals is to reach a broader market. We believe this campaign will help us do that.”

Sting got his wish after the ad began airing in the US. People hearing the song’s swirling, Pier One-esque Arab vocal and worldbeat polyrhythms quickly began requesting it on their local AAA/Adult Contemporary radio outlets.

It’s amazing how a song’s relationship to a particular product’s branding strategy will help it achieve heights never imagined by the artist. Famous vegan Moby’s compositions from his Play LP are some of the most-licensed songs of all time, with top-drawer clients including Nordstrom’s and Nike. After those and other spots featured such tracks as “Natural Blues” and “Honey,” Moby found himself at the top of the Modern Rock heap, appearing on various MTV incarnations as well as The Grammys. It’s a pretty safe bet that without the ad tie-ins, Play’s downtempo beats and Americana sampling wouldn’t have been heard by anyone other than NYC hipsters and people with large headphones on subways. Instead, mid-American teenyboppers, insecure female urban professionals in their 30s and soundtrack buyers all pooled their efforts to push the album into gold status and beyond. Information wasn’t available on how many Jaguar S-TYPE’s were purchased as a result of seeing Sting’s tush in one.

Moby is somewhat off the hook in the sell-out category, as he hasn’t compromised his famously activistic tendencies in the wake of his music’s sudden mainstream acceptance. Sting, on the other hand, should be kicked in the shins. No matter how much he loves “Desert Rose” and its mindless Cost Plus World Market approach to international pop, fully shilling it out to Jaguar to hawk their mid-priced sedan to Sting’s fanbase of rapidly aging, boring professionals is reprehensible. And the sad thing is that this sort of overt payola will most likely continue in an age of all- powerful brand strategies and impeccably researched product positioning. If an artist’s music fits a particular brand’s message, then offer him cash and hope he needs a career boost. Ideally, the product sells, the song gets adds on radio, and everyone gets real paid. Not a bad system, until a song with real vitality (i.e. not Sting’s blase bore-core) gets the marketing treatment.

JTL

Time to Put Out the Red Light, Sting

“That Sting—he’s a really good singer.”

—Sting, in a pre-Academy Awards interview during which he explained that (a) he was unlikely to receive an Oscar for “My Funny Friend and Me,” a song that he and David Hartley wrote for “The Emperor’s New Groove (he was right) and (b) what the members of the Academy were going to be thinking after his performance of the tune during the ceremony.

The first time I saw Rod Stewart in concert was in the very early ’70s at the Birmingham Palladium (Michigan, not England), when he was with the Faces, a band that featured the likes of Ron Wood and Ronnie Lane. As the band was essentially unknown then (people may have known the Small Faces), it was a listening situation where my friends and I sat on a bench with our feet propped up on the stage. I saw Stewart and the Faces several times after that, primarily at Cobo Arena. They’d become known. At the end of ’75, Stewart went solo. Before he became a disco Vegas lounge act (without playing Vegas: just running with the accoutrements and the approaches), I’d seen him multiple times.

Although I’m sure that many of you are wondering why anyone who openly admits he’s seen Stewart several times would be permitted to post stuff on the main page, I should point out that (a) when playing Detroit, he’d often invite the likes of David Ruffin on stage, (b) even on the peroxided “Blondes Have More Fun” (’78) he does a respectable version of “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” and (c) “The Mercury Anthology” (’82) is nails.

In 1984, after moving back to Detroit from a stint in Rockford, Illinois (Warren Zevon during a concert at the city’s Metro Center: “Rockford! ROCKford! How can you miss with a name like ROCKford!?! All 100 or so of us in the largely empty hall could have clued him in), my wife and I went to a concert at Pine Knob. It was Rod Stewart. He was out in support of his “Camouflage” album.

Let me say this about that: I once sat through a Three Dog Night concert. (Oddly enough, the lineup was Rod Stewart, Johnny Winter, and then the Night(mare). Unfortunately, I didn’t drive that night and the guy I was with had no idea who the other two acts were. I was nearly whipped to death by the fringe on his suede cowboy jacket as he kept time to the Dog’s greatest hits.

Fortunately, I did have the keys for Stewart at the Knob. We left. Fast. It was embarrassing for me to watch. I am only surprised that it wasn’t mortifying for him.

While never really being much of a fan of the Police or solo Sting, his is a career that is somewhat hard to miss. And there have certainly been some high points.

But will someone tell the guy that it is over? Elsewhere on this site the whole notion of musicians selling their music for wallpaper in ads has been debated. I don’t think anyone has gone as far as Sting and the Jaguar commercial (“What does a rock star dream of?”) He isn’t even driving the damn car! What is that all about?

I happened to catch him during the preshow activities at the Superbowl, during which he ended his act by jumping down about 2.5 feet from the top of an amp. Wow! That’s REALLY rockin’, Sting. His performance of the song referenced above during the Academy Awards show would have seem oddly stiff had he not hit so many flat notes.

Just as Stewart doesn’t fool anyone, Sting’s antics are pulling the wool over the eyes of only those who book acts for big, televised events. Oh, yeah, and the millions of people who still buy his whorish releases.

KOOL THING: IDLEWILD w/ BRASSY @ DOUBLE DOOR, 3/20

Don’t doubt it: The only thing Brassy’s set of self-conscious playground music did for Idlewild was set the bar higher.

The lads should have already been better off than their opening act, if only because each of its members only played one instrument. Unfortunately, The Brassy Amateur Hour seemed to leave its bad taste all over the Scottish quintet. A mediocre crowd reception, muddled sound, and a “light show” that was more a distraction than anything else all combined to hinder the first third of the set. Luckily, Idlewild’s studious approach to uncut Rock and Roll chaos helped get the night back on track.

Vocalist Roddy Woomble’s a strange one. Guitar-less, he stands in front of his band with arms wrapped about the mic stand, perennially wiping imaginary sweat from his brow. Cursed with bad hair, his tangled brown mop looks laughable next to bassist Bob Fairfoull’s Cobainish blonde mane. And Woomble possesses none of the traditional frontman’s traits: loud mouth (Chris Robinson); asshole (Liam); self-destruction (Iggy); or a respect-commanding visage (Richard Ashcroft). Instead, he lets his group’s manic energy and serious American indie-rock fetish run the show. I’m not saying he’s incapable; indeed, his voice is a true instrument, evoking early REM, Morissey, and the Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann, often in the same song (“Little Discourage”). But Woomble is an anomaly in a world of vocalists that constantly demand the spotlight.

100 Broken Windows (EMI/Food), Idlewild’s US debut, is a spectacular production effort by Dave Eringa (UK) and Bob Weston (USA). While retaining the raucous guitar lines of 1998’s Hope Is Important (Food), the new album’s tighter melodies and synth touches further delineate Idlewild’s already potent sound collage — i.e., more Smiths, less Husker Du. But a guitar band they are, and live, their amps get the worst of it. At times Tuesday night, Woomble’s solitary shape seemed like the eye of a storm made up of Fairfoull’s and guitarist Rod Jones’ flailing limbs. Crappy red and yellow gels in the Double Door lighting system only heightened the effect that an American indie rock act from 10 years ago had taken over the stage.

Numbers like “Actually It’s Darkness” and “Roseability” fared best Tuesday, as the songs’ quiet/loud dynamics gave the sound system a chance to recover from the band’s thrashing. When “Actually It’s Darkness” really got moving, Idlewild seemed to use its structure as a way out of the funk left by Brassy. And when the chorus hit to shouts of “Fuck Yeah!” in the audience, it was obvious that the song has modern-rock radio heatseeker written all over it. Whether or not Idlewild will ever reach those heights in the US is anyone’s guess, given the sad state of domestic radio and entertainment media (that has been chronicled so bitterly on this site). If the dopes in Three Doors Down are a better band than Idlewild, I’ll eat my hat.

There’s nothing wrong with the pretty, polite pop music that has been coming out of the UK in the last couple of years. Travis, Coldplay, and their ilk are very good at what they do, and I’ll hug them all if I see ’em in an airport. But there’s something visceral and rewarding about seeing a Scottish band tear apart their songs on stage, without any of that coy humor that has been a trademark of Idlewild’s countrymen-in-arms. It was almost as if the tables were turned, and we were watching a young Dinosaur Jr rip out their hearts on the stage of a back alley pub in Glasgow. No one quite knew what to make of them at first, but as the guitars wailed and the singer screamed, it all made sense. And the Lord made distortion, and it was good.

JTL

White Girls Can’t Jump

Brassy live at Double Door

Chicago, IL

March 20, 2001

Let’s get it out in the open. The lead singer for Brassy, Muffin Spencer, is Jon Spencer’s, (he of the Blues Explosion) sister. Ok? We can’t ignore it. Why try? Sure, Muffin gets a little steamed from time to time when people always ask what Brother Jon is up to, but c’mon. He’s Jon Fucking Spencer!

Now, Muffin decided to do things her own way. She packed up and moved to England years ago to start her own band. Pussy Galore be damned with their punched-up New York Dolls impressions. Our Muffin was up to something else.

I don’t know how old Muffin is, but I’d guess she’s old enough to remember most of the Sugar Hill artists of the early 80s and ALL of the new wave artists of that same time. Mix that together with a pinch of punk a la Buzzcocks or even a touch of the Plazmatics and you have Brassy. That’s great. Everyone loves it when new sounds are created from tried and true genres. But that’s where Brassy falls short.

Throughout the 40-odd minute set, Muffin did her damndest to get people to shake their rumps or at least pump their fists, but aside from one portly fellow with a striking resemblance to Kelsey Grammer, it just wasn’t happening. Mainly because of the poor sound quality that Double Door is too often associated with, but also to the fact that Brassy can’t pull off a hybrid of hip hop, new wave and punk.

Guitarist, Stefan Gordon, is capable and had some great early 70s soul effects throughout most of the set and bassist Karen Frost does her job in typical riot grrl (I’ll bet you thought that was over, eh?) fashion with just enough detached attitude and growling bass to make the guys go wild. That alone is the foundation of a great sound and would be perfectly rounded out with tight drumming and a gregarious front woman/man. But Brassy just misses.

Drummer/DJ Jonny Barrington is the perfect minimalist punk drummer. Simple, three-piece set and excellent fills. He’s also a decent DJ with some creative mixing and tight, albeit standard, scratching. But he can’t do both; try as he may. The switches between drum kit and turntables were often awkward and distracting. They sometimes threw the whole band for a couple of bars. To really pull off this sound I think Brassy needs a drummer AND a DJ. I mean, is Jonny the only game in town? Get that sorted out and you really have some balls and the spark of something really hot. That alone will almost get the ass shaking.

Which brings us back to Muffin. Glorious Noise contributor Johnny Loftus told me he had heard that Muffin was a sassy bitch, much like her older brother (sorry Muffin. That’s the last reference to him). Well, sassy ain’t enough to lead a band. You also need some charisma. Parroting 20-year-old rap anthems (B to the R to the A to the S to the S to the Y) works for the Beastie Boys who have a deeper box of trick than Carrot Top. Muffin fails to dig deeper and ends up sounding like a 1987 white comedian making fun of rap on the Tonight Show. Until there is some sense of real emotion and attachment to her music, Brassy will always sound like the white liberal kids who dig black music but can’t play it in the house until dad goes to work.

Luckily, headliners Idlewild took the stage within ten minutes of Brassy’s departure and final got the crowd to shake their asses—and the band didn’t even have to ask.

That’s your cue Johnny.

THE MUFFIN SPENCER BLUES EXPULSION

Brassy @ Double Door

Chicago, IL, 3/21

Brassy isn’t yr average hardcore/Kurtis Blow/funk/DIY rock collective. No wait, they are.

Brassy does two things very well. First, mouthpiece Muffin (sister of Jon) Spencer’s supreme belief in her band’s dominance over all comers is admirable. And the band is very adept at making tons of noise, even if the pieces don’t always fit together. When a glorified punk rock quartet gives its drummer double-duty on the wheels of steel, and sprinkles its tightly-wound booty anthems with amateurish MC’ing straight outta Whodini, something might be lost in the translation. At The Double Door Tuesday, Brassy’s inside joke never quite got over on a crowd unresponsive to their punkrock.com 2-minute drill.

Muffin’s hand-on-the-hip vocal posturing has a lot of sass. She knows what boys like, and what girls want, too. Guitar slung low on her hip like some kind of B-team female Han Solo, Spencer’s stage moves consisted of a cocky smirk coupled with a cat-scratching hand gesture, suggesting that this pussy had claws. While her guitar-playing was satisfactory, it was definitely Bono to Stefan Gordon’s careening wave-wall of distortion. His defeaning screed was complimented by Karen Frost’s capably funky basslines and Johnny Barrington’s drums. But wait! Barrington also plays the role of DJ Swett, his masked marvel alter ego who supplies Brassy’s electrofunk, gonna-make-you-sweat side. What was odd about this arrangement is that the group couldn’t afford another drummer to spell Swett’s while he was spinning. Instead, Barrington/Swett had to leap between his equipment like he was a contestant on an early, punk-dance incarnation of “American Gladiators.” Not really sure why this was so, but it didn’t add any cohesion to an already disjointed set.

While Brassy’s hardcore numbers suggested the sneering punk of (fellow Wiiija Record-mates) Huggy Bear, the addition of decks, samples, and white-girl raps was like watching Bratmobile if they’d grown up in 1980s Queens. At one point, my pal Phil Wise leaned over and said, “Someone’s been listening to The Plasmatics.” While no one in Brassy accessorized their nipples with electrical tape, that group’s hurried, style-over-substance approach to Rock and Roll reared its head during Brassy’s athletic 40-minute set. On record (Got It Made, Wiiija), Brassy’s confluence of styles works a little better, no doubt helped along by overdubbing DJ Swett’s electronic flourishes. But in the future, Muffin and her peeps should probably back up their bravado with a better, more succinct approach to their booty-rock mojo.

JTL

Gimme Mayhem

The Rolling Stones documentary film, Gimme Shelter

The Detroit Institute of the Arts Film Theater

March 19, 2001

So there’s no revolution in this world of lawyers and record companies. Yeah, well, what better to replace revolution than anarchy? How freaked out would you be if you were filming a concert movie and you just happened to catch a brother with a gun get murdered by a Hell’s Angel? On camera.

I went to a stabbing and a Rolling Stones concert broke out.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time that I’ve seen the Maysles’ seminal piece of countercultural realism. This is as close as any of us will come to living through the notorious Altamont Speedway free concert. Alarmingly so: It’s probably as close as you’d want to come, given the circumstances. But then again, you would have seen the Flying Burrito Bros. play what must have been a way-inspired set in broad daylight, before the violence. And, of course, who wouldn’t want to party with The Stones? (Including a Mick Taylor who looks suspiciously out of place, as if his mom dropped him off at the music store for a guitar lesson and the Stones kidnapped him. No wonder this guy couldn’t hack it during their descent into hell.) I think I just might have taken my chances, even with Sonny Barger there, the Supreme Angel ruler of California’s packs of motorcycle one-percenters in the 60s. What’s the worst thing that he could do? Oh yeah. . . kill me.

People were thinner in 1969, and if this film is any indication, they took a lot more drugs. Just look at Mick and Keith then—scary. (But not as frightening as Grace Slick today, especially after you’ve seen how she used to look back then.) Other observations from the film seem significantly less astute: Lawyers ran the world then, as now, shown in the opening sequences where they’re trying to make the concert happen after the initial plan to hold it in Golden Gate Park falls through; parking is always a problem at concerts and promoters really don’t care if you have to walk a great distance; people climb scaffolding. All of this is captured with great sound and surprisingly cool cinematography. And film geeks, this is the best work that will ever bear a credit reading: “George Lucas.” (Yes, he was one of the cameramen.)

“But what does it mean, man?”

It means very little, at least in the generic sense. Nothing that went down at Altamont can be billed like Woodstock in our collective consciousness. Oh yeah, the rock historians will give you that load of crap about “The End of The Sixties” but there never was a “Sixties,” at least in the sense that revolution and change could happen to significantly alter our society. I could say something like: “There’s always a cost to be paid, even when something is free.” Sanctimonious hippie freaks might like that, but it’s a crock of shit. To write Altamont off with an epitaph that sounds like it came out of a fortune cookie would be failing one of the most significant and complicated cultural events in the history of rock and roll. (For starters, consider what happens nowadays when there’s violence at a rap concert. Then think about Mick sitting there watching the footage of someone getting murdered while he’s singing an ode to the Devil.)

“Gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down.” Except that this time the “soldiers” were the Army of the People, the Great Countercultural Icons that Kesey brought to the hippies and Jerry to the Stones and thus Altamont. Four dead in San Francisco. How does that sound, Neil?

At a dirt stock car track, of all the ironically ridiculous places.

Stock car racing has a great heritage of giving The Man the finger, derived from the moonshine-runners of the Deep South in the Prohibition-era 30s. Hell’s Angels were the West Coast equivalent, if not in organized criminal activity, at least in spirit. They wasn’t breakin’ no laws most a the time, lest not any laws ‘at made much sense, an’ lest not any law that hurt nuh one ‘at mattered. Yet the cops fucked with the Angels (read Hunter Thompson’s book), just as they fucked with the granddaddies of NASCAR. And just as they fucked with the peaceniks, hippies, Blacks, women, and other assorted disenfranchised groups that made up the rock and roll Revolution (sic) in the 60s.

But at Altamont, it all came to a head and there weren’t even any cops there. No Politicians, no Pigs, no Puppet Masters. No Old White Men getting rich off the kids—the Stones footed the bill to glorify their own hubris. Yet we still killed each other, we still fought like cats and dogs, we couldn’t get along. Maybe the issue here is that the Revolution, if it existed, didn’t fail us, but we failed it. And we failed ourselves.

“It’s only rock and roll,” Mick? That was your cop out in 1974, and we all knew it was a lie. But hey, it was better than admitting the truth. We did like it. A lot. We even killed and died for it. And in the end, and that was the end, we had some great times and some great music to ease the pain. But by then, it really was only rock and roll. The revolution wasn’t televised because ABC never bought the pilot.

But it’s out there, on video. You can rent the revolution. Go ahead and see for yourself, the few flickering frames in Gimme Shelter and its contemporary brethren that prove out the power of Rock. To move, to love, to empower, to subdue, to create, and to destroy. Read between the lines, man. Rock is the revolution and it goes on every day inside of you. And inside of me.

Thank God, the Devil, Sonny Barger, and the Rolling Stones for that.

Tahiti 80 in the Springtime

As I stared at my records, I was late to work.

It would’ve been no problem. I had awoken with an old Sebadoh song bouncing around in my skull, making the choice for today’s music easy; besides, “Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock” is a great EL train album. Jarring distortion, Eric Gaffney’s yelping, and Lou Barlow moaning – what else can you ask for to annoy the people around you on the 10:25 express?

But it’s the first day of Spring. And it’s sunny. This changed everything.

So I gazed at the records lined up on the shelf, trying to get my cabin fevered, winterized mind to access the good-time Spring music database. Loading….loading….loading….please wait.

But as the gears moved, and the streaming sun began to burn off Winter’s brain freeze, I quickly began to grab the sounds of Spring. Buck Owens and his easy-drinkin’ Bakersfield sound went in the bag. The sly Philly groove of G Love & Special Sauce is like the hot sun on a car seat. And Tahiti 80’s gauzy, Brian Wilson toe-tappers are probably going to rule my CD changer from now ’til the White Sox win the pennant.

Hailing from France, Tahiti 80 sounds more like Wilson if he and The Zombies collaborated with The Dust Brothers in a 21st century studio environment. The charmingly froggy falsetto of Tahiti’s Xavier Boyer can be a real ringer for Colin Blunstone, while the band’s clear-eyed pop nails those notes and riffs that make you think of short skirts and smiling. “Puzzle” (Minty Fresh) has the intangibles that make up a championship record: flourishes of trumpet, organ, and modern-day electronics, with solid, straightforward songwriting that doesn’t mess around with greasy kid stuff. That’s the great thing about Tahiti 80’s music: it isn’t all sugarplums and pixie sticks (i.e. the galactic easy listening of countrymen Air). Songs like “I.S.A.A.C” or “Heartbeat” wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack to this summer’s first romantic comedy. But at the same time, they have enough balls to be included on that CD for the road trip with the fellas.

So it’s officially Spring, and it’s sunny. But I’m not na├»ve. You won’t catch me watering my lawn just yet, because I know Old Man Winter hasn’t exactly packed up the tent and moved on. But in the meantime, Tahiti 80, G Love, and Buck go great with a few High Lifes on the porch.

Won’t be long ’til Summer comes.

JTL

Rock and roll can change your life.