Category Archives: Music

The iTunes Store and new Linkin Park


My first purchase from the iTunes store was Linkin Park’s new album, Minutes to Midnight. First of all, more kudos to Apple — buying the album was brain-dead easy. Since my credit card number was already saved from my iPod purchase, I selected the album, clicked “Buy now”, it confirmed my password, and began downloading the songs, which were automatically saved in the right place and added to my iTunes library. The next time I sync’ed, the album was on my iPod. Couldn’t have been easier.

Anyway, the album is a little weird. Not Primus-weird, but just quite different from the first two Linkin Park albums. I’m not a big fan of rap or hip-hop music in general (though there are a few songs that I don’t mind; Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is flat-out a great song), nor the whole “electronica” genre. However, I do like the way Linkin Park “fused” their hard rock music with both rap and electronic music on their first two albums. The weird thing about this album is that the band couldn’t seem to decide what kind of music to make. There are a couple of Linkin Park-esque songs, but there are a couple of rock songs with no rap at all, a pop song or two (“Shadow of the Day” could be on any Matchbox Twenty album), a couple of much more mellow songs, and “Given Up” is arguably thrash metal, complete with “Cookie Monster vocals“. There was a lot more guitar and less keyboards on this album, which I’m certainly OK with, but it is quite a departure for Linkin Park. I’ll have to listen to it a few more times to be sure, but so far, I like the new sound.

The one thing I don’t like about buying online music is this: no liner notes! I love reading the liner notes of any album I buy, mainly for the band information, guest musicians, and stuff like that. There is almost no rapping on this album, and there were a couple of songs where the vocals sounded so drastically different from other Linkin Park songs, that I wondered if they had gotten a new “rapper”/vocalist, but because of the lack of liner notes, I had no idea. According to the band’s Wikipedia page, they simply went in a new direction, and the guy who does the rapping also sings on this album (for the first time), which is why I didn’t recognize the singing voice. If there is one thing I’d change about the iTunes store, it would be the ability to get liner notes for downloaded albums. Lyrics I’m not so concerned about because (a) I don’t often read them anymore, and (b) there are lyrics web sites all over the internet; I’m sure all the lyrics to this album are available online somewhere.

New Toys!


Somewhere out there, there’s an iPod with my name on it. And I mean that literally. I ordered an 80 GB iPod from apple.ca yesterday (with free engraving), and got an email this morning saying that it had shipped. I feel like rushing home and checking the mailbox every, oh, fifteen seconds or so. Maybe I’ll just bring my laptop and sit next to the mailbox. OK, I’ll have to cool the jets just a bit — I just checked the FedEx site, and the package left the point of origin in Shanghai, China a few hours ago, so perhaps sitting by the mailbox today would not prove useful. Tomorrow maybe.

The one I bought is priced at $349 US at apple.com, but $399 Cdn at apple.ca. Since apple.com won’t let you ship to a Canadian address, I had to buy from the Canadian site, which is a total scam — the Canadian dollar is so high right now that $349 US would only cost $378 Cdn, plus the sales tax would be less. I suppose I could have bought it through apple.com and had it shipped to my friend in California, and then paid him to ship it to me, but then you have extra customs stuff to worry about, and extra shipping costs, not to mention the hassle, so I guess I’ll just eat the $20 or so and complain about it in my blog. There, that’s done.

I am really looking forward to getting this new toy piece of equipment. My buddy Kurt has one, and he can’t stop raving about how great it is. Once I’ve ripped all of my CDs (450+) and put them on the iPod, I can store the actual CDs in the basement, freeing up space in the CD/DVD rack for more DVDs, which are starting to get piled in various places since we’re out of room. If I wanted, I could also remove the CD player from the stereo cabinet and replace it with the iPod dock I intend to buy. My car stereo already has an iPod input jack so I’m OK there, but I might need to buy one for the van. Kurt says that you can even rip DVDs to the iPod, so if I can hook it into the DVD player in the van, that would be even better.

Update: I saw 80 GB iPods at Costco yesterday for $369. Crap.
Friday update: It went through Anchorage yesterday, and is in Indianapolis today! Estimated delivery is Monday!

Never Break the Chain


I pulled out Fleetwood Mac’s classic record album Rumours this morning, and listened to (most of) it on the way to work. I haven’t listened to it in years, and I think I’d forgotten how good it is — it’s considered a classic for a reason. Part of it is obviously the presence of the big hits Dreams, Don’t Stop, Go Your Own Way, and You Make Loving Fun, but the other songs are all great as well (particularly Never Going Back Again and The Chain), with (for me) two glaring exceptions: the boring Songbird and the boring Oh Daddy, both of which are Christine McVie songs. Lindsay Buckingham and Steve Nicks, I always thought, were the primary singers and songwriters of Fleetwood Mac (at least during their heyday in the late 70’s and into the 80’s), and Christine McVie was “the other one”, who wrote and sang some songs as well, but rarely the good ones. Her songs were always closer to “adult contemporary” and further away from the rockier stuff, and I’ve always found her voice kind of boring. Stevie Nicks’ voice, on the other hand, is very unique, and can be either powerful or soft depending on the song. McVie wrote the hits like You Make Loving Fun, Don’t Stop (though Lindsay Buckingham sings mosts of it), Say You Love Me, Over My Head, Hold Me, Little Lies, and Everywhere — with the exception of Don’t Stop, all of them are keyboard-heavy love songs. They’re not all bad songs (I actually like Don’t Stop and Hold Me, and I don’t mind Little Lies), just not so much my cup of tea. Some of her lyrics are a little more inane than the rest of the band, like from You Make Loving Fun: “Sweet wonderful you, you make me happy with the things you do”, or from Say You Love Me: “Woo me until the sun comes up and you say that you love me”. How often do people nowadays use the term “woo me”?

“Dreams” is, for me, a song that just screams “radio in the seventies”. I was eight when it was released in 1977, and was just starting to pay attention to the music my parents listened to on the radio. I remember listening to the lyrics and even analyzing them in my little eight-year-old way:

Thunder only happens when it’s raining   (obviously)
players only love you when they’re playing   (why? That doesn’t seem fair)

Strangely, even though I always think of the 70’s when I hear that song, I think it has also aged well, in that it doesn’t sound like a 70’s song. There are some songs that you just don’t hear on the radio after a few years because their sound is so typical of a certain year or “era” that they sound old. You will still hear “Dreams” on the radio, but rarely “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band. Melissa Etheridge’s self-titled debut and “Skyscraper” by David Lee Roth were both released in 1988, but Roth’s album gets almost no airplay these days on rock radio stations, while you’ll still hear Melissa Etheridge now and again. Why? Because Roth’s album sounds like a typical late-80’s pop-rock album, while Etheridge’s music is a little more timeless. Same with Fleetwood Mac.

Who would have thought… it figures


Alanis Morissette has a song called “Ironic”, in which she sings about a bunch
of supposed examples of irony: “rain on your wedding day”, “a black fly in your
Chardonnay”, “a death row pardon two minutes too late”, “ten thousand spoons
when all you need is a knife”, the story of a man afraid to fly who finally gets
on a plane that ends up crashing, etc. The funny thing is that none
of the things she sings about are actually examples of irony. Rain on your wedding
day isn’t ironic, it’s just a drag. Ten thousand spoons when all you need is a
knife might be ironic if you’re a knife salesman, but otherwise it’s not. The bit
about the plane crash might be ironic if the man is travelling to a visit a
doctor or therapist who is going to help him get over his phobia.

So we have a song entitled “Ironic”, which contains no examples of irony.
That’s pretty ironic. Don’t you think?

By the way, didn’t I break your heart?


I am a big fan of Marillion‘s first four albums — the ones they recorded with Fish as their lead singer. In the late ’80’s, (right about the time I got into the band), Fish left and was replaced by a guy named Steve Hogarth, and for whatever reason, I never picked up any new Marillion albums after that. Last week, I was buying the new Rush album from amazon.ca, and decided to pick up the first Marillion album with the “new” (almost 20 years ago) singer, “Season’s End”, as well as another newer one, “Afraid of Sunlight”. I listened to them for the first time today at work, and, well, I’m not sure yet. The music is unmistakeably Marillion (moreso with Season’s End), but it really sounds weird with someone other than Fish singing.

Changing lead singers is far more significant a change than any other band member, and this is magnified when the singer has as distinctive a voice as Fish. This was evident when David Lee Roth left Van Halen, but Van Halen’s music wasn’t terribly different from other hard rock bands at the time, so Van Halen’s first album with Sammy Hagar just sounded like another new band with a great guitar player. In this case, Marillion’s musical sound is so distinctive, changing singers is even more significant, possibly similar to AC/DC replacing Bon Scott with Brian Johnson, though that happened before I really paid much attention to popular music. In that case, both Scott and Johnson had distinctive voices — Johnson’s is similar to Scott’s, but different enough that it was obvious that he was a good fit with the band without being a Bon Scott clone. When I Mother Earth replaced Edwin with, um, whoever they replaced him with, the result was a pretty good band with a fairly average lead singer. The newer stuff is still great musically, but I’m not as thrilled with the vocals, and that’s what I’ve found so far with the “new” Marillion. Steve Hogarth’s voice is not very distinctive, and I’m not sure it fits with the band as well as Fish’s voice did. In fact, every now and again Hogarth sounds like he’s doing a bad Fish imitation.

I’ve learned in the past that immediately writing off an album after a single listen is frequently a bad idea — I didn’t like Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory when I first heard it, but it grew on me, and is now one of my favourite Dream Theater albums; same with The Tragically Hip’s Trouble at the Henhouse. I’m very glad to be listening to new Marillion music, for the first time in almost twenty years, and I hope I really start to get into it, because they have eight more albums that I don’t have, plus a new one coming next year. I get very excited about new music!

Note: The title of this post is a lyric from “Kayleigh”, a song from Marillion’s amazing 1985 concept album “Misplaced Childhood”. According to Wikipedia, the success of this song has significantly increased the number of girls given the name Kayleigh in the UK. I know a woman (here in Canada) who would have named a daughter Kayleigh because of that song. She ended up having two sons, neither of which, thankfully, is named Kayleigh.

Music quiz


Here’s a little music quiz. See if you can name the band:

  • They were very big in the 70’s and early 80’s
  • Many of their songs are staples on classic rock radio
  • Three-piece band, based in the UK
  • The lead singer quit the band in the 80’s and went on to a solo career
  • Originally his music was fairly similar to that of the band, but he
    gradually went more and more towards soft rock (to the point where classic rock
    stations that play the band’s music won’t play his solo stuff)
  • He worked on at least one movie soundtrack
  • One other member of the band had some success on his own, the third one
    vanished
  • The band recently reformed, and is now touring again

Obviously the answer is The Police, right? Wrong. Well, they fit all the
criteria above, but the answer is Genesis. Phil Collins and Sting both went
soft and started making some pretty lame music, Mike Rutherford of Genesis
had some success with Mike and the Mechanics, and Stewart Copeland did quite
well doing music for numerous movies and TV shows. Tony Banks and Andy
Summers did nothing that I know of.

Weird how two completely different bands have so many similarities. I’d love
to see the Police (though I’m not willing to pay the insane prices for tickets),
though seeing Genesis doesn’t really have that much appeal for me.

I was going to make a joke at the end of this posting, something like “Man,
if only would reform, that would be great!” where was
some band that was big in the 70’s or 80’s but then broke up, but I can’t make
such a joke, because I think all of the bands from that era already have
reformed. Max Webster? April Wine? The Doobie Brothers? Styx? The Eagles?
Yup, all
within the last few years. REO Speedwagon? The Police? Genesis? Yup,
they’re touring now.
Journey? Duran Duran? The Bay City Rollers? KC and the Sunshine Band?
The Village People?
Yup, according to Wikipedia, they’re all touring now. Hmmmmmm… running out
of bands…. hey, I know one!

Man, if only the Beatles would reform, that would be great!

The calliope crashed to the ground


I just bought The
Essential Bruce Springsteen
from amazon.ca
— $20 for a triple CD! There’s a lot of great stuff on here, though I get
the impression that I’m going to listen to disk one a lot more than the other two.
The first song is 1973’s “Blinded by the Light”, which was covered by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1977. The Springsteen version is very upbeat, almost dance-able, but
the lyrics are frequently indecipherable. The Manfred Mann version is much better
known, and is a little more “interesting”,
in that there are more speed changes, guitar licks, and keyboard fills. The lyrics are obviously the same, but I can
understand them a little better (in that I can hear the words – I have no idea
what the song actually means). I’ve always loved the Manfred Mann version — this is one of the fairly rare times that
I prefer the remake of a song to the original.

I’ve always been impressed with people who are creative, like songwriters and
artists and such. I can’t draw worth a damn, but I’d love to be able to. Gail
says that writing software is creative, and I suppose it is (you could even
consider it an “art” if you try), but it’s not the same thing. I can play the
guitar, but creating music rather than playing something that someone
else wrote seems much harder. Just as difficult, I would think, is the
ability to take a song that someone else wrote and re-work it, as Manfred
Mann did on this song, or as Joe Cocker did on his version of the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends”. It’s kind of hard to believe that this is the same
guy that wrote recorded the bubblegum “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” twelve years
before (according to Wikipedia, Manfred Mann
didn’t write that song either).

Harvey Danger rocks


I blogged
before about Harvey Danger and their
free-as-in-beer CD download. I downloaded the album, liked it, and attempted
to buy it, but they charged my credit card without sending my anything. I emailed
them about it and they reversed the charge, so I tried again. Once again, they
charged my credit card but nothing got sent. I emailed them about it today, and
they said that not only would they reverse the second charge, but now they’re
going to send me a free copy of the CD.

So: I paid nothing to download their album. I liked their idea of releasing the
album on the internet (plus I liked the album itself), so I wanted to make sure
that the band actually makes a profit from me. But because I had
trouble buying the CD, I’m getting a free copy. The end result is that the band
will still make no monetary profit from me. How’s that for irony?

The best I can do now is to promote the living hell out of the band, so that’s
what I’m doing here. I will probably buy their other albums as well, but if I
do, it’ll be from amazon.ca, not from their web site!

Fa la la la la


I’m a fan of rock music — everything from Sarah McLachlan to Metallica,
Elton John to Tool. There are other kinds of music I sometimes listen to:
I don’t mind some country now and again, some blues, and I even have a couple of musical
theatre soundtracks – yes, I admit it, I listen to show tunes. I’m not a fan of
hip-hop / rap, and adult contemporary (Celine Dion, Michael Bolton) puts me to
sleep. I don’t listen to jazz either, but I can appreciate their talent —
jazz guitarists and drummers are among the best musicians around. I just can’t
get into the electronic stuff either; generally, if there isn’t a real
guitarist
or real drummer in your band, I’m not interested. If your
“band” consists of three keyboardists, a DJ, and a drum machine, I’m not even
going to listen.

One form of music I’ve never been a fan of is Christmas music. I think it’s
because after 30-some years, Christmas songs all start to sound the same. It’s
like there are a bunch of Christmas songs available (some religious and some
not), and if you want to record a Christmas song, you must pick one of them.
God forbid you write a new one. That’s not always true; every couple of years
I hear a Christmas song I’ve never heard before, but usually when someone
releases a Christmas song, it’s just their version of existing song
that has already been done to death. Just yesterday, I heard a “new” version
of the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” (I don’t know if they wrote it, but
the only version I know is by them), but the “new” version was an almost
note-for-note copy. Why bother?

Two of my least favourites are “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and
“Jingle Bell Rock”. Both have “rock” in the title, and that’s part of what makes
me not like them — neither has anything to do with “rock”. What does
Brenda Lee know about “Rockin'”, anyway? And what the hell is the “new
old-fashioned way”? “Jingle Bell Rock” isn’t as bad, and I have nothing
against Randy Travis (I just can’t say his name without dropping into a southern
drawl – Rrrrrandy Travis), but if he can cover a song without
(a) changing his style or (b) changing the song’s style, it ain’t rock.

I suppose I have been mellowing in the last few years. I like the Barenaked
Ladies’ version of Jingle Bells (it starts off very slow and lounge-y, then
suddenly blasts into this high-energy fun song). Tom Petty has a pretty good one
(“Christmas All Over Again”), and Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” is
OK. Now that I think about it, John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” is
a really good Christmas song. I’m even learning Silent Night on the guitar. I’m
not going out to actually buy any of these (for myself, anyway, I’ve bought some
Christmas music for Gail), but I don’t cringe whenever I hear them.

Strangely, it doesn’t seem that there have been many attempts to write a
hard rock Christmas song. AC/DC did a song called “Mistress for
Christmas”, which was just dumb. And there are NO death metal Christmas songs. I
guess I won’t hold my breath waiting for Cannibal Corpse’s version of “What
Child is This?” or “A Very Slayer Christmas”.

Free-as-in-beer music redux


About a year ago, a Seattle-based band named Harvey Danger released their latest album,
“Little By Little”, and made headlines by making the entire album available in
MP3 format on their website for free. I’d never heard of the band, but
I figured the price was right, and I could just delete the files if I decided
it sucked. (I even blogged about it.) Well, it didn’t suck, and I grew to quite like the album. A month
ago, I decided that I liked it enough to actually purchase it, since I felt
kind of guilty that I was enjoying listening to this album, while the band
was getting no benefit from my enjoyment. So I went to the web site, entered my
address and credit card number, and got an error, saying that my zip code was
in the wrong format. Well, Canadian addresses don’t have a zip code, they have
a postal code, in a different format than US zip codes. Yet another US-based
web site that doesn’t know that people exist outside of the US. Sigh.

Anyway, I emailed the “webstore” address asking if they could confirm that
either (a) my credit card was not charged, or (b) it was, but the CD will
be sent to me. I never heard back, and promptly forgot all about it.

Yesterday, I received my credit card bill, and lo and behold, there is a
charge for US$19, and I have no CD. I emailed them again, stating that I was
charged, so could they please send the CD? This morning I got a reply, saying
that the CD was sent last weekend, and if I don’t receive it soon to let them
know. The funny part was that the email was sent by Jeff J. Lin (Note: inactive blog), who
happens to be the guitar player for Harvey Danger. You know you’re not dealing
with a big-name band when the guitar player is also responsible for shipping.
You wouldn’t send email to u2.com and expect to get a reply from
theedge@u2.com. After reading some of the stuff on his rather
sparsely-populated blog, it looks like he’s a geek like me (he specifically
mentioned “my CS profs” in one entry), so he’s probably “the website guy” as
well as the guitar player.

Anyway, I thought that was cool. I encourage you to go and check out this
album, if you like their style of music. I’m not sure how to describe “their
style of music” though, other than to say that they have been described as
“college/alternative”. You can hear short clips of a couple of their songs from
their Wikipedia page.