January 29, 2008

Here, My Dear

Here, My Dear, Marvin Gaye, Rolling Stone Magazine's #462

exile staff consensus: awaiting votes

the breakdown:
2.0 cannons -eurowags
1.0 cannon - venerableseed

the essays:
1/28 @ 9:00 a.m.
- Marvin and Anna. I take sides.

the album:

the introduction:
Just found that love of your life? Thinking about getting married? About to walk down the aisle? Are you happy on account of love?


Just kidding. But be careful nonetheless.

Marvin Gaye's 1978 Here, My Dear had no marketable singles, no lasting memorable tracks, clocked in at a (pre-CD) 72 minutes, was poorly reviewed and was unbearably confessional as well as bizarrely bitter and caustic. How did it make Rolling Stone's Greatest 500 Albums list?

There must be a great story. Indeed there is. Keep track here to read it! (or just google)

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January 28, 2008

Let's Not Get It On

Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, and the Notorious B.I.G. It's not just a murderer's bullet that they share. No, they all made creepy, name naming, self-exploitative "soul-bearing" opuses that the Rolling Stone honored in their Top 500. I guess people are supposed to relate to their confessional nakedness but I don't. Why would I want to take Lennon's primal scream-ing psychotherapeutic ride? Why would I care about Biggie's suicidal dreams and small time drug deals? Why would I care about Marvin's messy divorce?

We all make choices in life. Most of us steer clear of being divorce lawyers. We stay away when our neighbors (or friends) have loud violent domestic mash ups. And in 1978 most chose not to listen to Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear. Amazingly, just last week, a double CD retrospective of Here, My Dear was released on Hip-O records that includes all fourteen songs remixed by contemporary producers. 150+ minutes of intolerable whining, finger pointing, and general insanity. Mercy, mercy, me.

On Here, My Dear Marvin is mad as hell (about paying attorney fees) and not going to take it (reason, a dignified grown-up approach) any more. Perhaps, for the album listener's sake, Marvin should have gone to a mediator. Because then we could have heard his poor ex-wife's point of view. He said she said is far more compelling than he said he said he said he said.

Paradoxically, the most powerful voice on the album is not Marvin's but his voiceless ex's. When he accuses her of "selling his gun" we totally agree with her decision. We want the judge to side with her, we want her to win. The album exists even as an odd and unintended feminist tome; Marvin's voice reveals the internal psychosis of an abusive husband. He has literally taken her voice away, suppressed her expression and denied her any meaningful public forum. Through his deranged thought processes, hateful words and meticulously documented actions he shows unadulterated marital cruelty. And somehow he still thinks he's the hero!

Your friends' divorces and break-ups also affirm dark and disturbing qualities and emotions that you always suspected but never absolutely knew were there. As a result your relationship with revealed divorcee can never be the same. Here, My Dear is no different. Musically, the most disturbing part of Here, My Dear is not the merciless, misogynistic, sometimes third-person, always accusatory lyrics but the effect those lyrics have on the remainder of the Marvin Gaye catalog. "Sexual Healing", "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "Let's Get It On" are subsequently rendered impotent and irrelevant, desperate crooning from a man to whom relationship breakup = restraining order.
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January 19, 2008


War, U2 Rolling Stone Magazine's #221

exile staff consensus: Top 400 album

the breakdown:

2.5 cannons - venerableseed, eurowags
2.0 cannons - the angry young man, lenbarker

the essays:
1/16@ 9:00 a.m. - What's my favorite U2 song? It must be on War, right?

1/6 @ 12:00 noon - I wonder whose War is it anyway?

Christmas is over and we all know what that means...New Year's Day.

On War, U2 tells us that "nothing changes on New Year's Day" and on The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against the Machine tells us that "everything can change on a New Year's Day." Are these politicized artists really that much different? Are their combat-related titles the only things the album's have in common?

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January 16, 2008

My Favorite U2 Song

What's my favorite U2 song? War's "Sunday Bloody Sunday". It's got nothing to do with Bono's out-of-control out-of-tune passionate vocals, the Irish jig guitar solo, the arching overwrought string section, or the Jesus-freak, passive resistance-promoting lyrics. I can't stand any of that shit.

I love the drums. The eight-second drum break that opens the song, that opens the album. They speak louder than any of the aforementioned extraneous nonsense. They hit with power, urgency, rawness, and necessity. They encapsulate war, War, and War. They are all the album needs. It's message is immediately clear. 8 seconds is all it takes.

11 years later those same drums returned. Only this time they took nearly a minute and a half to appear. For the first minute, the song drifts along, percussion supplied by a scratch DJ, church-like bells creating an ominous backdrop. The song's music stops and a deep, friendly voice appears and intones "You said to me I was out of my mind." A short pause and the drums return. The drums of War. Only this time the battle is a little different. It's about the fight for sanity in a world of lunacy or in a deeply depressed soul. The drums speak the same.

Maybe the battle faced on the two albums isn't different at all.

DJ Shadow's second single, "Lost and Found" appeared in 1994, its drums unmistakably "Sunday Bloody Sunday's". Just 19 years old the music papers were already hailing DJ Shadow a musical genius. In the United States more people knew his name than had ever heard his compositions. Or at least that's how it felt at the time.

His first single, 1993's "in/flux", began with the announcement "This song is about life, death, love, hate, wealth, poverty, racism", continued with a female vocal beckoning, "we call on you", a hip hop sample saying "stay strong" and another vocal enforcing with "here us now." It isn't until then that the beat kicks in. These drums aren't Larry Mullens. They constitute a slow funk sample. "in/flux" takes its cue from the great hip hop tracks of the era, sampling James Brown, Funkadelic, and Earth Wind and Fire. Nevertheless the track's endless political vocal tracks calling for a nondescript "revolution" and slow jazzy track which felt urgent in 1994 (just as Bono's call for Christian soldiers and wall of sound violins must have seemed urgent in 1983) now seem formulaic at best, dated at worst.

"Lost and Found" was different just like War's first 8 seconds was different. It was real, it was personal, and it was soul bearing. It wasn't preachy, it didn't call for pie-in-the-sky social change , and it looked inward rather than outward. These emotions and this direction weren't audible to me in "in/flux" and were audible on only 8 seconds of War.

So is my favorite U2 song actually "Lost and Found"? Given that U2 would receive most of its royalties if it were ever released (Fleetwood Mac would see some too) I would say yes.
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January 15, 2008

God's Warriors

U2's third album was called War. But who is the War with? What is the War about? Which War and when?

In a compelling 1983 New Musical Express article and U2 interview entitled "War and Peace", writer Adrian Thrills states that "(War) is different in that U2 are now facing out rather than inwards; they are now coming to terms with the outside world, and that means coming to terms with the horror of the Falklands, Beirut, Central America, the nuclear threat and the strife of their own battle-torn backyard in Ulster - coming to terms with war."

The Edge explained "October and Boy both had a key to the songs in the title and this one is no different. Not all the songs are about war, but it's a good general heading."

War tackles many of the above topics exposing their horror and human toll but it does not stop there. It continues with a solution, an answer, and even a War of its own. It's the fight invoked in the album's opening track "Sunday Bloody Sunday", and it's the fight that Bono has been fighting ever since through his crusade against AIDS, Live Aid, third-world debt relief, etc... His song states "The real battle yet begun. To claim the victory Jesus won" and the album continues along this fight's path just as Bono has with his own life. The album invokes Martin Luther King, Lech Welesa, and Jesus. Those are the album's role models and warriors.

In the same 1983 NME interview Bono continued "You have to have hope. Rock music can be a very powerful medium and if you use that to offer something positive then it can be very uplifting. If you use your songs to convey bitterness and hate, a blackness seems to descend over everything. I don't like music unless it has a healing effect."

And what U2 is offering is Christianity. A glimpse away from the negativity and towards a more positive light. A belief in the pure love of God, agape, 1 John 4:8. Bono added "I think that love stands out when set against struggle. That's probably the power of the record in a nutshell. (War) is about the struggle for love, not about war in the negative sense."

Bono's belief in God's goodness and everlasting love mark an overarching thread through all U2's albums. This theme is the key to U2's success, fervent crowds, and universal appeal throughout the Western world. We've all heard their message before, it's our most desirable interpretation of our most important and most holy book. They tell us and reinforce what we want our God to be. They are the perfection of hope, the perfection of religion, and the perfection of ourselves.

In War, U2's message of God's love is told so passionately (small p) and so earnestly that it's difficult to resist. Whether offering musical excuse or acknowledging U2's true power, Bono admitted "We believe that passion is more important than technique." On War Bono is so rarely in tune that the listener must assume that his Bono Vox alias, (Latin for good voice), is an in-joke. The band's shortcomings are covered by copious backup vocalists, trumpet solos, ornate violin arrangements, and ample atmospherics. Larry Mullen even admitted that on War he began wearing headphones in an attempt to keep better time.

Not that any technical misgivings mattered. U2 understood that the message of their militant Christian pacifism is beautiful. War is bad, love is good, God is love, God is good. Accept God and wars may not cease but they should become marginalized. Music should heal. Music will solve problems. God's love solves problems. Everything is tied together.

War naturally ends with a song based on an Old Testament song, based on Psalm 40. Bono's interpretation of his chosen Psalm casts himself as a messianic figure who is called on by God to crusade for His goodness. It's a tale of redemption and calling

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of the miry glade.

that moves into a holy warrior's quest and an an unerring life path.

He set my feet upon a rock,
and made my footsteps heard.
Many will see,
Many will see and fear.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?

Bono and U2 have not strayed. We want to believe in them, we want to believe in their God, we want to believe in their message, their God's message that Christianity's natural quest and natural state runs towards social justice, an end to strife, and an everlasting love.

We want to believe that his lyrics on "New Year's Day" are true, that "Gold is the reason for the wars we wage." But deep down we know that that is not true. All four "Sunday Bloody Sunday" sides felt God was on their side - the Irish Catholics, the Northern Irish Protestants, the Selma Peace marchers, the Selma police and citizenry - and none fought for gold. We know that the atomic bombardiers in "Seconds" aren't killing for gold either.

We look outside to present-day horrors of Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, the nuclear threat from China and Pakistan and the strife of our own battle-torn backyard in lower Manhattan and we see that we fight for our passions and we fight for our gods.


There are a number of good U2 articles and websites that discuss the band's relationship with Christianity. Here are a few:

The website u2sermons.blogspot.com serves as a companion piece to the book, Get Up Off Your Knees, Preaching the U2 Catalog, which is linked in the slide show to the right. The book is a collection of sermons that draw on U2's songs.

The article Bono: Grace Over Karma appeared in ChristianMusicToday.com in August 2005 and consists of excerpts from the book Bono: In Conversation. The article collects a few of Bono's interview responses that deal with Christianity.

A third, extended article, Cathleen Falsani's Bono's American Prayer, appeared in Christianity Today and is an enlightening look at life, musical career, and mission.

However, in the same issue of Christianity Today appeared this editorial, Bono's Thin Ecclesiology. The title explains it all.
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January 12, 2008

The Battle of Los Angeles

The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against the Machine, Rolling Stone Magazine's #426

exile staff consensus: Top 200 album

the breakdown:

5.0 cannons - polchic
4.5 cannons - venerableseed
2.0 cannons - eurowags
1.5 cannons - the angry young man

the essays:
1/18@ 9:00 a.m. - The Fire in the Master's House is Set

1/10 @ 9:00 a.m. - I rage about Rage.

Christmas is over and we all know what that means...New Year's Day.

On War, U2 tells us that "nothing changes on New Year's Day" and on The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against the Machine tells us that "everything can change on a New Year's Day." Are these politicized artists really that much different? Are their combat-related titles the only things the album's have in common?

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January 11, 2008

This is the new sound, just like the old sound

For over a decade I scoffed at Rage Against the Machine. I called them posers, spoiled Ivy leaguers, misguided, opportunist in their anger. I repeated the easy phrase: "oh you're so anti-establishment yet you're signed to Sony" dismissal.

And why? Because I read an article in SPIN saying much of the same after their 1993 silent protests on stage at Lollapalooza against the the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC).

Had I done my homework (beyond the pages of SPIN), I would have known there are no posers here. Zach de la Rocha's dad was the first Latino artist to be shown at LACMA. Tom Morello's dad was a Mau Mau guerrilla and revolutionary. Morello's great-uncle, Jomo Kenyatta, was the first elected president in Kenya.

This rage isn't misguided; it's informed and razor sharp. There are no opportunities here, simply alarms and warnings.

The fire in the Master's house is set.

And as for being signed to Sony, now that I am older and wiser and actively working for social change instead of simply bitching about a need for it, I understand, just as they did, that it's not enough to voice dissent; someone has to hear you. And before MySpace, file sharing, and other network enabling mechanisms, signing to a major label was just about the only way you could reach out beyond a marginal audience.

I know that venerableseed had his own beef with the boys. My frustration isn't with the band, but with the fact that the Battle of Los Angeles is still relevant and its message timely in 2008.

Morello himself said that their reunion at last year's Coachella was a vehicle to voice the band's opposition to the "right-wing purgatory" the United States has "slid into" under the George W. Bush administration.

Listen to the facist sing
"Take hope here
War is elsewhere
You were chosen
This is Gods land
Soon we'll be free
Of blot and mixture
Seeds planted by our Forefathers hand"
A mass of promises
Begin to rupture
Like the pockets Of the new world kings

I wish The Battle of Los Angeles were dated. But songs like "Ashes in the Fall"might as well have been written this year. I wish its chords didn't make my heart race, its word incite my, well, Rage. But the fact is, everything didn't change on a New Year's Day.

And incidentally, even though SPIN named Battle #53 in its "greatest albums 1985-2005," they still hatin'.

Fucking Bono was right.
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January 10, 2008

A False False Dichotomy

I'd read about the video for "Testify" long before I had seen it. I was living in Chile at the time; we didn't have a TV let alone cable. The article explained that the Michael Moore-directed video juxtaposed George Bush quotes and video clips with Al Gore quotes and video clips. The novelty was that there was no juxtaposition at all. Bush and Gore said and did exactly the same thing. They were the same poison, the same corporate-run evil.

The video's conclusions were not unique. Articles from the National Review to the The Nation from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times echoed the similarity sentiment lulling us into a false sense of resigned outrage. When I would call my parents in the States, they confirmed and agreed with the conventional wisdom. Clearly, our vote doesn't matter. America's presidential candidates are the same.

The chilling eventuality of our collective cynicism was clear: Bush was going to be elected.

The Chilean papers had a different view of the American election. Perhaps it was their history of political dualism. They characterized Bush as a foolish scion of a powerful family, a puppet of the conservative right and a dangerous force. On our refrigerator hung a political cartoon with three identical W caricatures. The caption: "Clan, Clown or Clone?" Gore was a soft green party wannabe whose election would surely sink the American economy and send the continent reeling financially. The two weren't alike at all.

I adopted the viewpoint of my South American home and filled myself with outrage at the forgone electoral conclusion. My anger was mostly directed at the myth-makers, the Bush-Gore equators. Whether it be the papers, Ralph Nader, or the corporate broadcasters they were my true villains, my personal scapegoat. Of course the most compelling of these false false dichotomies was a video by Rage Against the Machine. And I hated them for it.

Perhaps they hated themselves for it as well. One month before election day the band broke up citing personal, artistic, and political differences. They've reunited this year officially making one our generation's fieriest, smartest, and most politically necessary bands AWOL for the entire Bush presidency.

I got over my anger a few weeks ago, bought The Battle of Los Angeles, and put it on my mp3 player. It's been there ever since and I hope it doesn't go away. It's a conscience from a conscience-less time, it's a probing intelligence and protest from a Backstreet Boys-Britney Spears era, it's the son of Woody Guthrie that we weren't supposed to have. Zach de la Rocha really is Bob Dylan in 1963, Chuck D in 1988. In 1999 he was just as clever and just as smart.

The backing tracks are even better. It's the perfect live-instrumentation hip-hop album; a holy grail that wasn't supposed to exist. It's pure energy and a non-stop fast-paced thrill ride that doesn't just preach but also inspires one to action.

But after my pounding heart slows down and my adrenalin rush subsides the The Battle of Los Angeles moves me towards melancholy. Why did it lead to nothing, why did it pair with a slow reactionary like Michael Moore, and why did it disappear from our memory?
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January 1, 2008

A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector

A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, Various Artists, Rolling Stone Magazine's #142

exile staff consensus: Top 1000 album

the breakdown:
2.0 cannons - venerableseed
1.5 cannons - lenbarker and the angry young man
1.0 cannons - polchic and eurowags

the reasoning:
"Just because an album sets a precedent that doesn't mean the precedent needed to be set" - polchic

the essays:
12/31 @ 9:00 a.m. - I chime in on the many Sons of Spector and make some startling admissions.

12/29 @ 9:00 a.m. - polchic speaks on "how Phil Spector has provided a perfect soundtrack not for Christmas, as many claim, but for Saturnalia."

This week we will all be listening to A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector. Will we get around to writing about it? Hard to say. Right now we're to busy opening presents. click here to
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