Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dinner music

Last night I was sitting in a diner, sipping a Diet Coke and waiting for my souvlaki. With no one to talk to and nothing to read, I concentrated unnaturally hard on the Lite Rock station playing in the background.

It was the typical mix of '70s Rod Stewart, '80s Michael Jackson, '90s Cher...all of which suddenly began to strike me a really silly. Then they moved on to the truly ridiculous: Donna Summer singing "Macarthur Park", featuring that inimitable chorus,

Someone left my cake out in the rain / Don't know if I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it / and I'll never find that recipe again.

At this point I was having to control my breathing, because everything seemed so funny. And what should follow, but the single most annoying, grating, self-important song of the 21st century thus far, Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars." I nearly did a spit take.

Even a lowly diner can become a first-rate comedy club if you listen right!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Brits Invade Motown

I assumed young British singer Amy Winehouse [top] would be as annoying as her compatriot Joss Stone, but I sure was wrong. She's got a huge, complex, and eminently musical voice, bringing grace and sophistication to her Motown-style songs in the tradition of Darlene Love [bottom]. I hope, when she gets a little older and her voice continues to mature, she treats us to an album of jazz standards, because she's really got the stuff for it. For now, she's off to a fantastic start.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Have to Finish the Hat!

Last year there was a revival of Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George in the West End. Wonder if it will really make it to New York, as has been rumored. Wonder if I'll bother to see it. Not a great fan of minimalist opera... Oh, wait, it's a musical, or so they call it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Fab Falco Flubs Faux

For all his apparent madness, the late Austrian wacko-pop star Falco certainly had an original sound. Heck, "Rock Me Amadeus" helped to define the '80s musically. There are some other gems, too, lesser known in the US (check out "Ganz Wien," about the Viennese party scene). True, he would occasionally devolve into lame impressions: "Macho Macho" is perhaps the worst fake Bowie song of all time. Still, I say Prosit, Falco, und immermehr in Ruhe schlafe!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Lollipops with Bitter Centers

I am amused at the popular success enjoyed by Howard Jones [top] in the '80s. No one listened to his lyrics beyond the catchy choruses, but his bouncy, infectious synth-pop style often decorated words of pain and failure.

Now I find a parallel in the work of newcomer Mika [bottom]. Critics describe his hit single "Love Today" as "candy-coated pop," and the teeny-boppers lick it up. But a careful look at those lyrics unravels the rather creepy tale of a young girl whose parents would be stunned to learn she's turning tricks. Fooled ya!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Isn't It Romantic?

What should we call that gaggle of American composers who don't focus on a nameable technique like serialism or minimalism? I refer to the likes of Joan Tower [top] and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich [middle], whose works seem to follow in a direct line from the 19th century, although they are informed by 20th-century harmony and rhythm.

Kyle Gann calls them the Unreconstructed Classicists, but that seems overblown. Paul Griffith calls them the New Romanticists, but that's too close to New Romantics, a term for the pop crooners of the 1980s, the likes of Bryan Ferry [bottom], who formed a defiant front against the post-punk sound on the one hand and the synth-pop sound on the other.