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Sounds of 2016

My opinion of this year’s top music? That I probably didn’t hear most of it. Last year, under Adam Lambert’s Spotify / Twitter guidance, I actually heard a fair amount of the top 40. This year Adam had other priorities (tours, movies, TV shows), so I reverted to more typical behaviour for someone my age, and listened more to older stuff.

Still, some audio releases of 2016 managed to grab my attention.

Albums

The Hamilton Mixtape

We went to New York this year, but did not see Hamilton, the Broadway musical. I tried for tickets, but without really knowing much about the play, other than that it was super-p0pular. We did see the New York Library exhibit about Alexander Hamilton’s life, however, and it certainly was a colourful. So on my return, I finally listened the musical soundtrack, and really liked it. I definitely got into the story line, and a lot of the songs are just catchy. They’re not all hip-hop, but I liked those ones, too, generally.

So The Hamilton Mixtape, a collection of covers, re-imaginings, and out-takes from the musical, was the only album I got my hands on the day it came out. It did not disappoint. It just highlights why this story of someone from so long ago resonates today.

Favorite track: “It’s Quiet Uptown” by Kelly Clarkson, though it always makes me weepie

People are already weeping over Lin-Manul Miranda’s Hamilton Mixtape

Carly Rae Jepsen: E*MO*TION Side B

It actually took me a few listens to really get into the original E*MO*TION album, but I had no such trouble with Side B. Why these particular tracks didn’t make the original cut is a mystery, as they seem as strong as those.

Favourite track: “The One”

The Queen Extravaganza: A Night at the Apollo Hammersmith Live

The Queen Extravaganza are the officially sanctioned Queen tribute band, and on this outing they tackle the entirety of A Night at the Opera—something the original band never did. The do an impressive job of it. And then we get some other Queen hits.

What’s particularly striking about this band, though, is just how much singer Marc Martel sounds like Freddie Mercury. You’d occasionally swear this is a new recording by him, which is a mix of awesome and weird. The album is not available for streaming, but must be acquired from Pledge Music.

Favourite track: “The Prophet’s Song”. I dare you to not be impressed by it.

Queen Extravaganza – Seven Seas of Rhye – Live at the Apollo Hammersmith

Alysha Brilla: Human

Not every song is a home run, but this is an uplifting, positive release from this hometown artist.

Favourite track: Bigger Than That (“You put up a wall, but I’ll climb it like a cat. Cause I am bigger than that.”)

(David Bowie’s Blackstar is also worth noting, but you all knew that already.)

Songs

You’ll notice a prevalence of artists of a certain vintage here…

  • Bonnie Raitt: Need You Tonight—Sexy cover of this INXS song
  • Beyoncé: Formation
  • Roger Daltrey: Let My Love Open the Door—Who singer takes on this great Pete Townshend solo track, for charity
  • Brits 2016 Bowie Tribute, featuring Lorde—Fantastic job
  • Paul Simon: Wristband—So funny . Rest of the album is rather good, too.
  • Tanya Tagaq: Rape Me—Haunting cover of the Nrvana song. Her album has made many “best of the year” lists, but I haven’t listened to it all yet.
  • Lady Gaga: Grigio Girls

And I also liked everything Adam Lambert released this year:

  • The two dance track collaborations: “Can’t Go Home” with Steve Aoki and “Broken” with Tritonal
  • The cover of George Michael’s “Faith”
  • His Rocky Horror songs; Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul) and Science Fiction
  • And his single, performed on American Idol and featured in numerous sports broadcasts: “Welcome to the Show”

Gorgeous official video for Welcome to the Show

Concerts

Did pretty well with live shows this year, and since I blogged about each at the time, I don’t have it go on about them again. In order of greatness:

  1. Adam Lambert: Original High Tour (Berlin, Germany)
  2. Tanya Tagaq, Intersections concert with KW Symphony (Kitchener, Canada)
  3. The Who: Who Hits 50 tour (Toronto, Canada)
  4. Alysha Brilla: Album release party (Waterloo, Canada)

(You know it’s quite the year if on my favourite bands of all time is third!)

Via semi-legal webcast, I also enjoyed the Queen + Adam Lambert Rock in Lisboa, and by totally legal national broadcast, the Tragically Hip’s last show of their tour.

Podcasts

It didn’t occur to me to compile a list of particularly good podcasts, but I did spend part of the Christmas break working through Wired’s recommendations. Good list, though I have concluded I’m not really a fan of fiction podcasts, even if well done.

Audiobooks

trevor-noah-book-born-a-crime-stories-from-a-south-african-childhoodEasy, because I only finished one (not enough road trips this year): Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. This book has been well-reviewed and I can assure you, it’s deserved. His life is fascinating, and he tells it well.

Trevor Noah was born in South Africa, during the Apartheid era, of a black mother and a white father. Their relationship was illegal; hence, “born a crime”. He spent much of his early childhood indoors. When out with either of his parents, a ruse was necessary. He’d walk with a lighter-skinned friend of his mother’s, and his mother pretended to be maid. He walked across the street from his father.

Apartheid ending just changed the complications of figuring out where he fit in.

Though it’s his life story (and does not include the tale of how he became a successful comedian in South Africa, and ultimately star of The Daily Show), his mother is the real star here. What amazing woman, to be so strong and independent in a society that gave her no training or support for being so.

Noah does narrate the book himself (unabridged) and does a great job of it. It’s fun hearing him read out the various African languages and to get the proper pronunciation of everything. It wasn’t a very easy life, but as comedians will, he pulls many funny moments out of it nonetheless. One of the best things I heard this year.

 


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The Who Hits 50 (or so)

The Who’s “long good-bye” tour was extended even further when Roger Daltrey came down with viral meningitis last year, forcing all fall 2015 shows to be rescheduled for spring 2016. For my Toronto show, this meant attending a year and four months after I bought the tickets. So I think the Who were really hitting 52 or so…

Who in Concert March 2016

Some of the Who trivia that played before the show started

But age is just a number, and Roger Daltrey’s changed to 72 on the day I saw him, March 1. They didn’t do anything especially special to mark that during the concert, other than mention it. And the fact he shared his birth date with “great Canadian” Justin Bieber (who turned 22). They then went on to dedicated “The Kids Are Alright” to Bieber.

The previous two Roger Daltrey / The Who shows I attended featured complete performances of Tommy and Quadrophenia, respectively. Much as I love both albums, it was fun to this time get more of run-through of their “greatest hits and B sides”. They came out swinging to “Who Are You,” then launched into “The Seeker” (which I suppose earns inclusion by being another CSI theme).

Who in Concert March 2016

They then addressed the crowd, with Daltrey joking about this being yet another “final” concert for them (“but we’re back in April”) and Pete Townshend making this cheeky comment:

I don’t know about Roger but a lot of good women have happened to me in Toronto. And a lot of good men … quaffing a beer in a pub. That was 22 years ago now. Anyway, we love your city.

They then featured a series of early singles that highlighted the great harmony vocals by their extended backup band. “My Generation” was especially fun, and played entirely without irony.

YouTube: My Generation and Pictures of Lily

We got a bit of Lifehouse material then, with the expected (but gorgeous) “Behind Blue Eyes” and the more surprising “Bargain”. How did Daltrey handle the especially high note in that? Via backup band, crowd singalong, and… just hitting it himself, once. The singalong continued with “Join Together”, then we got the Face Dances hit, “You Better You Bet”.

Who in Concert March 2016

Roger Daltrey and Zak Starkey

Of course, there’s no ignoring the rock operas, and each got a mini-set. Townshend sang lead on “I’m One”, and that was followed with the instrumental “The Rock” (complete with the “world events” background from their Quadrophenia tour, only now extended to include Paris), giving Daltrey a rest before he launched into “Love Reign O’Er Me”. He totally nailed that one, following up the very high note at the end of that with a vocal fill down to the very low end of his register.

You Tube: Love Reign O’er Me followed by Eminence Front

He got a standing ovation for that.

“Eminence Front” (first time I hear that live, I think) made a break before the Tommy set, that done in a rather excellent Live at Leeds fashion, featuring some serious microphone twirling.

The evening ended with the two-fer of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The show was about two hours.

I had actually managed to get floor seats for this performance. As a not overly tall person, I wasn’t sure how that would be.

Fortunately, my view was not blocked, except by the occasional filming cell phone or raised beer. We were in the 27th row, dead center. It seemed to me the seats in the first 20 rows or so were actually set lower than ours, which helped. People in the section do tend to stand the entire time, which I didn’t overly mind, though I did take a little sitting break during “The Rock”.

Of course, there’s always the big screens, too, but being closer, I found I didn’t attend to those as much as the actual people on stage. And it seemed a bit harder to get a good feeling of the crowd when you can’t really see them around you so much, because you’re all on the same level. Nevertheless, I sensed that Toronto gave The Who the usual warm reception.

This was the set list:

 

  • Who Are You
  • The Seeker
  • The Kids Are Alright
  • I Can See for Miles
  • My Generation
  • Pictures of Lily
  • Behind Blue Eyes
  • Bargain
  • Join Together
  • You Better You Bet
  • I’m One
  • The Rock
  • Love, Reign O’er Me
  • Eminence Front
  • Amazing Journey
  • Sparks
  • Pinball Wizard
  • See Me, Feel Me
  • Baba O’Riley
  • Won’t Get Fooled Again

 

 


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Songs of 2015

That I can rather easily put together a list of recent songs that I liked is certainly a change from my usual of being steeped in the music of the past. I can, of course, attribute much of this to one Adam Mitchell Lambert, my current celebrity crush, who also happens to be quite generous about recommending the work of his fellow musicians.

It’s also been bolstered by increased use of streaming services, along with Google Music’s habit of making entire albums of new music free or 0.99 to download. (This week: The new Pentatonix Deluxe Edition, free to own! I’m quite liking it so far.) Music radio, on the other hand, continues to have no influence on me, as I never listen to it.

Two songs, one title

Ghost Town – Adam Lambert

Ghosttown – Madonna

We all knew Adam Lambert’s “Ghost Town” was going to be here, so might as well get it out of the way. A catchy song that is musically and lyrically off-beat enough to stand up to multiple (and I do mean multiple) listenings. But it’s only recently I actually listened to other “Ghosttown” song—the one by Madonna. It’s quite good as well! And completely different.

Hello – Adele

Hello – Hedley

Saying you don’t like Adele is like saying you don’t like The Beatles: It doesn’t make you as cool as you think, and you’re just lying to yourself anyway. What I find amazing is that it seemed after only one listen, I knew all the lyrics already. How is that even possible?

And also, no one much comments on the slightly disturbing aspects of what Adele is doing in this song, eh?

As for Hedley: Hello! This is rock! Hedley is current and successful and they make rock music not pop music and that’s a reason to love them right there. Always like Jason Hoggard’s voice, too.

The Idols

carly-rae-jepsen-names-new-album-emotionOne category, two non-winning yet ultimately successful alumni from American or Canadian Idol, so let’s add another: Carly Rae Jepsen.

Carly Rae made many “Best of” lists this year, and I agree; her new album is terrific. But there is a certain mystification that it hasn’t sold better. (Could it be inept management? The CD is often out of stock at Amazon, which just seems odd.)

At any rate, the single, “Run Away with Me” is just incredibly infectious.

And although I seem to be the only one, I just adore the blatant come-on of “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” – Do you know what I mean? You know what I mean. If you just give me a chance, you’ll see what I see.

And speaking of horny women

Selena Gomez all grew up this year with the slinky “Good for You” and its yowza video. Leave this dress a mess on the floor, indeed.

Selena Gomez – Good for You official video

tove-lo-talking-bodyAnd then we had Tove Lo, following up “Habits” with “Talking Body”.

And if you’re talking body, you’ve got a perfect one, so put it on me.
Swear it won’t take you long. (!)
If you love me right, we fuck for life… On and on and on

Why so subtle, Tove?

Little Big Town’s singer so wanted this guy, she developed a “Girl Crush” on his girlfriend. Pretty good for a country song.

The Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack was hella better than the movie (not that’s it’s much of a bar), a nice collection of smooth, sexy songs. My tops from it are Beyonce’s “Haunted” and Ellie Goulding’s big hit, “Love Me Like You Do”.

And while it’s more quirky and lively than the above, one can’t miss Janelle Monae’s repeated request for her baby to “bend over” and “Let me see you do the yoga” in the wonderful “Yoga”.

Janelle Monáe, Jidenna – Yoga

What does this say about me?

That I like so many, uh, passionate songs? Not going there, but did feel that Alessia Cara was describing me in her big introvert anthem, “Here”, about how horrible it is to be at a party with a bunch of people you don’t really know.

French kiss

Bilingualism can be handy, because some French artists are great. And to widen their appeal, some of them sing in English also.

When on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah described France’s Christine and the Queens as “weird. But good. Good weird!” That’s about right. They are actually good; can’t help it if they’re tilted.

Christine and the Queens – Tilted

(Also check out “Paradis Perdus”, a take on “Heartless”.)

Quebec’s Coeur de Pirate also put out a really good album this year, with more English than French songs. I like several (such as “Carry on”), and I guess “Crier tout bas” is the single.

And le groupe Swing released a new album this year as well, with “La Folie” having some success in French Canada.

Who rule the world? [Girls, girls]

taylor-swift_mNot sure if you’ve noticed yet, but this a very female-dominated list. And until Adele came along, no one was more dominant than Taylor Swift, whose 2014 1989 I finally acquired this year, partly on the strength of the 2015 single, “Style”.

I also like Ryan Adams’ take on this album. (Here’s his version of “Style”, for example.) Although the original is still better.

But a few other guys not named Adam also put out some interesting music.

I know nothing at all about Lost Frequencies and their song “Are You With Me”, except that I adored from the first time I heard and still do, every time since.

Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me

Also great fun was Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”. Watch me, baby, don’t stop! And Duran Duran (remember them?) put out a rather good album called Paper Gods. The single (I’m just learning) is “Pressure Off”. (I also liked “Sunset Garage”.)

And Zhu’s “Faded” highlighted his unusual voice.

And speaking of unusual voices

Elle King was one of those cheap albums I acquired this year. Her voice has been described as Joplin-esque. “Ex’s and Oh’s” was her big song. Also check out “America’s Sweetheart”.

Remixes!

Aka how to get The Who on this list, as a rather excellent Lovelife Remix of “Love Reign O’er Me’ came out this year.

And to bring this full circle, I also enjoyed many remixes and mashups of Adam’s “Ghost Town”. In the “remixed live” category, Queen + Adam Lambert gave it a rock edge. In the non-live category, tt was nicely combined with Bieber’s “What Do You Mean”: What do Ghosts Mean? and even more successfully with “Prayer in C” by Robin Shulz and Lilly Wood & The Prick: Prayer in Ghost Town. But my favorite was the “Ghost Body” mashup of Talking Body with Ghost Town, with Tove’s blatant come-on met with Adam’s “Meh. My heart is a ghost town.”

Tove Lo vs. Adam Lambert – Ghost Body (Mixed Mashup)

(By the way, Tove and Adam do actually sing a duet called “Rumors” on his album.)

The songs

  • Ghost Town – Adam Lambert
  • Ghosttown – Madonna
  • Hello – Adele
  • Hello – Hedley
  • Run Away with Me – Carly Rae Jepsen
  • I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance – Carly Rae Jepsen
  • Good for You – Selena Gomez –
  • Talking Body – Tove Lo
  • Girl Crush – Little Big Town
  • Haunted – Beyonce
  • Love Me Like You Do – Ellie Goulding
  • Yoga – Janelle Monae, Jidenna
  • Here – Alessia Cara
  • Style – Taylor Swift
  • Style – Ryan Adams
  • Tilted – Christine and the Queens
  • Paradis Perdus – Christine and the Queens
  • Carry on – Coeur de Pirate
  • Crier tout bas – Coeur de Pirate
  • La Folie – Swing
  • Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me
  • Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
  • Pressure Off – Duran Duran
  • Sunset Garage – Duran Duran
  • Faded (Big Gigantic Remix) – Zhu
  • Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King
  • America’s Sweetheart – Elle King
  • Love Reign O’er Me (Lovelife Remix) – The Who
  • Ghost Town – Queen + Adam Lambert
  • What do Ghosts Mean? – Adam Lambert and Justin Bieber
  • Prayer in Ghost Town – Adam Lambert, Robin Shulz, and Lilly & The Prick
  • Ghost Body (Mixed Mashup) – Adam Lambert and Tove Lo

YouTube playlist of everything

Spotify playlist of most things (email people, you have to look at this post in a browser to get the Spotify playlist. And to see the embedded YouTube videos, for that matter):

spotify:user:clmcnair:playlist:5eaAjoUM5BgvOXfiYFgTdQ

The albums

  1. The Original High – Adam Lambert
  2. E.M.O.T.I.O.N – Carly Rae Jepsen
  3. Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack – Various
  4. Swing. – (le groupe) Swing
  5. 1989 – Ryan Adams
  6. Paper Gods – Duran Duran
  7. Roses – Coeur de Pirate
  8. Pentatonix – Pentatonix


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Chasing the original high

Just let me feel the rush like the first night
Wanna breathe it out cause I’m going out my mind
Gotta feel the touch like the first time
Cause I’m
Chasing the original high
….
I’m trying to buy a fix but there ain’t no price
I try to feed the hunger that keeps me up at night
We were on a trip trying to replicate
But the highs I hit just ain’t doin it for me

Remember back in Hollywood?
The medication flowing through my veins was you…

— “The Original High”

The Original High: Adam Lamber

The title track of Adam Lambert’s new album The Original High suggests that we spend much of our adult lives in a possibly fruitless quest: To rediscover the rush and excitement of the first time we experienced something great, whether that be drugs, sex, love, applause, success, or what have you.

It’s an interesting idea, particularly when considered in light my own Adam Lambert fandom. Why am I obsessing over this guy? What am I gaining from it? Am I chasing some original high here…?

”Remember back in Hollywood?”

Before there were actual boyfriends in my life, there were celebrity crushes. Those were much safer. You could have the thrill and excitement generated by reading about, listening to, or watching these famous strangers, without the risks of real conversations and physical contact with actual, unpredictable people.

Then of course, there were the boyfriends. And that could be very exciting, often in unexpected ways.

And then I found the one, who eventually transitioned from boyfriend to husband. The love and passion I feel for him hasn’t died with the passage of years, but it has changed. Improved, in many ways. But what hasn’t lasted is that initial, mind-blowing, almost insane obsession. That overwhelming high of falling in love.

Because you can’t live a whole life in that state. You wouldn’t want to. Remember that Pepsi commercial? “Is there anything else youthful you’d like to experience?” “Yeah, I’d like to make out like we used to” And then:

Make out like we used to Pepsi ad

“On second thought…” Exactly!

But you can certainly retreat to your harmless old pastime, the celebrity crush. For that safe, remote facsimile of the thrill of a new relationship.

“Just let me feel the rush like the first night”

Adam Lambert posing

The current style

Adam Lambert performing

Performing

In this limited capacity, Adam Lambert is fulfilling the chase fairly well. For all my recent defending of old rockers, it is nice to be into a young, healthy guy. I love his recent style, with less makeup, a more natural hair colour, the torn skinny jeans, the great shirts and jackets. The man always looks amazing, whether arriving an airport, doing a radio interview, performing, or all dressed up for the red carpet.

He is fun to look at.

And having listened to, read, and watched a ton of promotional interviews these past months, gotta say that Adam Lambert also seems to be one of the sweetest, most charming people on the planet. Many of the interviewers are great, but he also handles the uninformed or intrusive questions with a lot of grace, humour, and intelligence, And he’s a good sport about the many absurd little quizzes and activities he’s asked to participate in (Juggling! Dancing like Carlton! Giving the weather forecast! Drinking cheap tequila!)

Adam on Alan Carr Chatty Man. Not necessarily the best interview, but certainly one of the funniest

“But the highs I hit just ain’t doin’ it for me”

So have I achieved celebrity crush nirvana? Well, hmm. I just wish… I just wish… I loved his new album.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the new album. The songs are very catchy. The lyrics have some intelligence. He’s never sung better (on a studio album). The production—the sound quality—is great, crisp, well-mixed. There aren’t any songs I actually dislike.

It’s just that… I don’t really love too many of the songs, either. It all feels a bit… light to me. Lacking in angst, maybe. In emotional power, somehow.

And it’s very odd for me to have this disconnect between the artist and his artistic output. I like listening to The Who’s music every bit as much as I enjoy looking at Roger Daltrey’s pecs. I appreciate Spike’s cheekbones and snark in the context of one of my favourite TV shows of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, a song here, an episode there isn’t as great, but overall… Awesomeness.

Whereas a week of listening to Adam Lambert music and I’m like, wow. I need some Elvis Costello, or something.

“Cause I’m chasing the original high”

Now, I really want this album to be a success (though I don’t know what success is in this age of limited music sales), because if it is, he’ll tour. And I feel absolutely certain that I would love seeing him in concert, even if he doesn’t do a single cover song.

Because I do have considerable fondness for his second album, Trespassing. It’s true that the lesser songs on it are weaker than anything on The Original High. But the highs (there’s that word again)… “Trespassing” is probably my favourite song of his ever, an exuberant gay anthem with lyrics ambiguous enough for many other interpretations, and always a lovely ingredient in a remix. And I’m almost as fond of dance-oriented “Pop that Lock”, of angsty ballad, “Outlaws of Love”, of the beautiful, haunting Underneath, and of dark yet rousing bonus track Running.

But as for The Original High, it does contain “There I Said It”  the big ballad, and the one song in which he does seem kind of angry and defiant. (“I won’t apologize to you anymore!”) I do love that song. I’m also rather fond of the sexy, R&B infused “Underground” and I must say that if I’m not sick of single “Ghost Town”  after so many listens (and I’m not), there’s gotta be something to that dance track, also.

And I feel I should end with this blog-post inspiring song, “The Original High” which, yes, I do like very much. It’s an absolutely infectious pop song with smart lyrics.

This is a fan video—with bonus Hungarian subtitles!


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Rock of ages

At a recent dinner with friends, the opinion came up again that aging rock bands should just give it up, already, by age 60. This is a pretty popular opinion, with a long history (starting with the rock stars themselves, who once viewed anyone over 30 with suspicion). I once thought that way myself.

But I’ve changed my mind. For one thing, it is a pretty obnoxious opinion: Just because you don’t want to see older performers, everyone else should also be denied the experience? Musicians can’t decide for themselves how best to handle their own legacy? But beyond manners (and ageism), my own concert experience tells me it’s wrong. I dispute the notion that younger rock performers are always better than older ones.

Musical ability doesn’t disappear on one’s 60th birthday.

Barring a physical condition that affects manual dexterity, it doesn’t necessarily even decline for guitarists, bass players, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers.

Case in point: Queen. On his current tour, Brian May (67) feels he is playing better than he ever has. Certainly he sounds great to me. And while I’m no guitar expert, Brian May is, so I’m going to trust his opinion on this. (He is very smart, after all, what with the PhD in astrophysics.)

Brian’s opinion of bandmate Roger Taylor.(65) is equally high. Can Roger’s playing stand up to that of a younger’s player’s? You judge for yourself as Roger faces off with Rufus (his son):

Taylor on Taylor drum battle

What’s that sputtering I hear? That Queen doesn’t count because they tour with amazing singer Adam Lambert, who is only 33?

So this argument isn’t about guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers? It’s just about singers. Singers need to retire at 60?

Well, I do grant that everyone’s voice changes as they get older. It lowers, range is reduced, along with ability to sustain notes. It might become more raspy. However…

For some singers, the changes of age are an improvement.

And here I give you, Leonard Cohen, who is 80! And to me — though I love his songs — his own original recordings of them, recorded when he was young, are completely unlistenable. To me, that voice is awful, whiny, nasal.

Yet it has matured into this amazing thing, this low rumble of pure… sex, frankly. I could listen to that man all day (and go home with him later).

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man (Leonard is admittedly just a child of 75 here.)

Is that more sputtering? That Leonard Cohen doesn’t so much sing as chant, and that his music is not rock, anyway, so that doesn’t count?

For some rock singers, voice quality is irrelevant, because they never had any.

Like, say, Bob Geldof, who is most definitely a rock performer. He can hit the notes, but nobody in the history of the world has ever said he has a beautiful voice, because he doesn’t. It’s sort of nasal and whiny (and come to think of it, if he ever sang Leonard Cohen, I would probably hate it).

So his musical career (still going!) has never been based on vocal quality. He’s an incredible songwriter. He’s an unbelievably charismatic performer. I love his songs despite his lacking vocal tone, because the lyrics are amazing, they are musically well constructed, he works with talented musicians, and he always sings with passion and meaning.

And Bob Geldof gives the best concerts I’ve ever seen. And the one he gave in 2012, when he was 60, was every bit as good as the one I went to in 2002. And just as good as Boomtown Rats shows from the 80s I’ve seen on DVD.

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Even great rock singers don’t necessarily and always give their best concerts at a younger age

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Who. Unlike Cohen, or Geldof, Roger Daltrey had a great voice as a young man: powerful and with huge range. He could sing high, beautiful, affecting emotional notes, then slide down the scale with the most macho growl. His vocal work on the 1973 Who album Quadrophenia could be used a lesson in “how to be a great rock singer.” And coming off the Tommy and Who’s Next tours, The Who were widely regarded as the very best live band in the world,

And yet, The Who Quadrophenia tour in 1973 was a disaster. In his biography, Pete Townshend calls those shows “the most shameful performances of our career.” Under-rehearsed, over-drugged (except Roger), and exhausted, they simply could not put the complex songs and stories of Quadrophenia across to the crowd. Audiences were bored and left unsatisfied.

In 2012, what remained of The Who toured Quadrophenia once again, performing the entire album. Roger was 70 (Pete 69). Some of the songs had to pitched down. He adjusted the phrasing to reduced ability to sustain. In terms of pure vocal technique, he wasn’t as good he was in 1973.

But nevertheless, by all accounts, those concerts were better than the 1973 ones (that I have seen footage of, and it is pretty painful). The band was large enough, sober enough, and well-rehearsed enough to convey the power and complexity of the album, now reconceived as a tribute to the past, and to The Who themselves. (And for me personally, I thought Roger sounded the best he had in years at the Quadrophenia show I saw. “Love Reign O’er Me” gave me chills.)

The Who: 5:15, 2012 tour

Rock is old (and middle-aged) people’s music.

This might be a painful realization, but rock is no longer the music of youth. It started in the 1950s and has had a great, long run. But who was the last big rock group–Foo Fighters? Founded in 1994? Look at the current charts;  it’s all pop, EDM, rap, funk, and R&B. Nobody young plays rock anymore!

If the old coots don’t get out there and play it, then rock really is dead, Are you sure that’s what you want?


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Spotify: Dipping a foot in the stream

Thanks to their 0.99 cents for three months offer, I’ve been trying out Spotify Premium for a few weeks. Here are my inconclusive conclusions about it so far.

What is Spotify?

It’s a streaming music service, whereby you can listen to any song in their vast collection from your PC, phone, or tablet. They have apps for each and your login keeps your account synchronized between devices. Artists are paid according to their streaming popularity (though whether they are paid enough is under debate).

What’s the difference between free Spotify and Spotify Premium (paid)?

With Premium, you get:

  • No ads, which otherwise are played every few songs.
  • Higher music quality. And yes, it’s a noticeable difference, at least when playing through a good stereo system.
  • Play any song on demand. on any device. The free service prevents you from doing this on the mobile apps.
  • Ability to download songs on phones and tablets for offline playing, thereby reducing data usage. (You don’t keep the songs; they’re only available within the Spotify player.)
  • Skip as many songs as you like. With free, you can do this only five times per hour.

I’m not a big song skipper—if I’m hitting so many songs I don’t like I’d rather just change playlists or artists—but otherwise I would say the premium features make Spotify a much more pleasant listening experience.

What else is good about Spotify?

  • The size of the catalog, for sure. It’s terrific for checking out new (or old) artists or songs you’re curious about or revisiting old favorites.
  • The integrated lyrics. In the desktop version, with one click you transform the app into a sort of karaoke machine, with the lyrics scrolling by as the singer sings them. If the timing or words are wrong or missing, you can supply them yourself, if so inclined. In the Android app version, you can achieve the same with the floating MusicMix app.
Spotify Lyrics display

The rather esoteric lyrics to Queen’s “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”

  • The ability to follow other people’s playlists. Although, to be honest, I’m only following Adam Lambert’s. Still, it gives me a little happy that I get notified every time Adam adds a song to his playlist. (Even though we don’t have 100% the same taste in music, as it turns out.)
Notification of update to Spotify playlist

Now Playing with Adam Lambert (I wish… 🙂

What’s not so good about Spotify

  • They have a desktop browser version that makes me feel stupid, because every time I go there, I have a heck of a time figuring out how to get to my music. The link to that part of their site is teeny and buried and it’s so annoying.
Spotify web screen cap

Scroll down, way down, the Spotify website to get to the actual music player

(I guess it’s their way of pushing you to their desktop app instead, the usability of which is fine.)

  • No way to mark songs as favorites, which is a weird omission. I’m listening to find songs I like and might want to get back to, but there’s no easy way to do that. You can add songs to “My music” or playlist, but that isn’t quite the same…

How does Spotify compare with Google Play Music?

To truly answer this question, I’m going to have to give Google’s paid version another trial run.

But what I can say so far is, that Google beats Spotify on the following counts:

  • Google has a thumb’s up button to mark the songs you like.
  • Google does a better job of integrating my actual songs—that is, the thousands of songs I’ve purchased and lovingly categorized in iTunes lo these many years. With my permission, Google just takes all that music and puts it in the cloud for me, using their version when they have it and uploading my copy when they don’t. And unlike Apple, they do that for free, up to a size limit I’m never going to reach it. Spotify can only handle local “owned” music.

    That’s all lovely; however… Having looked at my Google playlists more closely due to writing this post, I have discovered that they are kind of a mess, with each song in every one of them being repeated up to four times, for some reason.

iTunes screen cap

My Summertime playlist in iTunes is a mere 195 songs, no repeats

iTunes screen cap

Google bloats this exact same playlist up to 999 (!) songs by repeating each song multiple times….

And, Google playlists are arbitrarily limited to 1000 songs. Which is not enough for me. But, I am at this point grateful for that limit, since I suspect I would otherwise have each song repeated hundred of times in those playlists, instead of mere four or so…

When I’m truly trialing Google, I’ll have to investigate how to clean that up. And see if it’s really true that Google’s auto-generated playlists, based on an artist or song you like, are much better that Spotify’s (as I’ve heard).

In the meantime, I can say what’s about the same between the two:

  • The monthly price.
  • The option to download for access without data usage on mobile.
  • The size of the catalog of streaming songs (so I’ve heard).
  • The integrated lyrics in the app version.

And what it lacks compared with Spotify:

  • The web version doesn’t have integrated lyrics, at least not with such a good interface.
  • It does not allow me to follow celebrity playlists.
  • Also, Google doesn’t have an, ad-paid free option for listening to the streaming music. (I think this is true.)

Aren’t there other music streaming services?

Sure, lots, like Rdio, but Spotify is the market leader, and Google Play Music is a logical alternative for those using Android devices (as the upcoming Apple Music will be for iOs people).

And anyway, this blog post is long enough already.

Is it worth paying $10 a month for music vs. buying music as you want it and listening to that?

That is the question that I haven’t entirely figured out the answer to yet.

Because my purchased music, it has to be said, does has its own benefits:

  • It is already paid for.
  • It is already organized exactly the way I like it.
  • I don’t always to discover; sometimes I want what I know.
  • But also, I have enough of music (over 8000 songs) that I can actually do a fair amount of experimental listening just within my own catalog.
  • I can play it in my car via CD or iPod. But my car (despite being fairly new) has no bluetooth or wired support for Android devices, so no streaming services work in it.
  • I actually do have some songs you can’t get on the streaming services. They have a lot, but not everything.

But how long can I stick with buying rather than paid streaming?

That is the question. Apple no longer makes iPod Classics and has been basically ruined iTunes. (I’m still using version 10.) So what am I going to play “my” music (about 60 GB worth) on in the future?

And as for acquiring new stuff,  who knows how much longer Amazon, Google, and Apple will be just as willing to sell you a CD or a digital music file as they are to have you pay a monthly rental fee for it?


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Follow-ups

Some recent-ish news about subjects previously featured in this blog…

KW Glee, who blew us away with their performance with the KW Symphony earlier this year, proved that performance was no fluke as they were named Show Choir Canada’s Grand Champions. They also won best vocal, choreography, show design, and new choir. Unsurprisingly, their spring concert is sold out! We’re going to have to be more on the ball for tickets if want to see them in concert again.

As for the TV show that inspired KW Glee, the last two season 5 Glee episodes featuring Adam Lambert — “Trio” and “New New York” turned out to be… Pretty good, actually. Not so good that I feel the need to watch more episodes of Glee or anything, but worth watching for more than the Lambert pretty.

Adam Lambert himself has been in full promotional mode this week, as his new single has been released.  “Ghost Town” is incredibly catchy and rather, as long you’re OK with the house style (which  I am). Now that I’m no longer in a grief fog, I’ve also been re-listening to his Trespassing album. It’s quite good (and more than just distracting pop, really); very surprising it wasn’t a bigger success. Let’s hope he gets the success he deserves with the new album, out in June.

Adam Lambert on radio

And he’s still handsome. Guess that’s not news.

.But the other “Americans” I’ve been watching, Elizabeth and Phillip, have been recognized with a Peabody Award for Quality in Television. Well-deserved, I think; we’re nearly done watching Season 1 of The Americans and the show only get more complicated and fascinating as it goes. Apparently it’s just as good (or even better) through seasons 2 and 3. Great viewing ahead!