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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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Sonos your kitchen

Although the best music setup in the house is the surround sound system in the TV room, the room in which I listen to music most often is the kitchen. I do so while cooking, while cleaning, and even occasionally while eating.

4

The music setup in the kitchen was as follows: an audio receiver, a CD player, and iPod dock / headphone jack (for my tablet) connected to two small speakers. All wired; no remote control access. Sound quality was OK, and I was sufficiently accustomed to docking my iPod (classic; no bluetooth, no wifi) or connecting my tablet via headphone jack that it didn’t seem especially inconvenient.

But the whole system was at the back at the kitchen, and I mostly worked at the front. Apart from the fact that it was a bit annoying to have to stop cooking and walk over to change the volume or song selection, I often just couldn’t hear the music properly once the fans and frying got going.

A first-world problem for sure. Nevertheless, for Christmas I requested some way to get my music playing closer to where I was cooking.

Much research ensued, and wireless seemed the way to go. But wireless meant somehow still playing my iTunes library despite my not owning any “modern” iDevices. And that certainly suggested Sonos as one option.

What is Sonos?

Sonos TV commercial

Essentially, Sonos is a family of wireless speakers and components that are all controlled by an app that runs on Android, iOs, and Windows. The key marketing features are:

  1. Easy setup. “It just works.”
  2. Access to “all the music in the world”: your owned music, streamed music, online radio—all available through one interface, combined in whatever way you choose.
  3. Full-house control; that is, ability to play different (or the exact same) queues of music in any room in the house that has a Sonos-connected speaker.

The main downside? Price. But, we figured that we could start with just one speaker—the new Play 5—for the kitchen. Then if we liked the Sonos app, expand from there.

The setup

The Sonos Play:5 just sat around in its box for about 2 weeks before we got the courage to try to set it up. (Yes, I opened my Christmas present early. Not like it was a surprise.)

And it started out well. Getting the Play 5 onto our wifi network was simple. Downloading the app on tablet and PCs—no problem. Linking in my Google Play, SoundCloud, LastFM, Spotify accounts (note that you need a paid account)—also a breeze.

The problem was the iTunes playlist, because I had a somewhat non-standard setup: music files on a NAS (network attached storage), iTunes music library (playlist data) on PC.

To get the thing working, Sonos needed two connection points: one to the music directory on the NAS, another to then PC iTunes library location. Retrospectively, that seems obvious, and in fact it wasn’t hard to do.

computer-repair

But figuring out that’s all we had to do required a lot of experimentation, caused a few tears, and took the better part of an afternoon. (And yes, I did read the documentation!)

Using Sonos: The things I fretted about vs. the reality

Ahead of time, I was a little concerned (and obviously only in between bigger worries about climate change and world peace and such) about the following regarding use of this system.

Fret: Would I have to start my PC, and maybe even iTunes, just to play my music in the kitchen?

Reality: No, not with my music setup. Sonos copies in the iTunes playlist data, so neither iTunes nor the PC have to be running. It’s just the NAS that has to be on for the music files to be accessible. And the NAS  was already programmed to start when we got home from work and to be on all day on weekends. (It’s handy to be married to a handy husband.)

Fret: How can my Android tablet possibly control my iTunes playlist on a NAS it doesn’t even know about?

Reality: If you’re using Sonos, that “just works”. (The non-Sonos’ed can try the Retune app. Pretty cool! But iTunes does have to be running for that one.)

Fret: Would I still be able to use the Musixmatch lyrics app? (Because I kind of love that app.)

Reality: Yes. While Musicxmatch isn’t fully integrated into the Sonos app, it does work quite well in “Listening” mode.

Spotify Lyrics display

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

Fret: Can I continue playing a music list where I last left off? (This matters to me. Don’t judge.)

Reality: Sonos absolutely, by default, picks up where you left off.

Fret: Will it play our local CBC radio station? Can you program it to start and stop automatically at a certain time? (Otherwise, we won’t be able to expand Sonos to our bedroom. CBC is our alarm clock.)

Reality: Yes, local CBC radio is one of the ba-jillion radio stations included. And yes, Sonos has timer functionality.

Fret: When you change your iTunes playlists, how much of a pain is it to get the update into Sonos?

Reality: Haven’t actually done that yet, but appears to be a single-click process you can perform on PC or tablet (allowing time for it to re-scan the files).

Fret: Does it keep track of play counts and dates?

Reality: No, it does not. This is the one disappointing item.

In iTunes I created “smart” playlists with criteria such as “High-rated songs I haven’t played in the last six months” and “Songs I’ve played fewer than two times each”. And I use those playlists a lot to avoid “I’m sick of this song!” syndrome.

But Sonos has nothing like that built in. However, it does integrate with Last.fm, which does keep track of what I’ve played, on both iTunes / iPod and Sonos. And research indicates there might be some geeky, scripty ways to make use of that data. I will be looking into that more later.

last.fm

Sonos playlist data for the week, courtesy Last.fm. (I’m sure you’re all shocked about Top artist.)

Features I didn’t even realize I wanted, but turns out I do

10kindsoflonely_art-500x500This one seems dumb, but I’m a bit obsessive about album art, and I loved seeing some of that blown up in size on my 12.2 inch tablet when I’d previously only viewed it as a thumbnail.

More significantly, the much more dynamic (compared with iPod) song queue is fun! For example, I can:

  • Start with an iTunes playlist and add songs from Spotify or Soundcloud (or whatever)
  • Combine various playlists into one queue
  • See what songs are coming up, and edit the list if I want—without affecting the original playlists
  • Decide I want to, say, switch to a podcast now, listen to that, then automatically return to my same spot in the music queue
  • Save my current queue as a Sonos playlist for later reuse

But it’s a speaker. How does it sound?

Kids, this speaker sounds so good, I’d like to marry it and have its babies. 🙂


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Rock in Rio in my pyjamas

I’m not really a music festival person.

I don’t mind the smaller ones, where you can arrive at a particular time to see an act you’re interested in, then leave. But those big ones where you’re supposed to stay there all day, at the mercy of the elements… Not really my thing.

Would I have wanted to be at Woodstock? Of course not! Rain, insufficient food, inadequate toilets, overcrowded, bad drugs everywhere… Plus, the inadequate sound system coupled with the overcrowding meant that most attendees couldn’t even see or hear the amazing performances.

Crowd at Woodstock

Woodstock festival crowd

Live Aid? Well it was certainly better organized, and they got great weather. All acts I loved, too. Still, that seems like a hell of long day to be standing there in the heat, watching one 20-minute performance on stage, one 20-minute performance “by satellite, from Philadelphia.”

Live Aid crowd

Just the photo of this massive Live Aid crowd kind of gives me hives…

But the beauty of a really big festival is you don’t have to suffer through that to see it. Woodstock became a movie. Live Aid was shown on TV.

And man, can that reach boost careers. Woodstock, the movie, made The Who superstars in the States. Everyone who performed at Live Aid subsequently sold more records. And for Queen, the incredible response to their stunning performance possibly saved the band from breakup; it most certainly re-energized their career.

The footage that made The Who rock Gods in America

But that’s all ancient history. I had no idea, really, whether current artists benefit in the same way from playing big festivals. Logically, some must have had an earth-shattering performance at Coachella or Glastonbury or South by Southwest that changed everything for them. I just can’t name a single one of them. I generally don’t watch festivals broadcasts anymore.

So why Rock in Rio? Because—you guessed it—the headiners were Queen + Adam Lambert. That the performance start time was just after 11:30 pm and that they played for over two hours was no deterrent. Pyjamas on, Internet feed sent to the big-ass TV connected to the surround-sound system, husband conveniently out of town and therefore not bothered by the noise—I was good to go.

Background on Rock in Rio: Queen more or less established this festival 30 years ago, with (yet another) iconic performance. The band had never played South America before, and were stunned that the ginormous crowd (something like 85,000 people) knew all the words. Even to less popular songs like “Love of my Life”.

Queen performing “Love of My Life” at Rock in Rio in 1985

Rock in Rio crowd

And… The modern Rock in Rio crowd. Imagine trying to get to the bathroom!

This was Adam Lambert’s first time in South America, and only his second festival performance ever. At pre-performance press conference, he was typically humble and respectful of Queen’s legacy, but also confident he was up to the challenge. Brian May agreed that not only did Freddie and Adam both have extraordinary vocal abilities, they both have an inherent ability to really connect with an audience.

The confidence and praise were borne out. The show was so worth staying up for. While the fan-made YouTube videos of various Q + AL concerts are plentiful and often of surprisingly good quality, they just can’t match what professional camera operators with full stage access, plugged into the actual sound system, can provide. The audio and video quality were terrific. I had no streaming issues whatsoever (other than having to get off my butt every 15 minutes or so to move the mouse so the computer didn’t go to sleep. Hadn’t thought to change those settings ahead of time.)

Some highlights were, of course, the usual ones you get any of these Q + AL shows: the getting on your bikes and riding during “Fat Bottomed Girls”; the camping it up during “Killer Queen”; the welling up after Freddie’s appearance in “Love of My Life”; reveling in the father / son drum battle; floating on the beauty of “Who Wants to Live Forever”; fist pumping to “I Want It All”; clapping along with “Radio Gaga¨ (yes, even in my TV room); drooling over the five costume changes (super-tight pants a key feature of each outfit).

Adam camping it up during “Killer Queen”. This never gets old!

Other pleasures were specific to this show:

  • The teasing handling of singalong at the start of “Don’t Stop Me Now”.
  • The incredibly professional handling of the audio problems at the start of “Save Me”,
  • Roger taking lead on “A Kind of Magic” instead of his usual “Those Were the Days”.
  • The sheer size of the crowd clapping to “Radio Gaga”, and Adam jumping in amongst them anyway, security guys scrambling behind him.

The full Radio Gaga

And, and, most definitely, the performance of Adam’s single, “Ghost Town”.

Ghost Town, live with Queen

That a song  Adam co-wrote was included in the set and didn’t seem a poor cousin to the Queen classics, but truly was one of the highlights, is amazing. A good song is a good song. And I love this rock version of it.

And an interesting lesson in how modern artists do get a boost from festival appearances that are broadcast worldwide, even if the likes of me aren’t aware of it. The playing of “Ghost Town” seemed to be the major news items to come out of Q + AL’s appearance there. Adam’s followers on every social media have notably increased. And the original song–which has been out since April–has reached new highs on the charts not only in Brazil, but also in the US, Canada, and worldwide.

Bring on that Adam Lambert North American tour, baby.

(Umm, but with an emphasis on indoor performances, please! 🙂

Related links

Video of the entire Rock in Rio performance

Handy YouTube playlist of the whole concert, but broken up by song, so you can pick and choose: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVB1hnGUslGuRyj9FT6AZ_WA2pztBwMPA

An article on “Ghost Town”’s chart boost from Rock in Rio: Adam Lambert enters Billboard’s Pop Songs Top 20


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Art films, documentaries, and blockbusters; oh my! Movie roundup

Recommended art film: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl movie poster

Greg is the “me” of the title. He’s in his last year of high school, trying his best to pass through it anonymously, and uncertain about going to college. Earl is the friend he calls his “co-worker” because they spend a lot of time making short movies based on rewording original title movies (My Dinner with Andre the Giant, A Sockwork Orange, 2:48 Cowboy, and so on). And the dying girl, Rachel, who has stage 4 leukemia, disrupts his tidy life.

Greg narrates this film, pointing out that if it were a “normal” teen movie he and Rachel would fall in love. Instead, they just develop a close (but doomed, he reminds us) friendship.

Though sad in parts, this is not an emotionally manipulative tear jerker. It’s very original, often funny, and definitely a treat for movie buffs.

Other art films worth noting

I'll See You in My DreamsWarning that I’ll See You in My Dreams is not the “great date movie” it’s billed as. In the film, lead character Carol, played by Blythe Danner, reacts to a loss by suddenly reaching out to others, exploring a new friendship (yes, just friendship) with the pool boy and a possible romance with a new man in town. She also opens up more to her daughter. Not everything works out as she might hope, but she retains this new found willingness to open up to the possibilities. It’s kind of inspiring, but not really a date movie.

The F Word, on the other hand… Note that the F of the title stands for Friendship, which is a bit of curse word when you want more than that. This Canadian film (which had to be retitled What If in the US) stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as Wallace and Chantry. The two meet at a party and really hit it off; unfortunately, Chantry has a live-in boyfriend. And he’s not even a jerk. So the agree to just be friends.

It’s perhaps not highly original how the two lurk toward possibly more-than-friendship, but it’s a pretty charming to watch. The two actors have good chemistry.

I’m not sure why I’m assuming here that people pick art movies for dates, but to keep running with it… I’m not sure The Overnight is your best bet for that, either. It is a sex comedy, but I’d say with an emphasis on the funny, not the sexy. In it, a young couple who have recently moved to Los Angeles meet another couple in the park. Their kids hit it off, and they get invited over for dinner. After the kids are in bed, things get a bit weird. A bit weirdly sexual—or maybe just sexually weird.

It’s not a bad little movie. It is funny, it’s different, and the cast is good. Just select your viewing companion carefully.

Mainstream movies

“The movies you’ve heard of”. And of which, I haven’t seen too many  lately, actually, though I have a number on the list to see. But these are older ones.

Recommended mainstream movie: Edge of Tomorrow

Live Die Repeat movie posterThis movie didn’t do very well at the box office, under its original title, Live, Die, Repeat, maybe because the public doesn’t so much like Tom Cruise anymore. But if you can stand to watch him, it is a good movie! (I saw it on TMN.)

The premise is a world at war with an alien race. Cruise plays a Major without combat experience who is dropped into a major conflict zone. Unsurprisingly, he dies. More surprisingly, he revives, finding himself back at the time where his mission began.

So it’s a kind of sci-fi Groundhog Day, except that his time to restart isn’t always just a day—even though no matter how long he survives, he always ends up back at the same starting point after he kicks it. This allows for considerable variety in the action, as he tries this path and that path, and we don’t always know on which attempt we’re coming in. It’s a pretty smart movie, and quite entertaining.

Other mainstream movies

I saw these two on a plane!

  • Into the Woods: I quite enjoyed this alternative retelling of familiar fairy tales, complete with song
  • Kingsmen: The Secret Service: A fun and funny movie about British secret agents—though points off for that unnecessary, very sexist, final scene. (Actually, for whole third act treatment of the princess character.)

Recommended documentary: Citizenfour

Citizenfour movie posterThis Oscar winner follows documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras as Edward Snowden, calling himself Citizenfour, makes contact, offering information that will be “worth her while”. Then we see on film the process of his disclosure of state secrets and its aftermath, including his being charged under the Espionage Act, losing his passport, and finally gaining safe haven in Russia. Against that backdrop, we learn more about the information he leaked by the journalists (Poitras is joined by reporters from The Guardian) who report it.

The film itself is very subtle, with much information necessarily just conveyed via white text on a black screen. But the story that is revealed is quietly fascinating. I thought I knew, basically, what the Snowden leaks revealed, but if so, I really hadn’t internalized the extent to which the NSA was basically poking into all electronic communication, and not just the metadata. Pretty alarming stuff…

Other notable documentaries

Lambert and STampLambert and Stamp focuses on The Who’s original managers, Kitt Lambert and Chris Stamp, giving a new perspective on the band’s history. Being of very different backgrounds and characters, they were unlikely partners, with no experience or contacts in the music business. Yet they nurtured what became one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

As a Who fan, I did enjoy it, but the movie would have benefited from more and tighter editing. It’s also unfortunate that the more interesting of the two managers, Kitt Lambert, died long ago. There is only so much archival footage of him.

With a number of interviews from those who have left the “church”, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief helps explain how people can become devoted to such a recently developed, expensive “religion” with such weird ideas at its core. It also shows the abuse and damage that is inflicted on many adherents, both when they are part of the “church” and often continuing after they leave it. It’s interesting and startling, and not only because so many famous people belong to this organization.


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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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Of him I wish to muse aloud

Adam Lambert is releasing a new single called “Ghost Town” sometime this month, to be followed by a full album this summer. I know this, along with many other Lambert facts, because I’ve recently become very interested in all things Adam Lambert. He is my current celebrity crush.

I am a bit weirdly monogamish about these. At any time, I of course enjoy the work and attractiveness of any number of celebrities. However, there is generally just one that I prefer above all others. Currently, that’s Lambert.

Adam Lambert with fringe

He succeeds Roger Daltrey.

Roger Daltrey with fringe

Whom, I believe, succeeded Spike, as portrayed by James Marsters…

Spike in Fool for Love

So I may have a “type” when it comes to celebrity crushes.

A cool, steampunk, glitter-rock vampire with, like, tats and guyliner…

— Blaine’s description of Adam’s character (who is basically Adam) on Glee

Adam as glitter-rock vampire

Of course, for an actual relationship, this type is completely unrealistic—starting with the fact that I will never meet these people. And if I ever did, I would never be beautiful or charming or interesting enough for them. I’d just be another fan.

Although this kind goes both ways. I mean, who would actually want to date a celebrity? Your life suddenly made public? Your identity subordinated to someone’s else’s fame? And having to deal with an artistic temperament? With a partner who’s always off on tour or shooting on location? Who is constantly being tempted by adoring fans and groupies, or having to make out with his coworkers? No thanks!

So, a celebrity crush is all about fantasy. And its unrealistic nature goes beyond just the celebrity vs normal person thing. For example, with Roger Daltrey, I wasn’t really into the present tense him. I mean, dude’s 71 years old! He looks great for his age…

Daltrey in concert

But he’s still basically a grandpa.

No,it was the Daltrey of the 60s, 70s, and 80s that I was into. This was a “time travel” crush.

Daltrey at Woodstock

Daltrey at Live Aid

Now, actor James Marsters is only moderately older than me; his present tense self was just fine, age-wise. Thing is, though, I didn’t really have a crush on “actor James Marsters”. I was really more into his character, Spike. Who was really very different from Mr. Masters. So this was a “fiction” crush. “Double fiction” really, as this was not only a fictional character, but a fictional creature as well. A vampire!

Spike the vampire

The non-vamp face was admittedly much hotter, though…

And Adam Lambert? He’s only 33, and he’s not fictional, so that’s all good. But he is gay. And not in “I can just pretend he’s bisexual” kind of way, but gay gay. So this would be a “sexuality is just construct” crush (or something. I have to keep working on that label.)

At any rate, I’m hardly alone in this impractical attraction.

Lambert is handsome — six feet one and 185 pounds, with patrician features and sky-blue eyes — and he’s unrepentant about flirting with both sexes. Even when you know that he’s gay, it’s hard not to find him physically attractive. And that’s the way he likes it. “I loved it this season when girls went crazy for me,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s all hot.”
— Vanessa Grigordias, Rolling Stone Magazine:Adam Lambert: Wild Idol

It appears that even some straight men get caught up in it.

[On watching the Queen + Adam Lambert UK New Year’s concert]

At the first few notes of Don’t Stop me Now, husband looked up.

“Fucking hell,” he said, “he’s gorgeous”.  This is a guy who is normally fairly heterosexual.

From My Bad Ass Alter Ego (a truly terrific blog about Adam, Queen, and music performance in general)

But it’s not just his physical beauty, or his incredible level of fitness, though both are quite remarkable.

✨🌟✨ 300 HQ pictures of @adamlambert - iHeart Radio Music Awards 2015 via @adamlambert_pic http://www.imagebam.com/gallery/qbzx9rh2u55aqu4h9pj56bj8bxfzrgxh …

Mmm. Pretty. (Photo courtesy http://lilybop.smugmug.com)

(Particularly that his fashion and style sense have a come a long way since his Idol days.)

Because there are a lot of gorgeous, well-dressed celebrities. Not too many of them, however, sing as well as Adam Lambert does. His voice is often described as “angelic”.

Blast from the Past — Adam singing “Mad World” on Idol

Which again, might not be enough, if he didn’t also sing songs I really enjoy. I am truly grateful that he has revitalized Queen, my favorite band, breathing new life into their music and allowing me to see them in concert for the first time.

Adam Lambert’s beautiful interpretation of one of Queen’s best songs: “Who Wants to Live Forever”

He was also an incredible interpreter of many styles on American Idol, which I caught up with via a 2.25 hour YouTube clip! Besides “Mad World”, I also especially liked his take on Johnny’s Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. His own solo output is pretty small at this point—two studio albums, one live—but also quite enjoyable.

And he not only has the vocal chops; he is a performer. In concert, he is charismatic and fun. And quite the dancer.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

I also appreciate that in interviews and such, Adam comes across as a rather sweet person, with an endearingly goofy side. He never seems to take himself too seriously.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Both of these GIFs also from http://lilybop.smugmug.com

But he’s not all kittens and puppies. It’s good for a celebrity crush to have a bit of a dark side, for interest. Daltrey seems a very decent guy, but still had a temper (and more than few illegitimate children). Spike became one of the good guys on Buffy, but still and always—vampire! And Adam? Well, he’s the guy who nearly won American Idol, then scandalized middle America with his crotch-thrusting, tongue-kissing performance on the American Music Awards show. Remember?

Basically, the things he does with his hips, microphone stand, and tongue while performance are, well, not exactly “angelic”.

Adam Lambert and guitar

And what does my actual life partner thinks about my celebrity crushes? Well, he’s mostly confused by them. He doesn’t have his own, and doesn’t see the point of obsessions with the imaginary.

 But he’s come to accept it as something I enjoy that is no threat to him–except for his having to attend a few more rock concerts or watch a few more vampire shows than he might otherwise choose to.