Sunday, February 29, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies, and Kevin Drew
Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene told Pop (All Nipple) not so long ago that Leslie Feist's new album had been done since October. He, I am now told, is a big, fat, hairy liar. Feist's album, apparently, has just recently been completed. And will be ready for North American release May 11.
While you wait, take a moment to consider SFJ's Best of 2004-to-date.
Pop (All Nipple): your round-the-clock source for completely relevant Leslie Feist speculation.
One small step for blues music, one giant leap into irrelevance...
Next year, me thinks, Juno organizers will skip the big nomination announcement. Heck, maybe they'll just skip nominations all together and go straight to the winners. Nominations, it seems, are just too troublesome for these folks.
So it was again late Friday that the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced another mistake. This time, the blues band Rockit 88 and their album Too Much Fun had been erroneously left off the list for Blues Album of the Year. So there will be six nominees in that category to go along with the six nominees for Album of the Year required after Nickelback was left off the list. No reason for the omission was provided, but Blues Album of the Year is not determined by "sales" so there's no blaming the independent accounting firm this time.
Pay close attention to the attempt at media control hinted at in the above CP story. According to CP, the brief statement announcing the change was "issued late Friday after most [CARAS] representatives had left for the weekend." I actually didn't receive my copy of the statement until after the CP story had run - 5:24pm to be exact.
They did much the same thing when they announced the "data entry error" that resulted in the Nickelback mistake. According to my e-mail records, I received their release on the matter at 5:03pm.
That automatically makes it too late for The Globe's Review section. And late enough in the day that the Star and Post have already set their arts coverage. As a result, it forces entertainment editors and reporters to try and sneak it into their respective papers' A sections (just try and tell a News editor who's already short on space why he should drop that story on Adscam to make room for the earth-shattering Juno controversy).
CARAS' Friday release was late enough that you will find no mention of it in Saturday's Post. Nor, so far, have I found it reported in The Globe. By Monday, it may very well be too old for either paper.
The Junos are now like the Bush White House. Trying desperately to stem the tide of embarrassing stories long enough to make it to Awards Night/Election Day.
Because aside from this week's announcement of Alanis Morissette as host, the post-nomination announcement story for the Junos has been this:
A data entry error results in Nickelback's Long Road being denied a nomination for Album of the Year. Rather than correct the mistake and drop the undeserving album that had taken Nickelback's place, CARAS decides to go with six nominees. This leads to questions about the nomination process for so-called "sales-based" categories. In the process of attempting to answer these questions, CARAS admits that the nominations are not based on "sales" but instead determined by the number of albums shipped by record labels to retailers. This brings them a stinging rebuke from Larry LeBlanc of Billboard magazine.
Next it is reported that the Juno nominations are not resulting in increased sales for nominees. And now CARAS admits publicly that a second award nomination has been compromised. But without explanation as to how and why - questions that have to be asked, especially in light of the fact that this second category has nothing to do with "sales."
All of this has been recorded for history's sake here, here, here and here.
Pop (All Nipple): your round-the-clock source for completely irrelevant Juno news.
Ryan Malcolm Disaster Watch, Week Eleven
For the record, Avril Lavigne's Let Go - in its 90th week on the charts - placed higher this week than Mr. Malcom's Home did in its 11th. Place your bets now as to whether it will have fallen entirely out of the top 100 by next week...
Week 1 - #4
Week 2 - #10
Week 3 - #17
Week 4 - #23
Week 5 - #25
Week 6 - #32
Week 7 - #42
Week 8 - #45
Week 9 - #55
Week 10 - #69
Week 11 - #82

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Lovely lass that Miss Mi-KAI. Found a live bootleg of a performance she did at Joe's Pub in New York last year. If I had the faintest idea how to do so, I'd offer some of it here. Maybe I'll send it over to Fluxblog or something. In the meantime, I'll put it in my shared folder on Soulseek - screen name agwherry. She sings one song in German and another in Japanese for shit's sake! Go geddit!
It's pronounced Mi-KAI
Or Muh-KYE.
Much to say about Nellie McKay - above and beyond what's been said about her here already. In the meantime, some reading and a little listening.
NY Observer's Jason Gay sounds like he's in love.
The NYT takes her out for a night on the town.
Sony's Mitchell Cohen discusses discovering her. (Try to ignore the fact that further on in that interview he talks excitedly of listening to Savage Garden.)
Queery digs up her school records.
This is a public radio show she did last May (be patient).
And finally - the Time Out New York piece that started it all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

"This is why I am so upset ... he was given a chance and made the most of it"
I'm always hesitant to read too much into these immediate aftermath stories from the Toronto Sun (facts and truth have a funny way of injecting themselves into the story as the dust settles), but this is their latest on the death of rap manager Elliott Reid-Thomas.
Meanwhile, The Toronto Star does a fine job of wrapping up reaction from industry officials who knew Reid-Thomas.
And here's the official appeal for assistance from the Toronto police.
Let's hope the Canadian hip-hop community - and, heck, maybe even the Junos - are planning something to formally honour him.
Puzzling and Unfunny
Hey, Gwai Lo noticed. I'm touched. Really. I'm glad he found something worth talking about in that last column. Not sure if I have yet.
I disagree with him though on the School Spirit skits (and, as a result, find myself in agreement with SFJ). My objection isn't with the basic idea of a rap album being contradictory. We might actually need more of that - or maybe more indication that rappers, like Kanye, feel conflicted and self-conscious.
My objection is based solely on the fact that a) I don't particularly like skits on rap records - or any records for that matter save for an outright comedy record and b) I don't think the skits work all that well on Kanye's record.
Maybe if they'd been sprinkled throughout - like a running gag - they might have flowed with the rest of the album. But, as is, they form sort of a rut in the middle of the record that I inevitably skip over.
Gwai Lo's right about Last Call. It's long. But it's interesting and funny. Not really something you're going to listen to everytime you play the record, but worth a listen. Or two. Or three.
Still wish Kanye'd kept My Way on the record though.
No sex please
Me thinks Edward O found Avril's Abstinence Anthem, Don't Tell Me, here. As a wise man once said in a faux Scottish accent - "Is'not bad, but is'not grate either." (bonus: name that movie)
Lyrically she's still so limited:
"Get out of my head,
Get off of my bed,
Yeah, that's what I said."
And the vocal tics are still there - "Time" becomes "Tye-e-e-e-ime." "Away" becomes "Awaye-e-e-eh."
But she (and/or her handlers) can still write a decent hook. And the subject matter is, er, provocative. I guess. But does anyone want to think about lil' Avril having (or not having), er, sex (shudder)? And hasn't this abstinence thing been done to death already? I thought she was supposed to be the anti-Britney?
Oh, but I guess Avril really means it when she claims virginity. Or does she even claim it?
Worse still, does this also mean we're in for a year of questions about Avril's virginity?
And, in any event, when we've got someone as truly interesting as Nellie McKay to fixate upon why would we even bother with Avril, virgin or not?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Just in...
Edward O has a review of the new Avril Lavigne single, Don't Tell Me. Now to figure out where he found it... (and why I'm bothering to post about this...)
This is the record of which the Prophet Jigga foretold
Not particularly proud of this one (damn, probably not supposed to admit that, am I?), but latest Post column is apparently available for free, so you might as well take a look.
Considers Kanye West's brilliance - an extended discussion of points previously mentioned here.
If the link goes dead I'll post it in full here.
(On a side note I can always tell I've written something smart when Gwai Lo takes the time to mention it. No mention of this yet would seem to confirm my fears.)
Come On Pilgrim
The Pixies sell out. Scalpers storm Ebay. Sigh.
Burning Down The House
As far as I could tell - from the back of a sweaty, smelly Horseshoe Tavern - the boys in Franz Ferdinand are alright. Swell even. Possibly keen.
And apparently they're going to be opening for Morrissey. So they must be doing something right.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Elliott Reid-Thomas, RIP
A wild weekend in Toronto claims the life of Elliott Reid-Thomas, manager and defacto member of Canadian rap group Ghetto Concept.
More info on his death here and here.
More info on Ghetto Concept here, here, here, here and here.
And you can see their all-the-more-poignant video for Rest in Peace here.
Ryan Malcolm Disaster Watch, Week Ten - Special Beavis and Butthead Edition
Heh. Heh. 69. Heh. Heh. Heh.
Week 1 - #4
Week 2 - #10
Week 3 - #17
Week 4 - #23
Week 5 - #25
Week 6 - #32
Week 7 - #42
Week 8 - #45
Week 9 - #55
Week 10 - #69
Weekend Wrap/Cleaning out the closet
Sasha Frere-Jones on Kanye West.

Meet The Press: I salute any show that can prove to me that Arnold is smarter than I thought in the first half hour, while, in the second half hour, convince me Nader is even more insane than previously believed.

Broken Social Scene's new disc of b-sides and rarities, Beehives, is warm and lovely like a hot bath.

RJD2's new stuff is also like a bath. But a rather lukewarm one at best. And maybe a touch too relaxed.

Controller.Controller's History might just teach Toronto's legions of skinny white kids to dance (no small accomplishment). Can't understand why they're not Carl Wilson's "cup of tea."

Nellie McKay's debut, Get Away From Me, is startling - quite unlike anything. Ever (in that it's like so many things that have never before been married). But anybody who can write a song about Liberal guilt that references "Senator Wellstone" is aiight by me. As I say in Monday's Post, think Norah Jones on crack. A hyper-literate, exuberant, street-smart, possibly insane 19-year-old pianist who can sigh a torch song as readily as she raps. Un. Be. Liveable. And the back story. Check the bio. Cousin of Dylan Thomas? Dabbled in stand-up comedy? Maybe the start of something really, really interesting.

Meanwhile, Ben Rayner quite rightly takes JACK FM to task.

Various impressions of the Conservative leadership debate.

The NDP continues to push the idea that Paul Martin is a Brian Mulroney for the 21st Century.

Ed Broadbent has a blog.

But, most importantly, my Wolverines still have hope.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Investigative reporting
JamShowbiz (I outright refuse to put the lame exclamation point in there) has a very long-winded story about the Junos that somehow manages to say absolutely nothing. It's apparently supposed to be about how the Junos don't really help artists in terms of record sales, but it also manages to trot out the tired old argument that you have to make it big in the States before Canadian audiences take notice and then Choclair professes that this year's Junos herald the emergence of some great new Canadian artists. For instance, er, Kazzer?
Listen, if this year's Junos were all about heralding the new wave of outstanding Canadian talent, Broken Social Scene, Stars, the Stills, Unicorns, Hidden Cameras, Jim Guthrie, (as well as Buck 65, Hawksley Workman and Rufus Wainwright) etc, etc, etc... would be all over the nomination list. Make no mistake (and I know this sounds terribly cheesy), we are experiencing a truly special time in Canadian music. But it has nothing to do with the Junos.
And second of all, if you really want to talk about the ramifications of a Juno nomination, how about looking at the actual numbers - in this case the chart positions because we don't have the actual sales stats (something Jam most likely has, but doesn't publish - for whatever reason).

Post-Juno nominations:

Sarah McLachlan moved up one spot, from #8 to #7.
Nickelback lost one, from #11 to #12.
Michael Buble gained one, from #24 to #23.
Nelly Furtado lost four, from #31 to #35.
Billy Talent dropped two, from #38 to #40.
Three Days Grace lost nineteen spots, from #35 to #54.
Celine Dion dropped three, from #87 to #90.
Sam Roberts remained the same at #91.
Finger Eleven lost fourteen, from #79 to #93.

To review then:
Truly outstanding talent neglected? Check.
Nomination process in dispute? Check.
Tangible evidence that no one's paying attention? Check.

One of maybe three things will happen now:
1) The Junos will soldier on oblivious.
2) Juno organizers will realize their faults and dramatically overhaul our national music awards.
3) A new award will be launched to fill the void.

My hunch: Keep your eye out for number three.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

... to be fair, 14,000 was probably a conservative estimate. Because, according to her label, Norah Jones' Feels Like Home has debuted at number one in 16 different countries now.

They are: the United Kingdom, United States, Ireland, Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Holland, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Canada, Columbia, and New Zealand.

Granted, it takes sales of just over two dozen records to make #1 in Iceland, but still...

Meanwhile, her year-old debut rose to #18 in the US, #16 in the UK, #2 in Ireland, #3 in Germany, #8 in France, and #3 in Denmark.


The full self-congratulatory blow job from her label here.

Note: If you hear even the tiniest peep from an EMI official over the next few weeks lamenting the decline of the record industry, beat them furiously about the head.
Various artists
Pitchfork reviews the first Broken Social Scene record, Feel Good Lost.
Since We Last Spoke - the new stuff from RJD2 - is out there. Haven't listened to it yet.
As is the Broken Social Scene b-sides and rarities collection, Beehives. How did Arts & Crafts let that get out? Anyway. Listening to it now. It's loverly.
Have spent a great deal of time re-listening to The Walkmen's Bows and Arrows and like it more and more. They're in Toronto March 3.
MarkP has started writing for the aforementioned Pitchfork. Soon he too will be turning obscure emo basement rappers into world-beating super-heroes.
The Backstreet boys: apparently not dead. And counting on Clive Davis to save them.
Ben Moody is now working with Kelly Clarkson. And he's been getting songwriting tips from Avril.
And in the time it took to read this post, Norah Jones sold another 14,000 albums.

... gosh this new version of Lover's Spit is purty...

Lies, damn lies, statistics...
I keep telling myself I should leave the politics to Wells, Coyne and Cosh. But I haven't seen this anywhere else so I figured I'd offer it up.

By now most Canadian readers will have seen this week's Ipsos-Reid poll which shows the Liberals continue to slide. Nationally Ipsos-Reid puts the parties as so:
Liberals 35%
Conservatives 27%
NDP 17%
Bloc Quebecois 11%
Green Party 5%

But the most interesting numbers, at least to me, are the regional breakdowns. Now, be warned, the samples aren't terribly large, so there's lots of room for error. Still, they present an interesting picture of our divided little country.

B.C. - Conservative 32; Liberal 27; NDP 27; Green 9
Alberta - Conservative 58; Liberal 20; NDP 8; Green 2
Prairies - NDP 34; Liberal 29; Conservative 28; Green 2
Ontario - Liberal 41; Conservative 26; NDP 21; Green 7
Quebec - Bloc 45; Liberal 31; Conservative 10; NDP 8; Green 3
Atlantic - Liberal 47; Conservative 32; NDP 12; Green 1

The Liberals remain the only true national party, but they're only able to dominate two regions - Atlantic Canada and the all-important, riding-rich Ontario. The Conservatives take Alberta. The Bloc take Quebec. And the Prairies and B.C. are virtual dead heats. Imagine if this country worked on some sort of Electoral College System.

Now also imagine those results if the NDP could somehow bring the Greens into the fold without driving away any of their own voters. Suddenly the NDP leads in British Columbia, extends their lead in the Prairies, takes second in Ontario, and third in Quebec.

Even without the Greens, the NDP seem bonafide contenders in the Prairies and British Columbia and assured of stealing some seats in Ontario. A far rosier picture than that presented by the rather stagnant national number - the one J. Kelly was bemoaning recently.

Then again, this analysis only gives them 16 seats after the next federal election.
"I am the music"
Billboard interview with Timba. Pardon the CAPS. Too lazy to change them.

A: There’s too much being developed at once. There’s new software, new music and new programs that come out too quickly. By the time something new comes out, people are ready to move on to the next thing. That’s why people’s attention spans are short.
There are so many sites from which to download music illegally that less people want to go out and buy it. I don’t know what the solution to that would be, but I think first the record companies need to lower prices.
The “instant-hit” mentality can mean instant failure. I wish the record companies would put more effort into artist development.
I also think the major-label mergers are crazy. It’s almost like they’re playing Monopoly.
A: I don’t think there’s any technology right now that can challenge the producers who are good enough to do what they do. The ones who are the best can adapt to changes in technology.
A: I think producers are bigger than the artists. We’re responsible for the sound that they have. We give them direction and bring something out of the artists that they may not realize that they have.
When I came on the scene, I was one of the people who started bringing the attention back to producers. I bought the flavor back to the meat, and I opened a lot of doors for artists and other producers.
My producing style is this: “I am the music.” The artist is the frontman for the producer.
A: It’s not just hip-hop. I want to walk away from music, period. To me, the music business is too saturated, and there’s too much politics with the record companies and radio.
I’m not walking away right away. I’ll probably do another Missy Elliott album. But there’s too much going on with the illegal downloading and other problems in the music industry.
And I’ve gotten bored with hip-hop. I’m about to totally change my whole image in 2004. It’s going to shock people.
A: I can’t say right now, but it will involve endorsements and TV.
A: I like Coldplay — that’s real music to me. I like what the Neptunes are doing. But after a while, everything sounds the same — even my stuff.
A: The most important thing I’ve learned is to always have that ambition to keep fresh and always challenge yourself. I’m always competing with myself.
I spend most of my time making music, but I can’t say what role is most important to me. It depends on how I’m feeling and what I’m doing at the time.
A: Just trying to flood the market with too much of themselves. When their record sales don’t really match all the attention they get, that’s when you know they’re overexposed.
A: Not being hot anymore.
A: Whatever it is, I hope I can set it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

As seen on Can't Stop Won't Stop
Jeff is right. Joe Torre is a lameduck. Add that to the Potential Problem tally. Also include Sins Against Don Zimmer. Steinbrenner drove the Zim out of town this summer. Surely the baseball gods will not look kindly upon this and smite him. Smite him good.

Get well soon Mr. Chang (by the way, I saw numbers today that indicate the Yankees do indeed make money - lots of it). Normally, I'd send flowers, but today - special one time only offer - I have a column on Justin Timberlake to offer. Other, non-sick, people are free to read as well, of course. Note: May make you dislike Justin Timberlake even more than you did previously. Or, if you previously enjoyed the J.Tim, it may make you second guess yourself. At least that's the hope. Enjoy.

What a good boy: Justin Timberlake can do no wrong. Just ask him. Or his mom
Monday, February 16, 2004
Aaron Wherry National Post

Like all the great male pop idols before him -- Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Davy Jones -- Justin Timberlake has learned to balance the illicit and the innocent. The bad boy and the angel. Able to titillate your daughters one moment and charm their mothers the next. All the while maintaining the respect, if not the begrudged admiration, of the older, cooler brother. Dad doesn't quite fit into this scenario, but, for the sake of argument, we'll say he's in the living room listening to old Johnny Cash records.

What differentiates Timberlake from his predecessors -- or maybe what has been attempted before, but only he has mastered -- is the way he goes about accomplishing this duplicity and the unwitting accomplices he makes of the women in his life. Timberlake, surely more than any other pop star in recent memory, is defined by the women around him; his interactions with them establishing his paradoxical sides. "Interactions" being one word for it. "Manipulations" being another. Janet Jackson discovered this approximately 48 hours too late.

"That was fun," Timberlake told the first interviewer to reach him backstage at the Super Bowl after that infamous little matter of the nipple. "We love giving you something to talk about." This was the bad boy. The edgy, provocative, unapologetic risktaker.

Two days later, Timberlake had found another TV camera and a perfect opportunity to claim innocence where previously there had been only cool nonchalance.

"When what happened, happened, I was completely shocked and appalled," he proclaimed. "I was completely embarrassed. I don't feel like I need publicity like that and I wouldn't want to be involved in a stunt, especially not a stunt of this magnitude.

"I do understand how unfortunate this is and I think that it's the most frustrating thing for me," he added, noting that his family was embarrassed by the incident.

In short order, Jackson had been abandoned to shoulder the blame alone; Timberlake the hapless victim of a "wardrobe malfunction" and a manipulative older woman.

Britney Spears (not to mention Kylie Minogue, whose posterior he grabbed last year to much fanfare but little backlash in, er, cheekier Britain) must have been suffering flashbacks. When she and Timberlake were together, he was with the squeaky clean 'N Sync. It was important -- for both of them, mind you -- to present a wholesome image. They were madly in love. Forever smiling. And entirely virginal -- this last part made more of an issue for avowed abstinent Spears.

Around the time they broke up, Timberlake was preparing to launch a solo career; a new image in order. So, quite innocently of course, he found himself on a radio show admitting to performing oral sex on Spears (he would later apologize for this, forever mindful of the need to balance the illicit and innocent). In addition to facial hair and some cool new hip-hop friends, Timberlake gained edgier, often older, girlfriends including Alyssa Milano and, ironically enough, Jackson.

But the masterstroke was hit single Cry Me A River and the song's accompanying video. In song, Timberlake told of an unfaithful lover -- a particularly compelling tale given the all-too-conveniently leaked rumours that Spears' infidelity had ended their relationship.

The sympathy that resulted allowed Timberlake to get away with one of the darkest music videos in recent memory. Heartbroken, but defiant and seeking vengeance, Timberlake breaks into the home of his former lover (a petite, blond Spears look-alike) stalks her as she showers, and videotapes himself in bed with another woman. Creepy stuff, but all forgiven of course because the real villain -- the unfaithful Spears -- had already been identified.

And even if you were a little wierded out -- no worries, Justin explained. The look-alike, the remarkable similarities to "real" life; all happenstance, pure unadulterated coincidence.

And, well, if you believe that, you're P.T. Barnum's kind of customer. But as Barnum himself might note, it doesn't so much matter what you believe, as long as you believe in something enough to buy Timberlake's next album. And, make no mistake, the focus is forever Timberlake -- Britney's post-breakup career paling by comparison, Kylie still little more than a curiosity on this side of the Atlantic, Janet the latest addition to America's ever-expanding Axis of Evil. Justin alone reaps the rewards.

And when all else fails, there will always be Mom -- the trump card Timberlake plays whenever his image needs polishing. When it came time to sit down with Barbara Walters, there she was telling us what a sweet, young man she had birthed. Feature story needed to accompany that shirtless Rolling Stone cover (how very illicit) -- better make sure Mom has ample time to chat up the interviewer. If every other woman in his life (Hey Cameron, feeling nervous yet?) is a temporary tool of convenience, his mother is an eternal source of damage control.

And there she was last Sunday at the Grammy Awards, all boobs -- er, smiles -- in support of her beleaguered son. Busting, er, beaming with pride was she as lil' Justin strode to the stage to express again his dismay with Jackson's nipple and accept a Grammy statuette for, you guessed it, Cry Me a River.

The Empire Strikes Out
Why even bother? Scrap the 162 game season, the divisional playoffs, the league championships and the World Series - just cut straight to the champagne-soaked trophy presentation, the vile George Steinbrenner accepting what might as well be his permanent property from the frail grasp of equally vile Bud Selig.
The New York Yankees will win the 2004 World Series. This much we know. Unless we don't. And they don't. In which case, well, it'll be time to re-evaluate. Everything.
This much we do know - on paper the New York Yankees have assembled what is quite possibly the most formidable collection of talent in Major League Baseball - if not pro sports - history. The starting line-up will feature eight former all-stars and several future hall of famers (feeling somewhat inadequate yet Enrique Wilson?). Sluggers like Hideki Matsui, who would find himself in the heart of any other team's order, will likely bat somewhere in the neighbourhood of eighth. Theoritically the Yankees one through nine will look something like this (last season's stats included):

CF Kenny Lofton .296/12/46
SS Derek Jeter .324/10/52
3B Alex Rodriguez .298/47/118
RF Gary Sheffield .330/39/132
1B Jason Giambi .250/41/107
DH Bernie Williams .263/15/64
C Jorge Posada .281/30/101
LF Hideki Matsui .287/16/106
2B Enrique Wilson .230/3/15

Oh, and the pitching. Well the starters will be Mike Mussina (17-8, 3.40), Kevin Brown (14-9, 2.39), Jon Lieber (20-6, 3.80 in 2001, his last full season), Javier Vazquez (13-12, 3.24) and, reportedly, Greg Maddux (16-11, 3.96). With the exception of Lieber, all would enter the season as the ace for most any other club in the majors.

The middle relief is outstanding with proven arms like Paul Quantrill, Steve Karsay, and Tom Gordon. And then there's Mariano Rivera, one of the greatest closers in history.

Still, there's every reason to believe the Yankees will fail in their pursuit of a World Series title. And if/when they do, shock of all shocks, Major League Baseball will be all the better for having put up with Steinbrenner's Evil Empire.

Potential Problem #1: Locker Room Cohesion
Good luck Joe Torre. Good luck appeasing the egos. Good luck dividing up the spotlight. How will all of these new faces get along? Who will emerge as leaders in a room full of stars? Who will be the first to complain about not getting enough at bats? Which pitcher will be the first to complain about a lack of innings? Which stars will be willing to take on secondary roles? How will a room full of guys used to be big fishes in smaller ponds adjust to being just another Yankee? It's an internal circus waiting to happen.

Potential Problem #2: Competition
Nevermind that the Yankees have to beat out an entire league's worth of competition to win it all, let's see how they handle the toughest - most improved - division in baseball. The Boston Red Sox, let's not forget, have loaded up on talent as well. The Orioles and Blue Jays, each in their own way, have done the same. The Yankees will not be afforded the luxury of cruising to a division title. There will be no chance to relax in September with a big lead over second place. And let's not forget the at least potentially formidable teams in Oakland, Kansas City and Chicago. Night in and night out there will be challenging opponents to face. And that is likely to take a toll.

Potential Problem #3: Injuries.
This is an old team - the majority of the team's stars over 30 years of age and many of them prone to injury. The pitching staff is of most concern. Jon Lieber hasn't thrown a pitch in a year and a half. Kevin Brown's stay in Los Angeles was plagued by nagging injuries. Greg Maddux is on the downside of his career. And even Mariano Rivera has begun to show a degree of frailty. A couple arms go down and suddenly this is a very different team.

Potential Problem #4: Pressure and Expectation.
New York has crushed far greater men than Gary Sheffield. And this year the crush of expectation and scrutiny will be unlike any ever seen before. As Tom Kurkjian at ESPN.com noted, New York sports writers might as well kiss their familiies goodbye for the next year. This squad will be a travelling media frenzy of Lewinsky proportions (pun sort of intended). The smallest dysfunction will be front page news. The slightest slump magnified ten fold. If this team doesn't dominte from day one it will be villified and deconstructed by hometown scribes fevered with expectation and voraciously attacked by out of town reporters eager to see them fail.

Potential Problem #5: Enrique Wilson.
Alright. Not really a problem, in the classic sense. But in the bizarro world of Major League Baseball circa February 2004, some are already questioning whether he should be replaced in light of the team's other upgrades - as if he has become less of a player as his teammates became greater. If they keep him, he will become a convenient target should he be called upon in anything approximating a clutch situation.

If you believe in any of the above, as I do, you have every reason to believe the Yankees are doomed to fail (as I do). When (screw "if" - let's be bold) they do, it will surely be time to rejoice. For not only will the Yankees have by then given us a series of fringe benefits to their success, but, in failure, they will have ushered in a new era in baseball.

Fringe Benefit #1: The Luxury Tax.
Due to the luxury tax, every dollar Steinbrenner spends from here on in, means more money for small market clubs. Will this money turn the San Diego Padres into a dynasty over night? No. But, if spent wisely (see the Toronto Blue Jays use of a mere $50 million this year), it can surely be the start of something good. If nothing else it will help cover some of the crippling losses. In either case, it's money. Something every team (other than the Yankees and Red Sox) could use more of.

Fringe Benefit #2: United in hate.
Everywhere today, Brewers fans, Orioles fans, Tiger fans, and all the rest are calling up their Boston-faithful friends and exclaming that finally - finally - they understand. Not that the Yankees were particularly popular pre-ARod, but now all fans have reason to hate the Imperialist Yankees. The Yankees are the United States. The rest of the majors is the rest of the world (if you buy the talk of rampant Anti-Americanism). Major League Baseball, now more than ever, has a villain. A loathsome, greedy beast to be boo'd lustily. Now, more than ever, teams can stand by their underdog heroes, forever hopeful of a triumph over the big, bad giant to the north (or, in the case of Toronto and Montreal, south).

Fringe Benefit #3: Hate, but awe.
We hate them. But we'll still likely buy a couple tickets to check them out when they're in town. Even if we know our team is bound to get clobbered, the chance to see so many stars in one place will likely be too much to pass up. If only to try out our new Jeter jeers, we will be there. The Yankees will become a sort of Evil Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. Not so much in town to spread joy and good humour, but to incite hatred and violence. Not unlike the Republican Party. All the same, they'll likely sell out every ballpark they visit.

And now... the big ultimate, life-altering benefit to the Yankees and their inevitable demise:

It will be the final strike against the theory that you can buy a championship.

You would have thought that the Florida Marlins would have proved this to George last year. Heck, you'd figure George could just look cross town to the NHL's New York Rangers. But, if George has to learn the hard way, so be it.

When the Yankees fall short of a World Series title it will prove once and for all that money can't buy championships. Money certainly doesn't hurt. But it guarantees nothing.

And failure on a grand scale will prove to owners - or at least those who haven't already figured it out - that spending within your limits, making wise acquisitions, planning for the future, and meticulous building are the keys to success. Smart management breeds success. Success breeds profits. Profits breed spending. But only when coupled with the smart management that started it all, does spending breed championships.

More teams will follow the lead of Toronto and Oakland (note that Los Angeles has already moved to install another Beane disciple as general manager). Fiscal restraint and long-term vision - because they make both business and baseball sense - will seem all the more appealing. Fewer owners will be willing to spend tens of millions of dollars every four summers in hopes of loading up for one big run, only to suffer repeated years of mediocrity, smaller crowds, lower revenues, etc...

Which isn't to say that George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman aren't smart. They're brilliant actually. Especially George. All major market advantages aside, he has shown remarkable smarts, courage and ambition in building such an expansive empire. And Brian Cashman proves that a smart baseball man is needed to ensure money is spent wisely (see the Baltimore Orioles' track record with free agents). But they've gotten greedy. Their off-season is one of hubris. Each successive acquistion only increasing their already insatiable appetite for impact superstars. But their sight has exceeded their reach. Or words to that effect. They have not so much built a team, as purchased a number of expensive parts with little to no regard to how they'll all work together.

They will fail. They MUST fail. And baseball will be all the better for them having tried.

Or so we hope. And, in February, that's all anbody's got.


Monday, February 16, 2004

Fuzzy math
Below you'll find the latest on the Juno nomination controversy. Worth noting that this is not the first time the Junos have screwed up the nomination process (but the first time it's led to them admitting their "sales" awards are based on albums shipped, not albums sold).
In 1995, a similar "miscalculation" left 54.40 off the list for best alternative album. Shortly after the nominations were officially announced the error was detected and the band's Smilin' Buddha Cabaret added to the list, alongside albums from Eric's Trip, Our Lady Peace, King Cobb Steelie, Rose Chronicles, and Sloan.
Two years before that, the Junos were forced to take away a nomination from Mitsou after it was discovered her album, Heading West, did not meet the 80 per cent French requirement for Francophone album of the year.

Juno criteria under fire after Nickelback debacle: Nominees for album of the year determined by CDs shipped, not sold
Monday, February 16, 2004
Aaron Wherry National Post

In the wake of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences admitting that a "data entry error" compromised the Juno Award nominations for album of the year, one critic has assailed its nomination criteria as "outrageous" and inaccurate.

Last week, CARAS added Nickelback's The Long Road to the nominees for album of the year, admitting a data entry error had kept the band off the original list. As a result, this year's Junos will have six nominees, instead of the usual five, competing for album of the year. It also means one album will continue to hold a nomination it does not deserve (CARAS refuses to acknowledge which album that is).

Nominations in that category are based solely, CARAS had said, on record sales. Initial figures tallied by an independent firm showed the top five sellers during the eligibility period to be albums from Michael Buble, Celine Dion, Nelly Furtado, Sarah McLachlan and Sam Roberts.

Further investigation showed Nickelback's The Long Road had sold enough copies to qualify.

But CARAS later acknowledged that album of the year nominations are determined by the number of albums shipped by record labels to retailers -- not the number of albums sold to customers.

Shipped numbers often differ from those collected by Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks CD sales at point of purchase.

"That's outrageous. Nobody does it by albums shipped anymore. I can't believe that," said Billboard's Canadian bureau chief, Larry LeBlanc. "We've had Nielsen SoundScan in this country since 1997, which gives an accurate tallying of album sales because it's run through a system in the stores."

According to Nielsen SoundScan numbers quoted to the National Post by a music industry source, Nelly Furtado's Folklore has sold the fewest of all nominees for album of the year; in fact, it has sold fewer than several albums that were not nominated.

"There's no perfect mouse trap," a CARAS spokeswoman responded when asked about concerns over the Juno nomination process.

"It's unbelievable that they would base any kind of popularity on ship-out figures," LeBlanc added. "Ship-out figures can be manipulated, they can be switched around to look better for almost anything, and ship-out doesn't really show anything but what went out of the branch. They are not a true indicator of actual sales. And one of the reasons why the industry demanded something like SoundScan was the inaccuracy of ship-out figures and the cloudy view of what a ship-out figure can show. Ship-out figures are not accurate. It's as simple as that."

"The only one we use is scanned data," said Humphrey Kadaner, president of HMV in North America. "To me, that's the true measure."

The Juno Awards will be presented April 4 in Edmonton.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

This is what I meant by ETC
Sorry for all the non-music entries. Just too much crazy shizznit going on (yes, I just said shizznit).
Anyway. According to polls - which are, it should be noted, always accurate reflections of reality - national unity is crumbling and the Liberals are on their way to a minority government, if not complete defeat.
If these numbers are the same, if not worse, in a month, you are officially allowed to care. Otherwise, let's not get too excited just yet.

In other news... here's a speech Jack Layton gave at Duke University. Shouldn't have quoted Chomsky, but some interesting observations nonetheless, including:

"Over the last century of Canadian politics, we have had three Prime Ministers who are fundamentally integrationist: Wilfrid Laurier, Brian Mulroney and now Paul Martin.
Wilfrid Laurier was defeated over integrationist policies in 1911.
Brian Mulroney was indeed re-elected over those policies in 1988, thanks to an ancient voting system, but as the impacts of those policies became clear, his party suffered the worst political defeat in the history of the Western world in the following election.
History shows Paul Martin is entering dangerous territory in aggressively pursuing integrationist policies immediately before an election – and immediately after several decisions by the Bush Administration that are deeply unpopular in Canada, the Iraq War and Kyoto chief among them."

Also. In the NDP's latest newsletter (not that I would ever read such pinko propaganda), the party raises the issue of Monia Mazigh:
"Earlier this week it was reported in the news that Monia Mazigh, wife of Maher Arar was considering running for the NDP in the next federal election. What do you think? E-mail us your thoughts."
Interesting. The party was apparently ready to introduce their latest star candidate last Tuesday. But she, as linked to above, begged off - wanting some more time to consider her options. Seems maybe the party is having some second thoughts too.
Le funny
With all due respect to my Quebecois friends, this is damn funny (I missed the original broadcast - after Ron James I gave up on Conan in Canada week).
Interesting that Rick Mercer is allowed to go on CBC and make fun of Americans all he likes, but the second an American comedian (in this case, the brilliant Robert Smigel as Triumph) goes on television and makes fun of French-Canadians, we're ready to appoint a Senate committee to look into the matter.

P.S. I know below I said "more to come tomorrow" - but clearly by "tomorrow" I meant "Monday."

Friday, February 13, 2004

Ryan Malcolm Disaster Watch, Week Nine
Down to #55 - second time it has dropped ten places from one week to the other. That national tour can't come fast enough.
Week 1 - #4
Week 2 - #10
Week 3 - #17
Week 4 - #23
Week 5 - #25
Week 6 - #32
Week 7 - #42
Week 8 - #45
Week 9 - #55
That other national scandal...
Oh I know, this whole federal government thing is rather interesting. And I guess it's "important." But more attention on the looming Juno Awards controversy, I say.
"The what awards?"
"The Junos."
"And what are they for again?"
"Canadian music?"
"Oh. So why do I care again?"

Anyway. Much more to come tomorrow.

Nickelback almost robbed of Juno album nomination
National Post
Friday, February 13, 2004
Aaron Wherry - National Post

Juno organizers admitted yesterday one of Canada's hottest bands was denied album of the year consideration because of a "data entry error" that erroneously bestowed a nomination upon another act.

To make amends, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences moved to include Nickelback's The Long Road among the nominees, which means this year there will be six nominees, instead of the usual five, competing for album of the year. But it also means one album will continue to hold a nomination it does not deserve.

Nominations in that category are based solely on record sales. Initial figures tallied by an independent firm showed the top five sellers during the eligibility period to be albums from Michael Buble, Celine Dion, Nelly Furtado, Sarah McLachlan and Sam Roberts. For sales categories, the Junos Web site describes the eligibility period as Sept. 1, 2002, to Dec. 31, 2003.

"The figures were triple-checked, but they should have been quadruple-checked," Junos executive producer Stephen Stohn said yesterday, adding that several parties brought the omission to CARAS' attention shortly after the nominations were announced Wednesday.

Ms. Furtado and Ms. McLachlan led Wednesday's nominations with five each. Yesterday's addition also gives Nickelback five nominations.

Mr. Stohn said he was not sure which album had mistakenly received a nomination.

"The important thing is to do the right thing," he said. "If I knew [which album should not have made the list], I still wouldn't comment."

Nielsen Soundscan sales figures quoted to the National Post by a music industry source indicate the erroneous nominee is most likely Nelly Furtado's Folklore. The CD was released at the end of November and, according to sales figures for the 2003 calendar year quoted to the Post, Ms. Furtado finished far behind the No. 5 album, Mr. Roberts' We Were Born in a Flame.

But, according to the source, Ms. Furtado's album was not even the sixth-best-selling album of last year; for the period Jan. 1, 2003, to Dec. 28, 2003, Folklore was also outsold by albums from Finger Eleven, Three Days Grace and Canadian Idol Ryan Malcolm.

Mr. Stohn refuted the source's claim but said he could not produce numbers to prove it.

The Juno Awards will be presented April 4 in Edmonton and will air on CTV.
Scandal Friday
Today has the potential to be full of bombshells. We should get some response from Kerry to all this rumour and innuendo. The ever-evolving troubles in Ottawa could, I am told, really explode over the next 24 hours. And then there's this.
Sounds pretty straightforward. But me thinks a lot more questions need to be asked (note: ominous foreshadowing). In the meantime, see my report in tomorrow's Post.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Hey there Double Standard
Watch out. That John Kerry is an angry loose cannon, shooting off his mouth, speaking before thinking... he clearly doesn't have the calm judgment and level-headed demeanour necessary to be president... oh wait, no, that's Howard Dean... oh, wait, nope, sorry, that really is John Kerry.
Random Canadian music stuff...
Ron Sexsmith's new album will be out in April. He says it's more of a real rock record. "The exact opposite" of Cobblestone Runway - but in a good way.
Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew says he has a finished copy of the Feist album (and claims to have had one SINCE OCTOBER?!) and it's fabulous. Apparently release is tied up in dealings with the label in France.
Both he and Torq Campbell of Stars say Amy Milan (also of Stars) has a great solo record on her hands. Torq says it's been demo'd - a mixture of bluegrass and power pop.
Torq also brings news of the next Stars record. Band has been busy sharing a house in Quebec, writing, recording and such. Promises it will be "one of the 50 greatest albums ever."
There's also his own solo album to anticipate (he offered a really great description that involved sleeping medication, but I'll have to dig it up later).
Also: Kinnie Starr. Currently half done an album to be released in 2005. Sounds "wicked" apparently. One request, STOP ASKING HER ABOUT CIRQUE! She can't really talk about it anyway. Ya know, lawyers and stuff.
Forrest, trees, etc...
Strange the reaction Jack White gets every time he says something negative about hip-hop. He's been doing this for quite some time, but every once in awhile the "Jack White is a big poo-poo head who doesn't know anything about hip-hop" line of argument gets resurrected. The latest comes in an interview he did with Andre 3000 for the Los Angeles Times (see below). MarkP goes after him for it. Previous instances have been torn to shreds over at Jay's place.
First, let's acknowledge that Jack is not alone in his sentiments. Andre 3000 agrees. Missy, Jay, Timbaland, and countless others have said as much as well.
Let's also acknowledge that rants against Andre, Missy, Jay, etc are few and far between - or at least in the vast minority when compared to anti-Jack rants.
Finally, let's acknowledge that Jack White does present an easy target. He's white. He plays the rock and roll. And he draws heavily from the past - which presents an easy counter-argument each time he accuses hip-hop of being mired in tired, old formulas.
Now when the above issues aren't being used against him, the usual line of argument is: "But look at all the great hip-hop... there's this artist, and that artist, and so-so, and blah, blah, blah..."
It's a line of argument I've used myself. Once to refute a piece by Jeff Chang (something he reminded me of this week).
But let's realize that such a line of argument can be completely flipped on its head quite easily. Had Jack White said, "Hip-hop is the most innovative form of music in the history of civilization, I love it, I love it, I love it, I want to hump Pharrell's leg..." one could easily counter with several dozen examples of tired, unimaginative hip-hop.
Most genres are like this of course. If you say rock n' roll is dead, you ignore dozens of outstanding, creative bands. Say rock is alive and you ignore, well, Creed.
Jack White is a smart man. All evidence (both first hand and anecdotal) would seem to indicate he's a thoughtful, knowledgeable, well-informed music nerd. So I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant "mainstream" hip-hop - ie. the stuff people hear on the radio, see on MTV, etc.
But I also tend to think all of that is besides the point. The real discussion here would seem to be, at least from my point of view, about why so many people feel that way about hip-hop; why so many people see it as cliched, misogynistic, violent, bling-bling bullshit.
Now, this argument is generally fought amongst hip-hop heads, music nerds and music critics. And, inevitably, the answer is "Well people just aren't listening to enough hip-hop, they need to dig deeper, etc, etc..." In other words, it's their fault for not being smart enough or educated enough about hip-hop. They don't know what they're talking about, etc, etc, etc...
It's what you might call the "People Are Stupid" defense. Which always strikes me as funny position to take, especially for music critics - cos, you know, they sorta rely on people reading their work and, you know, calling them stupid isn't going to help matters.
Things get real messy when you remember that Andre 3000, Jay, Missy and others feel the same way. I can't wait for someone to write the "Andre 3000 doesn't understand hip-hop" piece, but until then I'll assume that most writers, music nerds, and hip-hop heads consider Andre & Co. to be a fairly smart group, all well-informed in the ways of hip-hop.
So now what? People aren't stupid. But even if they were, that wouldn't seem a proper excuse in light of the opinions of Andre, Missy, Jay, etc.
And it doesn't seem terribly constructive to get back into debating - at least among hip-hop heads and the like - whether or not hip-hop sucks or not.
So maybe it's instead time to start looking at why that perception exists. How many listeners are being lost? How many fans are turning away? How many artists are turning away? Is it all just a natural progression - the commercialization of hip-hop - not unlike the many awful phases rock has gone through (see hair metal)? Or are there some serious problems here?
Some have written very thoughtfully on these issues. But too often the debate gets bogged down in ranting and raving.
Either way, Jack White is not a poo-poo head. And whether or not you agree with him, it might be time to engage he and the others who share his sentiments (and by engage, I do not mean "berate").
Am I the only one who likes her new album?
The Great Norah Jones Takedown of 2004 continues.
But they mean it this time
Let me get this straight, because I'm just a little confused. Several months ago when his face was on the cover of Newsweek and his campaign still coming together, Wesley Clark was your "dream candidate"... the one wth "electability"... your "best shot" to beat Bush. But now you're telling me that John Kerry is your "dream candidate"... full of "electability"... your "best shot" to beat Bush.
So, er, if you weren't right about Clark, what makes you so sure you're right about Kerry?
Just wondering.
And now for something completely different...
Canadian readers likely already know that today Sheila Fraser took a long, hard piss in the Liberal government's cornflakes.
The coming days will bring much talk of blame. But a brief pause for some congratulations.
Paul Well's beat us to it, but this blog would like to add its appreciation for Globe and Mail Ottawa reporter Daniel LeBlanc, whose tireless efforts and excellent reporting first brought much of this corruption to light. Truly exceptional stuff.

P.S. Meanwhile, my colleague J. Kelly Nestruck is doing a fine job of taking The Globe to task for various misdeeds.
They'd make beautiful music together
Remember when Jack White said current hip-hop sucked? Remember how you all attacked him for it? Well, see, thing is... Andre 3000 agrees with him. And everything Dre says these days is gospel. So, now what?

Transcript of a chat between the Los Angeles Times, Andre and Jack (quite long, but well worth the read):

What do you think of most of the new music on the charts these days? Do you find much that inspires you as an artist?
Andre 3000: I can't say because I don't play a lot of it because I'm probably too busy thinking about my own music. Of what I do hear, however, there isn't a lot that inspires me, which is good in a way because that in itself is a form of inspiration. What I like to do is make music that fills the voids, something that I would like to hear but can't find. And there is a lot I would like to hear that I don't find other people doing these days.
How about you, Jack?
White: That's certainly not where I look for inspiration.
What about the state of your respective fields? Dre, do you find hip-hop very exciting these days?
Andre: No, right now it's going through a phase of making records to be played in a club. In the days when I loved it, people just tried to make great records and then hope they crept their way into the club. Now it's like focusing directly on the club. So there's no meat to the records anymore. But I think it's just a phase. At some point, we are going to see a reaction to what is missing. I hear a lot of people complaining all the time that most music today isn't doing this or isn't delivering that. It's kind of like what you heard with disco, when there was such a reaction that it felt like a revolution.
White: That's what is good about OutKast's records, because they are pushing things forward. I feel hip-hop generally isn't regenerating itself like it should. There has been 15 years of almost the same stuff over and over again. If I see one more video with sports jerseys and gold chains, I'm going to...."
Andre: Exactly. I agree.
What about the state of rock the last few years? Is that any more exciting to you, Jack?
White: No, it's terrible. The scene in Detroit when we started out had nothing to do with listening to what was on the charts at the moment. We were into everything — soul, blues, real rock 'n' roll, but we figured no one else liked it because all you saw on MTV was that commercial stuff that they just keep shoving down your throat. And what are you going to do if you are 11 years old and you come home from school and that's what's on TV? Of course that's the record you are going to buy because you don't know any better.
How have you both been able to resist the commercial compromises of the music business and keep moving forward artistically? Dre?
Andre: I think any real artist is always trying to move forward. That's one of my frustrations with touring. By the time an album is released, I'm on to something else.
White: I agree. I feel like I am always searching. You never want to think you've found the perfect formula to something.
Who can you turn to, to always be renewed or inspired?
Andre: Prince. He's a total artist. He lets himself be totally human, and that means he shows you all the different feelings he goes through. He's that honest.... George Clinton is also someone who stands the test of time; all that great stuff he did with Parliament and Funkadelic. There's always something to discover in his records. He's amazing.
White: I agree about Prince, and again it's the honesty. He may change a lot, but there is always the feeling you are listening to a real person. He doesn't limit himself to one thing or one sound.
Who always inspires you, Jack?
White: Blind Willie McTell, for one. I like the sense he wasn't just a blues singer. He was a street-corner entertainer who would play in front of Piggly Wiggly markets and stuff.
Andre: Tell me about him. I don't know him.
White: He's from your town of Atlanta. He was a 12-string [guitar] player who had a bunch of great songs. There's one that goes, "I got three womens, yellow, brown and black. Take the governor of Georgia to judge which one I like. One woman's Atlanta yellow, the other Macon brown. But the Statesboro blackskin will turn your damper down."
Andre: That's great. I'll have to check it out.
Who else, Jack? Maybe from your country side.
White: I'd probably say Johnny Cash ... or maybe Hank Williams, who isn't complicated but is profound. It's easy for anyone to relate to what he's singing about. He's also an example of music that feels totally honest.
When making a record, how much are you thinking "I'm trying to make a great record" versus "I'm trying to make a hit record"? How do you balance those goals?"
Andre: When I'm making a record, it's hard to think that I'm making a great record or a hit record. You just do what you do and at the end of the day, you might start asking yourself who is going to like it. You may come up with a line that makes you think, "Now I bet people will like that." There's the line in "Hey Ya!" that everyone talks about ... "Shake it like a Polaroid." When it came to me, I immediately thought, "Hey, I bet people will like that." But all that is kinda after the fact. I wasn't sitting around going, "Now how can I think of a line that people will like?"
Everyone wants to make records that are popular, but that's different than trying to make a pop record, if you see the difference. I don't think any of us sets out to make music just for ourselves. We want to reach out to people, otherwise you should never even sign a record contract. When I started making music, people who turned me on were performers who touched people with their music. I want to do that same thing.
White: It's very hard for me to even think of what people would like when I'm putting together a record. When we made "Elephant," we had a bunch of songs sitting around, and we just went and did it as fast as possible. I always think that if I spend too much time working on it that I'm going to ruin whatever was honest about it to begin with.
That's one of the things I have a real beef with about modern music. Nowadays, kids who haven't even made their first record are given millions of dollars by record companies and told to take seven months to make your record and do it in a studio with 400 tracks or whatever. One thing that would make all of modern music better right now is if every record company told every new band that you can only record on four tracks and you have to finish the record in four weeks. It would change everything for the better.
Andre: Ha-ha.That would make people show what they can really do, wouldn't it?
How do acclaim and media attention affect you as an artist?
Andre: It definitely puts pressure on you. If you read a glowing review in a big paper or magazine, you feel everybody else is reading it and it makes you feel everyone is expecting a lot from you. A negative review can sometimes make you second-guess yourself — even if it is totally wrong. You find yourself sometimes asking, "Is what he's saying true?" On my last album, someone said it sounded like I wanted to be Prince. In my mind, I'm thinking, "Yeah, I love Prince," but not one time when I was making this record was I like, "OK, I'm trying to be like Prince." But it makes you self-conscious if something you are working on sounds even a trace like Prince.
White: I don't hear Prince on the record. I hear you on it. People have to reference you to something. If you came out with something completely original, people would find people to compare it to.
How does touring affect artistry? Does it drain you or give you good ideas?
White: I don't know. It can be very exciting, and it can be grueling. We work with no safety net. We don't have a set list. We don't have any other musicians on stage. Trying to do a show every night and really connect with myself and connect with other people can be hard. I can't do it for more than three weeks without it really tearing me up. If you have five guys on stage and someone goes out of tune or breaks a couple of strings or something, you have the whole rest of the band to keep the song going. If I break a couple of strings or I've got a bad voice that night, what am I going to do? I've got nothing to back me up.
What about you, Dre? You didn't want to tour behind the new album. Why?
Andre: We've been doing this 11 years and I'd rather move on to something else. I love the new songs, but I have no urge to go and perform them for months. Honestly, when I'm performing them on television shows, it's just to let people know, "Hey, the album is out, check it out." It's not a good thing for my partner because [Big Boi] is ready to hit the road and he's losing a lot of money because we're not touring. That's caused some people to say we're breaking up, but it's not true.
How about fame? How does that affect you as a person or an artist? You've both been on the cover of every music magazine in the world in recent months. Does that turn your head?
Andre: Yeah, it changes you. When I go places now, everyone is looking at your eyes to see who you are or what you may be thinking. You even find people peeking around corners at you. It makes you feel like an alien.
White: That's right. People start to read something into everything you do, even if it's the most innocent night out. A couple of weeks ago I went to a bar in Detroit where I've been going to for seven years. Someone said, "It's really great that you are here to support local music." That is the first place we played.
How do you shut out the distractions when you go in to make a record?
White: You have to just remember what you are doing it for. You don't ever want to start thinking, "How do we follow the last record up?" or "What do people want from us?" You can't think like that because then I'm not going to get anything out of it, and Meg's not going to get anything. Like Blind Willie McTell, you want to please people, but you also want to express yourself. If you start thinking only of what people want, you aren't expressing yourself. You've lost that part of you that makes the music your own.
Are you thinking about the next album yet?
Andre: I have a sound I've been working on, but we need to get in there to see how it turns out. It's going to be one album, not a double album again, and it'll be the two of us.
What about the Grammys? If you win, Dre, it'll be the first time a pure rap album has won. The only other hip-hop winner for best album was Lauryn Hill. Would that be gratifying?
Andre: That would be amazing. I know there's a lot of politics that goes into award shows, but I do like to think it would be an important step for hip-hop because hip-hop is what helped turn my life around and gave me a future and a belief in myself.
How do you feel about being nominated, Jack? There have probably been so many of your own heroes snubbed over the years that it might feel a bit strange being honored yourself.
White: I'm always mixed about these kinds of things. It's nice to honor people, but when you see an awards show, you often get the feeling that the people who really deserved the award aren't being recognized. Then again, it's nice to be honored by anybody, even if it's just someone patting you on the back in the local bar.
Howard Dean promises to reunite The Fugees!
Yet another reason to vote for the good doctor.

P.S. Anybody remember that Clark guy? He was gonna, like, save the Democrats? Totally destroy Bush in the debates? He was a general or something? Really smart? The perfect candidate? Hmm. Yeah. Me neither.
P.P.S. The final nail in Clark's coffin. Not his losses this evening. Actually, his insistence that Justin Timberlake was in fact a member of the Beach Boys (see above).

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Blog life
You're more than welcome Jeff Chang. Now, I implore you, go write about all the stuff that's not being written about. Please! Mays is comparing himself to Woodward for chrissakes! It's a mess just waiting for the expose treatment in the NYT or New Yorker. AP took a swipe at it. And Jay has been putting in heroic efforts. But there's got to be a major expose out there just waiting to be written (and published somewhere other than XXL).
Also: long overdue additions to the links - Oliver Wang, 10 Reasons Why Hip-Hop Is Dead, and Jessica Hooper.
"It sounds like the beginning of something new"
So did anybody catch Dizzee in New York? How was it? Let us know.
Also, as promised, that Dizzee profile from last week's Post...

Keep the change: British rapper Dizzee Rascal is no 50 Cent. He's better
National Post
Thursday, February 5, 2004
Page: AL05
Section: Arts & Life
Byline: Aaron Wherry
Source: National Post

When the publicist came to wake him at 7:30 a.m., Dizzee was wide awake. The music already thumping through the hotel walls.

Trouble sleeping? He'd be allowed such insomnia -- his arrival on our shores surrounded by such crushing anticipation, hype and expectation. Had jitters left him tossing and turning?

Nope, just jet lag after a long flight from London.

Two and a half hours later, he's sipping a latte and facing his first interview.

"Are you nervous about tomorrow night's show?"

"It's the night after, innit?"

"Uh. I'm pretty sure ..."

"Oh no, it's tomorrow night, innit? Ha. Nah, it's all right, man."

Everyone, it seems, is nervous to see how England's 19-year-old rap prodigy, Dizzee Rascal, will fare on this continent. Everyone except, of course, the 19-year-old rap prodigy himself.

"All over the world everyone's gotten accustomed to American slang, especially hip-hop. It'll be interesting for me to break it down," he says of his music. "I'm gonna speak English. That's the first thing I'm gonna do."

That he speaks English is not in doubt. But that he speaks English -- at least of a type not heard elsewhere in the New World -- is also of some concern. For the same reason VH1 was forced to add subtitles to Oasis' Behind the Music episode, Rascal's tongue-twisted rhymes and slang-filled asides are given little hope of crossing the language barrier.

In person, his cockney is thick. And he likes to finish phrases with "innit?" whether he's asking a question or not. And sometimes his conversational speech mirrors his MC style -- syllables flying at you from odd angles, words peeking out from dark corners before disappearing again. Like most 19-year-olds, he's not yet comfortable in his own skin. Though moments of eloquence and insight seem to fly from his mouth when least expected.

But it's the music that is most disorienting. Ominous, jagged, elastic, serious and silly all at once. The subjects -- violence, poverty, depression, women -- are nothing new. But the presentation is unlike anything heard before. If Tupac was British, and if you pumped Red Bull and Bacardi into his veins, punched him in the throat and piped his music through a broken PlayStation, it might sound like this. Barely.

"They'll catch on to it, some maybe quicker than others, maybe some never," he says. "It is what it is. But it's definitely original. I don't sound like no one."

But like all great artists, Dizzee is full of contradictions. In the liner notes for his debut album, Boy in da Corner, he thanks both his mum ("There's no one on this Earth I could ever love more") and the music teacher who indulged his musical interests. But before he's done with his acknowledgements he offers this: "To all my haters, enemies and those who didn't believe I could (would) make it ... F--- You!!!"

He cites Tupac as readily as he does Cobain. He raps that he's "a problem for Anthony Blair." But he's not exactly Johnny Rotten.

"At the time I was young, black, angry, not too much money and from what you might call the projects. But the main reason was because it rhymed with care and that was the line before," he says with a smile.

He doesn't like to talk about his feud with fellow Brits So Solid Crew. But in his liner notes, a magazine cover featuring So Solid is placed at the end of a knife. That knife would prove prophetic. Last summer, on the eve of the album's release in the U.K., Dizzee was in the Cyprus resort town of Ayia Napa when he was dragged off his scooter in broad daylight and stabbed in the back, buttocks and chest by a group of assailants. According to rumour the attackers were connected to So Solid, rivals of Dizzee's Roll Deep Crew.

A slice (pardon the pun) of American hip-hop menace for the burgeoning Brit-hop scene. But Dizzee Rascal is no 50 Cent.

He'll show you the scars if you ask (we didn't), but otherwise he'd rather not get drawn into any sort of 50 Cent v. Ja Rule lyrical duel.

"I've been in beefs, but I'm not into the beefing MCs and all that rubbishness. I've done it in the past. But it's not something I set out to do. I want to make music," he says. "If I get into a situation, I don't want it to be because of MC-ing. That's rubbish."

But, just as no 50 Cent story is complete without some discussion of his being shot nine times, no Dizzee story could pretend to be comprehensive without some consideration of that day in Cyprus.

"I'll talk about it because it's something that happened to me. Like a lot of other things have happened to me," he says. "I've been in situations, I've seen people get shot and stabbed, everything. Unfortunately, another friend passed away the other day. It's all because of dumbness. We could talk about it all day. But I don't aim to do that. My album was done before that. I'm not about that."

He grew up in the government housing of Bow in East London. His father died when he was young. His mother, like her husband, of Nigerian descent, raised him on her own. He was kicked out of several schools before music teacher Tim Smith sat him down and introduced him to Cubase. Young Dylan Mills began fiddling around with new sounds and beats -- breaking down his favourite artists and styles.

"I wouldn't ignore something just because they were smashing their guitars," he says. "Music is just music to me. Genres are just broken down sections. If I liked it I would try and break it down and figure out why."

Smith likens him to minimalist composers like Philip Glass ("I'm supposed to know who that is aren't I?" he asks). The beats came first. Twisting his tongue around the burps and blurps came next.

"I would just make something so out there. And then challenge myself to spit on it."

He became a star within Britain's underground pirate radio circuit -- spitting his disjointed rhymes in kitchens and on rooftops, wherever a station could be set up.

Snapped up by XL, his album has sold more than 200,000 copies and, in September, beat much-adored acts like Coldplay and Radiohead for Britain's Mercury Prize. Now the U.S. beckons, after his much-anticipated album release there in January (it was released here last September). His first two shows on this continent come this week -- in Toronto tonight, New York this weekend. And he at least sees no reason why audiences here won't see in him what has so enraptured audiences back home. "When it came to creating it, there were no boundaries. And if it sounds like the end of the world, so have it," he says.

"Do you think it sounds like the end of the world?"

"It sounds like the beginning of something new."

Monday, February 9, 2004

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys
Through some nefarious French Connections I managed to get my hands on a copy of Leslie Feist's France-only Mushaboom promo. Features the album version of Mushaboom - complete with percussion, horns and some slight backing vocals; sounds wonderful and dreamy, that demo version previously heard on Fluxblog, a Mushaboom remix, and When I Was A Young Girl (so that's where it came from!). Whispered release date is now the first week of May - or, if we're extra good over the next two months, the last week of April.
In other Broken Social Scene-related news, the debut full-length from Raising the Fawn sounds promising (and I wasn't a huge fan of the EP, so this represents a near complete flip-flop for me).
First tentative steps towards best of 2004:

1. Kanye West - College Dropout (impresses me more with each listen - for instance, this line blew my mind on the bus this afternoon: "And they DCFS some of them dislexic, They favourite 50 Cent song's 12 Questions)
2. Feist's assorted goodies (see previous posts)
3. Norah Jones - Feels Like Home (even if Ben Ratliff did make me feel bad for liking it so)
4. The Walkmen - Bows and Arrows (won't hold my interest much longer, but good enough for now)

Honourable mentions. The Vines' Ride (from Winning Days). Courtney Love's Mono (from America's Sweetheart). Jim Guthrie's Now, More Than Ever (technically a 2003 release so disqualified from medal contention)
Rap is Crap Redux
Hey! Andrew Coyne (scroll down to entry for Feb. 7 - can't seem to link directly to that spot) says hip-hop is crap! GET HIM!
(Note: He may have done so ironically. And he's a nice man. So be gentle. In fact, while you're at it, thank him for linking to this humble corner of the Internet.)
Post Post Grammy... and, er, The Darkness
So much moping and whining today over last night's Grammys. You'd think people had just now realized the Grammys suck. And all this talk of how they were, in accordance with our "post-Janet" world, so very bland and boring. Really? How was this year's show any more bland than previous years? Everyone bemoaning this lack of crazy spontaneous hijinkery. Like last year's Simon and Garfunkel duet was like the most subversive act of televised rebellion ever. If nothing else, this year we got two performances from OutKast - one which featured Jack Black, some dancing ghetto Indian girls, and a spaceship teepee, the other a chaotic gathering of funk legends including fresh off the crack George Clinton - a rare Prince appearance, and a pretty incendiary White Stripes showing. Of course not all the right people won awards. But they never do. This is hardly a revelation. Sigh.

Anyway. My column from last week... Chuck Klosterman, The Darkness, etc...

Are they for real? Yes: The Darkness has many North Americans convinced they're a kind of 21st-century Spinal Tap - when in fact they are more rock than mock
National Post
Monday, February 2, 2004
Page: AL03
Section: Music
Byline: Aaron Wherry
Column: On Pop
Source: National Post

Chuck Klosterman was wrong. Well, to be fair, a lot of us were (and some of us still are) wrong about the Darkness. Still, it's convenient (and strangely satisfying) if not timely to focus for the moment on Klosterman's particular miscalculation.

"The Darkness cannot succeed in America," the author/critic/ smartass Klosterman writes in the latest issue of Spin, "because Americans are not comfortable with art that works on multiple levels."

British metal tsunami the Darkness, all bombast, guitar solos, scraggly hair and flame tattoos rising from the pants, aren't regularly referred to as "art." And maybe this is the first sign that Klosterman has missed the point, and allowed himself to be caught up in trying to "get" the Darkness. That is where most people go wrong with this band. They assume -- nay, demand -- that there must be something to "get."

As proof that the Darkness are doomed to fail in America, Klosterman notes that unlike in Britain, where the band are multi-platinum chart toppers, "as of this writing [their debut album, Permission to Land] hasn't even cracked Billboard's top 200; here they can't even sell 6,000 albums in a week."

Pundits wouldn't be pundits if they didn't leave themselves a few loopholes, so Klosterman admits, in the very next sentence, "That may have changed by the time you read this, but even at their biggest they'll never sell the number of records they deserve to."

"That" certainly has changed, and soon Klosterman may have to consider exactly how many records the Darkness "deserve" to sell. Because over the last few weeks, the Darkness' Permission to Land has staged a rather dramatic assault on that Billboard 200 -- climbing from 173 to 92 to 39 in successive weeks. In all, it's shipped 300,000 copies in the United States. In Canada, Permission to Land has shipped 50,000 copies and now sits at 21 on the Soundscan charts after a similar three-week march from 113 to 67 to 26.

Which must be quite befuddling for Klosterman and like-minded critics, not to mention the multitudes of us who are still rather confused by this whole Darkness thing. The thing is there is no "thing." It's, like, so zen, man.

Klosterman, like many before him, evokes everything from Tenacious D to Benny Hill in attempting to explain the allure of the nouveau-glam-metal monsters. The classic explanation is that they are AC/DC fronted by Freddie Mercury.

But the idea that the Darkness are something of a joke is the most common misconception. Klosterman considers them Def Leppard meets Spinal Tap -- sincerely good rock that is, at its heart, entirely satiric.

Lead singer Justin Hawkins has a better explanation. "Comedy acts don't sell," he told the New York Daily News. "We do."

Hawkins' falsetto crooning lines like "My heart is in overdrive and you're behind the steering wheel" over guitar solos that would make Eddie Van Halen blush is rather humorous. And there is a song about masturbation. And one that may be about genital warts (Hawkins claims it's about a girl). But there is an important distinction to be made between "making fun" and capital-F Fun.

What seems to confuse listeners and critics most is this matter of satire and, to a greater extent, irony. The Darkness are perceived to be an elaborate joke -- taking the piss out of '70s classic rock, '80s hair metal and '90s alt.rock, all at once. Ironic like The Simpsons. Or somehow sinister-intended like, say, Karl Rove. The perception being that they are, in effect, Spinal Tap. With better tunes.

The bit about the tunes is most important (let there be little doubt that I Believe in a Thing Called Love and Get Your Hands Off My Woman are some of best rock singles of this still young century). But at a time when everything has to have an angle -- a schtick -- and cynical, jaded minds see irony lurking behind every corner, the Spinal Tap idea seems to have taken hold. In fact, it's safe to assume many of the hipsters who have latched onto the band in the U.S. did so based upon some premise of irony.

"I can understand why the rock purists are worried about a rock band like us, because there's a capacity for people to just take the piss out of it and say it'll be brushed aside again," Justin's brother Dan, the band's guitarist, told Australia's The Age. "I do understand that, but we're going to be making albums for a very long time, and we're for real."

The Darkness are for real. Like Kiss was for real. Or the cartoon character known as David Lee Roth was for real (See also: Crue, Motley). Accepting those acts at the time they existed was relatively easy. We hadn't yet entered this dreadful age of cynicism and irony. (Oh Sept. 11, you changed so much, but you couldn't change that, now could you?) Accepting the Darkness now entails a great amount of risk on the part of the listener.

It's a risk Klosterman and many of us assumed would keep the Darkness from succeeding. But it was a risk about half a million of us were willing to take at SARStock in Toronto this summer when AC/DC took the stage. For all the whinging about the Rolling Stones, it was AC/DC who ruled the day. Without a hint of irony we were able to headbang along with a snaggle-toothed middle-aged man dressed in a school boy's uniform. Why should headbanging along with a snaggle-toothed young man clad in a white and black striped unitard be any different?

To this extent, Klosterman is right when he says the Darkness play "earnest hard rock, and they sing earnestly comedic lyrics." They're fun. Funny even. But they're not making fun, as he seems to believe.

But the larger point Klosterman may have to consider now that his initial hypothesis has been proven wrong is that the Darkness actually represent a growing disenchantment with irony, sarcasm and cynicism (maybe even post-9/11 angst and paranoia) that so dominates our pop culture (ironically -- ha! -- Klosterman might still be toiling in obscurity if it weren't for such things).

The Strokes make fun music. The White Stripes make fun music. But no one considers them "Fun" because there are so many questions of influence and importance and intention and authenticity and image. Nothing is accepted at face value. Everyone is suspicious of, well, everything.

Some day the Darkness will be outselling both those bands on this side of the Atlantic. (How's that for a Klostermanian prediction?) Because with the Darkness, all those issues are proving to be increasingly moot. Some people, apparently, just wanna have fun.

Post Grammy
More than enough Grammy/Janet thoughts in tomorrow's Post. But a few more that, for whatever reason, couldn't be included:

-Evanescence? 50 Cent was robbed. And let the debate begin over how much his skin colour and background had to do with that.
-Justin Timberlake is increasingly lame.
-Coldplay wins record of the year. And then endorses John Kerry. Which of these two moments was more shocking?
-Remarkable how evenly Grammy voters were able to spread the love. Beyonce obviously the big winner with five. But multiple Grammys to OutKast, the White Stripes, and Justin Timberlake and still more awards for the dead (Zevon) and nearly-dead (Vandross).
-Vandross taped appearance was rather remarkable.
-Where was Jay-Z?
-Nice to see the Neptunes get producer of the year after last year's debacle.
-And here's hoping Ibrahim Ferrer's Grammy was immediately destroyed so to be sure it didn't fall into terrorist hands.

Friday, February 6, 2004

Picking up copies of the latest issues of The Source and XXL a lot of obvious differences are apparent (one sucks, one doesn't). But maybe most important is size. Page count being a direct result of advertising and always a quick indicator of a publication's relative health. Well, The Source weighs in at 112 pages this month. XXL, 194 pages. Kim Osorio can write all the rah-rah ed. letters she wants, this certainly doesn't bode well for her bible of hip-hop.
And now, further insight and evidence from Greg Lindsay. Ad numbers are down 39.8 per cent for the February issue - 31.6 per cent for the first two months of this year. And advertisers have a herd mentality. When they see their competitors dropping ads or jumping to XXL, they'll likely follow suit. Then things can get real sticky-icky. Do you slash ad rates to bring companies back? Do you offer even more cash-for-coverage deals? Or do you take note of the trend and reform your editorial scope? Personnel changes in the ad department? Cost cutting in editorial?
Good luck with all that.
"This is History... This is History"
When Dizzee Rascal really gets going, his body becomes very tense - the rhymes rumbling inside him - until, in a rush, his mouth opens and the words fly out, colliding, breaking and smushing together in the stampede for the exit. Yeah, terribly mixed metaphor. Sue me. It's late. And my head is still ringing.
All hype aside, it was tough to expect much from his North American debut. A 19-year-old kid with a thick accent and little stage experience in front of a large crowd that may or may not know what to make of him... and you know what they say about live hip-hop...
Anyway. All expectations exceeded. Not perfect. But often thrilling.
"So, er, was this what it was like to see The Clash for the first time?"
Powerful stuff.

P.S. Anybody else notice that the $20 tickets magically became $30 tickets?
P.P.S. Interesting to see what everyone else makes of him... this means you MarkP.
P.P.P.S. Crowd was 70/30 male/female. Mostly white. Sometimes lame.
P.P.P.P.S. Dizzee promised to be back in the summer.
P.P.P.P.P.S. He also freestyled like a champion.
P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Thanks to Jay for the mention on hip hop music dot com.

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