Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ice-T - "99 Problems" (the song remains the same)

Twice was interesting, but upon hearing the third "version" of this song convinced me there was something afoot: three completely different songs, sharing only the memorable chorus and nothing else.

"99 Problems" was made famous in 2004 by Jay-Z as a single of his LP "The Black Album" but it was originally a (different) song by Ice-T. Ice-T never released it as a single, but instead was a B-side from the "That's How I'm Livin'" single (from his 1993 LP "Home Invasion"). Guesting on the Ice-T version is Brother Marquis from 2 Live Crew, and the song is typical of both their styles at that time: juvenile sex rhymes. The "bitches and hos" misogyny is so over the top, I tell myself it is like the cartoon violence in Kill Bill -- you shouldn't be offended because it isn't meant to be taken seriously. Regardless, the song gave us a memorable chorus with a great hook.

Jay-Z must have agreed since he lifted the chorus for his 2004 single. He replaced the sex stories with autobiographical stories about police, music critics, the street, etc. Rick Rubin is the producer of this song, and while Jay-Z obviously raps, Rick's influence turns this into what has to be one of the heaviest metal songs ever (see also: Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash in "God's Gonna Cut You Down"). As Jay-Z says at the end "You're crazy for this one, Rick".

Ok, so Jay-Z reworking an Ice-T song isn't that much of a stretch... But this summer, Danette's sister, Julie, played a bluegrass version of "99 Problems" by Hugo. Julie was unaware of the prior versions and that is what convinced me that the song (or at least the chorus) was on its way to becoming a traditional song (or at least a musical version of "The Aristocrats"). I don't know that much about Hugo, but there is a connection since he is signed to Jay-Z's label Roc Nation.

What will be the next installment in the series? Where do you go from rap, to rap/metal, to bluegrass?

Ice-T: "99 Problems"

Jay-Z: "99 Problems"

Hugo: "99 Problems"

Bonus links:

Danger Mouse: "99 Problems" (A mashup of Jay-Z's version with "Helter Skelter" from the semi-official LP "The Grey Album".)

Trick Daddy: "99 Problems" (From his 2001 LP "Thugs Are Us"; this version is basically part 2 of the Ice-T version. Not really a cover, but neither is it a new version like the others listed above.)

Jay-Z and Phish: "99 Problems" (Not all combinations work well...)

Ice-T: "That's How I'm Livin'" (The original A-side of the single.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Liz Phair - "Juvenilia" (LP Review)

The 1995 EP "Juvenilia" was basically an extended single for the song "Jealousy" from Liz Phair's excellent 1994 sophomore LP "Whip-Smart". In addition to "Jealousy", there are two new songs and five "old" songs from her fabled Girlysound demo tapes (nearly impossible to get in 1995). Liz mined those demo tapes for a majority of the material on her first three LPs, but the LP versions were always re-recorded with full-production, band members, etc. To the best of my knowledge, "Juvenilia" was the first time she released songs straight from Girlysound.

As such, their sound is pretty bare: just Liz strumming a guitar and a few multi-tracked vocals. No bass, no drums, just Liz with her attitude & guitar. Honestly, that's really all you need.

Do you need this EP? Well, how big a fan are you? "Jealousy" is a great song, but this is the same version that is on "Whip-Smart". Of the new tracks, she does a decent cover of "Turning Japanese" (originally by the one-hit wonders, The Vapors) but I never really cared that much for the original. The other new track, "Animal Girl", is not really bad, but isn't memorable either (foreshadowing for later material).

Of the Girlysound tracks, "California", "South Dakota", "Batmobile", "Dead Shark", and "Easy", only "Dead Shark" is close to being weak. The first two tracks are excellent, and I wonder why were never re-recorded for inclusion on later LPs. "California" was re-released on the 2nd half of 2010's "Funstyle", but I believe "Juvenilia" is the only in-print option to get the other four Girlysound tracks.

Standout songs: "Jealousy", "California", "South Dakota", "Batmobile", "Easy".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Other songs: "Turning Japanese", "Animal Girl", "Dead Shark"

Final score: 7/10. This one is hard to score. If you're a big fan, you already have this. If you're not a big fan, then her demo tapes aren't the place to start. I settled on a "7" since any serious collector should have this.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Zomes - "Zomes" (LP Review)

Quietly working its way up my iTunes playlist is the 2008 self-titled LP "Zomes". Zomes isn't actually a band, but an alias for Asa Osbourne, the guitarist for the punk-band Lungfish. I'm not familiar with Osbourne, Lungfish, or some of the other various related projects, so I'm reviewing this LP without the context of Osbourne's prior work (two good reviews of the LP by someone familiar his oeuvre can be found at "dusted" and "hardcore for nerds").

This LP is a mesmerizing, minimalist, fuzzy, drone record that features a lot heavily processed guitar. Knowing what I now know about Osbourne, it makes sense to me that this is basically electronic music as envisioned and executed in a decidedly organic, DIY-punk aesthetic. If Kevin Shields, Brian Eno, and Phillip Glass listened to a bunch of Ramones and Iggy Pop LPs and then went on a weekend recording bender, it would sound like this. Butch turned me on to this LP, I love it, and I turned Herbert on to it. If you've been reading this blog regularly, you'll know that's a good indication of the breadth of interests to which this LP appeals.

Stand out songs: Although it has 16 tracks (owing to its punk roots, none stick around that long), this is not the kind of LP for which you have favorite tracks. Listen to the whole thing at grooveshark. Some representative songs include: "Crowning Orbs", "Clear Shapes", "Colored Matter".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10. Deceptively simple, you'll be surprised how often you replay this.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Cribs - "Ignore the Ignorant" (LP Review)

I've been putting this one off for almost two years now... Here's the short version: The Cribs' fourth LP, 2009's "Ignore the Ignorant", is a good LP, but the addition of Johnny Marr in 2008 ultimately hurt them more than it helped.

It is ok to speak of this now, since in April The Cribs announced that Johnny Marr had left the band amicably. While I respect Marr & The Smiths, and The Cribs have a history of working with a number of alt-rock veterans (e.g., Lee Renaldo on "Be Safe", Jon Slade on "Advice From a Roving Artist"), I'm first and foremost a Cribs fan. And although I liked the idea of an extended collaboration with Johnny, it just didn't work as well as it might have. I'm glad they tried it; the Jarman brothers are cool with it, Johnny is cool with it, so I can be cool with it too.

The primary problem with this LP is the song writing is not as crisp as it was on their previous releases. Perhaps that reflects the presence of Johnny Marr upsetting the song writing dynamic of the Jarman brothers: either his input didn't always mesh with them, or maybe they changed their style to accommodate him (Marr is about finesse, while The Cribs, let's be honest, are at their best just bashing it out). Or maybe it is just The Cribs are no longer "sixteen and really bored" (I lifted that association from someone, but I've forgotten where) and they're not going to have that earnest urgency of their youth. Whatever the reason, it seems like there are fewer Cribs trademarks: sing-along choruses, hooks and memorable riffs, and vocal trade-offs between twins Gary and Ryan.

The secondary but still critical problem with this LP is its production. Producer Nick Launay should be shot. Yes, Alex Krapanos's entry in the "loudness war" from the previous LP is gone, but in its place Launay appeared to have recorded the band from a building next door to where they were playing, with the music piped through a muddy tube. He's managed to find the no man's land between the (overly) bright loudness of the prior LP and the endearing lo-fi sound of their first two. Please work with Edywn Collins again.

Because of the addition of Marr and his influence on the song writing, I'm going to break with my typical review structure and instead go song-by-song (all songs are listed as co-written by all four band members):

We Were Aborted: Wow, what a strong start. Although not officially released as a single, the band made this song a free download prior to the release of the LP. Lyrically and musically, this song rawks as hard as any of their earlier material (i.e., it sounds pre-Marr).

Cheat on Me: This was their first single from the LP and it is a great song. I hear a small Marr influence in the guitar riffs, but it works great and if the entire LP sounded like this I'd have no complaints.

We Share The Same Skies
: Their 2nd (and last) single sounds like a long-lost demo from The Smiths. If Morrisey ever did a cover of this song, you'd swear it would belong on "Louder Than Bombs". It is actually a good song, but it doesn't sound like The Cribs at all.

City of Bugs: WTF?! Where did this Sonic Youth sound-alike come from? It is also a pretty good song, even though it doesn't "sound like" The Cribs until the break about 3 minutes in.

Hari Kari: An almost classic Cribs song. All the pieces are there, but they just don't come together.

Last Year's Snow
: Similar to "We Share The Same Skies"; Gary belts this one out, but it would be easy to imagine Morrisey singing.

Emasculate Me
: Like "Hari Kari" above; it sounds like someone else (Marr?) trying to write a song that sounds like The Cribs. Skip.

Ignore the Ignorant: The title track is strong, sounds like The Cribs, and is a primary exhibit for what a bad job Launay did.

Save Your Secrets
: Another song that appears to have all the elements, but they never come together. It treads dangerously close to piano ballad territory. Skip.

Nothing: This sounds like an outtake from "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever". Hooks, scream-along chorus, the whole thing. Great song.

Victim of Mass Production: On any of their other LPs, this would be considered a weak song. The influence of The Replacements can be heard here ("we're not supposed to be here anyway!").

Stick To Yr Guns: A pretty good song, similar to pre-Marr songs like "Shoot The Poets" and "Haunted". This is the song that "Save Your Secrets" (above) wanted to be but failed.

All of the above adds up to a good, solid LP that should be in your collection. And if you've never heard of The Cribs, you'll probably even like this more -- at least until you discover how excellent their prior work is. Yes, I realize going on about how much better their earlier LPs are is so cliche that it deserves its own song (cf. "Our Bovine Public"). On the other hand, NME & Pitchfork rate this LP highly because their trying to make up for completely whiffing on their earlier LPs.

Hopefully their future work will return to their lo-fi roots and we'll just think of "Ignore the Ignorant" as a curious collaboration that lasted 2+ years and produced over one LP's worth of material.

Final Score: 7/10.

Bonus links:

* In typical Cribs' fashion, there are plenty of bonus tracks and b-sides from these sessions. The ones I know of are: "Is Anybody There?", "Curse This English Rain", and "So Hot Now".

* In August 2010, the 4-piece Cribs released a one-sided 7" single, "Housewife". It's not a bad song, but it is so different I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.