Saturday, April 16, 2011

non-LP cuts: #

When this blog initially went online, I intended to review singles occasionally; I later decided that since individual tracks that really matter tend to be discussed in the LP reviews, there wasn't much point. But what of the tracks that aren't on reviewed albums or that belong to albums I have no real interest in hearing or reviewing? That's where this alphabetical collection comes in. Beginning today, every once in a while we will venture into the dredges of my hard drive and collection of 45s to offer some thoughts on various material that won't inspire dedicated entries... This ranges from great songs by artists whose full-lengths I don't particularly care about to curiosity items to compilation chestnuts to things I can't remember why I have to things I have strictly for DJing purposes, which should be horrendous and fun. For this punctuation section (keep in mind we are using iTunes alphabetization here) we begin, appropriately enough, with *NSync, who end up dominating this entry. (Sort of forgot I had so many of their songs on here...)

*NSync: Tearing Up My Heart (1997): HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Most definitely the best male group of the late '90s teen boom, *NSYNC released a couple of excellent singles, got self-aware and pretentious, and disbanded after three fluffy albums, subsequent to which their most famous member became a sexay superstar and another one admitted he was gay. A perfect career trajectory, and more historically reverent than they could possibly have realized -- at the time they were active, rock & rollers who were listening to terrible neo-grunge bands like Creed and Limp Bizkit bitched endlessly about the popularity of groups like *NSYNC, but in retrospect this seems to have been born out of the same brainless homophobia that plagued disco in the '70s, and lo and behold, Justin Timberlake is now artistically celebrated for returning something like disco to the mainstream arena. I reject comparisons to NKOTB, who truly were half-baked and awful, and Britney Spears, who never could sing like these fuckers, out of hand. I only have half a dozen *NSYNC songs in my library but they are primo bubblegum, I don't care what you think. To me, this is their best cut -- please note its conservative length -- and if you want, I can tell you the reasons it's different from the execrable teen pop of ten years prior and closer to the wonderful bubblegum of the '60s. In the first few seconds, the song's more evocative of the explosion -- early the same decade -- of a gay-centric dance club movement (La Bouche, CeCe Peniston, Haddaway, C+C Music Factory, etc.) than it is of the typical cult of personality that surrounds teen pop acts. Additionally, these guys actually have decent voices, and the hook is tremendous, and doesn't come off as stupid even all these years later so much as just easily applicable to whatever catchy occasion. This kind of rousing stupidity is pure and ageless. I wouldn't put it on a level with "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls, who are probably the most accomplished band in the history of teen pop, but I don't apologize for thinking this is more rock & roll than "Freak on a Leash."

*NSync: I Want You Back (1998): RECOMMENDED - The Backstreets did more with the exact same backing track, the Jacksons did more with the exact same title, but in a certain mindset, surrender is inevitable.

*NSync: I Drive Myself Crazy (1998): HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - It's pure ignorance to deny yourself any groove this hot. I don't blame people for being afraid of *NSYNC; this video, for instance, was horrifying. In case you don't remember, it took place in a padded cell, where the members of *NSYNC were strapped in straitjackets, the consequence of the literal insanity described in the lyrics. The implication was that they were hoisted on the path toward this inevitable destruction by you, the supple female with hard nipples who wants to sleep with the members of *NSYNC, who are not permitted to touch you because Louis Pacifico or whatever the fuck his name was will castrate them and after all, you are all jailbait. But whatever, the end of the chorus is sick as all hell.

*NSync: Bye Bye Bye (2000): HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Again, more dance-pop than teen-pop, this was never a difficult song to imagine an adult enjoying, specifically because it isn't stupid and condescending. Compare Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time," essentially a Converse ad set to music, free of its own actual worth, engineered toward half-baked fantasy and dunderheaded, manufactured joy. "Bye Bye Bye" is interesting, sideways, subtle... I mean, not Tom Waits subtle, but way the fuck better than you think it is.

*NSync: It's Gonna Be Me (2000): RECOMMENDED - Virtually all of *NSYNC's hits are about conflict; they tended to be cathartic rather than sexual, which may be why their music has aged more gracefully than the rest of the teen-pop smorgasboard of those days. This song is the discovery of sex in all the anger and misery, a more important step upward than it seemed then. The herky-jerky chorus weirdly recalls Devo, a notion Justin Timberlake would later carry to the bank when he more or less single-handedly revitalized dance music.

*NSync: This I Promise You (2000): HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Though I loathed New Kids on the Block, it was beyond me to deny that "Right Stuff" was a stylish danceable teddy-bear public service. What really made them contemptible was their ballads, all engineered and product placement-ready. It was easy to look past the pandering as long as there was a beat. Perversely, the '00s teen pop has the opposite issue, though it's generally a more obvious problem with the Backstreet Boys: the fast dance songs are often generic and condescending, the ballads revel in the shameless melodrama that only aging fools will deny is what they loved about the Shangri-Las and Phil Spector, precisely because teendom is itself melodramatic. Those petty problems we lose the ability to even look at can be life-or-death; they swirl around our heads and strangle us. Accidentally copping some of its melody from the Beach Boys' obscure "Where I Belong," this is absolutely peerless schlock, the only time *NSYNC bested BSB at this particular game. And the lies are inherent... there is no pandering because the growing up and forgetting all these promises is not just part of the song but indeed, it may be the point.

5000 Volts: I'm on Fire (1975) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - The blast of demented machismo at the chorus of this completely delirious single captures disco as a filthy club subculture rather than a corporate marketing term; "I'm on Fire" seldom appeared on the Bee Gee-filled '70s compilations that used to receive perpetual promotion on Nick at Nite, because to remind audiences of it is to remind them that once this movement lived and cackled, and at an overwhelming breakneck speed. It's not soul, it's just fast and furious.

80 Drums Around the World: Caravan (1965) RECOMMENDED - (The date is approximate.) This comes to us via Capitol's inordinately enjoyable Ultra Lounge series, an ideal venture for the space age bachelor. 80 Drums made demo music for the bachelor's hi-fi set; this particular cut is awash in vibes and eventually a somewhat half-hearted Middle Eastern texture. I frankly prefer all those French Girls who can't be wrong.

This entry is subject to be supplemented as additional marginals that don't start with letters come to light!

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