The People’s Albums: #20 Bat Out Of Hell

In case you were wondering, I haven’t been able to find any definitive evidence whether Meat Loaf — one of showbiz’s true outright conservatives — has come out and endorsed Donald Trump.  However, I’m gonna say Meat’s answer to the question of whether Trump should be president would most likely be a “yes”.  So in case you already had little interest in this piece, there’s one more reason to roll your eyes in Meat Loaf’s direction while reading it.

Album: Bat Out Of Hell
Artist: Meat Loaf
Release Date: October 21, 1977
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 14 million

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Merc with a Mouth


It’s looking increasingly likely that Deadpool will become the highest grossing R-rated movie there’s ever been, so I should probably write something about it, even though it came out on Valentine’s day and we’ve already passed Easter. Will this success start a trend of R-rated movies? Yes, it already has. We’ve already been told that we’ll be getting an ultimate bummer edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which is more than a half hour longer and totally hard R violent. I think the next Wolverine movie will probably go for an R as well. Basically everyone’s going to try to be cool by being more violent, except Disney, who will are quite happy with cute animals/Marvel/Star Wars, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve always thought of liking Deadpool as the comic book equivalent of being a huge Dane Cook fan. The people who like him seem to really like him, but only him, and have like zero appreciation for the actual art form. It doesn’t help that the character’s biggest champion for the last few years has been Ryan Reynolds, the Dane Cook of acting. In fact, I was downright wary of this movie. Not to a Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice degree, but the trailers didn’t do much for me and the outpouring of excitement from Reddit probably hurt more than it helped. What turned me around? Colin liked it. And Colin has little tolerance for super heroes these days.

So why would a man like Colin give a pass to a movie like Deadpool? For one, Deadpool exists to simultaneously celebrate and shit on comic book super hero movies. The timing couldn’t have been any better, with 2016’s slate of movies threatening to be a breaking point for fans who survived the various breaking points of 2014 and 2015. When Deadpool goes to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, he quickly roasts the X-Men franchise and the limited budget of his own movie. He’s aware of tropes and often tries to subvert or at least mock them when they come up. Deadpool is a character basically free of consequence, and he revels in that freedom.

Basically, Deadpool‘s more like an OK comedy movie than anything we’ve seen so far, as the jokes extend from the opening titles all the way past the end of the credits. A lot of it’s referential, and not even necessarily to comic books or super heroes. I mean, that after credits scene is mostly funny if you know about Ferris Bueller‘s after credits scene. Even that hard R violence isn’t free of the funny, as Deadpool will either mock his enemies, kill them is grotesque ways, or get himself injured in a slapstick fashion. I’m starting to describe what comedy is now, so I’ll stop and just say the somewhat immature humor landed for me more often than not, and made the whole thing worthwhile.

Frankly, I just didn’t think the potential for a character that wants to be only vulgar, violent, and very aware that he’s in a comic was that great. That leaves no room for subtlety or genuine insight, for the human connection that makes Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman stories great. Yeah, I guess if the lampshading was extremely on point, Deadpool could have been the Airplane! of super hero movies, but realistically, I was expecting maybe a Spaceballs. It was in the ballpark. A good movie, with a game cast, if not necessarily one that will be memorable for me. But to you Deadpool guys (because I know you’re all men): hey, congratulations. You made it. Please take pity on us Superman fans.

Jazz-Funk You Up

Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution

It seems like, in a somewhat modest way, jazz fusion has been making a bit of a comeback.  The most prominent evidence of this would be on Kendrick Lamar’s monumental To Pimp A Butterfly, which was given a bit of a fusion tint thanks to contributions from saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who also put out an album last year that seemed pretty great, but if I’m being honest I never finished listening to all the way through (it was fittingly titled The Epic).  Then there was also that Flying Lotus album from a year or two back that had some noticeable fusion influences, but again, because it gave into fusion’s more experimental qualities, was one I had a hard time making it through.  Luckily, here’s an album from an artist who’s taken that modern fusion sound and turned it into something that’s accessible enough that I’ve not only listened to it all the way through, but many times at that.

The Portland-based Esperanza Spalding is not someone whom I was previously aware of, because despite that fact that I am a modest jazz fan, I can’t muster up any desire to seek out what’s going on in modern jazz, even when it’s coming from someone like Spalding who apparently spit in Justin Bieber’s endless ice cream party of an existence by snatching away the Best New Artist Grammy from him back in 2011.  The heaviness of Emily’s D+Evolution‘s lead-off track “Good Lava” (which I can only assume is a dig at that dumb Pixar Lava short) is what immediately drew me into this album, since it’s one heavy load of funk.  But a lot of the album also tends to have a bit of a lighter touch, while there’s always some nice atmospheric textures in the production that keeps anything from feeling too archaic, courtesy of longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti.

I suppose the difference between this and a lot of modern attempts at resurrecting the jazz fusion sounds of the early ’70s as well as their original forbearers, is that Esperanza Spalding actually knows how to write a song.  Just from listening to what she’s doing here, you can tell that Spalding probably has a pretty firm grip on the Great American Songbook, as a lot of these tracks have that classic lovesong quality to them.  And yet, the instrumentation here (which includes Spalding’s dexterous bass-playing) is just adventurous enough that this doesn’t quite feel like some Norah Jones bullshit that middle-aged mom’s would be into.  No, instead it feels more like something the somewhat cooler middle-aged mom’s would be into.

Favorite Tracks: “Good Lava”, “One”, “Funk The Fear”

Yawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’ve been writing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in my head ever since I got over mentally rewriting Man of Steel. By now you’ve probably read the reviews of this movie and maybe even seen it. So me telling you why it’s disappointing won’t help that much, I’d just be adding my small voice to a booming chorus. Instead, to help you understand why my heart is broken, let me tell you how easy it would have been to turn this into a good movie. I will be discussing the plot, so spoiler warning, I guess, but you’ve seen the whole story in the trailers anyway.

You start by combining the Bruce Wayne character and the Lex Luthor character into one person called Lex Luthor. He’s still allowed to have the bits of impotent, psychotic rage that Jesse Eisenberg brought to the film, but mostly he’ll be the angry, paranoid sociopath Ben Affleck played. We watch his journey as his self-importance gets decimated as he can do nothing when Zod and Superman destroy LexCorp Tower (instead of Wayne Tower) and slowly that helplessness turns into an insatiable need to prove how powerful he is, ultimately resulting in an obsession with destroying Superman.

A tragic Luthor, who starts out as a vicious, shockingly brutal vigilante? I think that fits the tone of this franchise and reinvents him in an exciting way, even though it still ends with his mania leading him to trying to kill Superman above all else. And you know what, the infamous “Do you bleed? You will.” line works as a delightfully ominous warning from a Luthor who is actually a threat. Superman movies always struggle with creating great villains, but that wasn’t the problem with Dawn of Justice. This movie’s problem was that it turned one of DC’s greatest heroes into the villain.

But the film needs Batman, right? There is a role for him in this movie too, it’s just the one that Wonder Woman was playing. In my version, it would be Bruce Wayne who’s snooping around Luthor’s business looking for information. He might even be checking out Superman too. Batman would be the no-nonsense character who avoids getting caught up in a stupid pissing match that Wonder Woman was. We would just catch glimpses of him through the film, but it would be enough to know that Batman was keenly aware of everything that was going on. Then, when Luthor is about to kill Superman with his Kryptonite spear, the Dark Knight appears and saves the day.

You see? Batman can be skeptical of Superman, even suspicious, but to actively try to destroy someone who has only saved people is just going too far. I want to see the heroes fight side-by-side, not with each other in a meaningless brawl. And so if Batman defeating Lex in isn’t enough for a finale, we can still have a big, CGI monster show up. Hell, it can even still be Zod’s reanimated body. Just instead of calling him Doomsday, we’ll call him Solomon Grundy. Since Grundy is literally a giant zombie, and a B-list villain who perfectly fits a limited, late-in-the-movie appearance. Doomsday and Superman’s death? Yeah, let’s save that for when it can actually matter.

If Zack Snyder had made this movie instead, it still wouldn’t have been perfect. It doesn’t address the dour, ominous tone of every Superman scene in the movie, or the ridiculousness of him being accused of slaughtering soldiers with a machine gun. But I see in the framework of this picture a worthy successor to Man of Steel. It just got so caught up in setting up a new Cinematic Universe it lost its way.

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, and Rabbits and Sloths! Oh My!


Have we reached another Disney Golden Age? If you remember the 90s—cause you’re cool—you might remember Disney’s impressive string of hit films. There was; The Little Mermaid (technically 1989), Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King to name a few. Flash forward to the 2010s and there’s been films like; Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and most recently Zootopia. Though nothing will ever match the timeless feel of those 90s Disney films with their Broadway song and dance numbers and hand drawn animation, I think the 2010s come close and Zootopia is its best offering yet.

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The Good Life

Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in having gotten a little burned out on Kanye West right around the time of The Life Of Pablo‘s release.  Because despite going back and listening to his entire discography and being reminded that Kanye is undoubtedly the most essential pop artist of the 21st century so far, the ridiculousness of Kanye the man persisted.  In the build up to The Life Of Pablo, he made so many bizarre comments on Twitter that it was hard to even decide which ones to be baffled by.  And sure, I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a part of me that finds Kanye’s public persona to be refreshing in comparison to the bland masses of media-friendly celebrities that permeate our current entertainment landscape.  But at a certain point, there’s only so much of Kanye’s insanity that one can handle.  So I think shortly after Kanye’s dumb theoretical company chart and the emergence of the phrase “emoticon auto correct”, I’d had enough of Kanye, to the point where it took a while for me to have much will to listen to The Life Of Pablo, which was supposed to be the center of all his recent ranting and raving in the first place.

But of course, this frustrating juxtaposition between Kanye the artist and Kanye the person is what makes him Kanye.  And this recent display of Kanye’s inability to concentrate on any one project (he kind of comes of as a kid with severe ADHD these days) seems to have spilled over a bit into this newest album.  It’s a grab bag of sounds for sure, with songs like “Ultralight Beam” and “Low Lights” evoking a more gospel-sounding, spiritual side, while other tracks in the album’s first half are a bit more tossed off.  2013’s Yeezus was an album that felt more like a collection of sounds than a collection of actual songs, and that experimental approach to song-construction seeps it’s way in to The Life Of Pablo, while traces of Yeezus‘s eerier-sounds keep a lot of this album’s more heartfelt moments from ever feeling saccharine.

It’s a little hard to read what the general reaction has been so far for The Life Of Pablo, since the critical consensus has veered between mildly pleasing and the usual adoration that awaits a new Kanye West album.  While there’s also the fact that the public doesn’t have an easy way of listening to it since it’s still only on fucking Tidal.  But my first impressions of this album thus far have been that it’s a good Kanye album, but it’s the first one in a while (or maybe ever) that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to reinvent the wheel.  A lot of it feels like it’s invoking stuff that was already done on Yeezus and 808’s & Heartbreak, but considering it contains more than its share of stand-out tracks (like “Real Friends” and “30 Hours”), it’s still a very good album, if not necessarily a “great Kanye West album”.  But then again, Kanye has recently mentioned that he’s not even done messing around with The Life Of Pablo, so maybe an even better version of it remains to be seen.

Favorite Tracks: “Ultralight Beam”, “Real Friends”, “30 Hours”

R.I.P. George Martin

It’s a little eery that The Beatles’ record producer George Martin has just passed away, since it’s happened right as I’m in the middle of a pretty heavy Beatles period.  Granted, I’ve been in a pretty heavy Beatles period for about half of my life, since they’re the band that seemed to inform a lot of my early tastes (musical and otherwise), and whose records I’ll often return to for inspiration and enlightenment.  But I’ve been thinking about The Beatles lately because I’m in the middle of reading Ian MacDonald’s book Revolution In The Head, which chronicles The Beatles career by breaking down and examining each song in their discography track-by-track.  There’s a passage I just read where MacDonald says of George Martin’s collaboration with The Beatles, “it’s almost certainly true that there was no other producer on either sides of the Atlantic then capable of handling The Beatles without damaging them — let alone of cultivating and catering them with the gracious, open-minded adeptness for which George Martin is universally respected in the British pop industry”.

And I think it’s Martin’s combination of pop acumen and respect for Lennon and McCartney’s talent, as well as his willingness to try out new ideas, that are not only why Martin was a great producer, but also why The Beatles records are as important as they are.  I have to imagine that part of Martin’s willingness to experiment came from his early work doing comedy records with the likes of British comic talent like Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Dudley Moore, since there was always a spirit of anarchy and penchant for breaking the rules in The Beatles’ records.  It’s no coincidence that what first broke the ice between The Beatles and Martin on a personal level was a joke that George Harrison made about Martin’s tie.  And yet at the same time, like any great producer, Martin clearly had a well-trained ear that knew how to facilitate and expand upon the incredible songs these guys were churning out.

Also, just on a personal level, George Martin’s importance within The Beatles has always been something I’ve been aware of, because my devouring of The Beatles’ albums as a teenager coincided with me watching all of The Beatles Anthology TV series, which Martin is heavily featured in.  So for that I do kind of feel like Martin was really the first person that I knew of who helped make popular art, but from a “behind the scenes” perspective.  Like I’m sure I knew what a film director was at that point, but I think my becoming aware of George Martin’s influence on The Beatles recordings’ made me truly aware for the first time that there are smart, talented people out there that are involved in the creative process, but aren’t necessarily the star of the show.

Yet because Martin was such a secret weapon in The Beatles’ arsenal, I do fear his contributions to The Beatles’ music may be a bit overlooked in the annals of history, since I feel like the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership/competitiveness is what is often thought of as the crux of the band’s brilliance.  But this was a band that after all retired from touring because they wanted to continue exploring their creativity in the studio, and the particular way those records sound is I think a big reason why they still resonate the way they do.  Which is why I’ve never seen anything remotely cheeky about George Martin being nicknamed ‘the fifth Beatle’.