Saturday, December 11, 2004

My Current Favourite Rock Groups

Like most people, my musical tastes have changed throughout my life. I have gone through my various phases. Like many I listened to New Wave and electropop in the Eighties. And I listened to alternative in the Nineties. But for much of my life there has been some consistency in my musical tastes. I have been a fan of the British Invasion since I was a baby. I have been fan of heavy metal since I first heard Black Sabbth and Led Zeppelin as a child. And I have been a fan of power pop since I first heard Cheap Trick's "Surrender" on the radio in the late Seventies (no surprise that I would be fan--power pop can be traced to the British Invasion bands...). It should be no wonder that my favourite groups of late tend to be either heavy metal or power pop.

For the past eight years among my favourite bands has been Fountains of Wayne. Founding members Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood met at Williams College in Massachusetts, where they discovered that they shared a love of the British Invasion bands. They went through a number of short lived bands and as Pinnwheel finally released an album. Unfortunately, legal difficulties prevented the album from every being released. Schlesinger joined indie-pop band Ivy, Collingwood joined Boston country band The Mercy Buckets. In 1996 they reunited and formed Fountains of Wayne. In the meantime, Schlesinger gained fame as the man who wrote the title tune for Tom Hanks' movie That Thing You Do. The song "That Thing You Do" was supposed to be the hit of the one hit Wonders, the fictional band of the movie. To Schlesinger's credit, the song sounds like something from 1964. It is also one of the most listenable songs of the late Nineties.

It is through That Thing You Do that I discovered Fountains of Wayne. With a sound reminiscent of The Beatles, The Who, and The Zombies, Fountains of Wayne were definitely power pop and thus they were right up my alley. Their sound brings to mind such British Invasion bands as The Beatles and The Zombies and such classic power pop acts as Cheap Trick and E'Nuff Z'Nuff. Beyond that, Fountains of Wayne are blessed with an incredible sense of humour that shows up in their songs. "The Valley of Malls," from Utopia Parkway, is an attack on Yuppies and their spending habits. Their bigget hit, "Stacy's Mom," from Welcome Interstate Managers, is a paen to teenage lust. Not only do the Fountains of Wayne have great riffs, they also have a great sense of humour.

Another favourite band of mine at the moment is Bowling for Soup. Like Fountains of Wayne, they are also power pop. And like Fountains of Wayne, they also have a sense of humour. Bowling for Soup was founded by Witchita Falls, Texas native Jaret Reddick in 1994 with the simple goal of creating a band that was, well, happy. They released an EP in 1997 on Denton, TX based FFROE. In 1998 they released their first full length album, Rock On Honorable Ones. They became very popular in the Dallas area. In fact, I discovered Bowling for Soup through my brother, who lives in Denton County. Their popularity in Texas led them to signing with a major label, Jive/Silvertone. It was on that label that they released Let's Do It for Johnny; however, it was their second album on Jive/Silvertone, Drunk Enough to Dance, that brought them to the attention of many. It was on that album they scored their first real hit, "Girl All the Bad Guys Want," the lament of a nerdy guy who wants a rather bad girl. They also wrote and performed the theme song to Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. Their latest album, Hangover You Don't Deserve, features their latest and perhaps biggest hit, "1985," an unabashed bit of nostalgia for the Eighties. Bowling for Soup shows influences from both the First and Second British Invasions, New Wave, and the classic power pop bands, albeit with a joy and a sense of humour rarely seen bands today. They are among the funniest bands around.

At the other end of the power pop spectrum is The Killers. Compared to Fountains of Wayne and Bowling for Soup, The Killers are a very young band. The band was founded by Brandon Flowers and Dave Keuning with the intent of creating a guitar driven group. Founded in Las Vegas, The Killers came to the attention of London based label Lizard King. The group then journeyed to the UK where they had a small tour and "Mr. Brightside" was released in limited edition. After playing in New York City, they were signed to Island Records. It was on that label that they released their first album, Hot Fuss. Unlike Fountans of Wayne (who tend to see the world through a sardonic lens) and Bowling for Soup (who are very, very happy), The Killers' songs tend to be very, very dark. Their first single and best song, "Mr. Brightside," deals with the suspcions and jealousies in a relationshp and the paranoid fears that can arise form them. "Andy You're A Star" deals with stalkers while "Somebody Told Me" deals with confused sexuality. While both are guitar driven groups that are identifiably power pop, The Killers are about as far from Bowling for Soup as one can get (they certainly aren't happy...).

The last of my favourite groups of late is Velvet Revolver. Unlike the aforementioned groups, Velvet Revolver is heavy metal. In fact, it can be fair to say that it is more Guns 'N' Roses than Guns 'N' Rose is now. Velvet Revolver consists of three former members of that band--leader guitarist Slash, Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. The rest of the band are veteran musicians as well. Lead singer Scott Weiland was once with Stone Temple Pilots, while guitarist Dave Kushner had belonged to Wasted Youth and other bands. Not surprisingly, Velvet Revolver sounds a lot like Guns 'N' Roses--in fact they sound more like Guns 'N' Roses than GNR does now. They made their debut on The Hulk soundtrack with "Set Me Free" and cover of Pink Floyd hit "Money" for The Italian Job. From there they recorded their first album Contraband. "Do It For the Kids" is wonderfully raw--what if one crossed grunge with heavy metal? "slither" sounds like old G 'N' R to me, although I personally think Weiland is a better singer than Axl Rose ever was. The only thing I dislike about Velvet Relvolver are their power ballads, which fall a little flat for me. But then I never was a fan of power ballads...

Anyhow, those are the current groups that I really like. I suspect that all four of them will see much success in the future, even if it has taken awhile for Fountains of Wayne to see any. I know I would much rather kids today listen to these bands the current crop of rappers and teen divas...

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Apartment

Tonight I watched The Apartment again. I don't really know how many times I have watched the movie, but it is one of my favourite films of all time. I consider it Billy Wilder's greatest movie, even better than Some Like It Hot. Indeed, it is quite possibly the greatest romantic comedy of all time in my opinion.

The Apartment centres on C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a clerk at the huge Consolidated Life Insurance Company in New York City. Baxter has a unique problem. Becuase he once lent his apartment to someone who needed to change for a wedding, he now finds himself lending his apartment to his superiors for their various rendevous. This puts him in good with his bosses, but makes his life miserable otherwise. Worse yet, Baxter is carrying a torch for elevator operator Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), which leads to further complications... Wilder's inspiration for The Apartment came from a scene in Brief Encounter, in which the two lead characters have a rendevous in the apartment of an unseen character. Wilder was more fascinated by the unseen owner of the apartment than he was the two lead characters.

For me The Apartment is a nearly perfect movie. It is part comedy, part romance, and part drama. Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond's script is excellent. It is a far cry from the sometimes shallow romantic comedies one sees today. The Apartment deals realstically with the compromises with principles and compromises to self respect that occur in the business world, even compromises that could cost a guy the girl he loves. Wilder and Diamond's script is both very dark and sardonic, yet at the same time it has many lighter moments. Somehow they worked out a balance between comedy and drama. As usual, the dialogue is sparkling and realistic--the sort of smart dialogue (complete with a few pop culture references) for which Wilder and Diamond were known.

As to the cast, the performances are fantastic. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine make Baxter and Kubelik sympathetic, yet flawed. And both actors often reveal their characters' inner feelings subtlely--their facial expressions often revealing more than words could. Fred MacMurray also gives a convincing performance as the less than sympathetic Mr. Sheldrake (once you see The Apartment, you'll never be able to watch My Three Sons in quite the same way again.

I've loved The Apartment ever since I first saw it. While it is not a laugh out loud comedy (although there are some laugh out loud moments), it is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. It is also one of the most romantic films I have ever seen. There is no schmaltz, just genuine feelings in a fairly realistic film.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Two of My Favourite Web Sites

I don't write about the web on this blog very often because there is already so much written about the web that is already on the web. I must admit, however, that I do spend a good deal of time on the web. And, of course, I do have my favourite web sites. Two of them are rather high profile.

The first is Amazon.Com. A large part of Amazon's appeal for me is that they carry books, DVDs, and so on that I wouldn't find at Sam Goodys or WalMart. I just bought the DVD of The Assassination Bureau (a fun period piece from the Sixties featuring Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg) and a copy of An Introduction to Old English Runes by R. I. Page. Neither of these would I be likely to find in Randolph County. But Amazon goes beyond being a simple bookstore where one can get books one might not find at Sam Goodys or Wally World. One of my favourite features is their Recommendations. This is a feature that is turned on when one logs into his or her Amazon account. Basically, Amazon recommends various books, DVDs, CDs, et. al. in which one might be interested based on a survey he or she takes and his or her previous purchases. Sometimes these recommdations are way off base (I loathe The Sound of Music). Other times they are right on target (the Recommendations is how I found they carried The Assassination Bureau).

Amazon also includes Customer Reviews (some more useful than others), which can give one an idea of what to expect from a particular book or DVD. For DVDs, they list the various features it has. For CDS, they have a track listing. For books, DVDs, and CDs they also include a list of works that customers also bought. (for instance, people who bought the wide screen version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone also bought the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings movies and Pirates of the Caribbean. Amazon also has "Market Place Partners," through whom one can buy used and new copies of DVDs, books, and CDS, often at a cheaper price.

Of course, the most important thing to me is that Amazon is reliable. I have always received whatever I have ordered within two weeks. And any item I have ordered, whether it is a book or a DVD, has been in good condition. I actually trust Amazon more than some shops.

Another one of my favourite web sites is the Internet Movie Data Base, better known as IMDB. As its name indicates, IMDB is a data base on the internet listing literally thousands of movies, TV shows, actors, directors, cinematographers, and virtually anyone else who has worked on a movie. With regards to movies, they have detailed information on each film listed, including its release dates, box office, cast, and so on. With regards to actors, directors, and others who have worked on films, it includes a complete filmography and usually a biography and trivia as well.

The fact is that I don't think I have seen any source of information on films and TV shows as IMDB. Even the most obscure films are listed. And I have learned numerous bits of trivia regarding various actors and directors from IMDB. It is one of the most useful, if not the single most useful web sites for any person interested in film or television.

The fact is that of web sites I visit, I probably visit Amazon and IMDB more often than most others. I would recommend them to anyone who loves books, films, or TV shows.