There's a particular time of the year when I feel completely at one with today's pop music audience--and sure enough, as always, it was this weekend, as I joyously watched the exciting American Music Awards!
For starters, the dominating presence of rock god Justin Bieber--the colorful youngster who has won America's hearts and minds thanks to his marvelous pop sense, his intriguing tattoos, and his righteous anger at, in his words, "all the haters who thought I'd be around for 1, 2 years"—won big! Bieber wisely realizes he's got perhaps three years and six months before he vanishes off the face of the Earth, so he's got a right to gloat at those who suspect him to be nothing more than a passing fancy! And how about that hair?
Other winners included Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Linkin Park, Carly Rae Jepsen and…oh, crap, I lost that link to Hollywoodlife.com that listed all the winners and allowed journalists who'd rather watch reruns of Luther to pretend they actually watched the AMAs and had valid opinions!
In other news, journalists trapped on a nightmarish 7-day jaunt with pop goddess Rihanna are said to be drunken, filled with hate, and virtually gleeful that they didn't have to talk to her! "I'm not sure what she really does," reported one writer during a Skype interview minutes before passing out on an airline tray filled with caviar, flutes of champagne, and his journalistic ethics! "Hey, can I Tweet this?"
Rihanna: Unapologetic (Def Jam) All eyes are on Rihanna right now, as they certainly should be, following the legal troubles that have ensued since her recent "Last Girl On Earth" tour—after which it was revealed that, in fact, there were several more girls on Earth during her trek, and false advertising, as always, will come back and haunt you no matter who you are! Though my personal copy of this new album was sadly defaced by a vandal's collection of Magic Markers, suffice it to say that it bears a wonderful cover portrait and 14 stunning songs, all of which contain beats, rhythm, guest stars like Eminem and Chris Brown (she knows him!), and some chick singing who is probably Rihanna, but I don't even care! My goal is to simply meet her, take her to a party, have my picture taken with her and have it posted on the Internet! Later, I'll tell people that yeah, I met her, but she was kind of dull! Incidentally, I live in L.A.!
Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day (Swan Song/Atlantic) Though I missed the opportunity to witness this historic reunion concert as it happened, this nifty new package, which in various configurations (2-CD, 2-CD/DVD, 2-CD/2-DVD, Blu-Ray, etc.) documents the legendary band's one-time-only 2007 reunion performance, is maybe even better than being there! For starters, it's cheaper! Secondly, when the band runs through their many hits—well, relatively speaking—you can see them up close and personal, rather than from a distance, with expensive drinks in your hand, sitting next to British people you don't know who perhaps have different standards of hygiene than you might! Plus, you can always press pause, go to the bathroom, and come back and watch "Trampled Under Foot" just as it's starting! The band is in fine shape, relatively speaking, and the unique nature of this event—these are dudes who called it a day when they should have—makes it all the more memorable and, dare I say, classy! Buy it, watch it at home on your couch, maybe pick up a bottle of wine or two, and after two or three songs you won't even mind that Rihanna is nowhere to be seen!
Phillip Phillips: The World From The Side Of The Moon (19 Recordings) With one of the snazziest names in pop music history and a stellar appearance in America's favorite musical variety show—American Idol—behind him, Phillip Phillips would appear to have the entire world in his grasp! And he knows it! Thus this album title, which indicates, with purposeful irony, that despite the promise his television stardom has brought him, he's still essentially miles and miles away from the superstardom he likely set his sights upon years ago! Striking mostly for his admirable inoffensiveness, Phillips should appeal to fans of the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Damien Rice, Jonny Lang, Jon Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, Red Skelton, metal bands Overkill and Testament, and—perhaps unexpectedly—Toni Braxton, Patti Austin and Reba McEntire! For that matter, he should appeal to fans of world peace and those of us who are strongly against bullying! But you know what? "Should" really doesn't mean much! Besides, what the heck is up with that dumb name?
Il Volo: We Are Love (Interscope) In their former lives as "Italian operatic pop teenage tenors," the charismatic trio of Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble won hearts the world over with their rugged good looks, impeccable vocalizing, and sexy Italian heritage! Is it just me, or are Italians kind of cool? Still, once the allure of massive pop superstardom ran its course, the trio's natural desire to devote their time to music they really liked reared its head! And thus comes We Are Love, a tribute album to the late American songwriting giant Arthur Lee, which opens with a soaring "Stephanie Knows Who," breaks your heart with an airy "Between Clark And Hilldale," and closes with a tremendous, lengthy "Doggone," drum solo and exotic harmonies fully intact! Those who are shocked by the trio's bizarre career turn should be advised: follow-up album Underground Of Velvet is already in the can! And I thought PFM was hip!
Pitbull: Global Warming (RCA) Certainly one of pop music's most intriguing figures, Latin hip-hop star Pitbull continues to astound! Already making history via his 2009 double-platinum super-hit "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)"—renowned for featuring the most attractive women in music video history per independent analysis by a team of highly-regarded scientific experts!—the man returns here with an even more engaging set, featuring guest stars Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown, Afrojack, Enrique Iglesias, Miami superstar Flipper, and the multi-talented Jennifer Lopez! Hot stuff? You bet! Blending rhythms with an impressive command of climate science, the new album spells out the folly of the 4.0C temperature rise, excess global emissions, and the idiotic parking policies that have made a mockery of Collins Avenue! Word is the man is thinking of changing his name to Staffordshire Terrier "unless that's taken"! He's damn cool!
Porcupine Tree: Octane Twisted (Kscope) I continue to be impressed by the steady ascension of England's Porcupine Tree into the higher reaches of contemporary music-making: Borrowing from the stylistic flourishes that made prog rock intricate and astounding when it worked (generally by the likes of King Crimson and Pink Floyd, say), mixing in hard and aggressive sounds that are fully 21st Century forward-looking, the band—led by the highly talented, freakishly productive Steven Wilson—have escaped the common prog pitfall of repeating themselves and indeed seem to get better with each year. Recorded in Chicago in 2010 when the band was touring behind their celebrated The Incident, this new set is a worthy document that will thrill fans and likely win new ones among those fortunate enough to hear it. Recommended.
Keyshia Cole: Woman To Woman (Geffen) With its surprising cover picture tribute to Peter Frampton's 1986 Premonition—boy, is that obscure, or what?—celebrated and, er, rather comely singer Keyshia Cole returns with a fourth album that will likely knock your socks off if you're looking for her fourth album! Well-known for her work on TV reality shows, especially to viewers, Cole's on a new show called Family First and continues to garner fans galore! Sadly, the new album's title might inhibit male music fans insecure about their masculinity—I mean really, it would be kind of weird to bring this up to a cash register if, like, the clerk looked like she might call her girlfriends over to watch you buy it, you know what I mean?—but those among us who have no such doubts should proudly march right up to the counter, plop our money down, and then go home and listen to it! Topped off with a coffee and Danish? It's all good, my man!
Various Artists: Man Chest Hair (Finders Keepers/B-Music) Album for album, song for song, the people finding the stuff populating the Finders Keepers and B-Music labels are doing some of the finest public-servicing in the music biz at the moment. This set, collecting 18 tracks of deliberately obscure tracks from Manchester, England's '70s rock scene, typifies the greatness—and weirdness—of their approach. Featuring an array of artists that most people have likely never heard—among them Urbane Gorilla, Slipped Disc, Savoury Duck, and Greasy Bear—and one or two (Stackwaddy) that might be vaguely familiar, this collection is loud, colorful, and, as is its intent, documents that missing '70s link between punk and metal that many never knew existed--including these artists, most likely, which is a part of its charm. Intelligent compiling and a very ear-opening listen—seek it out.
Fred Neil: Sessions (Water) A brief word here for a great, unheralded reissue by legendary folk figure Fred Neil. Originally released in 1968, the album almost scarily forecasts the artistic approach the equally legendary Tim Buckley would be employing with his own 1969 classic Happy Sad: a deep voice, a gentle instrumental looseness, superb playing, and a sense of intimacy that, when it connects, will likely connect for the remainder of your days. A largely unheard classic, and its reappearance in 2012 is kind of wonderful.
Kid Rock: Rebel Soul (Atlantic) Credited as being "the premier genre-hopping rock and roller of all time," Detroit's Kid Rock returns here with a dandy new hat, looking to his left at a new batch of genres that fell out of someone's truck in Livonia, and planning his next genre hop! Experts predict Tex-Mex, Celtic, or Dixieland are the likeliest candidates! I can't wait either!