Month: December 2012

The Forty Ounce, Episode 16: … and introducing Merle Dixon as “Ol’ Knife-Hand”

In a sudden but not unreasonable shift away from our podcast’s original theme, me and Daniel have devoted an entire episode of The Forty Ounce to our feelings about The Walking Dead. Because why not, right?

Do you like the Forty Ounce but hate all that talk about music? Do you watch The Walking Dead on AMC? Do you want to hear Jason lose a dollar over a stupid bet? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ then this is the episode for you!

In this episode, Jason and Daniel take a break from ranting about pop music to rant about The Walking Dead. Topics discussed range all the way from how bad the show was in Season 2 to how much better Season 3 is than Season 2. Plus, you can find out who Jason and Daniel’s favorite characters are, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Join the Forty Ounce as we discuss the most problematic show on basic cable!

Considering that this is our first episode that has nothing to do with music, I think it came out pretty well. We could probably have been a little more organized, but that’s always going to be a problem for us. The fact that we stuck to even a basic format is a small miracle in itself.

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Dispatches From The Mainstream: 12/11/2012

Bruno Mars – “Locked Out Of Heaven”

Sometimes Bruno Mars is not terrible. It used to be, that time only came once a year at the Grammys. Two years in a row, Bruno Mars has taken the stage at the Grammy Awards and performed stylish, retro and totally enjoyable versions of his dull, boring songs. It started with the doo-wop version of “Grenade” from 2011 (complete with all-male back-up singers) and continued in 2012 with a surprisingly rocking version of “Runaway Baby.” Unlike his debut album, Doo-Wops and Hooligans, which featured no doo-wop and very few hooligans, these performances revealed a Bruno Mars who was obsessed with the musical and visual style of eras gone by. I kept waiting for this version of the singer–who I think of as “Good Bruno” or G.B. for short–to emerge in his studio work, but aside from a co-writing credit on Cee-Lo Green’s irresistible “Fuck You,” G.B. was nowhere to be found. When “It Will Rain” was released, I took it as a sign that Bruno had finally succumb to his bland-yet-marketable side, and I mourned the loss of a potentially interesting artist.

If “Locked Out Of Heaven” is any indication, I was wrong to count G.B. out so soon. Bruno Mars finally committed his retro-fixation to record and it resulted in his best song yet. I’m not saying that “Locked Out Of Heaven” could pass for a long-lost Stax record—Mars really belts it on the chorus, but it’s still loaded with modern-day synth—but the verses have an undeniable old-school feel that helps the song stand out without becoming straight-up Fitz & The Tantrums-style pastiche. The funky guitar stabs, the stuttering vocal sample and the rare pop-music bass line that’s actually worth paying attention to all add up to a fun single that will hopefully be a turning point in Bruno’s career.

As for the lyrics, Mars still has a tendency for the dramatic, but considering that he made his name with a song about a woman who was impossibly perfect in every way and another song about a woman who literally dwelled in the realm of the Dark Lord Satan… it’s refreshing to hear him sing unabashedly about the pleasures of sex.

Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin – “Don’t You Worry Child”

If you’ve listened to the radio any time in the last five years, you may have noticed that we’re living in the era of the ‘club song’. Songs about living in the moment, walking into the club in your best clothes, dancing away your problems… usually set to an electronic beat, these songs are fun in small doses, but more than any other sub-genre of pop song, they’re like candy: too much just makes you feel gross. Personally, my enthusiasm for this kind of song started to wane around the 500th time I heard “Party Rock Anthem.”

It seems like the club song is already on the downward slope to irrelevance. Other trends have taken its place, like the pop-folk of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, etc. Even the fist-pumping, synth-laden, pop-influenced EDM sound, the kind of music that seems tailor-made for big, cathartic dance floor moments is becoming uncoupled lyrically from the setting of the club. “We Found Love” by Rihanna and Calvin Harris was one of last year’s biggest hits, and its (somewhat nonsensical) lyrics don’t even hint at partying… unless you interpret the “hopeless place” mentioned in the chorus to be a particularly depressing bar, in which case, I’m sorry.

“Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia and John Martin (who also helped out the band on last year’s “Save The World”) is another example of this trend. The EDM-style beat wouldn’t be out-of-place in a DJ’s playlist or in heavy radio rotation, but the lyrics are about as far from a club song as you could possibly get. Inspired by the beautiful landscapes of Australia, this song features a narrator reflecting on the soothing words of advice his father gave him in his youth. In a musical culture that celebrates youth and glamorizes living in the moment, it’s bizarre–though not unwelcome–to hear a song unabashedly celebrating nostalgia. Where the club song is all about getting you pumped up, this is a song that wants to comfort you while you dance, like a warm hug from a sweaty man wearing a neon-colored headband.

Christina Perri feat. Steve Kazee – “A Thousand Years (Part 2)”

I may have mentioned that I saw the last Twilight film in theaters. One part of the ending I did not spoil is the montage that happens right before the credits, as a result of Bella mind-melding with Edward in order to remind him of their epic love…. or something. For a non-fan of the series, the montage was pretty lame—seeing clips from Edward and Bella’s five-movie love story just serves as a reminder of what a dull, bland trip it’s been—but the song that plays under it goes a long way towards making the scene work.

Yeah, ha-ha, let’s all laugh at Jason because he likes that stupid Christina Perri song from the Twilight soundtrack. You can judge me all you want, but we all know that if a song hits you in the right place and at the right time, it doesn’t matter how mushy and sappy it is. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a song from a terrible movie sung by the woman who wrote “Jar Of Hearts.” Songs like this get made because we all have moments when we’re driving home in the rain and a big, dramatic song comes on, and even though we know it’s just a stupid over-produced pop song, it just gets us and we end up sing-crying all the way back from the Barnes and Noble. I call these moments “Chicago moments” in honor of the band that brought us songs like “You’re The Inspiration” and “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love.”

If you’re familiar with “A Thousand Years” you probably only know the version that played on the radio around the time when Breaking Dawn: Part One came out. But this is not the same version! For one thing, “Part 2” gets a major boost from the vocals of the fabulous Steve Kazee. Kazee is still starring in the Broadway musical Once, and his appearance on this song is a little bizarre, but, hey, if you’re trying to make the leap from Theater Girl Heart-Throb to Normal Person Heart-Throb, I suppose there are worse ways to do it.

Also, the song has been re-recorded and re-arranged in a way that gives the whole thing a lot more texture. The guitars sound like guitars, and the strings actually have some space to breathe instead of just being crammed into the mix. “Part 2” is about thirty seconds longer than the original, so if you’re dead-set against liking this song, it’s just going to feel like the producers were trying to prolong your suffering. But at least give the new version a chance: if a song can actually make the romance of Twilight seem halfway romantic, it’s worthy of acknowledgement, if not outright commendation.

666 Park Avenue, “Hypnos”

“Hypnos” is the first episode of 666 Park Avenue that I’ve watched with other people since I started writing about the show. Like watching a favorite movie in a crowded theater, experiencing something in public that you’re used to experiencing in private can change the way you look at it, or at least offer a new perspective. In this case, I gained some clarity on the show’s many failures when one of my friends asked, “What is this show about?”

I was at a total loss. I ended up saying something like, “There’s an apartment complex that is evil or magic and then the owner of the building is like the devil and then the blonde girl is trying to figure out what is happening.” That was the best I could do, and I spend more time thinking about this show than anyone else in the world.

Of course, if ABC’s marketing department can’t convince people to watch this show, I don’t think I even have a chance. It was their job to sell the public on this show, and the best tagline they could come up with is “New York’s Most Seductive Address?”

It's not exactly false advertising, but it is awful.

It’s not exactly false advertising, but it is awful.

My friend Daniel has already written about the bafflingly inept ad campaign for 666 Park Avenue, but I think it’s worth re-visiting, if only to marvel at the fact that Terry O’Qunn—who I imagine is the reason most people even watched this show to begin with—is completely absent from the poster, and only appeared for a few seconds in the commercials. I guess the network was hoping to promote this show solely on the image of Rachael Taylor, otherwise known as “Anthony Anderson’s friend from Transformers.

Remember this scene? What? No? Well, geez, you don't have to get all defensive about it.

Remember this scene? What? No? Well, geez, you don’t have to get all defensive about it.

In all fairness, it can’t be easy to advertise a show when the show itself doesn’t know what it wants to be. At the beginning of the season, the mystery of 666 Park Avenue excited me. I didn’t know where any of the plotlines were going or even what the show was actually about! Maybe it was naïve of me to see either of those things as a positive. But at this point, with nine episodes of plot development behind us, what the show is about has become apparent. What’s also apparent is that the first four episodes were an almost complete waste of time.

I touched on this last week, so I don’t need to get into it again, but I’m now convinced that episodes two through four were pretty much useless. The creators wasted time with the one-off Damned Of The Week characters and muddled the show’s villain with boring, un-villainous characterization. The parts of those episodes that actually matter (the beginning of the Brian/Alexis/Louise plot, Henry’s rise to political prominence) could have been handled a lot better and a lot quicker.

But let’s give 666 Park Avenue the benefit of the doubt. It’s not unusual for a show with a rocky start to develop into something worthwhile or even great. The ability to refine and adjust a television show is possibly the best thing about the medium, and to the credit of this show’s creators, they seem to be slowly narrowing in on the show they actually want to make, a show full of weird occult stuff symbols that keep demons from entering rooms and trips into the past that leave Shining-style clues as to their reality. Sure, the show still stumbles in the small moments—Jane’s cop friend stripping down to his undershirt for a ridiculous wall-smashing scene—and the big moments—Meris exploding into a flock of white birds after finally leaving The Drake—but the writers are also stumbling towards a show that’s fun to watch, a show that actually has a theme.

Yes! A theme! In this show! In this episode, Meris tells Gavin that “there’s a price to pay for what we want the most,” which is pretty on-the-nose for a show where people make deals with a literal devil. However, this episode added a twist to Henry’s storyline that gives the idea unprecedented depth.

I had assumed that Henry’s “journey to the dark side” (as the creators referred to it) would have him driven away from Jane by a lust for power. This week, though, we see a darker side of Henry himself when he blackmails a potential political ally who tries to exploit Jane’s recent hospital visit. If Henry’s soul is in danger, it’s not because he doesn’t care about Jane, it’s because he cares about her too much. What he wants most is to protect her, and given that he’s currently allied with not one, but two members of the Doran family, Henry might end up paying a high price indeed.

See? Somewhere underneath all the CGI mirrors and magical birds and lines like “I burned your buns” is a show that actually has something to say about the price of success. We’re probably never going to see that show, but isn’t it nice to know that it’s there?

One more thing: after this episode was over, one of my friends asked if “Hypnos” was, by this show’s standards, “a good episode.” I answered, “yes,” and everyone started laughing, which was not a totally unreasonable response.

  • The campaign manager turning out to be the Doran’s missing daughter is a twist I feel like I should have seen coming. Still, I have to congratulate the show whenever it pulls off a twist ending that doesn’t revolve around Jane getting stuck behind something. This reveal actually raises some interesting questions about Sasha’s motives and how she’ll proceed from here. Kudos!
  • “Your family has a dark legacy.” Gee, Meris, ya think?
  • So, Meris is made of white CGI birds, but the Drake is full of black CGI birds. I have no idea what this whole bird fixation is about, but the writers are clearly not going to let it go.
  • I hope the show isn’t building to a face-off between Kandinsky and Tony. Tony’s still my favorite character, and I don’t think I could handle it if he died.
  • The super-depressing 666 Park Avenue Facebook page referred to this episode as the “winter finale,” and there’s no telling when the last four episodes will air, but… uh, see you then, I guess.