8A - Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
8A - Tuesday, January18, 2011 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom
The kings of country
Music isn't all
about the lyrics
twangy on newest album,
'The King is Dead'
By CASSIE BALFOUR
The earnest harmonica that opens
The Decemberists' latest album The King
Is Dead will be jar-
ring for listeners who
witnessed the band's
previous foray into
expansive prog-rock. The
This fiddle-heavy slice D - et
of rootsy Americana is
a departure for a band The King is Dead
known for its puzzling C
concept records (see
The Hazards of Love).
But The Decemberists embrace the ten-
ants of alt-country and lead singer Colin
Meloy ditches the dizzyingly literate lyrics
in favor of sparser, more straightforward
diction. The Decemberists have lightened
up, and most of The Kingls Dead is a buoy-
ant barn dance.
"Rox in the Box" sounds like it was
written in alow-lit, whiskey-saturated bar
somewhere in Appalachian back-country
with Meloy scribbling down lyrics like,
"But while we're living here / Let's get
this little one thing clear / There's plenty
of men that die." It may be darker than the
rest of the album, but has enough twangy
fiddles to rouse barflies from their bour-
The Decemberists strive for authentic-
ity with "Calamity Song." The track is a
joyful romp that spends the first 30 sec-
onds building up tension with restrained
guitars before bursting into a full-blown,
down-home sing-along. Despite the folksy
sounds, this track has Meloy demonstrat-
ing his cultural literacy by crooning,
"Hetty Green / Queen of supply-side bon-
homie bone drab," (Google her - it just
wouldn't be a Decemberists album without
an obscure and outdated reference or two).
"January Hymn" works as a transition
between the band's penchant for melan-
choly, rich epics and the alt-country sound
that is pervasive on The King is Dead. The
track is sonically atmospheric but still has
the buttoned-up, classic feel of an Ameri-
can standard. "Rise to Me" is another suc-
cessful merging of the spectrum sounds
in which the band dabbles. The song leans
more country with its straining, moon-
lit fiddle, as Meloy sings, "Big mountain,
wide river / There's an ancient call / These
tree trunks these stream beds / Leave our
bellies full they sing out /I am gonna stand
my ground." Echoing these country trap-
pings is an eardrum-shattering harmonica
that wails in the background.
The Decemberists stumble a little with
the dull rehash "This is Why We Fight" - a
track that rumbles along without any of the
charming folksiness listeners will come to
expect from the newly twang-tinged band.
However, the one thing Decemberists fans
will miss is Meloy's grandiose storytelling.
Though the band trimmed down the songs
and infused them with a rural sensibility,
devotees might be left pining for those
But this new Decemberists release
actually finds the band scaling back on
the bells and whistles. Although listeners
may be wistful for Meloy's tall tales, this
album is filled with country-themed yarns
that are far more listenable than previ-
ously bloated concept albums. The King
is Dead is a record that conjures images
of the American heartland without any of
the cheesiness that plagues mainstream
country. This is an album that doesn't
demand too much of its listeners, but still
has a lot of soul.
I'm a big Prince fan. Recently, some-
one asked what "Purple Rain" means,
and I scoffed.
And then I thought to myself: I guess
I don't really know.
Now, I've seen the film "Purple
Rain" more than
plenty of times. I've
spent hours pouring
through demos, boot-
legs and live record-
ings. I'm excited to
find Prince cassettes,
fan magazines and
mentions in US
Weekly. Ihave about
500 songs by him, JOE
memorized maybe DIMUZIO
a hundred and con-
sistently listen to at
least 20 per week.
But "Purple Rain?" I don't listen to
it much. I never second-guess it. It's
popular, it's fun - untouchable. I can't
think of the last time I listened to it all
the way through. I don't need to. And
Well, when it comes down to it, I don't
really care. Thinking about it, I've come
to realize that on the large part, with
most pop music Ilisten to, lyrics are
maybe the least important element to me.
Some people claim to be "all about the
lyrics," and I can't relate. That caveat
usually follows rap fans, which is under-
standable. But thinking about some of
my favorite rap artists and albums, the
lyrics are never the draw for me; it's
usually the whole production. Digable
Planets' Blowout Comb is one my favor-
ite albums, but I probably couldn't rap
more than a stanza of it. P.M. Dawn's
The Bliss Album...?, Nas's Illmatic and De
La Soul is Dead are others I love from
start to finish, but the lyrics are only a
part of the package.
I'm not arguing that lyrics aren't
important. They have to be taken on
their own terms. You don't listen to pop
music to hear poetry, you listen to hear
pop music. But quantifying that satis-
faction you get from listeningto lyrics,
hearing words and music and "feeling"
something is a bit harder to explain.
I'll admit to having those embar-
rassing moments of communion when
a singer seems to be writing out your
fantastic teenage romantic angst just for
you. A song comes along, some words
come out and it feels like somebody's
playing some cruel or wonderful joke on
Over the last year, I've become a huge
disco fan. Disco's not exactly a genre
built on lyrics, but lyrics are a huge part
of what makes so many classic disco
songs work. For the genre's early days
as the music of an oppressed black,
Hispanic and gay youth, it was all about
escape. Lyrics in disco tunes can range
from a single word to anthemic, wailing
declarations of independence, romantic
visions of paradise and an aching, end-
less nostalgia for pleasure in the midst
of incredible pain.
They're another instrument, and
often, the most important one of all.
In Donald Byrd's "Love Has Come
Around" (one of my favorites), Byrd
repeats the title phrase so many times
and reverbed so coldly, you'd think he's
never been in love before. But on top of
icy, massive piano and handclaps that
sound like doors being slammed, those
words get my blood, feet and heart
But maybe that's me investing things
into the music that aren't reallythere.
And why should that be a problem?
If we measure pop music's success
on its ability to attract and compel a
wide array of people with some simple
melodies, rhythms and words, then lyr-
ics should invite interpretations rather
than shun them. When people pour over
Beatles lyrics, with an ah-but-what-do-
they-mean complex, then they'd prob-
ably end up pretty bored. Drugs. Money.
The overall musical
experience is worth
a thousand words.
Whether it's Leonard Cohen or
Ke$ha, pop lyrics are more (and less)
than words. They can play a role, tell a
story or just rock the fuck out. In meta-
phor and obscenity, Ican find it all ifI
want to; no matter how poetic or con-
trived. Lyrics can be as "important" as
I want them to be, but I don't need nice
n' dry, satisfying conclusions telling me
how to think about a song.
I have at least four separate, logical
explanations for what "Purple Rain"
"means." But in the end, I don't feel
the need to waste my time with them. I
knew what it was all about the first time
I heard it. I felt it. How could the words
mean anything else?
Dimuzio is puzzling over the lyrics to-
"Pachelbel's Canon." To help him out,
e-mail him at email@example.com.
"Dude, I thought you knew I was Canadian."
'Hornet' falls flat in 3-D
'Lights Out' shines
By TIMOTHY RABB
Daily Arts Writer
In the recent movie "Jackass 3D," the
outright lack of 3-D imagery in all but a
few scenes was disconcerting. The produc-
ers lured us in with the
promise of glamorous
visuals for only five extra
dollars, but the delivery
was scant at best. Luck- The Green
ily, the movie still gave Hornet
us the hilarity we expect
from the "Jackass" gang At Quality 16
with uniquely painful and Rave
stunts and depraved tom-
Even so, it raises the
suspicion that perhaps
the "3D" designation is a fallacy, consid-
ering that many of the 3-D films that have
followed "Avatar" and "How to Train Your
Dragon" don't take full (or even partial)
advantage of the resources at their dis-
posal. Unfortunately, Seth Rogen's new
adaption of "The Green Hornet" franchise
is further proof of this bait-and-switch
"The Green Hornet" could be best
described as a rip-off of the average Joe-
turned-hero element of "Kick-Ass" coupled
with the strained, affected dialogue of a
bad improv comedy bit. The characters of a
ence as those in a compelling drama, but it
would prove an arduous (if not impossible)
task to find a single characteristic in Britt
Reid (Seth Rogen, "Pineapple Express")
or Kato (Jay Chou, "True Legend") with
which a sapient movie lover could identify.
Britt is a millionaire playboy who hates
his late father James - even in the wake
of his death - for his unwavering commit-
ment to integrity and his no-nonsense par-
enting style. In lieu of running his newly
inherited newspaper empire with the same
degree of professionalism as his father, he
decides to cause a violent stir in the under-
belly of Los Angeles to give the news some
After forging an unlikely friendship
with his father's former employee Kato,
Britt creates a clever hero disguise and
raises hell on the streets of LA with the
goal of vilifying himself and giving his
newspaper enticing fodder for reporting.
In the process, he injures cops and destroys
thousands of dollars worth of personal
property, yet we're supposed to hail him as
a hero when he later denies a bribe from a
crooked official. Case in point: Comedy can
stretch the boundaries of the believable,
but the characters' motivations should at
least have some sort of logical basis. Don't
look for it here.
Rogen's emphatic "I don't know what
the hell's going on" routine works well in
stoner flicks like "Pineapple Express" and
"Superbad," but falls flat on its face here.
He's a mediocre actor who's been fortu-
nate enough to star in plot-driven movies
that don't rely on acting chops so much as
a bevy of action scenes and slapstick situa-
tions. It brings to mind the "Family Guy"
parody of Rogen: "The Seth Rogen gene
gives you the appearance of being funny
even though you haven't actually done any-
Granted, the movie isn't entirely trash.
The cinematography shows some promise
with unique shots and slow-motion fight
scenes and there's an occasional good joke
("occasional" can't be stressed enough
here). But the long lag time between spo-
radic action scenes will give viewers a wel-
come opportunity to tire and yawn.
A good rule of thumb in light of the prec-
The truth is, Seth
Rogen only has two
and boner jokes.
edent set by "Avatar" - don't see a movie
in 3-D unless it's either animated or it mar-
kets itself as a straight action film. Instead
of spending Friday night watching man-
children vacillate between awkwardly
romancing girls and fighting among them-
selves, save $15 and sit in a local dive bar.
on in FX schedule.
ByKAVI SHEKHAR PANDEY
Senior Arts Editor
FX needs to seriously consider chang-
ing its network slogan from "FX has the
movies" to "FX has the incredible origi-
nal programming featuring badass Cau-
casian men." With "The Shield," "Rescue
Me," "Sons of Anarchy"
and "Justified," the
channel's trademark **-*
is to develop dramas
with tough hombres ughtsout
for protagonists whose
mere glare would make Pilot
Don Draper pee his
pants. "Lights Out" is Tuesdays at10 p.m.
the latest addition that, FX
based on its spectacu-
lar pilot, will soon join
the pantheon of great, gritty FX dramas.
Let the boxing puns commence.
The premise of "Lights Out" is a blend
of "Breaking Bad" and "Rocky Balboa,"
and the familiarity of the plot is its only
glaring flaw. The show features Patrick
"Lights" Leary (Holt McCallany, "CSI:
Miami") a former heavyweight boxing
champion, who, in retirement, has found
himself repeatedly against the ropes.
Though Leary pretends to be content
with his life as a stay-at-home dad - and
in some ways, he is - the pilot of "Lights
Out" unearths all of Leary's regrets and
resentments in one fell swoop, bringing
the once all-powerful giant to his knees.
Poor financial investments have ripped
a hole in Leary's bank account and
gloomy medical diagnosis has left him
with an uncertain future. Add to that
the five-year anniversary of his humili-
ating final fight, and the man who once
considered himself invincible is now left
utterly neutered, unable to provide for
Like Walter White in "Breaking Bad,"
Leary is then given a golden opportu-
nity to solve all his problems - a boxing
rematch with a $10 million payout. Con-
sidering his health, familial obligations
- his wife forced him to quit in the first
place - and thirst for former glory, this
is a decision that Leary will struggle to
make, setting the stage for the rest of the
McCallany's portrayal of Leary is a
total knockout and essentially the reason
why "Lights Out" brims with such tre-
mendous potential. The greatness of the
pilot involves seeing how much the char-
acterization of Leary subverts expecta-
tions. This Hulk of a man - supremely
intimidating and vicious in the boxing
ring - is shown to be a warm, caring,
endearing man outside of it.
But great shows like "Mad Men"
don't entirely explain their protagonists
immediately - layers are slowly peeled
back throughout the season. "Lights
Out" does the same, shrouding Leary in a
ring of ambiguity. Questions run amok -
it's unclear if Leary actually resents his
wife for demanding his retirement. And
most importantly, Leary's motivations
are uncertain - does he really miss the
action of his former career or is he only
considering a comeback to support his
Don't come to "Lights Out" expecting
a lot of action - it's not a show about box-
ing, but about a character who used to
box. The show's violence is relegated to
sudden, short flashbacks that are tightly
Don Draper better
look out - there's a
new macho man of
mystery in town.
edited and highly effective. The main
thrills of "Lights Out" come instead from
observing Leary's interactions with his
family - the most organic since "Friday
Night Lights"-- and trying to understand
his moral code. Is Leary going to beat the
tar out of the drunken yuppie that disses
him? Or will he just walk away?
The pilot of "Lights Out" is a mag-
nificent compilation of every element
that makes great TV great. At once, it is
a character study of a fascinating has-
been, a highly entertaining hour of tele-
vision (it's funny too!) and a love letter
to a once-glorious, now mostly irrelevant
sport. In an inarguable decision, "Lights
Out" is already one of the best shows on
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