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November 26, 2013 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-11-26

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 5

' The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 5

Writing with the
inkwell of music

"Los pollos hermanos?"
ana 'emories

One Direction loses
momentum with
third album
DailyArts Writer
If One Direction's first two
records are any indication, Mid-
night Memories is set to be one
of 2013's best-
selling CDs. D
It's hard, if not
impossible, Midnight
to imagine an Memories
album that
could be less One Direction
deserving of
that title. Even Columbia
just approach-
ing Midnight
Memories as typical boy-band stuff
leads to disappointment.
Back in 2011, One Direction
struck pop-music gold with its
debut single, the energetic ear-
worm that was "What Makes
You Beautiful." You'd hope that
at least a little bit of the spirit
behind that song would still be
present on the tracks of Mid-
night Memories, but no, every
idea here is botched, every sign
of potential immediately thrown
away and every band member
whitewashed until they lose
all charisma and uniqueness.
The lyrics and voices are inex-
plicably put at the forefront of
the mix, even though they're so
banal and generic that they're
impossible to recall by the time
each track ends.
Midnight Memories is most
attention-grabbing when you're
just trying to spot all of the

songs that One Direction and
its songwriters are "borrowing"
from. The album unnecessar-
ily opens with a copy of the first
30 seconds of The Who's "Baba
O'Riley," despite it having no
relation to the actual first song.
Elsewhere, "Diana" bastard-
izes the vibe of the Footloose
soundtrack, "Midnight Memo-
ries" steals from Joan Jett's "I
Love Rock 'n' Roll" and "Does
He Know" takes from "Jessie's
Girl," among countless oth-
ers. The "Friday Night Lights"
theme song can't even escape
thievery here. The songwriters
can't be bothered to be original
in the songs' titles, either. Come
on, guys - "You and I" was a
Lady Gaga hit just two years ago.
Keeping with the theme of
re-appropriating other artists'
styles (because, let's be honest,
Midnight Memories does noth-
ing original of note), the album's
most interesting theme is One
Direction's marketing team
trying to subtly reposition the
group alongside mainstream
folk-rock revivalists like Mum-
ford & Sons and The Lumineers.
Songs like "Through the Dark"
has whoever is singing (it's seri-
ously impossible to tell - they all
sound like a young Rob Thomas)
doing his best Marcus Mumford
impression as bass drums drive
the song and the producers try
to evoke a campfire atmosphere.
It's reminiscent of when U.S.
record executives changed The
Beatles' Rubber Soul to better
position it among the burgeon-
ing folk scene of the mid-1960s.
The only difference is that Rub-
ber Soul was, you know, a little
bit better. The makers of this

album don't seem to realize that
adding a One Direction dance-
tint to folk makes it less palat-
able, not more interesting.
Considering the resources at
the group's disposal, it's really
surprising how terribly execut-
ed Midnight Memories is. Surely
the band could've hired better
songwriters than the ones fea-
tured on this record, and even
the producers don't seem to
know what they're doing. The
record's artificial and overdone
style is the musical equivalent
of putting a poem through five
different languages in Google
Translate and then seeing what
it looks like again in its original
When Midnight Memories
isn't bland, it's simply frustrating.
Verses with potential give way to
poorly written, boring choruses.
There's no spontaneity and no
energy, which is a damning offense
for a pop album that needs to be
constantly holding your attention.
The few "highlights" are the opti-
mistic cheesiness of "Don't Forget
Where You Belong" and the best
track, "Little Black Dress," whose
relatively rough guitars make it
sound like a lost Big Star cut from
the 1970s. However, these songs
are nowhere near enough to save
an album that is destined to be
played on repeat in your local Toys
'R' Us during the holiday season
before quickly being forgotten
altogether. Whether it's puzzling
evidence that record companies
think kids will buy anything,
regardless of quality, or simply
a mess of a CD from an already-
past-its-prime boy band, Midnight
Memories is sub-par and certainly
not worth your money.

Ihave a confession to make,
something that could
affect your perception of
me as the writer you're cur-
rently reading. It's the type of
that I usu-
ally wouldn't
even bother
down, but it
has gotten
to the point
where the ELLIOT
truth needs ALPERN
to be heard.
Wait - first, actually, it's
important to give you a little
context before my admission
will make sense. Regarding my
own ability to write, I'm actu-
ally pursuing a sub-concentra-
tion in Creative Writing here,
specializing in fiction. All of
this is to say I take what I pen
down quite seriously. So it's
tough to divulge something I
consider (perhaps erroneously)
to be a flaw in my technique as
a writer.
Put simply: I need outside
help when I write. Sitting down
to a blank page - and it pains
me to say this - is too difficult,
sometimes. Occasionally, I go
through the motions; I toss
a few throwaway sentences
down to see how they break up
the white space. But, sooner or
later, I always seem to return,
begging for a chance - just a
To confess more specifically:
I tend to turn to music when
nothing else will get me going.
It's easy to overlook the
implications of that. After all,
who doesn't play a little The
xx when that homework gets
to be a slog? How could I be
blamed when I just want a
little flavor to build my recipe
Unfortunately, it's not as
simple as that. Each master
author these days seems to sell
the same advice like it's going
out of style: In a world where
the Internet is suffocating
humanity on par with Love-
craft's "The Crawling Chaos,"
the only way to stay true to

your f
kind o
of his'
cable i
esty, it
As t
ment h
I gr(
And ye
you wa
that gr
one of
ers of:
ate mu
is com
able), t
he's to
that m
my job
King t
back it
that pa
like to
the he
talk th
to wor

iction is to eliminate any entity, is it really that extreme
f outside influence. Hell, to use anything else as a tool to
ian Franzen goes out better yourself?
way to glue an Ethernet "Now I'll only listen at the
nto his computer, only to end of a day's work," King
he cord itself. continued, "when I roll back
iblishing my mood with to the beginning of what I
? That's positively cow- did that day and go over it on
I can only imagine what the screen. A lot of times, the
igway would think as I music will drive my wife crazy
my way into this column, because it will be the same
ing along to the Arctic thing over and over and over
eys. Not only is it a trav- again."
's a disservice to my If music can be an immedi-
as a writer. Right? ate and often spontaneous
he Arctic Monkeys gateway to a specific memory,
way to Rage Against the embedded within a single
ne, allow me the oppor- moment of time, can't music
to shift my own argu- then achieve the same purpose
iere. in writing? Case in point: I s-
ew up reading a fairly ten to The Decemberists's "The
ating range of authors. Mariner's Revenge Song," and
t, one staple (wherever ensuingly get to work on some
ant to place him within sort of old-timey sailor's tale.
-oup) was Stephen King. The atmosphere, the tone, the
dless of your opinions mood is so specific that leav-
the guy, he's undeniably ing the work unfinished risks
the most successful writ- never recapturing it.
the past few decades. You But, luckily, the specific-
do much worse in emu- ity of that mindset can be
an artist, right? accessed, at least to some
degree, by revisiting the music
I listened to during that. And,
lug ingcan if need be, I can solidify that
p gcan feeling by playing the same
e beneficial, song over and over again as
I I progress through my story,
music keeps likely to the eventual chagrin
of the future Mrs. Alpern.
ou moving. But really, how can you
ignore a tool like that which
may better your overall prod-
uct, no matter how that's
ugh he admits to a accomplished? Why are
ished ability to toler- authors like Franzen so afraid
isic while he writes (as of being influenced by some-
pletely understand- thing outside of their own
:here's one key point ability - are they so egotistical
uched on in interviews that nothing can better their
ing the beneficial effect craft outside of their own con-
usic can achieve. centration? To me, that's the
hen I sit down to write, ultimate flaw of a writer: to
is to move the story," ignore whatever can improve
old The Paris Review your story from some precon-
n 2006." ... To achieve ceived notion of detrimental
ace I used to listen to influence.
So, like King, I'll be rocking
s is exactly the point I away in my room - just don't
tell myself as I get out interrupt me while I'm writing.

adphones for another
n of prose. For all the
sat a writer must be able
k his craft as a lone

Alpern is writing stories. To
give him things to write about,
e-mail ealpern@umich.edu.

'S.H.IE.L.D.' fails to capitalize Jones, Armstrong travel to the past


DailyArts Writer
"Marvel's Agents of
S.H.I.E.L.D." was given every
opportunity to succeed. Backed
by the multi-
billion-dollar _
Marvel fran-
chise and one Marvel'S
of the hottest
directorsinHol- AgeIts of
lywood today, S.H.I.E.L.D.
JossWhedon (of
"Buffy the Vam- Season one
pire Slayer" and midseason
"The Aveng- Tuesdays
ers" fame), it at 8 p.m.
was destined to
be the break- ABC
out pilot of the
season - or
at least destined to immediately
earn strong viewership. How
could it not, when it was mar-
keted as a small-screen spin-off
of the immensely popular "Aveng-
ers" movie? And yet, somehow,
"S.H.IE.L.D." is floundering. For-
mulaic episodes, two-dimensional
characters and the lack of a cohe-
sive overarching plotline are turn-
ing a once-promising project into
the biggest flop of 2013.
This week's "S.H.I.E.L.D." epi-
sode, titled "The Well," is the sev-
enth episode of a (recently picked
up) 22-episode season. Usually by
show wants to have found its foot-
ing and be settling into a groove
that allows writers to experiment
with characters and generate
some quality television. "Agents of
S.H.I.E.L.D." isn't quite there yet.
This newest episode, advertised
as a companion to the "Thor: The
Dark World" feature film, was a
yawn-inducing hour of television
complete with boring, empty vil-

lains (I
... paga
plot fe
that pi
in a sui
a Berse
to ove
six du
ful Opp
past, b
ers dec
an inc
in a w
they k
and all
ers are
ing. Ra
"The V
with a
the wi

Norwegian hipsters who are between Skye and Grant build up
in?), a relatively low-stakes over the past few weeks. Hope-
aturing an Asgardian staff fully, this surprise character pair-
sses people off and one guy ing is a sign that things are about
it who apparently used to be to be headed in a new and exciting
rker soldier. direction, because that is exactly
I.LE.L.D." 's predictable, where "S.H.IE.L.D." needs to go.
aic setup (team finds other- ASAP.
y object, member of team is At the end of the day, "Agents
d by it, team works together ofS.H.IE.L.D." is simply notstep-
rcome struggle) might be ping up to the plate. In the first
able if its characters were seven episodes, the writers have
y compelling, but seven epi- fallen into a rut of formulaic epi-
in, we're still dealing with sodes and characters without
ll, two-dimensional leads. chemistry. The only plot driving
Well" offers up a wonder- the season forward as a whole is
ortunity to explore Grant's Coulson's mysterious Tahiti trip,
ut instead of actually taking and even that is wearingthin after
age of that chance, the writ- being mentioned basically every
ide to stick with the show's week without any new revelations
cy" motif and tease us with to keep us invested. Joss Whedon
omplete flashback featuring knows how to make a TV show,
Grant and a little boy (pre- and though he's not running it
ly his brother?) who is stuck day to day, he must be aware
fell. Secrets are valuable - of "S.H.I.E.L.D." 's total lack of
eep a TV show interesting intrigue. Perhaps the writers are
low for confrontation when taking advantage of the guaran-
revealed - but the writ- teed hype and popularity that
so focused on keeping the comes with the Marvel franchise
locked up that the plotlines to start out the first season cau-
e too vague to be captivat- tiously, but time is running out.
ther than piquing curiosity, They can only get by on Marvel's
y leads to confusion. good name for so long; eventually
they're goingto have to delve into
the characters' back stories and
1 1u take some more risks.
U10 use more I'm at my wit's end with
W hedon. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," but my
admiration for Joss Whedon is
keeping me from giving up on it
just yet. Though seven episodes
one redeeming moment of in is pretty late in the game to
Nell" comes at the very end, still have trouble developing
n implied hookup between characters, every new show
and May (the wonderful has a learning curve. With 15
Na Wen, who has consis- installments left in the season,
been the best part of this "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." still
which was a small but very has time to turn itself around,
me plot twistafter watching but it's going to take some dras-
ill-they-won't-they tension tic changes.

Daily Arts Writer
There's something to be said
for a musician taking on a genre
entirely different than his or
her own.
There's A-
to be said for Foreverly
two musicians Billie Joe
doing this. And
there's some- Armstrong and
thing even NorahbJones
more to be said Reprise
for two musi-
cians doing
this in order to honor icons of
the music industry.
Enter: Billie Joe Armstrong
- the spikey-haired and heav-
ily eyelinered punk rocker from
Green Day. And then, enter:
Norah Jones, the sweet-voiced
singer-songwriter. The two
met at a Stevie Wonder concert,
and at Armstrong's wife's sug-
gestion, he invited Jones along
to cover The Everly Brothers's
1958 Songs Our Daddy Taught
Us, which eventually turned
into Foreverly.
Unlike Armstrong's typically
whiney and harsh-sounding
vocals on Green Day songs,
Foreverly features a gentle side
of Armstrong that we may not
have expected - he's not full
of angst or anger; instead, he
sounds fairly refined. Perhaps.
this has to do with Jones's abil-
ity to tame the artists she works
with (she has collaborated with
the Foo Fighters, calming Dave
Grohl's usually rough voice).
Or, it could have to do with
the message that Foreverly
There are generally three
ways a cover album can go: It
can lend the songs a new inter-

and J
ing? B
can I
ing tr
den" a
that: r
take o
that f
to co
is it bu
So, wb
are u
duo, t

ion by making rowdy Stone noted that not even Elvis
tender, it can make quiet Presley "had the nerve to do an
sound wild or it can album as rootsy as this one."
the original sound. For- Maybe Armstrong and Jones
takes this last option, genuinely are huge fans of this
surrenders Armstrong album; Armstrong, himself, has
ones to criticism of pro- stated in several interviews that
g a safe and boring album. he has loved The Everly Broth-
, is it really safe and bor- ers since childhood.
illie Joe Armstrong - a Yet, it's curious that these
who previously yelled two have teamed up to release
y on tracks like "Ameri- a roots album that's sparse in
diot" - is now croon- production, relying entirely
aditional folk songs like on their vocal harmonies, soft
n in the Willow Gar- drums and occasional lambent
alongside the sweetheart piano notes. While it appears
Jones. Nobody expected that Armstrong and Jones
Nobody expected him to have subscribed to the trend of
n country-folk as his next Americana folk/roots albums
z. (a la The Avett Brothers, The
I even if, by some slim Lumineers, etc.), this effort
e, someone did expect doesn't seem so transparent; in
rom Armstrong, nobody fact, Foreverly feels like an hon-
have expected for him est tribute.
ver an entire obscure The songs themselves feel
1 by The Everly Brothers, authentic and full of gorgeous
heless. Songs Our Daddy harmonies between Jones and
t Us isn't full of hits, nor Armstrong, especially in tracks
irsting with catchy songs. like "That Silver Haired Daddy
bile Armstrong and Jones of Mine" and "Roving Gam-
ndoubtedly an unlikely bler." The two prove they may
he album they chose is not intend to make a statement
y surprising. with Foreverly. And while the
album doesn't feel incredibly
progressive, it also doesn't act
uo produces as a standstill: It's not exciting,
yet it's not boring, either. In the
beautiful end, the album exceeds expec-
tations in idea more than in
harmonies. execution: Nobody would have
expected this of Armstrong and
With that in mind, it's easier
two musicians make - and, almost beautiful - to
that their intentions are hear Billie Joe Armstrong and
mess with the integrity Norah Jones's voices entan-
songs, noting that The gle themselves in The Everly
Brothers created this Brothers' down-to-earth lyrics.
markedly of roots songs Because in all honesty, no one
reason. When the album expected them to sing country
eleased in 1958, Rolling folk so mellifluously.


not to
of the
for a
was ri



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