Featured Music: Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Killer or Filler?

Our critic yanks a c.d. out from under his desk that’s better than anything associated with the Grammys — surprised? Didn’t think so.


Anyone who wonders why the rest of the world wants to blow up this side of the globe should have watched the Grammys last weekend. I’m no gun-toting religious fundamentalist, but I can’t say I would have been upset to see 90 percent of the attendees — and 99.99999 percent of the Grammy voting committee, wherever they were — turned into pillars of salt. Everything despicable about this dog-eat-dog culture, from highlighting the spectacle of emotion over the real thing to avarice to the triumph of the individual over his neighbors, is encapsulated in both the concept of the Grammys and the televised extravaganza itself. For years, I’ve been pooh-poohing the cynics who said the awards were nothing but a popularity contest in which artistry hardly mattered. Not anymore.
Look at some of the nominees in some of the pop music-related categories. The only real, worth-a-shit contender in the “Record of the Year” category was “Yeah!” by Usher, featuring Lil’ Jon and Ludacris. Not only is the song — with its echoed shouts of “yeah” in the chorus — unique and unlike anything else ever done in rap/R&B, it’s also fun as hell. Of the other nominees, I’ll say this: “Heaven,” by the most glorified bar band ever, Los Lonely Boys, is about as memorable as a roadside pine tree in Oregon. (If I wanted mediocre blues-rock, I’d hang out at 6th Street Grill.) “Let’s Get It Started,” by The Black Eyed Peas, is evidence that just about anyone can take a nominal rap/R&B song, insert a catch phrase (even one coined about 15 years ago, by the great MC Hammer), and sell shit-loads of records — and earn a Grammy nomination. “American Idiot,” by Green Day, is just plain annoying in its feigned disrespect of authority. (News flash, Green Day: The American Idiot in question won re-election. Except for helping you sell gazillions of records, your song really didn’t do much — if anything — for progressive politics.) And the final nominee, “Here We Go Again,” by Ray Charles and Norah Jones — like, really, who gives a shit?!? Its inclusion in this category merely reflects sympathy for the deceased Charles, nothing more. In any other year, “Here We Go Again” would have gone unnoticed, as deserved.
The old axe is still worth grinding. Any one of us with any sort of modest local record collection could blindly dig into his shelves and unearth better music. I did this week; just stuck my big ol’ paw into my bag o’ Stuff To Listen To and pulled out Big Music From the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex: Catalog Two, by the local promotions company Small Guy Music. A free 16-track comp c.d., Big Music is packed with gems, including “Push Me Away,” by South FM, one of the those local bands you just gotta love — if only for their pluck. In preparing for the forthcoming release of their latest, Swallowing the Pill, the band is as gung-ho as ever in celebrating its achievements, no matter how ephemeral. South FM’s web site (www.southfm.com) opens with a message from the musicians to their fans, regarding a battle of the bands-type thingie on The Edge: “Huge thanks to all our fans and friends across the nation for calling in to KDGE Dallas and voting for our first single ‘Killing Me’ over the past week. We WON five nights in a row and were retired as a champion this past Thursday night.” See, if more bands got excited about the little things, we wouldn’t be as knee-deep in cynicism as we are. (Remember: “God is in the details.” I praise baby Jesus every time Whataburger accidentally slips two pieces of American cheese onto my double-meat hamburger.)
With its booming chorus, in which lead singer Paco Estrada sends a lyric straight to the moon on a rocket of vocalismo, and with its heavy guitars and tight rhythmic changes, “Push Me Away” should be on the radio — not on some specialty show in the waning hours of Sunday night, but during drive time. But you know, saying you or your favorite bands should be on the radio because you’re good is like saying you should win the Lotto ’cause your penmanship is pretty. Without a whole lotta help from Lady Luck, you’re screwed.
Another gem from Big Music comes from Fort Worthian-turned-Dallasite Sean Russell. A swaying Brit-pop-inflected jaunt, motored by a loudly buzzing subterranean bass line, “Tattoo” undergoes three major changes — from leisurely to-and-fro-ish to speedy during the bridge to messy and loud — and manages to stay perfectly intact. The song’s supremely tongue-in-cheek vibe can easily be read as Russell’s disdain for tattoos and how when everybody has one, no one is “unique.” But his ability to get his snotty point across while never indicting his audience is just the kind of thing that most smart music aficionados (and Edge listeners) would eat up. In case I’m not shouting loudly enough, alt-rock radio should be spinning this song in regular rotation. It’s not only good. It’s larger than life, like most alt-rock radio hits.
Those tracks share with a third stand-out, Jason Lucas’ “Lemonade,” a genuine sincerity — even when goofing off. (There’s such a thing as goofing off seriously.) “Lemonade,” simply, is a Backstreet Boys sex-you-up ballad interpreted by Oasis. Yeah, it’s pretty flippin’ awesome.
And don’t get me started on the Grammys’ albums of the year. Here are the finalists: the winner, Ray Charles and Norah Jones’ Genius Loves Company — zzzzzzzz! American Idiot, by Green Day, the Uncle Ricos of popular music, but instead of wishing that 2005 was 1982, these dopes want 1972 to come back. (News flash, Green Day: It ain’t gonna happen. Time to wake up and smell what modern rock is cookin’.) The Diary Of Alicia Keys, by Alicia Keys, one of the biggest ripper-offers of nearly every other successful R&B performer — past and present — ever. (Hey, Alicia. Maybe more people would take you seriously if you un-learned the piano, turned off the melisma, and stopped trying to re-work Stevie Wonder tunes.) Usher’s Confessions — cool but monochromatic, certainly nothing that anyone other than Usher will listen to 20 years from now. Kayne West’s The College Dropout — every critic’s choice, for good reason, but when you’re up against an album by a dearly departed old black man whose life is the basis of one of the year’s biggest cinematic hits, you don’t stand a frickin’ chance. Your name might as well be South FM.

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