Trust the Gene Genie

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

For those who saw, last week when the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot reviewed U2's concerts in the windy city, he gave the band an essentially solid review but got on them for selling out, more or less. He said they've started to go the way of the Rolling Stones, not taking risks and going for the easy road. Bono took offense. So much so that he requested a face-to-face interview with Kot to make his case for why U2 is as good as its ever been and why rock needs the support of music critics.

What came out of the interview is intriguing stuff. One could argue Bono almost bushes the boundaries of fan loyalty. Turns out he doesn't think much of prog rock. If rock's going to survive and compete it has to be radio friendly and prog rock isn't. But it was his comments on U2's own experiments and fan-fave "POP" that caught me nearly off-guard (I argue Bono can never completely catch you off-guard because you always know he's going to say at least one thing completely half-assed).

Says Bono, "We had 10 years of experimentation. We decided to rope it in, and tie ourselves to only one thing. And that's the only discipline. Is it a great song? Is it fresh? Experimenting in rock is at its best when you dream from the perimeters and bring it back to the center.

"We did our 'Zooropa,' we did our 'Passengers,' even our 'Pop' experiment. 'Discotheque,' we viewed it as our response to Peter Gabriel experimenting. We wanted it to be our 'Sledgehammer.' Imagine if 'Discotheque' was a No. 1 pop song? Now that record makes sense. We didn't have the discipline to screw the thing down, and turn it into a magic pop song. We didn't have the discipline to make 'Mo Fo' into a loud concoction of rock 'n' roll, trance crossover. We learned from that album. We'd become progressive rock! Ahhh! It's on us!"

To which Kot (and really the rest of U2's serious fans) groaned: "You're killing me now. I thought those '90s albums were great. I didn't understand 'Achtung Baby' right away. But after seeing the tour, I realized it was your best album. I still feel that way. And I loved 'Zooropa' in that way, and 'Passengers.' I even liked 'Pop.' To me, you guys were showing us how it should be done. You were [screwing] with our heads and making great music. You were doing those weird ballads from 'Pop' as an encore at Soldier Field [in 1997]. I loved that you were so far out on a limb with saw in hand, and you were trying things, pushing things. And now you never play songs from those albums anymore. What happened?"

And that's when Bono dropped the bomb. Five or six years ago this would have gotten me really excited. I love "POP" -- by far the most underappriciated album of the group. But we've all heard the story of how the band was rushed to finish it because of the impending tour and the resulting album was really considered unfinished by the band. I would have loved the idea of them going back in the finish it. But not now. Not after reading what Bono said, not after the last two staid albums they've released. It makes me worry what will happen to the music. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the bomb Bono dropped:

"There is still talk about the band going back in and fixing 'Pop,' actually going in… because the bones [of a great album] are there. It didn't communicate the way it was intended to. It's my daughter's favorite U2 album, and people are warming up to it now. But it was supposed to change the mood of that summer [1997]. An album changes the mood of a summer when you walk out of a pub and you have those songs in your head. And you hear them coming from a car, an open window. It changes the mood of the season. Instead it became a niche record. And I know you're a man who appreciates the niche. And I'm glad you appreciate that one, but that's not what it was intended to be. With 'Pop,' I always think if we'd just had another month, we could have finished it."

So there it is. It's post-structuralism at the fringe. Can you go back and tinker with your creation once its already been consumed by the masses. I guess George Lucas has answered that question for us. It'll be interesting to see what U2 does.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Well, I saw it. Here's what I thought.

I guess a little like Luke redeems his father at the end of "Return of the Jedi," George Lucas' last "Star Wars" lovechild "Revenge of the Sith" redeems him from the past two mistakes he made, "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones."

The film is far from perfect. Dialogue is still woody, plot holes (believe it or not) abound and Jar Jar still shows up (although, this time he has no lines -- Lucas must be learning something). But the action is satisfying, the effects are breathtaking and the movie leaves you feeling like maybe Lucas does care about "Star Wars" afterall.

The final showdown between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker was wonderful -- all except for the very end, but more on that later. For the first time, Lucas makes you feel like Obi-Wan really may be the powerful Jedi we see in the original trilogy. Anakin shows how anger, rage and jealously can truly eat you away from the inside out.

Yoda was wonderfully realized, 'though I always felt like I was watching a CGI character -- I think Gollum is still the gold-standard. But I enjoyed little CGI Yoda on screen so much that I didn't care. When he spoke of going to lead clone armies to battle on the Wookie home planet because he had a special relationship with the wookies, I believed it. The scene with his final battle with the Emperor were some of my favorite from the film. However, those two items also led to some of the films -- and I think overall -- some the of series biggest flaws.

As I see it, the lingering problem with Lucas's prequals is the characters and their development. The final scene between Padme and Anakin for example has Padme proclaiming that she doesn't know Anakin anymore, that's he's completely changed. Unfortunately for us, he still seems like the same old Anakin, only this time he's wearing a black cloak, not a brown one. And that leads to what I thought was the biggest problem of all: Anakin's embrace of the dark side. I thought the motivation was there, doing it to try and remove what he percieved as a threat to Padme's life. But to make it believable, at least for me, spend some time on it. One minute he's chopping off Mace Windu's hand, the next he's swearing his undying aligience to the Emperor. I think you can connect those dots, but take the time to do it to make it believable.

Then there's all the gaps in the story's narrative logic. Obi-Wan telling Anakin the fights over because he, Obi-Wan, has the high ground. What was that all about and why didn't Darth Sidious use that argument on Yoda when they were having their final showdown in the Senate chamber (I still loved that fight scene). And Yoda threw in the towel pretty quickly, too, didn't he? And why put Chewbacca in the movie. Are we really supposed to believe that after becoming a revered warrior on his home world he spends his twilight years playing second fiddle to Han? I think it also would have made more sense to have the Jedi actually hunted down and destroyed -- maybe over the course of a couple decades -- than to have them all offed when some Clone trooper gets Code 66. I mean, they're Jedis. I would argue it's not good movie making to throw events into a film to keep it moving when they have no internal logic with the storyline.

And I know all this sounds like fanboy nitpicking, but even a casual veiwing of the six films will readily reveal the flaws. So I'll bore you only with one last harp: the time element. In the Star Wars universe, 20 years transpire from the end of "Sith" to the beginning of "Hope." Ewan McGreggor, who plays Obi-Wan in "Sith" looks more than 20 years younger than "A New Hope's" Alec Guiness. Alec Guiness, in speaking to Luke in "Hope" makes it sounds as though the Empire has ruled the universe for at least a couple of generations, not for a couple of decades. Not to mention Obi-Wan's line, "Obi-Wan, now that's a name I've heard since before you were born." Not anymore. All of this kind of took away from the movie.

So, greatfully, we'll always have "Star Wars: Clone Wars." We'll always have the original trilogy. And when all that is exhausted, I'll pop in "Revenge of the Sith" and dig on all the action.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Well, I got my ticket for tomorrow's 12:35 showing of "Revenge of the Sith." I've never considered myself a huge "Star Wars" fan. In my mind I was always a more run-of-the-mill "Star Wars" fans. You know, I saw watched the original triology a ton growing up. I thought the Millenium Falcon was the coolest space ship in the galaxy and I had a few of the toys.

In high school, back in the (gulp) mid 90s, I even went to the theater to see the entire triology play back-to-back-to-back after LucasFilms remastered in THX the sound and image of all three films. That was pretty cool. My friend OJ even airbrushed us T-shirts for the occasion. Anyway. I saw the special editions when they were released in theaters in the late 90s and even got pretty excited for the prequels when those announcements were made.

I never dressed like a character to go see the films. I never camped out for tickets. And after I saw "Phantom Menace" I was dissapointed, but not really surprised. I never even saw "Attack of the Clones" in theaters. In fact over the last four or five years I'd almost forgotten about "Star Wars," relagating it to that same place in my brain reserved for movies like "The Last Star Fighter" and "Kafka" -- movies that were good once but kind of forgettable.

And then Lucas announced he was releasing the original trilogy on DVD. I'd never purchased the triology on VHS and when Lucas announced the DVD plans, I didn't think I'd buy them, either. But then the hype built, the magazine published their gushing recollections of those heady days in the late 70s and early 80s and I bit. I bought the DVDs the day they came out and was swept up all over again in the "Star Wars" affection of my youth. Yeah, the DVDs had their dissapointments -- Han shot first Lucas, deal with it. But overall it was really, really good. And then Lucas got Genndy Tartakovsky to do "Clone Wars" and being the mad "Samurai Jack" fan that I am, I was actually getting excited about things "Star Wars" again.

And then I saw "Clone Wars" and wondered how a collection of 20, 3-minute cartoons could be better than the last 4 hours of "Star Wars" films Lucas had shot. Oh yeah, Lucas wasn't really involved. That explains that. "Clone Wars" was everything I wanted the new "Star Wars" motion pictures to be and weren't. It was exciting, thoughtful, insightful and just plain exhilerating. They were awesome. And before I knew it, I was pretty geared up to see "Revenge of the Sith." I'm still not getting my expectations up too high. I know if I expect it to be anything more that "Return of the Jedi" I'll be dissapointed. All I need is for it to be better than the previous two and I'll be happy. I'll feel like it was money appropriately spent.

So there it is. I go see it tomorrow at 12:30. I'll let you all know (all one of you) what I think.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

It's a lazy man's post -- in a way -- because I'm essentially filling out a form letter and calling it content. But, I'm a music fanatic and this form letter was fun:

1. Of all the bands/artists in your CD/record collection, which one do you own the most albums by?
Easily U2. Including bootlegs, I have 33.

2. What was the last song you listened to?
"I'm not Your Baby" - U2 and Sinead O'Connor

3. What's in your CD player right now?
U2 "Pop"

4. What song would you say sums you up?
Today? I'd say Billy Bragg's "Stetson Kennedy"

5. What's your favorite local band?
Bitner -- but HotQua comes in a close second. The Umpqua Valley would be lost without Joe Ross.

6. What was the last show you attended?
It's been a while, what with the reporter's income and two young'uns -- It was REM and Wilco in Vancouver, Wash. two years ago.

7. What artist do you consider to be very underrated?
Joe Ross -- seriously underrated. The guy plays a dulcimer like you wouldn't believe.

8. What's the worst band you've ever seen in concert?
I saw Iron Butterfly open at classic rock concert when I was in high school. They were pretty bad.

9. What band do you love musically but hate the members of?
I know it's hard to hate the members of the Beatles. And I don't hate them all -- George Harrison was a king among men. But as talented as John and Paul were, they were both kinda pricks.

10. What is the most musically involved you have ever been?
I used to go to this guitar jam that pretty cool.

11. What show are you looking forward to?
U2's Vertigo Tour

12. What is your favorite band shirt?
It's toss up between my PopMart concert T and my Wilco bombs-away T.

13. What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?
Jeff Tweedy would be too depressing. Bono's too ADD and Larry's too mean. Maybe the Edge, probably Adam. I'd love to hang with Elvis, post-comeback 70s Elvis. That would be awesome.

14. Metal question- Jeans and Leather vs. Cracker Jack clothes?
Cracker Jack clothes?

15. Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

16. Commodores or solo Lionel Ritchie?
Hmmmmm.... Neither.

17. Blackjack or solo Michael Bolton?
Sweet merciful crap! Michael Bolton?

18. The Eagles or solo Don Henley?
Don's got great solo stuff but I love early Eagles, too. I'm torn.

19. The Police or solo Sting?
Police. But I can't deny Sting's first four albums.

20. Doesn't emo suck?
Not really

21. Name 4 flawless albums.
U2 "Achtung Baby"
Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon"
Wilco "Being There"
Beatles "Rubber Soul"

22. Did you know that filling out this survey makes you a music geek?
Really? Oh no! I'm screwed!

23. What was the greatest decade for music?
It certainly wasn't the 80s, even if Rolling Stone named U2 band of the 80s and Time called them rock's hottest ticket in 87. So much came out of the 70s. I'll say the 70s.

24. How many music-related videos/DVDs do you own?
U2 "Rattle and Hum," U2 "Under a Blood Red Sky," U2 "Best Of 1980-1990: The Videos," U2 "Best Of 1990-2000: The Videos," U2 "Elevation: Live From Boston," U2 "U2 Go Home - Live at Slane Castle" and Wilco "I'm Trying to Break Your Heart."

25. Do you like Journey?
Not since 1989.

26. What is your favorite movie soundtrack?
"Grosse Point Blank" is good. "Singles" was a classic. I really enjoy "Henry V" as pompous as that may sound.

27. What was your last musical "phase" before you wised up?
When I was a sophomore I listened to mainstream, middle of the dial radio country for about four months. I thought the songs told great stories. Now, when family or old friends bring the phase up I either hang my head in shame or emphatically deny it. I mean, I was listening to Reba and Randy Travis, not to mention Garth "omni-present in the early 90s" Brooks.

28. What's the crappiest CD/record/etc you've ever bought?
Since I'm usually scrounging up any money I spend, I'm usually pretty careful with it when I use it on music. I could have done without that Howie Day CD, but that's by no means embarrassing. I actually bought a .38 Special tape when I was in junior high. I certainly wouldn't do that today.

29. Do you prefer vinyl or Cd's?
Vinyl's fun, but CDs are more verstile.

30. What is your guilty pleasure CD, that being the CD you love but would be ashamed to admit you have in your collection?
Some people laugh a my Billy Joel "Glass Houses" CD. I'm not proud of my ELO "El Dorado" record. My Emerson Lake & Palmer "Black Moon" tape is kind of embarrassing, too. It's so earnest and about 15 years past it's time.

So there it is. Feel free to add yours.

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