Trust the Gene Genie

Friday, October 19, 2007

The great album

Many are the ways you can judge an album. And I'm talking about albums, not songs, not bands, not singers. I was listening to Spoon's "Girls Can Tell" the other day when I realized I usually listen to the whole album when I play it. I realized I enjoy every song on the album, start to finish.

So today, rather than judge an album by quality, award-winningness or cultural relevence, we're going to take a look at those albums you can play start to finish and every song is as good as the last. Yep, the rule is you don't skip a single song. Which is a rarity in this day of iTunes purchases and iPod immediacy.

So off the top of my head, this is what immediately came to mind:

1. U2's "Achtung Baby" -- This is an entire album where not a note is wasted nor a lyric thrown away from beginning to end, from "Zoo Station" to "Love Is Blindness." It's amazing to think that just 10 short years later Bono would be singing about monkeys swinging from trees.

2. Sting's "Ten Summoner's Tales" -- This one surprised me. I stumbled over it the other day and realized it had probably been six of seven years since I'd listened to the album and going back over the tracks I was amazed that every one was just a really good song. It's follow-up, "Mercury Falling" doesn't have the same depth and from there I stopped buying Sting albums. I think I made the right decision.

3. Spoon's "Girls Can Tell" -- I was trying to decide earlier this year which album I thought was better, "Girls" or "Gimme Fiction" and that's when I realized I always listen to "Girls" start to finish. I don't ever do it with "Fiction."

4. The Push Stars' "After the Party" -- Another surprise for me. But of the four albums I have, this is the only one I'll listen to start to finish. It's also a great example of what the Push Stars do. They write great pop songs.

5. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" -- There's a lot of classic rock albums that contain some of the greatest rock songs ever recorded and still they'll have the random two or three throw-away songs. "Moon" is a great example of an album where every song feels essential. It's hard not to listen to the thing start to finish.

6. Wilco's "Being There" -- This wasn't always the easiest album to listen to. The thicker country elements from the disc used to scare me off. But, as is the case with most Wilco albums, the more I listened to it, the more I heard and the more I liked it. And now I love the thing in all its sloppy entirety.

7. Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" -- Like "Dark Side of the Moon" this is an album that's hard not to listen to start to finish. Every song is like a link to the next. You can't not listen to the whole thing.

8. U2's "Joshua Tree" -- This goes up grudgingly, but even I have to admit that the album does not have a single weak spot. And, when you get past the first three songs, "Joshua Tree" can actually surprise you. "Exit" and "Mothers of the Disappeared" are two songs I can still listen to and hear things I didn't hear before.

9. Midnight Oil's "Blue Sky Mining" -- The album is surprisingly understated. And as you listen to it, you're continually surprised as each song comes up that you know it and that you like it. It's a great album. "One Country" is just an incredible song.

That's probably enough. Feel free to add your own. I'd be curious to see what albums you all listen to start to finish.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The great SJP debate

Like many from my generation, "Real Genius" holds a special place in my heart. In fact, much of my anti-authoritarian leanings displayed while I was in school can be traced back to this movie. Val Kilmer made it seem so cool to be a non-conformist smart-a.

Because it is cool.

And while he clearly makes the movie what it is, the yin to Kilmer's yang, the Felix to Kilmer's Oscar, the wind to Kilmer's wings was Gabe Jarret, the strange-looking, mildly effeminate kid who played Mitch, his roommate.

I'm going to get right to the point here. I've never seen Gabe Jarret and Sarah Jessica Parker in the same room together. In fact, after "Real Genius" I never saw Gabe Jarret in anything. But "Flight of the Navigator," which came out just a year after "Real Genius," had a young Sarah Jessica Parker. Coincidence? I think not. They're clearly the same person. I've posted their photos below. You decide for yourself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Phil Collins is pretty cool

It's funny. The item that inspires me to get a post up on the blog after almost a month is not something cute the girls have done or some bold insight I've gained into the mysterious machinations of our life cycle. It's something that goofy little rock band I've been really into lately has done.

Wilco, which every-so-often streams lives shows on their Web site, has put up the audio for the Berkeley show Becky and I attended in August. You'll remember. It was really good. Well, now you all can hear for yourselves.

And since I'm here, talking about music, I'll mention something I wanted to get up last month. Phil Collins. I loved Genesis in junior high and even listened to them a bit in high school. But over the last decade, I thought Phil was just kind of an embarrassment to his previous self, starting with that soundtrack he wrote for Disney's Tarzan.

And then, a few weeks ago I was listening to "This American Life" -- which, really, everyone should do -- and, as often happens on the show, I heard something that really changed my opinion. Turns out Phil Collins is a really cool guy.

The segment specific to him is first on the show and lasts about 20 minutes. Do yourself a favor and just listen to it -- I promise you won't regret it. In fact you'll come back here and thank me you did. But in a nutshell, here's the story.

One of TAL's regular contributers goes through a break-up. She and her boyfriend during their relationship really got into Phil Collins, first ironically, then sincerely. They both loved the song "Against All Odds."

Then they break up and the girl immerses herself in torch songs, like "Against All Odds." Torch songs, the unrequited love songs of those who sing about taking back their significant other at any cost or wishing it wasn't all over or wishing they could go back to the way things were. She gets to the point where she wants to be one of these songs and comes to the realization that she needs to write her own torch song.

But she doesn't know how to go about doing it, she needs advice. Who to ask, she wonders. The answer is obvious. She pulls a few strings and gets Phil Collins on the phone. The conversation itself is surprising. Collins is really amusing, disarming, even touching and so with the advice she sets off to write her song.

She writes a bunch of lyrics, gets in touch with a friend who works for this little indie band in NYC and they decide which song to put to music. After some collaboration, they make their decision and the band records her song.

The surprise is two-fold. First, the song is pretty good. Then she calls Phil back and plays the song for him. The second surprise is his reaction. He's genuinely impressed. It was a great little radio piece, classic "This American Life." Trust me, just go give it a listen.

In other news, you all need to wish Becky a happy birthday. She turned 31 yesterday. I stayed home from work and me and the girls had a really good time making her feel special. It's fun to do stuff like that.

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