music / Columns

Music’s 3Rs 12.17.12: Have Yourself A Ridiculous Little Christmas

December 17, 2012 | Posted by Sean Comer

Welcome back, Babies. It’s Sunday night. It’s 5:57 p.m. MT at the Southern & Longmore Starbucks in scenic Mesa, AZ. I’m Sean, you’re not, and since I’ll have hands on the road and eyes upon the wheel next Sunday on my first sojourn to Kansas soil in eight months since moving, let’s top off your 3 R’s for the road, yeah?

Frank Ocean Covers Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”
This demands a proper album treatment, yesterday.

Frank Ocean achieved something in 2012 that not every entertainer, athlete, politician or other publicly recognizable figure always manages: he became one of mainstream hip-hop’s only open homosexuals without ever going through an especially prolonged stretch in which he wasn’t just lauded as a gifted rapper, but condescendingly as an especially gifted “gay” rapper.

It’s true: in many public endeavors, when a figure comes along who stands in stark contrast to a field’s existing palette, his or her actual acumen in that field is oft either backhandedly overshadowed or exaggerated. I’d point most notably to Danica Patrick to illustrate the latter; I can’t remember a professional racing event in which most people couldn’t have told me who won, but were ready to anoint the fourth-place finisher the Almighty Zombie Jesus Christ with shimmering brown hair.

It’s just the way it goes: the public becomes so easily enraptured with (Name Here) being the first gay/straight/black/white/latino/etc. (Unlocked Achievement Here) that they gaze with only rose-colored specs upon whether the person possesses any actual appreciable talent worthy of praise.

Not so with Ocean.

He doesn’t really need the five 2013 Grammy nominations to validate that he’s among the most musically gifted performers in his genre. He’s so thoughtful, intelligent and mindful of musicality that his art overshadowed his personal life. Feels almost ass-backwards to actually say it, doesn’t it?

Proof-positive of why we should all hope he’s pulling up a chair alongside Drake, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Common, Nas and Talib Kweli among the rappers with the genre’s most extensive range of applicable tones? This cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” that simply rolls over you like mist taking its sweet time creeping across a crystalline lake. Covers can come across far, far too easily as desperate “Love me!” pandering. Ask anybody who’s ever heard Avril Lavigne’s fail-of-historic-proportions renditions of “Basket Case” or System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!”

This, though …

I’d truly be intrigued to hear Ocean give this a proper studio treatment. It’s more the school of tribute akin to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” or perhaps Jimi Hendrix’s take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” or to a lesser degree, Jamie Cullum taking on Pharrell Williams’ “Frontin'”: a take that makes a fine, fine song one’s own while still doffing the cap honorably.

Taylor Swift Gets Early Start On Next Album, Falls Hard For Harry Styles:
If you of the Eastern U.S. listened closely enough this week, you probably heard Jeremy Lambert’s anguished moans of “When’s gonna be my time?!”

The anointed future Mrs. Man Cave clearly isn’t wasting time conceptualizing whatever follows up her 2012 “Boyfriends suck, but they’re lucrative” smash album Red. According to an insider that snitched to Us Weekly recently, Swift is right off the rails on the Crazy Train for One Direction boy-band member Harry Styles.

Styles, on the other hand? Yeah, not quite so much.

“For now she’s totally caught up in love. It’s how she is…She doesn’t go at a normal pace in these relationships. It’s zero to 60 in seconds,” the Swift pal reported.

Well, no shit, she doesn’t waste time. She can only afford so much turn-around time between releases. Kvetching pop-country doesn’t write itself.

“Harry’s big in the business too. He’s way into her, but he also knows this is good for his career,” a source tight with Styles chimed.
Let this mark the only time you will ever hear me directly quote A.J. Grey: Yeah, this is gonna go well.

So, what exactly makes this “right”? The fact someone finally sounds like he’s seeing the big picture of every relationship Swift has ever entered. It’s a sick sort of symbiosis: some fellow gets a momentary “bounce” from being on the multi-Grammy-whiner’s arm. Once she’s banked a prospective top single or two, he bites the curb while the tall drink of bitter water brings a high heel down upon his melon.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s celebrity romance’s equal to getting your backseat humpity-bumpity with a Grand Theft Auto hooker before trampling her under the tires and taking your money back.

Guys, the first step in recovery is always admitting you have a problem. As a gender, that means at least acknowledging that this hose beast will publicly defenestrate you like Renaissance-period Pazzi.

The next step? Imposing celibacy upon Lambert’s would-be wife.
Bruno Mars Snags Billboard #1:
Though I didn’t come into Mars’ sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox as any measure of fan, the love letter to 80’s new-wave pop influences rendered me a convert.

Who’d blame me for being a tough sell, though? Do you know what I remember most about Doo-Wops & Hooligans?


OK, I’ll grant that the following version actually far more attractively polishes what still easily ranks as the single worst song I’ve ever heard … making it a well-shined turd.

Truth be told, I liken him more than a little bit to R. Kelly: a musically gifted performer whose lyricism doesn’t always stand up so well to attentive listening. To riff somewhat off Chris Rock’s reasoning about “black” movies in his book Rock This!, if you tell me that “The Lazy Song” or “Trapped In The Closet” are shimmering testaments to the keen artistry and insight of Mars or Kelly, then it’s my own fault if I ever believe another word you say ever again.

Then again, Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven” reached Billboard‘s Hot 100 #1 this week in its 10th week on the chart to deservedly dethrone Rihanna’s “Diamonds”. Jukebox as a whole faced a tough release-week field that included The Game’s excellent Jesus Piece and Big Boi’s vintage-Outkast Dangerous Lies & Vicious Rumors.
Oh, there was another major hip-hop release this week. We’ll get to that in the next section.

Meantime … back to Mars.

Well-done, Bruno. You took an ambitious departure from your first album and crafted an overall work wherein no two tracks sound alike while composing each as a stanza in the same ode to The Police and Prince. “Locked Out Of Heaven” is this album’s signature: Mars admirably aping Sting’s younger voice while backed by Andy Summers-sounding staccato guitar hearkening to “Roxanne”.

Contrary to what many who’ve known me years would say, I do enjoy being proven wrong this way.

Sit And Spin:
Spin, in keeping with my above-stated “if…then…” reasoning, your credibility is now shot straight to shit.

I’ve often wondered, quite openly, how it is that a barely-trying-anymore hack like Lil Wayne manages to sell exponentially more units of any given single or album than rappers like Lupe Fiasco, Common or even Ocean fighting the good fight to inject hip-hop with functioning gray matter and class.

I’m done wondering. I get it, I think: it’s because critics barely give a drop of watery shit themselves.

Case in point? Trinidad James’ Don’t Be S.A.F.E., which released this past Tuesday and in proof that Spin editors give hardly a discernible damn about being taken seriously ever again, it was appointed the #34 slot on the magazine’s Top 40 Hip-Hop Albums of 2012.

“A hopelessly fashionable Atlanta rapper picks and chooses from influences east, west, and at home, just like Harlem-bred contemporary A$AP Rocky if he copped a more playful attitude,” the site’s write-up reads. “With his pitbull puppy in hand, he pens molly-popping love poems and rocks Scrooge McDuck levels of gold, giving him a larger-than-Atlanta aura that is edging him towards pop stardom — hell, on S.A.F.E. he’s already flirting with dubstep and late-Neptunes synths. Get ready to be bombarded by his monster of a snap-indebted single “All Gold Everything.”

“Hopelessly fashionable” is a polite way of saying “looks like Dave Chapelle’s special-needs cousin.” That’s one to grow on.

More importantly, the album is actually more of an appalling hip-hop caricature. The lead single “All Gold Everything” clocks in at around three and a half minutes between two “LOOK AT ALL MAH GOLD” choruses that make the “Big Pimpin'” lyrics read like Chaucer, and a verse that squeezes enough N-bombs into its forgettable, rambling lyrics to demand an apology from anybody that ever got their panties into a twist over “N**** What, N**** Who”. Seriously, I think this was nothing more than an experiment seeking to prove that with the right density, “n***a” could be a viable Google keyword.

For hip-hop fans, this is the equivalent to telling somebody watching Triple H corn-hole a mannequin that you’re a wrestling fan.

Hip-Hop, you can do better than this, and you know it. This album simply proves that just about any rapper can get a deal these days. Nothing more. You owe Biggie, Tupac, Big Punisher, Eazy E and Jam Master Jay better.

Oh, and critics? You don’t dodge responsibility either. On these lists, you must consider the quality of albums you’re ranking alongside this. You ranked this above some truly awful albums, sure, but you ranked Life Is Good by Nas only one spot above this dreck.

If you click the link below, I take no responsibility if this barely-literate MC climbs out of your screen and ear-f***s the intelligence out of you.

Jack White No Longer Scoring The Lone Ranger:
This is not a swipe at Hans Zimmer.

The former White Stripes guitarist and lead singer was all set to score director Gore Verbinski’s upcoming Disney big-screen The Lone Ranger adaptation, up until this week. As Indiewire reported, White has stepped back and the film will now make its May 31, 2013 theater debut with the Oscar-winning Zimmer’s score.

Previously, Zimmer has collaborated with Verbinski to score Pirates of the Caribbean, The Weather Man and Rango.

As prefaced above, this isn’t grousing about Zimmer replacing White’s. It’s more so a disappointed sigh at what could have been. White’s playing may lack technical aplomb, but in particular his production on Loretta Lynn’s 2004 album Van Lear Rose showed that he has an appreciable touch for just the kinds of textures and moods that would’ve lent the Western probably a fresher, more distinctive overture than what’s ordinarily expected of Zimmer.

“Gangnam Style” Dance Kills British Man:
Oppa toe-tag style!

I guarantee you, this will not be a recurring lead along the lines of “bath salts make zombies of already-mildly-retarded dimwits”: via NME, the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph reported this week that Eamonn Kilbride, 46 of Blackburn, England, was dancing PSY’s signature giddyup step at an office party this weekend when he keeled over with chest pains and shuffled loose this mortal coil.

Oh, it gets worse: I can promise you all a seat next to me on the next train to Hell for laughing at this. It’s somewhat heartbreaking, when you take in the particulars.

The IT manager was celebrating his wife of 23 years’ birthday. Together, the pair had three children, 22-year-old Laurajade, 21-year-old Jack and 18-year-old Conor.

Making matters worse, nothing can ever change the fact that his last moments were spent imitating a frog-faced little South Korean man.

Well, wonderful. Now I’m sad.

OK, now I’m not, because MOMENT OF GWAR!

Well, there you have it, Babies. Your penultimate edition of 2012’s Music’s 3 R’s. Unless Jeremy Thomas scrapes up a fill-in next weekend, I’ll be on brief hiatus rolling my way across the Midwest on my Christmas journey’s last leg Sunday. As much as I love you all, I can categorically tell you that recapping a wild n’ crazy week of music news will be the very last thing I feel like doing after about 12 hours and 1,000 miles over two days. I’ll be back the last weekend of December to recap some of 2012’s most alternately high-damn-larious and triumphant news and notes.

Have a safe, merry Christmas. Have a bombastic, fantastic New Year. Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes.

I’m Sean. You’re not. Never dull your colors for someone else’s canvas.


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Sean Comer
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