Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Miss Universe 2007

I've never been big on watching these shows but the 56th Miss Universe pageant was the only thing on during my lunch break at work. I only missed when they made the first cut to 15. Some of those dresses representing their countries were absolutely nutty. Many had wings, coral extending from their bodies and some had garb that was more historical. Congrats to Riyo Mori!

I expected that the event being held in Mexico was a chance to showcase a beautiful nation, wonderful people and a tourist hotspot. I guess that two out of three worked out alright. The attendees from Mexico heckling Miss USA was a little much. I'm happy that she held up well under the pressure as she was being judged on that response she was giving. I did gasp when she slipped but think she recovered her composure. 5th place isn't to be mocked.

I was also impressed with the diversity of the final 10. 2 from North America, 3 from South America, 2 from Africa and 3 from Asia. I remain amazed that so many Latin American countries were represented in the end but they were among the favorites at work. (I was leaning towards Japan and Korea with another co-worker.) I was a little worried that Venezuela would win even with the riots going on there at this time. On an odd note, only 77 of 194 countries were represented? (I can easily understand Vatican City being excluded of course.) Due to the event being held two months early the following didn't have their delagates selected: Cayman Islands, Chile, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Namibia, Northern Marianas, St. Martin, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey and United Kingdom.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Classically Martin: Red Flag - Russian Radio

It was during my last year of high school that I had a habit of collecting cassettes. There were two of them that I played over and over again around this time. One was Real Life's Lifetime and the other was Red Flag's Naive Dance. The latter was a collection of remixes of tracks from their Naive Art album which includes their biggest hit, "Russian Radio." I think that the only reason I picked it up was that I couldn't find Naive Art and it had many of the same song titles. Both are great and well worth picking up.

I mention the album and post the video because I'll be lucky enough to interview Chris Reynolds from the band on Saturday. He was a pleasure to talk to already. Again, I'm lucky enough to talk to an artist that really had an impact on my musical tastes. Now, I just need to talk him into releasing a type of hits collection. I can't say enough about their music and wish that I could post more of their songs or videos but do yourself a favor and search for them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Erasure - Light At The End Of The World

Erasure have returned with their follow-up to 2005's Nightbird. On Light At The End Of The World, the duo of Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have found renewed energy working with producer Gareth Jones and crafted a terrific collection of upbeat songs.

The first single, "I Could Fall In Love With You," is pop perfection mixing memorable lyrics and a thumping danceable beat. (Ok, maybe there is also something about the opening that makes me think of the Dr. Who theme song.) The second single and opening track, "Sunday Girl," has layers of melody that work well together and nothing gives away that it is a dance song that the lyrics "I'm locked up in a rhythm, the prism of a big glitter ball." "Sucker For Love" is a song that just grows on you. I wasn't that excited about the campy vocal in the opening of the track but the repeating chorus of "the love we have is for the better now" does become an addictive phrase and is the payoff. It is difficult to describe the brilliant track "Storm In A Teacup" other than noting the personal lyrics, broad sonic landscape and haunting melody. Shining from a strong vocal performance and clever production, "Fly Away," is raised above what you expect from Erasure to a highlight. "I admit to originally being confused seeing "Darlene" on the track-listing (thinking it was a Dolly Parton cover) but found myself pleasantly surprised. The song is their first album track sporting a person's name but I'm thinking that Darlene and darling could be interchangeable. Bell's vocal acrobatics on "Golden Heart," the emotional confusion of "When A Lover Leaves You," the pleading in "Glass Angel" and the shamelessness of "How My Eyes Adore You" can't be left out but hold their own among the 10 tracks.

I believe that a true light at the end of this world would be a big disco ball for this duo. And, on Light At The End Of The World, Erasure triumph and shine on one of the best albums of the year.

4.5 out of 5

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sounding Fishy

On October 4th, I'm asking people to stop fishing. That's right. If we don't fish for one day, it will tell the sea that we mean business. One day of fishing save the lives of hundreds of thousands of fish. We can increase the numbers of these fish by just not fishing on that day.

Yes, the above is sarcasm. I (as well as many of you) have heard that today, May 15th, we should not purchase gasoline. If no one purchases gas on this single day, it will send a message to 'big oil' that we mean business as they will lose millions of dollars that day. This will make the companies sell it cheaper because there will be a surplus onhand and prices will continue to drop.

I got that email a few years ago. Got it again a few weeks ago. Economically, it's unsound but sounds good philosophically. Yes, striking out against something you have little control over does feel good. But, I've just been trying to wrap my brain around the numbers behind the whole 'strike.'

I'm going to exaggerate for a moment. Let's say that everyone fills their gas tank every 3 days. (I believe it is much less often... like 4 to 5 days for me but I know Lora probably fills up more because she drives a lot and there are SUV owners out there.) That means that 33% of us might regularly get gas on the 15th. So, this excludes 67% from the 'boycott' right off the bat.

In an effort to participate, someone cutting it close will purchase gas the day before while someone with more in the tank will do so the next day. If not a risk-taker, you probably would buy the day before which gives the company an early profit. Many will. If you do so later, there is a slight chance of a price increase. So, gas will still be purchased and, if going to your favorite neighborhood station, possibly from the same tank below the pump you might have used otherwise. The same consumption still occurs and the monthly statements still look good for the company.

In my talks with many people on this topic, many believe Exxon, Shell and other companies watch some daily numbers that are given to them by all the gas stations nationwide. Or, some ticker in an executive office that shows how much is being pumped minute per minute. For some reason, I don't see either as rational. Gas usage is measured weekly, though, by the Energy Information Administration and measured after the tanks are refilled.

Anyhow, my point is that not using something for a day is a noble feat. Not purchasing something at a particular moment, is a statement. To actually impact the price of the product, one would have to decrease scarcity and demand. Otherwise, it is like a junkie crying in front of their dealer. The buyer knows they have to have it and the seller knows. If said junkie stopped using, the dealer might worry. If all his junkies decreased use, he'd probably advertise more... make better deals.

Before posting this, I found that Snopes.com had an article on this very May 15th 'gas out.' There have even been events held to not purchase from particular companies. The idea behind that had flaws also as many purchase from the same refineries. I just notice that we don't have a Don't Use Tuesday or Gas Free Friday. Economically, it smells less fishy.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

More Than One Offender

An auto accident happened last week (no, not mine.) Currently, it's all over the local news. 19 year-old drunk driver hits an SUV full of family members heading to a reunion. Well worth reading the article. The one thing that I didn't hear mentioned or answered while reading is... "What are 9 people doing inside an SUV?" Yes, if you read through the article, 9 people were in the SUV during the accident. A toddler, an infant, two young boys and a 32 year-old were killed in the crash. 5 died. 4 more were hospitalized. I don't know what kind of SUV fits 9 people safely. That toddler, infant and two young boys deserved seatbelts, booster seats and car seats. 3 of the hospitalized were adults, 1 was a child. That's lousy odds for those children.

I'm not letting the 19 year-old off the hook here. Of course, he wasn't thinking as he was impaired. He will be held responsible, likely serve time in jail, lose any job he may have held, lose the chance at education he may or may not have been working on or toward and have the guilt of the many lives he had taken on his back forever. But, I don't let the family off either. I do doubt we will get an answer to why so many were in the car and I don't expect a reporter to ask.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero

It took Nine Inch Nails maestro Trent Reznor less than a year to release a follow-up to With Teeth. Through a frenzy of USB drives, cell phones and at least 30 Web site addresses the album created a groundswell of anticipation prior to release.

Upon first listen, this isn't my favorite Nine Inch Nails release. I actually remember cutting my teeth as a journalist writing a review for their debut album for a high-school newspaper. The keyboards that drew me to Pretty Hate Machine have gone the way of guitars for subsequent releases. On Year Zero, the guitars are dialed down a little for static and noise creation. That's a good thing. Word that Reznor was experimenting with hip-hop can me misconstrued as there are some great loops here that lay a foundation for some of the tracks and I'm sure someone could have rapped over them if they wanted. "The Warning" is a great example of this. I have to say that "God Given" is the first time that I've heard Reznor urge a sing-a-long during a chorus. The funky beat and deliberate lyrical pauses make the track memorable. "The Great Destroyer" can only be called a production experiment and although some parts are stunning, it readies the listener for the light piano piece "Another Version Of The Truth." There are still some of the expected stellar songs like "Survivalism," "Capital G," "Meet Your Master" and "In This Twilight." The landscape of the album is lush and vibrant making me only wonder how a follow-up album continuing the concept will sound.

4 out of 5

REO Speedwagon - Find Your Own Way Home

REO Speedwagon have released, Find Your Own Way Home, their first new studio effort since 1996's Building The Bridge. It really might have taken them awhile to find it but the band re-establish themselves here. The album is varied enough in tempo, content and delivery to keep the listener on their toes. Instantly memorable tracks here include the classic-sounding title track, the upcoming single "I Needed To Fall" is a powerful ballad, the playful energy on "Run Away Baby" and strong Commitments-like blues on "Born To Love You" (which features vocals by bassist Bruce Hall.) Some of the other tracks have their charms as well. I really enjoy the guitar work on the opening and throughout "Another Lifetime" which should sound great live. "Lost On The Road Of Love" is a blues groove that features what can only be described as a gospel choir on the chorus. "Dangerous Combination" is a smartly written track with a near country rock edge to it and a chorus urging you to sing along. For some reason the chorus of "Everything You Feel" does remind me of The Men's "Church of Logic, Sin & Love" and that's not a bad thing. If anything, it begs to be used in a commercial. "Let My Love Find You" is a pretty song that kind of gets lost among a lot of love songs. The only fault I find with the album is the opening track, "Smilin' In The End," as it didn't knock me over. Yet, the aggressiveness of the song sets a good foundation for the rest of the album to build on.

REO Speedwagon rode the storm out for 11 years and brought back one of the strongest albums of their career. Keep on loving them.

4 out of 5

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Secretary's Day Off

I figure that you can cover a lot of things up in life. We have cosmetics, we have liquid paper, we have tax accountants and I guess we also have secretaries. At least, I hope the letter above was due to her/him having the day off. As much disdain as I have for the public education system (note: not the teachers but the system), this does make a lot of people wonder exactly what qualifications it takes to be Dean. Very sad but take the time to click on and read the letter.

This was posted a few days ago at Digg.com and has made the rounds. As bad as the spelling was, you'll notice (having read it) that there are other spelling errors. Ok, there are several. So... since those weren't highlighted also... that shows some education deficiencies with the person posting the letter as well.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Weekend Concert: Meeting The Smithereens

Ok, I've tried posting this a few different times in different ways. The video above is from a band that I saw back in 1996/97. Essentially, I was given tickets by a customer and I went with my friends Tracy, Mike and Ron. This was at the time that Camel cigarettes was trying to get rid of all their Joe Camel logo items (because the cartoon character might market to kids.) They gave away items, let people bet with their Camel cash and brought in The Smithereens, Big Head Todd & The Monster and Southern Culture On The Skids. Good show but cramming 3 bands in leaves you with short sets.

Anyhow, Kerry found out they were coming to town and mentioned the show. So we went with Daniel, Mike (again) and his wife Kim. The show was amazing. I have to say that they were at least 6 times better than when I caught them before. The crowd was excited and the band seemed to really enjoy being up there performing. They also mixed in a few nods to great classic rock songs during the set. Of course, they played a few songs from their track for track cover of Meet The Beatles (entitled Meet The Smithereens when released recently.) Voice, bass, guitars and drums were amazingly precise and clean. Tremendous show. Purchased a few items after the show to get signed and met the band. Really great guys. Anyhow, here's the video for the first single from the album (oddly enough, they didn't perform it.)