Rewind takes a look at past Musicwhore.org reviews to see how they hold up today. The albums featured on Rewind were part of my collection, then sold for cash only to be reacquired later.
Whew, there’s a lot of vitriol in my review of American Life. Oddly enough, my opinion has turned around somewhat on the album.
What I thought was “thin and unconvincing” now strikes me as angular and off-beat. It’s certainly one of Madonna’s weirder sounding albums, and it should get some credit for stretching her sonic palette.
So what accounted for the strong reaction in 2003?
Pretty much: Ray of Light.
The 1998 album was in constant rotation in my car CD player, and its singles could not be avoided at gay bars. Madonna’s voice had strengthened after getting a workout on Evita, and the songs were her most emotionally resonant since Like a Prayer.
Any follow up to such a watershed work would have a high bar to surpass.
I tried to give Music the benefit of the doubt, but recent plays of that album has revealed it does not hold up well. American Life turns out to have improved on the ideas of Music. The rapping still sucks, but the acoustic guitar flourishes sound fresh even now.
I still consider it one of Madonna’s weaker albums, but it no longer sits at the bottom of the heap.
And I’ve actually welcomed a physical copy back into my collection. I had owned a promo copy I snagged from my job at Waterloo Records, but once I discovered I disliked the album, I gave it back. The current copy was acquired at the Lifelong Thrift Shop for $1.
The rule was simple: the first person to buy an album from an artist had a monopoly on that artist, and other siblings could not encroach on that monopoly.
The rule was very clear about albums. Singles, however, usually threw wrenches in jurisdictional claims.
Kick by INXS could have tuned into a civil lawsuit between my brother and me.
Back in 1985, INXS release Listen Like Thieves, which spawned the catchy single “What You Need”. I bought that single after watching the video numerous times on Betamax-recorded episodes of Friday Night Videos. I did not end up buying the album.
A TV appearance by INXS in 1987 premiered the band’s then-new single, “Need You Tonight.” My brother liked it. I thought it wasn’t as good as “What You Need”.
But he liked it enough to buy the album. Technically, that meant INXS became his jurisdiction.
And boy did that rankle my feathers, especially when it turned out the rest of the album was better than “Need You Tonight”. I felt that because I had already established a claim with “What You Need”, I ought to have had first dibs on Kick. My brother pointed out that I was ambivalent about “Need You Tonight”, which could be interpreted as relinquishing that claim.
(Don’t get me wrong about “Need You Tonight” — I eventually grew to like the song, mostly because “Mediate” segued right into it.)
Of course, bratty kids that we were, we didn’t want to share. I don’t remember now how I got my hands on a dubbed copy of the album. He may have relented to making a dub, or I may have borrowed it from a friend. I got my hands on it, despite the rule.
Kick would eventually become ubiquitous, and the radio exposure coupled with my own spins eventually made me grow tired of the album. “Never Tear Us Apart” wasn’t a great single, but it seemed to be the song played to death.
By the time I embarked on building out my own collection, Kick managed to get left behind. For a time, I owned a greatest hits compilation but that too got lost in a cash-strapped purge.
Oddly enough, Kick returned to my collection only after I used the streaming services to listen to its predecessor, Listen Like Thieves. Kick is definitely the stronger album, but Listen Like Thieves is no slouch. It was the much-needed warm-up before the breakout.
It’s probably been 19 years since I listened to Kick, and it was strange to discover how familiar it all felt. That pretty much meant I had really internalized the album, even though I hadn’t owned it till now.
You heard a song on the radio. If you liked it, you bought the single. You heard more songs by the same artist. If you liked those songs as well, you bought the album.
What happens, then, when you stop listening to the radio? Easy — keep buying singles without hearing the song!
That’s how I encountered Love and Money. I was browsing the singles section of Tower Records, looking for something that might scratch my itch for non-American bands. The single to “Hallelujah Man” had a decent enough sleeve, and a name like Love and Money didn’t scream hair metal or radio pop.
So I bought it. I liked what I heard, but I wasn’t entirely convinced to sink a week and a half’s allowance on a full album. No other singles were released from the album in the US.
It would be another 28 years before I encountered Love and Money again. The album from which “Hallelujah Man” was taken, titled Strange Kind of Love, was sitting in a bin at the Lifelong Thrift Shop for $1. I spent that much on the single.
After an initial listen, I was intrigued by the band’s mix of British white soul and post-punk, as if the missing link between Johnny Hates Jazz and the Smiths were somehow unearthed. Another few spins made me seek out a CD.
“Hallelujah Man” was a decent enough single, but the title track and “Jocelyn Square” performed better on the UK charts for good reason. “Up Escalator” imagines what ABC would sound like with harder guitars and no horns, while the last vestiges of post-punk drive the adult contemporary cool of “Avalanche”. James Grant’s smooth voice could make him the captain of your heart.
Love and Money arrived a bit too late to capitalize on the revived British invasion early in the ’80s, and the light jazz radio format that emerged in the latter part of the decade flared out before it could do any good for the band.
So Love and Money remained a somewhat successful act on the other side of the ocean. I’m surprised someone had actually owned a copy of Strange Kind of Love to end up donating to the thrift store.
In 1988, the Sugarcubes, Kronos Quartet, Living Colour and In Tua Nua vied for my attention. Still, I’m a little disappointed in my youthful self for not following up on that blind single purchase. I think I would have liked the album, and it could have very well endured a number of collection purges to persist to this day.
George Michael has had a confounding influence on my life.
I remember watching videos for “Careless Whisper” and “I Want Your Sex” and recognizing that, yes, I find him desirable. But I was at an age where I didn’t know what desire was, and in an age where that kind of desire would imperil my life.
When his arrest forced him out of the closet in 1998, I was surprised on the level of “How the hell did I not pick up he was gay?” It was the kind of realization that put the past in perspective — of course, I found him desirable! He was signaling all this time!
But my brother called dibs on George Michael in our Sibling Rivalry Collection Race. At first, we were competing over who would get Make It Big by Wham! till radio played all the singles to death and gave neither of us much incentive.
My brother scooped up Faith, but Michael’s popularity was so ubiquitous, I became ambivalent. “Kissing a Fool” was great the first few times. Hearing every five minutes for weeks on end failed to entertain.
When Michael released Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, I was on my way to exploring music further outside the mainstream. The revelation of his sexuality wasn’t enough for me to become a fan, but I did pay attention when he created new music.
Three decades had to pass before I was receptive to examining his music. That ubiquitousness gives Faith a familiarity that feels comfortable. The non-single tracks don’t stand out as much.
Listen Without Prejudice got a lukewarm reception in the US, but it’s the album that shows a lot more maturity and craft. It’s not the hookfest of Make It Big or Faith, but it has a lot more heart and a greater sense of adventure.
It also demonstrated how far Michael had come since Make It Big. The optimism of Wham!’s second album captures the early half of the ’80s well, but it also sealed its fate as a sonic time capsule.
George Michael’s passing epitomizes that Joni Mitchell lyric: “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” In my case, it’s literal. It took his death for me to overcome an ambivalence formed at a time when other’s people opinions mattered.
In the past, I would try to write about every album I encountered. These days, I listen to a lot of stuff, but I’ll only post an entry if something sparks a memory.
As these statistics demonstrate, I’m leaving a lot out of this blog.
First and last purchases of the year
First purchase: Glenn Gould, Bach: The Goldberg Variations (1955) on vinyl.
First purchase of a 2016 release: Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4 on CD.
Last purchase of a 2016 release: Meredith Monk, On Behalf of Permanence on CD.
Last purchase: George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 on CD.
Purchases by format
Total items bought
Initial release within the calendar year.
Originally released prior to the calendar year but reissued within the calendar year.
Initial release prior to the calendar year.
Top catalog release years
Number of items purchased
Single titles purchased in multiple formats are counted individually.
Number of items purchased
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
Dolly Parton / Linda Ronstadt / Emmylou Harris
These number pretty much bear out that I’m pretty much out of touch with anything new happening. Catalog purchases took up 70% of my purchases in 2016.
The death of Prince sent me on a mission to catch up with his work.
The news of a new album from Sting gave me a chance to reconsider his work from the late ’90s onward. Cheap CDs from the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop allowed me to save on Internet bandwidth.
Madonna’s presence in my collection grew due to a combination of a vinyl reissue campaign and some lucky purchases from Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop.
In fact, encountering the Lifelong Thrift Shop stall during Gay Pride had an outsize influence on my purchases. From street level, the shop looked like it sold only vintage clothes. I didn’t realize the lower level had a room of CDs and vinyl.
The moment I announced I’m taking a break, a whole bunch of new releases appear on the schedule. I’d be remiss not to preview them.
Royal Wood, Ghost Light, Jan. 27
Ghost Light was released in Canada back in April 2016, but an international release had to wait till now. The cover for this edition — Wood in silhouette — matches the title, but I prefer the Canadian cover because Wood looks hotter in a t-shirt.
Sleater-Kinney, Live in Paris, Jan. 27
I’m still kicking myself for missing the band’s three-night run in Seattle.
Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome, Feb. 1
I haven’t paid much attention to Onitsuka Chihiro since her lackluster cover album FAMOUS MICROPHONE. So it was a surprise to find out she’s on yet another new label, and she released an independent album with a band in 2014.
Deee-Lite, World Clique (Deluxe Edition), March 3
Yeah, it’s about time this album got the reissue treatment.
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition), March 3
I’ll deal with George Michael’s untimely death in a future entry. I didn’t pick up this album till after I heard the news, and I can understand both the initial underwhelming reception and its subsequent critical acclaim.
Cocco, 20 Shuunen Request Best + Rare Track, March 21
What? I’ve been listening to Cocco for 20 years now?
The Old 97s, Too Far to Care, Jan. 13
When I first started buying up vinyl in 2013, I considered getting the reissue of Too Far to Care. I decided against it because I wanted to track down titles preceding the CD era first. By the time I was ready to get it, all the copies had been snatched up. I snagged a used copy two weeks before I saw Music on Vinyl would reissue the original album without the bonus tracks. *sigh*
MONO, Under the Pipal Tree, Jan. 20
I don’t think MONO really topped this debut album till Hymn to the Immortal Wind.
Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (Colored Vinyl), Jan. 24
Am I really going to drop cash on a compilation where I have most of the tracks on other vinyl releases? Evidently.
Eurythmics, Greatest Hits, Jan. 27
I still have all the Eurythmics albums I bought back in the ’80s. I only had to flesh out my collection with In the Garden and We Too Are One.
Madonna, Confessions on the Dance Floor, Jan. 31
This album was really welcome after a pair of back-to-back disappointments with Music and American Life.
Eluvium, Copia, Feb. 3
I would be so on board with a reissue of An Accidental Memory in Case of Death.
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Feb. 10
Let’s see if this release date sticks. I think it’ll have been nearly a year since this reissue popped up on the schedule.
John Zorn, Spy Vs. Spy: Music of Ornette Coleman, March 3
I found an original Nonesuch pressing of this album many months back, but it’s a definite recommendation for anyone who loves Naked City.
Musicwhore.org is going on a break for the month of January. That is, I’ll take time in January to write new entries that I hadn’t been writing in December. And those new entries won’t show up till February.
What a spiteful year 2016 has turned out to be. I won’t hazard how subsequent years may turn out with the impending leadership change in Washington, D.C., but for now, 2016 has just been a veritable shitstorm.
In terms of music, 2016 has been lackluster. I encountered a lot of albums that were likable but very few I could really love. In a few instances, some of my favorite bands turned out some of their most interesting music in their careers, but I couldn’t muster excitement for them.
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Sturgill Simpson played a two-hour set with no encore at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle in November. He spent the first hour performing songs from his previous album. Then he spent the next hour playing A Sailor’s Guide to Earth from start to finish with a whole lot of room for jamming. That’s something a composer would do.
Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4: Insistent.
MONO, Requiem for Hell Of the two albums MONO released in 2014, Rays of Darkness was my favorite. I didn’t imagine the ideas on that album could be exploded.
Solange, A Seat at the Table: Solange not only out-Lemonaded Beyoncé, she also out-Blonded Frank Ocean.
Shaprece, COALS: Björk, if she were black.
Drive By Truckers, American Band: I’ve known about Drive By Truckers for years, but I finally took the plunge with this album. So that’s who took up the Uncle Tupelo mantle.
Cocco, Adan Ballet: This album won’t dislodge Rapunzel or Bougainvillia as a fan favorite, but it’s some of the best work she’s done since Sangrose.
Colvin & Earle, Colvin & Earle: This pairing of Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin looks unlikely on paper, but intuitively, you could tell the universe was ready for it.
Utada Hikaru, Fantôme!: I’m beginning to realize Utada Hikaru was PBR&B before Solange started hanging out with Dirty Projectors.
Ty Herndon, House on Fire: It’s tough not to read some autobiography into this album, the first Ty Herndon released after revealing he’s gay. It’s also tough not to get swept up in the confidence and energy pouring out of the speakers.
Other notable albums:
Eluvium, False Readings On
Santigold, 99 Cents
Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness
Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
Pixies, Head Carrier
Colin Stetson, Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony
Sturgill Simpson posted a photo of the crowd at his Seattle show on Nov. 11, 2016. I was standing pretty close to the stage, and sure enough, I spotted myself in the pic. His show capped yet another active year of concerts, which included a trip to Portland and two weeks of modern American symphonic music.
Sō Percussion, Jan. 31, 2016
Like Kronos Quartet before it, Sō Percussion commissions original works that often push technological boundaries as much as musical ones. The first time I saw Sō in Austin, the quartet performed Dan Trueman’s neither Anvil nor Pulley, which required performers to use old game console controllers to manipulate a Bach keyboard piece.
For this concert, Bryce Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings features the Chordstick, a custom instrument that combines a hammered dulcimer with an electric guitar.
Seattle Symphony, [untitled 2], Feb. 5
The big piece performed at this concert of mid-20th Century New York City composers was Rothko Chapel by Morton Feldman. 2016 would eventually find Seattle Symphony programming four Feldman pieces in various concerts. Crowd reaction, of course, ranged from the usual restlessness to outright departure.
Seattle Symphony, Berio: Sinfonia, Feb. 6
I hadn’t planned on attending this concert till my music theory professor devoted an entire class on the piece. The fact Roomful of Teeth performed with the symphony was another incentive.
Kronos Quartet, Feb. 20
Sorry, the live performance of Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 did not convince me to pick up the DVD, but it’s always nice to hear Franghiz Ali-Zade’s Mugam Sayagi.
Ty Herndon, Feb. 25
It was a sparse crowd at El Corazon, and Herndon played a stripped down set of his hits. He also previewed “If You” and mentioned his new album would be out in May. House of Fire arrived in September, albeit with a larger promotional splash.
Jeremy Denk, March 18
The Goldberg Variations and Ligeti Etudes in a single night. Yeah, it was a good concert.
John Adams, Scheherezade.2, March 19
Oh wow, did Leila Josefowicz bring her A-game. I picked up the Nonesuch recording of this work when it was released because it’s an amazing display of athleticism. I think I like this work more than Adams’ first Violin Concerto.
Stephen Sondheim, Assassins, Feb. 26
As much of a Stephen Sondheim fan that I am, I’ve so far only seen two of his works on stage. Honolulu Community Theatre did Sunday in the Park with George back in the early ’90s. ACT Theatre did Assassins. That’s a show that will test your startle response.
Rhye, Apr. 21
Seattle Theatre Group scheduled Rhye and Courtney Barnett for the same night, and I wanted to see both of them equally. I ended up going to Rhye because Barnett’s show sold out. Despite illness, Milosh sounded awesome.
Santigold, May 14
I couldn’t decide who I wanted to see more — Santigold or the SG1 Dancers. It turned out I loved them both.
Seattle Symphony, Beethoven and Gershwin, June 11
A scheduling conflict prevented me from attending the first [untitled] concert of the season, so I traded the ticket for a program of Beethoven and Gershwin works. The evening started with the Seattle premiere of Anna Clyne’s This Midnight Hour, which the crowd seemed surprised to enjoy.
Seattle Symphony, Tuning Up!, June 17-July 2
After years of attending SXSW, I decided I was going to stay away from Bumbershoot. Then Seattle Symphony announced a two-week summer festival of American modern works, and I couldn’t part with my money fast enough. The clerks at David and Co. thought I was a performer because I was there for every concert. George Perle, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe — I was definitely the target market for this festival.
Matt Alber, June 26
A bout of pneumonia prevented me from seeing Matt Alber in 2014, so his show in June was a nice way to participate in at least one gay pride event this year.
Explosions in the Sky, Sept. 2
I thought it was odd Explosions in the Sky announced a whole bunch of Pacific Northwest dates without including Seattle, so I opted to travel down to Portland and catch them at the wonderful Crystal Ballroom. The day after I bought my ticket, the band announced its Bumbershoot date. Bullet dodged.
Sigur Rós, Sept. 20
The last time Sigur Rós performed in Seattle was in 2012, and the show sold out by the time I could access the Seattle Theatre Group site. This time, I got into the pre-sale. The amazing light show was equal parts Einstein on the Beach and TRON.
Seattle Symphony, Prokofiev and Beethoven, Sept. 24
For this concert, the symphony premiered a piece by Gabriel Prokofiev and included The Love of Three Oranges by his grandfather, Sergei. It had been so long since I listened to Three Oranges that I anticipated Peter and the Wolf instead.
Seattle Symphony, [untitled 1], Oct. 28
I’m not as versed in the works of Witold Lutoslawski, but then who is?
Sturgill Simpson, Nov. 11
Sturgill Simpson doesn’t do encores, and why should he when he plays two hours straight? That show pretty much made me wonder why I’m still going to rock concerts in my mid-40s. How could Simpson have the endurance to do those shows for six months, when just watching him exhausted me?
I didn’t know what to make of Pete Burns the first time I encountered him in the video for Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me ‘Round (Like a Record)”.
Boy George and Annie Lennox had already blurred the androgyny lines in the years leading up to Dead or Alive’s debut, but Burns took it a step further. His rough baritone stood in sharp contrast to Boy George’s soulful tenor. He shook his hips and wagged his finger like a woman, but the eye patch and black clothing made you think he could kick your ass in the alley.
If I had been better conditioned to internalize my homophobia, I would have been repulsed by Burns’ feminine wiles. Instead, I would mimic his moves in front of the radio.
He was confusing, and that confusion was fascinating. He was scary and inspiring, no doubt offensive to my Catholic family to whom he would have probably given zero fucks.
I thought about buying Youthquake when it came out, but I wanted to make sure it had at least two other hits before I sank my allowance on it. Dead or Alive would score a second hit in the US with “Brand New Lover” on the following album, Mad, Bad and Dangerous. By then, I had already cycled through urban radio before eventually settling on college rock.
But I made sure to at least own “You Spin Me ‘Round” on 7-inch.
Over the years, I would encounter Pete Burns and shake my head over the transformation in his appearance. In my mind, he was a skilled acrobat on the thin edge of masculine and feminine, but he obviously disagreed.
Despite all the loss in 2016, Burns is the closest to home the Reaper’s scythe had hit. Prince was my brother’s artist, and David Bowie was once-removed in his influence on my life. Burns, however, was one of the first signals that I would not lead the heteronormative life of a first generation Filipino son.
Looking back on it now, he was probably the first public figure to plant the idea in my mind that being queer was not only acceptable but a source of strength. Yeah, you could be a sissy but a sissy who could kick someone’s ass in the alley.