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Rewind: Sugababes, One Touch

[Sugababes - One Touch]

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.

What happens when you want to write about mainstream pop music without knowing anything about mainstream pop music? You get something that looks like my review of Sugababes’ One Touch.

The then-teenaged trio hooked me in with “Overload”, a single as infectious today as it was back in 2000. I picked up the album on the strength of that song alone, and I ended up liking it.

And as any good music blogging cheerleader should do, I wanted to share that enthusiasm. Just one problem: I was a raging rock snob back then. I knew of Destiny’s Child and TLC only indirectly — I owned nothing by either group, but it didn’t stop me from using them as straw women.

Back then, Disney pop from the likes of Britney Spears, ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys shoved aside alternative rock, which had devolved to Creed and Nickelback. In retrospect, that may have been a blessing. Still, it was tough covering music at the turn of the century when most of what flew off shelves held little to no interest for me.

So I sought refuge in Japanese indie rock and rock en Español.

Nearly two decades later, I’m merely a rock snob instead of a raging rock snob, and my collection now includes TLC and En Vogue. I don’t have any Destiny’s Child, but I do have Beyoncé’s Lemonade. After listening to these groups, the folly of my earlier comparison is writ large.

Sugababes come from a different club culture than En Vogue and TLC. Comparing them would have been as helpful as pitting Perfume against Adele. I do stand by the assessment that the rougher production on One Touch is a softer sell. It’s probably why I preferred Sugababes over American pop acts.

Of course, that reveals a deeper problem. If I knew nothing of American pop music, I would know even less about UK pop music. So I wrote the review I’ve got, not the one I want.

Two months after publishing that review, I lost my job, and Sugababes went on the chopping block when cash got tight. But every so often, I would find myself humming the opening bass line of “Overload”. It reached a point where I found a cutout of One Touch on Amazon and welcomed the album back in my collection.

 

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Rewind: Longwave, The Strangest Things

[Longwave - The Strangest Things]

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.

My first reaction to reading this old review of Longwave’s The Strangest Things was: Who’s the douchebag who wrote that crap?

Boy is that writing terrible. As much I roll my eyes at some of Pitchfork’s writing, my attempts to sound remotely worldly fell horrendously flat.

Around that time, I was going through a Dave Fridmann phase. He was the producer behind some of my favorite albums: SAPPUKEI by NUMBER GIRL, Dance, Dense and Denso by Molotov and Cuatros Caminos by Café Tacvba. I picked up Hate by the Delgados and The Strangest Things by Longwave because of his involvement.

Interpol ushered an era where labels signed up bands rehashing Joy Division. This era also included the garage rock revival spearheaded by the White Stripes, while other bands borrowed more than generously from Gang of Four. Franz Ferdinand, I’m looking at you.

My exasperation in the Longwave review was a result of this ’80s gold rush. These bands did a great job of sounding like their influences. I just didn’t get the sense they knew how to sound like themselves.

Now that we’re a decade and some change away from that context, I’m impressed by how well The Strangest Things endures. Longwave injected enough of a personality into their sound to differentiate themselves from similar bands.

I tried to listen to Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol but couldn’t get through it. I don’t even remember what the Stills sounded like.

I let the album go in one of my collection purges because my appreciation for Dave Fridmann’s production work wasn’t enough to overcome my ambivalence to American indie rock of that era. In 2003, I was still enamored of Shiina Ringo, ACO and Hatakeyama Miyuki.

I like the album enough now to have picked up a used copy on vinyl, but only after finding the CD for $1 at the Lifelong Thrift Shop.

 

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Rewind: At the Drive-In, Relationship of Command

[At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command]

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.

Once again, quantity trumped quality, this time with my review for Relationship of Command by At the Drive-In.

Given its length and lack of opinion, the review did nothing more than meet a quota. By the time I got around to writing about the album, the band had broken up.

(Now that I’m writing about them again, they’ve just released a new album. Of course, I’m writing this entry beforehand, so I haven’t heard it yet.)

I picked up Relationship of Command because I had listened to a few tracks at a Tower Records listening station, and I was struck by how much At the Drive-In reminded me of NUMBER GIRL, which I mention in the review.

To be honest, it couldn’t dislodge all the Japanese indie rock that monopolized my car CD player. NUMBER GIRL, SUPERCAR, Cocco and Shiina Ringo released career-making albums in 2000, and the fact At the Drive-In didn’t sing in Japanese was a strike against them.

Relationship of Command is also an album that I can’t queue for casual listening. It screams for attention — quite literally — and it’s tough not to get immersed in all that agitation. When it came time for a collection purge, it was a prime candidate.

Oddly enough, I started to miss the album. Despite not internalizing it as thoroughly as, well,  NUMBER GIRL, I felt a bit of regret having let it go.

So when I spotted it at a Friends of the Seattle Public Library Book Sale, I brought it back into the fold.

It’s still not an album I can play casually, but I’m not holding that against it.

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Rewind: Madonna, American Life

[Madonna - American Life]

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.

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Rewind: Sonic Youth, Murray Street

[Sonic Youth - Murray Street]

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.

Back when I first reviewed Murray Street, I was familiar with only three Sonic Youth albums, two of which I owned. I eventually let the album go because it had been played to death during my shifts at Waterloo Records.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep producing reviews for this site, and like any imposition, I eventually started making filler. A few tell-tale signs indicate how I struggled to get through that review.

First, I defer to the opinions of other publications. When I do that, I know I don’t have a strong opinion of my own. Second, I openly confess to the limitations of my expertise on the band. Sometimes it works when I’m moved enough to write about a style of music with which I’m not familiar. In this instance, it was a cop-out.

Murray Street found its way back to my collection only after I had developed an appreciation for the early-Steve Shelley era. I actually prefer Sister and EVOL over Murray Street, but I do like it enough to own it on vinyl.

I stand by my description of the album in the review — it’s tuneful and somewhat restrained, compared to the distortion assault of Daydream Nation or the grime of Dirty.

Something not mentioned was the fact I passed over the two albums preceding Murray Street. Waterloo had a policy where you could listen to anything in the store, of which I took advantage in the days before Napster. I heard enough of A Thousand Leaves and NYC Ghosts and Flowers to know I would like neither of them.

That made Murray Street appealing by comparison.

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Rewind: Idlewild, 100 Broken Windows

[Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows]

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.

Back in 2014, I recounted how 100 Broken Windows by Idlewild departed my music collection, then returned. Thing is, I reviewed it back in 2001! I read that entry now and wonder, “Who the hell is this kid who wrote this?”

Name-checking the guitarists of Sonic Youth and R.E.M. pretty much revealed what little I knew of music while posturing how much I knew about music. I do find this paragraph anthropologically interesting:

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, deities bless, brought punk kicking and screaming into the mainstream but in doing so locked record moguls into thinking what America needed was an entire decade of thrice-removed punk pop mixed with — cough — heavy metal.

The A.V. Club wrote a takedown on 1996, the year alternative music died. Five years on, the situation in rock music hadn’t improved. In fact, Nickelback and Limp Bizkit were in their prime when I typed that paragraph, and it led me to conclude 100 Broken Windows was awesome because nü metal suuuuuuuuucked.

The snark against Blur in the second sentence of my review is pretty dated now, although I don’t anticipate I’ll ever find any appeal in Oasis.

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