Saturday, April 22, 2006

Defending Eighties Rock

Alternative rock became a reality in the 1980's. It's as simple as that. There were tons of bands before then that alluded to it, you know, like the Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Big Star, and all those thousands of punk bands that came out of the woodwork in the late 70's. But really, it all started in the 80's as a thriving, vital genre of music, and without it, we wouldn't have all the great - and sometimes derivative - music that eventually would permeate the 90's and the 00's.

Now, I don't think that most people in my generation would really give a shit about 80's music. Not alternative 80's music, at least. I think there are some kids out there who really dig Journey and Pat Benetar and shit like that, but for the most part the only reverence I get of 80's music comes from reverent pop-punk crap songs like "1985" by Bowling for Soup. You know, that song where they list all those bands from the 80's so they can be old-school and cool? Or like how Reel Big Fish likes to cover random 80's tunes in their super-cool "punk songs with horns in them for some reason" formula, you know, to be old-school and cool?? That's the fun, hip way of looking at the 80's nowadays, and it's gotten to the point where "indie" bands like the Arctic Monkeys can pull off lines like that to sound ironic or something ("Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984!" Nice reference, guys).

I don't want to sound snooty here, or high-and-mighty, I really don't. I'm sure I do, and I shouldn't. Just because I spend my spare time noodling around looking for cool, influential "alternative" bands from the 80's does not make me a hip guy, as much as I'd like it to. Ask any too-cool-for-you record store owner from the mid 80's and he'd expose me for the suburban dip I am in a second. But the truth is, a lot of the music I've been getting into from this era is just so good, I wish more people would embrace it. People have such stodgy opinions of music from the 80's - it's either synth-driven new wave or fucking Bon Jovi hair metal. People hear the name "Echo and the Bunnymen" and probably equate it to fucking Frankie Goes To Hollywood. It's a bit depressing.

No, this kind of music isn't taken very seriously nowadays - the bands that are indeed revered usually are from the alternative 90's and, even more prominently, the indie-rock of the 00's. Now, there's tons from both of these eras that I enjoy quite a bit. I grew up in the 90's, and it's practically my favorite decade of music, with bands like Radiohead, Pavement, the Flaming Lips, The Verve, Weezer, and even old stalwarts like R.E.M. making fantastic music. And now in the 00's, there's lots of great stuff to be cherished. But now that we've gotten to 2006, the term "indie" doesn't even mean anything anymore (I love Franz Ferdinand as much as the next guy, but are they really "indie"? They sound tailor-made for the radio). And the truth is, despite many people's lack of interest in the 80's alternative scene, a lot of the stuff out today was pretty much birthed by these countless bands, before anybody cared about it, and before the 90's made it digestible by the mainstream. And what we're left with is easy-going, non-risk-taking bands like Guster and Dispacth being considered cool. Hmm.

The only thing I can see fit to do is talk about some of my favorite music from the 80's. It's not as broad as it could be, I'll admit, but it's all wonderful in my opinion. I beg you to at least try and give some of this stuff a listen - it's great, vital rock 'n roll.

One band that I'm not going to talk about at-length is U2, because everybody knows enough about U2 already. They're not all that underground, but I still love them. If anybody really feels that U2 have kind of lost it in recent years, pick up pretty much any album they released in the 80's, when they were still vital, powerful, and focused. That's all I really have to say about them.

R.E.M.'s another band that people know plenty about, but the truth is that they were probably the most important band of the alternative 80's - that is, they practically birthed the whole scene. Simply put, they were all about powerful pop-rock melodies with almost impenetrable lyrics and a guitar jangle that would influence shitloads of bands after them (really, Peter Buck's guitar sound so familiar to me, it's almost uncomfortable). Not only that, but they were excessively consistent in the 80's, releasing six albums between 1983 and 1988 without compromising their artistic ability, or becoming a one-note novelty act by repeating their signature sound over and over again. Murmur in 1983 may have seemed impenetrable and moody, but by 1987's Document they were fierce, political, and focused. While my favorite album of theirs happens to be in the 90's, ironically enough (Automatic for the People is a masterpiece, simply put), and though they had to work long and hard for their eventual massive commercial success, they were simply a fantastic band, one that surprisingly few people seem to recognize beyond their 90's work.

Another band that turned me onto 80's alternative rock was the Pixies, a band that pretty much laid down the groundwork for all the freaky, tension-filled rock that would explode with Nirvana in the early 90's and can still be heard prominently today. Sure, they sounded insane - especially with Frank Black's trademark yelping - but they were backed by instrumentation that almost sounded poppish, especially on songs like "Debaser" and my personal favorite song of theirs, "Here Comes Your Man." The touches they employed were great as well - Frank Black may have sounded angsty and bizarre at times, but he could meld his voice easily to even the weirdest, slowest songs, and bassist Kim Deal provided a wonderful, creepily melodic counterbalance to Frank's screams, one that somehow made a lot of sense (my favorite example of this being in the song "Tame", with both of them singing as if they were trying to catch their breaths before Frank starts screaming again). They also pretty much defined the "quiet-loud-quiet" setup that Nirvana would use in, like, every one of their songs. Simply put, these guys were awesome back in the day, despite their relatively short career.

Another great band from the 80's - one I actually mentioned earlier - is Echo and the Bunnymen, a band that is so consistently misunderstood it confuses the shit out of me. Some call them "goth-rock" because they tend to be very dramatic, some call them "new wave" for... uh, well, I don't know why people call them new wave 'cause they really don't SOUND like new wave, they just happen to come from around that time. But simply put, the Bunnymen sound beyond genre to me - they're very obviously influenced by the Doors, especially in Ian McCulloch's dramatic delivery, but they simply create beautiful, psychadelic guitar-rock. Ocean Rain, considered by many to be their pinnacle, is filled with wonderful, string-laced arrangements and passionate lyrics. These guys have gotten a bit more notoriety in recent years, with "The Killing Moon" making the most impression (it was used in soundtracks for both the well-revered "Donnie Darko" and the kinda-popular "The Girl Next Door"), but they're still in that 80's Band category that seems to turn people off to them before they even listen to them. Hopefully that'll change.

The Smiths were another pretty damn important band in the 80's, a band that anticipated a crapload of the guitar-driven Britpop music that would dominate the 90's. But unlike a lot of the likeminded indie-rock bands that followed them, the Smiths were much more genuine. Morrissey, unlike so many frontmen from this era that put on a "weird" persona to push the limits of their music, was genuinely unusual - dramatic, self-loathing AND self-pitying, obsessed with art films and literary figures like Oscar Wilde, and almost celebratory in his own misery, Morrissey was integral to the band's image. But what's great about him is that he's not only willing to poke fun at himself, he can do so in a witty, funny way, so much so that he ends up dreaming up an encounter with the Queen in "The Queen is Dead" ("She said, 'I know you, and you cannot sing.' / I said, 'That's nothing, you should hear me play piano.'") and mocks charges of plagiarism from his critics in "Cemetry Gates", a song about... well, playing in a cemetery for fun. And despite all the gloom the Smiths can create (like the indelible "Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head..." from "I Know It's Over"), they sound fantastic, especially with someone as talented as their lead guitarist, Johnny Marr, whose extensive guitar sound and prowess perfectly complement Morrissey's charming indulgences. Simply put... well, they were really good, although I know some people who probably wouldn't like them much and call Morrissey a "fag." But that's life.

Only a couple left, folks. Another one of my favorites is XTC, another British band that started off as a really cool herky-jerky guitar-based new wave band in the late 70's/early 80's and then came into full-flower in the mid-to-late 80's, releasing wonderful pop albums like Skylarking and Oranges and Lemons. The whole studiocraft thing started mostly 'cause their lead singer/guitarist, Andy Partridge, suffered from excessive stage fright. In their early days they wrote some awesome singles ("Generals and Majors" is pretty much the catchiest thing ever), and had plenty of great albums to back them up. Skylarking, their 1986 homage to the concept albums of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, is really beautiful, anticipating the wonders of springtime despite eventually ending on something of a sad note with the song "Sacrificial Bonfire." XTC are also noteworthy for their side project, the parody 60's psychadelic-rock band The Dukes of Stratosphear; despite being a clever excuse for XTC to indulge in the music they grew up with, the band pulls off sounding like an authentic psychadelic rock band amazingly well, the songs themselves fantastic and original on their own despite the era they're supposed to represent. Simply put, XTC were an excessively talented British alt-pop band.

One more band that I have to mention - the Stone Roses. While they only have one album of theirs that's really celebrated, it's such a fantastic album that it deserves as much attention as an album can get. Their eponymous 1989 debut takes all of the great innovations in guitar pop that had been bubbling in the 80's underground, marries them with an infectious dance beat reminiscent of the best British dance music, and in turn creates a set of songs that are as epic as they are simply catchy. Songs like "She Bangs the Drums," "This is the One," "(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister," "Elephant Stone," and the monstrous "I Am The Resurrection" are so fucking good I can't believe it, and the rest of the album is pretty much the same way. Ian Brown's cool vocals, John Squire's echoey guitar, and the propulsive dance rhythm of Reni and Mani all work so well together it's remarkable. The Stone Roses themselves couldn't hold onto this domination much longer; after this great record, they fell into some legal troubles which led to an extensive hiatus, which resulted in 1995's Second Coming - which is considered something of a letdown despite its merits - and then broke up. While The Stone Roses is an album that doesn't seem to be all that popular with people who aren't music nerds nowadays, I personally think it was the perfect album to end the 80's, and an album that any fan of music of ANY kind should own.

There's so many great 80's bands that I haven't even touched upon myself yet - hardcore-turned-alternative bands like the Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, Meat Puppets, and the Minutemen, plus other jangle-poppers like the dB's, Game Theory, Let's Active, the goth-rock soundscapes of Bauhaus and the Cure, noise-rockers like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Sonic Youth, and countless lesser-known bands resigned to the underground. The truth is, the 80's alternative scene set the foundation for pretty much all of the great (and lousy, I'll admit) 90's and 00's indie rock we have now. And I think it's high time more people start to recognize that.

P.S. - Just a little thing - I just downloaded the song "Do It Clean" by Echo and the Bunnymen and the iTunes genre listed is "Techno-Industrial." What the fuck??

Monday, April 10, 2006

Final Fantasy VIII and the Stupid Notebook

So. My third playthrough of Final Fantasy VIII is finally over, after two months of on-and-off playing. And to be honest, it feels much weirder than I expected.

I remember, two months ago, I was seriously debating whether or not starting a new FFVIII game was even a smart thing to do. Would it really be the same up at college, without the comfort and privacy of my own home? Wouldn't it be really, really weird to not be able to just play on my own? Would it be too distracting from the work I was (supposedly) doing up here?

The bigger question: Is there even a point for me to play this outdated game again??

That last question wasn't one I tackled with too much, but it's still one I think about. Most people I've talked to (including my sister, for one) really can't see the point in replaying a video game after you've already beaten it. Replays are usually reserved for nerdy types who want to get everybody to Level 100 or beat some hidden dungeon they missed earlier in the game or some crap like that. I mean, it's not like we're talking about legitimate pieces of literature here, which have a lasting, timeless value - this is just a video game. That shit rots your brain out, doesn't it?

I have a funny relationship with most RPGs I play - especially Final Fantasy VIII. For one thing, it was the first Final Fantasy I ever played, which is unusual since it's such a friggin' mutant compared to other games in the series. The characters are all pretty much normal-looking human characters, the world they live in is remarkably like the modern world (save for the monsters, though they do look like beasts in the real world as well), and the style of speech is toned-down and not very dramatic or direct. And then we have the love story. Oh yes - that was the big marketing draw of Final Fantasy VIII, the love story at its core between the angsty Squall and the... err, not-angsty Rinoa. Final Fantasies had had plenty of love stories in the past, but they were never made the focal point until this game, which was kind of unusual.

And of course, under this kind of setup, the backlash was inevitable. I mean, the game was received well and sold well, but so many jaded Final Fantasy gamers I know will go on record in regards to the shittiness of this game. It's not very well-liked. So it's kind of awkward for me, to have this particular game as my very FIRST Final Fantasy, in comparison to all the great NES and SNES era installments of the series. Indeed, I look like a total n00b.

I'll say this before anything else - I can see why people don't like this game. The battle system is awkward, and while the graphics are beautiful for the PSX age, the attacks are so overdone and the reliance of Guardian Forces (read: summon monsters) is so frequent that the game is slowed down waaaaaaaaaaay too much, hindering its "Fun Factor" as GamePro would put it. Then we've got the characters - Rinoa, who I personally don't like much considering that she doesn't have that much of a personality (and she's the goddamn second main character!!). The other characters - Zell, Quistis, Irvine, and Selphie - are all interesting enough, but they're totally overshadowed about halfway through the game by Squall and Rinoa, which bugs the shit out of me. They barely do anything! No final backstories for each character, no "this is why I fight" bullshit that I love so much. They're just, "Oh, we're here too." No development outside of their stereotypical personalities. It's annoying. The best character in the game - the cheery, weird Laguna - was only a guy you played as in mini-flashbacks randomly through the game. Maaan.

Still, though, the big enigma in the game for me was Squall, main character and inarguably the angstiest and meanest main character in the history of the series. I mean, Cloud from Final Fantasy VII has his problems, but for Christ's sake, he was psychologically tortured in every other scene in that game. Squall, with his hair covering his face (yes, like an emo kid) and a battle scar on his nose, came from some childhood trauma of not having parents, and because of that he was pretty much a cold asshole to everybody, his trademark phrase being a Nirvana-esque "Whatever". He was a totally stereotypical Gen-X teenager, and then halfway through the disc he becomes freaking INFATUATED with Rinoa after she goes into a coma-like trance, which confused the hell out of me. He never liked her much! Where did this "I'm going to protect you forever" shit suddenly come from?? Squall, what the fuck, man??

I tried something new this time around - this third playthrough. About a month or so ago I started to write in a notebook, so I could start this kind of free-association off-the-top-of my head writing that I believed would help me clear my constant guilt about not writing enough and in turn get my creative juices flowing (I was in Creative Writing class, which really got me interested in free writing a lot more). When I started it off, it was mostly just me ranting about things I had thought about for a while - and as such, I didn't really feel creative as much as I felt stupid and insecure. It was much more of a dead-end than I expcected, and it was a little depressing.

So one day, bored after playing FFVIII for a few hours, I simply said to myself - "Hey, what if I wrote as Squall?"

And suddenly, my free-association writing was turning into my personal conversations with Squall, the main character from a video game.

It's almost embarrassing for me to admit this. On one level people could think of it as excessively nerdy - or, even worse, schizophrenic. And yeah, it was definitely nerdy, I'll at least give you that. But I tell you, ladies and gents, it was freeing - taking the voice of another forced me to think like somebody else, opening up countless possibilities. The most interesting aspect of it was the "conversations" I had with him; I pretended to be a voice in his head, almost, and he responded as if I were an idiot, pretty much like he does in the game. Hell, I even grilled him about the whole Rinoa thing and he got angrily defensive - it started to feel like I was someone else, like I was arguing for somebody in some other universe, giving them a voice. As stupid as it sounds, it gave me a stronger understanding of Squall as a character, and made the game suprisingly personal. Squall felt like a living, breathing person all of the sudden, someone as vulnerable and weird as anyone else I knew. And... yeah.

After beating the game yesterday, I had what I considered my last "session" with Squall in my notebook, kind of clearing things up. I'd prefer not to share anything from my notebook specifically - it's pretty personal, you understand. But it felt good, to finish things like this. Different, but peaceful. Things felt like they made a lot more sense than they did other times when I beat the game.

I'll put it this way - I love Final Fantasy VIII. I have my gripes, but it's a great game. It has a lazy, alluring atmosphere that I can't get enough of, and its tender moments are wonderful. That part with Laguna adjusting to living in a small town, that was great. The whole part with the peaceful Shumi Tribe and the seaside towns of Fisherman's Horizon and Balamb are wonderful. It'll always have a place in my heart as that game I stayed up late almost every night to dick around in during the seventh grade, when my grades were shoddy and I still loved Dragonball Z. I'll always miss it. I dunno when the hell I'm going to play through it again - whether it's two years, four years, twelve years, whatever - but I'll always remember this time.

I guess I can't contain my nerdiness in this case - whatever. If talking to a fictional video game character in my writings helps me out, then fuck it, that's what I'm going to do! And I have no regrets about it. It's something I should do more often, actually.

I'm sorry, for anybody who isn't into video games much, I'm sure this entry was horrible. I'm sorry!! I'll make an entry about 80's music or Carlos Mencia or something like that next time to keep things relatable. I just had to get this shit off my chest. In case you couldn't tell, video games mean way too much to me. They always have.

So to summarize. Thanks, FFVIII. Now let me sleep.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I Just Downloaded "At War With The Mystics" Illegally And Now You Have To Deal With The Consequences

I was very excited this morning. New Flaming Lips album, you know. That wonderful band that kicked me in the ass with Transmissions to the Satellite Heart , uplifted me with The Soft Bulletin and depressed the shit out of me with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots have a new album out. Oh happy day in the month before May. (That was lame.)

If only the weather reflected my joy. I had some classes this afternoon so I had to deal with all that, and then I had to deal with walking back to my dorm IN THE SNOW - what the hell? It's fucking April. I shouldn't have to be pulling my hood over my face to prevent a fucking snow barrage. It should be sunny and lovely and I should be walking in around in a fucking cheeky T-shirt basking in the glory of God's illuminating orgy of light. (That was redundant and I don't care.) It seemed as if nature itself was making my journey to listen to this album unreasonably annoying.

But no! I got back to my dorm, sat down, put on my almost-broken headphones and listened to At War With The Mystics all the way through, no breaks. And I am wholly satisfied. I have some small gripes with the album, sure, but not enough to take away from a really enjoyable listening experience, something that the Lips never fail to deliver.

It starts off with "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." Now, I do like this song - it's got a killer chorus that reminds me of "Clouds Taste Metallic" and it's a very energetic way to start the album off. What's with all the little cutesy noises and shit, though? I mean, the "YAH YAH YAH" thing I can deal with, but when he starts with the whole "no no no no NO!" thing it starts to border on corny. My problem here - it's the Flaming Lips trying to sound weird, which they really don't need to do. You're already fucking weird, Wayne. You know it!! You don't need throw random arcade noises and "funny" stuff like that in a song like this to make it sound weird. You couldn't be normal if you tried. But still, it's a cool song that doesn't quite represent the rest of the album.

Same goes for "Free Radicals" - kind of a hard song for me to embrace. Cool groove, and I like the "You think you're radical..." line, but it sounds like they're going for a Beckish sound and it's not really my thing. It's a little... well, awkward. But it's not bad.

I think the record really picks up on "Sound of Failure" - holy crap, a Lips song you can kind of dance to!! It takes the grooviness of "Yoshimi" and kicks it up a notch (I'm tempted to pull an Emeril joke here but that would be really lame), and it feels totally natural and fun, unlike the first two songs. It also pulls of this neat little trick of getting oddly quiet and subdued near the end of the track, a trick employed later in the album (I'll talk about that a bit more later on).

Then there's "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion," which has kind of a stereotypical Lips-ish title but is really fucking beautiful anyway. And I think I like "Vein of Stars" just as much. The Lips have a knack for talking about outer-space... I don't quite know why. "The Wizard Turns On..." is odd but a cool instrumental, which sets an uneasy tone for the next half of the album.

I wasn't sure about "It Overtakes Me" at first - it's chanting threw me off a bit, and I wish there were more substantial lyrics to its structure than "It overtakes me/It wakes and bakes me!" But it's still fun, and it leads into this great pretty, slower part in the middle, and then one of my favorite parts of the album comes up - everything mysteriously drops out of the mix except for an acoustic guitar. It's only about thirty seconds long, but it's a beautiful coda to the song, and it's a nice reminder of how powerful a lone guitar can really sound. Probably the best example I can give of that "sudden subdued ending" trick I mentioned earlier.

"Mr. Ambulance Driver" sounds even better now in the course of the album, I think, after the coda of "Overtakes." Fun, bouncy, kind of sad song. "Haven't Got A Clue" I thought was going to go for that "trying to be weird" thing I talked about earlier but, on the contrary, actually does feel weird - the instruments don't seem to be working with each other, Wayne's voice seems to be in its own little world, and there's this cool organ backing I can't get enough of. Nice.

"The W.A.N.D." has a sweet guitar riff - when was the last time the Lips had an awesome guitar riff?? Like, 1995, for fuck's sake. And Wayne says "motherfucker" in it! Hahaha. The melody's a little overtaken by the production but that's really nitpicking. It's such a cool track.

"Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung". Okay, my listening experience - around 1:33 into the song I literally said "Whoaaa" and turned the volume up. I haven't done that with any song in a long time. It's basically the Lips trying on an uplifting type of Pink Floyd-ism, and it works astoundingly well. If the Lips ever did a straight-up prog-rock album in the style of this track I have no doubt it would be fucking awesome. And then we end with "Goin' On", a nice, simple, pleasant track with a strong Wayne vocal that doesn't go nuts or anything, which is nice. The "uh-huh"s in the background get to me a little bit, but they're minor in the mix. A nice way to end the album.

I'll say this - At War With The Mystics isn't really the album to get if you don't know the Flaming Lips very well. In that case, I'd say go for Transmissions, Clouds, Soft Bulletin and maybe Yoshimi before this one. "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" and "Free Radicals", while worthy songs, start the album off a little awkwardly, but it really picks up after those. It's probably unfair for me to single those two tracks out so much, but they make the Lips sound like they're trying too hard, which bothers me. Maybe I just need to listen to them a bit more...

But what intrigues me so much about this album is that it feels like the band has found a groove, and very distinct, cool groove exemplified by songs like "Sound of Failure" and "W.A.N.D." This kind of stuff was used in Yoshimi mostly for texture - here it sounds like they're enjoying themselves more. The album overall isn't quite as consistent as the last two, but meh. It's so good I didn't care. If you have any interest in the Lips at all pick this up A.S.A.P.

Oh, and a song every Flaming Lips fan should check out - "The Golden Path" by the Chemical Brothers. It's got Stephen Drozd (at least I think it's him) sing-narrating a cool little story about the afterlife, and then Wayne Coyne comes in at the end singing "I never meaaaaant to hurt youuuu!" Great beat, great song. Like a techno-Echo and the Bunnymen. Check it out at your local Best Buy. Or download it illegally like the filth you all are. That's what I did.

SIDENOTE: Something I almost forgot - after I came in from that snow and I listened to Mystics all the way through, I opened my windowshade and saw the sun shining through, the outside clear as day. The Flaming Lips stopped a fucking snowstorm. God I love them.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

This Is A Good Song: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" by R.E.M.

So this is going to be a recurring thing (I think) called "This Is A Good Song," where I talk about a song I happen to like a lot. This could probably alternate as "This Is A Good Album" or "This Is A Good Band" or something like that, if I feel like it. It's already a pretty horrible title, which probably doesn't bode well for this segment, but it's the first thing that came to my mind. So I'm just going to have to deal with it.

I've been listening to a lot of R.E.M. recently - I mean, a LOT of R.E.M. And this is weird for me, considering that for about a year or so I've been trying to avoid just listening to one band for and extensive period of time. Hell, most of the bands I've been listening to have been alternative dance-rockers from the ninties, like Blur, Primal Scream, The Chemical Brothers, The Beastie Boys, etc. Great, interesting stuff, to be sure, but not really emotionally investing work. The closest I've come to that recently has problaby been "Funeral" by the Arcade Fire, which really tugs at my heartstrings. But I haven't really been embracing of one particular artist in a while since Bob Dylan about a year ago, when I fell in love with "Blood on the Tracks".

So last summer, I bought Document by R.E.M. on a whim. It's a great album, but it gave me a wrong impression of the band - they just seemed like left-wing political college-rockers who make fun of the state of the world while denouncing it. Cool band, but maybe a little too self absorbed for my tastes - they seemed to act as if they had all the answers, at least to me. So when I eventually downloaded Automatic for the People back in October, an album heralded by countless reviewers and fans as an emotional masterpiece, I couldn't embrace it. Not only did the tunes not really stand out to me, I couldn't find that much emotional investment in a band like this. Besides "Everybody Hurts" and "Man on the Moon," it didn't affect me too much. It was moody, and at certain points very pretty, but... it just didn't grab me.

Well - long and boring story short - about a couple months ago I got into "Radio Free Europe" and wondered to myself, "Hey, maybe Murmur's a good one." And lo and behold, Murmur was great. The lyrics made no sense, but the energy, craftsmanship and overall sound of the album blew me right over, an album so completely different from what I really expected from a so-called "college-rock" band. Much less easy to define than their other works, but beautiful nonetheless. So after thoroughly enjoying Murmur, out of boredom, I started up Automatic again practically out of instinct.

Automatic's one of my favorite albums now. What the fuck?? Who would've guessed that?

Anyway - I'll talk about the other reasons I love this album so much later - "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite." Fantastic, wonderful. The lyrics are absolutely stupid and make no sense. "Baby instant soup doesn't really grab me/Today I need something more, substantial/ But can I be into black eyed peas/ Some Nescafe and ice/ A candy bar, a falling star/ or a reading from Dr. Seuss?" What the fuck does that mean, Michael Stipe, and why are you singing it so energetically? But who the hell cares. The song burts in with an organ, subtle electric guitar, and Michael Stipe singing the "dee dee dee dee" from "The Lion Sleeps Tonite" (which apparently inspired the title), which draws you in quickly, and the end of the song is pushed into the stratosphere with these strings that keep coming in and out. In all honestly, I have a boner for strings. I can't help it. If an already-great song suddenly comes bursting in with strings, I'll get as giddy as a school girl. I'll get wet. Seriously.

Uh, anyway - the chorus of the song - "Call me when you try to wake her up," said really fast, over and over again. Kind of a call and response, with Stipe saying it and then the rest of the band chiming in. Near the end he starts going, "I can always sleep standing up!" in a really giddy voice that just warms my dumb little heart. The song just sounds like this joyous celebration of the small, stupid things in life - something Automatic doesn't have that much of. I can't get enough of it, simply put.

Apparently the band hates this song now - just my luck!! "Shiny Happy People" and now this one. Peter Buck seems to hate anything of R.E.M.'s that I like... it's a weird phenomenon. But I love the song, in case you didn't gather that. It's become the most played on my iTunes, even above "Bittersweet Symphony" (still one of my favorite 90's songs). I can't get enough of it.

Maybe one of these days I'll get really sick of it and write a super-degrading entry in this blog proclaiming a newfound hatred for this stupid little early-90's gem. But until that time...

"We've got to moogie moogie move on this one..."